Fabulous News on a Monday: Sci-FI & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: January 2018

Sci-FI & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: January 2018

Cover art from Clarkesworld Magazine, January 2018. Artist: Arthur Saldos

Short fiction is the lifeblood of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s where we first encountered many authors who have gone on to win awards and write some of our favorite novels. This new monthly column will highlight some of the most notable short SFF published in the prior month, and hopefully introduce you to your next favorite author.

There’s a staggering amount of fabulous speculative short fiction being published every month—online, in print, and in audio—introducing the world to exciting new voices in the genre. This roundup can only capture a tiny fraction of it, of course (at least until I acquire a horde of clones that can do the reading and writing for me), but I hope to offer a tasty sample of the range, depth, and variety of it that is available out there. Here are 10 stories that stood out in January 2018.

Black Fanged Thing,” by Sam Rebelein in Shimmer
This story, about a seemingly ordinary small town and its seemingly ordinary inhabitants, is eerie and unsettling from the first paragraph. It masterfully captures the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a place, in a life, that isn’t quite what you wanted…except that the characters in this story aren’t quite sure what else they did want, once upon a time. I love the chilling sense of an unseeable, unknowable darkness lurking beneath the surface of everyday life. To me, this story brings to mind both Ray Bradbury and The Twilight Zone.

The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls,” by Senaa Ahmad in Strange Horizons
A mesmerizing blend of history (it was partly inspired by the real events that befell the so-called Radium Girls), fantasy, politics, science, and science fiction, this story is heartbreaking, fierce, and moving. I especially love how Ahmad explores and intertwines the complex relationship between the girls — all chosen for their rather frightening super power — and the brutal politics of war in which a government is using them as weapons.

A World to Die For,” by Tobias S. Buckell in Clarkesworld
Buckell’s post-apocalyptic tale pops off the page, vivid and visceral, with the texture and fury of a Mad Maxmovie (and I mean that as a sincere compliment). There’s a blighted but still recognizable U.S. landscape, there are gangs of road-warriors, there are weapons galore, there is dust and death; reading it, I could almost feel the road grit between my teeth and hear the roar of the engines. And then, then, Buckell fishtails the whole thing around into something else, somewhereelse. I won’t reveal the twist, but this is a story with both nerve and heart.

Bondye Bon,” by Monique L. Desir in Fiyah
Fiyah has been around for just over a year now, publishing great speculative fiction by black writers, and it has quickly become one of my must-read zines. Like many of the stories in Fiyah, Desir’s latest does not pull any punches. It has zombies, alternate history, magic, religion, a black woman getting revenge on a slave owner, and a young girl facing the monster in her mother’s room. It crackles with fire and purpose, and one moment in particular, a scene of a slave uprising during which a desperate prayer is suddenly heard, that gave me goosebumps all over.

In Her Bones,” by Lindiwe Rooney in The Dark
Harsh realities of crime, corruption, abuse, and sexual assault (though it’s mostly dealt with “off-screen”) gives this horror story a real darkness, because let’s face it, few things are scarier than the things human beings do to each other. But the deeper, soul-shaking power of the tale is what happens after the abuse, and after the victim, Ayanda, exacts her own justice on the perpetrator. Rooney’s descriptions of the power of family ties, and the power of magic, intertwine in a stunning scene of transformation when Ayanda has to pay the price for what she did. It’s a fierce story that doesn’t go where you might think, and gives you an ending that is simultaneously crushing and hopeful.

Shadows and Bells,” by Mari Ness in Kaleidotrope
In exquisitely beautiful prose, Ness weaves a tale about what happens in the realm of the dead when the Queen of Death hears the bells ring. Every sentence is gorgeously shaped and polished. Myth and fantasy, fairy tale and reality, combine to create a deeply moving story about death and life, love and longing, and making choices that change everything—even who and what you are. A dark, gleaming gem of a story.

To Blight a Fig Tree Before It Bears Fruit,” by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley in Apex
Some stories, like this one, hit so hard they’re like a gut-punch, so hard you think they might leave a bruise. Kingsley paints a scene that is phantasmagoric in its detailed, visceral horror, with pregnant women hanging from the gallows, people buying and selling human lives, and unborn children used to fuel a horrific, scientific ritual. But even in this terrible place there is resistance, and maybe even a sliver of hope.

