This week's stories will compel you with strong voices, tales of connection, and the grief of letting go.
I'm still working through January stories, so you'll see a mix of those and stuff new for February this week and in coming weeks.
Vacui Magia By L. S. Johnson | Strange Horizons
The first principle of conjuring is that nothing can be made in a vacuum.
Accounts of golem-making refer most commonly to clay as the sole element, and while this will work, the result will be a lumpish thing, smelling of dirt and manure and wholly unsuitable for your purpose. The choice you must make is not whether or not to make the golem, but whether or not to make it correctly, using the only thing upon which you can build the scent and texture of a baby's skin.
To make it correctly, you will need a baby's bones.
I immediately resonated with this piece based on my own history, and throughout the author plucked all the right strings in me to make me love this. It's about the things one will do out of grief and love and pressing down sadness, wonderfully rendered and woven.
Pockets by Amal El–Mohtar | Uncanny Magazine
"You've been so distracted lately," said Tessa, quietly. "Just let me know if you want to talk about it, OK?"
Nadia said nothing for a long moment.
"If I tell you," she said, looking her friend in the eye, "you have to promise to believe me."
Tessa was a biologist–in–training. Nadia braced herself for the skepticism, the scrutiny, the razor of Tessa's inquiring mind slicing through the half–formed thoughts Nadia had about what was happening.
But Tessa didn't even hesitate. "I promise," she said.
Nadia breathed deeply and exhaled slowly. Then, handing Tessa back her mittens, she pressed one hand against the side of her coat, and with the other began to break the stitches keeping the pocket shut.
Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a trombone.
THIS STORY. So many things collide in here that make me love it. The tone, which El-Mohtar has a growing mastery over, is so calm and matter of fact and steady, a perfect counterpart to the surrealist business going on with the characters. That juxtaposition really works, and helps the story stick it's landing. In less deft hands the whole thing could have fallen flat right into tritesville.
And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead by Brooke Bolander | Lightspeed Magazine
The mobster has a gun pressed to Rack's forehead. The mobster has a god-shitting gun pressed to her partner's fucking forehead, and the only thing Rhye can do is watch and scream as the man smiles at her and pulls the trigger and blows Rack's perfect brains out from between his ears.
Rhye has her guns drawn before the other Ganymede fuckers can twitch, but it's way too late — the damage is done and smeared across the walls and floor and ceiling. Synthetic blood and bone look exactly the same as the real deal. She puts three shots into the flesh slab that did it (he's dead he's dead gods fuck it no nononono) and then the rest of his pals are on her like the three-times-fucked human jackals they are, pulling her down. The room stinks of blood and gunsmoke and fear-sweat. For the first time in her life, those smells make Rhye want to gag. Her ears are ringing — whether from the gunshots or god knows what else — and it feels like the floor is falling away beneath her motorcycle boots.
She's still struggling against their meaty fingers to reach Rack when the head goon breaks her nose with a squared-off fist the size of the moon he's from. She barely feels the bone snap. He's dead. He's dead and the world is grayscale, all the color leaching from it to pool around her feet in a red puddle.
The thing about this one is that it's a bit of a gamble on Bolander's part. The voice she's chosen is rough, profanity-laced, unapologetic, hard, mean, and full of pain. It is the absolute perfect match for the character she's created, but if your sensibilities aren't up to the barrage of all that you're not going to like this story. If you are up to it, then the story is so very worth it. As I said, it embodies everything the character is about and is so very present and in your face and demands not to be ignored. I haven't listened to the podcast of it yet, but now I'm really curious because it would take a strong reader to make this come alive and not just feel like a Lenny Bruce sketch gone wrong.
This story is a knife edge kind of deal. A bold and brave choice to tackle it. Highly recommended.
Art Credit: Galen Dara