Short Fiction


Summer Frost: An intelligent exploration of concerns about AI

Summer Frost by Blake Crouch

A woman steals a Maserati and takes off for a mansion north of San Francisco, on a remote stretch of Highway 1 on the coast of California. Another person, Riley, follows her into the home and up to a bathroom, where a man in the tub is dying of knife wounds. As Riley pursues the woman, the tension is offset somewhat by feeling that something about the scene is off. A smell is described as “almost right.” The woman that Riley is chasing, Maxine or “Max,” speaks in toddler-like language.

Riley, the VP of Non-Player Character (NPC) Development for a video game developer, realizes that Max, a minor video character in a virtual reality game, isn’t accepting the role of murder victim to her occult-obsessed husband within the game. Instead, after being murdered 2,039 times by her husband during the development of the Lost Coast game, Max has decided to resist her fate and is trying... Read More

Randomize: Dazzling science doesn’t make up for a mundane plot

Randomize by Andy Weir

Nick Chen is an IT guy on a mission: when quantum computers become available to consumers, he tries to convince the managers at the Babylon Hotel and Casino where he works to shut down their keno lounge, knowing that quantum computers can quickly crack the random-number generators of the keno game system. When he fails to persuade them, he uses his override passwords to shut down the keno game, which quickly gets the attention of Edwin Rutledge, the head of the casino. Eventually convinced by Chen’s arguments, Rutledge authorizes Chen to buy the casino its own quantum computer for $300,000 (“We fight quantum with quantum”).

A couple of days later, a new QuanaTech quantum computer is delivered and installed by a salesman, Chen sets up airtight security systems around it, and all is now well with the Babylon keno game … or, perhaps not. It turns out that the QuanaTech salesman is married to a brilliant... Read More

Emergency Skin: A fun story with a serious message

Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin

A single spaceman arrives on Earth (which he calls "Tellus," a Latin word similar to Terra) on an important mission from a far-off planet that was colonized by a group of rich white men who left Earth centuries ago. The spaceman, as well as the collective AI that was implanted in his brain and constantly speaks to him in his mind, expected to find a world completely barren of life, decimated by climate change and toxic pollution. What they actually find is far different, and both the man and his chatty AI have huge problems adjusting to this new reality.

But can the man still fulfill his mission? If he succeeds, he’s been promised a beautiful pale (read: Aryan) skin when he returns home. On his planet, everyone except those in the highest class of society wears a featureless, high-tech artificial skin called a composite. But this man’s composite has the ability, in an emergency, to turn into huma... Read More

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: An enjoyable collection

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle edited by Oren Litwin

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family (2019) is a new anthology, edited by Oren Litwin, that’s just what it says on the tin: a collection of short stories about magic and family. As our reviewer Marion Deeds is one of the featured authors, I’m going to follow Skye, Jana, and Bill’s lead by eschewing the star rating, as they did when reviewing Marion’s Aluminum Leaves. This is an enjoyable collection, though, and worth checking out.

Marion’s story, “Bellwethers Know Best,” is the first in the book. The Bellwethers are a family of witches who, years ago, became famous by starring in a pair of reality programs ... Read More

SHORTS: Carroll, Newitz, Clark, Andrews, VanderMeer

SHORTS is a column exploring some of the free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll (2019, free at Tor.com, 99c on Kindle)

This short story, told entirely from a cat’s point of view, is a must-read for feline fans! Jeoffry the cat belongs to a mad poet who is confined to an insane asylum in 18th century Great Britain. Jeoffry regularly battles the imps and demons who torment the inmates at the asylum. But when Satan himself enters the picture, planning to use the poet’s abilities to bring about the end of the world, Jeoffry just might be overmatched.

Siobhan Carroll drew me in with this whimsical and insightful tale. She tells this story from Jeoffry’s point of view, capturing the ... Read More

Jigs & Reels: Like a box of chocolates, a fun collection of treats

Jigs & Reels by Joanne Harris

It's always fascinating to read short stories written by your favourite author. Without the luxury of a longer page-count, they're forced to hone their craft and get out of their comfort zone, and often some of their best work can be found in the short story format. Besides which, a lot can be said with just a few words. As Joanne Harris herself points out in her foreword, short stories: "provoke questions, whereas most novels tend to try and answer them."

Harris is perhaps best known for Chocolat, and most of her novels are so full of sensory description that you can almost see, smell, taste and feel what she's describing. However, the twenty-two short stories in Jigs & Reels (2004) are... Read More

Aluminum Leaves: There are other worlds than these…

Aluminum Leaves by Marion Deeds

Aluminum Leaves (2019) is the debut novella by Marion Deeds, who is also part of the review team here at Fantasy Literature. Because Marion is one of our own, we are not going to give Aluminum Leaves a star rating — but we still wanted to highlight her work in the field of speculative fiction. We are very excited to see her share her work with the world.

