July is the month when I slammed into a wall. Going from 4th Street to driveway maintenance to Readercon to a college reunion pretty much destroyed me, but one thing that kept me sane on the road was all the short fiction I had with me. God bless free public wifi. As always, every piece included in my list is free to read by clicking the link included. If you enjoy a story or article, please let the writer know with a tweet, fan mail, or a handy Patreon donation.
Short Stories and Flash Fiction
"The Journey and the Jewel" by Rebecca Campbell at The Sockdolager
-It's Magical Realist story about a Magical Realist story bleeding into a Magical Realist story! What excellence. The Journey and the Jewel was the last and greatest puzzle-book written by a genius couple, but they died without leaving a solution to the world, and so their daughter Ananda never figured out where its treasure was hidden. Ananda grows up having to deal with what the powerful book may have conjured, like a Shapeshifter whose face is constantly rotating new shapes, and a treasure that might possibly be out there. And it's sewn with lovely lines about the book itself, like, "The Journey and the Jewel’s last page is its most dreadful, the kind of page a kid might fasten shut with paper clips to prevent it opening by accident," which kick the tone in wonderful ways.
"Straight Lines" by Naru Sundar at Mothership Zeta
-“It must have been hard for you, Em.”
“I’m a ship mind. Hard is relative.”
It's that kind of zaniness that leaves you grateful Mothership Zeta exists. It's a very chatty story as the sentient ship tries to work out its relationship with Xiao, the woman who's trying to take it on an adventure. While her motives are interesting, the real strength of the story is in the keen rhythm of the dialogue between the two of them, something that any emerging SciFi writer would do well to study.
"A Patch of Dirt in Paradise" by Lee Budar-Danoff at Abyss & Apex
-A stellar flash about gardening in a post-bomb world. No roving bands of mutated marauders -just people aging, dealing with the struggle for life in a damaged world, trying to ensure that other can eat. There's a lovely bond that manifests in a literal wrapped present for you at the end of the story.
"Dreidel of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah" by Alex Shvartsman at Every Day Fiction
-Published last December, but I hadn't read it until Alex gave it a live performance at this month's Readercon. It's a hilarious flash about Santa Claus's Jewish rival, Chanukah Henry, who has to save a Jewish neighborhood after their annual celebrations wake Cthulhu. It's the classic story of someone who wants to be more important abruptly having be just that and sweating for dear life, and Alex can attest that a certain Einstein joke almost killed me.
"A Dead Djinn in Cairo" by Phenderson Djeli Clark at Tor.com
-Fatma el-Sha’arawi is an investigator for the government of a very different Cairo than we typically imagine. Here is Steampunk not rooted in Europe, but in Egypt, with history-building as sprawling as its plot. Amid ghul attacks, Fatma is taken by the case of what seems like a suicide, but soon brings her into conflict with Cairo's underbelly. It's a story so loaded with potential that I'm not surprised Phenderson has been bugged by fans for a sequel.
"Repeat One" by Andrew Neil McDonald at Daily Science Fiction
-What might actually qualify as a Micro Story, it's so quick that I feel bad saying anything about it. If you really won't click the link without a synopsis, then: Two people are trapped in a time loop of prose itself.
"How This Bird Stays In Flight for What Feels Like Forever" by William Herkewitz at Popular Mechanics
-Have you ever been out miles and miles in the ocean and wondered how there were still overhead? Well the frigate bird thinks those are slackers. It can stay aloft for fifty-six days at a time, allowing them to skip around the entire Indian and Pacific Oceans. New research coming in from trackers on the birds shows their habits, how they negotiate stretches of ocean with little wind, and that they'll pop through fricking clouds to get a speed boost.
"Mission to Mariana Trench Records Dozens of Crazy Deep Sea Creatures" by Jason Daley at Smithsonian.com
-Clickthrough for the slideshow if nothing else, as we now have unprecedented high-definition photography of life that's never come within half a mile of the ocean's surface. The Mariana Trench has always been fascinating to me, the deepest trench in the world, located outside Guam, with its own pocket-ecosystem fed by sub-oceanic heat vents. Life went differently there than the rest of the world's waters.
"Texas inmates break free from cell to help ill jailer" by Jim Douglas, WFAA, and KHOU
-Several inmates were inside a cramped holding cell with the single guard on watch fell over with a heart attack. After their calls for help went unheeded, then men kicked down their own cell door in order to get to him, ring the alarm, and try to restart his heart. The slew of guards that arrived on scene next were surprised to find the breakout - and that it had probably saved their fellow guard's life.
"I'm a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing" by Redditt Hudson at Vox.com
-There's no avoiding the shocks and horrors of July. With the many important voices on so many incidents, Hudson's intersectional commentary is the most cutting. A veteran police officer and an African American, he's dealt with biases flying in both communities, and gives us a look inside precincts. He broadens the old "good cops and bad cops" paradigm, suggesting any given precinct usually has 15% moral police, 15% who will abuse their power, and 70% who can be greatly influence by the officers around them. The point that's stuck in my mind is that, regardless of the racial make-up of the department, brown and black civilians will be abused the most because "that is what is allowed."
"Millennials will spend £53,000 on rent before age of 30, thinktank says" by Hilary Osbourne at The Guardian
-In contrast, Baby Boomers spent £9,000 on rent before age 30. That's roughly six times the expense while these groups were supposed to be attending universities and starting lives - things that are also dramatically more expensive now even when adjusted for inflation. It's also exactly why older folks should shut up about lazy Millennials not wanting to move out of family homes. Particularly for a generation that faces unprecedented wealth disparity, the increase in costs is forcing changes in how we live.
"Charlie Kaufman Reflects on His Career: I Feel Like I Fucking Blew It." By David Ehrlich at IndieWire
-From the annals of Impostor Syndrome, I give you Charlie Kaufman. The mind behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, who demonstrably broadened the kinds of films modern Hollywood was willing to make, thinks he didn't live up to his potential. Kaufman opens up about his life and career, explaining how he had to change himself to write what he's done, as well as his insecurities in making art with other people. I've never read a critic who thinks about Kaufman's work the way Kaufman does. As you create art, you should bear it in mind.