December is a bittersweet month for me. With decorations lighting up the streets yet the days getting shorter and colder, with the avalanche of romantic movies yet family and friends hundreds to thousands of miles away, I always end up feeling a strange mix of both melancholy and cozy. And so, not surprisingly, those were the short speculative fiction stories I was drawn to the most.
I don’t know which came first, the premise or Iori Kusano’s desire to use one of the greatest memes of all time, but either way, I’m into it. Every time Matt sees Gary at the Waffle House, he goes into a rage, flinging fists and words like venom. It wouldn’t be so bad if Matt didn’t keep showing up at the Waffle House specifically to beef with Gary. The fights have something to do with whatever “Hirekkyo and the Sphinx who ruled it” are; Kusano doles out information like a drip feed, and the payoff is *chef’s kiss*.
Uncanny Magazine (December 2022; issue 49)
After Adelfa is orphaned, two beings set out to raise her. Ettang Mambabarang teaches her healing magic while the monstrous Aghoy instructs her on how to be a sorceress. Adelfa doesn’t know what she wants, but when she meets a bumbling cartographer named Mateo, she realizes her path will take her far beyond the lives her guardians could ever offer her.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (November/December 2022)
Reah lives in a village not far from the borders of her homeland. As war rages on outside, their village dwindles. First, all the men of fighting age are taken, then soldiers passing through pillage their resources. Just as the enemy approaches, Reah’s Grandma Maneevah teaches her about the bones of warrior women buried in the garden outside town. Reah learns how to channel their ancestors’ fury and fire to protect what they love.
The Deadlands (December 2022; issue 20)
Not only was this the first issue of Tales From Between I’ve read, but “A Housewife’s Eldritch Guide to Hosting the Perfect Dinner Party” was the first story from it I read. And what an introduction! We’ve had endless riffs on the trope of the ‘50s housewife trapped in a life she hates while having to pretend she’s still brainwashed by the patriarchy, but this story is near the top. Writing it from second person POV was a stroke of genius.
Tales From Between (December 2022)
A new L.D. Lewis? Hell yes! There was no way this was not going to end up on this spotlight, because I knew before I even opened this issue that it would be excellent. And, my friends, I was not wrong. Set in the near future where climate change has flooded the city, a pair of mail delivery people venture over the floodwall. With an Amazon shipment on the way—and the shoot-to-kill security traveling with it—Dee and Bobby try to save a pack of young pirates.
Lightspeed (December 2022; issue 151)
“We found you, and you alone, in a universe that had forgotten to die.” Structured like a part of a letter to an unknown figure found then returned in another realm, it tells of how the writers found the subject of the letter and everything that came after. Although this is under a thousand words, Aimee Ogden packs a wallop. Dense with emotion and rich with description, it felt like a flower unfurling in the sun.
Strange Horizons (December 5, 2022)
Laine Perez’s lovely piece about discovering (or rediscovering) home centers on three protagonists: May, an aimless young woman raised by a midwife, George, an immigrant stuck in the past, and Olive, the mechanical bot who helps them both out. More slice of life than plot-driven, “On the Way Home” sneaks up on you. I smiled the whole way through reading it.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies (December 15, 2022; issue 371)
“Never cross Our Quiet Guests, I remembered my grandfather saying in sour breaths that clouded around him near the fireplace.” Three terrible creatures arrive on the doorstep of our narrator. As much as the narrator tries to appease them, mistakes are made and offenses are taken, and it all feels both avoidable and inevitable. Thomas Ha kept me on my toes for this story. Even when I could see where it was going, I kept hoping against hope things would turn around for our narrator.
Three-Lobed Burning Eye (November 2022; issue 37)
Two sisters, Taiwo and Kehinde, break into a secret lab and encounter each of the deadly inventions one by one, as well as the scientist who plans to unleash them on the world. With its unusual narrative structure and adventurous tone, this story had me hooked from the first item. The reveal of the seventh item is a kicker.
Future Science Fiction Digest (December 2022; issue 17)
A remarkable, beautiful story about a house haunted by memories of things left undone. A trans woman working for an estate company enters a house sealed up since 1945. Inside, she discovers the pieces of a life abandoned by a Jewish Polish man, recalls parts of her own story she is still processing, and the flickering, ghostly images of the former owner as he once was. “Y is for Yesterday” felt exactly like a December story: cold, locked away, and dark, but with the hope of a new future just around the bend.
The Dark (December 2022; issue 91)
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).