Short Fiction


Uncanny Stories: Not withholding affection

Uncanny Stories by May Sinclair

This is not the first time that I am going to say some nice things about London-based publisher Wordsworth Editions, and, more particularly, its Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural division, which, over the years, has brought forth dozens of reasonably priced books by many well-known writers, as well as many lesser-knowns. Previously, I have written here of two Wordsworth volumes by some (to me) known authors, Ambrose Bierce (Terror By Night – Classic Ghost & Horror Stories) and Robert E. Howard ( Read More

SHORTS: Cho, Machen, Rambo, Scalzi, Andrews

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

“Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon” by Zen Cho (2018, free on the author’s website)

This short story is a delightful sequel to Zen Cho's Hugo award-winning novelette, “If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again.” And both are free online, so win-win!

Jin-Dae is an imugi, a magical serpent that can — if it learns and grows in the right way — turn into a dragon. But Jin-Dae has no particular interest in becoming a dragon; she's just fine with her life the way it is. Except that there aren... Read More

Night Flights: A brief but welcome return to the world of MORTAL ENGINES

Night Flights by Philip Reeve

Night Flights (2018) by Philip Reeve is a collection of three short stories set in the world of the MORTAL ENGINES QUARTET (also known as the HUNGRY CITY CHRONICLES), and focuses on the character of Anna Fang, a fearless aviatrix. Its timing seemed to be connected to the release of Peter Jackson's filmic adaptation of Mortal Engines, the first book in the series, and Reeve's touching dedication at the front of the book confirmed this. It reads: "To Jihae, who plays Anna Fang with such style and grace that I realized she needed some more stories." Aww.

Set within a framing device of Anna going about her daily business, she recalls three adventures of her pas... Read More

Laughter at the Academy: A must for ardent fans

Laugher at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Laughter at the Academy
(2019) is Seanan McGuire’s first short story collection as Seanan McGuire (apparently there is a Mira Grant collection). McGuire is amazingly prolific, and this expensive Subterranean Press anthology showcases that. In her foreword, McGuire tells us that she chose these specific stories because she loves them the most. The contents were published between 2009 - 2017. They all take place outside her “pre-existing universes,” as she calls them, but there are resonances with October Daye, the Wayward Children, and others. The collection lets us see the issues that preoccupy McGuire in her writing.

Many (most) of these tales ended up in antho... Read More

Made Things: A whimsical magical fantasy with serious undertones

Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky is an unusually versatile author. I never know what to expect from him — insect and shapeshifter fantasy, Iron Man-inspired science fiction, and Regency/Napoleonic historical fantasy are just a few examples — but I know it's going to be imaginative and intelligently written. The last work I read by him, Walking to Aldebaran, was science fictional horror with an unusual literary streak. In a nearly 180 degree turn, Tchaikovsky now offers up the novella Made Things (2019), a magical gaslamp fantasy involving living puppets and a heist.

Coppelia is a seventeen-year-old puppeteer, with enough magic to make her a g... Read More

Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer: 8 marvelous tales featuring an Edwardian ghost buster

Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer by Alice & Claude Askew

As I have said elsewhere, this reader has long been a sucker for the Victorian/Edwardian ghost hunter. Previously, I had enjoyed the exploits of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence — who had tackled, in the author’s five-story collection of 1908, a haunted house, a French town peopled by shape shifters, an Egyptian fire elemental, devil worship, and a nontraditional werewolf — and William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki, who had gone up against, in the six-story collection of 1913 that was expanded to nine stories 35 years later, haunted abodes, a ghostly horse, weird noises, spectral daggers and maggots, a haunted ship, and a soul-sucking swine mon... Read More

The New Voices of Fantasy: A diverse and worthy collection

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle

This collection of nineteen fantasy short works, edited by Peter Beagle, is definitely worthwhile if you like speculative short fiction. Many of them left an impact on me, and a few are true standouts. These stories are by relatively new authors in the speculative fiction genre and are all fantasy; otherwise there's no discernable overarching theme.

These stories have almost all been published previously over the last seven years, and several of them are Hugo or Nebula winners or nominees. While a dedicated reader of online short fiction can find many of these short works in free online magazines, it’s convenient to have them gathered together in one volume with other stories that aren’t as readily available.

A brief summary ... Read More

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton: A masterful collection of chillers

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton

Perhaps because she is one of the most esteemed writers of the 20th century, Edith Wharton may not be immediately associated with the genre of horror. Today, she is probably best remembered for her novels The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920), which latter book copped her the Pulitzer Prize, as well as for her classic novella from 1911, Ethan Frome, a staple reading assignment for all English majors. In novel after novel, Wharton examined the members of the upper crust in turn-of-the-century NYC, a society and a town that she knew well by experience. But as she would reveal in her autobiography A Backward Glance, the author was a big fan of the ghost story as well, a shivery pot in which she would ultimately dip her quill on any number of occasions. After ... Read More

The Queen’s Advantage: Another jaunty space opera

The Queen's Advantage by Jessie Mihalik

The Queen's Advantage (2019) is the second story in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. These are short and entertaining science fiction novellas. I enjoyed the first one, The Queen's Gambit, because it’s fast-paced, has a strong female protagonist, an appealing love interest, and a nice sense of humor. You’ll want to read it before picking up The Queen's Advantage.

I listened to Tantor Audio’s edition which is narrated by Rachel Dulude. The cover art of the audiobook is horrendous, and Dulude could use a bit of coaching for her prosody, but don’t let this scare you away. It’s a good format for this story.

... Read More

The Last Conversation: Somber and disturbing

The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay

A person — whose name and gender are never specified, because that person is "you" — wakes up, alone in a room. You’re blind and in intense pain, and at first you remember nothing at all of your past. You only hear one person, Dr. Anne Kuhn, who instructs you through a speaker: testing you mentally, badgering you to exercise, and, little by little, giving you bits of information about your past life and about why you are where you are now. Gradually it becomes clear that something disastrous has happened.

The Last Conversation (2019) is an odd but compelling and ominous science fiction novella from Paul Tremblay. It’s reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode: strange, somber and slightly horrific in a slow-burn way, with a surprising reveal at the end (or perha... Read More

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: An enjoyable collection

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

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, yea... Read More

The Queen’s Gambit: Short, fast, fun, and sexy

The Queen's Gambit by Jessie Mihalik

I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed The Queen's Gambit (2017), the first novella in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. It’s about Samara, the queen of a nation that stayed independent in a war between two powerful galactic empires. But, without allies to trade with, the people of Queen Samara’s Rogue Coalition are practically starving.

To earn some money for her country, Samara decides to attempt to rescue emperor Valentin Kos from the Quint mercenaries who are holding him captive, and then to collect a reward from the Kos Empire for his safe return. Things are going as planned until Samara is sold out by her partner. Now she’s in just as much trouble as the emperor is…


The Queen's Gambit
is short,... Read More

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

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