Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Review: The Annual Migration of Clouds

The Annual Migration of Clouds CoverECW Press was kind enough to send me a copy of Premee Mohamed’s The Annual Migration of Clouds, and let me tell you, I was thrilled that they did, since it was already on my must-read list for the year. I’m a big fan of Mohamed’s work, and this latest novella did not disappoint!

You don’t name it; you don’t give it a name either. They must have names for each other. I don’t know what mine calls itself and if it told me, I would try to forget, I swear I would.

Set in a post climate-disaster world, the novella opens with Reid receiving a coveted letter from Howse University in one of the domes, a near-magical place no one has ever come back from, but which promises a better life. She’s thrilled at first, until her mother begins to sow seeds of doubt in her mind – what if the university isn’t real, what if it’s only a scam, what will their neighborhood do without her.

Reid is already torn, plagued with guilt over leaving her mother behind and the thought of the extra work that will be pushed off onto her neighbors and friends. Their life is already one of scarcity and scraping by, and making matter worse, Reid and her mother both have a genetic disease known as Cad, a kind of parasitic, symbiotic creature living inside them that could go off at any minute, causing them to die in horrible pain.

The thing is of me, does not belong to me. Is its own thing. Speaks its own tongue. A semi-sapient fungus scribbling across my skin and the skin of my ancestors in crayon colors, turquoise, viridian, cerulean, pine.

Reid worries what will happen to her mother when she’s gone. She worries what will happen to her neighbors. She worries what will happen to herself. Reid’s best friend Henryk encourages her to go, as do several others. She wants to go, but that doesn’t stop her fear or her guilt. When a group of hunters offers Reid the opportunity to join them in bringing down wild boar, she sees her chance. If she’s successful in the hunt, Reid can leave her mother set-up with a nest egg in meat for trade before she goes. Hunting boar is dangerous however, and Reid knows the Cad inside her will go to great lengths to protect its host.

Pack of demons. Sulphur breath. Cloven as the devil. Calm down, quick: the invader in me cannot see what is happening, it only knows to respond to my fear.

The novella is beautifully-written in its exploration of environmental disaster, community, and complicated family relationships. Mohamed does a wonderful job of paralleling the Cad Reid inherits from her mother with the fears and guilt her mother passes down in a passive-aggressive fashion. Her mother accuses Reid of being selfish, and instead of being happy for Reid and trusting her, she lets her own selfish fears of being alone manifest in trying to guilt Reid into staying. There are hints at some underlying jealously in their relationship, even in the midst of the love. Some element of Reid’s mother seems to want to hold her back, resenting that she may have the opportunity for a better life when she herself never had that chance. The near-paralyzing fear Reid’s mother tries to infect her with is mirrored in the way the Cad literally freezes Reid when Hen is threatened by wild dogs and she wants to help him – both cause her pain in order to keep her safe, which is ultimately a means of protecting themselves.

Mohamed strikes a delicate balance in showing a family relationship which could be toxic or genuinely loving, symbiotic or parasitic. The question of whether Howse University is real is left open, underlining that life is complicated and full of risk and unknowns. The decisions Reid and her community face aren’t easy, and there’s always a chance of someone getting hurt, but should that stop them from living their lives and taking their chances on a better future? There is a comfort in the idea of sticking to tradition and what is known, over forging a new path through the world. Again, the fact that the disease is hereditary speaks in its own way to the idea of parents wanting what is best for their children, but smothering them in their efforts to protect them, versus children wanting to live their own lives and being forced to rebel in hurtful ways in order to do so.

The Annual Migration of Clouds does an excellent job of exploring all of this, and does an excellent job with all the relationships in the community as well. It’s a plausible imagining of post-collapse society and the way humanity has a tendency to survive and find ways to carry on.

In closing, I also have to call out the fact that this book is absolutely stunning as a physical object. There’s a silky, textured feel to the cover, and the cover art by Veronica Park is gorgeous and just keeps getting better the longer you look at it. The design is echoed throughout the book with the interior illustration that heads each chapter. If you like books-as-objects, this is another one that I recommend grabbing in hard copy.

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Review: Shadow Atlas

Shadow Atlas CoverShadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas edited by Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge, and Joshua Viola is forthcoming from Hex Publishers at the end of November. They were kind enough to send me an advance copy, and let me say first off, this books is really wonderful as a physical object. If you’re the sort of person who likes books-as-objects, then I definitely recommend snagging a print copy of this one. The conceit of the anthology is that it collects various legends and hidden histories from across the Americas. These documents, gathered by the Umbra Arca Society, include case files, illustrations from agents in the field, and even blank pages for readers to contribute their own notes and thoughts to the titular Shadow Atlas. The cover wrap under the dust jacket is even designed to look like a leather-bound tome, complete with a mysterious clasp, which may or may not open of its own accord.

Authors contributing to the volume include Gwendolyn Kiste, Josh Malerman, Julia Rios, E. Lily Yu, and Kay Chronister, among many others. Interspersed among the stories and poems there are also snippets of history and maps in addition to the above-mentioned illustrations, case notes, and blank journal pages. Even when the stories themselves get dark, the anthology’s design is light-hearted and fun, and it’s a pleasure to flip through its pages.

While many of the stories draw on existing mythologies and legends, others rely on a more personal kind of mythology, or weird and inexplicable happenings encountered by one or two people. I’m a sucker for hidden histories, mythology, and folktales, and this loose theme gives authors a wide field to play with. A few of the stories really stood out to me, and they are highlighted below.

Moon-Eyed Women by Kay Chronister is the story of a Welsh immigrant living in America whose father has arranged for him to have a true Welsh bride. The moon-eyed women of the title are rumored to be descendants of the mythological Madoc, though descendant is a tricky term in this case as the women are constructed in the model of Blodeudwedd of Welsh myth who was built out of flower petals by the magicians Math and Gwydion.

Deep in the honeymoon passion, Roderick overlooks his new wife’s faults. He toils without complaint, taking on both his own labor and what should rightfully be hers: the cooking and the milking of the new cow, the gathering of the firewood. Seeing his Blodeuwedd flinch from the sun, he holds his tongue, thinks tenderly on the underground hollow where she waited all her life to belong to him.

Chronister’s eerie tale explores the dark side of what it might mean to belong to someone, and to have someone belong to you, as well as exploring the idea of purity. It also follows the implications of what it means to have compliant, constructed wife to a logical and unsettling conclusion.

Things to Do in Playland When You’re Dead by Gwendolyn Kiste is an ode to the past, where the America-that-was is in itself a ghost. The story nests haunting upon haunting, but these hauntings are more melancholy than frightening as a ghost wanders through the soon-to-be closed Playland exploring its fading glory, contemplating San Francisco’s history, and searching for their purpose in the afterlife.

At the front window, you meet Laffing Sal, who always lives up to her name. She’s the giant animatronic clown that never stops smiling, her wide eyes staring out through the glass. It doesn’t matter where you are in the park–nobody can ever escape the sound of that laugh. It follows your every step.

