The Best Short SFF – March 2018

Reminder: While many of the stories in this column are available to read free online, these venues pay the authors for their work and rely on income from readers to do so. If one or more of these zines consistently publishes fiction that you like, please consider buying a subscription. Or, if you read a story or stories that you especially like, consider purchasing the issue it appears in. If the story is available to read online, clicking on the name of the story will send you there; subscription/donation/purchase information is available at each site. For stories that are not available to read online, there is a link to that zine’s subscription page. Thank you for supporting the short SFF market!

Must Read

Nothing for March in the “there’s a hole in your life that only this story can fill” category, but to be fair, I’m a nitpicky little shit. There is plenty of good stuff below that you should all dive into anyway.

Fireside 53Highly Regarded

Braving the Morrow Candle’s Wane”, J.W. Alden (Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 247, Mar 15, 2018) Short Story
A quick parable-within-a-parable about the human cost of war. Adia is an old war veteran, sheltering Cyra, a child refugee of a land destroyed by recent conflict. When a soldier comes to her door looking to round up “trespassers”, Adia fumbles through her attempt to hide the girl from the soldier’s prying eyes, she decides to tell the him a tale of her own wartime experience in the hope that it will appeal to his compassion. Adia’s calm, courageous performance as it becomes increasingly clear the soldier is going to find Cyra is engine that makes this story go; the character interaction is marvelous, both between Adia and Cyra, and Adia and the soldier. Adia’s tale would work well on its own; the frame story adds an extra dimension that makes a good story great.
“Down Where Sound Comes Blunt”, G.V. Anderson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018) Short Story
Ellen is a marine biologist studying the reproductive cycles of a newly discovered species of semi-intelligent marine mammals – who appear friendly and mostly non-aggressive, but extremely protective of the location of their eggs. She is also looking for clues to what happened to her father, who recently disappeared doing the same thing. This is one of those stories that you can’t say too much about without spoiling it; though it’s not giving too much away to say that Ellen finds the answers to both her questions. A perfectly executed story, with one of those endings that is both surprising and inevitable.
Traces of Us”, Vanessa Fogg (GigaNotoSaurus, March 2018) Short Story [There is a donation link on the page]
“Traces of Us” tells parallel stories; one of scientists Daniel and Kathy and how their courtship and marriage ended in tragedy, and the other – set hundreds of years later – of two starships, both housing networks of uploaded human intelligences, crossing paths in space. The connection between the two stories is immediately apparent; the trajectory of the two story threads is not. A sci-fi story in the classic mold: big ideas, epic scope, and intimate detail somehow heroically squeezed into a tight space and told with nice touches of humor and pathos.
Flow”, Marissa Lingen (Fireside Magazine Issue 53, March 2018) Short Story 
When Gigi is fifteen, she wanders into the woods and discovers that she is a naiad, a not-quite-human race of magical peoples who live in streams in the woods. The naiads initially mistake her for her father (also a naiad), not because she looks like him, but because they have the same “flow”, or way of walking, which is how they recognize their own kind. As an adult, Gigi gets a sinus infection that ruins her inner ears, affecting her balance and disrupting her flow so that the naiads she knows no longer recognize her. A gorgeous, and unusually grounded tale of magic and self-knowledge.
“Love Songs for the Very Awful”, Robert Reed (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018) Short Story
Robert Reed’s “Love Songs for the Very Awful” is one of his trademark cynical-not-cynical character studies. In this case, the story of Bodden, who volunteers to have his brain mapped and studied – the conclusion reached is that Bodden is basically a shitty person; an assessment his collection of exes, and even Bodden himself, are inclined to agree with. Like Reed’s best stories, it earns its surprisingly poignant turn at the end.
The Emotionless, In Love”, Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 246, March 2018) Novella
Jason Sanford’s “The Emotionless, In Love” is a stand-alone story set in the same world as his Nebula-nominated “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”. It’s an epic action-adventure novella, maybe slightly overlong but otherwise hitting all the right notes. Sanford has created a distinct and compelling science fantasy world, where nanobots called “grains” were created to protect the environment but have ended up terrorizing, and re-shaping, human civilization. “The Emotionless, In Love” is about Colton, who has sacrificed his emotions to free himself from the grains control. He tries to use his knowledge of the grains to help a caravan that is trying to travel despite the grains’ strictures. The climax is thrilling, grand-scale entertainment.

Asimovs Mar18Also Recommended

“The Next to the Last of the Mohegans”, Joseph Bruchac (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018) Short Story
The Independence Patch”, Bryan Camp (Lightspeed Magazine Issue 94, March 2018) Short Story
“Razzibot”, Rich Larson (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Mar/Apr 2018) Short Story
“In Event of Moon Disaster”, Rich Larson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018) Short Story
“The Spires”, Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Mar/Apr 2018) Novelette
“A Threnody for Hazen”, Ray Nayler (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018) Novelette
Do as I Do, Sing as I Sing”, Sarah Pinsker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue 246, March 2018) Novelette
“Never the Twain”, Michael Reid (Interzone Issue 274, Mar/Apr 2018) Short Story
“Seven Months Out and Two to Go”, Rachel Swirsky and Trace Yulie (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018) Novelette

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