Speculative fiction is my favorite type of fiction to read, but when I’m stressed – and in this political climate, that’s often – I find it hard to sink into full-length novels. Who can focus on something as long as a N.K. Jemisin novel when the world feels like it’s falling apart?
Luckily, when I need a quick pick-me-up and a reminder as to why I love losing myself in the worlds provided by speculative fiction, SFF short stories exist. From Catherynne M. Valente’s inspirational post-election Fairyland short story to A. Merc Rustad’s incredible and feisty “Monster Girls Don’t Cry,” here are seven speculative and SFF short stories to read for a pick-me-up in seven minutes.
Mara’s mother always told her stories of the sea and the creatures within, but there is more truth to the stories of water and salt than Mara might realize.
“The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still” by Catherynne M. Valente
“It feels like the end,” said A-Through-L with a strangled cry.
“It always does, when you lose.”
The creatures of Fairyland lose the war before the start of the series and reflect on how it happened, and what they must do next.
“Mrs. Yaga” by Michal Wojcik
Aurelia had a lingering sense that the old lady was constantly appraising her with eyes that betrayed gnawing hunger. She feared that one day Mrs. Yaga would bake her in the oven and eat her, but that hadn’t happened. Not yet, not for nineteen years.
Aurelia is bound to Mrs. Yaga, who can only be freed if one of her suitors completes three tasks. All, so far, have failed.
“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El–Mohtar
She thinks about shoes because she cannot move forward otherwise: each iron strap cuts, rubs, bruises, blisters, and her pain fuels their ability to cross rivers, mountains, airy breaches between cliffs. She must move forward, or the shoes will never be worn down. The shoes must be worn down.
It’s always hard to strap on a new pair.
Tabitha walks to save a man who does not love her in this incredible reimagining of fairy tales that look at the true meaning of sacrifice and love.
“A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover from the Bottom of the Sea” by Ada Hoffmann
Cry to the gods until everything is wet, everything salt. You may feel immense power building as they heed your call. Or you may not. The gods will do as the gods will.
You knew, when your lover sank to the bottom of the sea, that there was only one way to save him, but is it worth the price?
“Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma
She moved up the side of the tank. I realised that I was swaying in time with her, feeling unity in the motion. I was aware of her body, each muscle moving beneath her skin, her very skeleton. I looked into the snake’s black eyes and could see out of them into my own. The world was on the tip of her forked tongue; my curiosity, the shopkeeper’s sweat and kindness, the soft flavour of the mice in the tank behind the counter.
It’s hard to escape from the clutches of men who would control you, even if you are a monster girl like Lola.
“Monster Girls Don’t Cry” by A. Merc Rustad
Your monster traits are easier to hide. Small wings, almost vestigial, and knobby horns filed down until your hair—never shiny or soft like the normal girls’ in shampoo commercials—hides the wrong–bits. You can smile without making other people tremble, and your arms don’t hang down and arch your spine with the weight of claws.
So naturally you’re the one who goes out in the world. You’re the one who goes to school and checks out books from the library and buys groceries and makes friends outside of cyberspace. You don’t think about the way Phoebe watches when you leave in the morning, or the fact that she must always stay hidden tight in the old castle where Mama is buried.
You and your sister are both monster girls, but only you have learned to hide your traits from the world – until joy brings them out again.
What are your favorite SFF short stories? Check out even more shorts here.