When the Bough Breaks,” by Jaymee Goh in Mythic Delirium
I love a good ghost story, and this is a really good ghost story. It’s set in a brand new, modern condominium complex in Malaysia. After moving in, the children (though not the adults) living in the building soon realize that something is stalking them, haunting them, and even killing them. Goh expertly builds the tension throughout the story, all the way to the spine-chilling ending.

Those We Feed,” by Layla Al-Bedawi in Fireside Fiction
A powerful and deeply unsettling flash fiction story about a mother and child. The imagery is raw and evocative enough to make you wince at times, but the story is also a piercing and perceptive look at the darker side of parenthood (and maybe other relationships as well), and at how much of ourselves we sometimes give up to care for those we love.

Mother’s Rules for a Burned Girl,” by Rebecca Mix in Flash Fiction Online
I have a weak spot for fantasy, dragons, and strong-willed girls. (I mean, who doesn’t?) This flash fiction story by Rebecca Mix features all of these things, and I love it for its sense of humor, its verve and fire, its vivid prose, and its perfect ending. A delectable slice of excellent flash.

What short stories have you loved this month?

Originally published at B&N Sci-FI & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup


Middle School Melee

Bullying is no laughing matter.

Especially to the characters in this short story, “Middle School Melee” written by yours truly. So, what happens when a former victim of bullying (due to her small stature and love of school) is pushed to becoming what she always fought against?

Middle School Melee (Sneak Peek)

A lot of people can be easily tricked. Especially by cute little girls with Afro puffs, glasses, and charming smiles that reveal dimples. Not just one dimple or even two . . . but three. One in each cheek and don’t forget the third one right in the center of her chin.

Old people and babies love adorable faces. A flutter of the eyelashes, a lopsided grin, or a pouty mouth produce results like free candy, money, and so much more. Too bad I was cursed with red hair and freckles.

I call it Deceived by Cuteness and Mercedes Dominique Decelien is the Master of such treachery. Weighing most likely 55 pounds —soaking wet — and the height of a Hobbit no one suspects the unspeakable truth that she is a monster.

Mercedes is like a honey badger (uh, besides the fur) — Stealthy, Deadly, and Quick.

If you don’t know what a honey badger is then I’ll catch you up to speed soon.

Now. How do I know so much about her?

Well, she’s my friend. My best friend and I think she may have to become my enemy.

I started battling with this decision about a month ago. Coincidentally, it was the same time we started middle school. Being sixth graders, we both clung to each other like caramel on candied apples, vowing to never split up and promising to not ruin our two-way-only BFF (Best Friends Forever) thing. Sure, we have other friends like Mallory Owens, Taneisha Jenkins, and Chloe Nguyen, but they don’t have matching jewelry or wear matching clothes. And they certainly don’t come to our slumber parties. There was this one occasion when Mallory said that Mercedes was her best friend and I felt left out when I learned they had more classes together, but that’s life. Like my mom always says, “You can’t have everything you want when you want it.” So, I was cool with it.

The problem started when one of the popular boys in her class started mouthing off to the teacher. Mrs. Hughes sent him out and when he returned, just as surly as ever, I glanced at Mercedes’ reaction and noticed that she had daggers in her eyes and if looks could kill, the boy would have been ready for a coffin. Ever since Kindergarten, Straight A student Mercedes didn’t tolerate distractions from her learning.

But this is the first time where she acted upon her beliefs.

After class, Mercedes followed the boy to his locker.

She tapped on his shoulder. He spun around, looked around (I wasn’t exaggerating when I told you how short she is) and looked around some more.

“Down here,” Mercedes said, poking him on his stomach.

“What do you want, midget?”

Without missing a beat, Mercedes declared, “I want to meet you after school by the old bridge. I don’t like how you keep interrupting my learning and the learning of the other kids. I want to and am going to teach you a lesson.” She crossed her arms against her chest and cocked her head to the side, trying to look tough, but her incredible cuteness kind of ruined the effect.

The boy flipped his brown hair to the side and burst out laughing. “Geese shorty, what’s the problem? Who cares? That class is lame .No one listens. No one cares.”

“Meet me at the bridge. Unless you’re a coward,” she mocked, her soft, husky voice rising louder and drawing attention. But not the attention I had hoped for. In the distance, the world’s most friendliest guidance counselor simply continued observing the hustle and bustle of students darting here and there on their way to lunch, another class, or slamming a locker shut. However, the audience of kids quickly bloomed between Mr. Hair Tosser and Mercedes.

