Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fantasy

When Two Swordsmen Meet

When two swordsmen meet, no one knows what to expect. It’s a cold night in a cold city. Cold stone under cold starlight. He walks down a deserted street, sure of himself, sure of the weapon he bears. He’s not altogether surprised when the stranger steps out of the shadows. “Hey,” he says to the newcomer. “You hungry? I’m going to friends with a fire and a big pot always bubbling on it.” By which we see that it’s not just his sword that defends him, whatever he may think. The other stands very still. “You’re not what I thought you’d be,” he says flatly. “Why not?” the swordsman asks, curious.

Fantasy

The Weight of a Thousand Needles

A full moon silvers the stalls of the Light Markets, the bazaar of the living and the dead. Here, where jinn mix with mortals and gods, where sorcery sits thick on the air, blue as incense, a crow presides over its wares. Silver rings set with opals like apricot pits nestled in obsidian silk; human teeth peer out of the smoky glass of a tall vase. Mother-of-pearl dice wink in candlelight, their pale faces carved with symbols even the jinn are too young to know. A young man approaches the crow’s stall, gliding dark out of the shadows of the alley. His eyes and hair are jet moonless night, his shoulders bear the velvet raiment of eight heavens.

Science Fiction

Between the Dark and the Dark

Two hundred ships moved through the stars, leaving an iridescent trail of transmission beacons in their wake. Five billion kilometers long, the beacons stretched all the way to Earth, a desiccated and shaken planet that the passengers once called home. Sometimes simple messages from the ships arrived in the data. After a long time, images came and—after an even longer time—clips of the passengers going about their lives. But the vast distances meant these clips were rare. Normally an image arriving on Earth was cause for celebration, because it meant the crew was still alive, or at least the ship’s systems were still functioning.

Fantasy

The Minor Superhero, at Home after His Series Ends

He has a superhero name. It’s as stupid as every other superhero name. It’s not something you can comfortably call another person in casual conversation. Just try to have a normal-sounding talk with some of the guys in the Liberty Force. “So, hello, uh, Pile-Driver Man. And, how are you doing, Dynamic Woman?” You can’t. You honestly can’t. You need to have a superhero name, and so he has one, bestowed upon him by others when he lagged too long in coming up with one for himself. It still seems vainglorious to him.

Science Fiction

The Iron Man

The boy stopped playing after his Mom and Dad chained the iron man to the Kingdom’s heart. The boy used to run alone and brave through the welt within the walls, and even ranged as far as the borders of the wood. He tossed the ball his mother gave him into the sky, gold against blue with the sun behind, and laughing, caught it again. The ball purred in his grip. Sometimes he asked it questions—how to build a puppet, how to open the castle gates, how to change the color of the sky— and it answered. How questions were the ball’s job; why questions were Mom-and-Dad’s.

Science Fiction

This Way to Paradise

The mountains were beautiful, even though the roads that took you there were broken. Even though the whole world was broken. Tara sat on the side of the pitted road, soaking in the autumnal sun, gazing at the distant snow-capped peaks in awe. Forgetting, for the moment, the ache in her feet and the emptiness in her stomach. “The Sivalik Range, children,” said Anju, pointing at the green hills that rose around them. “The word literally means the ‘tresses of Shiva.’ Cross the valley, and you stand at the feet of Pir Panjal, the inner Himalayas.”

Fantasy

The Ocean That Fades Into Sky

Although it takes constant effort for Coasts to mold herself into a human body when none live on her shores, and a far greater effort—even with her mother’s help—to sustain a flight of giant sea turtles across hundreds of miles, for once she is grateful; the focus required keeps her thoughts from the empty space beside her where Obsequies should be. There are three women Coasts loves more than anyone on the whole of Uloh-la, and Obsequies, her lover, is one of them. Her mother, in the guise of the turtle beneath her, is another. Both of them are mad at her. Dwellings, the third, would be angry too, if Coasts told her the truth.

Fantasy

A Conch-Shell’s Notes

This is the story of a conch-shell, and the man who answered its call to adventure. The powerful and mysterious conch resided in a seaside temple on the outskirts of Peacetown. Whenever a resident of the town found themselves at life’s crossroads, wondering which path to take, notes from the conch-shell sounded in their ears and sang of what lay ahead in each direction. When danger lay in the town’s future, it called one of its young men, bright of mind and clean of limb, to fight it. That evening, it sounded in the ears of Kwa, a citrus-seller who was piling fruit upon fruit into neat pyramids, turning the best faces outwards.

Science Fiction

Gundark Island, or, Tars Tarkas Needs Your Help

When Tommy Burke took me out to Gundark Island to see the alien, I wasn’t really expecting much. Maybe I was just going because I thought it would be cool to take a ride in Tommy’s canoe. Or maybe I was just hoping Tommy might turn out to be a friend. If there really was an alien there, too, then all the better. After passing a hand-painted sign that said “Please Don’t Feed the Alien,” we came to a clearing in the middle of the island where I saw a lump in the ground. At first it looked like a small boulder, except that it had a grayish-purple tint to it. Upon closer inspection it vaguely appeared to have scales.

Fantasy

The Seeds of War

Hastinaga was ablaze with word of Vrath’s amazing feat. Vrath’s stepmother, Dowager Empress Jilana, while taken aback at the manner in which it had been done, nevertheless bit her tongue when she saw what he had accomplished. That the two daughters of the king of Serapi were beautiful there was no doubt. At the wedding, they were the envy of every woman in the court. Tall, with full heads of thick, lustrous blue-black hair, fingernails and toenails painted blood red, heavy of hip and breast, heart-faced with a glow to rival the moon, they walked like queens already.