Short Fiction


Silver in the Wood: A hopeful tale about renewal

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Silver in the Wood (2019) is an enchanting novella by Emily Tesh, who is a finalist for the 2020 Astounding Award. It is the first in Tesh’s GREENHOLLOW DUOLOGY; the sequel, Drowned Country, will be released in August.

Tobias has lived alone for a long time. He’s a sort of guardian of the forest, keeping its assorted supernatural creatures from getting out of hand. (He’s also a couple of other things, which you’ll find out about later.) Tobias is shaken out of his routine when he has a meet-cute with Henry Silver, the new owner of the manor house at the edge of the wood.

I don’t think the word “England” is ever technically mentioned, but this feels like the folkloric English forest. Reading Silver in the Wood, the reader feels like one wrong turn might lead th... Read More

King Kull: The Sword & Sorcery genre begins here

King Kull by Robert E. Howard & Lin Carter

There’s a reason why I never lend out books anymore, even to my closest friends; namely, the fact that when I used to loan them out, I never got them back in the same good condition, or, even worse, never got them back at all. Cases in point: three paperbacks from one of my old favorite writers, Texas-born Robert E. Howard. Back in the mid-‘60s, Lancer Books released all of Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories in a now-classic series of 12 paperbacks, as well as a beautiful paperback of another legendary Howard character, King Kull. I owned all 13 of those wonderful volumes, and made the big mistake of lending the first two Conan books out (both featuring gorgeous cover artwork by Frank Frazetta), as well as the Kull (feat... Read More

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water: A warmhearted wuxia fantasy

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water (2020) is a surprisingly warmhearted fantasy novella set in a war-torn Asian country. It's a queer take on wuxia, a time-honored genre of Chinese fiction based on heroes skilled in the martial arts, frequently in superhuman, fantastical ways (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or even Kung Fu Panda).

One day, in a small coffeehouse, a customer angrily accuses his waitress of using jampi witchcraft on him. The quarrel degenerates, a handsome bandit intervenes,... Read More

The Empress of Salt and Fortune: A literary puzzle-box

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Cleric Chih and their hoopoe, Almost Brilliant, are on a journey to the capital — both to view the next month’s impending eclipse and to be present at “the new empress’ Dragon Court” — and along the way, the two make a stop at Lake Scarlet, where an old woman invites the pair to stay and catalogue, for the first time, the treasures held there. Chih soon discovers that the old woman, named Rabbit, has a fair number of stories to tell as well: stories of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, who came from the mammoth-filled north and wielded great power despite her exile, eventually changing the Ahn empire forever.

Nghi Vo’s debut novella is painstakingly crafted, slowly teasing out crucial information with richly-layered and gorgeous prose. The method by which the story of Empress In-yo is told echoes the ways in ... Read More

Time Patrol: Classic time travel stories by Poul Anderson

Time Patrol by Poul Anderson

Between 1955 and 1995 Poul Anderson published a series of short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels, about the Time Patrol, a secret group of people from all over the world whose job is to protect the world history we know. They jump up and down the timeline, making sure that terrorists and other disruptors don’t use time travel to remake history to suit their own malign purposes. Or any purposes, actually. Their goal is to keep history the same, even with all its evils, so as not to accidentally wipe out human civilization so that we can eventually evolve into the Danellians, a post-human species that is highly invested in making sure history doesn’t change.

Though there are many Time Patrol agents, the one we see most often in these stories is Manse Everard, an American man who was recruited by the ... Read More

SHORTS: Hill, Osborne, Towles, Buckell, Palmer

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews two more Locus Award nominees, along with other recent short fiction works that we've enjoyed.

Late Returns by Joe Hill (2019, included in the Full Throttle collection). Locus award finalist (novelette)

Joe Hill, who like his famous father typically writes in the horror genre, switches it up in Late Returns, a novelette that was originally published in his Read More

Permafrost: A time-twisty thriller

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair ReynoldsPermafrost (2019), a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Novella, is billed as “a time-traveling climate fiction adventure.” It takes place in two timelines.

In 2080, humanity seems to be coming to an end, mostly due to a lack of food. Valentina Lidova, an elderly Russian math teacher, attempts to continue teaching her malnourished students, knowing all the while that it’s futile.

Then she’s visited by someone from an institution called Permafrost who offers a crazy-sounding solution. They claim to have invented time travel and want Valentina to be the first person who travels back in time. They’ve chosen her because it was her mathematician mother, now dead, whose widely-mocked theories they used to invent the techno... Read More

Desdemona and the Deep: “The bright-winged, the beautiful, the bizarre”

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Desdemona and the Deep (2019) is C.S.E. Cooney’s third novella in the DARK BREAKERS series, but is a self-contained story that can stand alone. A finalist for the Locus Award for Best Novella, Desdemona and the Deep is a dreamy, sensual trip through the otherworlds. I’ll let Cooney set the scene:
Four stories above the Grand Foyer of the Seafall City Opera House, each painted panel in the barrel-vaulted ceiling depicted a scene from one of the three worlds. Which world it happened to be depended on the tint and tone of the panel: daylight was for Athe, the world of mortals; twilight represented the Valwode, where the gentry dwelled; and midnight belonged to Bana the Bone Kingdom, home to all the koboldkin. Through these wheeling coffers of world-skies — day dancing into dusk, dusk swirling into night, night i... Read More

SHORTS: Roanhorse, Liu, Lee, Goss, Kingfisher, Bear

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews several more of the current crop of Locus Award nominees in the short fiction categories.

