Short Fiction

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, 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

She Said Destroy: A good introduction to Bulkin’s beautiful, creepy prose

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She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin

Nadia Bulkin’s horror stories are surreal, subversive, often political. 2017’s short story collection She Said Destroy offers 13 stories, some set in our world, some set in worlds almost exactly like ours and some set in strange, feverish landscapes unlike what we’ve seen before.

“Intertropical Convergence Zone” and “Red Goat, Black Goat,” are set in an imaginary country that looks more than a bit like Indonesia. (Bulkin writes many stories set in this place.) “Intertropical Convergence Zone” follows the country’s dictator, the General, as he ingests more and more magic. In the opening passages, he eats a bullet — literally. He eats a bullet that was used to shoot a man in the heart; it protects the General from bullets. The narrator, a faithful member of the inner circle, distrusts the dukun... Read More

SFM: Marshall, Campbell, McBride, Hawthorne

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. 

“Red Bark and Ambergris” by Kate Marshall (Aug. 2017, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies99c Kindle magazine issue)

Sarai is forcibly taken from her paradisiacal island home by the queen’s men when they discover that the young girl has the magical ability of a scent-maker, one who can concoct fragrances that will powerfully affect people, evoking memories and calling forth emotions. She is sent to live permanently o... Read More

Taste of Marrow: After some fun explosions, the real work begins

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Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

In the novella River of Teeth (2017), Sarah Gailey introduced readers to a hard-working crew of miscreants who were hired for an operation (not a caper, mind you), the goal of which was the removal of feral hippopotami living in a portion of the Mississippi Delta. In its sequel novella Taste of Marrow (2017), they’ve been split into two groups by the after-effects of River of Teeth’s explosive conclusion: Adelia Reyes, her infant daughter Ysabel, and Hero Shackleby; and Winslow Houndstooth and Regina “Archie” Archambault. Each group believes the other to be missing and/or dead, along with their beloved hops, and circumstances c... Read More

The Emperor and the Maula: Laylah, you’ve got me on my knees

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The Emperor and the Maula by Robert Silverberg

As of this writing, in September 2017, Grand Master Robert Silverberg has come out with no fewer than 78 sci-fi novels, almost 450 short stories and novellas, around 70 books of nonfiction, and around 185 novels of, um, “adult fiction,” in addition to having edited over 130 anthologies. He has garnered for himself four Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards in the process. The man’s prolific work pace is understandably legendary. Thus, it might strike some that his fans’ clamoring for more, yet more, is wholly unreasonable. After all, the man is currently 82; doesn’t he deserve a break, and a restful retirement? (The author, to his loyal readers’ chagrin, has not released a full-length novel since 2003’s Roma Eterna, wh... Read More

Tales of Falling and Flying: Not my cup of spacefaring squid

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Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

Ben Loory’s collection Tales of Falling and Flying (2017) falls into that category of “just not for me” books, meaning this will be a relatively brief take on the collection. It’s the sort of writing where I can see where some people would enjoy it, can note the author’s talent, can acknowledge the wit and bright originality, but overall it just doesn’t do it for me. In this case, it begins with my being a tough audience for short stories, as I tend to prefer full, rich immersion in story and character — aspects too often lacking in most stories I’ve found. Loory’s tales double-down on this as they’re all pretty short, not quite Lydia Davis short but nearly: almost 40 stories in just over 200 pages. So it’s basically in and out and on to the next.

That’s not to say some of ... Read More

SFM: Tambour, Vaughn, Kowal, Larson, 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.

“The Walking-Stick Forest” by Anna Tambour (2014, free on, 99c Kindle version)

This is an excellent dark and fantastical short story, set in 1924 in Scotland. Athol Farquar is a veteran of World War I who now lives a solitary life as a carver ― or, more accurately, a shaper ― of wooden walking sticks. He has a deep affinity for blackthorn wood and the forests around his home, and an equ... Read More

Standard Hollywood Depravity: Killer-robot conceit succeeds in shorter format

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Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher

The very thing which makes Adam Christopher’s Ray Electromatic a compelling character — he’s a robot P.I.-turned-assassin for hire with a 24-hour memory — is simultaneously the best and most-frustrating thing about his RAY ELECTROMATIC series. When Christopher is restrained by the shorter word-counts of the novelette “Brisk Money” or this novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity (2017), there’s no room for unnecessary repetition or extraneous plot devices, and the “robot noir” at the heart of this series takes center stage.

Set between the full-le... Read More

SFM: El-Mohtar, Wilde, Zinos-Amaro & Castro, Fallon, Larson, Kingfisher, Zhang

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. 

“Biting Tongues” by Amal El-Mohtar (2011, free at Uncanny, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue. First printed in The WisCon Chronicles (Vol 5): Writing and Racial Identity)

“Biting Tongues” is a speculative poem which slowly reveals the tenaciousness of the character or characters involved, through a progression from social expectations of their voice and bodies... Read More

Mira’s Last Dance: An amusing episode in Penric’s continuing story

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Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Note: Contains mild spoilers for the previous PENRIC novellas.

