It's easy to find reviews of larger markets—Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Asimov's, reviews of the big players in the short story field are surplus. We're taking a different approach, however. Instead of reviewing markets you're probably familiar with, Meryl Stenhouse reviews the ones you aren't.
The Future Fire was founded in 2005 and has established itself as a home for science fiction and fantasy with “feminist, queer, postcolonial and ecological themes.” As well as putting out four issues a year, the editorial team has produced five anthologies – one ‘best of,’ two disability-themed (Outlaw Bodies and Accessing the Future), We See a Different Frontier, on post-colonialism from the point of view of the colonised and oppressed, and Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.
This issue opens with an editorial reminding us of the recent hate crimes from around the globe, and while that’s a sobering beginning, al-Ayad goes on to point out that stories put shape and perspective to our lives, and the stories in this issue capture that–people going on and finding joy regardless. Overall an excellent issue, neatly balanced between dark and light stories.
by Vanessa Fogg
Shannon is a surfer in a near-future world of ecological disasters, where the next generation of YouTube stars record their neural activity–mind-casts–which are transmitted directly to the consumerist masses. It’s an awfully accurate portrayal of a generation focused on living vicariously through the experiences of people who become stars simply by putting their lives on public display. I really enjoyed the story–Shannon’s quest to ride the massive waves that only happened when certain weather events converged, her reasons for surfing, rather than completing her degree and her relationship with her team members–which comes together into a sort of meta-experience. All that was missing was my neural connection.
A Distant Glimpse
by Simon Kewin
Mina is the leader of a group of other children who are scavengers at a massive landfill, created from the discards of the lords and ladies of a great shining city that Mina sees in the distance. A thoroughly depressing story of child slavery and abuse and the hopelessness of those unfortunate enough to be the victims.
by Colleen Anderson
An insightful poem about a woman shaped by domestic violence who takes revenge on her abuser using what she learned from his violent acts.
Porphyria: Dazzle Con Debut
by Priya Sridhar
A sweet story about a young woman using her strange and rather cool superpowers for the first time. I was slightly thrown out of the story by the fantasy of an unoccupied girl’s bathroom at a convention, but I moved past it. This wasn’t a high-stakes story and didn’t dig very deeply. Topical issues were very briefly touched on but didn’t resonate.
Glow in the Dark
by Rachel Linn
Library assistant Ivy looks for patterns and signs, which lead her to understanding. She notices a woman photocopying articles on seal biology, then finds a seal tooth in a model of the library, which leads her to a discovery. Ivy is immediately likable, which is good, because the whole story is a fascinating journey through her thought processes. She’s a tragic and slightly comic figure, drawn with sensitivity and I really enjoyed her search.
by Mary Alexandra Agner
Despite being put off by the promise of yet another fairytale retelling, I grinned all through this story. The author gives a solid middle finger to duty and societal expectations and all that guff. Nice to see fairy godmothers who give useful gifts. Best fairytale retelling I’ve seen so far.
Issue 1, March 2016
Bracken’s tagline is “lyrical fiction and poetry, inspired by the wood and what lies in its shadows,” and that was enough to make me sit up and take notice. Bracken’s first issue came out in March, so they are quite new, with a proposed quarterly publication schedule. Issue one opens with an explanation of the origins of the magazine, born of the editor’s love of the woods, and her desire for magical realism set outside the urban landscape. It’s a meaty issue with five short stories and six poems in mix of styles, but leaning heavily to the literary. I look forward to seeing what Bracken settles into. Overall a good first issue, and keeps its promise of stories outside the urban landscape.
When We Got to Arizona and the Petrified Forest
by Laura LeHew
Three crows that the protagonist met in the petrified forest of Arizona move into her life and her dreams. Bracken’s submission guidelines encourage ‘in-between-genre pieces’ and that’s definitely what this piece was. It was like a conversation with an odd stranger in the line-up at the supermarket; a brief connection that resonates for the rest of the day. Very enjoyable.