“A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy” by Rebecca Roanhorse (2019, anthologized in The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe). 2020 Locus award finalist (short story).

In the future, people’s memories can be stored and preserved even after they’ve died, and other people can inject them like drugs. Dez Hunter is an actor who has spiraled into depression after the death of his beloved girlfrien... Read More

SHORTS: McGuire, Link, Chiang, Leckie, Lee

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews several of the current crop of Locus Award nominees. 


Phantoms of the Midway by Seanan McGuire (2019, anthologized in The Mythic Dream, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe). 2020 Locus award finalist (novelette).

Most kids dream of running away to join the carnival. Seventeen-year-old Aracely dreams of running away from the carnival. Her mother, Daisy, is the boss and the tattoo artist of the traveling fair, and she’s overprotective, forbidding Aracely to step out... Read More

Sweep with Me: Battling space chickens and other troublesome guests at the inn

Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Sweep with Me (2020), the fifth book in Ilona Andrews’s INNKEEPER CHRONICLES series, finds Dina DeMille fretting with her boyfriend Sean about an upcoming official review of Dina and the Gertrude Hunt, her magical inn for interstellar travelers. The innkeepers’ Assembly is concerned about some of the goings-on at the Gertrude Hunt and whether Dina and Sean have been keeping their rules, including not letting anyone on Earth know that their inn isn’t an ordinary one.

In the meantime, though, it’s the annual Treaty Stay holiday for earth’s galactic inns, and the tradition is that no innkeeper may turn away a guest during Treaty Stay. So, naturally, Dina and her inn are asked to host a set of particularly troublesome guests: the Drífan liege lord of Green Mou... Read More

The Grand Tour: Strange, dangerous and seductive

The Grand Tour by E. Catherine Tobler

E. Catherine Tobler created Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade, a carnival/circus where things are not necessarily what they seem… or in some cases, exactly what they seem, no matter how strange that might be. The stories appeared in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and now, in The Grand Tour: A Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade Collection (2020), Apex has gathered up nine of the tales, which traverse earth and time, as we meet Jackson and the people who find their way to the circus, and a few who leave, or seem to.

Story collections can be dicey. Fortunately, Tobler’s prose is excellent, and every one of these stories is filled with beautiful, beguiling language, powerful imagery, and complex characters, whether they are magical o... Read More

Jack: Horror during the London Blitz

Jack by Connie Willis

Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak novella Jack (1991), which was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo awards and has appeared in several anthologies over the years. It’s set during the London Blitz in WWII, one of Willis’ favorite settings for her works, including the time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear and the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novelette Fire Watch. Once again, there’s something peculiar going on during the Blitz … but this time it’s not just time travelers visiting from the future.

Jack Harker is p... Read More

To Be Taught, If Fortunate: The wonder, and the ethical dilemmas, of space

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers’s novella To Be Taught, If Fortunate (2019) takes the form of a letter from a space traveler, Ariadne O’Neill, to the people of Earth. Why Ariadne is writing it, we will learn later.

Ariadne is part of a small but diverse crew that has been sent to explore a moon and three planets that it is believed might harbor life. They will sleep in hibernation during the journey to this star system, explore each world, then go into hibernation again for the journey back. All told, they will be gone for eighty years, which means their goodbyes to their loved ones are permanent (which is explored in a poignant scene early in the novella). On each planet, they use a process called somaforming which adapts their bodies to survive in that planet’s particular condi... Read More

Stories of Your Life and Others: Eight carefully crafted stories

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Stories of Your Life: And Others by Ted Chiang

In his review of Ted Chiang’s brilliant short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) in The Guardian, China Miéville mentions the “humane intelligence [...] that makes us experience each story with immediacy and Chiang’s calm passion.” The oxymoron “calm passion” is an insightful and ingenious way to describe these stories because of the way it hints at their deft melding of the most solid of hard science fiction concepts with an often surprisingly gentle, hu... Read More

SHORTS: Anderson, Osborne, Wilde, Pinsker

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In this week's column, we review more of the current crop of 2019 Nebula nominees in the short story and novelette categories.

"A Strange Uncertain Light" by G.V. Anderson (2019, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine). 2019 Nebula Award nominee (novelette).

Anne and Merritt have just been married, practically on impulse. Each of them has a problem: Merritt is a drunk, but Anne sees the ghosts of strangers at the moment of their death. As prosaic an activity as looking out a train window can give her a vision of a man caught between the rails and the wheels, “to be sliced through like brisket.” Neither of them has confessed to the other, though Merritt’s shortcomings have been unhappily obvious. Still, they are honeymooning at Rannings, in Yorkshire, a grand hotel, and Anne is happy.

