|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"Birds On An Island" by Charlie Bookout ( words)
This is an interesting story that mixes an eye for myth and magic with a more mundane and brutal reality. The story stars Captain Paul, who runs a tour boat in Maine and isn't exactly prepared for a woman to show up wanting desperately to reach an island that's supposed to be off limits, an island covered in birds and caked in stories. For Paul the woman represents a break to the slow pace his life has developed, an excuse to do something foolish. For the woman, the island represents hope that has been nearly beaten out of her by a hard life. The story does not sugar coat the difficult realities of either the woman's or Paul's situation. There are false teeth and colostomy bags and injuries old and new. There's also the realities of poverty and the hope of maybe rising out of it. For both Paul and the woman, too, there is loss, and more specifically the loss of a spouse. It's this that drives them, that shapes them, and ultimately both dooms and saves them. It's because of that loss and the love they still feel that they are able to kindle some magic, to find something that works toward their goals, though not without further pain, death, and hardship. This is a story that explores the idea of halcyon, that things can decline and rise again, that life goes on, even when it feels like it can't or shouldn't. And I just like how the uglier parts of the story mix and merge with the myths, with the magic of the situation. With hope and with the power to do something good. It's certainly not an easy story to read, but it is emotionally weighty and poignantly understated. A great read!
"The Cold, Lonely Waters" by Aimee Ogden ( words)
Mermaids. In space. If that description alone doesn't make you interested enough to check out this story, then I'm not sure what else I can do. I mean, aside from reviewing it. Because it is a delightful and delightfully dark story about loneliness and the search of company among the stars. It's a beautiful premise made wrenching by the precariousness of the situation. The idea of a great glass orb traveling through space is amazing and visual and wonderful, but it evokes a seriously fragility and for the three characters inside the orb, hoping to find new life on a distant moon, it's a fragility made worse by factions within their own people who don't want mermaids to follow in the footsteps of humanity in reaching into outer space. The world building here is fascinating because it imagines this situation where mermaids have always lived beneath the waves and have somehow survived either a mass extinction above the water or a mass exodus of humans from Earth. Or both. What it means, though, is that mermaids have no one but themselves, and for creatures who have always been sort-of linked to humanity, it leaves them with this aching loneliness. And I love the character work of the mermaids inside the orb, the way that they interact and the way that they fear. Fear that they might find nothing. That they are wrong. That they are doing something bad. And yet through all of this the story holds to hope, to the hope of reaching out and find something. Finding another warm hand to hold to, to draw strength from. It's a story that is wildly imaginative and warmly beautiful, showing the power and value of exploration and that even a fragile hope can be strong enough to bridge worlds. A fantastic story!