With this issue of Crossed Genres comes the very sad news that the magazine will be ending publication at the end of the year. Which is a shame, because it is a consistent source of quality short fiction that explicitly looks to promote new writers. Seriously, I don't think there is another SFWA-qualifying venue that guarantees a third of it's content is by a new writer. The only good news is that the publication is still here for a short while, and is still putting out good stories. The theme this month is anticipation, and the stories here take some interesting routes to explore the theme. To the reviews
"A Veil of Leaves" by M.K. Hutchins (1977 words)
This is a weird story, a twist on the idea of a widespread collection of colonies and a group of people overlooking everything. The story opens with the main character getting ready to be married when a skyman appears, a man from a different world, who a hundred years ago arrived and cut the colony from their main source of food and instead gave them electric power and hotplates. And here I can't really talk much about this story with, so [SPOILERS!!!]. It turns out that the skymen took away the main source of food because they wanted to push the colony into creating a new form of cooking, a new dish that the skymen could then use for themselves. It's an interesting twist perhaps because of how ridiculous it seems, an entire galactic empire bent toward…improving cooking. And yet the story is not humorous, is not written for the HaHa but as a serious examination of this culture and this woman on her wedding day. The people have survived by learning how to eat grubs that grow prodigiously, but the grubs aren't to the taste of the skymen, who leave and take their electricity with them. It's a story about playing with people, about trading lives (without consent) for the pursuit of better food. The cool disdain the skyman has for the people he hopes to profit from is extreme, and I was a bit offended someone with serious cooking cred would 1. Not want to eat bugs; 2. Would not understand that toxic things can be prepared to be nontoxic and 3. Not realize that tofu requires, I dunno…beans, which were absent. But it didn't seem a fault of the writing that the skyman didn't seem to know this, but rather that the story was about how out of touch these travelers are, how much they don't care about the people they exploit. How they don't care that they screwed everything up and then did it again. It's a story about colonization, about colonialism, and it's subtle even as it's not subtle at all. An interesting and fun story.
"The Meaning That You Choose" by Bo Balder (3733 words)
This is a rather neat time travel story, one that explores the reasons for escaping the present and visiting the past in a future where scarcity is the rule, where the planet has gotten so crowded that going back in time might seem like a good thing. The story moves fairly straight-forwardly for most of the duration, chronicling the sins that cause people to flee into the past, that allow the main character to catch them and bring them back for punishment. The sins of pride and gluttony, lust and despair. The story moves well, showing the main character struggle with the job of catching people in the past, of having to blend, of seeing the past through the lens of her present, which is socially progressive but necessarily rather draconian. It's a bleak future, but not one, ultimately, without hope, as the story does throw a twist in toward the end, choosing to not end on sins but on a recontextualization of those sins. Looking at what might really motivate people to go back. Not their own greed, their own selfishness, but a desire to heal their world by doing what they can in the past. And it allows the main character a chance to demonstrate her own hope, her own resistance, aware of what might happen, how she might be punished, but wanting to prevent the pain her generation and those after her must deal with. For a time travel story, which I am normally wary of, this one hits a fine note. Indeed!
"Decay" by Allison Mulder (3658 words)
There is something about the Tooth Fairy that draws naturally to horror. The twisting of the innocent, the rather creepy aspect of collecting teeth, the magic and the strangeness of it all that conceals a lie that in this story isn't quite a lie, though it certainly isn't the whole truth. Here the Tooth Fairy is one of many, grown from a rotten tooth, something discarded, unwanted, and very angry. Unable to make a mark on the world, unable to do much of anything except wait and grow in power, in desires. The story builds its horror slowly and well, the slow rise of "things are kinda weird" to "now there's something definitely odd and rather creepy about this" to "AHHH FUCK I WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!!!" The story preys on some common fears in evoking the unseen, dangers that lurk while sleeping, and the return of some dark twin, some shadow that was thought to be vanquished but really has just been waiting and growing stronger. The action builds and builds, growing tooth by rotten tooth until the ending, which is unsettling and very well done. Crossed Genre doesn't often go full horror, but this is a great examination of the theme, probably the best of the bunch this month in capturing that anticipation and making it crawl up the spine. An excellent story!