Another... Read More

Catfish Lullaby: Song of the swamp meets cosmic horror

Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise

Catfish Lullaby (2019), a Nebula Award-nominated novella, might be described as Louisiana swamp monster folklore colliding with eldritch Lovecraftian horror. Author A.C. Wise (who also has a second Nebula nomination this year, for her short story “How the Trick is Done”) visits Caleb, the biracial, queer son of the local sheriff, at three key points in his life. We follow Caleb from childhood to adulthood as he navigates his friendship with Cere Royce, the daughter of a once-prominent and depraved local family, and they try to conquer the black magic that haunts her and has destroyed her family.

When Caleb is about twelve, the Royce home mysteriously burns to the ground, killing Cere’s father and two older brothers. Caleb’s single father takes Cere into their home. Cere manages to freak out the schoolboys who have been bullying Caleb for years (“Sometimes you have to... Read More

SHORTS: Sen, Yoachim, Wise, Ramdas, Greenblatt

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In this week's column, Skye and Tadiana review several of the current crop of 2019 Nebula nominees in the short story and novelette categories.



“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

This Nebula Award finalist is precisely what the title promises, as it takes the form of ten excerpts from an annotated bibliography.

I thoroughly enjoyed the form of this story — I would almost describe it as delightful, if it weren’t published in Nightmare Magazine and didn’t centre around cannibalism. From the ten excerpts, you get the gist of two related events in history, and then as they... Read More

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats: Uplifted dogs and cats

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats by James Patrick Kelly

In James Patrick Kelly’s novella, King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats, we visit a backwater planet called Boon where humans live with uplifted dogs and cats.

Our protagonist, Gio Barbaro, is the clone of the man who created the government, called The Supremacy, generations before. Gio’s job is to maintain the family’s position and power in the senate.

The Supremacy, though, is losing control as dogs are walking off the job and cats are forming unions. The cats and dogs are just as intelligent as humans, but they’ve been relegated to boring and/or dirty menial jobs. They want more out of life, but the conservative Supremacy won’t recognize them as equal.

Another problem for the Supremacy is the looming clone cris... Read More

The Language of Thorns: Magical folk tales that stir the pot

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns (2017) is a collection of six stories and novelettes by Leigh Bardugo, dark and lyrical folk tales set in her GRISHA universe, in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka and other nearby countries. These are stand-alone stories, unrelated to the specific characters and events in the GRISHA novels. This tales might be told on a dark night by a villager living in Ravka.

Bardugo’s stories, containing elements of both fantasy and horror, include elements of traditional fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” “ Read More

Knife Children: A pleasant stand-alone SHARING KNIFE novella

Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold

Knife Children (2019) is a stand-alone novella set in Lois McMaster Bujold’s SHARING KNIFE world. I wasn’t a fan of that series because I didn’t like its main character, Fawn, but I’m a huge fan of all of Bujold’s other work, and I think she’s one of the best speculative fiction writers that’s ever existed, so I was happy to try this stand-alone story in which Fawn played only an insignificant role. You don’t need to be familiar with SHARING KNIFE to understand and enjoy Knife Children. It will probably make you want to read SHARING KNIFE, though, so I hope you’ll like Fawn better than I did.

Barr Foxbrush is a Lakewalker — a protege of Dag who we met in the previous Read More

Skin Folk: Fifteen masterful stories

Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson

In Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk, you’ll find 15 diverse Caribbean-inspired fantasy stories that are full of vividly-drawn characters, powerful prose, masterful storytelling, and imagery that is sensuous and haunting.

Skin Folk, Hopkinson’s first story collection, deservedly won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.

Some of Hopkinson’s stories are metaphors, many having to do with the theme of “skin” — whether it’s characters who are hiding, changing, or pretending to be something they’re not. Many also deal with the unique experiences of the Caribbean people as well as people who are black and/or queer or transgender.

Here are the stories:

“Riding the Red” — An intriguing metaphor base... Read More

The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy: A very fine collection

The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens

Up until recently, Minneapolis-born author Francis Stevens had been a very solid 3 for 3 with this reader. Her first novel, 1918’s The Citadel of Fear, had proved to be a mindblower, dealing as it did with the lost city of Tlapallan, nightmarish creatures, and battling Aztec gods. Her second novel, 1919’s The Heads of Cerberus, was a dystopian affair set in a totalitarian Philadelphia and is one of the first sci-fi offerings to feature a parallel time track. And in Stevens’ fourth novel, 1920’s Read More

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories: A solid collection with a few standouts

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

I was a huge fan of Ken Liu’s first collection of short stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, giving it a five out of five and placing on my “best of” list that year. His newest collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories (2020), unfortunately didn’t hit the high notes as consistently as the first, though there are still several gems in the group.

Many of the stories are set in a time leading up to or following the singularity, where humans upload their consciousness to the cloud and become disembodied. Three are a direct mini-series following the same characters in linear fashion and the others change characters and shift in time (someti... Read More

Exhalation: A strong collection by Ted Chiang

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant,... Read More