Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: February 2020 – tor.com

February brought a treasure trove of awesome short speculative fiction, including ones about a golem, a robot nanny, a mermaid, a witch, a dead bride, and more. There are some big names on this list as well as some lesser known writers, and, as always, a wide range of identities represented. But best of all, these ten stories will make your heart sing and your body shiver.

 
In one short story, Michael Robertson takes what should be a cute story about a little girl interviewing her housemaid helper robot for a school project and turns it into a seering commentary on the exploitation of labor. Bonus points for having the ‘bots use neopronouns. This story hit me hard and fast and left me wanting more.
Fireside Fiction—February 2020
 
“Grand knew it was mad affectation to play at being a flesh-thing, that he was damaged in ways he could not comprehend. It was his guilty secret and his only joy.” What is left when your creator is gone and everything you know has turned to ash and ruin? A golem who calls himself Grand finds out in Chris Cornetto’s whimsical yet wistful story. When he’s pulled out of his stone prison after centuries of abandonment, he finds himself equally amused and bemused by humans, particularly a young girl who sees him for who he really is.
Metaphorosis—February 2020
 
Loosely based on “The Man Who Sold the Moon” by Robert E. Heinlein and later a song by David Bowie, “The Leader Principle” tells of a tech billionaire genius who gets more mileage out of his charm and charisma than he does with his inventions. Helping him in his scam is his right hand man Gobhind, who sets in motion a toxic chain of events. Before this story, I knew Rahul Kanakia from her great YA novel Enter Title Here, but I was pleased to learn she has a long history of writing short science fiction. Given how much I enjoyed this story, I will definitely be tracking down her older stuff.
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction—January/February 2020
 
“On a wide and wondering world in a wide and wondering galaxy, there lived a mermaid.” Reminiscent of the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Mermaid,” Yoon Ha Lee tells of a young mermaid who longs to see what lies beyond the stars. One deal with a sea witch later and she gets her wish. But this isn’t the sad tale of a young woman cursed by her dreams. Essarala dreams, finds a way to achieve her dreams, is satisfied with her life, and returns home to keep her promise. For women, life does not—should not—require sacrifice and submission, and our dreams can go beyond wanting the attention of a mediocre man.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies—Issue 298, February 27, 2020
 
This story was so good I read it twice in one sitting. Evocative and heart-rending, Eugenia Triantafyllou gives us a peek at the life of a Greek woman who immigrates to a new land. In this world, ghosts of dead relatives haunt the living, and the living don’t mind it all that much. But before Niovi can cross the border, agents force her to surrender the necklace to which mother’s spirit is bound. She can take nothing with her of her old life; her new one offers no traditions. Assimilation demands she erase all links to her past, but who are we if we have no history?
Uncanny Magazine—Issue 32, January/February 2020
 
If you only know C.L. Polk from her (very, very good) Kingston Cycle fantasy series, then this short story will be a welcome surprise. Young Theresa Anne is being raised by a hard-hearted witch. She is a friendless, lonely girl who watches her classmate Lucille with a growing infatuation. Polk explores the cost of love, what we give and what we take, what is stolen and what is gifted. Overflowing with enchanting magic and enraptured hearts, this is a Valentine’s Day tale for the brokenhearted.
Tor.com—February 5, 2020
 
Three Nigerian men become fathers to baby boys. But their sons aren’t the innocent, sweet children they’re supposed to be. Nor are the fathers the honorable men they pretend to be. In this twisted tale of revenge from beyond the grave, three men pay the price for their youthful indiscretions. “Children can be cruel, you know?…Yes, children can be cruel, evil even.”
Nightmare Magazine—Issue 89, February 2020
 
I always enjoy short stories that mess with story structure in interesting ways, and this one by Alexander Weinstein does just that. “Toxic Destinations” is an excerpt from a travel guide for sites on the mysterious Eighth continent. The guide warns travelers about the hazards of the continent, like the hotel that lures in unsuspecting visitors like a fly to a spider’s web or down-on-its-luck town that gets more and more derelict by the day. A clever conceit, enchanting locales, and a writing style that is both succinct and expressive.
Lightspeed Magazine—Issue 117, February 2020
 
“The moon keeps changing; mists come and go. We’re all here, so close together, yet not close enough. At peace, almost. Our embrace waits for her right outside her wall.” A dead bride, a interconnected moor, a love that cannot be denied. I can’t say too much about this story without spoiling it, but I will tell you that it’s beautifully sad and remarkably sincere. Sylvia Heike is an author to watch.
Flash Fiction Online—February 2020
 
In this snow-bound Western, our narrator is pulled back into the family drama she long ago left behind. Her mother is dead and her two younger sisters are vying for her badge, guns, and her job as Warden of Light and Dark. Written with a style as cold and terse as a northern winter, Aidan Doyle gradually peels back the layers and exposes the lie at the heart of the Western mythos.
PodCastle—#614, February 18, 2020
 
Alex Brown is a teen services librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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