|Art by Elizabeth Leggett|
"Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind" by Erica L. Satifka (736 words)
Okay so this is a great way to start off, something short and pretty sweet but filled with a neat idea and a voice that might either be charming or tragic or both. The title sets up most of the story of this one, with a girl writing out what she wants to do ahead of joining the Sing, which is sort of like a collective consciousness where everything is cool. All together, minds floating together through some new science. There is a nice creepy edge to this, the parents all not really seeming on board with it. Is it what this girl is being told? The questions the story leave open are interesting and unsettling, which is rather great. Also told in these list points is a story about a girl asking out a friend to a dance and being stood up. A first love. A first love that is one sided and leads to some heartbreak. Which means in some ways that this girl has already lived a great deal for all that she's only fourteen. That last point, that final moment of forgiveness, is a powerful one, especially with the fate of everyone unknown. Do they all meet up in the Sing? Or is it some sort of trap? A death? It's a good story and a great start to the fun (though I might be going out of order).
"Melioration" by E. Saxey (1589 words)
This is a slightly odd story about a sort of old-style school in the UK where students take in the "authentic" school experience of rowing and school colors and, apparently, dealing with pranksters and bigots. The action of the story actually focuses on two people besides the main character. One huge and strong and well connected, and also full of hatred and slurs against everyone. The other is the prankster who has created a device that lets him erase words from other people's brains. It's supposed to be reversible, but it's used against the bully so that he can't use the slurs he's so fond of. As fitting as it is, the main character reports it because it gets into ideas of consent and free speech and so the prankster is expelled. He's set to go off to the States, but not before getting one last attack in on the bully, pulling from his mind one word not just temporarily, but permanently. That it works the way it does makes the bully a more sympathetic character, but also still not at all. This is a subtle story, though, one that doesn't have such clear-cut good and bad sides. Obviously the prankster can be seen as good for attacking the bully, but it never really seems like he's attacking out of justice, more out of anger and because he wants to be praised for it. The bully himself is an asshole, and yet he is a victim as well. The story does a nice job making a point about empathy, but not waiting around too long afterward. Good stuff.
"Helping Hand" by Claudine Griggs (1516 words)
About a space pilot floating and waiting for death, this one could have gone incredibly dark incredibly easily. That it didn't, that it has Alex keep her cool and manage to do something incredibly difficult to save herself, is amazing. I mean, I flinched when it got to the point when she actually saves herself, because damn. But even with that the story remains hopeful. Optimistic. Like Alex herself. The message of the piece seems to be never give up, or some version of that, but also maybe never lose your humor. Never give in to despair. Because the universe is a crazy place that is so full of possibilities. Alex doesn't give up because she's not done yet. She loves piloting and even dealing with the loss of part of herself doesn't curb that. Kind of like how writing can seem like floating in space waiting to die sometimes. But being able to tell stories, being able to participate in that, is enough to keep struggling. To find a way through. Probably I'm reading too much into it but that's what I took away from the story, that to do the things you love you have to remember the universe is something that you need to fight for, even when things look bleak.
"The Lamb Chops" by Stephen Cox (1518 words)
Ah, a little story about domesticity and getting through a kind of rough spot in a relationship, but with the added wrinkle that one of the guys in the relationship isn't really human and the other is. On the surface it seems so normal, so almost mundane. The writing is solid for that, is a great bit of romance between these two, Harry and Aiden. Only Aiden isn't human (which jives with my theory about Aiden as a name in general). He's something else, something passing as human and if he's caught there will be some problems. But all that is set on the back burner while Harry and Aiden's troubles take more center stage, Aiden being a bit inconsiderate and Harry having had a really bad day. It's just something that couples do, fight like this every now and again when they're feeling vulnerable. I love that it's really just a sweet little story but with this speculative angle that doesn't distract. It makes me want to read so much more from these characters, to see them when things are really going down. It makes me pine for books of this. Are there books? It feels like a fully realized world and this pair is hot and makes me want to read more. So if it doesn't exist, it should. Indeed!
"Mama" by Eliza Gauger (330 words)
This is incredibly short but also a great experience, a story that revels in a woman who travels the black between the stars and has so much life and love that it breaks a lot of the shaming assumptions that people have about beauty and body. Obviously with space travel the normal, Earth-bound aesthetic is thrown out the window to some degree. Here is a woman who is free, free of the confines of Earth and free to be herself and that gives her a beauty that transcends, that lifts up. She is alive and loves the universe, and her children all trail with her until they are old enough to leave. And even then she doesn't smother them, doesn't keep them from the great possibilities beyond. That idea of letting go is strong, is free. It's not just that she has the ability to let go, to let her children find their own paths, but that she knows that freedom is the only space for her, that to love something is to be able to let it go. She is constantly trailed by these men, the fathers of her children, and there is the sense that she loves them too but it not going to confine herself to their gravity. That they orbit her but that she is free of such constraints, that she's on for something even greater, even grander. A very short but quite good story.
