|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"The Last Mardi Gras" by Derrick Boden (999 words)
A story about place and about the small voice of things that don't die even after a place is gone, this one manages to pack in nostalgia and sadness and a nice gaze at the possible future. It's not a bright future, certainly, one where nature has largely been abandoned, where people live in insular settlements that were supposed to be efficient communities but which are ruled by gangs. New Orleans is underwater, at least mostly, but that doesn't stop the main character from boating there one last time, on Mardi Gras, for a chance to recapture something from the past, something beautiful that has passed away but is not wholly gone. The story reveals a sad situation going on in the world, or at least the US, the erasure of a way of life that had been unique to New Orleans. For all that the place has finally been abandoned, though, some of that life continues, at least in the few people still alive, in the main character and in the others who show up to celebrate. That spark remains, not dead like the city but dying, that will last until the last of them is dead. The story is a witness to the passing of something, perhaps something like witnessing the last of some species that no longer has a chance of surviving, something haunting about it. It's a nice piece, the world building nicely done, the mood nicely captured. Indeed.
"Concerning your Recent Creation of Sentient Horse-things on the Next Planet Over" by Stewart C. Baker (956 words)
This one is a rather humorous story featuring a group of scientists bickering over very personal issues through a series of presumably professional messages. In a universe where science has progressed to uplifting species, the two main characters here are among the least ethical (I would hope). The story sets up Henrietta as a woman spurned by Jack, who stole some of her research and then left her for promotion. Henrietta then created a species of horse-people and dog-people to basically punish Jack for his theft (and general shittiness). The form of the story is fun, the veneer of professionalism barely covering the animosity of their worlds. It would be easy enough to give Henrietta a pass for her actions, too, given how Jack treated her and abused his power, but I must admit I rather an on the side that both of these mad scientists are extremely unethical and using entire species to wage a personal campaign against an ex, no matter how deserving, is not a good thing to do. Still, I read it a bit more as two villains playing against each other, their victories good in part because they hurt each other, with maybe some hope in the future of them being stopped, hopefully destroyed by their own creations they're so fond of messing with. The tone is light and fun and the back-and-forth between the two main characters makes this one worth checking out.
"Bugs Eat Light" by Izabella Grace (906 words)
This is a nicely creepy story about a world where the bugs have mutated somehow, have become huge and hunger for light, eat it, have plunged the world into perpetual night with their feeding. The main character of the story lives waiting for the return of her partner, Lee, who went out to get food but has not returned. She lives in the darkness because it's safer there, but not safe. The moment she turns on a light the bugs swarm her, attack her for the light, feed off of her and try to draw her into the darkness. It's a battle that she can't win, that she can't keep up, because without light there is nothing but the dark and the dread. The story does a nice job of selling the creepy, and as one who is not a fan of bugs it made my skin crawl at times reading it, witnessing the things waiting for her to turn on a light, knowing that they remained afterward, but unseen. The story draws down, showing the main character finding the light in the darkness but not in a way that really helps, not in a way that allows her to keep her humanity. The story is dark (naturally) and well crafted, a striking examination of a world without light, a world where giving in means becoming something new and hungry. Good times!