There is a sense of nostalgia to the story, but it also reckons with the darker side of San Francisco’s history – its earthquakes, its murders, its overdoses, and its heartbreak. Kiste strikes just the right balance of sorrow and hope in this short yet satisfying tale.

You Ought Not Smile As You Walk These Woods by Annie Neugebauer caused me to wonder whether a story can be simultaneously cute and horrifying. This one certainly feels like it strikes that balance with its dark sense of humor and a classic (in the violent and bloody sense) fairy tale feel. A grandson goes to visit his grandmother and isn’t wise enough to heed her advice. Being the typical arrogant, greedy, and not too bright youth of fairy tales, he steals what he shouldn’t and even though he tries to gift what he steals to his grandmother out of kindness, the results are still horrifying.

The man smiled, nodding, and promised her that he would not show his teeth, even though he knew that the fairies of East Texas are scavengers and opportunistic carnivores. The small flying mammals posed no threat to a big strong, young man such as himself.

Like all good fairy tales, this one comes with a moral: Always listen to your elders, respect nature, and never think you’re cleverer than a fairy – especially one with a fondness for teeth.

Xtabay by Julia Rios presents readers with a series of stories nested within stories, evoking mythology, urban legends, and ghostly tales. A young girl grapples with her family history, in particular the history of her Mexican father who spent his life desperately trying to fit in and be something he wasn’t. As a young man, his cousin constantly teased him about his virginity, which led to an unwise relationship with a mysterious girl. Rather than doing what he knew in his heart to be right, he allowed himself to give into pressure, resulting in tragedy and a curse that followed him for the rest of his life.

“I don’t care that you’re sorry,” said the girl. “He deserved to die. And so do all like him! And you? I curse your oppressor heart a thousand times! May you always find that the harder you try to be one of them, the more you will feel your own heart being devoured! And when it happens again, remember me.”

The story deftly explores themes of racism, class, and the expectations society places on men vs. women, where women must remain pure, while men are mocked for not making sexual “conquests”. Rios shows the way these gendered expectations tie back to issues of class, race, and colonization with the idea that lower-class women are expendable and good enough to fuck, but not worthy of marriage, and showing how constantly trying to fit into someone else’s image of what and who you should be slowly erodes you from the inside out.

Blood Sisters by Christa Wojciechowski weaves together personal mythology and local legends as a pair of childhood friends travel to Columbia on a last girls trip before one of them gets married. Tina is afraid of things changing and brings Beats to a supposedly cursed mountain where standing at the top as an unmarried person dooms you to always to be alone. On their last night in Columbia, they go drinking with two local men, one of whom reveals the mountain’s nature to Beats, and thus also reveals Tina’s betrayal.

Since seventh grade, Beats and I were one soul in two bodies. Her freckled limbs–the scar on her right knee from falling on my driveway–were as familiar as my own. My voice came out as hers. The smell of her body, dryer sheets mixed with the funk of her greasy old shepherd, was my smell. Our periods were always in synch.

The story realistically captures the way friendships can drift apart as people grow, from a time in your life where you know everything about the other person and they’re you’re entire world, to a time where you just exchange emails occasionally, and how scary that transition can be. It’s not about a friendship breaking or anything dramatic happening, simply the way things change over time. Tina’s feelings of jealously feel very real and grounded, as does her fear of change leading to destructive behavior. The story also offers an interesting exploration of belief and the power it has over people. Sometimes simply knowing about a supposed curse is enough to bring it about, whether the curse is “real” in any objective sense or not.

Keep an eye out for this anthology when it releases at the end of the November, and if it sounds like it’s up your alley, consider pre-ordering it now!

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Review: Wild Time

Wild Time CoverWild Time by Rose Biggin and Keir Cooper (who were kind enough to provide me with a review copy) is a charming re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The story focuses primarily on the fairies and the company of players as they make their own respective preparations for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Though the setting remains ancient Athens, where gods and magic are very much real, Biggin and Cooper give the novel a more contemporary voice that leads to a timeless feel.

Titania looked at the Changeling, who was waiting calmly, hands on his hips and looking very casual. There was a confidence to his shoulders, and his body was as smooth as if it had been newly polished. He wore a piece of cotton, delicately printed, that bared his hips, and at some point one of the fairies had picked a red flower and placed it lovingly in his hair. ‘My word,’ she said leading him beneath the tree. ‘You’re completely gorgeous, do you know that?’

The novel incorporates familiar elements from Shakespeare’s play – the wedding, Puck’s mischief, and Bottom’s transformation – but it also introduces new ones, including Theseus and Oberon doing shots on the night before the nuptials and getting increasingly drunk, nostalgic, and maudlin, and a raucous Amazonian bachelorette party riding through the streets of Athens, descending on unsuspecting vendors demanding custom-made weapons and a sampling of local cuisine. Other elements are familiar, yet given a fresh twist, such as the play performed by the players becoming a mash-up of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe and Death of a Salesman. One of the most refreshing updates is Oberon and Titania’s relationship, which is presented here as much healthier and more respectful, with actual communication between the two, and genuine love and passion, as opposed to full of bitterness, jealously, and trickery.

The lovers Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia, play bit roles as cosmic phenomenon and celestial bodies on the margins of the story. There’s sex magic and revelry and a brief interlude where Puck steals a train in what appears to be modern-day London. Somehow, all these elements work together, feeling like fun nods and clever updates, never tipping over into being too cheesy or ridiculous. Despite the more contemporary language, the story somehow feels more firmly rooted in ancient Athens than many interpretations of the original play. Overall, Wild Time is a fun and sexy read, straddling the line between novella and novel (though I think it technically falls onto the novel side). If you’re a fan of re-imagined classics, this is definitely one to check out.

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Howls from Hell Review

Howls from Hell Anthology CoverHowls from Hell is a forthcoming anthology from the HOWL Society (Horror-Obsessed Writing and Literature Society), edited by members of the Society, and showcasing the work of sixteen emerging writers from among its members. The anthology officially releases May 18, 2021, but is available for pre-order now. The Society was kind enough to provide me with an early copy for review.

The cover art by P.L. McMillan, who also contributes a story to the anthology, is striking, and each story is accompanied by an original illustration. All the illustrations, along with the design and layout work is done by Society members as well, proving this is a multi-talented group. The anthology as a physical object is sharp, professional-looking, and very nicely put together. Beyond the connecting thread of the HOWL Society, the anthology is un-themed, allowing authors to tackle a wide variety of subjects and approaches to horror. In these pages, you’ll find everything from quiet horror to the hyper-violent, supernatural horror, body horror, rural and suburban horror, and genre mash-ups with science fiction and fantasy. The variety of themes and approaches to horror is impressive, with a few stories in particular that  stood out to me.

“She’s Taken Away” by Shane Hawk is presented in the form of a police transcript of a conversation between Dr. Jay M. Landry and Annie Ellis, whose twin sister has been put away for terrible crimes. The piece is short, but with a strong voice, playing with the good twin/evil twin trope and exploring nature vs. nurture as the twins’ paths diverge and one sister engages in increasingly violent and disturbing behavior.

