|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"Mirror Skinned" by Kelly Sandoval (933 words)
A story about exploration, about wandering, about new experiences and new love, this one is a strange one. A woman, brought up on a ship in deep space, feels the urge to travel. To be with aliens. To take from them as she gives to them. Her pursuit isn't only sexual, though that seems to be how she manifests her desires. She takes many aliens, male and female and I'm guessing sometimes not defined by binary gender (though that is never actually mentioned) to bed and from each she learns and takes something. Laughter, or patience, or scales along her spine. Not always physical things, not always bits of personality. She becomes something that isn't seen as human, and so she returns to her ship of origin to reconnect a bit to that old her. What she finds is a young man just starting on his journey who reminds her of how she was so long ago. And in being with him she revisits her own reasons for leaving, for taking. She remembers how her first time was, seeing herself reflected back in an alien skin. Beautiful. Alive. She's been trying to find that, trying to fill a void within her, and I'm not entirely sure she's been successful. But then, I'm not sure success was the point. She lives for the travel, for the reinvention of herself, and there is a beauty in that borrowing, in the scars she caries. A rather melancholy story, but with a sliver of hope, of something beautiful but jarring. A nice story.
"Wikipedia Abduction Myth" by Oliver Buckram (510 words)
This is a cute little story told as a Wikipedia entry about a group of American scholars abducted and held in Russia and forced to keep Wikipedia up to date. As the article details the "facts" about the theory, small interruption tell of the fate of the scholars and the veracity of the theory despite the actual article basically saying that there is no proof to any of it. It's a neat way of building up a story, as the scholars seem to be able to put in the small breaks without being noticed, saying who is dead and how they are planning to escape and how they need help. I kind of wonder if this mirrors in some way the "found manuscript" style that was used with a lot of (especially Gothic and Weird) fiction that was supposed to give the story an added sense of reality. Like writing as a journal or a newspaper article. This is the first that I've seen a story framed as a Wikipedia article, but it is rather well done, the links and formatting handled well (and also only really possible with an online story because of the hyperlinking). Aside from the novel and interesting framing, the story itself is more entertaining than anything else, but it is entertaining, so it does what it sets out to do, I'd say. Worth checking out.
"The Cormorant in the Glass-Bottomed Cage" by Rebecca Birch (1012 words)
This is a rather dark story about a man working on a river, using a flock of birds to help him catch fish. He shares the river with another, older man who employs a woman, though it doesn't seem like the woman is exactly human. She works until her hands bleed, and seems a captive. That idea of captivity is revisited when the older man builds a cage for one of the birds and keeps it prisoner. The younger man sees this and the captivity bothers him. The cage nags at him. And so he sneaks to the older man's raft and frees the bird, and in return it finds for him a jade ring in the river. The ring of the woman who was captive. The ring that could be used to make her captive again, though this time to the younger man. It's a choice that tempts him, but in the end he refuses the cage and gives the woman her freedom, and she escapes into the waters. It's an interesting story, the man proving himself not a hypocrite by not trying to possess the woman, and not rewarded with her anyway for being a good guy. Instead he is left with the memory of her, which is enough. It's an elegant story, with a dark, supernatural feel to it. Not the happiest of stories, what with the cages and blood, but one that shows that for all people can be cruel, people can also be kind. So in that it's a hopeful story, one that believes that people can be good. So hurrah.