Short Fiction


The Only Harmless Great Thing: A poetically imaginative work of social fiction

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The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) is a lyrical, often moving, and sometimes searing novella that sets itself in an alternate reality that entangles two historical events: the public electrocution of Topsy the elephant at Coney Island in 1903 and the “Radium Girls” scandal in the early 1900s. That the two events were not simultaneous as in the novella is only part of the “alternate” part of this alternate reality. More central to the plot is the fact that elephants in this world are sentient.

The plot itself, which has two time strands, is relatively simple. In the early strand, Regan, a young radium girl already dying from the radiation she’s been exposed to in her job painting watch dials, trains a young elephant, Topsy, to replace her, both of them knowing what th... Read More

Mixed Up: Stories and cocktail recipes; both are intoxicating

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Mixed Up edited by Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer

Mixed Up (2017) is an anthology of cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer. The stories, like the drink recipes, are grouped by type and theme. I thought the editors took the most liberal view of “flash” here, because I think some of these works might run to 1200 words or slightly over, and I think of flash as topping out at 1,000 words. I don’t think there is a hard and fast threshold, and certainly the spirit of flash fiction (see what I did there?) is met.

Nick Mamatas says in his introduction to the stories that this is conceived as an old-fashioned “all-stories” magazine. The tales in the book includ... Read More

A Taste of Honey: An unusual and fascinating world

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Another 2016 Nebula nominee today, this time for best Novella. A Taste of Honey (2016) is set in the same world as a previous work by Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which I confess I have not read (it’s not necessary for the understanding of this story, though it may provide some useful background to the setting and its institutions).

At its heart, A Taste of Honey is a love story between two men from different lands — wealthy nobleman, Aqib, from Olorum (where the story is set), and battle-hardened warrior... Read More

SFM: Rambo, Rustad, Jones, Jemisin, Wrigley

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. As the jumping-off point for this week’s SFM column, we're reviewing several of the stories mentioned in BookRiot’s January 4, 2018 column listing good places to read online short science fiction, which Marion Deeds noted in her January 10, 2018 WWWednesday column.  

“Red in Tooth and Cog” by Cat Rambo (2016, audio and text free at EscapePod, originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Renee is eating lunch in the park one day when her smartphone is stolen by a small, swiftly moving robot. Since her phone c... Read More

SFM: Campbell, Turtledove, Corey, Rusch, Balder

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“Sasabonsam” by Tara Campbell (Dec. 2017, free at Strange Horizons)

The vampirish Sasabonsam lurks in the trees near an African village, its limbs hanging down like swaying vines to snatch unwary villagers that the Sasabonsam then eats. Its first victim: a man who is returning to the village one night, reeking with fear.
You run, but of course that won’t help you. Whichever tree you’re near is the one I’m in. That’s how it works with Sasabonsam.
The Sasabonsam smugly expects that his victim’s flesh and soul will be completely absorbed soon, but the man’s soul is still inside of him when the monster grabs its next victim. And the turm... Read More

The Best of Richard Matheson: Maybe not “the best,” but still plenty good

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The Best of Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson

Almost precisely two years ago, I had some words to say about a then-new anthology that had been released by Penguin Classics: Perchance to Dream, a 300+-page collection of short stories by the author Charles Beaumont. Flash forward two years, and I am now here to tell you of a 2017 Penguin release that almost serves as a companion volume to that earlier book: The Best of Richard Matheson, a generous, 400+-page whopper that should come as a welcome treat for fans of the late, great author. I say “companion volume” for several reasons. The authors w... Read More

Best of SFM 2017

Best of Short Fiction Monday: For our New Year's Day SFM column, we’re listing (in alphabetical order) our favorite short fiction works, both old and new, that we reviewed in our 2017 SFM columns and rated 4.5 or 5 stars. The title links are to the original, full SFM review.

Alexandria” by Monica Byrne (2017, Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2017 issue): Byrne’s details paint a full, three-dimensional picture of a marriage; a husband who is not physically demonstrative in public, in-laws who never set aside their suspicions of him, and the love Keiji and Beth feel for each other. I was expecting an interesting story with a lighthouse at its center; I got a powerful meditation on the nature of love.



... Read More

SFM: Tobler, Cadigan, Foster, Tidhar

Merry Christmas from Short Fiction Monday: Our column today focuses on Christmas and winter-themed stories. Enjoy!


"Every Winter" by E. Catherine Tobler (2016, free at Apex magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

As soon as I finished “Every Winter” I went right back to the top and started re-reading. It wasn't because I enjoyed the reading experience (though I did) but because I was intrigued by things I'd missed ― all the signs that suggest that the villa in the story is no... Read More

SFM: Gregory, Roanhorse, Vernon, Mamatas & Pratt, Clarke, Lowachee

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read recently that we wanted you to know about.

