|Art by Sung Choi|
"Foxfire, Foxfire" by Yoon Ha Lee (7907 words)
In this story a fox trying to become human runs into a bit of a snag in a war-torn future and is forced to make a few…adjustments in order to survive. The sci-fantasy elements are definitely on full display here, the fox a creature of magic with ninety-nine of the hundred kills they need to become human, and for his last victim he hopes to take a mech pilot, a woman on the run and with a mission of her own. The dynamic between the two is strong, interesting, and the fox's voice keeps the story moving along with a light and witty style, flighty but trapped. The setting is vague enough that the magic and the tech can exist side by side without problems, viewed from the relatively ignorant perceptions of the fox (who pays attention to what they want, when they want), while the politics of the story were compelling and balanced, a nation caught in a civil war and the mech pilot with a desperate plan. It's also interesting to see just how the fox changes, how come to see being human and being in the human world, what seduces them to being involved in humanity. Not the danger or the sensation but the conviction. To believe in something and be willing to lose so much for it. To resist running away, being aloof, and having a cause and having companionship and having things that foxes simply do not. It makes the ending that much sweeter, that much sad but also defiant, and I quite liked how everything about this story came together, the myth and the vision of the future and all of it. A fine read!
"The Right Bright Courier" by Anaea Lay (2458 words)
Well this is not a very happy story, about a person who flies among the stars, who gave up love and all attachments for the chance of being the first to reach the center of the Palace of Abandoned Dreams and retrieve its package. The story does a great job of building the mind of the Bright Courier, the way that they long for something that they had, that they were close to having, the way that they denied themself in order to become this idea of what they thought they needed to be, that they thought that attachments were a test that they had to pass, that love could not stand to purpose, to profession. The setting is strange and does a nice job mixing fantasy and science fiction, creating a living ship and a Palace that seems to exist only as a draw, a Palace that isn't really a test at all. [SOME SPOILERS FROM HERE] And I love the way that the story shows how cutting yourself off from people in order to pursue a purpose is (or can be) flawed. That the pursuit of doing a thing just to do it, just because it's what you're supposed to do or what people tell you you're supposed to want, is kinda shitty. Especially when you feel something so acutely that it turns the success of doing that thing to ash in your mouth. To me the story speaks to how people deny themselves in hopes of future reward but don't think it through and don't give themselves enough freedom to reinvent themselves. That sometimes what you need to do is choose love, and in doing so you don't loose ambition, you don't loose opportunity. Indeed, with love and support most things are more achievable. That sometimes it takes support and that seeking that out is nothing to be ashamed of. It's a story about isolation and regret and ambition, and the intersection of all of those things. And it's quite a neat story!
"Call and Answer, Plant and Harvest" by Cat Rambo (3164 words)
Well this is a rather sweet story about chaos and gambling, about two women testing each other in many ways, and one of them, the Chaos Mage Cathay, finding out how far she's willing to go. It's a story that builds well and captures a great sense of place, the world building fun and interesting and strange, set in a city where the normal rules just don't apply, where Cathay lives because it suits her, and because (just maybe) she cares for it. It's something that her chaotic nature won't really let her admit and it is what drives the story, this central imbalance in her, chaotic and relentlessly so but unwilling to see that in that randomness there is room for preference and caring. I quite like the way the story progresses as well, the bets getting more and more extreme and, to Cathay at least, more personal. And she's a great character, fun and defiant and stubborn and a little arrogant and a lot in denial about what keeps her on in the city. The woman who bets her, Mariposa, has an ulterior motive for pushing her so, and it gives the story an added layer and twist at the end that wasn't completely unexpected (but was still very well done). It's a tightly constructed piece with a great feel of fun and the illusion of risk. Because risk is deeply personal, and Cathay not so true a gambler that she'd risk losing something that would truly hurt. Which leaves the story on a nearly tragic note, though I can hope that the real story doesn't end there. A fine read!