It may be summer, but I’m bringing you ten short stories that will leave you chilled, or at the very least a bit weirded out. These science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories have looked ahead to the end of the world or deep inside the human mind and found darkness. Sometimes they come out the other side with hope, and sometimes they wallow in bittersweet resignation.
Set in a distant future where humans are gone and only androids are left, this piece is structured as five very short stories about trying to create a future in a hostile world. One is about God creating children in a forge, another is about the consequences of an adult stealing parts from children. Two are about children that are different in distressing ways, and the last is about what happens when God checks out. Although the title is “After the Animal Flesh Beings,” it’s really about what comes next for the androids, what sort of world they’re building and what they’re leaving behind.
Tor.com (June 21, 2023)
Oh wow, kudos to Athar Fikry for giving me a story I didn’t know I wanted but now am so glad I got to read. Our narrator gives a global broadcast to the planet whose god they just stole. The speaker explains how the people of this planet can steal their own god and the tricks to not make everything worse. I’m obsessed with the narrator, such an unlikeable (in the best way!) character.
Strange Horizons (June 12, 2023)
“You cringe because not only are the two haunted hearing aids a disgusting shade of zombie-skin-color but they’re also plastered with miniature holographic stickers.” When a mother loses her hearing, she resorts to the cheapest ones she can find: haunted hearing aids (so-called because the spirit of the woman who died wearing the devices now haunts them). A wonderful short story that pushes back against the narrative that disabled people should be grateful to use technology that force them to accommodate to an abled world instead of the abled world accommodating to disabled needs.
Hexagon (June 2023; issue 13)
The first story I was lucky enough to read from If There’s Anyone Left, a science fiction and speculative site for marginalized writers, was from an author I also found this year, Tehnuka. It’s about an elder, Sangeetha, who learned to mimic birdsong after the birds disappeared to provide sustenance from the plants around her community. It’s a meditation on community organizing, the work of keeping Indigenous traditions alive, adapting and struggling to undo the damages of climate change, and respecting our elders.
If There’s Anyone Left (June 20, 2023)
I don’t know what Seoung Kim’s author plans are, but if they ever decide to write a full-length YA novel, I’ll be first in line to buy it. This story was great! Yujin Park works at their father’s diner in a city teeming with magical creatures and beings from folklore. The plot is very simple—Yujin is tasked with walking home the elderly yokai Mrs. Rokuro and along the way meets a boy they like—but Seoung imbues it with the perfect amount of teen angst and a whole lotta charm.
Cast of Wonders (June 24, 2023; #539)
Base Camp Three, deep in the wilderness of the arctic, has gone dark. Mark, a ferryman down at HQ, has recently split up with his lover who was working at BC3 and is now missing. Driven by a need to reconcile and apologize, Mark traverses miles and ships to find the person he loves. An emotional tale set in a climate disaster future where diseases burst from melting permafrost.
Fusion Fragment (June 2023; issue 17)
It’s stories like this that remind me why I love Samovar so much. This site, a special edition of Strange Horizons, always picks the most intriguing and unique speculative fiction stories to translate. “Plums in Chocolate” is a great example of this. It’s a weird, funny little story about a woman named Vanda who gets stuck in a 90 second long time loop where she has to eat a chocolate-covered plum over and over again. And the ending! Reader, I giggled.
Samovar (June 26, 2023)
After her daughter Lana gives birth to her own daughter, Lili, she asks her mother to recount an event from her childhood. When Lana was little, her mother was exhausted and frustrated. Lana’s father “performed magic on weekends for local mobsters and KGB officers,” including hexing a VCR. The same VCR that Lana gets accidentally sucked into. Her mother runs all over the city doing quests and collecting items to get her back. Nika Murphy reminds readers that parenthood isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; it’s often impossibly hard and that parents will always make mistakes.
Luna Station Quarterly (June 2023; issue 54)
I’m a sucker (pun intended) for anything and everything vampire-related, and Lily Watson’s piece more than delivered. A vampire rides in a van with their grandma, an old school vampire. Humans are now farmed like cattle and driven around in the back of transport trucks. Grandma talks about the old days, but the real kicker is the ending. It feels like a snapshot of a much larger story.
Diabolical Plots (June 2, 2023; #100A)
“The hybrid animals are my creation and design…I’ve been told that many who look into their almost human eyes have been plagued by bad dreams, and there are reports that several audience members have been driven to commit uncharacteristic acts of violence.” Whew! The premise of a mad scientist applying to a Dark Arts grad school could be silly, but Jonathan Helland keeps it grounded. The horror is rendered mundane, but not enough to ease the creepy, unsettling feeling in the reader.
Uncharted (June 2023)
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).