The Best Short SFF – August 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 home page. Thank you for reading and supporting short form SFF!

August was a pretty light month for recommendations – I hope my post-surgery temperament did not spoil my enjoyment of anything worthwhile. Also, I got a little behind during recovery, so some of July’s and August’s readings have been pushed to September.

rogue protocolMust Read

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries Book 3), Martha Wells ( 8/7/2018) Novella

Wells continues to spin gold out of her “cynical robot grudgingly rescues inept humans from certain death” formula. Character growth and a building-block approach to the series’ overall narrative design are what keeps things fresh, while the suspenseful hi-tech action and acerbic, eyeroll humor remain steadfast. In this third-go-round, Murderbot is looking into a terraforming facility that GrayCris may be using as a cover for its illegal alien artifact hoarding scheme. It has to use its “augmented human security consultant” persona again when encountering a group of humans with the same objective. Murderbot’s ruse is sniffed out by the humans’ impossibly earnest and painfully loyal bot companion, Miki, but Murderbot manages to bring Miki into its confidence by promising to keep its beloved friends safe (and you know how those squishy meat sacks love to throw themselves into mortal peril). The denouement is an enticing segue into the fourth and final novella in the series, which can’t come soon enough.

Clarkesworld 143Highly Regarded

“The Nearest”, Greg Egan ( 7/19/2018) Novelette

Police detective Kate is investigating the horrifying, seemingly motiveless murder of a family, in which the wife has gone missing. Later, she wakes up in the middle of the night to discover that her own husband and newborn son have been replaced by ringers. Ordinarily, it is frustrating when the reader figures out what’s going on long before the hero does – but in this case that is precisely the point of Egan’s story, and what makes its scenario so terrifying.

“The Privilege of the Happy Ending”, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld Issue 143, August 2018) Novelette

Johnson’s metafictional fairy tale follows a young girl named Ada and her talking hen, Blanche, who are forced to go on the run from a horde of terrifying bird-like lizard creatures known as wastoures, who devour every living thing in their path. The narrator frequently breaks the fourth wall to divulge the fates of characters Ada and Blanche encounter on their journey, and comment on the reader’s expectations for who should and shouldn’t get a happy ending. The cliffhanger-style storytelling is exciting, though coupled with frequent reminders that the act of storytelling itself is inherently cruel.

fireside 58Also Recommended

“The Athuran Interpreter’s Flight”, Eleanna Castroianni (Strange Horizons, 7/2/2018) Short Story

An unsettling sci-fi story about the exploitation of the weak and the violation of bodily autonomy. Delicately written, but still wrenching and emotionally taxing; please heed the content warnings before reading.


“The Anchorite Wakes”, R.S.A. Garcia (Clarkesworld Issue 143, August 2018) Short Story

Sister Nadine is starting to notice some strange goings on at her parish, but is she losing her mind or finding it?

“Scavenge, Rustic Hounds”, Manuel Gonzales (Lightspeed Issue 99, August 2018) Short Story

A quick and creepy domestic horror story about a woman who believes her home is being invaded by strange creatures at night, while her husband thinks nothing is wrong.

“A Bond as Deep as Starlit Seas”, Sarah Grey (Lightspeed Issue 99, August 2018) Short Story

A lively space adventure about a hauler who needs a newer ship to keep up with the demands of commerce, but doesn’t want to part with the old ship she was bonded to.

“The Unusual Customer”, Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Fireside Magazine Issue 58, August 2018) Short Story

A culinary-themed folk tale about a fatherless girl working in her mother’s restaurant who meets a man wearing an invisible cloak.

“Chasing the Start”, Evan Marcroft (Strange Horizons, 7/9/2018) Novelette

A legendary, aging “strandrunner” races through different historical periods in time, with one final goal in mind before she retires.

“Kingfisher”, Robert Reed (Clarkesworld Issue 143, August 2018) Novelette

A new Great Ship story, in which the title character searches the expanse of the enormous world-sized vessel for hundreds of thousands of years to find his long lost love.

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