Through Earth and Sky
by Gwendolyn Kiste
Two sisters, torn from their family and cared for by those who don’t listen. One loving husband, one abusive husband, magic, the raising of bones, and the wind a tool for justice. I love a good story told in second person POV and Kiste pulled this off with panache.
The Woodcutter's Sons
by Stephen Case
The forest grants a boon to a woodcutter, who asks for his twin boys to be able to understand the language of the trees. The tale was beautifully told in a very traditional style. The prose was almost enough to make me overlook the narrow roles of women in the story, being either wives, dead wives, sex objects or gift givers. Almost, but not quite.
by Stephen Thom
K fights with his wife and she leaves him. He rescues an odd stranger who is tangled in barbed wire. Years later he returns to the house to look for memories, and finds himself repeating old actions, including rescuing not one but two strangers from the wire. A weird tale about repeating past mistakes.
by V. N. Martin
A bear ponders the presence of a child in his forest. Short and thoughtful.
by Claire Hermann. Poem.
Good use of shape and vocabulary which elevates the life of the runaway to something magical.
Close to Home
by Jed Myers. Poem.
Really fabulous imagery and a lovely rhythm that captures the sway and dance of the forest.
Give Up the Saw
by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens. Poem.
I enjoyed this piece, but damned if I would call it poetry.
Tale from the Vienna Woods
by Erika Michael. Poem.
I found the references to fairytales and history in this piece engaging, but I just wanted to left-align everything.
I Asked the Alchemist
by Sara Backer
I have no idea why the alchemist was even involved in this poem.
Devoured // Neverhome
by Jessica Bixel
Ouch. Dark, disturbing and excellent.
Edited by Ranylt Richildis
This is the ‘governments’ issue of Lackingtons and, given the political dramas and upheavals of our age, sometimes comes in under the ‘too close for comfort’ banner. The editor’s tastes lean toward the experimental, a style I’m not a fan of, but the majority of stories were strong and engaging. I won’t say that the issue was comforting; it was quite confronting, in the best way. Excellent issue, worth adding to your collection.
by Evelyn Deshane
In a world where stories have been swallowed to feed a voracious king, two women keep them alive, passing the stories between them. I love the heart of this piece, of a people keeping their history and culture alive regardless of the rules of their lives. The parallels with oppressed peoples are clear. Even so, this was an upbeat story with a core of hope.
The Problem with Thunderstormes
by Dennis Mombauer
Leros, sheltering in the subways from a deadly thunderstorm, emerges to find he has been elected Director (as the only candidate) and charged with preventing the thunderstorms and protecting the people. This story was really experimental, more so than I usually read. I enjoyed the reading, I loved the atmosphere of the piece. Did I get it? Nope. No idea. But it was still a gripping read. Dennis, if you’re out there, what is the problem with thunderstorms?
A Million Future Days
by Charles Payseur
Chance Chase is living on church charity in a future world where debt keeps going after you’re dead. All the future possibilities of himself give him advice which is just as useless and confusing as it sounds. A fantastically convoluted story with a gripping end.
by Steven Earnshaw
I don’t enjoy stories that are deliberately confusing and obtuse. I read this all the way through but had zero interest in the characters or outcome. Someone might like it, but that someone wasn’t me.
On the Occasion of the Treaty of the Thousand Rivers, A Visit to the Gallery
by Wren Wallis
A general comes to view the collection of a powerful relation of the current ruler, and hears the story of a greedy king and a djinn. Delightful story, rich in wonders.
The Transfigured Knight
by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
A survivor of a bloody war is trapped in his armour and pays penance by being willingly tortured. He then goes back to war. An odd and brutal story (it comes with warnings) which didn’t hit the mark for me. It’s told in the distant and formal tones of a fable, but lacks a coherent moral. Unless that moral is “men will always prefer violence,” in which case, thanks for the depressing thought.