“Suspended in Light” by Alex Wolfgang is one of the quieter and more subtly unsettling stories in the anthology. A film student takes on a job cataloguing old film reels donated by a daughter cleaning out her mother’s estate. The first reel she watches features a man staring unnervingly at the camera, then setting up a second camera which seems to look back through the screen at her, causing her image to appear in a film shot over 80 years ago. The story effectively builds a sense of dread as it plays with the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, and looks at the sinister side of immortality on the silver screen, and what it means to capture memories through film.

“Possess and Serve” is a solid piece of sci-fi horror, imagining a future where individuals can subscribe to a service that allows them to summon an Assumed Control Unit officer to temporarily remotely possess their body to deescalate conflict and deal with other potentially dangerous situations. Sarah is one such officer who is summoned to the scene of a crime only to find that another Assumed Control Unit officer has possessed the body of the person who summoned them and is using said body to commit a horrific act. The story is tense, and nicely shows both the potential good enabled by technology and the ways technology might aid and abet the worst aspects of human nature.

“Sprout” by M. David Clarkson is another piece with a strong voice, offering up an atmospheric story of nature reclaiming and repurposing life to its own ends in gruesome ways. The story also explores the dynamics of power in a relationship built solely on lust, and the dangers of both feeling owed access to someone else’s body and blaming them for your actions.

“A Fistful of Murder” by Lindsey Ragsdale closes out the anthology with a unique twist on the cursed object trope. While making a purchase at a pet store, a man receives change which includes a $10 bill with the word kill written on it in red ink. The cashier is seemingly unable to see the message, but a mere accidental glance is enough to fill the man with an uncontrollable urge to cause pain and take life. The story brings into questions the idea whether violence is essential to the nature of man, or whether external factors – for example the literal idea of money as the root of all evil – is to blame.

With its wide range of themes and styles, there’s a little bit of something for everyone here, making Howls from Hell a satisfying read for horror fans.

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And Then the Gray Heaven Review

And Then the Gray Heaven CoverOnce again I’m dipping my toes into the non-genre waters with an upcoming novella from Dzanc Books. And Then the Gray Heaven by RE Katz, which will be released on June 15, 2021, is a lovely meditation on loss, processing grief, queer found families, art as legacy, and networks of people supporting each other through the roughest times in their lives.

Jules is mourning the death of their partner, B, an artist and museum exhibition designer. Their grief is complicated by the fact that the hospital refuses to recognize their relationship, so Jules has to break into B’s hospital room to be with them at the end. B’s family is similarly wary of Jules, except for B’s brother, Alvin, though even he wasn’t there for B or Jules when they needed him the most. Following B’s death, Jules feels unmoored and alone. Seeing this, Jules’ neighbor Tina sends a family member to keep an eye on Jules – Theo. Theo and Jules strike up an immediate, sweet, and supportive friendship, which is the true heart of the novel. When Alvin unexpectedly arrives with a portion of B’s ashes to give to Jules, Jules hatches a plan to honor B’s memory by burying them within various museum exhibitions they helped design. Theo becomes Jules’ partner in crime, and they set off on a journey of remembrance and healing that brings Jules into contact with other people who were important to B’s life – an extended queer family that helps support Jules through their grief and helps them see that despite their initial feeling, they are far from alone.

We held cups of coffee with both hands and looked at each other. I said nothing. I was thinking about how I hadn’t talked to anyone about what had happened yet. This is what people have families for. I felt crushed into a fine powder–I was pigment. Windowsill blue. Ash taking air before gusting apart. No one to talk to and no reason to reach out. I didn’t want our friends to worry, and I had no information or comfort to offer them.

And Then the Gray Heaven feels deeply grounded in every day life, while also dealing with immense and complicated subjects like loss, love, grief, and neuroatypicality. The characters are richly drawn, and the web of support – the larger queer family – that B and Jules find around them at various points in their lives is heartening and immensely touching. The connectivity between people is mirrored through art, which weaves in and out of the story in various ways, from Jules’ first job as an airbrush artist, to B’s line of work. Art doesn’t merely connect individuals personally, but reflects a queer lineage and legacy, as subsequent generations of artists honor those who came before in their work, extending the network beyond a specific place and time, and opening up a larger world of people seeing and understanding each other.

The setting of the novel mirrors Jules’ journey, from the close confines of their apartment to the larger world of their roadtrip with Theo. As their network of friends grows, the world opens up, bringing them from the claustrophobia of grief and loss, back into the open spaces of hope and possibility. At such a short length, Katz manages to pack a lot into their work, making for a very impressive debut.

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Lagoonfire Review

Lagoonfire CoverLagoonfire by Francesca Forrest is the second novelette in the author’s Tales of the Polity series published by Annorlunda Books. I reviewed the first entry in the series, The Inconvenient God, for The Book Smugglers in 2018. The novelettes each stand alone fairly well, centering on Decommisioner Thirty-Seven, also known as Sweeting, as she deals with a discrete case involving the decommissioning of gods once their worshippers have moved on.

In Lagoonfire, Sweeting is sent to investigate an incursion of sea water in a new development under construction to determine whether it might have been caused by Laloran-morna, the former god of warm waves. Even though she decommissioned him, the process didn’t entirely take, leaving him with a limited version of his powers. Since the development is going up in an area once sacred to Laloran-morna, Sweeting’s superiors suspect the former god may be trying to sabotage the construction, even though the now-mortal Laloron-morna currently lives in a compassionate care facility, close to dying. Over the years, he and Sweeting have become friends, and when she goes to ask him about the seawater, which he claims to know nothing about, he tasks her with helping him fulfil his dying wish to get a message to his lost love.

Sweeting quickly discovers the situation is far more complicated than it initially seemed. Laloron-morna’s love may be a forgotten goddess of an ancient people that most believe are only a myth. As she attempts to gather more information, Sweeting runs into a history professor named Ateni whose research seems to support her theory, but shortly after they meet, Ateni is accused of terrorist action and arrested. Convinced of Ateni’s innocence and trying to prove it, Sweeting gets herself caught up on the wrong side of the investigation as a possible co-conspirator as she seeks to unravel the mystery, clear Ateni’s name, and keep her promise to Laloron-morna before his time runs out.

And then the sun returned in full force, drawing mist up from the ground all around us and from our sodden clothes. It was clammy and uncomfortable–but also unearthly, beautiful. I turned slowly, letting my arms pass through the glowing streamers. So soon they would fade away, but in that moment, it was like being among celestial beings, clothed in light. I caught sight of Ateni’s face, lips parted, eyes shining. Yes, this was better, much better, for a dedication to Laloran-morna’s unknown love. I returned to the water’s edge and poured the palm wine, Ateni and the ghostly curls of mist my silent witnesses.