He sneered at Mercedes and drew in a deep breath. “I’m no coward. Besides, you’re a girl. It wouldn’t be right for me to—“

“Cow-ard,” Mercedes interrupted, large brown eyes narrowed into cruel, little slits. “You’re a coward. You afraid a girl is goin’ to tan your behind. That’s what the situation is. Ain’t it?” I crept closer to Mercedes, touching the side of her arm, but she shrugged me off.

The boy’s face reddened. “No. I’ll meet you. I’ll meet you at the bridge, you little mouse. And you’ll be sorry that I did.”

He stalked off, clutching his binder to his side and stormed in the opposite direction.

That same day afterschool, I followed Mercedes to the bridge two blocks away from the school. The bridge used to be notorious for kids doing some dumb rite of passage where they’d dare one another to jump down it. It wasn’t a suicide mission or anything. It was a place for students to be dumb and dare each other to do dumb things. And don’t worry. The jump wasn’t that high because the area where everyone chose to jump was supported by a bank of green grass and weeds.

Anyway, like I said, I followed Mercedes, waiting for the main event. My hands felt cool and clammy. And no matter how many times I wiped the palms down the front of my pants, the sweat kept coming like the condensation on a Big Gulp sized Slurpee abandoned to Florida summer.

A lot of other kids had showed up too, snickering and hiding smiles behind their binders as Mercedes dipped to the ground in a series of push-ups, sit ups, and bolted high into the air, clapping her tiny, dimpled hands over head in military style jumping-jacks.

I crept close to her and begged her not to go through with this stupid fight. “Come on, Dee, just let it go. You’re going to get yourself hurt. There’s no reason to bother with someone like him.”

Mercedes stopped jumping and stretch her right leg forward into a graceful lunge. “Well, someone like him needs to be taught a lesson. He’s one of the popular kids,” she said, a look of utter disgust crossing over her face. “And if I whip his behind, he’ll be popular for another reason.” With that, she broke into laughter that cut off the other kids’ giggling and making fun. The dark look on her face looked downright deadly.

Whispers broke the silence, as Mr. Hair Tosser, (who I learned was actually a 7th grader named River Knox) made his entrance. He threw his binder to the ground. “Let’s get this over,” he said, cracking his knuckles.

“Sure thing,” Mercedes agreed, nodding and smiling. She cocked her head to the side, looking coy and cute like one of those precious porcelain dolls in the curio cabinets of rich people. Except when she cocked her head, a small popping noise came, like the sound of bone. When that happened I realized it wasn’t Mercedes I needed to be worried about – it was the boy. That poor stupid boy.

He approached her, gangly legs and muscular upper body and took a swing at her. Mercedes ducked out of reach and crouched low like a ninja from the latest martial arts movie. With lightning speed, she swept one leg beneath River, knocking him flat on his back.

Gasps, including mine, rippled through the crowd like a sigh of wind.

River’s face reddened with what could only be embarrassment and anger. He lurched to his feet and raged toward her, hands clenched into fists.

Dimples surfaced on Mercedes’ face. Was she actually smiling? Was she actually enjoying herself?

Whelp, the next five minutes of behind-whipping answered my questions.

Victorious, Mercedes rose from her opponent who had sustained a black eye and a bruised lip, staggered home, trying his best not to cry. None of the kids said a word directly to him. Hushed voices, exclaiming, “Whoa, did you see that?” And “Darn, she’s nothing to mess with”.

Mercedes ignored them, carefully stooped to the ground and picked up her binder. She skipped off over the bridge, towards home, with me staring confused and surprised after her.

And what more?

She didn’t have a scratch on her. Not even one.

Hold on. Wait. Pause. Take a breath. I know this sounds crazy, but I’m serious. Mercedes may look harmless, but that’s the allure of the honey badger.

Honey badgers are adorable members of the weasel family. They resemble stocky ferrets or mongooses’ with a white, comical toupee on the top of their dark, furry heads. But, if you cross the line with these demonic fuzz balls, there ain’t nothing comical about it.

So, let’s fast-forward to the present day. Whatever class Mercedes is in, kids know not to mess around. They know not to get on her bad side. And they know that no matter how many times they try to jump her in an ambush fight, she’s like Batman or Catwoman and can’t be beaten. And it gets even better. None of the teachers, guidance counselors, or even the cafeteria staff believe what she’s doing!

I know—UNBELIEVABLE, right?

But like I said, her cuteness fools them.

She’s my best friend, but like I kind of mentioned . . . I feel like I’ve lost her.


Like what you read? Stay tuned for this short story and more in my soon-to-be published book of short stories, “Don’t Stop Believin'”!