Dragons and masquerades, baking witches and stick dancers, futuristic soldiers and stranded archivists, and so much death. The stories in this July 2022 short speculative spotlight blend genres and concepts with clever results.
Let’s kick things off with an intriguing African Futurism story by Chibueze Ngeneagu. A masquerade called Adamma is controlled by our narrator. Adamma is sent into the fenced in “palace of the Emir of Onitsha” for an unexpected mission. The ending has a delightful twist, but what I loved most was the structure of the narration. The narrator refers to themself only with the pronoun lower-case “i” and the story is written entirely in the present tense. It’s a rather simple plot, but there was something about it that I found thoroughly compelling.
Omenana (July 2022, issue 22)
Everyone in Greta’s family has CamLenses installed in their eyes, allowing them to take photos anywhere, anytime, and even add fun filters. Everyone, that is, except Greta’s grandfather. They’re all on a pontoon for a memorial for his late wife, but while the rest of the family is obsessed with collecting images, Greta wants to experience the moment. I wish we’d gotten a little more worldbuilding, but even without it this is still a lovely, bittersweet morsel of a story.
Etherea Magazine (July 2022, issue 12)
Lisandro has money, but even that cannot buy him success or power. After a visit to a Huesero in a rundown building at the abandoned edge of town, Lisandro gets his wish…although not in the way he was planning. He learns the hard way that what he’s playing with “is neither science nor for the taking.” A creepy, twisty Frankenstein-like story.
Apparition Lit (July 2022, issue 19)
Mamá Leonor lives in “in a town you would not otherwise have known had you never met her, somewhere in Michoacán and under the shadow of a lonely mountain where the smell of petroleum and masa lingered in the air.” During renovations to her house, contractors uncover a long lost tunnel haunted by angry spirits. Thrumming between the lines is the way living in the diaspora can chip away at your homeland beliefs and how it can be hard to hold onto the old ways in the face of the perpetually new.
Bourbon Penn (issue 27)
Set in a land called Zabel, somewhere in the Middle East, during the time of the Mongol Empire, the story explores the lives of several people. The Mongols’ reach extends across continents, but cannot touch Zabel, in large part because Darwesh Ali rules over with an iron fist backed up with a fire-breathing dragon. Told in a style that feels reminiscent of ancient oral storytelling tradition, Tanvir Ahmed’s piece defies all attempts to pin it down. It’s the kind of story that makes me want to track down everything else he’s written and read it immediately.
Strange Horizons (July 18, 2022)
An unsettling tale about a man-eating, shape-shifter. Our narrator begins the hunt in a pub wearing the face of someone else. Sights set on a man called Mark, the narrator gradually lures him into a seductive net. The anonymity of the narrator and the left-to-the-reader’s-imagination killing turns this from a typical serial killer story into something, well, meatier.
The Dark (July 2022, issue 86)
Carol Scheina applies a fairytale structure to a dystopian science fiction script. The narrator is a mother, a scientist for DefenseCorp, who is able to acquire one of the company’s child soldiers to raise. But like all fairytales, deals with witches always come with strings attached. The way Scheina folded in deafness was so wonderful I had to read “One More Fairy Tale” twice. This issue marks the last regular one for Cossmass Infinities, although stories will continue to be published on their website.
Cossmass Infinities (July 2022, issue 9)
In a small town lives a witch called Asest. She takes care of the townsfolk, giving them the spells they need, even when they’re not the spells they want. A gentrifier strolls into town, eager to take what Asest has instead of building her own power. This story brims with power, but while other authors might push it too dark, Makeda K. Braithwaite balances it with a light tone and a respect for our ancestors. A great entry in FIYAH’s “Food and Cuisine” theme.
FIYAH Literary Magazine (Summer 2022, no. 23)
“A small asteroid swerved in a most un-asteroid-like way and pierced the hull of the archivist’s ship, as though it was determined to drive her away.” And with that, Louise Chau crashlands on Marin Nine, a planet whose population is nearly extinct. She’s been sent to collect cultural data before the people are gone for good, but she discovers the remaining sentient beings have their own plans for her. Blending science fiction and mystery with a non-traditional narrative structure R J Theodore and Maurice Broaddus have produced a compelling story.
Lightspeed Magazine (July 2022, issue 146)
In this story, dance propels spaceships through hyperspace. And not just any dance, but one the jumper is connected to through culture. Teletransporter First Raouf Ebrashi is Egyptian by heritage. With the help of one of his diasporic colleagues, he must use tahtib to get their crew home. I loved the way Mahmud El Sayed took ancient traditions and found a way to apply them to futuristic science fiction while also discussing the diaspora and the importance of feeling connected to your people.
Utopia Science Fiction Magazine (June/July 2022)
Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).