Forrest once again perfectly blends magic and bureaucracy with touches of humor to bring the unique world of the Polity Series to life. Lagoonfire expands on The Inconvenient God, introducing more of Sweeting’s co-workers, along with several other decommissioned gods who act as an occasionally snarky, occasionally helpful chorus, but also as a found family, supporting each other and Sweeting. Sweeting’s character is deepened as well, as we learn why she’s so reluctant to share her name and prefers to go by her title or her childhood nickname. Coming to terms with the past is a major theme in the novelette, as is the question of who controls the narrative of history. Love, loss, memory, friendship, and found family are also resonant themes. Even at a short length, Forrest delivers a satisfying story and plenty of character development, while exploring the way history, including personal history, continues to shape the present. Identity, as a people, and as an individual person, can be shaped by history, but it’s always worth asking – whose history? Who is telling the story, and what do they have to gain by telling it that way? Forrest creates several interesting and effective parallels between the personal and the political when it comes to understanding the past and the ways in which the past informs the present and the future. Lagoonfire is a highly enjoyable novelette, and I hope there are more entries planned in the series.

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Call it Horses Review

Call It Horses CoverOccasionally I do remember to stray outside the bounds of SFFH genre reading. My latest such foray was Call It Horses by Jessie van Eerden, courtesy of Dzanc Books who were kind enough to provide me with an advance copy of the book due to be released in March 2021. I’ve read several books published by Dzanc now, and I’m regularly impressed with the works they publish, books that are unafraid to experiment with voice and style, primarily literary, but also straying into genre territory with titles such as The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Darger and Nino Cipri’s collection Homesick.

Like Homesick, Call It Horses is the winner of the Dzanc Prize for Fiction. Set in 1990, the story follows the journey of three women – Frankie, Mave, and Nan – as they take a road trip into the desert, fulfilling Mave’s last wish as she’s dying of cancer. The novel is framed as a series of musings from Frankie (Mave’s niece) written to Mave’s lover, Ruth. Frankie’s parents died when she was sixteen, and Mave essentially raised her, though her role was more of a guardian, living in the house next to Frankie’s and keeping an eye on her from that distance, treating her more as an adult and a friend than a child in need of parenting. One of the core threads in the novel is the relationship between Frankie and Mave, which speaks to the larger questions the novel asks about love. What forms does love take? Does love need to be expressed to prove itself? Is love a finite resource, and are some people only capable of giving and receiving so much of it in a lifetime?

These questions are explored in a myriad of ways through the complicated relationships that exist between the characters. Nan is married to Dillon, who was the one truly passionate relationship of Frankie’s life, first a childhood friend, then briefly a lover. Frankie is married to Clay, a man she doesn’t love, but who is kind, gentle, and understanding. Ruth passed away several years ago, but she was the one true love of Mave’s life, and there hasn’t been anybody since. As a child, Frankie wrote letters to Ruth and received letters in exchange which fired her imagination, but as an adult, Frankie realizes she never really knew her.

Often you wrote of the desert, how in Sinai you heard the original language inside of language. How in Persia there could be no larger sense of night, of scope. Mostly you wrote about words themselves and about my own letters to Mave, which you’d been reading all along. Words without limits, blurred at the edges like bog land; words as rooms one walks into, words holding million-year-old-species like amber — see the trilobite and the ancient fern, the spinal column of something extinct still preserved in a word’s withered curve.

These explorations are quiet and meditative, as is everything in the novel. The story repeatedly touches on grief and loss, but not as dramatic touchpoints in the character’s lives, but rather as an inevitability, the cost of living. There’s an interesting tension between stillness and motion in the book. The story is that of a road trip with the characters literally always in motion. The narrative itself is constantly in fluid motion throughout time, recollections folded inside recollections in a non-linear exploration of the women’s intersecting lives. Yet at the same time, each character feels firmly stuck in place. They are either unable to pursue their desires, or uncertain what those desires are, caught in lives that aren’t fulfilling, and unable or unwilling to move on from their pasts. Ruth ends up representing a kind of ideal for all of them – the perfect love, the perfect life – but she is not a desire to move toward, she is safely in the past where she can remain idealized rather than realized, and no one has to hurt themselves further by trying to live up to her or confronting the reality of her existence.

The novel leans heavily into the literary and the poetic. It is grounded in the mundanities of everyday life, and yet dreamlike in its treatment of time, and fantastical in the flowery dialog the characters employ. It is a study in contrasts, and an interesting read for the rhythm of its language and its intimate exploration of the characters’ inner lives and the constant push and pull that exists between expectation and reality.

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Eurasian Monsters Review

Eurasian Monsters CoverEurasian Monsters edited by Margrét Helgadóttir is the seventh and final installment in the Fox Spirit Books Monsters anthology series. Like the other installments in the series, including African Monsters, Asian Monsters, European Monsters, and more, this book is a lovely physical object. The 8.5 x 8.5 square format gives the anthology the feel of a children’s book of dark fairy tales or ghost stories, and each entry is accompanied by its own illustration. The majority of the stories are original to the volume (published in December 2020), with a few reprints thrown in, and includes work by authors such as Haralambi Markov, Alex Shvartsman, Bogi Takács, and Ekaterina Sedia. The anthology also offers a mix of stories originally written in the English language, and translations. As the title implies, all the tales offer their own take on monsters, legends, and supernatural creatures in various Eurasian settings. Overall, it was an enjoyable anthology, with a few stories in particular that really stood, highlighted below.

Daemons in Their Time by Marta Magdelena Lasik (translated by Piotr Swietlik) offers a fascinating blend of a technologically advanced world and old mythology. There’s a dreamlike quality to the prose as a rusalka follows a man through a desert wasteland, trying to get him to admit he’s not human, while he refuses to believe could possibly be anything but human.

You are lying. Perhaps even without knowing it, but you’re not telling the truth. I understand riddles. I recognize the correct answers even if I don’t know them. When you answer my question, my puzzle, I know, with the wisdom of a centuries-old rusalka, that it is not the correct answer.

Of all the stories in the anthology, this is probably the one that edges closest to science fiction, yet there’s also a timelessness to it, despite the post-apocalyptic setting. The story deals with questions of identity and self knowledge, and coming to accept truths, even when they are difficult to face.

Bagatazh by Karina Shainyan (translated by Mike Olivson) has the feel of a classic ghost story, told around a campfire. Indeed, much of the story does take place in the vicinity of a campfire, as Katya, one of two guides tasked with guiding tourists on hike and camping excursion, begins to suspect they are being stalked by a local legend.

Boom. There is something large stirring in the night shadows beyond the fire. Katya recoils, as the air wheezes into her lungs and freezes, transforming into stone. Boom, says the heart, beating painfully in her eardrums. Boom-boom-boom. The dark mass stirs and mutters. The low flames dance as the details of the approaching figure come into view. Recognizing it, Katya relaxes, and realizes she can breathe again.

Tucked within the eerie, supernatural tale is the story of a woman who feels caught between two worlds, and thus like she belongs nowhere. Katya’s predicament is mirrored by the monster of the tale, a massive ancient frog, cursed by the spirits of the mountain for refusing to pay tribute to them because it claimed to be a creature of the water as much as a creature of land, not living full time in either, and thus owing allegiance to no one.

