|Art by Tyler Edlin|
"Fire Rises" by Alec Austin (7296 words)
This is a very neat story about Li, a woman who at the beginning of the story loses her lover, though not her conviction to make her homeland a better place. A pyromancer, she has been sent to presumably stop a kind of moon from rising, a moon that would give power to certain people beneath it. The setting is fascinating, deep and layered and quite, quite good, where people can draw on the power of satellites to power their magic, to power all aspects of their lives. It's something that has been reserved for only certain people, but Li envisions a world where everyone is born with power, where everyone has equal access to the tools that will give them comfort and power. Li teams up with another woman to stop a rival agent from destroying the moon and poisoning the surrounding area with her magic. There's a great sense of history with the story, a great set of characters and a power to Li as she pursues her goal, as she relentlessly pushes herself. The action of the story is great, the voice of the characters endearing and fun. And the message is great, that Li is doing this not just for herself or her government, but because she knows very well how power works, how oppression works, and knows that the only way to change things is to make sure that those who are worst off have access to the best tools, to the tools normally reserved for the ruling class. It's a story about affirmative action in some ways, the giving of the benefits that the ruling class take for granted to people who will be able to use them to actually make changes, so that the playing field really is level. And it's just a lot fun, visceral and powerful and compelling and good. Seriously, go read this one.
"Defy the Grey Kings" by Jason Fischer (8049 words)
This is a much darker story, though one that deals with the harsh realities of slavery and torture and death. In some ways it is a difficult story to read, because it follows Ghost, a slave to elephants, as he suffers and kills for his master's benefit and slowly sees everything around him rot and die. Raised to be of no value, he witnesses the cruelty of the elephants, how they treat their slaves, and dreams of the day when he can be free. His plan of action, though, does not go well. Not well at all. Again, it's a rather difficult story to read at times, because it is very, very dark. Bleak. And I'm not entirely sure what to think of that. The world building is fine and interesting, the elephants quite terrifying antagonists with their size and cruelty. But then, the elephants become devils because they are seen as only evil, as cruel without anything really redeeming about them. They are brutes. And the human slaves are seen as either traitors to humanity for helping the elephants in order to not die, or the noble slaves fighting for freedom however is possible. I have to say that I have a problem with stories like this, despite that it is compellingly written and features a nice cast of characters. Slavery is a thorny issue, though, and in some ways I'm uncomfortable to see the [SPOILERS!!!!] message basically boil down to the elephants needing to be killed, the collaborators needing to be killed. In my mind, at least, that human society built on the bones of the elephant city, would be no better, especially because the aim seems to be to make the elephants slaves. So the message isn't that slavery is wrong but that the elephants deserve to be beasts of burden? Again, I like many aspects of the story, and it is gritty and dark and brutal. And it does show how the cycle of violence continues, how slavery poisons people, makes them see the world in terms of master and slave without a way out, without thinking to take the system itself down. I like the message that slavery must be fought, and I hesitate to say that such fighting has to be nice or non-violent, but I do believe that it should be a struggle to eradicate slavery and not just changing who is on top and who on bottom. Still, a story worth grappling with, and I'm sure there are many who will have more fun with it than me.