Aluminum Leaves begins with a house fire; Erin Dosmanos is escaping her crumbling home in more ways than one, as it quickly becomes apparent that she is not only fleeing the fire, but plans to go through a portal to another world. This novella, the first in the BROKEN CITIES series, is the story of how Erin uses her quick wits and specific skills to protect a ma... Read More

Walking to Aldebaran: Literary musings in an alien cavern of horrors

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I never know what to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s always entertaining. Walking to Aldebaran (2019) is unlike anything I’ve read from Tchaikovsky to date, a powerful, literary SF novella with an edgy, dark sense of humor and a strain of horror that gradually intensifies until its shocking ending.

British astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international space team sent from Earth to explore a moon-sized, alien-made object ― officially called the Artefact, unofficially called the Frog God because of its appearance in photos ― that a space probe has found lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Through a series of events that are gradually unfolded to the reader, Rendell is now wandering alone inside the cold, endless, crypt-like tunnels i... Read More

SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls: A pearl of a mystery in the Xuya universe

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA series of novellas and short stories has been nominated for Best Series in the 2019 Hugo awards, for very good reason. The detailed worldbuilding and thoughtful writing pull the reader into a world with an alternative history, where Chinese ships were the first to discover the Americas, drastically changing our history and leading to a space age future where Chinese and Vietnamese galactic empires hold great power and intelligent mindships interact with humans outside of the ship through projected avatars. De Bodard’s website has an extremely useful page that includes a brief description of the Xuya (“Dawn Shore”) universe and a hand... Read More

Exhalation: The very best kind of speculative fiction

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, and told in a series of nested vignettes, this thoughtful novel... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the... Read More

The Last Tsar’s Dragons: Less than the sum of its parts

The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

The Last Tsar’s Dragons (2019) is frustrating, both as a reading exercise and in retrospect, when I think about how universally lauded Jane Yolen is and that Adam Stemple, her son, is a well-regarded author in his own right. So take a master storyteller and her progeny, begin with the political tar pit that was the Russian court in the last days of the Romanovs, and add revolutionaries and literal fire-breathing dragons into the mix…

What should, by all expectations, be a fascinating story meanders between various viewpoints, skips through its timeline with no clear indications as to when events are occurring with relation to one another, and makes... Read More

In the Shadow of Spindrift House: One day, we will all go into the water

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant

Zoinks, Scoob. Like, this is one crazy mixed-up book.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House (2019) is a lot like if Mystery, Inc. — you know, those four meddling kids, their talking dog, and that giant green van — stumbled into investigating a Lovecraftian tale. The difference being, of course, that Mira Grant’s novella is deadly, deadly serious, with little chance that any shambling or creeping horrors will be unmasked to reveal an old amusement-park owner who would have gotten away with his nefarious plan if not for said meddlers.

Harlowe Upton-Jones and her three friends, all recent high school graduates, are real-and-true teenage detectives. They’ve spent years solving cases ... Read More

SHORTS: Heller, Moore, Hamilton, Bradbury, Asimov

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several of the Hugo-nominated short fiction works, including four of the Retro Hugo nominees.

"When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller (2018, free at Clarkesworld, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). 2018 Hugo award nominee (novelette).

In a fallen, future version of our Earth, Mink’s tribe of nomadic, intelligent lizards wanders the land, living at a bare subsistence level and frequently threatened by physical dangers, like giant verminous creatures called rustbreed. One of the tribe’s treasures is their weavers, eight-legged technological artifacts from a prior time that can turn raw materials into useful items for the tribe, like pots and tents.

Mink is both a scout ... Read More

Clash by Night: An inventive mixed bag of a novella

Clash by Night by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Clash by Night (1943) , by the wife-husband team of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, is an odd bit of a bird, feeling less like a smoothie that blends together different story types and writerly styles and more like a salad where you can easily spot the tomatoes, greens, peppers, etc. Uneven overall, but it does have its good points.

The opening gives us the setting quite directly, with an unknown narrator of the future telling us, “We are on Venus, nine hundred years ago, beneath the Sea of Shoals.” Earth has been destroyed by atomic war and in the 200 years since that catastrophe, humanity has continued on Venus, with most of the people (“civilians”) living in Keeps (underwater domes) and various mercenary... Read More

SHORTS: Yap, Lee, Bear, Jemisin, Okorafor

SHORTS: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few more Locus-nominated stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“How to Swallow the Moon” by Isabel Yap (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

“How to Swallow the Moon,” a Locus-nominated novelette by Isabel Yap, follows the cadence and arc of a traditional fairy tale — a village periodically plies a dangerous supernatural being with strictly-cloistered maidens, called binukots, or “jewels,” in order to sate his hunger and prevent him fro... Read More

SHORTS: Bolander, Goss, Le Guin, Liu, Ford, Jemisin

SHORTS is our regular short fiction review column (previously SFM or Short Fiction Monday). In today's column we review several more of the 2019 Locus award nominees in the short fiction categories.

