|Art by Tori K. Roman|
"Inhabiting Your Skin" by Mari Ness (3800 words)
This is a story about a sentient house and very depressed individual and how the two sort of compliment each other. There is a sense that our houses reflect us, our mental states, and this story does an excellent job of capturing this, how this person and this house sort of help each other spiral downward, enabling each other. The house wants to care for its human but its human doesn't care to tend to themself. They don't want to go outside and the house doesn't want them too. There is a sense that maybe, in some way, this might be all in the main character's head, but I don't quite think it's that easy. I think that this is really happening, that this character is trapped, by their house and by themself. That all having the house does is keep them isolated, keep them alone. It offers them the illusion of care while offering no satisfaction, no real assistance. It enables. And in the end this is a dark story about how our houses reflect us, and how depression can truly mess up a person's life. Not that I feel like I'm quite getting everything in the story. The ending, while lovely and dark as all darkness, begins to blur the line between person and house, growing the two together in a way that I'm not quite sure if it was the house that was the one having a break from reality. Like perhaps it twisted the "this could all be in the person's head" by having the person be the house rather than the human. It's a story that probably deserves more than one reading, but even at one it manages to be interesting and creep out. A rather disturbing story told well.
"Proximity" by Alex Livingston (4200 words)
A story about a group of, well, not hackers really, but cyber-criminals who make a living illegally skimming people's metadata to sell to companies. It focusing on one in particular, Tipsy, who has aspirations of being an artist, a photographer, but who is blocked because her social connections are not robust enough to get her into the right places. Everyone is assigned a node in this world, the closer to celebrity, the lower the node, the higher the value. The group gets paid more for information from low-node individuals, and Tipsy takes a certain amount of glee in getting the metadata from them. It doesn't hurt them, really, but it's something of a revenge for her. And, of course, she has to collect as much data as she can, as one of the companies her group pulls for is leaning on them, threatening to turn them in for cyberterrorism. When they get information on a flash gallery of photography that will feature a great many low-nodes, the group decides to collect there. Things do not precisely go smoothly, but the story for me becomes much more about Tipsy getting over to some degree her resentment of all low-nodes. Not all of them, because some do seem pretty terrible, but that she can recognize the value in other people's art and seek to promote them even as she is obscure and unseen. It's a story that seems aimed in some ways at all art, and perhaps especially (as this is a story) at the fiction markets, which to outsides and aspiring authors can definitely seem like it has a social hierarchy that can't really be broken into with some sort of magic invitation. But then, like in the story, the real point is the art, and shining a light on great art, no matter a person's rank or station. It's an interesting statement (that I'm probably reading too much into) and one that succeeds in telling an entertaining story with some fun and diverse characters with a more novel style. Well worth checking out.
"Foreclosure" by DJ Cockburn (4200 words)
In this story a man, an insurance collector, is sent to find a man who has a quite outstanding loan. In this future world, the rich seem firmly in charge, the less fortunate scrambling to avoid situations like the one the main character is seeking to inflict on the unfortunate man who's going to be collected. It's an interest story, as the man set to be collected isn't even the real target. Because the man had cancer, his tissue can't be harvested. Which, by the by, is a nice extension of modern lending practices. So the burden falls to the man's next of kin. And that's where this story gets a bit complicated. It's a nice set up, the collector set to harvest this man's child, to punish this man for an agreement made before he had children, before he lost his job, before the cancer, before the death of his wife. His son, which is legally the bank's now, is all he has. And so he does some absolutely terrible to keep his son. I'm not sure if the story means to cast the collector in such a negative light, as if he deserves the punishment that he's foisted onto others, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the ending. I mean, it hits some nice notes and is fittingly tense, fittingly helpless. The complete reversal of the narrative is an interesting one, but the glee with which the other characters turn on the collector is a little unsettling to me. Perhaps that's the point. Hopefully that's the point, that this is a practice that is terrible regardless of who is the victim. That using the tactics of greed turn even those against the system into really awful people. Because everyone in the story is a murderer, in the end, none more noble or more justified or more victim than any of the others. But only one is murdered, only one is punished, and I'm not sure what to think about that.
"Entrance" by Laura Madeline Wiseman
This is a strange little prose poem where a couple finds a door when looking for mold in their drywall. A door that opens for them, that they enter, together. A door that closes behind them. It's creepy and moody and very weird, the description of the door and what they see beyond like something from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland except the fungus is more sentient, more dangerous. This is not the place to find ponderous caterpillars on mushrooms that will change your size but a place where furry mushrooms will eat the caterpillar while you watch and probably scream and there might be spores that turn you into a fish-person. I mean, none of that is present, but it's the feel I get from that, an entrance into this other world that the main character is still somehow compelled to enter. That she was out looking for something like this, was looking for mold but found something even worse and is pushing forward out of some fatalistic impulse. Or sense of adventure. Either way, it is a strange prose poem but a compelling one, that offers that entrance, that asks you to look in and tell what you see, even if you'd rather keep it to yourself. Hurrah!
"Peach Baby" by Bethany Powell
This poem is a retelling (kind of) of the Momotarou Japanese folktale, which is about a boy who comes to Earth in a peach and fights demons (thank you Wikipedia!). First, I love that the little note is in the about the author section because I was feeling as I was reading this poem like I might have been missing something, like I might not have been getting a key part. And the folklore aspect of the poem is one that gives it added depth. In the poem, the main character is one who eats a peach and cares for its pit by oiling it, until one night, after returning from a night of drinking, they find the pit hatched a tiny boy. Who promptly leaves. And I love it. I love that there is this sense that the main character has created this aspect of themselves. In the original tale the peach boy is a gift from heaven to a couple with no child. He is basically all their goodness given form to reward them for being cool. And in the poem the peach baby is kind of the same thing, only much different because of the different character. It is the condensed essence of the main character, which means it was born and then immediately left, immediately went out in search of a good time, or perhaps some demons to fight. It leaves, and the narrator is left with the peach pit, which returns to being just that, a reminder that the narrator isn't out there doing things, a call to action that the narrator sees but doesn't act on. A nice poem.
"Interview" by John W. Sexton
Well here is a fun, if slightly frustrating for me personally, poem about a kind of spider that adapts well to space and ends up basically become a higher form of life, which is now being interviewed by some humans. And it's not frustrating because it's bad in any way. It's a great and thought provoking piece for the exact reasons that it is also frustrating to me. Because as I read it now there is no translation of the text that represents the spider's responses. The reader is left to sort of interpret how the spider creature might respond, and as such it's a great poem, is fun and funny because it allows for so many interpretations and because it makes a joke out of my very real desire to know what is being said. I spent WAY too much time scouring the internet to try and figure out if this was actually code and only discovered that if it is I have no idea what it says. And there's this hilarious sort of insecurity about that, that I don't want to admit that I don't "get" the code. That I don't want to be dumb. But that seems to be part of this, that the spider creatures are supposed to be so much more superior so that even their speech can't be parsed by humans, that the interview is this hilarious exercise in insanity because the humans cannot understand the spiders. It's...well, as I read it it's a fun poem that seems to be poking fun of me in particular. Poking fun at the human want to know, to be superior, to fear that we are missing something, that we are lesser. Unless of course there is an "official" translation and then I will just feel dumb. So victory either way!