The first month of the new year is done and dusted, so let’s go back and look at my ten favorite short speculative fiction stories from January. We’ve got cannibalism, the apocalypse, and dangerous technology to tempt you.
Let’s kick things off with something fun! Two veteran science journalists meet with a scientist about a new invention. They’re skeptical of the so-called “magical mind-reading computer” and decide to test it themselves. Probably not the best idea. Not sure who did the art that came with the story, but it was a perfect fit.
Flashpoint SF (January 27, 2023)
This story is structured as a step-by-step guide of how to process a soul (written in Courier New) interspersed by memories of the soul being extracted (written in italics, all lowercase except for “I”, and little punctuation). Between the shifting formatting and the premise itself, this was such a compelling piece.
Apex Magazine (January 2023; issue 135)
New takes on the superhero trope is one of my favorite short speculative fiction premises, and Aleksandra Hill does a fantastic job with “Galaxy Girl and the November Monstrosity”. More slice-of-life than feats of derring-do, this story centers on a young superhero, Jess, who spends Thanksgiving with her ungrateful and mean-spirited mother and sister. The heroics are smaller here and more personal, but no less vital.
Did you like The Menu or Sarah Gailey’s excellent comic Eat the Rich? Then have I got a story for you! Sunyi Dean structures her story from the perspective of a representative of Neil’s Delicatessen on Cumberly Row, a deli that serves “exotic meat” for an exclusive clientele. She also includes a couple recipes which I do not recommend attempting. It’s unsettling in a funny sort of way, not quite horror comedy but I was definitely smiling all the way through.
Tor.com (January 18, 2023)
“I find her by the riverbed after the end of the world, wings tucked under her grubby ribs. Some new kind of being, or else some rich maniac’s attempt to engineer homo deux before it all went down. Or went up. Tides, lava, nukes, spaceships. Those last ones, especially, aren’t ever coming back down.” The end of times is a popular setting nowadays (for what should be obvious reasons), but I really enjoyed the direction Wen-yi Lee took the premise. Our narrator nurses Seraphine back to health, and with that comes the pull to leave their quiet isolation.
Baffling (January 2023; issue 10)
Our narrator describes several failed dates and one that goes off in an unexpected direction. Light and funny but with a bloody edge to it, Adrienne Ryan’s story is the perfect amuse bouche.
Drabblecast (January 8, 2023; 465)
Maurice Broaddus’ story takes the form of a newspaper column reflecting on a historical event. The Indianapolis Recorder, a real newspaper that is both the fourth oldest Black newspaper and the longest running Black newspaper in the US, recounts the life of Astra Black and how she helped found a lunar colony. It’s a wonderful bit of Afrofuturism and a nice teaser for Black History Month.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (January/February 2023)
Our narrator is enticed by a viral trend on social media where a person cuts their finger and suddenly an expensive, delicious meal is delivered to your door. The narrator tests the boundaries of whoever is behind the trend, and it doesn’t go well for anyone involved. I especially loved how it was written in second person POV. Really upped the creepy factor.
FIYAH (Winter 2023; issue 25)
Our unnamed narrator (narrators?) are captured by a man calling himself the Nero. It’s the apocalypse, this one triggered by technology that allows a person to take over a person’s memories and knowledge while simultaneously killing their body. But our narrator doesn’t fear being “slotted” by the Nero or anyone else. Our narrator has a deadly secret the Nero is about to find out first hand. If you’re in the mood for more end of times fiction to ride that The Last of Us wave, here you go!
Clarkesworld (January 2023; issue 196)
“As she worked her way through the swamp, she discovered that the world, her world, was newly alive with alien tongues, each one bellowed with an odd sense of certainty. It was as if the creatures’ mouths had always known these sounds, that these new sounds belonged to them entirely.” The sounds of Mi’kmaq mermaid Pi’tawgowi’sgw’s swamp have changed and she, like the creatures she shares space with, must adapt while also maintaining their traditions. A beautiful story about climate change, Indigenous beliefs and practices, and the intersections between them.
PodCastle (January 24, 2023; 771)
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).