Around 15 years ago, Lois McMaster Bujold published her much-acclaimed WORLD OF THE FIVE GODS series which contained three stand-alone novels: The Curse of Chalion (winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards), Paladin of Souls (winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award, nominated for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award) and The ... Read More

Every Heart a Doorway: Four takes on this Nebula winner

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

It seems like there are many tales around today that strive to explain the ‘after’ in ‘happily ever after’, with varied results. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is one such story that had me riveted from the first. This novella appears to be the first in a plan for more stories in this world, and as an introduction it does an excellent job.

Every Heart a Doorway concerns the lives of those girls and boys (but mostly girls, as explained in the novella) who found passageways to other worlds and then came back again. These are your Alices and Dorothys, young people who found and were found by worlds that wanted them. Specifically,... Read More

SFM: Anders, Nagata, Howard, McGuire, Clarke

Short Fiction Monday: After a few weeks' vacation, SFM returns to continue exploring 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. 

“As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders (2014, free at, 99c Kindle version)

Marisol Guzmán, a pre-med student who decided that being a doctor was a better career choice than a playwright, is saved from the end of the world only because she’s housecleaning a mansion when massive earthquakes b... Read More

Down Among the Sticks and Bones: Inventive, enthralling, heartbreaking

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Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway (2016) introduces the reader to a reality in which some children get swept away to other worlds. These worlds of whimsy or darkness (and everything in between) become home to the children so much so that they are devastated if they are forced to leave. If they do come back to our world, a fortunate few may find kindred spirits at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the setting of that first novella. Now, Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017) centres on the events leading up to Jack’s and Jill’s stay at the home for wayward children. More specifically, their time in the world that c... Read More

The Jewel and Her Lapidary: A Nebula and Hugo-nominated novelette

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The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde’s novelette The Jewel and Her Lapidary was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards this year. I listened to the 1.75 hour long audiobook version produced by Macmillan Audio and narrated by Mahvesh Murad.

I loved the setting of this story — a kingdom that is protected by powerful gems which can be heard and gently manipulated by lapidaries, people who have a genetic predisposition for connecting with the gems. Think of them as gem whisperers. The lapidaries serve the royal family, at least until they go mad in later life.

This story is about two young women who are closely bonded to each other. Lin is the kingdom’s princess (referred to as a “Jewel”) and Sima is her lapidary. When we meet them... Read More

SFM: Wahls, Jemisin, Gaiman, Coen, Pi

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. It's an outstanding group this week!

“Utopia, LOL?” by Jamie Wahls (June 2017, free on Strange Horizons)

Charlie Wilcox, after uncounted centuries of cryogenic frozenness, is decanted in a distant future. He’s cheerfully helped to adjust by an extremely ditzy person named Kit/dinaround, who is the assistant of the AI known as the Allocator, which watches over and guides humanity. Through a temporary upload station, Kit shows Charlie the ropes of their virtual society, which humans (who now number in the trillions) experience solely as digital entities, “uploaded consciousnesses in distributed Matryoshka brains.” It’s an immense, and immensely complex, Matrix type of w... Read More

In Search of Lost Time: A Robin Hood character steals life and memories rather than gold

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In Search of Lost Time by Karen Heuler

Hildy, who’s been experiencing odd gaps in her awareness, is hit with the news that she has cancer of the Tempora, a (made-up) part of the brain where the body experiences time. Her chemotherapy has an odd side effect: Hildy can now see auras around people in the form of colorful mists and vapors. What’s more, she finds that she can pull away bits of aura from other people and inhale it. It gives her the feelings and memories from the person she took the bit of aura from. An old person has a thin aura that gives her a sense of duty and money worries; a younger person’s aura makes her feel exhilarated.

When she begins hanging around a playground to surreptitiously capture part of babies’ auras in jars, she’s confronted one day by a man who accuses her of stealing time. He informs her that there’s a market for stolen time; dying people wh... Read More

Black Dog Short Stories: Events in the lives of key Black Dog characters

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Black Dog Short Stories by Rachel Neumeier

This set of four short stories is an interlude in Rachel Neumeier’s BLACK DOG universe, where werewolves ― more properly known in this world as black dogs ― are adjusting to a world where humans are now aware of them, after an interspecies war that wiped out the world’s vampires and decimated many of the black dog packs. To the black dogs’ dismay, destroying the vampires also destroyed a type of mental mist or miasma produced by the vampires that kept humans from recognizing the magical creatures around them. Many humans recognize that at least some of the black dogs are worth having as allies against the more evil types, but it’s an uneasy alliance at best.

With one exception, these stories are set after the first book in t... Read More