Nine Tongues Tell Of by Haralambi Markov is lovely story of the friendship that develops between an orphaned woman caring for her elderly grandfather, and a nine-headed mythical creature. Similar to Katya in Shainyan’s story, Damyana in Markov’s story never feels entirely as though she belongs to the human world. While the hala she faces is terrifying, and does have its monstrous aspects, the gifts she gives it in order to keep it from devouring her ultimately become an act of healing, allowing her to let go of her grief and lighten her spirit.

When her grandfather died and she truly became an orphan, Damyana brought his ashes, neatly packed in an urn–a ceramic box decorated with cherubs and painted in a mournful green. All seven heads shed tears then and gently the hala took the box into one of its maws and stored it away for safe-keeping.

As with many of the stories in the anthology, the monster in Markov’s tale shows itself to be more compassionate than many humans in its own way. While some of the monsters are truly monstrous, most stand in for various states of mind – anxiety, fear, a lack of belonging, or a desire to be loved. The humans are often the monstrous ones, where more often than not, the monsters simply are what they are – obeying their nature, and holding up a mirror to the mortals who encounter them.

The Visit by Maria Galina (translated by Mike Olivson) tells the story of Sergey Stepanonvich, a middle-aged man who is visited one night by Ded Moroz, a frightening Santa Claus-like figure. At first Ded Moroz claims he has come to make amends for Sergey’s childhood disappointment when he wished for a telescope for Christmas, and instead received a drum. Ded Moroz tells him that had he received the telescope, he might have achieved his childhood dream of becoming an astronomer, instead of ending up in a dead-end job he hates, divorced, alone, and overall let down by life. He brings gifts of food and whiskey as an apology, but the longer they talk, the more Sergey begins to suspect that Ded Moroz’s motives may not be entirely pure.

At the border where light met shadow, he could see red, gold, green, and silver reflections, somewhat unclear and out of focus. But if you looked at them indirectly, from the corner of your eye, they somehow became a sled with a high back, decorated with shining patterns, and unmoving white silhouettes which stood out from the snow, either wolves or huge dogs…

The slow unfolding of the tale, and the ultimate reveal of Ded Moroz’s nature is nicely done. The imagery is evocative, and the author deftly blends touches of humor with an increasingly dark exploration of whether simple external factors have the power to shape our entire lives, or whether humans are ultimately responsible for creating our own success and happiness, but would rather look to those outside forces as convenient things to blame when our lives don’t go as we imagined.

Veruska and the Lúdvérc by Bogi Takács spins a classic fairy tale of a young, kind-hearted girl named Veruska who discovers what appears to be a strange, orphaned bird, and takes it home, only to find that she has unwittingly brought home a monster.

Yet suddenly she heard a popping sound. The chick jumped off the oven-ledge and squealed with human words, in a little girl’s voice. “What shall I bring? What shall I bring?” Veruska rubbed her eyes, opened the curtain over the ledge and tried to see better in the light of the full moon. The fledgling suddenly looked much larger, like an adult’s fist in size.

The lúdvérc at first seems only mischievous, pulling pranks which Veruska is blamed for, but then turns more sinister. If Veruska isn’t able to fulfil its demands, it threatens eat her, as it has eaten many children like her before. The story unfolds in a satisfying battle of wits, as Veruska must rely on her cleverness to out-trick the trickster to save her life and that of her family.

Each story in the anthology offers its own unique take on the monstrous, with a wide variety of supernatural beings that range from frightening to tragic and everything in-between. It’s a fantastic addition to the Monsters series, all of which are well-worth checking out.

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My Favorite Books of 2020

The year is almost done. I’m still trying to catch up on all the wonderful books that came out this year. I will always be trying to catch up on all the wonderful books that came out in any given year. It’s a delightful problem to have. I will never truly feel sufficiently caught up, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing a list of my favorites novels and novellas thus far!

In fact, I already started the process with a post at Vernacular Books. But, as is my way, I have more books to add! To quickly recap, here are the books included in my Vernacular post. You can read about each in more detail over there.

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
No Man’s Land by A.J. Fitzwater
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Riot Baby by Tochi Oyenbuchi
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

And now that your TBR pile is already teetering perilously, the list grows…

The Grand Tour by E. Catherine Tobler

The Grand Tour CoverThis is a collection I’ve been waiting for since I first encountered E. Catherine Tobler’s circus stories. Did my need to read it will the collection into being? Probably not, but you’re free to thank me anyway. The Grand Tour brings together many, but not all, of Tobler’s stories set in and around Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. Like the circus itself, the stories move fluidly through time and space, revealing wonders and terrors along the way. Tobler’s writing is breathtakingly gorgeous, and the collection offers up a delightful blend of horror, science fiction, fantasy, history, and even a hint of romance. There are vanishing acts, found families, and jars of marmalade that hold moments in time. There are people donning costumes in order to shed their disguises and become their true selves. It’s a truly gorgeous collection, and once you’ve properly immersed yourself in Jackson’s world, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Kraken Sea as well so you can go back to Jackson’s roots and see how it all began.

Thin Places by Kay Chronister

An atmospheric, moody, and haunting collection full of beautifully written stories. A few in particular truly stood out, namely “Too Lonely, Too Wild”, “Roiling Without Form”, and “Life Cycles”. If you’re new to Chronister’s writing, this is an excellent place to start in order to get a sense of her strong voice and her eerie and lingering characters and settings. If you’ve read her work before, then you know how wonderful it is, so why not treat yourself to a whole collection?

Docile by K.M. Szpara

A near-future science fiction novel that presents a frightening and all-too-plausible look at the economic systems designed to allow the wealthy to hold onto their position and power, while everyone else is caught up in a endless cycle of debt passed down from generation to generation. Elisha sells himself into service as a Docile in order to protect his sister and pay off his family’s debt. As a Docile, he must absolutely obey the will of his owner, Alexander Bishop III, whose family just so happens to be behind the invention and manufacture of Dociline, a drug designed to completely remove a Docile’s will. Elisha saw Dociline ruin his mother’s mind, leaving her an empty shell, and swears he will never take it, meaning he will be fully aware of everything that goes on during his term of service where he must completely submit himself to Alex’s will. Docile is by no means an easy read, exploring uncomfortable territory around consent and abuse. The discomforting nature of the story is deliberately done, and it is balanced and grounded by characters that feel deeply human, whose choices and actions grow out of their worldviews, no matter how unsettling those world views might be.

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Set in Lemberg’s Birdverse, this novella explores transformation and self-discovery, as two trans elders seek answers about themselves and where they belong in the world. The prose is poetic, and the worldbuilding rich and immersive. The fact that the story centers on two grandparents taking on an epic journey filled with magic and danger sets it apart from other quest stories, and highlights one of the novella’s central themes – to be alive is to be constantly in the act of becoming, and one’s self is not a finite, but a thing that constantly evolves and grows. Earlier this year, I wrote a post discussing the novella in more depth, which can be found here.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory CoverA fast-paced space opera, which like Szpara’s Docile explores systems of debt, and questions of who has access to resources. Ash Jackson is a salvage pilot doing her best to hide a chronic illness that would leave her out of a job if her employers ever found out. After an encounter with a mysterious alien artifact, Ash’s entire world beings to unravel and she is caught up amidst companies out for profit, conspiracies, and secrets, unsure who to trust or where to turn. The writing is sharp and brilliant, the worldbuilding fantastic, and the characters highly relatable, which makes the situations they are forced into even more brutal and heartbreaking. Not only does Osborne do a fantastic job of exploring the uncaring nature of corporations and the distribution of wealth, she perfectly captures the physical and emotional cost of war and its ongoing impact long after the fighting itself is done.

The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper

Piper blends cosmic horror with the real-world horrors of transphobia and a system that allows people to fall through the cracks into poverty and homelessness. After losing her job, falling out with her family, and nearly dying at the hands of a back-alley surgeon, Monique is simply trying to survive, living in the abandoned tunnels beneath New York City. When the only good thing in her life, her girlfriend Donna, disappears, Monique sets out to find her. She knows Donna was taken, and that she isn’t the only one. Others have disappeared, people like herself and Donna that nobody else will care about or miss. Monique encounters a creature known as Grey Hill, a monster out of urban legends, who is responsible for the disappearances. She gives chase, and finds the mystery goes much deeper than a lone creature snatching people away. There’s a whole secret society living beneath the music hall with a plan to unleash horrors of cosmic proportions. Piper offers up truly unsettling and haunting descriptions, striking imagery, and a unique monster in Grey Hill. The cosmic horrors waiting to be unleashed are a troubling mirror for the real-world horrors Monique faces. The doctor who nearly ends her life and the cult (and their cosmic masters) she encounters underground are two sides of the same coin – uncaring beings who see people like her as fodder, a means to an end. The Worm and His Kings is a highly-effective novella that explores horror on multiple levels – both supernatural and mundane.

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

This tense and eerie novel is either the perfect thing to read during a pandemic, or the worst, depending on your state of mind. Written well before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Tremblay accurately captures so many aspects of a global medical catastrophe – the scramble for resources and a response, the distrust and misinformation, the paranoia, and the breakdown in communication leaving people stranded. Natalie is eight months pregnant when the virus hits, a rabies-like sickness that turns people and animals  into violent, zombie-like creatures. She and her husband are attacked in their home, her husband is killed, and Natalie is bitten. Natalie turns to her friend and college roommate, Dr. Ramola Sherman, for help, and she and Rams begin a desperate race against the clock to get Natalie to a hospital where she can hopefully be vaccinated before it’s too late, or if worst comes to worst, her baby can be safely delivered even if she succumbs. Tremblay puts a unique spin on the (don’t call them)zombies trope with ravenous creatures who spout unsettling nonsense that sometimes sounds like religious doctrine. The characters and relationships at the heart of the story lend it real emotional weight, making for a surprisingly effective ending that had me tearing up at times.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun CoverA highly satisfying epic fantasy with perfect pacing that makes it feel like a fast read despite the hefty page count. Roanhorse weaves together multiple storylines and points of view, as the characters are slowly drawn together for the impending celestial event known appropriately enough as Convergence. Serapio was blinded and scarred by his mother as a child to make him a living vessel for a lost god; Xiala is a sea captain who frequently finds herself on the wrong side of the law, and is equally feared and revered for her ability to command the sea through song; Naranpa is the current Sun Priest, caught at the heart of a conspiracy to depose her. The worldbuilding is rich, the characters wonderful, and the writing beautiful as Roanhorse explores the notion of epic destiny and what happens when the purpose you’ve been building toward your entire life goes completely off the rails.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Where Kingfisher’s delightfully creepy The Twisted Ones (published in 2019) took on Arthur Machen’s classic horror story “The White People”, The Hollow Places takes on Algernon Blackwood’s cosmic horror novella “The Willows”. In the wake of her divorce, Kara (known as Carrot to friends and family) moves into her uncle’s Wonder Museum to take care of the place for him while he has surgery. The Wonder Museum is an establishment crammed full of strange taxidermy and other oddities, and when one more oddity arrives – a small carving from the Danube region labeled “corpse otter” – Carrot thinks nothing of it. Until a mysterious hole appears in one of the Wonder Museum’s walls, and she and her neighbor Simon, who runs the coffee shop next door, discover an entire world behind the wall. The novel is rife with intensely creepy imagery and truly skin-crawling moments, and captures the spirit of Blackwood’s original novella, while giving it a fresh spin. The cosmic horror on display here is of the vast, uncaring universe, coupled with the awesome and terrifying power of nature variety, rather than the squamous, tentacled variety, which is refreshing as not as many authors seem to be playing that corner of the sub-genre playground. I highly recommend picking up The Twisted Ones as well and giving that a read while you’re at it!

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

A glorious manners and magic novel reminiscent at times of The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, while being utterly its own thing. Beatrice is a powerful sorceress, practicing magic in secret, collecting grimoires in order to learn how to make The Great Bargain and bind a major spirit to her will. She isn’t merely seeking power for her own sake, but also to help her father with his business, and ensure her family’s financial future without having to get married. Her family, and society at large, has other plans for her however. Marriage, however, means Beatrice will be forced to wear a collar that will suppress her powers in the name of keeping any potential children that might be conceived safe from demonic possession. In her quest for grimoires, Beatrice crosses paths with Ysbeta Lavan and her brother Ianthe. Beatrice learns that Ysbeta is after the same thing she is, and they strike a deal to share knowledge, which quickly blossoms into a friendship. At the same time a romantic relationship blooms between Beatrice and Ianthe – one which could endanger all of her plans, even as it delights her family. The novel is sumptuous, filled with glorious descriptions of fashion, food, and buildings, and the characters are wonderful. The intricate social relationships, and delicate balance Beatrice must keep between all the people in her life in order to pull off her plans mirrors perfectly the bargains she must make with the spirit Nadi in order to accomplish her goals. Everything in her life is a negotiation, and there are rules to be followed and cleverly subverted. The worldbuilding is fantastic, the choices Beatrice faces brutal and heartbreaking, and the characters’ and the way they deal with each other brings it all together. Even when there is subterfuge involved, characters respect each other, have honest conversations, and genuinely try to understand each others’ viewpoints, something which doesn’t happen often enough in fiction. Polk provides a masterclass in a narrative that offers up plenty of tension and obstacles for characters to overcome without relying solely on said characters butting heads literally or figuratively.