“Second Person, Present Tense” by Daryl Gregory (2005, free in print and audio at Clarkesworld, November 2017 issue; originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, September 2005 issue)

I love what Daryl Gregory does with drugs. “Second Person, Present Tense” is about the parents of a girl who died after overdosing on a drug called “Zen” or “Zombie.” Unable to cope with their loss, they latch on to a homeless girl (our narrator) who they hope will come live with them a... Read More

Mandelbrot the Magnificent: An almost-mystical origin story

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Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska

Prior to reading this novella, what I knew about the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot would have fit into an embarrassingly small thimble (with plenty of room to spare). I identified fractal shapes simply as “tessellations on steroids” and my only reference point for a “mandelbrot” was a delicious cookie.

But thanks to Liz Ziemska, I have a much greater appreciation for Mandelbrot’s work in his field, as well as the passion and determination that sustained him through his years in Nazi-occupied France. Mandelbrot the Magnificent (2017) blends real and imagined history with high-level mathematical equations and principles, and the result is a lovely little “psuedobiography.”

In his ow... Read More

Dark Melody of Madness: The Supernatural Novellas of Cornell Woolrich

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Dark Melodies of Madness: The Supernatural Novellas of Cornell Woolrich by Cornell Woolrich

Because New York City-born author Cornell Woolrich so excelled at tales of suspense, crime, murder and noirish mayhem, there might be some who find it hard to believe that he could also excel in the arena of horror. But those who have read Woolrich’s truly frightening novel of 1945, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, which combines the occult, clairvoyance, death and predestination into one tasty chiller, already know how capable he could be in that field. And if any further proof were ever needed to bolster the argument, we now have a beautiful new collection from the fine folks at Centipede Press — Dark ... Read More

The Emerald Circus: An imaginative three-ring show

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

Under the big top of The Emerald Circus (2017) is a fantastical assemblage of sixteen short stories and novelettes by Jane Yolen. Historical figures like Emily Dickinson, Benjamin Disraeli, Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allen Poe enter the three rings and shed their normal identities, dancing across the high wires and peering into tigers’ mouths. In this circus’ House of Mirrors we also see unexpectedly twisted reflections of fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland (who makes an appearance... Read More

The Night of the Long Knives: Totally absorbing

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber

Free on Kindle.

Murder, as you must know by now, I can understand and sympathize with deeply. But war? No.

After a nuclear holocaust, America is unrecognizable. There are a few cities left on the coasts, but most of America is now the Deathlands, where radioactive dust hazes the skies and radiation-scarred survivors try to stay alive another day. Besides devastating the land, the catastrophe has somehow warped the minds of the few remaining citizens of the Deathlands; they have all turned into murderers. They can’t help it — it’s a drive that can only be released by killing someone. Even when they band together for companionship, it always ends up in a bloodbath.

Ray ha... Read More

The Black Tides of Heaven & The Red Threads of Fortune: Breathtaking novellas

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The Black Tides of HeavenThe Red Threads of Fortune by J.Y. Yang

J.Y. Yang’s short works of fiction have been published online and anthologized, and one particular element has always stood out to me: their ability to convincingly craft fictional circumstances and characters within a graceful economy of prose. Within the TENSORATE series of novellas, beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven (2017) and its twin The Red Threads of Fortune (2017), Yang brings all of their talents together to the total delight of this reader.

Truthfully, either The Black Tides of Heaven Read More

SFM: Castro and Zinos-Amaro, Brennan, Banker, Robson

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about. 

“The Mouth of the Oyster” by Adam-Troy Castro & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Nov. 2017, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 99c Kindle magazine issue)

In the aftermath of a deadly plague that struck their area in ancient China, the narrator and his wife, Li-Fan, are among the survivors. But the plague has left its mark on them: the narrator has lost his sight but is otherwise still a healthy man; Li-Fan is frailer and weak... Read More

The Ends of the Earth: Luminous, powerful stories of war, exotic locales, and supernatural horror

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The Ends of the Earth by Lucius Shepard

Lucius Shepard had already created one of the best short story collections in the genre, The Jaguar Hunter, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection, with “Salvador” winning the Locus Award in 1985 and “R&R” winning the Nebula Award in 1987. His work is steeped in magical realism, supernatural horror, Central America and other exotic locales, and hallucinatory depictions of futuristic warfare. In my opinion, Shepard is one of the best stylists to ever work in the genre. That’s why I can’t help including a writing sample from some stories in The Ends of the Earth — they’re just so good.

