February brought a host of new short science fiction, fantasy, and horror from big names I’ve followed for a long time. But there’s always room for new discoveries, and a handful of emerging and new-to-me writers also cracked my ten favorite short stories. The theme this month: finding hope in the face of disaster.
“I felt them as the sun came through the curtains on a Saturday morning. First, a light papery brush against my shoulder that I could dismiss as the last minutes of a dream. Then a blunt edge digging into my cheek, faintly smelling of my favorite bookstore.” Our narrator is accosted by their books. They yearn to be read, but our narrator can’t decide which one to choose. Personally, I’m very glad my TBR stack can’t talk. I’d never hear the end of it!
Fantasy Magazine (February 2023; issue 88)
I’m a sucker for science fiction that plays with the tropes of dystopias but ultimately ends on a hopeful note, so of course I loved this new story from Victoria Navarra. Reza and his crèche siblings grew up on a space station not far from Saturn. Each person has a job, and no one is superfluous. At first, Reza is bored by his agriculture job, but a friendship and a tragedy help him reframe his work into something not just useful but powerful.
Analog (January/February 2023)
A ghost lives in a cave, fading away, until the day the dragons attack and humans seek safety underground. A little boy and the ghost find solace in one another. If you haven’t come across Rachel Hartman’s wonderful young adult fantasy novels, this is a fantastic introduction. She has four books spread across two series, all set in the same world where dragons walk the earth and young women face down the patriarchy. “Ghost Story” began as a Goreddi folktale (Goredd is one of the nations in Hartman’s world), but you don’t need to know anything about the lore or canon to get hooked. I haven’t read the Seraphina books (yet! I’m getting to them, I swear!) but this story seems like it’s set either before or during that series.
Sunday Morning Transport (February 19, 2023)
A haunting, gorgeously written story about a narrator who lives in a house that is always changing. They’re trapped there by their father, surrounded by objects that never remain as they are. And then they get the chance at freedom. “Yesterday, my father was alive, but today he’s on the floor, eyes open but unseeing, laying in a small pool of his own blood. In my hand, there is a bloodstained knife. Yesterday, it was a wand. Today, it has forgotten the name of all spells, except one.”
Lightspeed Magazine (February 2023; issue 153)
Every time P. Djèlí Clark drops a historical fantasy, I am first in line to read it. I was a little surprised to see him write a story centered on white men, but boy oh boy do they get what’s coming to them. Set in the late 19th century in a world very much like our own, the ambitious Trevor acquires a baby kraken from a mysterious doctor. He plans to use it to further his financial dreams, and then things go very badly for everyone involved.
Uncanny Magazine (January/February 2023; issue 50)
Set from the perspective of an artificial intelligence that helps humans who have suffered brain damage recover their memories. Through our narrator, we see the lives of two patients, from what happened to them to how their lives intersect. Readers are kept at a distance while also being thrust into the middle of two people’s minds, giving the story a disquieting vibe that’s hard to shake. Tochi Onyebuchi’s adult SF is always twisty and challenging in the best way.
Asimov’s (January/February 2023)
Chang’e the moon goddess contemplates how much things have changed. She used to loathe having to embody “the popular conception of idealized heterosexual womanhood”, but now she longs for the days when she received offerings of mooncakes and fresh fruit. Then she meets a little girl who sees her like few have. A story about an act of kindness reshaping how you see your life.
Diabolical Plots (February 2023; #96A)
“A Short Biography of a Conscious Chair | Breve Biografia de Uma Cadeira Lúcida” written and translated by Renan Bernardo
This lovely story is exactly what it says on the tin: 8400 words of the life of an oak chair. The chair is constructed by a master craftswoman, spends time forgotten and discarded, then is purchased by a wealthy older man. The family the chair has been brought into is fractured due to the actions of its patriarch, and the chair witnesses the ramifications. As sad as this story is, it ends with a sense of fulfillment, of understanding that you can spend the rest of your life letting someone else dictate your own emotional health or you can find a way to move through it.
Samovar (February 27, 2023)
A child is given a wooden box carved by her father. In the beginning, the child stores knickknacks and beloved possessions in it. As she grows up, she begins to store experiences in it instead. A first kiss, a sweet dessert, an empty box full of cherished memories. Like the box, this story may seem too short to carry much weight, but it’s overflowing with emotions big and small.
Worlds of Possibility (February 2023)
I love it when a story takes a sharp left turn right at the end. “You Reap What You Sow” starts off with a weird and kinda creepy near future farm where they grow body parts instead of plants. John has the last “Black-owned synth-organ farm left in the country” and is dealing with sabotage and scheming capitalists trying to take his land. (Not unlike what’s happening to Black ranchers in El Paso County.) And then it gets dark and bloody and goes from a good story to a great one.
Hexagon (February 2023; issue 12)
Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).