“Darner” by Jonathan Laidlow (7715 words)
This is a rather creepy and unsettling story about the malleability of reality, about people telling a story over a city, over a place, and that story becoming real, or something close to it. The story is about lies and stories and how the main character, Temple, relates to both those concepts. A college student looking to switch majors so that she can stay in school, Temple meets her new adviser, Professor Greene, who encourages her to see the city around her and start telling its stories. To Temple this means lying, means allowing him to get her to play something of a game, imagining the modern city as somehow over top a different, more fantasy-tinged one, where dragons and young warriors and blood cults move about and beasts and monsters lurk around the periphery. Because of Temple’s past and her own joy in creating stories, in lying, she seems a natural talent for the story that Greene is looking for, helping him to imagine this world and to make it something that interacts with them. It’s also something that makes the story a little blurry for me, because it never really draws hard lines between reality and this fantasy, never reveals if there is a difference at all. What we know is that Temple wants to believe in part because she’s dissatisfied with the world around her, with the life she’s been living. And Greene takes advantage of this, most likely because he feels the same way, but where Temple wants some excitement, some magic, he wants something darker, and so Temple gets used. And that’s where a lot of the horror of the story comes from, from how Greene manipulates the situation, always being helped by Temple, always feeling like for all his hunger he isn’t quite as good at telling the story as she is. It’s something that haunts her and changes her life, and something the story explores to great effect, imagining her reacting to what Greene does and seeking some meaning from it. She once again tries to create a story, this time to make sense of everything that has happened, and I like how it achieves that, how it plays with boundaries and crossing them, and how Temple is especially able to slip through into a more nebulous space because of her affinity for lies and stories and her not really fitting in anywhere. It’s a strange story, to be sure, but it’s also one that’s darkly compelling, and you’ll definitely want to make sure you spend some time with this piece!
“The Person You Are Trying To Reach is Not Available” by and translated by Andrea Chapela (6044 words)
This story speaks to me of technology and life and death and dignity. In it, Ana is living in New York and gets a message that her mother, Magdelena, is in the hospital back in Mexico. What follows is an examination of the ways that technology infiltrates our lives, the setting full of ways that humans have integrated with tech, always wearing their connections to the net, to everything around them, their homes and their worlds largely automated and intelligent. For Magdelena, though, it’s more like being caught between world, caught between the time of her own mother, when people didn’t often live to a hundred and her own time, where organ replacement and other medical advances mean that she could live to a hundred and twenty. For her, the technology is a distraction, is something foreign and unnatural. For Ana it’s just life, and yet there’s something in her mother’s outlook, especially in the face of her mother’s mortality, that is disquieting and disturbing but also beautiful, because it is her mother, because this is her choice, even if Ana doesn’t fully understand it. And I love how the piece seems to be largely about distance, technology allowing people to be connected but putting up these barriers between them. And these barriers come tumbling down in the face of Magdelena’s condition, her approaching death. Ana learns a bit of what it was like in the past to care for a sick relative, to watch them wither and expire. And in confronting that Ana has to confront the specter of death, which is something else that people in this future are insulated from, seeing life and death from a distance, as something almost impersonal. And I like how the piece complicates that, how it stresses how important it is that people choose how they approach death, and that it’s important to retain something personal and intimate. It’s a wrenching read and a great story!
“A Mortal Legend” by Marcelo Cohen, translated by Kit Maude (1612 words)
This is a rather strange story about a young woman named Lina who begins to find body parts in containers of ice cream at the place she works. Taking these parts home, she piles them and hopes, and from this she becomes a sort of Frankenstein, where the reconstructed man comes alive, or perhaps was always alive, but in any case the tone that drives the story is one of disappointment and hope, frustration and a dull ache. Lina’s life is spent in two worlds, the banality of the ice cream shop and the danger of clubs and a sort-of gang structure where Lina hopes to get excitement and fulfillment. And yet it feels to me like what Lina is hoping for, what she yearns for, is some measure of satisfaction and meaning. She is denied this at work and in her personal forays into the club, and so all of this frustrated want gets put into the body parts she finds, and this transforms into a man who she hopes will change things. But the magic of the story might be strange and transforming, but it does not banish the dull hurt that she feels, does not fulfill her as she hoped. It’s like the suppression that defines the setting is too strong, that it gets into even the magic so that there is no way around the realities of life, the need for money, the way that people seem unable to find passion and connection. The life that Lina finds so stifling is not something that magic is going to save her from, and the realization of that is shattering and numbing all at once. I love the way the story builds up this situation, the creepiness of it that underlines the darkness of the world that Lina must live in. But even so it is a dull sort of darkness, one that reflects a casual brutality that is never dispelled or defeated. It’s a wonderfully weird piece that you should definitely check out!
This is a poem very much concerned not only with time but how we perceive time. The plot of the piece revolves around people finding a way to “repeal” time, which here seems to mean breaking apart the idea and perception of linear time, where everything happens in a line. Instead it seems that people are able to see all time at once, and this greater understanding of time leads to a fuller picture of life and existence. The narrator speaks of being able to see new structures in time and also being able to see hwo things always loop back around, how things are and always have been. There is a sense that with the repealing of time things become eternal because they are always present, always visible, always essentially happening even as they are simultaneously not. It’s an interesting way of framing the story, and I like that the poem structures itself then with a rather minimal form, very short lines and very short stanzas, giving this feeling for me of space and distance but also the sense that the linear line has been broken and broken and broken, and what I’m seeing in the poem is something more cyclical, something more complex than just one line stretching across the page. Especially when the poem brings itself to address its target, the “you” of the story with whom the narrator is in love. This person is always withheld, always rather mysterious, but we get a sense of them through the narrator, this outline of a person who is loved, who the narrator wants to speak to but perhaps cannot. The desire to repeal time often rises from a desire to go back in time, but I like how the poem doesn’t quite fall into that, instead shows a recognition that forward or back, the love the two characters share is shared forever, both stretched infinitely back and infinitely forward, and there’s a definite tenderness to that sentiment here, a brush of fingertips, of lips, and a long heavy breath. It’s a lovely poem that you should set some time aside for!
Five Haiku Poems by Kitaōji Tsubasa, translated by Annie Sheng
Here five poems all weave together small glimpses and feelings into a whole that feels waiting and dangerous, equal measures magical and technological and dark. The central images of each piece feel mostly natural. Clouds and warm water and the feeling of the seasons. There is a focus here on spring and the coming and fading of the season. We see antlion larvae and allusions to a festival of dolls, and through it all there is something looming. That this season has brought with it something besides the natural changes in weather and mood. Conflict and war are lurking under the surface, people trying to teach AI to feel because the sky is suddenly full of drones and to me there is just this feeling of waiting for something to go wrong. Throughout the poems again and again there seems to be a peace, but also an almost mourning anticipation. That the narrators are looking at these moments with a sort of wistfulness, knowing that they will not last, that as spring moves to summer to autumn to winter that there will be harshness and conflict and likely death. It’s not something the poems get to because they’re grounded in that moment when things start to slip, where the inevitability of trouble is gentle and muted, but still there. These are some beautiful pieces that work on many subtle levels and I love how they are grouped, how they build on one another. They are amazing and you should definitely spend some time with these!