|Art by Julie Dillon|
"Rising Star" by Stephen Graham Jones (2254 words)
This story takes the idea of time travel and twists it, creating a interesting fun take on a genre that I personally sometimes struggle with. The piece is written as a proposal to a vague government or scientific body that is willing to grant a single project a test run with time travel, with sending a single person back with nothing but their skin to some distant past. For science. Because of course. But part of what is charming about the story is that it doesn’t present itself as dry. Instead it’s self-assured and wry, acknowledging the Herculean task of picking out just one project but also easing the minds of the board in charge with the assurance that, given that this is time travel we’re talking about, the decision has already been made. And I love that the story comes down to doubt and evidence, that the proposal is less making the argument for why this should happen and more making the argument for why this has happened. Which is great because it plays with the tropes of time travel and with the way that this is (in the setting) something so new. That it would only make sense that this has already happened given some recent discoveries that seem just a bit too coincidental. It’s a great bit of speculating and it does make a compelling argument for why this is the route that the board will take. [SPOILERS] That the story itself never answers whether or not this is the case is a nice touch that leaves the reader to decide what happens next. It’s a fun and rather subtly powerful way to let the story work it’s magic, so that the reader becomes the judge. Has it made it’s case? Are you unconvinced? Will the story make you want to go look up if these things are real or not? Whatever the case, it’s a great read!
"With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips" by Beth Cato (4574 words)
This is a story of ghosts and hauntings, a story of what war leaves behind and what it brings home. For Vera, a young girl whose home is haunted by her dead uncle, the war has taken much away, but it’s also given something too. An opportunity to work with magic, to work with Magdelena, a woman who can use magic to, among other things, seal ghosts so that they cannot speak or move things around. Given the amount of dead wandering the city, it’s a skill in high demand. And Vera is a fun character, bright and hopeful even in the presence of so much misery and pain. She shows the flexibility and ability to thrive that children can have, the way that they can adapt to almost any situation. So yes, even in a story that is mostly about the ghosts of dead soldiers, there’s still something fun about it all, something triumphant and joyous. I love the way the magic works here, in rituals but also in people, so that you have those like Vera who can speak to animals and who are more sensitive. The story also captures nicely a lot of the insecurities of young people, their wanting to please those they look up to and their terror at disappointing someone. It’s well done and the character work with the older characters is spot on as well, showing people dealing with loss and scarcity in realistic ways. There’s a pervasive pain that settles in that these people are still able to rise above by helping each other and drawing together. At the same time, the story shows some of the fragility of that, how drawing together means letting people in and caring about them and how that can bring with it the possibility of disappointment and betrayal. I’m glad, though, that the story resolves itself in a hopeful way, leaving the door open for healing and respect and care. It’s a lovely story and another great read!
"Auspicium Melioris Aevi" by JY Yang (5439 words)
This is a strangely beautiful story about choice and about expectations. About training and indoctrination and change. In it, the fiftieth copy of Harry Lee is a man being prepared to represent the Academy in the greater world. Harry Lee, a man associated with conviction and industry and innovation. And this fiftieth Harry Lee trying to live up to the memory of his progenitor. Trying to be the equal to that man. On the surface, it’s so that he can win. Because he’s one of many Harry Lee’s that have been grown to represent the Academy and their school is a constant test by which they compete for a limited number of seats for graduation. And Harry seems assured of graduating except that in this last tests he seems unable to give the answers that are expected of him. He’s doing things differently, and learning that doing so might be more in line with Harry Lee, but that it might not get him what he wants. The story really to me seems to be about the way that people are prepared to be just copies of the past. Fed the biographies and skills and ideologies of the “great men” of the past so that we can all go out into the world and contribute to industry. So that we can land good jobs and uphold the status quo. And yet as Harry shows the system is rigged. It doesn’t have the flexibility that really serves it. It doesn’t allow its students, its citizens, to have any meaningful control. Which is what makes Harry want to rebel. To do something different. And I love where the story goes with that, how it explores just how pervasive our training is when it comes to what we can conceive of to do. Not necessarily what we can do, but what we are capable of imagining. It’s a point that the ending does a magnificent job of driving home, that rebellion in some ways is easy. That resisting a bad system is in some ways easy. What is more difficult is to imagine a better system and to try and take steps toward it. A wonderful read!
