|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"Sparrows" by Gary Emmette Chandler (1035 words)
Kicking things off this month is a story about brothers and about growing up and about fear and about loss. It's a story told around an absence as a younger brother remembers his sibling, David. David, who died doing what the younger brother is about to try. To fall into the sky and fly thanks to a special suit. And I love how palpable that absence is in the story, the way the younger brother looked up to and followed the older, the way that they were linked by the vision and their drive to escape their situation, taste the freedom of the sky and hold it close to them. The story flits between memories while advancing a present plot that sees the younger brother hesitating, stuck in a moment of fear and doubt. Flying is often a rather loaded image in SFF, a way to capture a wild freedom, but here there's also the danger made incredibly real by death and loss. The story seems to me to be about recovery and going forward, and embracing the danger of living, and especially the danger of living as one wants to. There is no safe, really, but the implication lingers that there's really no safe when you can't do what you love. That the danger only shifts from the dangers you want to risk and the ones you don't. For the brothers, flight is something that seems worth the injury that might come with. Even if they lose themselves. Even if they lose each other. It's a moving piece, nostalgic and tinged with sadness but ultimately uplifting, freeing. A great read!
"Now Watch as Belinda Unmakes the World" by Lynette Mejía (850 words)
Okay so trigger warning: [SPOILERS?] loss of a child. This is another story that features a palpable grief and loss, though this one has a bit of a greater remove from memory and person. It features a mother undoing the stitching of a project, and as she works it becomes clear what's going on around her. Around the destruction of a piece of art. And it is heartbreaking. The story captures a vivid moment of loss, refusing to look directly at it until the end, showing how hard it is to deal with directly, the sense of powerlessness and despair. The entire world unravels in this moment, figuratively and perhaps literally, the speculative elements subtle and light and the real focus the enormity of loss. Unlike the previous story, this is not about recovery (at least to me), and indeed the message seems to be more aimed at the inability to recover or at least look beyond the moment of this kind of loss. How it takes up the entire world and how it becomes something so large and devastating. The prose punches with the weight of the subject matter, which is a large cudgel indeed but I think it succeeds in not overselling. There is a light touch here, just enough to sell what's happening without exploiting the impact or emotional hammer being used. The imagery of the picture slowly coming apart is meticulous and beautiful, and in the end the story manages to show a moment that words cannot properly convey, letting that last image linger, haunting and real and excellently done. Indeed!
"Nothing Less Rare, Nor Precious" by Evan Dicken (810 words)
Trigger warning: parenting. This is an interesting and rather difficult story about parenthood and about loss and about identity. To me, at least, it seems to speak of the change in identity that comes from being a parent, and more specifically from being a mother. Perhaps appropriate, given the issue is geared a bit towards Mothers' Day (or Mother's Day if you prefer oppressive apostrophes). And perhaps I'm making a rather large assumption here about the gender of the main character, which I don't think is explicitly stated, but given everything in the story I'm sticking to that assumption, because without it I'm not sure how to interpret the overwhelming pressure that the main character faces to conform to motherhood, to wrap herself around that idea and institution. To let that define her. The story takes sparrows that live in a person's chest and makes them into a sort of metaphor (by my interpretation) for ambition, for drive. The main character finds that they are missing theirs, and feels that loss rather strongly. Suddenly they are pushed to let it all drop. To make defining themself as a mother first and foremost. The prose is striking and the imagery layered and drew me in, conveyed a loss mixed with fear mixed with hope. A numbness that comes through quite well. The ending…well, as I read the ending it's about possibility, but also about loss and destruction of self. [SPOILERS] The story moves toward an end where the main character sees sparrows in the chest of their child and is happy. Which…you know, parenthood stories are rather difficult for me and so I'm not sure I'm the best to be talking about the ending. As I read it, it's about being comforted by the possibilities the child has. It's about deciding it's okay for having a child to be your thing. About not feeling the loss so keenly. It's just…I was not wholly satisfied with that. With my reading. The writing is solid, strange, and a bit haunting, and it fits with the other stories in the issue quite well, circling around loss and family. I recommend people read it and make up their own minds. It is definitely an interesting story.