While last month my short speculative fiction reading veered toward dark, emotionally heavy tales, for February I opted for light and warmth. This month my ten favorites showed love in all its myriad forms, from friendship to romance to familial and beyond, as well as a splash of something unsettling and chilling for good measure.
“A Lie in the Sand” by Devin Miller
Two traveling bards encounter a beach inhabited by magical sand castles in this charming tale. Haworth is apprentice under Aristalo, who uses the sand castles as a test for her young trainee de ella. So Haworth tells a story, a long, complicated, and utterly compelling story, hoping to keep the sand castles’ attention long enough to cross the beach unscathed. I enjoyed watching Haworth strategize and analyze, and the Aristalo’s little reveal at the end was the perfect cap to a perfect story.
Metaphorosis (February 2022)
“Babang Luksa” by Nicasio Andres Reed
In the not too distant future where the climate crisis has flooded much of South Philadelphia, Gino returns home for the first time in years. He’s spent much of his working life on flood mitigation projects, but the sea levels continue to rise. His welcome from him is tense and soon old resentments boil over. Nicasio Andres Reed is an author I look forward to reading again. His prose is meticulous and evocative.
Reckoning (February 2022, issue 6)
“Eight Arms to Hold You” by Angela Teagardner
A cute romance between a beloved octopus and her clever suitor. Oscar sets out on a great journey between his small tank and Penelope’s much larger one. The trip is perilous and requires herculean feats of strength, endurance, and intelligence. But love cannot be denied. This story is all sugar, and sometimes you need that. I certainly did.
Cast of Wonders (February 17, 2022, 486)
“Intimacies” by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko
These are not your typical merpeople. Tevulian the merman meets Besk the human. Each thinks the other’s way of parenting is wrong, but as they find themselves unexpected co-parents of Tevulian’s children, they reach an understanding. There is more than one way to love and more than one way to care, and Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko’s story explores those ranges.
Strange Horizons(February 14, 2022)
“Loom” by Solomon Uhiara
An Africanfuturism story about a grandfather suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s, his daughter who is unwilling to accept her father’s decline, and his grandson who only wants to understand. Our narrator, affectionately known as Babu, lives in a futuristic Nigeria, one where people have ports at the back of their heads that they can connect to each other through. The grandson connects to the grandfather to figure out what he’s trying to communicate, and sees flashes of inexplicable things. Solomon Uhiara wrote a lovely science fiction story about family and how the deep ties to our ancestors and elders will guide us through the future.
Dark Matter Magazine (February 2022, issue 8)
“Rider Reviews for FerrymanCharon” by Guan Un
I got a kick out of this story structured like reviews for a rideshare app. If you have even a passing familiarity with Greek mythology, you’ll recognize the reviewers and appreciate the increasingly annoyed responses from Hades. A funny little palate cleanser.
Translunar Travelers Lounge (February 15, 2022, issue 6)
“Synthetic Perennial” by Vivianni Glass
For February, Tor.com partnered with FIYAH Literary Magazine to present the LeVar Burton Reads writing contest winners. Each of the stories are well worth reading, but Vivianni Glass’ was my personal favorite. It’s about a young woman who was brought back to life, but she isn’t some mindless, brain-eating monster. She feels imprisoned at the hospital and longs for a chance to live this new life she’s been given.
Tor.com (February 22, 2022)
“The Book of the Blacksmiths” by Martin Cahill
“I’m awoken by myself, so that I am the first thing I see.” A forged being known as One Thousand and Sixteen, takes their place maintaining the Chronicle, a compendium of everything that has happened. Life is short and busy for these blacksmiths, but it is not without beauty or compassion. Although it takes a sad turn at the end, hope thrums through every line.
Fireside Fiction (February 2022)
“The Calcified Heart of Saint Ignace Battiste” by Christopher Caldwell
I am absolutely flabbergasted at the intensity of Christopher Caldwell’s worldbuilding here. This story isn’t even 3,000 words and yet it has the kind of rich tapestry of history and culture you’d normally only see in a doorstopper epic fantasy novel. Our narrator is a young acolyte at the Grand Cathedral of a dead saint when they’re visited by three godlike beings as part of their regular pilgrimage. What the narrator sees during their sacred ritual has the potential to unmake the world.
Uncanny (January/February 2022, issue 44)
“Tooth, Teeth, Tongue” by Ai Jiang
Ai Jiang’s story about a little girl losing her tooth and it being collected by the tooth fairy has a cutesy premise, but it’s clear from the beginning that this is not that kind of tale: “Nestled in the center of my mother’s palm was the small canine. Blood from my gums found a home in the creases and lines of her hand de ella, overfilling them before dripping down the side of her palm onto the dining table, as she stuck a finger into my mouth, checking for the gap. ” As the narrator moves through the stages of her life, she must deal with racism, xenophobia, sexism, misogyny, and more. And it all comes back to her mouth from her. Can she find a way to speak her truth about her?
The Dark (February 2022, issue 81)
Alex Brown is an Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).