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Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: December 2023


Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: December 2023

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Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: December 2023


Published on January 9, 2024


It may be the new year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dip back a month or two to read some excellent short speculative fiction. Stories that come out during the last few weeks of the year often get missed as everyone looks ahead, so here are ten of my favorite science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories from the end of 2023.


“Bête Noire” by Lynette S. Hoag

What happens when an AI house becomes sentient and begins to resent its Maker? Lynette S. Hoag offers one possibility with this new story. “Maker”, what the smart house calls the man who built it, brings a socialite over to ride out her house arrest in style. The house doesn’t like this interloper or the man who abandoned it. Lots of parallels with Victor Frankenstein and his monster, except this AI isn’t just misunderstood but very, very angry.

Nightmare Magazine (December 2023; Issue 135)


“Ivy, Angelica, Bay” by C. L. Polk

A new C. L. Polk story? Yes please! I adored this lovely queer novelette. Miss l’Abielle faces a new threat to Hurston Hill. Will she let a dangerous shapeshifter destroy her neighborhood or sacrifice the child she loves to protect it? “Ivy, Angelica, Bay” is a sequel to “St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid,” but you can read it without having read the first (although it’s also a great story so you totally should).

tordotcom (December 8, 2023)


“Longevity” by Anya Ow

“On the morning of my 150th year as a working adult, I disposed of my fifth pet cat.” Ruhe is alive, but not living. Not until Ruhe meets 15 year old rabble rouser Kasey. Over the course of their long friendship, Kasey teaches our narrator that life can be more than work, more than functional, more than simply being. What’s the point if we wall ourselves off from the lows and the highs?

Fantasy & Science Fiction (November/December 2023)


“Mochi Through Space and Time” by Karen Aria Lin

“As I approached Sue-Ling’s Bakery, I had the curious feeling I was returning home.” Karen Aria Lin’s genre-bending story gave me the warm and fuzzies, even as it dealt with breakups and endings. Kitty starts working at Sue-Ling’s bakery and makes several surprising discoveries about not only Sue-Ling but about herself and interdimensional travel as well.

Haven Speculative (December 2023; Issue 12)


“New Trees” by e rathke

In a not-too-distant future version of Minneapolis live Lucille and Marguerite. The couple survive financially through Marguerite being a surrogate, but Lucille dreams of the day when they might have their own child. Like “Longevity,” this is a story about holding onto hope in the face of destruction and loss. It’s about doing what you can to make the world better even if you can’t stop everything terrible.

Hyphen Punk (Winter 2023; Issue 10)


“Our Lady of the Void” by Hesper Leveret

Structured like the transcripts of a conversation, this horror-leaning science fiction piece by Hesper Leveret has an ending that hit me hard. Lydia Ngo-Murray joins up with a cargo spaceship doing long distance hauling across a portion of space known as the Void, where there is no communication outside the ship and nothing but empty, lifeless space surrounding you. She intends to study the “folk religious myths and practices [of] the space-faring community” but gets more than she bargains for.

Interzone (November 2023; Issue 296)


“A Refugee from Fairyland” by Keyan Bowes

Something disastrous is happening in Fairyland, and the Borderlands Refuge collects the children being evicted in droves. Some, like young Munna, were taken centuries ago and have no home to return to. Refuge volunteer Latasha finds herself in the unexpected position of standing up to a powerful fairy queen. This story about found family and a child’s right to choose was just the right amount of sweet and charming.

Worlds of Possibility (December 2023)


“Saturation” by Eliane Boey

This piece by Eliane Boey really got me thinking. The residents of Zhi’s space colony, Tanjung, are running out of memory. Zhi, an artist, ponders how some of her neighbors want to “clear their memory caches” and start fresh, while others would rather keep the memories they have and not make new ones. This is the final issue of Dark Matter Magazine. I’m sad to see it go, but grateful we still have their small press Dark Matter INK.

Dark Matter Magazine (December 2023; Issue 18)


“The Fish’s Wife” by Jorja Osha

Every year, Ihmani’s village celebrates the River Harvest by offering several of their young, unmarried daughters to the god Yipp. Some of the girls come away from the divine encounter alive but not intact, while others vanish without a trace. When it’s Ihmani’s turn, she makes a choice that leaves chaos in her wake. A sharp little story that reminds us that just because something is a tradition doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping around.

The Dark Magazine (December 2023; Issue 103)


“There Are Only Two Chairs, and the Skin is Draped Over the Other” by Alexia Antoniou

Alexia Antoniou’s story is exactly what it says on the tin. Two girls find the complete skin of a human in a strange creek. One of the girls is unsettled by the experience, the other enthralled. Their lives are increasingly bound up in the skin. Antoniou offers far more questions than answers, just the way I like it.

Bourbon Penn (November 2023; Issue 31)


Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), bluesky (@bookjockeyalex), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (

About the Author

Alex Brown


Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), bluesky (@bookjockeyalex), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (
Learn More About Alex
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