Art by Sandro Castelli
"Black Planet" by Stephen Case (2220 words)
Probably no surprise that a story called "Black Planet" is rather dark. Rather unsettling in how it circles around grief, loss, pain, the story reveals Em, a young woman who has lost her brother to a disease she doesn't really understand. In the wake of her brother's death, she begins to see a planet hovering above her bed as she tries to sleep, and she visits it in her dreams. It has no sun, and Em doesn't really know what to make of it. And there is a lot to like about the story, from the aching wound that is a loss that Em isn't quite sure what to make of because she's a child, because he brother was young as well, to the rather awesome friendship Em has with Jena, who's into astrology and all things geeky. This is a story about a young person discovering what it is to lose someone, how they're supposed to think about that loss, how they're supposed to move on from it. It's about Em finding her place in the universe, finding her brother's place. It's about death and space and darkness and facing the unknown. And it's quite good, and very dark. But in that darkness is an acknowledgement. Not exactly of insignificance. In fact, not at all of insignificance. Rather that there is a core realization that there is so much that we never see, so many people in pain we never know. It's a muted but incredibly deep ending. And definitely one to spend some time with.
"The Law of the Conservation of Hair" by Rachel K. Jones (863 words)
This is a short but very romantic story of two people who, on the surface, seem too different to be together. But who, in truth, each other's balance, the opposite side of a scale. They move and they grow, but every motion is met by one equal and opposite. That for them this relationship, this partnership and marriage, is rather perfect, or as close as can be managed, and reading about it I would tend to agree, their lives touching but not dominated by the other, their selves intact and yet yielding, wielding and wielded and always rising to meet the needs of the other. Such a relationship is almost difficult to read about because of how much they care about each other, how the structure and language of this very short story conveys so much emotion, raw and wounded, a story of aliens and war and peace and being together and being apart, of forgiveness and anger. It's a powerful piece, a reminder that for some, the best of relationships ask for no real sacrifices, but that's not to say there isn't a balance. That the idea of conservation extends beyond the environment or physics. I love the way the story engages with conservation, with that idea of balance, and applies it to this relationship. A very strong, very short piece.