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Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: September 2023

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Book Recommendations Short Fiction Spotlight

Must Read Short Speculative Fiction: September 2023

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Published on October 13, 2023

For the September spotlight on short science fiction, fantasy, and horror, I bring you ten fantastic stories about a rabbit god, a dead clown, bad wives, capitalism run amok, dangerous future tech, and magic in the end times.

 

“Big Dead Clown Things” by Adam Callaway

I do not like clowns. There’s something deeply, unpleasantly uncanny about them. So Adam Callaway’s piece about the rotting corpse of a clown with too many toes and an angler-fish tongue was a hard sell. But I’m glad I read it. Two kids find the body of what looks like a dead clown in the river and quickly realize it’s definitely not human. Funny, creepy, and very chilling.

The Dark (September 2023; Issue 100)

 

“Black Girl Liminal” by Maya Beck

It’s late and Miriam is exhausted when she unexpectedly encounters a god in the form of a “stone-sized rabbit as dark as midnight whose red eyes froze her in place.” The rabbit god offers her access to a place where she can be more than she is in the real world, where she can help people and defend the world against a toxic Rot. A thought-provoking story perfect for Millennials who miss Sailor Moon.

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (September 2023; Issue 47)

 

“Black Tea, Cream Tea, Chocolate Tea, Blood” by Elou Carroll

This story reminded me so much of the legend of the man who found a selkie in the shape of a human and hid her skin to force her to become his wife. A “good wife” knows nothing but her husband. Her entire world revolves around keeping him happy. It’s a bit like a dark fairy tale crossed with The Stepford Wives but way more satisfying in its ending.

Kaleidotrope (Autumn 2023)

 

“The Cursing of Herman Willem Daendels” by A. W. Prihandita

A colonizer gets his comeuppance? What’s not to like? Ni Darti lives in Yogyakarta, Java, during the colonial rule of the Dutch. Her son, like many other men, died constructing a road to make it easier for the empire to transport its stolen resources. She seeks out a Rama for help cursing the man she believes is at the center of her pain: Herman Willem Daendels, the governor general of the Dutch East Indies before eventually turning his imperial sights on the coast of West Africa. I won’t spoil the story, but the nuanced themes A. W. Prihandita explores here are powerful.

khōréō (September 2023; Issue 3.3)

 

“Four Words Written on My Skin” by Jenn Reese

What a beautiful story! I love it when a speculative short fiction story feels as much like genre as it does a metaphor. The wife of our narrator is stolen by the Fae, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Fae offered her a new life and she took it. Did she leave totems of her memories behind her like a trail of breadcrumbs for her partner to follow to rescue her or as reminders of what they once had and that maybe they could have again? I especially loved the visual layout of the text, the way the wife’s items were described in italics and the way the paragraphs were broken up. Just great.

Uncanny Magazine (September/October 2023; Issue 54)

 

“Lips Like Sugar” by Cynthia Gómez

“The first thing Viviana noticed, on her first night as a vampire, was how much she wanted to fuck everyone.” What a way to start a story! Vampires have been done to, well, death, but Cynthia Gómez breathes fresh new life into them with “Lips Like Sugar” (okay, I’ll stop with the bad puns). Viviana is a newly turned vamp learning to survive without killing people. She feeds off hunger and desire and sneaking blood vials from a lab where she works. It’s barely enough, but she makes do…until she can’t. These vampires aren’t sexy, eternal teenagers with glittery skin but regular people being crushed by the same capitalism as everyone else.

Luna Station Quarterly (September 2023; Issue 55)

 

“Lost in Transcription” by Abigail Guerrero

Structured as a transcript of an interview, Abigail Guerrero’s story is a sharp and pointed piece on capitalism, colonization, and the ways international adoptions by Western white parents all too often veer into human trafficking and imperialism. An agent of an adoption agency goes over the contract with two white parents adopting a teenage Latino boy to literally replace him with their dead daughter. It’s the only way he can immigrate into the US, by having his identity stripped.

Radon Journal (September 2023; Issue 5)

 

“Resurrection Highway” by A. R. Capetta

I’ve been a fan of A. R. Capetta for a while now. I mostly know them for their young adult novels, so it was exciting to see them take on adult speculative fiction. Here, “You” are a bonetripper, a mage that uses ground up bones to power dead cars. It’s the post-apocalypse and there isn’t much left of the United States except city strongholds and roving packs of thieving mages. You and your friends head east in search of one of your group who went missing a while ago, and things go bad almost immediately. Full of vividly-realized action and with a unique magical system keeping the reader on their toes, this is a story that will stick with me for a long time to come.

Sunday Morning Transport (September 3, 2023)

 

“Secondhand Music” by Aleksandra Hill

This story has a title that you think is just quirky but turns out to be more deadly accurate than metaphorical. Ava is a musician who needs a new prosthetic arm. She gets one in the form of a donor from a dead musician. This new arm makes her popular, but Ava knows it’s the dead woman’s music drawing them in rather than her own. Aleksandra Hill asks what you would do when a blessing becomes a curse, and what happens to disability accommodations when capitalism gets in the way.

Analog (September/October 2023)

 

“Swimming Whole” by E. C. Barrett

E. C. Barrett’s story is such a great example of why I love reading Reckoning. It’s a small story, in scope but not in meaning. A local wants to save a public swimming hole from a greedy developer Richie Rich type, and feels guilty about it. Our narrator feels like they should be doing more to save the planet from greater human catastrophes, but learns that sometimes small, local action can have an outsized impact. It’s about helping your community be the best it can be for as many people as possible. It’s about saving the world one step at a time.

Reckoning (July 2023; Issue 7)

 

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 (bookjockeyalex.com).

About the Author

About Author Mobile

Alex Brown

Author

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 (bookjockeyalex.com).
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