Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: November 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

“The Word of Flesh and Soul” by Rovina Cal

This month, we read stories about the power of words to change the world, stories about the moon and Mars, stories about Little Red Riding Hood, and wolves haunting the forest, and soldiers haunted by war, and dreams of all sorts.

Toward A New Lexicon of Augury“, by Sabrina Vourvoulias, in Apex Magazine
In a North American city in a near-future world ravaged by climate change and ruled by predatory companies and politicians, a group of brujas—witches—are fighting for a better, more just, society using whatever magic they have at their disposal. This riveting story is full of poetry and politics, and it hones in on the power of words: “...it all starts with words, don’t you know? And ends that way, too.” Vourvoulias delves deep into themes of resistance and sacrifice, illustrating the despair and hope we all might feel when we try to change the world. If you like this story, I highly recommend you check out Sabrina Vourvoulias’s novel Ink, recently rereleased by Rosarium Publishing. (You’ll also find it recommended on this blog’s list of 50 Science Fiction Essentials Written By Women.)

Other People’s Dreams“, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, in The Magazine of Fantasy & SF Nov/Dec 2018
A beautifully written story about a world where some people can sense other’s dreams, and where some are also able to craft dreams, both for themselves and others. Bardo is an apprentice at a dream store, a renowned establishment owned by the enigmatic Rowan. When Rowan receives an unusual request for a dream that must be crafted off-world, old memories of guilt, death, and family are brought to the fore, and the work puts Rowan’s very life in danger. Hoffman expertly pulls you in to her compelling world. I loved the vivid descriptions of both the characters and the dream-crafting itself.

Moonboys“, by Stephen Graham Jones, in Lightspeed 
Two brothers are on the moon. They have imagined and dreamt about going to there for pretty much their whole lives, and now that they’re there, something has gone wrong. This is a science fiction story that isn’t really about tech or science. It’s about the bond between siblings, a thread that ties you to each other from childhood, a time of sharing dreams, and lives, and backyards. Profoundly moving, this is also a story about love and loss, and it packs a heavy emotional punch without a big word count.

Rotkäppchen“, by Emily McCosh, in Shimmer
I have an undying love for the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and for the many retellings of that fairy tale. This story by Emily McCosh is a stirring new take on the classic. Adeline is an old woman who was once a girl who wore a red cloak and met a strange wolf. She is now herself a grandmother, and her son has mysteriously died—killed by bears in the woods, people say. There is both good and perilous magic hiding in those woods, and McCosh weaves her own magic and wonder into every sentence of her story. The joy of a good retelling is in seeing someone twist and turn an old jewel and find new facets, making it sparkle in new ways under different light. That’s exactly what McCosh does here.

Soldier’s Things“, by Tim Lees, in Interzone #278 
A soldier is back from the war, broken and shattered, the cybernetic implants in his head destroyed. In Lees’s future, soldiers are programmed to make them more reliable fighters, but when the programming fails, one soldier finds himself lost in more ways than one. The world away from the fighting seems alien, and the people who haven’t fought in the war can’t comprehend its true horrors. Lees masterfully explores the suffering and loss triggered by a conflict that is mercilessly using up the world, and the people in it. This is a powerful story that resonates as both great science fiction and a harrowing parable about the costs of war.

Radio Free Heartland“, by Corey Mallonee, in Cast of Wonders
Tessa is only a kid, but she has already shot a man. In the aftermath, her mom told her she had to leave home, and at a rest stop off the highway, she meets Smoke. Smoke tells her he can take her to a city where she’ll be safe, but as it turns out, the city isn’t exactly the kind of place you drive to… Quietly compelling, Mallonee’s story deals with difficult issues like sexual assault (implied rather than graphically depicted) and growing up without the support of friends or family. It also offers up one of the most uniquely imagined magic rituals I’ve seen in a story recently, involving an old radio. The narration by Karen Bovenmeyer is wonderful.

You Can’t Grow Corn on the Moon“, by Brendan William-Childs, in Vulture Bones #3
This sci-fi story starts out in a slaughterhouse on Earth, where Manuel dreams about emigrating to Mars, while Nina is haunted by memories of what happened when she was there. A company looking for new recruits to fuel its planetary expansion will impact both of their lives. William-Childs tells a rich and layered tale set in a future solar system with limited options and limited resources. It’s a story about friendship and fraught relationships, and, ultimately, about how to make a life for yourself after your dreams have turned to dust.

My Name Is Cybernetic Model XR389F, and I Am Beautiful“, by Monica Valentinelli in Uncanny Magazine
Darkly funny, and with an edge razor-sharp enough to cut those who try to justify or condone sexual harassment and misogyny, Valentinelli’s story is a thing of spiky, angry beauty. It is told from the perspective of a cyborg working as a custodial engineer in a lab as it tries to make sense of the seemingly erratic behavior of another cyborg, and the increasingly strange actions of a human, Senior Engineer Robert Brandt. I love the way Valentinelli breaks down the cyborg’s responses to the rather questionable situations it is asked to endure, eventually leading it to take dramatic action.

The Only Way Out Lies Farther In“, by David Tallerman, in The Dark
This is one of the most terrifying stories I’ve read recently. Tallerman doesn’t frighten with gore or jump-scares, but by build a framework of tension around you and then expertly tightening the screws until you can barely breathe. A family goes into a rather mundane-looking maze and somehow while they are walking through it, everything changes. When they come out (did they come out?), their lives are never the same. There’s a soul-chilling, existential dread lurking beneath the everyday surface of this one.

The Word of Flesh and Soul“, by Ruthanna Emrys, at Tor.com
A ravishing, riveting story about an ancient language, “the tongue of the originators”—a dialect so powerful that those studying it risk being physically, and maybe mentally, transformed. Only fragments of the writing still exist, and access to them is controlled by a secretive group of mostly male academics. However, Polymede Anagnos and Erishti Musaru are determined to publish their own revolutionary findings, no matter what the cost. Emrys’s story is a luminous tale of language and love and determination, of risking everything because of your passion. The author has expanded her stories to novel-length before, and I can only hope that at some point, there will be a novel set in this world, too.

Read any memorable stories in November?

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