Skip to content
Answering Your Questions About Reactor: Right here.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter. Everything in one handy email.

Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: May 2024


Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: May 2024

Home / Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: May 2024

Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: May 2024

A collection of bittersweet stories, involving death and finality and a few tinges with hope...


Published on June 21, 2024

Cover of three SFF fiction magazines from May 2024: Nightmare, Apex, and Clarekesworld

For some, May is a time of rejuvenation and anticipation. Spring is in full swing, with summer just around the bend. For those of us who work in schools, it is a time of endings, of realizing this is the last time you will ever do this thing or speak to that person again. It’s hectic and stressful and a little mournful. So with that spirit, I bring you a month of bittersweet stories, mostly involving death and finality and a few where letting go and moving on are tinged with hope.

“Haint Blue Sky” by Stephen Granade

Speaking of schools, Stephen Granade’s story is the perfect way to kick off this spotlight. A tenth grader, Laurel, sings to the stars, and one evening, they speak back. All she wants is to escape her life of poverty. But her dreams come with a cost. She makes a deal she doesn’t understand with a being more powerful than she anticipates in the hope of making it out, only to find she now may not ever be able to go back. (Cast of Wonders—May 12, 2024; #585)

“In Thin Air” by Phoenix Alexander

“The dead woman was drawn to cars.” Phoenix Alexander takes the urban legend of the Woman in White—a ghost of a woman dressed in white who died in tragic or murderous circumstances—and gives her agency. This is not an easy, throwaway horror story but one with truth at its heart. It features a brutal homophobic attack that, in lesser authorial hands, could have felt exploitative or like trauma porn but that Alexander imbues with a sense of community resistance. If you, like me, are a queer person old enough to remember Matthew Shepard, this story will leave you with all kinds of feelings to sort through. (The Dark—May 2024; issue 108)

“like blood on the mouths of death” by Victor Forna

Another story that hit me on a personal level. This story tells of a young child’s mother who is slowly being eaten alive by small creatures with “raffia fronds for skin.” An extended metaphor crossed with horror overtones, Victor Forna explores the effects a chronic, fatal illness has on a woman and her child, and then on her child and their family. Watching someone you love gradually disappear, piece by piece, until all you have of them are your memories. (Nightmare Magazine—May 2024; issue 140)

“Our Father” by K. J. Khan

Quin and their siblings are raised on a spaceship after their stasis pods malfunction. Years later, Quin shares those stories to their granddaughter, Lila. In a weird coincidence, I read this story about half an hour after watching the “Space Babies” episode of Doctor Who. It covers similar territory, albeit in a much sillier way. Here, K. J. Khan looks at how difficult it is to be a single parent, the sacrifices parents make to give their children the best they can offer, and the ripple effects the choices parents make can have on future generations. (Clarkesworld—May 2024; issue 212)

“Terranueva” by Katie Kopajtic

Yet another personal hit! In a near-future Puerto Rico further dominated by foreign capitalism, Marisol has dementia. She drives around the island looking for her niece, Raquel, who is resisting said domination by going off grid. Marisol tried to treat her illness with technology, but it only made things worse. Raquel offers her a chance to finally be free. If you’ve ever dealt with a relative with dementia, read Katie Kopajtic’s lovely story. (Also check out E. G. Condé’s Sordidez for similar themes in novella format.) (The Future Fire—April 2024; #2024.89)

“Those Left Behind” by Kanishk Tantia

In the future, humans create androids to replace their dead loved ones. With the essences of those lost loves uploaded into the droids, the humans live in closed worlds, little pockets of the past that never change. Until, one day, the droids realize their humans are gone. Our protagonist, Hari, struggles to separate itself from the man his human once loved, even though that human has already separated herself from it. What does it feel like to be the one abandoned? What will you do next? (Apex Magazine—May 2024; issue 144)

“The Slave Boy” by Denzel Xavier Scott

Haikwan is a slave to a powerful family. As dire as his circumstances are, he’s not the lowest of the low. That status belongs to the alaqilins, sentient creatures caged by nexians and used for labor, entertainment, even as meat. The boy hates his life, his masters, and the alaqilins, even as he understands why the latter are so cruel to him. A visiting sorcerer turns the boy’s life upside down, but not in a good way. Just wait for the ending. Denzel Xavier Scott’s story is vicious and unrelenting. (The Deadlands—Spring 2024; issue 34)

“The Spindle of Necessity” by B. Pladek

B. Pladek’s story is going to haunt me—in a good way!—for years to come. All I’m going to tell you about the plot is that a trans man obsessed with a midcentury queer author explores their issues with identity. It is a critique of the way contemporary queer folks often try to apply contemporary interpretations and expressions of queerness on historical figures as a way of finding connection but in a way that can obliterate that historical figure’s own sense of self-expression. And it’s intracommunity conversations between both trans people and the larger queer community about what “community” even means. (Strange Horizons—May 20, 2024)

“Untethered” by Bristol Baughan

As a person who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a deep affinity for the Bay and the City, as we call them, I absolutely adored this story. One morning, Margie untethers her houseboat and sails it out toward the Pacific. This is a heartwarming story. No tension, no drama, no vitriol. Just joy. (In case you’re wondering, we have a lot of houseboats on the Bay, and yes, sometimes we do sail them.) (Utopia Science Fiction Magazine—April/May 2024)

“We Will Teach You How to Read | We Will Teach You How to Read” by Caroline M. Yoachim

I am going to tell you nothing about Caroline M. Yoachim’s latest story other than you need to drop everything and read it. Right now. It is as visual as it is literary. Trust me. It’s stunning! (Lightspeed—May 2024; issue 169)


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
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments