Finding a short and excellent SFF can often feel like looking for a buried treasure. Sometimes a guide is needed to help fill in the map, which will connect readers to fantastic fiction and show where X marks the story – a monthly column by Charles Pfizer.
(And yes, it’s not January anymore – but the stories are still great and worth it!)
Hi there! Ready to take another look at the X-quote world of short speculative literature? Go to X-tremes to find great stories with me, your X-pert guide? Would I stop using more X-tra Xs than the 90s X-Men crossover? Hard! Wrong, I mean, hard for the latter, because I do not stop. As for everything else, you’m in luck! Because today I want to present to you a number of recently published stories. From science fiction through fantasy to horror, hopefully there is something to enjoy from everything, so grab a snack and stay hydrated while we embark on this exact literary adventure!
“Deadbeat“By Yaakov Bodenz (Embarrassing Magazine # 2)
What is: If you have not yet checked out Baffling Magazine, this story, which goes down in the January issue (the second issue of the publication) will make you hopefully reconsider. The narrator is the lover of a magician, a demon with some problem of insecurity and a nocturnal habit of participating in hot dog eating competitions through astral screening. This is exactly the kind of weirdness I appreciate, and yet the story is far more serious and emotional than the premise might imply, revealing an incredibly careful and complicated relationship and characters who are far from perfect but who might manage to be good to everyone. Other.
Why I like it: I love the couplehood that is revealed here on all levels and its oddities and small and big dramas. The narrator is so interesting, a demon struggling with his sense of self-worth, advancing in what he does but also ashamed of it in many ways, aware that he is perceived by his friend’s family as a failure, like the titular deadbeat. And this friend, a magician, who seems both supportive and not, sums up their dynamics so beautifully. The story follows their messy state in a great lifestyle, where the characters feel real and meaty and complex, all done with incredible space saving and through some striking and surprising elements. I laughed at the sausages, but there is something delicate and raw and painful under the traps of magic and horror, and for me it is a resounding and wonderful call.
“Root rot“By Fargo Tabahi (Apex Magazine # 121)
What is: The narrator of this story went to Mars following a dream of a new growth, a new beginning, and they severed their ties with their family to do so. But oppression, imprisonment, mental changes and alcoholism made them the shadow of who they were. depressed. is broken. And now they learn that their brother is on the planet, looking for them, and it brings to the surface all the things, injuries and hopes and hell they have spent the last few years trying to drink. Sad and messy, the story emerges from the repeat issue of Apex magazine, and carries with it the sad reality and the fragile people one step away from shattering.
Why I like it: This story hurts, and although for some it may not be a reason to love it, sometimes I yearn for the kind of emotional destruction this story offers. The narrator is a complete fracture and the story does not draw fists to reveal their pain and the stratified injustices done to them. The hope with which they came to Mars, the dreams of growing things, and the roads that were crushed, their dreams were cut off from them like the bone of their tongue, leaving only a shell that once held something abundant and alive. The piece plays with hope and despair, with the idea of help and family, all the things the narrator almost has access to, except for the trauma and wounds they carry that cannot now be healed. And even though it’s gloomy and destructive, it’s also a stunning and beautiful read!
“Everything on a work day“By Jade Stewart (Literary Wig Magazine No. 17)
What is: Walker is a non-binary demon hunter who does not want to join an “elite” club to interfere with doing what they think is right and going where their feet take them. The story, which comes in the latest issue (without issue) of the literary wig magazine, follows a day in their lives – a day full of demons! From those that stem from self-doubt and despair, to those that can pose a threat to an entire city and wipe the floor with a team of faith hunters, the story builds a world where demons are as diverse as the people dedicated to their expulsion.
