|Art by Joshua Hutchinson|
"When the Fall Is All That's Left" by Arkady Martine (2300 words)
Things do not wait this issue before getting pretty damn sad and pretty damn beautiful. In this story, two women survive flying through the heart of a star only to…well, only to have that not be the hardest thing they had to do. The story sets the stark situation with a sense of damage, of immediacy. Gabriele is the main character, the voice of the story, and also integrated into the ship, is the ship in most ways. Iris, the captain, [SPOILERS] is having a rather difficult time because, while the ship survived the trip through the star, the radiation was far too great for anything human and unshielded to last very long afterwards. And that countdown lends the story its tragedy, the way that Iris knows she's going to die, that both of them know she's going to die, but that they don't give up. I love the relationship between the Captain and Gabriele, the obvious esteem and hope, the long friendship, the care and the desperation and the sadness but also the resolve. They've pushed things as far as they can go, and they're both not dead, so there's no use giving in, giving up. It's a story that floats weightless, between the immense weight of sadness and the joy of freedom. A moment where gravity is suspended, a moment that the story captures with a power and resonance. Quite good.
"All Things to All People" by D.K. Thompson (1500 words)
Hey, a story about a man with magic tattoos helping people that I can actually recommend! Here we see a man who is stuck in a pattern. Who is cursed or blessed with purpose, with a mission. To bring people what they need. By talking with them, by having sex with them, by fighting them. And each time he is marked by a new tattoo. And wherever he is covered by ink he feels no pain. And when he runs out…well, that's what the story does such a nice job of, capturing his struggle, his need to help people but also his fear that when he's out of room he'll be dead. It's an interesting premise, a rather startling execution, and a fun little story, slow and filled with moments that show who he's out to save, and how, and the different ways people find themselves sometimes. And though it's never stated, the story does a good job of setting up how this work is about him as well, about his own grace, his own path to being all right. That there are endings and endings, but there is always hope. A fine little tale.
"Me and Jasper, Down By the Meth Shack" by Aaron Saylor (6000 words)
Proving that this issue takes all kinds, this story features a pair of men hunting down [SPOILERS?] a meth-cooking ex-con werewolf. The set up and structure are effective, flitting between Boo, the main character, and Jasper's time waiting for their target to show up and Boo's daughter's sweet sixteen party which happened days before. The jumps back and forth build up the mystery, the strangeness, bring the story from being about a night of drugs gone bad to something much, much worse. There is an easy rhythm between Boo and Jasper, a dynamic that I liked, and apparently there is a whole novel of their exploits so that might be worth checking out. They're just country enough, Southern enough, "real manly men" enough while also kind of being losers that it works for the story. They're obviously a little out of their depth, and it works for the story, the two of them just sort of going in with half a plan and making it work. An entertaining read.
"Super Duper Fly" by Maurice Broaddus (3900 words)
Seeing what anthology this story will appear in, one about the flipping of tropes, about turning things upside down, makes complete sense. It hardly needs that context, after all, with a plot pulled straight from the most recognizable of storylines. Pulled from Hollywood, from books, from those things that are pushed and recommended. Especially poignant given the recent discussion surrounding YA lit and representation in general, and the further ongoing "battle" tearing at the heart of SFF, this story manages to tell an entertaining and heartbreakingly funny story about a magical negro. Or, rather, the Magical Negro. The story introduces an entire collection of stereotypes, created not for black people but to serve whites. To assist white people into being better. To be full of wisdom, and aid, and selflessness, all for the benefit of some poor white person who could be reaching their potential. It is a biting story even as it is wickedly humorous, satirizing quite effectively the way black people are often depicted in popular media. And yes, I kind of laughed out loud when the Whining was explained. There's a lot to like here, and the story covers a lot of ground, showing a sort of rebellion, a refusal to play along, and in so doing shifting the focus of the narrative from where it starts in the first section, from the PoV of a white person, to the later sections and ending where the Magical Negro finally has his own story, his own voice. A fine way to wrap up the original fiction this month.
"Ten Little Zombies" by Gregg Chamberlain
On one level, definitely, this is a fun little poem that takes an old song and rewrites the lyrics to be about a zombie attack. And as that it works fairly well, showing how the zombies stumble and drop, how the narrator manages to stay one step ahead of them. It's playing the idea for laughs, for humor, and the ending underlines this point, that sort of cocky bravado that shows the narrator triumphant. One another level, the concept of repurposing the original text to tell a humorous zombie story in poetry hits me as a little...well, it leaves me uncomfortable. The original text being what it is, a product of some serious racism, and zombies in general being a bit...charged at times, the new text is fun but doesn't exactly face the roots of the source it uses. And whether or not you find the lack of complication a problem or not is probably going to determine if you end up finding the poem charming or not. For me, I can see what the writer was probably trying to do, and it seems innocent and meant as a joking, smiling sort of thing. But it still leaves me a bit uncomfortable.
"The Underworld" by Laurel Dixon
Here is a very different vision of the underworld than the one normally depicted, though it obviously draws from the Greek, from the story of Persephone. Here, however, she is more or less alone, is given the role of Hades and the narrator takes the role of the visitor to the realm. Or the captive. But there is something less than coercive about Persephone here, a care and a adherence to a rule, that the narrator be given a choice. That it be their will that keeps them there. There is an aching loneliness to the underworld here, a distance to Persephone, a weight of burden to her, having to reign over the dead. The poem establishes a nice dream-like pattern and a landscape with the form, the waving lines, the clipped images and scents and tastes. And the ending, the moment of culmination, a release that is more a sigh of companionship and need. It's a lovely poem, taking an old idea and image and giving it some new life, a new angle to view it from. Continuing the story. A very good poem!
"Minotaur" by Zachary Riddle
Well yeah, that's certainly a rather disturbing poem. A poem dominated by its imagery, by its rather dark and violent subject matter, that of a man and the narrator sewing a woman up inside a dead bull. Obviously taking place in modern times, the poem evokes that sense of Greek drama, the symbolism of the bull, the way it nearly feels mythical, as if by this action these people are seeking to accomplish something, bring something to life. Of course, given the modern times it makes the poem that much creepier, more demented, that belief no longer safely contextualized in the past, in when we expect Greek Myths to live and breath, and the true horror of those old stories comes into sharp focus by envisioning it happening now. An interesting poem, especially paired with the one previous, providing lots to think about. Hmm…
"Hello, Wild Things, and Good Luck" by Sarah Hollowell
Awwwwwwww! This poem is so sweet! About friendship and finding a place to belong, about shrugging off the bonds of suckitude to embrace the wild, to embrace the unknown, this poem is a story of two friends leaving the world and entering the forest. Then finding the ocean. Then finding new ways to be together. I want a comic of this poem it is so awesome. It should be it's own illustrated book. It is amazing, fun and sarcastic and over the top and yet, at it's core, incredibly earnest. Sincere. It's about these two friends finding places for each other, helping each other to be comfortable in the skins they choose. It's about choice and it's about agency and I love the way it moves, the way it tells an entire story and brushes against time, against myth, against archetype. It is seriously good and you should read it. Go on now. Just try and not be full of sun and the promise of freedom after reading it. JUST TRY!!!