"time, and time again" by Brandon O’Brien
Welp, might gonna go cry for a while now, hold on. … … …okay, I’m back. Wow, this is an emotionally dense and devastating poem that focuses on the impact of loss and the power of love and the desperation that is ignited by the spark of absence. The narrator of the poem has lost a lover and, more than that, a love. A man who the narrator could share a joy and a passion with, only to be taken away by an accident. And, unable to accept that death, the narrator slips between universes, between realities, between times, searching for a way to reclaim what he has lost. And the poem shows beautifully that there are things that cannot be recovered from. That cannot be forgotten. That there are wounds that go through this time, this place, and put a mark on the very fabric of existence. That sense of needing this to be different, needing it to be better, is palpable. Is consuming. The poem does a superb job of revealing a character in pain, reaching out for the past, for the future, not to heal but to undo the wound that has been dealt. I don’t even know how much more I can say about this other than damn, I love it. I love the feeling of yearning here, the feeling of having finally, finally met someone who quiets the busy parts of yourself and then have to face losing them. It is a powerful and gripping read that manages to evoke a multiverse of tragedies and you really do need to go and read this one immediately. Just…maybe prepare your feels ahead of time. You’ve been warned (now seriously, go read it)!
"Protestations Against the Idea of Anglicization" by Cassandra Khaw
This poem contrasts nicely with the heartbreak of the last poem to bring you something completely different—rage. Because this poem is a sort of manifesto, a declaration from a narrator fed right the fuck up with colonialism and Western superiority and exceptionalism. The poem is addressed directly to this, to a kind of person more than any specific person, to a kind of mentality more than any specific place. But it does take on the racist bullshit of people exoticising Asian cultures and Asian names. Calling out the way that people use language as a tool of oppression, as a way to devalue people like the narrator. The piece oozes a sort of anger and confidence, a certain fuck-you that really makes the language pop. And I like how the poem is addressed directly, so that the reader becomes a target of sorts, is forced to deal in some ways with the aggression of the poem. Which is great because for me the poem is about dealing with the aggression of the world, with the aggressive racism that so many people have to deal with on a daily basis. The story aims at something so foundational and universal as name. And looks at the way that people become dehumanized and revalued based on their name. How it sounds, how it looks, how easy it is for certain people to pronounce. It’s a poem that pushes the reader to face this provocation and demands that they see that this is no attack. That the true attacks go on in the guise of appropriation and colonialism and imperialism and what this is is self-defense, is holding onto something that is owned and should not be given up. The poem is a call to back off, to check yourself, and to be mindful of what you do when you approach difference. And it’s a bold and bracing read that I thoroughly recommend!
"Act Up, Rise Up" by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
This is a great and important essay on the need to be inclusive in resistance, to not just value those who are most able to march, or throw a brick, or run from police or harassers. Especially when it comes to civil disobedience, it is important to remember that, as the essay points out, disabled rights are civil rights. And the right to march should not be based on the ability to walk, just as the ability to contribute to resistance should not be based on the ability to speak or see or travel. The piece reminds readers that for many disabled people, the act of defiance never ends. Because we do not live in a world that makes room for disabilities. Because we do not live in a world, and especially do not now, where disabled people have a secure place and protections. Like so many, disabled people are at an even greater risk now that the government (which was supposed to oversee anti-discrimination in this country) has abdicated much of its responsibility or has threatened to abdicate. And that we as able-bodied people engaged in resistance must make sure we live up to the ideals we are fighting for. That we do have to fight for a future where everyone has a seat at the table. That we do have to fight in ways that are inclusive, that do not turn anyone away because of their bodies, because of their wheelchairs or canes. The essay does a great job of asking people to remember what they are fighting for as much as they remember who they are fighting against. It’s a great read and another must-read in the issue!
"Resistance 101: Basics of Community Organizing for SF/F Creators & Consumers, Volume One: Protest Tips and Tricks" by Sam J. Miller
This last piece of this month’s content does a great job of bringing a lot of the ideas introduced together. On the one hand this is a rather great beginner course for attending and people a part of protests and activism. On the other hand, I love that the piece also goes into a lot of what’s behind the urge to protest and what makes a protest successful. Not necessarily achieving the primary goal of a march or a sit-in, but building a community of people who care for each other and who will fight the harder for it. That idea of community-building and how especially SFF writers and fans can relate to that is a great way to connect what’s going on “our there” in politics, in the streets, in the offices of congresspeople getting flooded with calls, to what’s going on “in here” in SFF. In continuing the fight for inclusiveness in publications and at conventions. In pushing for equity and against the systemic and entrenched issues that exist within our communities. The practical information the essay gives is great and useful (as someone who has only just started doing more activism the list is incredibly useful and gives me loads of ideas on how to get better at standing up and fighting back). And the piece is just incredibly encouraging to read both as someone very new to activism in the physical “I’m protesting in person” sense and in the “I want to carry that activism with me into everything I do” sense. There’s work to be done. It’s work that many people in SFF were already engaged in. And it just got even more important. Globally and nationally but also personally and communally. So yeah, it’s a great way to close out the content this month and you should definitely give it a read!