The Blade Between by Sam J. Miller

The Blade Betwen CoverMiller perfectly blends crime, mystery, and the supernatural in a story set in a fictionalized version of Hudson, NY – a town with a bloody past rooted in the whaling industry, currently caught between dying and gentrification. Ronan finds himself on a train from Manhattan, headed back to his hometown. Hudson is the place he deliberately left behind, where his mother committed suicide and he was ruthlessly bullied by homophobes as a kid. He hadn’t intended to return, and in truth, he isn’t entirely certain why he has, as he has no memory of boarding the train of what he’s doing there. The first person he encounters on his arrival is Dom, his best friend, and first love, now a cop married to another former classmate, Attalah. Ronan quickly rekindles his friendship with Dom, which leads to a rekindling of their romantic and sexual relationship as well, even as he deepens his friendship with Attalah over their mutual hatred for the outsiders taking over their town. Attalah and Ronan develop a plot to drive out the gentrifiers and retake Hudson, but in doing so, they accidentally tap into something larger and more powerful than themselves, a supernatural force fueled by hate, which neither of them can control. The Blade Between is beautifully-written, the fantastical elements meshing perfectly with the real world issues of eviction and substance abuse, and the complicated and messy human relationships at the book’s heart. The Blade Between is by turns painful and hopeful, not shying away from the ugliness and hatred humans are capable of, but showing their capacity for kindness and caring as well. Miller’s Hudson is both a haven and a hell, a thin place slipped out of time where great wonders and great terrors exist side by side, and occasionally, the ghosts of long-dead whales sail the skies.

Despite the length of this list, I’m always looking to add to my TBR pile. What books did you love this year?

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My Favorite Short Fiction of 2020

It’s been another stellar year for short fiction. There is so freakin’ much good stuff out there! I know there’s a lot I’ve missed, and I know there are stories still coming out through the end of the year, so I reserve the right to update this list as time goes on. That said, I know many other people are trying to catch up on reading as well, and thinking about award nominations, so I wanted to share some of my favorite short stories and novelettes of the year (thus far) in the hopes that you might enjoy them too.

Note, the list appears roughly in the order I read the pieces in question, and I’m not 100% I have all the lengths right in terms of short story vs. novelette, but I’ve done my best. Thank you to all the publications that include word counts somewhere, either in a year-end round up or with the story itself. You are the best!

Uncanny Magazine Issue 32 CoverMiss Karami’s Academy for Time-Warping Ladies by Kat Otis (Kaliedotrope/Short Story) – an absolutely charming story of twins, time travel, and trickery as a group of young women get firmly up to no good in the best possible ways.

Familiar Face by Meg Elison (Nightmare/Short Story) – a haunting story of loss, and the possible intersection between ghosts and technology.

My Country is a Ghost by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny/Short Story) – a beautifully-written and bittersweet reflection on immigration and what people leave behind when they move to a new country, exploring themes of assimilation, loss, memory, and ghosts both literal and figurative.

Claudette du Lac and the Devil of the North by Genevieve Sinha (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a fun adventure story with a strong voice about hunting monsters in the frozen north.

Monster by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a fascinating study of monstrousness, friendship, and what it means to recognize something monstrous in someone close to you.

Every Tiny Tooth and Claw by Marissa Lingen (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a wonderful use of the epistolary format to tell the story of a growing rebellion between the lines.

One Song Ending by E.A. Petricone (Apparition Lit/Short Story) – a heartbreaking yet hopeful story about animal testing, disease, medical research, and how we value life.

Apparition Lit Issue 12 CoverYo, Rapunzel! by Kyle Kirrin (PodCastle/Short Story) – a fun and foul-mouthed take on an old fairy tale, featuring a princess who has no interest in being rescued and is quite content to stay imprisoned in her tower playing board games.

The Imperishable Birds by Vajra Chandrasekera (Fireside/Short Story) – a powerful story full of striking imagery, about the ways people and stories can be colonized, and the way lived experiences get reframed to seem more “authentic” to the white gaze.

Forgive Me, My Love, for the Ice and the Sea by C.L. Clark (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a story of peril and adventure, where a woman must confront a goddess and break her promise to the one she loves in order to save her.

How We Burn by Brenda Peynado (Lightspeed/Novelette) – a slick and stylish story set in a world struggling to recover from scarcity and near-total environmental collapse exploring the conflicting ideals of the generation who lived through the disaster, and the younger generation trying to carve out their own place in the world.

Rat and Finch Are Friends by Innocent Chizram Ilo (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a lovely and heartbreaking story of friendship, budding romance, animal transformations, and the harm done by a mother who believes the pain she causes is for her child’s own good.

The Old Ones, Great and Small by Rajiv Moté (Diabolical Plots/Short Story) – a surprisingly emotional story using Lovecraftian mythos to explore themes of captivity and human cruelty.

Way of the Laser Anthology CoverKalopsia by E.N. Auslender (Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories/Short Story) – a story set in an ad-infested cyberpunkish future, exploring the all-too-familiar contemporary issue of how immigrants are treated, and the unfair systems that create poverty and crime.

Distant Stars by P.H. Lee (Clarkesworld/Short Story) – a bittersweet story about dark matter, gravity, and the distance that can grow between people no matter how hard you try to hold on.

Sister Thrush by Marie Vibbert (Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories/Short Story) – a fun and fast-paced story of crime and double-crossing, as a brother tries to protect his sister after she gets herself in trouble with some dangerous people and goes on the run with her consciousness uploaded into the body of a mechanical bird.

The Bear Wife by Leah Bobet (Apparition Lit/Short Story) – a lovely take on the animal bride trope about meeting someone on their own terms rather than trying to change them to fit your expectations.

Uncanny Issue 34 CoverUniform by Errick Nunnally (Fiyah/Short Story) – an utterly heartbreaking story about a cybernetically-enhanced soldier returning from war and trying to find his place in a world that no longer wants anything to do with him.

Smilers by Chip Houser (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – an eerie and emotional story about two brothers caught up in a mysterious plague that empties people out and leaves them as hollow, smiling shells.

We Are the Flower by Claire Humphrey (PodCastle/Short Story) – a bittersweet story of ghosts, unfinished business, and finding love when it’s almost too late.

Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny/Novelette) – a fun, heartfelt, and occasionally snarky look at the less glamorous side of life with superpowers.

An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands by Fran Wilde ( Story) – a beautifully-written story about maps, exploration, what it means to “discover” a territory and how the act of discovery can transform both the land and the explorer.

We’re Here, We’re Here by K.M. Szpara ( Story) – a story of friendship, music, and love that explores the question of who own an artist’s voice.

Dominion Anthology CoverA Mastery of German by Marian Denise Moore (Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora/Short Story) – an exploration of memory and the troubling implications of a technology that would allow memories and knowledge to be transferred from person to person.

Open House on Haunted Hill by John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots/Short Story) – a charming story of a haunted house that just wants to be loved and to make the family that moves into it happy.

The Moon Room by Maria Romansco Moore (Kaleidotrope/Short Story) – a story of a photographer grappling with her past, her missing memories, and coming to terms with her true self, exploring alienation and otherness.

Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker ( – an eerie and unsettling story of an unreliable narrator confronted with the sudden reality of a creepy children’s show she’s certain she made up.

A Stick of Clay in the Hands of God is Infinite Potential by Neon Yang (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a beautifully-written story of mechs and pilots, full of striking imagery, exploring the idea of people and faith used as weapons.

