|Art by Christopher Enterline|
"Marta Martinez Saves the World" by Victorya Chase (17,500 words)
Life seems pretty-straight forward for Marta Martinez. She goes to school at the University of Minnesota. She eats pizza. She builds robots for to battle other robots (engineering students, amirite?). She has a ridiculously fat cat. She crushes on a hot quarterback. She hates mayonnaise and toasters. The world makes sense. Until, of course, a woefully fated recipe for hot sauce accidentally makes household appliances grow in size and gain sentience…and the desire to murder. What follows is a thrilling and rather ridiculous romp/fight/chase through the skyways of the St Paul with Marta taking charge and finding just how brave she can be.
And the story is really cute. Yes, okay, I might have a soft spot for characters that are a bit overweight, and who lust after hot guys, and who enjoy their cats round and their sandwiches sans mayo. Really, the piece makes it really easy to like it. The characters jump off the page…er, screen. Marta is introverted and fun, comfortable with herself even as she buys into a lot of the same standards that keep her from being considered attractive by most people. Her friends are various shades of hilarious. There's Jayce, the guy she builds robots with, and [SPOILERS] I am so glad that the story sees fit to not only not put Marta and him together but to bust this trope directly in the text, getting a little meta in English class as the work gives a sly wink and reassurance to the reader that this is not going to be one of those stories.
Indeed, the romantic angles in the story were, I feel, rather nicely pulled off, putting Marta in the driver's seat most of the story but not simply flipping the script when it comes to who gets the girl/guy. It's a trajectory that could have been taken and one that, especially in comedy tales, often does get explored. But while the work is very funny, it doesn't settle for just falling into the same problematic patterns in reverse. Instead, it confronts the pressures that Marta lives with, the double standards at play that have kept Marta's dreams confined to just being dreams. And at the same time that it shatters the illusions that Marta was living with, it builds up a much more healthy situation and avenue for Marta to take that doesn't reduce her to a gender-swapped cliché.
And I have to talk a bit about the kaiju in this story, because they are so interesting. I don't normally think of kitchen appliances as monsters, but it does create a very striking visual to have a group of giant blenders (appropriately labeled a whir of blenders) stalking characters through a series of glass hallways and shuttered businesses. Having the action take place in St. Paul adds a nice layer to it because of the uniqueness of the skyways and because it isolates the characters who really can't do much outside in such sub-freezing temperatures. The mechanics of giant, sentient, evil appliances might not make any sense, but the story deals with this by embracing the weird and wonky nature of the premise. Who cares? It's fun! And I have to agree, because the story does such a nice job of easing the reader into the work, into the world, and into the characters. The pace is fast and the tone is chatty bordering on a nervous breakdown. The characters are forced to work together and get creative in order to save the quarterback and save the world.
And in the end it's just a fun story that takes the idea of kaiju and casts the story in a very unlikely place with a very unlikely cast with some incredibly unlikely monsters and it just works. It's light but it also knows when to slow things down and while a few of the more profound observations seemed a little abrupt at the time I was reading, they did work into the text and gave it some added weight to make the popcorn-action of the piece a bit more complex. If you're a fan of monsters, cats, or killer robots, then you should definitely check out this story!