Why I like it: There is such energy in this story, the unbridled joy that Walker brings to their work. This is what they want to do, how they want to do it, and they have paid their way in time and skill and perfection. They were forced, because they do not come from much, and they went through school when everyone wanted there to be a reason to deny them, trip them up, send them to pack or share them in cooperation. Its “safe” charter and corporate mandates. Instead, Walker wanders, always turning back to the people they love, the family roots that are still deep, but other than that he enjoys the freedom that a hunter-gatherer life gives them. The ability to move, to act without censorship by the whims of an alliance. It may mean less fame, less money, but it also means doing things their way, and it’s really hard to argue with results. The piece is crowded, packed with action, and a delightful and charming roller coaster from start to finish. I want the book series! I want the TV show! It’s so good!
“Return of the lyre“By Mary E. Lowd (Kaleidrop Winter 2021)
What is: It’s not that I’ve never read a re-book of the Orpheus / Eurydice myth, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read one. Serving an alternative track, the story imagines what would have happened if it had been Orpheus dying, and Eurydice traveling to the underworld not to bring him back, but to make sure he had a tool to play even then. The mechanics of having to leave Hades without looking back still exist, but the story updates and distorts the idea beautifully, providing a very different take from the original, albeit in some ways equally tragic.
Why I like it: The way this story complicates and distorts expectations is just: Chef’s Kiss:. Aside from the change in perspective, the way this story deals not with dedication but with doubt is so great. It’s an aspect of the original, Orpheus’ doubt that Eurydice is behind, but here the story probably ends happily, just so it will miss and rot. I love the long game trick that the gods might be involved in here, the tragedy in which Eurydice actually enters from the moment she leaves her home and decides to find her dead husband. The piece manages to keep the path of the story while maintaining a completely different set of themes, revealing how the doubt is dual, cutting not only into the past of what could have been, but into the future of what might be. . This is a powerful and careful take on a myth that has gained its share of attention in recent decades, and it manages to do something fresh and interesting with the original material.
“Deep music“By Eli Bangs (Clarkesworld # 172)
What is: I’m not sure if this story is “properly” science fiction or fantasy (considering the post, I was inclined to the former, while the overall feel of the piece hit me a little more as much as later, so you’re alone on this front). What I do know is that it’s following Kevin, a recently dumped woman who specializes in “treatment and rehabilitation of Equid.” She certainly does not exterminate, but she does help people who have problems with the water-like creatures that have mysteriously appeared on the beach and have since been absorbed by people as pets or cheap labor. Only recently does it seem like one of his friends Aquinas is trying to communicate, and maybe he has something quite important to say. Too bad a local opponent just showed up to maybe ruin everything.
Why I like it: I love the way the story finds in Kevin this bundle of grumpy wounded who can not really bring herself to show weakness. She is tough and she is passionate about what she does, making sure they do not abuse Aquid, always being presentable and pleasant. But it’s part of the thing, that she always has a mask ready, that she never really feels comfortable putting other people in. Which kind of torpedoed her recent relationship even though she’s still carrying a torch for her ex-girlfriend. And I love how the sudden appearance of a complete jerk of a competitor pushes her to confront many of her fears and hesitations, with her regrets and mistakes. While recounting this jarring adventure of bruised egos (and bodies) and the importance of treating all living creatures (but especially mysterious and very intelligent sea creatures who may have a secret agenda) carefully and respectfully. Just a wonderful read!
“I would completely lose my job as an X-Amateur if I did not mention the official X-Men duo that came out on Strange Horizons by Stephanie Brett,”Hank McCoy’s complaint against the Danger Room“And”Prostina“(Stina on Emma Frost!).
“10 steps towards you are brand new”By Tonya Leibord in Fantasy # 63 magazine is also wonderful and deals with monsters and reality, loneliness and secrets.
GigaNotoSaurus January Novel, “Kind of a dream remember“By Rei Rosenquist, it’s a strange punk-flavored post-apocalyptic adventure that swirls around a group of people with a few holes in their memories, and it becomes an unsettling and captivating read.
Nightmare’s special issue 100 has a lot of powerful stories, but I think my favorite is Sam J. Miller’s bookMetastatic darkness, Which imagines a kind of viral online toxicity and the chilling consequences that one journalist exposes to it.