Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Diabolical Plots, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flash Fiction Online and Fantasy

Diabolical Plots 11/22
Beneath Ceaseless Skies 11/3/22, 11/17/22
Flash Fiction Online 11/22
Fantasy 11/22

November’s Diabolical Plots surprised me a bit with a foodie science fiction story I definitely hadn’t seen before. Phil Dyer bakes up a creepy exploration story in “Beneath the Crust”, where a team moves into the mysterious Bake, a whole dimension of dough that some people can shape with their minds into any kind of bread they want. The narrator is one such foodie, but one carrying trauma from time spent alone in the dark of the Bake, lost and trapped. It’s a memorable bit of worldbuilding, and Dyer uses it to provide an unsettling, if savory, descent into a place that, like the witch’s gingerbread house, has hidden dangers and treacherous magic. Definitely a must try for those looking for a weird but compelling read.

The first of November’s Beneath Ceaseless Skies issues focuses on characters trying to make deals – some honestly, some decidedly not, and running into some profound and deadly complications. The second issue shifts to cover time, and espe­cially concerns itself with the future and people’s relationship to it. As in “Troubling a Star” by Andrew Dykstal, in which a girl, Eugenia, and an old man, Vittorio, seek to see the future in the entrails of animals. Secretly, though, Eugenia has a gift, the ability to raise the dead back to life. As powerful (and as dangerous) a gift as that is, though, the story explores a rather subtle application of it – to change what the entrails will portend when spilled. Dykstal does careful work in working the plot and the rules of the world toward a question on which hinges the fate of an entire planet. And that casts two people testing the theory that with a long enough magical lever, nothing is impossible.

Flash Fiction Online’s November issue lingers on communities and people inside of them struggling against the currents and tides of conformity, dif­ference, and invasion. Dafydd McKimm’s “The Flamingo Maximizer”, introduces a strange movement of flamingos into a place they’d never been before. What’s strange at first becomes a sign of greater changes, and for the narrator a descent into confusion, loss, and pressures to join the growing flock and leave behind the guise of humanity. Dreamlike and full of mystery, McKimm’s story becomes about how people face a changing world and try to find their place inside it.

November’s Fantasy has quite a bit to enjoy, including “Plum Century” by Simo Srinivas, which finds a soldier finding his way to a witch’s abode only to discover his journey has lasted a hundred years. The witch, for her part, isn’t ex­actly sorry about the confusion, as she values her space and privacy, but witch and soldier find that despite everything, a hundred years is far too long to go without a spot of conversation and a break from their respective isolations. Srinivas embraces the magic of the situation and the bonds that start to tie the characters together – their place as out­siders to a world that is often hostile and afraid of their true selves. Through this connection, there’s a vibrant and almost metafictional path through loneliness and exile and toward a bold and reward­ing decision. It’s delightful! Moving to poetry, and “The Space Between Seconds” by Kelsey Hutton keeps with themes of distance, time, and isolation, conjuring a gothic feel as a narrator falls asleep while reading and finds themselves in the center of a dream, or a haunting. It’s an evocative and recognizable piece – the embarrassment of the narrator at waking to the noise of their book striking the floor – even as it explores the dark shadows of gothic tradition and the way fear and uncertainty can steal into the world like magic, like partly remembered dreams.

Recommended Stories:
“Beneath the Crust”, Phil Dyer (Diabolical Plots 11/22)
“Plum Century”, Simo Srinivas (Fantasy 11/22)

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others, and many are included in his debut collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the series editor of We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and a multiple-time Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When not drunkenly discussing Goosebumps, X-Men comic books, and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably found raising a beer with his husband, Matt, in their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

This review and more like it in the January 2023 issue of Locus.

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