The Satellite Charmer by Mame Bougouma Diene (Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora/Novelette) – a story with an epic feel that traces the life and transcendence beyond humanity of a man whose fate and existence is inextricably linked to a mining satellite devastating the land outside his village.

Needles by Kali Napier (The Dark/Short Story) – a dark and satisfying story about a mother using “women’s work” to protect her daughter and herself from her abusive husband.

Fiyah Magazine Issue 15 CoverThe Last Testament by Aurelius Raines II (Fiyah/Short Story) – a story of loss and a sister seeking revenge for her brother’s murder, told from the perspective of the AI she builds in his image to help her in her work.

The Black Menagerie by Endria Isa Richardson (Fiyah/Short Story) – a beautifully written story about people trying to control what they don’t understand, and how fear can be cultivated and put to good use.

Baba Yaga and the Seven Hills by Kristina Ten (Lightspeed/Short Story) – a charming story about community, learning not to take people and places for granted, an old witch learning new tricks.

Bobbie and Her Father by Gillian Daniels (The Dark/Short Story) – a twist on the Frankenstein story, about a prideful man creating life from death, told from the perspective of an awkward young girl who just wants to be loved.

Slipping the Leash by Dan Micklewaite (PodCastle/Short Story) – a gorgeously-written story with a distinctive voice that plays with the werewolf trope to explore music, desire, and the traumas of war.

Seven Parts Full by Anya Ow (Translunar Travelers Lounge/Short Story) – a sweet and charming story that takes on the trope of a competition to win a legendary weapon and turns it on its ear.

Anathema Issue 11 CoverTara’s Mother’s Skin by Suzanne Palumbo (PseudoPod/Short Story) – an unsettling story of women who are labelled monstrous, exploring the line between what is supernatural and what is merely human cruelty.

Tiger of the New Moon by Allison Thai (Anathema Magazine/Short Story) – a lovely story about a legendary supernatural tiger and a young woman overcoming their pain and trauma together and forming a friendship.

Cycle of the Eternal Witness by Adelehin Ijasan (Omenana/Short Story) – a story with a classic sci-fi feel exploring questions of beauty, sacrifice, ultimate power, and destiny.

The Goatkeeper’s Harvest by Tobi Ogundrian (The Dark/Short Story) – an unsettling story of a young mother trying to protect her family from cosmic horrors after she unwittingly breaks a pact with an ancient being.

The Last Trophy of Hunter Hammerson by L. Chan (Hexagon/Short Story) – the story of a journalist uncovering the truth behind the exploits of a legendary monster hunter who isn’t quite what he claims to be.

Deep in the Drift, Spinning by Lisa L. Hannett (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a lovely and poetic story of a woman with the power to wring magic from seabirds, complicated family relationships, and losing those who care about by trying to hard to hold on.

Tea with the Earl of Twilight by Sonya Taaffe (Nightmare/Short Story) – a gorgeous and melancholy story about the intersection of art, memory, and ghosts.

Bourbon Penn Issue 21 CoverMiss Bulletproof Comes Out of Retirement by Louis Evans (GigaNotoSaurus/Short Story) – a story of a trickster god and a superhero who is drawn back into her old life by the need to protect her family.

To Inherit Hunger by Crystal Lyn Hilbert (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – a powerful story of the relationship between a daughter and a mother whose dementia manifests as hallucinations other people can see.

Down to Nifhel Deep by Maria Haskins (Kaleidotrope/Short Story) – an emotional story about a very good dog undertaking a perilous journeys into the underworld to save his human.

Lingua Franca by Amelia Fisher (Metaphorosis/Short Story) – a painful story about choosing between family and society, and how lack of access to technology can further marginalize those already on the edges of society.

The Front Line by W.C. Dunlap ( Fiyah/Short Story) – a powerful story about the way Black women’s pain is discounted, and how they are often expected to be shields for others.

Blue Hole, Red Sea by E. Catherine Tobler (Evil in Technicolor/Novelette) – an eerie and lovely story of an underwater archeologist discovering a sunken temple populated by forgotten gods who do not take kindly to those who would try to claim their treasures.

Clarkesworld November 2020 CoverCity of Red Midnight: A Hikayat by Usman T. Malik ( – a series of interlocking tales, myths, and legends, telling of tricksters, demons, magicians, and the power of stories to shape the world.

Girls with Needles and Frost by Jenny Rae Rappaport (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Novelette) – a beautifully-written story of magic, war, revolution, and “mere dressmakers” fighting back against an oppressive regime.

Where the Old Neighbors Go by Thomas Ha (Metaphorosis/Short Story) – a lovely story of trickster gods and gentrification and those who are overlooked and pushed aside in the name of progress.

The Little Witch by M. Rickert ( – an eerie and charming story of ghosts and witches and unlikely friendships.

Lost in Darkness and Distance by Clara Madrigano (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a beautiful and heartbreaking story about complicated family relationships that grow even more complicated with a technology that allows them to bring back lost loved ones.

And This is How to Stay Alive by Shinga Njeri Kagunda (Fantasy Magazine/Short Story) – a lovely and bittersweet story about loss, grief, guilt, and trying to hold onto someone and bring them back after they’re gone in a way that honors who they truly are.

Bourbon Penn 22 CoverWhat Friends Don’t Tell Friends About Basements by Corey Farrenkopf (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – a wonderful story about friendship and the fear of drifting apart, and a teenager whose life is complicated by her family’s sworn duty to protect the world from the cosmic horrors growing in her basement.

High in the Clean Blue Air by Emma Törsz (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a beautiful story of friendship, betrayal, secrets, and animal transformation.

Color, Heat, and the Wreck of the Argo by Catherynne M. Valente (Strange Horizons/Novelette) – a haunting story about memory as time travel, featuring an old video camera that gives the woman who finds it a glimpse at the small and big moments that define and change people’s lives.

Collections by E.L. Chen (Lackington’s/Short Story) – a story of gods and archivists and the role museums play in both preserving and consuming culture.

The Cat Lady and the Petitioner by Jennifer Hudak (Translunar Travelers Lounge/Short Story – a charming story about inter-dimensional rifts, cats, and finding your true purpose in life.

An Important Failure by Rebecca Campbell (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a breath-taking story about the interconnectedness of life, the long cycle of history, climate failure, recovery, and the power of music.

Head Static by Sheree Renee Thomas (Nine Bar Blues/Novelette) – a story full of energy and poetry about a goddess/muse who inspires and feeds off music, which also explores the power of music to uplift people and connect history and moments in time.

AirBody by Sameem Siddiqui (Clarkesworld/Short Story) – a bittersweet story about food, memory, regret, and a technology that allows people to lease out their bodies to other people’s consciousnesses for a while.

Where the River Turns to Concrete by Brooke Bolander (The Book of Dragons/Short Story) – a lovely and heartfelt story about an ancient river spirit simultaneously discovering his true nature and his humanity.

Renovation of a Finite Apartment by Toby MacNutt (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a lovely and melancholy story of an alien consciousness trapped in a human body learning to make a space for itself in the world via home decor.

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