Charles PayseurX Marks The Story: May 2021

X Marks The Story: May 2021


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.

We have officially passed “Early 2021”. And as we get more into the meaty part of the year, the short speculative fiction doesn’t let up. In delightful and concluding turns, it can be difficult to navigate the wide landscape of the field without a guide, without a map. That’s where I come in! Looking for a story that will draw your heart? I know exactly the route to get there! Prefer something with more action to make your heart beat and stomp your feet? I can show you where to look! No matter what your taste, from science fiction to fantasy to a charming combination of the two, slip on some sensible shoes and let’s follow in the footsteps of some short X-excellent SFF!

Steel magnolia metaphor“By Jennifer Lee Rossman (Escape backpack)

What is: Astrid is a talented mechanic and inventor. She is also autistic, and metaphors, on the other hand, are something of her enemy. So when she produces actual steel magnolia as a kind of gift for her mother, she is unaware that what she is doing is actually creating a completely different kind of metaphor, one that has little to do with the film and everything to do with Astrid’s feelings. About her mother’s cancer. Science fiction stems from what Astrid’s inventions ultimately do, and how it fits into the broader lines between the literal and the figurative.

Why I like it: This is a bitter-sweet story, one that looks at this raw and destructive situation and does not shy away. Does not move away. It captures all of Astrid’s struggles to come to terms with what’s happening, and the ways in which her autism complicates the process. However, it does an amazing job of taking what is a very delicate condition, and just exploring it beautifully. Shows all the emotion, all the frustration, all the humanity shown when Astrid and her mother talk. When Astrid deals with the ways in which her invention does and does not plan. She’s still a child, and despite a pretty mature way of looking at the world the story finds her growing up in some important ways, facing things she’s never had to deal with. Not broken. But being variable nonetheless because of the weight and grief of it all. And learn a little more about herself, and the world, and metaphors. Make sure you have some tissues on hand for this, because this is an emotional roller coaster (and so good).

Heart to shine“By Fool Threcker (mozar)

What is: Although it was not available online until June, I am still considering it as a May release from Uncanny magazine, since then the full issue came out. And people, this is another story that is aimed at the strings of the heart and makes its mark. It finds Kumel, a young girl who feels ignored except when she is harassed. Desperate to escape, she chases after fairy charms, only to find Shafir doesn’t want her. At least, not the way she thought she wanted to. It is a complex look at loneliness and escape, carefully researched by the author, who realizes how easy it might have been to push Kumal’s story into tragedy, but no. Who finds in the place another end, one that is beautiful and inspiring and confirming.

Why I like it: Everything about Kumal seems to make her vulnerable. The issue of racist harassment and misogyny. Isolated, without a lawyer. A girl who wants to disappear, and takes risks in part because she knows she must to perhaps find a way out of her situation. On the edge of something deep and gloomy, what ultimately finds her is not darkness but a friend. Not one who can wave her problems or rescue her from the dangers and hardships of her life. But someone who can once see her and the good in her. Its power and its potential. And it’s a magic that’s really powerful. Such that you do not have to be a fairy to understand or practice. And I love how the piece brings Comel to a place where she can hope for something in her life. Does not erase the very real problems and injustices around it. But to recognize that she has power, and that she will have more, to shape her place in the world, to connect with people who do see her, and who she in turn can see. It is a charming and gentle and heartwarming read.

Shai Shu“By EA Xiong (Strange Horizons)

What is: In a populated solar system where travel between planets and moons is common, and where there is a growing market for creating artificial body enlargements for a variety of reasons, the arts see a certain change. And for a pianist, and for an artist who specializes in flesh, in somatology, the future means breaking the boundaries of what is possible, both for the human body and for how a human body can create art. And what follows is a dispute, a risk, but also a commitment that could bring both to new heights in their field.

Why I like it: I like the pace of this story, which may seem strange at first because it is a slow section, one that unfolds over months as the characters work towards this rather huge project. When they are trapped in other things, when they make plans, in the course of their lives. They are not only swallowed up by this single project, but committed to their careers, to their aspirations, leading them to a moment where they can uncover their breakthrough, the fruits of their intense labor, and push the boundaries of their arts forward. I just love the way it’s restrained, showing that it’s not a moment’s job. Or a day or a week or even a year. That it happens in the flow of things, the constant effort that works within the limits of livelihood, finances their passions. But through it all how they still shine, and how their moments of success ring out loud, resonate through the solar system, through time, as something new, significant. For me it is a meticulous and fantastically designed story, delicate but poignant, and well worth checking out!

Synesthesia“By Devin Demarco (Of Lackington)

What is: This story, which appears in Lackington’s issue of “Battle,” imagines a type of team sport. One that is made possible only by the fact that in this world there are people with synesthesia that is not only related to the senses but allows them to express their strange feelings physically. The game players then use these powers to try to knock down the opponent using a points system that is not difficult to follow. Sia can create light from sound, and activate that light as a solid force. Useful power, especially when some dirty pool from the rival team, Chicago, i.e. to hold back is not an option.

Why I like it: SFF sports stories are not exactly common, and I like the premise here, the rules and the energy that the game brings to the story, and that the author brings to the game. The installation is classic and for a Chicago area native, just a little digging. Big City team against local underdogs. Some are less than legal play. What a tremendous attack. The piece shines in part thanks to the great team of characters and their unique powers and the ways in which they weave them together. There is a very visual flare to the work, something I especially like given the idea of ​​synesthesia, where here the reading of the words evokes the sounds and smells, the looks and the textures and the flavors. It is fast paced and powerfully processed, full of determination, impulse and lots of fun. It really makes me hope that this sport existed, because I will have tickets this season. Amazing reading!


Looking for more recommendations? So good news, because here are some more great stories for the X-plore!

If all the X-tra Xs don’t deliver it, I’m a bit of a superhero fan, and I absolutely loved Jen Brown’s take on a particularly messy and traumatic superhero journey in “To rise, to blow“(Anthema).

In the same line, you can squint and read “mat“By Aurelius Raines II (Apax) as a superhero story, though perhaps closer to saying it explores the intersections of self – confidence, family, and the power of never giving up. Anyway, this is an inspiring read!

Two women with big dreams and even greater love find that may not be enough in “Blood in the thread“By Sherry Camay (column). It’s hard at times, pinching, combative, but also not repulsive and comes to joy and victory, and it comes through art, trust and refusing to betray the people who really matter.

In the meantime, in the first issue of The Deadlands, “Peristalsis“By Vajra Chandrasekera looks at a very strange TV show, and a very strange fandom – ones that can break down the barriers between life and death, between audience and show, between story and reader.

And that’s all for this month! Remember to tune in again next time, for another X-quisite speculative X-experience!



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