Finding the perfect short SFF can often seem like a hunt for buried treasure. Sometimes filling out a map requires a guide that connects readers with fantastic fiction and shows you where X Marks The Story is in Charles Payseur’s monthly column.
We have officially moved to “the beginning of 2021”. And as we delve into the meaty part of the year, the short speculative fiction doesn’t go down. When turns turn and disappear, it can be difficult to navigate the vast outdoor landscape without a guide and without a map. Where am I coming from! Looking for a story that would stir your heart? I only know the way to get there! Do you want to do something more and more to make your heart beat and your legs trample? I can show you where to look! Whatever your taste, from science fiction to fantasy to a beautiful combination of the two, take off your smart shoes and let go of the X-cellent short SFF footprint!
“The metaphor of steel magnolia“Jennifer Lee Rossman (Escape Pod)
What is it: Astrida is a talented mechanic and inventor. She is also autistic, but the metaphor is something of her own. So when she makes a real steel magnolia as a gift for her mom, she doesn’t know that what she’s doing is actually creating a completely different metaphor that has nothing 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 do, and how it goes beyond the wider boundaries between literal and visual.
Why I love it: It’s a story of bitter sweetness that looks at this raw and emotionally devastating situation and doesn’t give up. Does not distract. It captures all of Astrid’s efforts to come to terms with what’s going on and how her autism complicates the process. Still, it’s a wonderful job to take on a very delicate situation and just explore it nicely. It shows all the emotions, all the frustration, all the humanity, showing how Astrid and her mother speak. When Astrid is confronted with her inventive techniques and is not going to plan. She is still a child, and despite her rather mature approach to the world, history notices that she is growing up in some important ways, confronted with things she has never lost touch with. Not broken. But when everything changed because of all that weight and grief. And learn a little more about yourself, the world and metaphors. Be sure to have dedicated fabrics because it’s an emotional roller coaster (and so good).
“Heart shine“Shveta Thakrar (Strange)
What is it: Although it wasn’t available online until June, I’m still considering it to be the May issue of Uncanny Magazine, because then the full issue was published. People, this is another story that focuses on the heart and reaches its mark. It finds Komal, a young girl who feels ignored unless she is mocked. Desperate to escape, she chases Faerie’s magic, only to find out that Faerie doesn’t want her. At least not the way she thought she wanted. It’s a complex look at loneliness and escape, carefully examined by the author, who understands how easy it was to push Komal’s story into tragedy, but not. Who instead finds a different ending, beautiful, inspiring and confirming.
Why I love it: Everything about Komal makes her vulnerable. The theme of racist and misogynistic harassment. Isolated, without a lawyer. A girl who wants to disappear and who is partly at risk because she knows she has to possibly find a way out of her situation. On the edge of something deep and gloomy, she may find not darkness but a girlfriend. Not the one who can give up her problems or pull her out of her life’s dangers and hardships. But one who can see her and her goodness once. Its power and potential. And that’s really powerful magic. One that you don’t need to understand in order to practice. And I love how the piece brings Komal to a place where she can expect something in her life. Without erasing the very real problems and injustices around it. But acknowledging that she has power and will have more to shape her place in the world, connect with people who see her and who she can see in turn. It’s a cute, gentle, and heart-sweet reading.
“This Shou“Submitted by EA Xiong (Changed horizons)
What is it: In the human-inhabited solar system, where travel between planets and moons is common, and where the market for the creation of artificial augments is growing for a variety of reasons, art is seeing some transformation. For both the pianist and the artisan who specializes in the body, somatology, the future means going beyond what is possible, both in terms of the human body and how the human body can create art. And then follows the controversy, the risk, but also the commitment that can elevate both to new heights in their fields.
Why I love it: I like the pace of this story, which may seem strange at first, as it’s a slow track that unfolds over the months as the characters work on this rather huge project. As they are caught up in other things, making plans, going their own lives. They are not consumed in just this one project, they are committed to their careers, to their ambitions, bringing them to the moment when they can unleash their breakthrough, the fruits of intensive work, and push the boundaries of their art forward. I just like the fact that it’s underrated, showing that it’s not the job of the moment. Or a day, a week or even a year. That this is happening in the flow of things, in a constant effort that works within the subsistence, to fund their passions. But through it all, they still shine and how their moments of success sound loud, echoing the solar system, over time, as something new, significant. For me, it’s a meticulous and fantastically crafted story, subtle but exciting and very worth checking out!
“Synesthesia“Created by Devin DeMarco (Lackington)
What is it: This story, which appeared in the theme of “battle” at Lackington’s, envisages team sports. This is only possible because in this world some people have a synesthesia that is not only related to the senses but also allows them to express their changed senses in physical form. Players then use these powers to defeat the opposition using a points system that is easy to follow. Sia can emit light from sound and use that light as a strong force. A useful force, especially when the opposing Chicago team’s dirty pool means that abstinence is not the answer.
Why I love it: SFF sports stories are not entirely common, and I like the premise, rules, and energy that the game gives to history and that the author brings to the game. The setup is classic and is for locals in the Chicago area, just a little digging. The big city team compared to the local minors. Some less than a legal game. Some powerful show. The work shines in part because of the great characters and their unique powers and the ways in which they are combined. There is a very visual flash in the work, which I especially like given the idea of synesthesia, when reading words evokes sounds and smells, images and textures and tastes. He is paced and powerfully conveyed, full of determination, vigor and a lot of fun. I really want this sport to exist because I have subscriptions. Incredible reading!
Looking for even more recommendations? Then the good news, because here are some more great X-plore stories!
If everyone in the X-tra X doesn’t give it up, I’m a bit of a superhero fan, and I really enjoyed Jen Brown’s journey on a particularly messy and traumatic superhero journey. ”Get up, bloated“(Anatema).
You can also squint and read “Throw a rugCreated by Aurelius Raines II (Apex) as a superhero story, though perhaps closer to that, it explores the intersection of trust, family, and never-giving power. Anyway, this is an inspiring reading!
Two women with big dreams and even greater love find that this may not be enough. ”Blood in the thread“Presented by Cheri Kamei (Tor). Sometimes it’s hard, tedious, visceral, but also unyielding and striving for joy and triumph, which is achieved through the use of art, trust, and the refusal to betray truly important people.
Meanwhile, the first issue of The DeadlandsPeristalsisVajra Chandrasekera looks at a very strange TV show and a very strange fandom – those that can break down the barriers between life and death, between the audience and the show, between the story and the reader.
And everything this month! Remember to reconcile next time for more X exclusive speculative X experiences!