My spotlight on my ten favorite short speculative fiction stories from March 2022 is no theme, all vibes. A missing town, a possessive lake, a dying demigod, a reanimated dragon, a vanishing house, a dead brother, and a bit of gold alchemy, cultural appropriation, and HR-mandated self-care breaks for spice.
“Becomes the Color” by E. Catherine Tobler
What an unsettling and creepy story! The narrator returns to a lakeside cabin to get over their ex from him. While swimming at the lake, they find themselves unable to return to the safety of the cabin. The sense of setting and the evocative descriptions really sell the story, turning it from a simple tale into something that makes you tense up even more with each paragraph.
Three-Lobed Burning Eye (March 2022, issue 35)
“Christopher Mills, Return to Sender” by Isabel J. Kim
Isabel J. Kim’s 2021 story “AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest (Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)” was one of my favorites of the year, so I was excited to read her new one in Fantasy Magazine. Pleased to report that I also loved “Christopher Mills, Return to Sender”. Chris is dead, and rather unbothered by the whole thing. Until his necromancer sister of him resurrects him in an attempt to obtain justice for his murder of him. Humorous yet heartfelt.
Fantasy Magazine (March 2022, issue 77)
“The Golden Hour” by Erica Ruppert
More creeptastic goodness, this time from Erica Ruppert. In this story, an undead boy is endlessly searching for his long-dead brother. After a terrible event involving Thomas, his brother Benjamin, and the nearby stream, Thomas retreats to his home and never leaves it again except to bury the bodies in his dead mother’s garden. An excellent little horror story for a lovely spring afternoon.
Nightmare Magazine (March 2022, issue 114)
“Hood Alchemy” by Nicole D. Sconiers
I love this idea of “hood alchemy,” of taking something culturally specific but rarely seen in fantasy and applying the tropes to it. In this case, a group of Black girls growing up in the late 1980s dream of being like a woman rapper, Jazzy Jill. To them, she evokes power, talent, and sexiness. So they drape themselves in installed-paid gold jewelry that ends up rotting them from the inside out. Nicole D. Sconiers writes it not like a fantasy story but more like an urban legend being retold to a new generation. The story reminded me of the flood of excitement I felt when I first saw attack the block.
Lightspeed (March 2022, issue 142)
“The House Diminished” by Devan Barlow
“The house diminished every morning. Lately, it had been during sunrise, as if shrinking from the warmth, and not from the fearsome house echoes.” Clea’s house is shrinking, slowly consuming rooms and nooks, as well as food and occupants. She’s the only one left now, her roommates of her having been “diminished” a while ago. I think what I liked most about this was how it made the abstract feeling of loneliness and isolation feel concrete. Especially in the early days of lockdown, it felt like my world was getting smaller and smaller, like all my loved ones were pushed out and away and it was just me and my apartment walls.
Diabolical Plots (March 2022, #85A)
“Phoenix Tile” by Guan Un
Ah Lok is a dying demigod with one last trick up his sleeve. This is one of those short stories that feels like it was excerpted from a larger work, but in a good way! The worldbuilding is vast and detailed. Guan Un drops the reader into the middle of a much bigger story, but provides more than enough intrigue and backstory to keep the reader from being too confused. I could happily read a whole book about Ah Lok’s urban fantasy adventures.
khōréō (March 2022, issue 2.1)
“Shared Data” by Malka Older
I very much enjoyed Malka Older’s Centennial Cycle books, and this story has a similar feel. It is set in a near-future version of our world where climate crises have become almost mundane. Because there is not much to be done about the climate itself and because the government and corporate systems supposed to take care of have failed to do so, communities have created shared data systems to provide each other with mutual aid when disaster strikes. It’s an intriguing way to think of data collection, and I really appreciate Older’s perspective.
Popular Science (March 15, 2022)
“Tenure” by Devon Mihesuah
The “white person pretends to be Native to get ahead in academia” revenge story you’ve been waiting for. Chad uses his “expertise” in Choctaw history to make a fake ancestral connection in order to pass and get jobs that would otherwise go to Indigenous academics. But with each lie comes a pounding headache, one that gets worse as the years go on. The ending made me cackle.
Apex Magazine (March 2022, issue 130)
“The Topography of Memory” by Jennifer Hudak
“You try to go home, but your town is missing.” The narrator sets out for their childhood home for the first time in ages, but the road never seems to materialize. Sometimes home is elusive rather than a fixed point; sometimes we are what keeps ourselves from going home. A moving story about memories both “painful and sweet.”
Fusion Fragment (March 2022, issue 10)
“Two Condition Reports From the Museum of Mythologic Science and Paranatural History” by Gabrielle Bleu
Let’s close out this column with something as quirky as it is entertaining. The story is exactly what the title says it is: reports describing the condition of two museum objects from the dracology and arms and armory departments after a supposedly dead creature comes to life. I just love these kind of non-traditional short stories, and this one left a big smile on my face.
Hexagon SF Magazine (March 2022, issue 8)
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).