It's hard to believe that summer is nearly over. I've been traveling and working, talking walks and binge-watching anime with my kids. I haven't read as much as I would like, but then there is not nearly enough time in the world for that.
Here is a list of some stories I’ve read. If you can, I recommend that you read them, too.
Each issue of this new magazine has impressed and moved me. Here are my favorites from Issue 3.
Lares Familares, 1981 by Rebecca Campbell
“Lares Familares,” according to Wikipedia, were household guardian spirits of the ancient Romans. In Campbell’s story, a similar spirit may be watching over (or not?) a troubled Canadian logging family. This is a deeply atmospheric, unsettling work, beautifully evoking history and place. Campbell excels at capturing the unspoken tensions that can run through a family, the unspoken hurts and demands. The birthday dinner party described in this tale is certainly one of the most uncomfortable I’ve read. A quietly eerie piece that subtly gets under your skin.
The Barrette Girls by Sara Saab
Such a dark, dark, surreal tale. I love the narrative voice of this, the cold and compelling anger. The narrator has a job shepherding a group of little girls through the city to a secret location. . . a job with a purpose which is only gradually revealed. On Twitter, the author described this story as one about “f*ed up people & f*ed-up personhood,” and it’s an apt description. The narrator is wounded and supremely unlikeable, and I couldn’t put this story down.
Obtrusion Rate by Jonathan Laidlow
Another tense, surreal tale from Liminal Stories (hmm, there seems to be a pattern here?) Laidlow unspools a tale of a uniquely awful workplace. Mundane office irritations (e.g. meetings and a ceiling leak which has not been fixed) are juxtaposed with hints of something much more sinister. The mystery of this particular company’s purpose is slowly unwound, and it becomes a portrait of a team, and a man, trying to cope with terrible trauma as they attempt to do their job.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Beneath Ceaseless Skies consistently offers beautifully written secondary-world fantasy. Here are two that I managed to catch this summer.
Carnival Nine by Caroline Yoachim
One of the loveliest and most poignantly understated fables I’ve ever seen. Yoachim presents a world of clockwork characters who must be wound up each day to function. But some characters get more winds (which translates to more energy, more time) than others. In the real world we, too, have limited time and energy, and neither are fairly distributed. Yoachim’s tale becomes a bittersweet allegory about this, and also about a mother’s love and the limits of that love—and by extension, the limits that we all have.
A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power by Rose Lemberg
I have followed Lemberg’s Birdverse series of stories for several years now. I think this is the best one yet. A rich, strange novella of falling stars, millennia-old star-guardians, shapeshifters, lions, and flying carpets. And the desert, of course—the beautifully evoked desert of this story. An ancient and powerful sovereign of the desert meets a much younger, yet also powerful, worker of magic. The two people are immediately drawn to one another. What follows is a stunningly intimate tale of connection. This is a story of power, consent, and intimacy. It’s a story of trauma and longing, passion and lust. It’s a daring tale that takes real chances. And it’s set in the magical Birdverse universe: it deepens and expands the world that we’ve seen before. The mythic entwines with the personal and intimate. Absolutely gorgeous.
More stories from around the Internet
Bear Language by Martin Cahill at Fireside
Such a stunning, completely absorbing story. A bear has broken into a house and trapped two children and their father on the upper floor. But who is the real threat to the children? This story is so perfectly done. It’s full of hurt and truth and love that exists but which cannot save.
The Stars That Fall by Samantha Murray at Flash Fiction Online
A perfectly written flash piece about the doom that hangs over us all.
Jonathan’s Heaven Has Many Cats by Rachel K. Jones at Lackington’s
This story addresses a familiar question: What kind of God would create a world with suffering in it? and addresses it in a most unusual way. It’s weird, wild, wonderful, zany, and ultimately poignant. And yes, there are cats.
Firstborn by Maria Haskins at Capricious (Issue 7)
“A mother’s love is supposed to be clean and whole. Not tattered and rent like mine. It should be pastels and flannel, hearts and cherubs. Never once was it like that for me. Always the knotted noose. Always the precipice and the abyss.”
Capricious is a new magazine to me, although writer Maria Haskins is not. I haven’t finished reading all the stories in this issue, but I did eagerly turn to Haskins’ story first. And oh, this one hit me hard. This fiercely written tale catches all the conflicted feelings of early motherhood—the fears, the ambivalence, the seeming loss of self in the face of a new life’s overwhelming need. And the love, too.
Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara at Uncanny Magazine
This is a vampire story like you’ve never seen. The first lines grab you and never let go. The narrator is unwillingly bit and turned to vampirism one drunken night outside a bar. But on top of the usual complications of vampirism is another: the narrator is a trans man, and he (and the vampire who turned him) have no idea of what vampirism will actually do to his body. This tale looks at issues of bodily autonomy (and the violation of it), of choice (and the lack and denial of it). The narrative voice is intimate, compelling, and angry as hell.
Harvest by Steven Case in Bracken Magazine
A British pumpkin soldier tells tales of the war. It’s a seemingly whimsical premise, a story weird and wonderful. But by the end, this account of gourd soldiers has become poignant and haunting.
These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng at Strange Horizons
And ohhh, this beautifully, beautifully written piece. Empire, oppression, and resistance. Children who are taken from their families and forced to serve as ship navigators among the stars, told that all “these constellations will be yours.” A space ship who bonds with a ballerina. This is a short story that manages to feel both epic and personal; it’s sweeping, gorgeously detailed, and ultimately uplifting. The world-building and emotion are both remarkable—Cuyegkeng has imagination to burn.
Delia’s Door by Julia August at Three-Lobed Burning Eye
This is an older story (published in October 2016), but I only happened to stumble upon it this summer. It’s a lovely tale: glowing, gorgeous, and touched with real longing. A story where choirs can call up doors to other worlds, and a Vivaldi fugue conjures up a door to a summer country. . .