|Art by Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor|
“Tumbledown” by Kameron Hurley (8700 words)
This story explores plague and hope, disability and survival, as Sarnai is...not exactly asked to bring a cure to a deadly plague out to a settlement in danger of being mostly or completely wiped out. It’s not exactly a prospect that Sarnai cherishes, mainly because it seems such a lost cause and waste of life, the heavy implication that she’s not expected to live. Part of the setup and, indeed, much of the story, seems to me to be about Sarnai’s outlook on the mission, starting out very hostile to it and then slowly coming to cling to it, to begin to see it in a different light. Of course, I was a little uncomfortable about how that point was emphasized, because it seems that throughout the story Sarnai was told she was being too negative. That she needed to hope more. That she needed to be more optimistic. Which I understand in many ways, but given that the story doesn’t really contradict that she’s being sent mostly to give the appearance of care rather than in a real attempt to solve the problem (if it was really a priority one would think they’d send more than one pair of people?). And...I like where the story goes, how it pits Sarnai against her own doubts and her past and against the elements of this planet that humans have colonized and that seems to be fighting back against them with the harshness of the environment and the plagues that ravage communities. So it’s a story about building something in a dangerous, difficult landscape. About community overcoming adversity. It’s just that part of the message seems muddied to me when looking at the colonial and exploitative nature of the human mission on the planet and the way that Sarnai, for all she’s shown to be resourceful, smart, and resilient, is also shown to be...ultimately wrong to be upset about the assignment and situation. So I think that it’s a story that has a lot to offer, and it’s a rather gripping read with an awesome alien bear. But I did have a few reservations, so I recommend people read this one and see what you think.
“The Man in the Crimson Coat” by Andrea Tang (5000 words)
This is a story that unfolds like a fairy tale told in a dystopic nightmare, where corporate interests have replaced nations and people are subject to the worst sort of abuses and a cyborg killer wages a one-person war against corruption. Or maybe a two-person war. One that used to include Josefina, who the cyborg, Marcellus, adopted as a young girl. Who provided for him a sort of family and companionship, but who couldn’t live with the violence and the brutality of the crusade, one that increasingly saw collateral damage like that which killed her parents. The story picks up as Josefina is grown and looking for her former guardian, and learning what he’s up to. The setting is bleak but almost familiar. This sort of dystopian setting mixes punk aesthetics with casual violence, blue alcohol, and seedy motel rooms. At the same time, the fairy tale plays in the background, beneath the grunge, mostly hidden but peeking through in small ways, where Marcellus is a noble warrior and Josephina a sort of princess meant to save him. It’s a comfort in a time and place that is without comforts, but even so the cycle that the character find themselves in takes on some archetypal structures, pushing them back into a moment of sacrifice and loss. Because to me the story is about the danger of that fairy tale making the grim realities of the setting into easy equations of good and evil. And I love love love the reversal that happens through the story, or the reversals, leading the characters to question who ever in this family was in need of comfort, and who was saving who. It’s a deep and dark story that takes a while to really get to the meat of its conflict, but it’s plenty fun while it gets there. A fine read!