AND HERE IT IS!
On time, I kick off the inaugural edition of Fiction Nuggets, a monthly roundup of the 5-10 stories I liked best in a month. WHOOO I’VE DONE IT GO ME SELF PAT ON BACK. Shush, this is an achievement, okay.
When I made the decision that this was to be A Thing, my initial thought was “Oh no, I’m such a picky reader, I’ll never find ten stories I’ll like enough.” In the end? I had to regrettably trim down the list I originally had because I was several stories over. SO MUCH GOOD FICTION, SO LITTLE TIME.
The overall theme of this month’s selection might be: People suck and family hurts. Or, it might be: Men are awful, avoid at all costs. No, sorry, that’s just the soundtrack to my life.
Some general guiding principles: I’m only looking at original short stories that first appeared in October. I don’t have the fine grasp of poetry to review that, so I won’t. EVERYTHING SOUNDS GOOD TO ME. I CAN’T DECIDE. So, short fiction it is.
Here we go!
Seeking boarder for rm w/ attached bathroom, must be willing to live with ghosts ($500 / Berkeley) by Rahul Kanakia (Clarkesworld): This month’s Clarkesworld was incredibly strong. I had to resist listing every story in the issue here. They were just that good. This tale, one of my particular favourites, starts off goofy, a spooky send-up of Craigslist ads, but by the end has twisted its barbed-wire fingers around your heart and pulled tight. I also have a soft spot for stories that play with format, although I was bothered when the epistolary telling subtly shifted into narrative style in the third or so segment. Still, it was worth sticking through to the end.
Lovecraft by Helena Bell (Clarkesworld): In the opening paragraph of the story, a tiny cthulhu crawls out of a mouth that opens up in the side of an old woman’s neck. You expect the rest of the story to drip with eldritch horror and slowly-creeping madness. What you find instead is a tale of sparse, aching domesticity, where human vulnerability is the scariest monster of all. Strange and beautiful.
Hunting Monsters by S L Huang (The Booksmugglers): A girl is raised by two women in a world where it is expressly forbidden to hunt men who have been turned into beasts. Her world is shattered when her mother is arrested for murder, her murky past catching up with her. Deft prose keeps this story swift-moving while still rich with emotion and drama. The ending left me with an ache in my stomach. (I like that sort of thing because I’m a masochist.)
At First Glance by Shannon Peavey (Daily Science Fiction): Sam is on the road, on the run with her sister Brynn, who bears a deadly gift under the dark glass of her shades. A smoke-and-grit vision of Americana, like that neverending CW show Supernatural, but with actual good writing. Hark:
Brynn hasn’t seen her sister in years–not since the start of this whole thing. But she can put together something of a picture from all the bits and pieces, the occasional glances. Sam has big feet, and her boots are worn. Underrun at the heels. She has long, thin fingers and she bites her nails. But her face–that’s three years out of date.
DSF’s flash offerings are a hit-and-miss with me, but I almost always enjoy their long Friday piece. I’m sorry that’s going away now that they’re only looking to buy flash fiction.
Drowning In Sky by Julia August (Women Destroy Fantasy): As a rule, I’ll strive to stick to short stories that are available online to read for free. But I enjoyed this piece in the special Women Destroy Fantasy! issue of the Fantasy magazine so much I had to give it mention here. Set in ancient Greece and thick with myth, Drowning In Sky traces the tale of Ann, a witch who flees her dead city to Khelikë, across the sea, where she finds gold and honey and betrayal. The prose is gorgeous, sensuous, I wanted to drink it. Well worth the read. You can purchase the special Women Destroy Fantasy! issue here.
Santos de Sampaguitas (Part 1, Part 2) by Alyssa Wong (Strange Horizons): I kept seeing rave reviews about this story online before I got a chance to read it. When I did, the first paragraph grabbed me by the throat and showed me why. A searing tale of family and the supernatural set in Manila, of dead gods and bloodlines and tragedy, told in prose that fills your mouth and burns as it goes down. Feast on words like these:
The pressure on my chest, the terrible prescience that something very bad is about to happen, and the sound of distant screaming, like a boiling saucepan of human voices, are too familiar to me.
By the way, throughout the entire thing I imagined the story’s dead god to be a giant skeleton, which is not unsettling after all considering I only have a cRIPPLING FEAR OF BONES AND SKELETAL REMAINS.
Jupiter Wrestlemania by Marie Vibbert (Lightspeed): Karen’s partner, Two-Ton Tony, is found dead on a Jupiter mining station. His death is ruled accidental, but is it really? A well-told SF romp. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this story. It’s a simply-told whodunnit offering little in way of plot twist, with heavy doses of subjects I don’t particularly care about, working out and wrestling. Yet the meticulous detail in the worldbuilding and the suppleness of the prose kept me captivated. At the end of it I thought, “What a great little story set in a well thought-out world!”
Because I Prayed This Word by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Strange Horizons): One of the reward levels for SH’s annual fund drive**, and what a delicious treat it was. Gorgeous treacly prose about a magical city crafted by desire. Poetry and myth and history woven into beautiful narrative. Also, come on, as if I would leave a story about a literal city oF LESBIANS out of this list! ****
The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta): Literary magazines are somewhat outside my usual reading oeuvre (so many venues, so little time!) I saw this linked on social media and decided to give it a try. I started reading. And then kept reading. And kept reading. The beauty of this story is the way it takes urban myth, freshly scraped off the walls of the Internet, and kneads it into something electric. Anyone familiar with the reams of creepypasta crouched in the dark bowels of the online world will be familiar with many of the figures that appear in the story, from the wife with a ribbon around her neck to the hook-handed man. It’s a story about the place of women in the world, but it’s also a story about stories and how they get to be told. (It’s Halloween. Perfect time to google “creepypasta” if you’ve never heard of it.)
Toadwords by Nathaniel Lee (Daily Science Fiction): And this one, just out today, squeaks past the line and squeezes into the carriage before the October train leaves the station. The fairy tale of the girl who speaks in toads is one that’s been retold and refashioned any number of times, but I was particularly fond of this one. Something in the imaginative variety of amphibians that pour forth from the protagonist’s mouth just appealed to me. There’s also a fairly useless prince, which amused me. See, sometimes I like stories that are funny!
AND THERE WE HAVE IT. Tell me what you think?
By the way, I’m always open to suggestions of good literary markets to follow. That’s a part of the map I don’t often go to, in fear that I may get tangled in the bramble hedges of typewriter tape and folded-over scarves. Or trapped in forests of brutally precise typography. Or maybe, with my luck, I’ll just be run over by a fixed-gear bike.
**Donate to SH’s fund drive to unlock more goodness. Go on then, do it.
****HOW DO I APPLY TO BE A RESIDENT OF THIS PLACE SERIOUSLY SOMEONE TELL ME