Alex Brown Reviews Short Fiction: Anathema, Baffling, Clarkesworld, Dark Matter, Fireside, Fiyah Spring, Strange Horizons, and

Anathema 5/21
Baffling 7/21
Clarkesworld 4/21
Dark Matter 1-2/21
Fireside 7/21
Fiyah Spring ’21
Strange Horizons 7/19/21 3/3/21

One of the best parts about being a reviewer is that I get to read a lot of short speculative fiction every month from a lot of different publications. Happily for me and other lovers of short SFF/H, Locus is letting me put all that reading to even more good use by letting me squee about a few of my favorites from the last few months.

Let’s kick things off with Archita Mittra’s ‘‘Lady Fortune’’ from the May issue of Anathema, a tough story about survival and hope. At a traveling circus, a woman fortune teller watches her young daughter play and help around their tent. An abused pregnant wife hesitates before she enters for a read­ing, her need to know outweighing her fear of what the truth will bring. She is looking for one answer, but gets another, one she may not be ready for yet. Beautifully written and earnest, this story touches on self-determination in the face of desperation.

‘‘An Island in His Splendor’’ by Christopher Caldwell from the July issue of Baffling was one of those stories I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I finished it. A touch of sea magic mixed with queer longing and identity make it hard to forget. After a bad breakup, Eric once again summons a magical fish to grant a wish, this time to erase his heartache. Although Eric is, to me, a touch too melodramatic, he’s also just as charming and endearing as the characters in my favorite queer romance novels.

I find myself drawn to short stories that buck the traditional narrative structure. A smart house is the main character in L Chan’s ‘‘A House Is Not a Home’’ from the April issue of Clarkesworld. The story is structured around times of the day – 0747 when Home makes coffee for her Resident, 1000 when Home restocks the food supply, 1745 when Home is queried by the authorities looking for her Resident. The story itself is slight but not insignificant. The AI was built to do a job, one that must continue with or without her Resident, but that doesn’t mean she can’t comprehend her betrayal. She calls herself Home, but she is really only a house, just a place where a person once lived, not somewhere a Resident felt loved.


Sloane Leong is quickly becoming a must-read author for me, and her piece ‘‘Drifting From Her Lunar Ruin’’ from Dark Matter is a good example of why. It oozes with lurid imagery and a disori­enting sense of unease. It opens with a creature, you, waking, your ‘‘crystallized body…emaciated, full of ancient stalagmite ribs and thin, shriveled entrails.’’ You are not alone in your cavern; a human has crash-landed her ship. Rebirth and reunifica­tion, betrayal and grief fill the spaces between the lines in this excellent story.

Endria Isa Richardson’s ‘‘Forest Thing’’ is a sharp, hard bite of a story from the July issue of Fireside. Sandra lives in East Palo Alto. Years before, the wealthy on the west side of town built giant fans to blow the toxic chemicals in the air east, causing a massive explosion that killed most of her family and mutated her in strange, plant-like ways. Sandra wanted to research the environmental corruption her community was being exposed to, and now she is that corruption. Now she has a chance to exact revenge. This is what happens when the oppressed fight back.

It’s all about ancestral bonds in ‘‘Blood Ties’’ by Jade Wilburn, from the April Fiyah. After her mother dies, young Olivia flees her hometown with her newborn sister. Their land is alive with the spirits of their ancestors. When white government agents come to kick them out, the choice is bigger than whether to make a new home elsewhere or die for land that no longer belongs to them. It is balancing the need to make something out of the blood our ancestors spilled that now fertilizes the land and the exhaustion of being once more being pushed out of our own success by white people who believe their needs outweigh ours. A power­ful story that makes me long for my own family’s ancestral land now lost to white developers.

Ian Rosales Casocot pushes us to take responsibil­ity for actions and choices in ‘‘The Cataloguer of Deceit’’ from the July Strange Horizons. At nearly 150 years old, Manuela Corazon Monquillo holds the secret to a long life: ‘‘a thorough accounting of sins and carefully crafted deceits,’’ hers and oth­ers. Yet there are costs to living so long. The more sins she records, the fewer of her own memories she retains. She also ends up creating more sin or causing others to sin in order to have something new to record. A cloud of anger, sadness, and pain spreads out around her.

In ‘‘#Spring Love, #Pichal Pairi’’ by Usman T. Malik from, Raza, a journalist, tracks down a pichal pairi (a supernatural creature whose feet point backwards) for an interview. Like others from the Afghanistan and Pakistan regions, Farah can no longer live in her traditional homelands due to circumstances beyond her control. Soon the interviews become an affair, but a pandemic cuts their romance short. Farah stays with her com­munity to protect it with what little resources she has instead of quarantining in relative comfort with Raza, and that may be the last choice she makes.

Recommended Stories

‘‘Lady Fortune’’, Archita Mittra (Anathema 5/21)

‘‘An Island in His Splendor’’, Christopher Caldwell (Baffling 7/21)

‘‘A House Is Not a Home’’, L Chan (Clarkesworld 4/21)

‘‘Drifting From Her Lunar Ruin’’, Sloane Leong (Dark Matter 1-2/21)

‘‘Forest Thing’’, Endria Isa Richardson (Fireside 7/21)

‘‘Blood Ties’’, Jade Wilburn (Fiyah Spring ’21)

‘‘The Cataloguer of Deceit’’, Ian Rosales Casocot (Strange Horizons 7/19/21)

‘‘#Spring Love, #Pichal Pairi’’, Usman T. Malik ( 3/3/21)

Alex Brown is a queer Black librarian and writer. They have written two books on the history of Napa County, California’s marginalized communities. They write about adult and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror as well as BIPOC history and librarianship. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and access set the foundation of all their work. Alex lives in Southern California with their pet rats and ever-increasing piles of books.

This review and more like it in the September 2021 issue of Locus.

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