|Art by Julie Dillon|
"The Empress in Her Glory" by Robert Reed (6997 words)
This story mixes the idea of a mysterious conquest of earth with some slow-boil scientific, political, and social reform all ruled by one chosen individual. In some ways this reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson and his stories about the importance of the individual in history, because here we have one woman who is chosen to be the Emperor of Earth. But not to rule from a throne exactly. Merely to make predictions, warnings, and have those things come true. With a dispassionate and analytical mind, she sets about making the world a better place. Fixing problems. Minimizing damage and death. It's an interesting read, powerful in those slow moments that it shows Adrianne merely going about her business. She knows that she has power and instead of slinking away from it, instead of hiding from it, she uses it for the benefit of the most she can. It's a very optimistic story in some ways. Because while it argues that one person is essentially responsible for this new order, it also shows through that one person that humanity is not doomed. That humans are not all greedy and incapable of being selfless. Of being heroic. It's a quiet heroism, but that's the best kind because it implies that it's something normal, something not really to be celebrated. She does the right thing. She tries. It might not be glamorous, but she sees what needs to be done and does it. Powerful work, with a bittersweet ending and some dabbling in many areas of near-future/present interest.
"Let Baser Things Devise" by Berrien C. Henderson (4340 words)
This is a beautiful if strange story about an Uplifted chimpanzee, a creature made human-intellignet by use of implants and technology. And this Uplifted ape, Pierre, receives his certificate of personhood and is sent on a space mission to the moon. It's a strange story because it's about an ape dealing with his personhood, with what happened to him when he was taken out of the wild. With the lack of memories, with the lack of most human dignities. And yet Pierre has needs of companionship, and in some ways yearns for the time when he was with his troop, less advanced but free. That he doesn't remember much about them haunts him. That he had some consort that he can't really think of, or be with, grates at him. When he finds a pair of dead astronauts on the moon who have left a strange message, a quote from a sonnet, Pierre once more considers life and his purpose. When he finally is done with the mission and allowed vacation time, he travels to a mostly wild place where he can reconnect with his ape-ness. Or can explore, at least, that part of himself. And he learns his own needs, his own dreams, learns what remains from his time before Uplifting. It's a melancholy stories but a strong one, striking in its characters and voice. That struggle between instinct and refinement. And the things that link all people together, regardless of their race or even species. Good stuff.
"Petals Abide" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (6230 words)
Another striking story here where a society based around an idea of fate provides the backdrop to a complicated love story. Twoseret is the main character, a woman who lives in this strange city where flower petals emerge from her mouth to give her a future. She does what they say. Everyone does what they say. And the city goes on. Twoseret isn't exactly whole, though, after her love Umaiyal leaves the city to enter into a war. While outside the city, Umaiyal meets an assassin tasked with discovering where eir city is so that it can be attacked. But Umaiyal has different priorities and plans. The assassin and Twoseret both loved Umaiyal, though in different ways, and through that love something happens. Twoseret uses her skills to transform the assassin, to make them into Umaiyal. It's a strange story, and steeped in some dense (very lyric) language that made the beginning a little difficult to pierce. At it's core, though, it seems to be about love, about free will and passion. Twoseret lives in a city full of peace, and the assassin comes from a place so alien to that, and yet they both loved the same person. And through that they were finally able to learn from each other. I'll admit that the ending is one that I'm not sure I have all figured out, but it seems to be reaching toward a new understanding for Twoseret, the healing of wounds and the opening up of possibilities.
"Postcards From Monster Island" by Emily Devenport (7112 words)
This story shows a very different side of a giant monster "invasion" of New York than I, at least, am used to seeing. Instead of monsters arriving to destroy everything, the creatures here, which draw at least some of their visuals to monster movies, seem peaceful. Even helpful. But people panic, try to hurt the creatures. The army gets involved. Meanwhile one woman with a really bad flu is sort of stuck in the city, only a bit aware of what's going on. When she recovers enough to see what's what, she sees a very different side of things than the one on television. She sees the creatures going about their lives. Being friendly. Even reaching out, trying to make connections. And she realizes she's not the only one left in the city. So she meets up with the others who chose to remain behind and they come to an agreement of sorts. That they're not running. That they're going to try and convince everyone that the creatures are not dangerous. At least, that they're not trying to be. That they're lonely and need someone to be with them. It's an interesting idea, as the monsters also serve to reverse pollution and become something of a tourist attraction. The prose is fun and with a great, wry voice. I liked the tilting of the normal monster narrative, and the situation makes for a rather nice comedy. I wasn't quite sure about the ending, where the creatures are only part of the picture, where these are bad creatures to pit against the good ones. But then, as its only an implication I can't make up my mind. What's here is solidly entertaining and worth a read.