|Art by Richie Pope|
"The Shape of My Name" by Nino Cipri (6515 words)
Wow. That's how you write a story, I guess. This story has an awful lot going on. It mixes time travel and one young trans boy's journey growing up and coming to terms with his mother and the legacy of her family as time travelers. Inside of that is a whole slew of interesting ideas and striking images. The main character chafes under the pressure put on him by his parents, but mostly his mother who insists on calling him by the name she gave him, the name that he rejected. Luckily there is some hope for him, as being a time traveler means he can travel forward in time and receive surgery to help his body match who he is, which he wants. It does little to reconcile who he is with his mother, though. And at its core this story is about that relationship, about how she raises him but wants nothing to do with him. How she runs away from him and exiles herself rather than face him. It's a rather heartbreaking story, because he has to go through so much pain before the end, and even then he's not healed. The story does show the hope for healing, though, the hope that he can reconcile and be forgive his mother. It's a nicely layered story with some great uses of time travel and a stunning voice and style. A great, great story.
"The Thyme Fiend" by Jeffrey Ford (14004 words)
A long but ultimately rather entertaining story about a boy who suffers from visions of the dead that are only calmed by taking in thyme. It's an interesting hook for the story, that this boy has night terrors unless he takes thyme, and that those terrors become linked to a mystery and to a strange series of events that take place in his small town during a terrible drought. It's rather straightforward, really, mixing horror and magic realism stylings to show how Emmett's condition slowly gets worse and worse. And through it all he's made an outcast and pushed away from his family and from everyone else. Only when he faces the specters does he begin to figure out what's happening. It's a classically set up story with some good imagery and solid character work. But even as it's the longest story this month, I find I don't have all that much to say about it. It's rather creepy, I enjoyed it, but it didn't get too deep for me. It's entertaining, fun if you get past a slowish pace, and it works. A perfectly fine read.
"The Museum and the Music Box" by Noah Keller (4332 words)
This is a yearning and rather melancholy story about a man living in a museum that might be all that is left of his love. They spent a fiery time together in the museum, her showing him everything, and yet their love could not last. Because she was the museum. She swallowed everything she didn't want to lose, and a person cannot become a museum. But he remains. I'm thinking that what he doesn't realize is that she swallowed him, too. Which is why he cannot leave. She swallowed him to save him but she cannot have in that was and also experience. That final act made her the museum. And he, not realizing what had happened, is still searching for her. And that is rather sad. He has to watch her museum, watch her fade away, to decline, because he cannot properly watch over her. Because that sort of collection cannot last. Because memory is imperfect and lasts only as long as the mind lasts. And his mind goes and so does she, slowly but with a weight and momentum that cannot be stopped. It's not a happy story, but it is well written and a bit haunting with a solid sense of decay and loss. A lovely story.
"Dog" by Bruce McAllister (6969 words)
An interesting and rather creepy story about a couple that travels to Mexico as tourists and return with something they hadn't expected. Something deadly. In some ways I feel that this story is about what it basically says it's about, which is fetishizing foreign cultures and not thinking things through. "Don't be stupid" seems to be the motto, meaning don't end up dead or in prison because you thought your privilege would get you through. And on the one layer, that works quite well. The couple here go in not knowing what Mexico, or that area of Mexico, means and their ignorance ends up costing them an awful lot. At the same time, there's also something here about death that seems to have nothing to do with culture. That hunts them because it can, or because the woman has some native blood in her. That I wasn't quite sure what to make of, that it was her blood that called out to the dogs. I would have preferred it be the bowl, and more that they couldn't erase their trespass by destroying it rather than have it have been about her ancestry. Because that, in a way, falls to the same exotic-minded treatment of the culture. That it has a magic that applies only to those with the blood. Because the rest of the story seemed to be saying that it could kill anyone who was stupid enough. But that aside, I like the cycle of cannibalism that was going on, and the dogs, and the overall creepiness. I think I might need to give it another look later to unpack it further, but I feel the story was all right to me.