|Art by Lauren K. Cannon|
"The Sill and the Dike" by Vajra Chandrasekera (2876 words)
A story about war, about death, about ancestors and ghosts, this one follows a young soldier in a war with aliens come to their planet to conquer, to make more room for their dead. It's a bit of a strange story, because in many ways it's about funeral rites, but it also makes the story interesting, complex, the two sides separated by their ideologies, by their traditions, neither trusting each other and both inevitably pushed to war. There is a lot to tell about a people from their funeral rites. How the dead are treated, how they are used. The aliens in the story bury their dead while the natives to the world, the main character's family, become trees that link all the generations, that keep the ghosts of the dead alive and angry. These ghosts can be used in battle, can be a great power. And yet the main character never uses this power, never tries to use the dead in that fashion. They see the folly of it, of weaponizing the ghosts of the dead, of trying to fight atrocity with atrocity. The story takes place around war, without really much fighting, but still the violence of the times seeps into the mood and tenor of the story, infusing it with a loss, with a tragedy. There's a lingering sadness here, about the loss of life and the loss of culture, and through it all the main character finds their own way to honor the dead, and themself, without following any tradition. A fine story!
"Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions" by Gwendolyn Kiste (4233 words)
Well okay then. This is a great story about the stigma of mental illness, or perhaps the stigma of just being different, and sad. More, though, I see it as a great way of critiquing how people handle suicide, how people handle the idea of people just not wanting to be in the world any more. It's always happened, but the rates of suicide do seem high at times, and there are often initiatives and such to try and cut down on suicide. The truth is that people hate suicides, hate people who are depressed because they can't just wave a hand and fix them. There is no magic thing to say, no argument that makes depression go away. And yes, secluding people, especially kids, is not really the way to go about things. In the story, Vivienne and Tally are both in a special class because they score high on a test to predict disappearance. They grow close, but their closeness is always shaded by the reasons for their being together. They are watched and ignored both, which is a terrible way to live, as if these people who are at risk are bad, as if anyone who disappears is morally inferior and diseased. It's a nice way to critique how suicide and depression are treated, as if each victim is some deadly carrier of a disease, a disease they caught because they weren't careful or did something sinful. The story moves and works, building this emotional connection between these two girls, and it's sad and powerful and really, this is a great story. The extended metaphor hits home and the story is sad and yet hopeful. The message is fair and clear, that though suicide and depression are not good things, they do not make those suffering with them or having lived through someone disappearing bad. More, they mark some way that the world has failed. That they show a call to action, a call to help people in some meaningful way that is not to condemn them. It's a fine story, and definitely one to go out and read immediately.