No Flight Without the Shatter by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Tor.com; 99c Kindle version). 2019 Locus award nominee (novelette).

No Flight Without the Shatter brings together Linnea and her Aunties Ben, Dora, and Martha at the end of the world. Linnea is reco... Read More

SHORTS: Bolander, Kritzer, Padgett, Moore & Kuttner

SHORTS: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few Hugo-nominated stories we've read recently. (Due to Mother's Day and other life events, SHORTS appears on a Wednesday this week.)

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander (2018, free at Uncanny Magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Hugo award nominee (short story).

I was intrigued by the title of “The ... Read More

Kabu Kabu: Are you ready for a change of scenery?

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Speculative fiction reader, are you in a rut? When you think about the genre, do you mostly see brawny white guys with swords and old white wizards with beards? Or maybe a thief with a hood? Or a group of misfits who must team-up to save the world from an evil overlord or a tyrannical government? Is there a castle or a spaceship in every story? And lots of people riding horses?

Speculative fiction reader, isn’t it getting a bit stale? Are you ready for a change of scenery?

If so (and even if not) I urge you to pick up Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu (2013), a collection of 21 short stories that will expand your horizons and restore your faith in the future of your favorite genre.

Kabu Kabu begins with a short introduction by Whoopi... Read More

Miranda in Milan: Such stuff as twenty-first century dreams are made of

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

I’ll be perfectly honest: The Tempest is not my favorite of William Shakespeare’s plays. It’s well-written, it has some fantastically quotable lines, and it contains insightful commentary about men and the pursuit of power (through various means, and of various types). But The Tempest only has one active female character, the sorcerer Prospero’s teenage daughter Miranda, and her functions are to (1) receive only the information her father deems appropriate, (2) remain obedient and chaste so that her virginity can be the strongest bargaining chip possible, and (3) be symbolically wedded to the king of Italy’s son in order to facilitate her exiled father’s return to Milan and, thus, to his status as Duke. She’s a means to an end; nothing more. There’s a lot of great stuff in The Tempest! It’s just, you know, that bit’s not great.

As modern authors t... Read More

SHORTS: Kingfisher, Brazee

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are two more reviews of recent Hugo and Nebula award-nominated stories.

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (2018, free at Uncanny magazine, $3.03 Kindle magazine issue). 2019 Hugo award nominee (short story).

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” is a charming little diversion, among a steadily-growing list of charming short works, by T. Kingfisher. This one also happ... Read More

The Tea Master and the Detective: A Holmesian mystery in an Asian space habitat

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The Tea Master and the Detective (2018), a novella nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, is a delightful revisiting of the legendary Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson ... if both were Asian women, and Watson was a genetically modified human that is the brains and heart of a transport warship. It’s set in Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA ― also nominated for a Hugo for Best Series ― a “timeline where Asia became dominant, and where the space age has Confucian galactic empires of Vietnamese and Chinese inspiration,” per the author’s website.

The Shadow’s Child, a mindship, is suffering... Read More

PERfunctory AfFECTION: Far from perfect

PERfunctory AfFECTION by Kim Harrison

Three years ago Meg, a talented artist who also works as a university art instructor, was in a bad car accident. She was driving and her boyfriend, the passenger, was badly injured. Since then she’s dealt with PTSD, high levels of anxiety, and overwhelming guilt. She has also had trouble recovering after her mother’s death and this has led to depression. Meg is pretty messed up and has trouble teaching her classes, making friends, and coping with life in general.

As the novella opens, Meg’s psychiatrist has put her in an experimental drug study. Almost immediately, Meg feels much, much better, almost suspiciously so. Within days of starting the new medication, Meg has even made some new friends, something that had previously been all but impossible. Her boyfriend, though, suspects the drug causes hallucinations and delusions and that Meg has too quickly become wholly dependent on it. The... Read More

SHORTS: Cho, Stueart, Palmer, Kingfisher

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few excellent stories, including two of the recently announced Hugo nominees, that we wanted you to know about.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho (2018, free to read online or download at Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog). 2019 Hugo award nominee (novelette).

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, by Zen Cho, is a Hugo-nominated novelette about an imugi, a Korean creature who isn’t quite a dragon yet, but desperately wants to ascend to Heaven and join that august celesti... Read More