|Art by Atilgan Asikuzun|
"The Last Surviving Gondola Widow" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (5917 words)
An alt-history set in a Chicago devastated by an attack in the War of Southern Aggression, I liked the strange world-building that went on, with a woman with magical abilities putting her skills to use for the Pinkertons. The idea of an attack by southern woman flying deadly machines is an interesting one, and I liked the choice of Chicago, especially when at the time it was incredibly important nationally. And I also liked that this story explored a bit the ramifications, some of the effects such an attack would have, with a second reconstruction and with the main character a bit conflicted knowing what her own actions as a Pinkerton led to for the women she helped track down, women who had flown the deadly machines. And when the main character is shown that the current First Lady of Illinois is actually one of those same women, she has to act to protect her city and state from an unknown threat. I liked the conflict in the main character, and the visuals were interesting and strong. I wanted a little more about what the last of the Widows was actually trying to do, because it seemed to me that more was going on there than it seemed, but what is there is solid work. And as I grew up near Chicago, the location of the story made me like it a little more.
"Indelible" by Gwendolyn Clare (2475 words)
This is a story about loss and intolerance and being stuck between how you were born and what you want to be. It's a strange, resonant story about a woman who lost her younger sister, a sister who was part an alien race that was strictly controlled and oppressed by humanity. Refuges, the aliens came to Earth hoping for understanding, and instead found cruelty and containment. The main character, a human, wants to find the kin of her sister, the ones that gave her the ability to change form. But no one is willing to help her, no one except for her alien friend. It's an interesting look at how she doesn't want to be human. Or at least not fully human. And yet how culture isn't something you can exactly choose. She cannot just choose to be another thing because it would be easier. There seems to be an idea that she's not quite succeeding because she keeping herself apart. She's appropriating parts of the alien culture, the tattoos, but it's obvious that she doesn't really belong. As she learns more about them, though, she makes the decision to actually change, to become of them, by melding herself with them genetically. It seems to say that a person can decide to change cultures, at least sort of. As long as one does it for the right reasons, in the right way. As long as they are willing to let something of themselves go. It's a good story, short but strong.
"The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill" by Kelly Robson (5318 words)
Definitely the most disturbing of the stories here this month, this one features a woman being taken as a host by an alien bacteria after she is raped and murdered along a notorious highway. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about it all. I mean, the descriptions are very uncomfortable, very confronting. The way that no one really will help this woman, how she is seen as beneath notice. It's obvious that her home life is messed up, and that the whole situation has left her rather powerless. As she becomes with the aliens, a host for them. They help her as far as they help themselves, but they aren't up front about what they are trying to do. It's a strange story, and not really what I would have expected to find here. That said, the writing is impacting and doesn't hold back from anything. It shows the horror and the violence and all of that without flinching. As a reader, I flinch. But it is important to see that this is happening to people, and the main character's end seems to be her trying to salvage some control back, to salvage her death, to not allow the aliens to erase that and try to make everything better. Because there is no better. Not when this sort of thing is still going on.
"Meshed" by Rich Larson (4344 words)
And then there was a story about basketball. Not really just about basketball, but about control and about hope and about family. But even with the rather complex story it's still nowhere near as disturbing as the last story. Which is nice for balance. Here a kind of sleazy agent tries to sign a young man to play basketball for his company but runs into a problem when the prospective baller doesn't want to be meshed, which would hook him up with implants to monitor him and let him share his experiences with others. Except in his country it was used in warfare first, and could be used to override free will and make soldiers do anything. Like they were drones. So it definitely makes sense that the kid doesn't want to be meshed, but it will make the company money and so the agent goes for the hard sell. Again this is about privilege and this time it's about making money having more importance than free will. It's about giving up something important in order to get what you want, or what you think you want. It's a nice story, and a difficult situation, and it's all handled quite well.
"What in the World Do They Want, Anyway? The Myth of the Friendly Alien" by Mark Cole
An interesting look at the reasons why aliens want to visit Earth, taking a look at mostly early SF movies and novels. It's a fascinating thing to look at, because it is something that writers have to figure out in order for their to be aliens on Earth. Like Vulcans stopping over because humans had stumbled upon warp technology and sort of wanting to watch to make sure we didn't do some bad things. There's a lot here to read and like and I personally do think that it's a sign of how people view the world and humanity as a whole. I can see a lot of stories where aliens would show up to stop humans because we're a threat, those that focus on how humanity is special in some way, or just wanting to exploit things. Obviously it all depends on how much a victim the writer wants humanity to be, and ultimately how optimistic the story is. But it's a neat read and worth looking at.
"Another Word: YA is the New Black" by Dawn Metcalf
This one looks at what it means to write YA, which is sort of a weird proposition because it seems to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I personally have some trouble figuring out what the difference between YA fiction and adult fiction with YA protagonists is. And I like both. But I like the definition that YA is defined by limits, because that is what defines the worlds of young adults. They are limited by adults, they aren't truly full people yet because they don't have full rights. And that's pretty messed up. And it's an interesting thing to write about. They struggle against limitations and sometimes come out the better for it. Sometimes they even change things and help to make things more fair. It might be something of a fantasy, but what else is SFF than imagining that things are possible? So this is another nice piece that is definitely worth the time to sit down and read. For me, who reads a bit of YA, it provokes a lot of thought and has some useful definitions. For everyone else, mileage may vary. But I liked it.