|Art by Craig Shields|
"Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World" by Caroline M. Yoachim (6200 words)
This is a story with some serious scope. Set over thousands of years, perhaps millions of years, perhaps all of time, it follows a woman named Mei as she begins to overcome the limitations of body and space and time and all of it. Time is a great tool in this story, with Mei's meeting with a being called Achron (which I love the name because it sounds like every crazed science fiction being from Star Trek or old SF), who it turns out is beyond time, and whose creation it apparently helps to set in motion with that first meeting. The story travels forward and back, Mei going out and changing, learning, growing. She becomes a being called Prime, a ship with a vast intelligence, and things only go further from there. More than that, the story is a sort of tour of the titular Wonders, things created mostly by humans and scattered through the galaxy. Each one is a testament to humanity and each is also something larger, something smaller, Wonders but also just artifacts that will fade in time, that will come and go and it's not exactly a happy story, not exactly a straightforward one. But the way it moves is fascinating, and there is a sense of cycles here, of humanity returning to its root, of wanting to creating something to last and yet never satisfied, always looking beyond. That human achievement is not exactly infinite, because there is something artfully doomed about it, something mortal that defines it. It's a complex story and one that leaves me staring a bit in, well, wonder. It's quite good.
"All in a Hot and Copper Sky" by Megan Arkenberg (4357 words)
About loss, death, and mistakes in the name of scientific progress, this story follows Dolores, a woman who survived a closed experiment for Mars colonization that killed six others. Of course, it could presumably have been much worse. Could have if not one woman, Socorro, hadn't forced the experiment to abort so that help from the outside could arrive. To do that she killed two people, though, and set up a trial and a lot of hate and fear. Now Dolores, who had been Socorro's lover, lives with the traces of that time, that brief relationship, like a wound that won't close. The story is told as a series of letters to a dead woman, chronicling a renewed interest in the experiment because the scientists behind it are going to try again and Dolores is told she should stop them, stop them because of the potential loss of life, stop them because of how poorly the first one went. For Dolores, though, her obligations are not to the scientists or even the new batch of volunteers. Her obligations are to the past and to herself, to her own mind and well-being. She survived, which has made her life about that moment of death and choice, and the story does an excellent job of capturing her melancholy, her nostalgia. It's strange to think that a time of such stress would be something to be nostalgic about, but it was an intense time, an intense relationship, and as much as Dolores might want to move on, s he is trapped by guilt and by those who never let her forget what happened. The sense of loss, of isolation, of sadness, is strong and very well done. The prose builds a stark picture of what happened and layers the characters nicely, making them strong, complicated. All in all, a very good story.
"The Ninth Seduction" by Sean McMullen (6700 words)
You know, I haven't read many stories set entirely in the Faery realms, and it's an interesting experience because of how the facets of humanity are often separated into the various peoples found there. In that it's a bit like certain SF because it gives a chance to let the different aliens to reflect aspects of humanity. Here we have a look at elves and goblins. The elves are all of human superficiality, beautiful and dreadful, cruel and shallow and vain. The goblins are human toil, servants who live to bask in the beauty that they see while constantly being told they are worthless and ugly, even as they are the ones to create much of the beauty that the elves enjoy. And here the story is complicated by the elf ruler of the domain the story is set in, the Castellerine Lynder, being both seducer and seduced. She is power and beauty and covetous hate and that powers her to further and further acts of violence. When humans arrive to her shores seeking revenge with guns and ingenuity and ugliness, she sees the power there and Raksar, the greatest of her goblin artisans, discovers for her the secrets of the human weapons. They are ugly, and yet they are powerful, and they make the conflict of the story, the romanticized vision of what elves should be, what elves are supposed to be, and where their nature takes them. The story is compelling because of how it shows the nature of the vain, of the cruel, how it shows how their aesthetic changes with what keeps them in power. I'm not sure if the story is making a sort of statement on how modern technology makes ugly those who use it, how it makes things about that ugliness, valuing death and slavery and utility over beauty. Certainly there seem to be aspects of that present, but at the same time it is shown as completely within their nature to fall this way. That perhaps the true beauty is something beyond aesthetics, something that is made and unmade, delicate and ethereal. It's an interesting story, though, and worth checking out.
"Werewolf Loves Mermaid" by Heather Lindsley (2750 words)
This is a cute and somewhat brash story about a werewolf and a mermaid who meet at a creepy wedding and who have a sort of relationship. A sort of relationship because the werewolf's human form, Dave, doesn't like mermaids. So they can only really be together around the full moon, which makes things a bit difficult but for them seems to work out just fine. Indeed, I'm not sure they'd be able to handle more than that, because the story casts them both as rather irresponsible. The voice of the story mirrors that, captures the vaguely stoner-drama atmosphere that makes the story fun, that complicates the idea that these are creatures. For all that they aren't fully human, though, there is a mundane feel to their lives that makes them feel more real, that makes them feel more meaningful, their relationship showing that sometimes it's the creatures that fall in love, that stay together, while Dave wonders why he can't keep a girlfriend, why he has to be alone. Kind of like the things that make them weird, that make them different, are what make them able to be together, what draws them close. As a human Dave can't let loose enough, is too concerned with things, to uptight. And while Werewolf is not exactly a figure of responsibility, he somehow manages to maintain a relationship. It's a strange sort of commentary, but one that definitely works in the context of the story, because sometimes it's true that you can't really stop or judge love, that when it works it works, and that should be enough. It's a sweet story, and incredibly fun, so definitely give this one a read.