The Automatic Prime Ministers
by Kate Heartfield
In the near future, government decisions are based on modelling scenarios. Flora and Maryam, prime ministers of Canada and India respectively, meet in Canada for a summit where world leaders will present their decisions on the fate of a shipful of alien refugees in orbit. This story hit really close to home given the present refugee crisis. Heartfield does a fantastic job of pointing out all the logical reasons not to accept refugees—and the single most important reason they should be accepted. Brilliant and heartrending.
Issues 2, Spring 2016
Edited by Paul Jessup
The editorial informs us that this is actually a reboot, that each issue has a Grendeltaste, and that the editor does not exist. Very whimsical. There’s also part one of an essay on occultism. This was a really meaty issue, packed with great stories.
We Ride the Stillness
by Deborah Walker
Mother is the leader of a cluster of tube worms (I think? The biology is a little sketchy.) who has to deal with a wild and ranging larvae she names Red Ice, whose travels warn Mother of dangers to come. The story is well told and gives the characters personality without anthropomorphising. I would never have believed there could be so many stories about ocean invertebrates. Okay, that’s two, but still that’s more than I would have expected (the other being Salt and Cement and Other Denials, by Sara Saab in Lackington’s Architecture issue). This is a subgenre I’d like to see more of.
by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
A retelling of The Little Mermaid. Elin wants to save her sisters, but loses them one by one. A dire story of loss with no happy ending. I’m afraid my dislike of fairytale retellings has coloured my opinion of this piece, which is otherwise well done.
The Tale that Wrote Itself
by Berit Ellingsen
A dry-farmer writes a tale that catches the attention of the king. When the king asks the farmer to write a story for him, the farmer refuses. The poetic descriptions in this tale really captivated me, though they might not appeal to everyone.
On the Acquisition of a Very Fine Steed
by Virginia Mohlere
Hyacinth, a powerful Seelie, wakes up after a night of revels in an unknown bed, next to a kelpie. They find themselves in the court of spiders and must escape before they’re eaten. I grinned all through this delightful, sexy tale. These are no prissy fairies with glitter and cantrips. Mind you I wouldn’t like to meet either of them, but their story was a lovely ride.
Verses on St. Andrews
by Berrien C Henderson
Feeling’s mother gifted him a pouch that protects him from the glamour of the Witch on St Andrews. When a bully chases him onto the witch’s property, he learns what his mother’s gift contains. I liked the themes here, that you can have sympathy for someone and still hate and fear them.
by Octavia Cade
The cast of a circus are, as the title suggests, microbial. This story is as gross and crazy as you would expect. Excellently disgusting, written in poetic prose that just makes you want to take a shower in disinfectant.
Eat Me, Drink Me, Set Me Free
by Julie Reeser
Short, sharp and punchy. Love the Alice references.
What the Hoffenphaafs Know
by Samantha Henderson
The Hoffenphaafs know it. Lovely poetic language in this story. It has the feeling of a surreal play, where the players and the sets and the costumes are stunning and engaging and unfathomable. Go in without knowing, come out again unknowing still. But worth the coin.
Wardrobe of Metaphysical Maps
by Julia August
A new bride finds a hoard of maps made by the previous duchess, but these are not ordinary maps. The last one holds the key to her happiness.
A Lover’s Discourse: Five Fragments and a Memory of War
by Fábio Fernandes
Stories are sentient beings, images of humans, with culture and history but still, apparently, second class citizens locked in basements and feared and shunned. Eduardo has been searching for his story all his life. I couldn’t really get behind this story. Though well told, the basic conceit just didn’t work for me. And frankly, I loathe it when people compare stories to babies and writing them to giving birth.
Lunching with the Sphinxes
by Richard Bowes
Millicent Mead is an art teacher in the place of swamps and seawalls that was once New York. Children are going missing to provide young bodies for old. Millicent and her students find a novel way to bring down the regime. A gripping story that moves along at a great pace.