|Art by Jennifter Johnson|
"A Question of Faith” by Tonya Liburd (7394 words)
Aww. This story speaks to me of song and identity, power and mind. It finds Ceke, the head of a project to delve into the divide between brain and mind, body and energy, human and...something more. The setting built is a mix of ancient Egyptian with much more modern flavors, magic weaving into science so that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Which is great. I love stories that manage to imagine a world structured different from our own, so that I might see magic, but there’s an internal order to it, a logic that creates the groundwork for scientific thought in a world that has some form of magic. Ceke’s personal life is also carefully built, her and her wife, Ngware, trying to have a child made using both of their DNA, which is a tricky proposition here, the pregnancies more likely to end is miscarriage. Ceke’s relationship to Ngware, and the prospect of being a parent, is something that is ever-present in the story, where Ceke is much more driven toward her work, her profession. She’s dedicated to pushing forward the advance of knowledge and it’s partly because of her drive that things go...a bit off.
The action of the piece, which is intense and blends magic, song, and fire, focuses on a young man, Wahibra, who is volunteering to be experimented on as part of Ceke’s studies. He’s a young man with a mysterious past and that’s part of what makes him vulnerable to a power that he taps into, and that in turn taps into him. And I like that give and take, that Wahibra is not wholly in control of the situation, even as what is really In Control seems to be more of an idea than a person. The concept of godhood, of power, is examined here and it’s fascinating to see play out. Also rather intense, as the confrontation between Ceke and this force is wrenching and awesome, Ceke pulled in many directions at once, which is a great parallel to what’s going on in her heart as well. And I like the balance she finds, the way that she neither gives into the voice of power promising her the world nor to the full weight of responsibility and duty to her profession. Despite her fears, she makes room for herself and for her family and I just love where the story takes her and how she chooses to meet the future. It’s a complex, fun read with a dazzling world building and a resonating emotional impact. Go read it!
“It Came Back” by Samantha Lienhard (9815 words)
This story takes a look at nightmares and familial weight when Luna’s parents die and the family house needs to be dealt with. It’s not something that they really look forward to, as the house has always been a place where they didn’t feel comfortable or welcome. And it’s a piece that leans heavily on Gothic traditions (the haunted house, the ghosts of the past, the creepy old people, the found text framing), where Luna decides to throw open all the doors of the house and finds that there were some things locked away for very good reason. Unwittingly they step into an old wrong and are forced to take the place of their grandfather who had been running from a single event until his death. And it’s a story that walks a rather delicate line between using the Gothic to tell a horror story and using the tropes of the form to perhaps show that it’s having a bit of fun, as well.
At least, for me, there were times when the story seemed to stop taking itself quite so seriously. Everything follows the Gothic script very well, including the constant stream of gasps and running out into the night and people not getting to finish reading things. Which works to create tension but (and I’m sorry if it was meant wholly seriously) also gives the piece a sort of melodrama that I appreciated. This is a story that embraces the idea that the past is full of demons and secret societies and strange artifacts and things to endanger the very soul. And it mixes that into a present that would seem boring (and is rather boring) until the main character enters the house. It’s like the house is this lurking cliché that the main character has been avoiding their whole life, and the kinda ridiculous death of their parents have forced them to face it, to enter into that story and be doomed by it. It’s a story about falling into the pitfalls of inheritance, where sometimes what a person gets is just an added burden, weight, or punishment. Getting a Creepy House as inheritance and then having to deal with it is a classic setup, and the story uses the idea well, crafting a dark tale that is full of small twists and a great found-text layered narrative. And it’s an interesting story, one that’s rather fun to read and that builds to its climax well, using every Gothic trick in the book to bring this unspeakable dread out of the Old Country and into a small quasi-suburban town. A fine read!