It’s always tough to come up with a sophomore effor... Read More

Fisher of Bones: Half-baked prophetess for half-mutinous followers

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Fisher of Bones by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s novella Fisher of Bones (2017) is a bewildering revision of the Talmud/Old Testament Exodus story with the “Moses” role cast as a prophetess dubbed Fisher (formerly Ducky).

Fisher assumes the prophetess mantle only on her father’s deathbed when the patriarch prophet lays his hands upon her in a would-be ordination and declares her an outcast, “forever banished from [her] people.” And in the next breath commands her to lead the same. I never could get over this contradiction. This kind of launching and halting, lurching and jolting is characteristic of the entire story’s progression and it is not a device that works.

The story’s principle tension involves threats to Fisher’s authority as the pro... Read More

SFM: Kayembe, Johnson, Baker, Swirsky, Walker

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about. 

“The Faerie Tree” by Kathleen Kayembe (Nov. 2017, free at Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Marianne’s family is in turmoil. Her sister, who always had such plans for her life, has come back from boarding school pregnant, moving back home with her husband. The real problem is that Marianne can see there’s something hugely amiss: Sister, who was so lively, now spends most of the time sitting like a china doll, st... Read More

SFM: Howard, Wilde, Gaiman, Ellison, Keller, Dick

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“A Recipe for Magic” by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde (2017, free at Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog, free to download for Nook)

“A Recipe for Magic,” co-written by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde, features a curious kind of shop: at the Night and Day Bakery, magic spells are baked directly into pastries and confections, affecti... Read More

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror

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Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror edited by Ellen Datlow

This anthology comes after a similarly titled anthology, also edited by Ellen Datlow, called Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror which came out in March 2010. Datlow also edits an annual anthology of horror fiction (collaborating with other editors on those). It seems then that Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror (which came out in October 2016) is informed by a great deal of knowledge in the field of speculative horror literature. I am not generally a horror reader, but I still thoroughly enjoyed many tales in this anthology for their engaging storytelling and terrifying themes. What follows is a brief review of each of the 25 tales, in the order which they appear.

“Shall... Read More

SFM: Poe, Bradbury, Danvers, Mamatas, James, Parypinski

Short Fiction Monday: Happy Halloween from Fantasy Literature and SFM! Our column today has an extra-large serving of horror stories. 


“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (1846, free at Project Gutenberg)

Our narrator Montresor, an Italian nobleman, explains ― in a suspiciously vague way ― how his friend Fortunato has mortally offended and insulted him. Montresor sets himself on a course of implacable revenge ... but he wants to do so in a way that Fortunato understands that Montresor is the source of revenge, but without being caught or punished.

Montresor and Fortunato meet during a carnival festival ― which at first seems by chance, but then you find out that Montresor has set up the situation so that all of his... Read More

SFM: Gladstone, Kress, Khaw, Ndoro, Seiner

Short Fiction Monday: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read recently that we wanted you to know about. 


“Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone (Oct. 2017, free at Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

A young woman, Delilah Dane, moves from Savannah to New York City to pursue her theatrical dreams; the cost of living in NYC being what it is, she supplements her waitressing income by posing for artists. (Nothing more than posing — she has very strict rules about conduct and respect.) After an... Read More

Tales from a Talking Board: Is anyone here? Read along and see.

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Tales from a Talking Board edited by Ross Lockhart

Tales From a Talking Board (2017) delivers fourteen shivery stories that involve spirit boards. In the US, we think of them as Ouija Boards, but that was actually a brand name; spirit boards, which involve a surface with the alphabet and an object that glides over it, stopping at letters, have been around quite a while.

This anthology has plenty to please people who like the creepy, and lends itself to a dark autumn night pretty well. Some stories are more gory than others. At least one is flat-out funny. A few tales strain to wrap themselves around the spirit board and at least one has no divinatory prop at all.

I’ll talk about the stories I liked best or found noteworthy. Here is the complete Table of Contents from Tales from a Talking Board:

“YesNoGoo... Read More

The New Voices of Fantasy: A diverse and worthy collection

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Reposting to include Jana'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... Read More

SFM: Palmer, Bright, Gailey, Mudie

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.



“The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer (Sept. 2017, free at Clarkesworld)

Fans of WALL-E will particularly appreciate this whimsically poignant tale about an outdated robot with a can-do attitude.  Robot #9 is reactivated by its spaceship after a lengthy time in storage, and is assigned the task of ridding the Ship of a particularly destructive “biological infestation” (the bots begin to call it the “ratbug,” though Bot 9 privately questions the accuracy of that moniker) that is chewing apart bots and other parts of the Ship. Bot 9 sets to with a will, though... Read More