"Deep/Dark Space" by Gabrielle Friesen (260 words)
This is a strange one, the story of a member of a deep space mission who hears a dog barking, who peers out into space and sees...something that should not be. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be something lurking in the dark. A monster that she could never have quite imagined. This dog that seems like it devours stars, made out of the stuff of the universe, powerful and deadly and coming across this ship on its travels. I'm thinking personally that this story is about the strangeness of the universe, the possibility that out there, in the dark, there are creatures like this, and that there isn't all that much a human in a ship can do when confronted with a dog that devours stars. It's a bit of a horror story, a cosmic scope where humanity is once more shown to be deep in waters where they aren't familiar. It's a very short story, and as such it becomes a bit more abstract, without a lot of context. But as I read it the story is about what might be out there. About what is possible. And that infinite possibilities walks hand in hand with the unknown, with the unknowable, and with finding out that the universe might just be a much stranger place than expected. A nice little story.
"A Brief History of Whaling with Remarks Upon Ancient Practices" by Nicasio Andres Reed (1200 words)
This story looks forward to a future where creatures have been discovered that wander space. Alive, they are enormous and called, because these things must be called it, whales. Like the Earth-analogies, these space whales draw people out into the spaces between to hunt, draw people who want to jump onto the backs of such creatures and pull them apart. It is a somewhat unsettling story, because the act of whaling is so violent, so violating. It's that voice of exploitation that is speaking throughout the story, the voice saying how noble and good it is to go out and take apart these creatures as a testament to the bravery and skill of human hands. To slay the scale of these living being because they dwarf us. It's very well told, making that voice attractive, inviting. Fun. Because in our collective minds there is a romance to whaling. A romance that doesn't live up the dark and twisted reality of the situation, though, a romance that is not so much as the one discovered when we seek to understand these whales, study them, and not destroy them. It's a point that the story never explicitly makes, and yet it's one that seems to speak to me from the story. That the voice, however tempting, is wrong. A fine piece.
"Nothing Goes to Waste" by Shannon Peavey (1000 words)
This is a more cerebral story, a gentler story about a woman who believes that she is being abducted a bit at a time. That slowly parts of her body don't feel like they're hers any more. It's a frightening situation to find oneself in, even more so because no one else believes it. They think her unbalanced or unwell. And perhaps that is what's happening. It's a bit impossible to tell if she truly is being taken apart by aliens or if she's having some sort of identity crisis, some issue with her body feeling like her own. But that feeling is the story, that feeling of not belonging to yourself, of not knowing what is you and what isn't, of having to face the feeling that you're not really you. It's a great way of conveying that feeling, of getting across the disconnect between mind and body. And it's a story that's beautifully told, the imagery all tinged with darkness and yet with a light feeling to it, like a painting done in light, muted colors but with a sense of darkness under the surface. Definitely one to check out.
"In the Dawns Between Hours" by Sarah Pinsker (980 words)
In this story a woman, a lesbian, builds a time machine because she believes that the future must be better. From 1943 she imagines that 2015 must be a place where she doesn't have to be afraid. Where she won't face such a force against her. So she builds her time machine, and is ready to use it...only life gets in the way. I love the way that the story is about not really being able to skip ahead. Not really being able to jump forward because if everyone was jumping forward then no one would be behind to make the change that makes the future a better place. Which is like the best kind of time travel story. Too much of the time time is seen as this continuum where things happen. But leaving a time for the future wouldn't do much if there were no people in the time in between to strive for change. And deciding to let others try is to try and benefit from doing no work. The story does an excellent job showing how her intentions are to save people, but that people don't want to jump ahead. They want to stay and fight and make things better not just for themselves but for everyone. For those that wouldn't have access to a time machine. It's a fun story, one tinged with a life filled with struggle but also with meaning. Of traveling through time not in a machine but one day at a time and finding the world a better place all the same. A nice tale.
"Increasing Police Visibility" by Bogi Takács (960 words)
Well this one get me right in the math. Seriously, it uses math in a delightful way (as a fan of statistics and such, hurrah!) and in a meaningful way surrounding the implementation of gates that are supposed to detect the presence of aliens in airports. The gates, according the math, are just plain bad, yielding mostly false positives in those times where it results in a positive. The story splits between a couple, a person trying to convince the government that their gates are not effective in what they want the gates to do, and a gate guard who has to stop people who test positive. And, as it turns out, the two are also a couple. It calls up a ton of questions about bureaucracy and how policy is often designed to make people feel safe while not really making anyone safer. The measures at airports that exist now are said to basically be the same thing, mostly a device to make people think that there are steps being taken. That steps can be taken, when in reality there is no real way to result in really stopping certain things. And then the last line can't help but throw one last jab at the idea of the gates, one last little idea to wrap things up nicely. Another very enjoyable story.
"Letter From an Artist to a Thousand Future Versions of Her Wife" by JY Yang (1200 words)
And to end the flash fiction I think I might cry. This one takes the idea of a ship that can house the electronic minds of a group of people as they travel in jumps through the cosmos, and then leaves the story Earth-bound, from the perspective of one of the mindship crew's partners left behind. There was supposed to be two-way communication but it didn't work, and so now this left-behind person must try and find a way to move on. They can send a message out after the ship, but it's only one way. It's a heartbreaking last letter, one filled with beauty and loss and even a little hope. One about the immensity of the universe and the intimacy of a single time and space. It's about two very different people and it's also about how people grieve, how people move on, how people manage to find ways to keep going. How we honor the dead and how the universe keeps going and how we can all try to meet it, try to meet it in our own ways. It's an amazing story that has me all teared up and it is a very appropriate pace to wrap up the flash fiction. Wow.