|Art by Rubén Castro|
“My Struggle” by Lavie Tidhar (7400 words)
This is another alt-history story that imagines Hitler as a private detective in London in the late 1930s following his tumble from power after losing the elections that, in our history, brought him firmly to power. And again the story is beautifully framed, nested into the story of Shomer, a man living in the Berlin ghetto at (I imagine) the same time the fictional story happens. So that the story becomes a sort of spell that Shomer is trying to cast, to rewrite a history in order to remove the atrocity of what is happening to him and his family. The piece captures a nice noir style, Hitler not only down-on-his-luck but constantly getting himself into trouble because of his beliefs and his loud mouth. Which becomes almost comedic given that while in noir bad things happening to the main character is often used to elicit sympathy...well, there’s no real sympathizing with Hitler. His defeats here come across more as a way to try and bring some levity into a history that had so little, to imagine an alternative to the massive loss of life that Hitler orchestrated. Again the story also pulls historical celebrities into the mix, here casting Hitler as being hired by his old frenemy Himmler to locate and obtain the Spear of Destiny. It’s kind of a ridiculous plot but it works, creating this nearly farcical experience but with teeth because of the character, because of the framing of it. And okay, I love how Hitler, for all his fascist lean, can’t seem to understand that in London he’s the foreigner and he’s the one who should be fearful of people wearing armbands and shouting slogans. It’s a very striking moment when Hitler can go on about his brilliant tactics and the good old days when he was in charge but those same tactics here would see him murdered in a heartbeat. Which does then carry forward, through fiction and time to make a statement on fascism now, on the horrendous damage it an do, if allowed. So yeah, another interesting bit of Hitler SFF that’s certainly worth checking out!
“So Sings the Siren” by Annie Neugebauer (1000 words)
This is a rather creepy and very short story about pain and about art and about performance. It features a girl accompanying her mother to a sort of concert. One where a siren will be performing. It’s the girl’s first such concert, and the story does a great job of capturing the mundanity of it, the ordinariness of it. It’s how the story is able to establish and sell the darkness that is at first concealed, showing that not only is there a price to be paid for this performance (by the siren), [SPOILERS!!!] but how normalized it has become in this world, in this society, that someone can be tortured to death on stage so that others can be entertained and moved by the sounds she makes. And for me it’s something that makes the story examine a lot of what goes into art and how people value art and what people expect from it. There’s certainly an idea out there that art should hurt, that it should require suffering to do well. And the story shows how this sort of system, where art requires not only pain but death, and a specific kind of gendered violence and torture. Seeing it at work, seeing this girl becoming desensitized to it, indoctrinated by it, mistaking the beauty of the siren with the sound of her pain, is wrenching and difficult and just yeah, fuck. But I like how the story sets this all up and I like the implications of it, the way it seems to me to seek to shine a light on how we treat art, how we require especially certain kinds of people to perform their pain for our amusement and entertainment. And how those who are essentially tortured are expected to do so willingly in order to be a part of the art, in order to get a chance to perform. It’s weird and messed up and uncomfortable but I think it’s a rather great read!
“Penelope Waits” by Dennis Danvers (4000 words)
This story speaks to me of potential and isolation, of feeling trapped in a situation always waiting to be rescued, waiting for someone to come and make that waiting meaningful. For Cindy, the waiting seems to be every day life in her small town with her often-cheating boyfriend and her job at the dog wash where she connects much more with the dogs than the people. She’s taking classes in an attempt to move into a better life, but the path is winding and feels filled with obstacles. When her boyfriend claims to be abducted by aliens, though, it opens a door that at first she can’t seem to close, and then one that she doesn’t want to close. I love how the story builds up the setting, the small town life and the general poverty that the main character lives in that doesn’t exactly feel like going without but is so very isolating and, for Cindy, unfulfilling. She has the potential to do much more challenging things, and instead she’s stuck waiting, and I like as well how the story brings in classic literature (the Odyssey most prominently) to get her to question what she’s doing and examine where she is and where she might be going. The situation is a bit bizarre as the story moves forward, but I like how it creates this dilemma, Cindy basically looking at the hero’s journey, the call to action, and not being sure what to do about it. Her entire life it’s like she’s been taught to want to be Penelope, waiting for someone to come for her, and I love how the story complicates that and allows her the take a chance and move. It’s a hopeful story that’s not exactly as dark as I’m used to from the publication, but the oppressive mood of the setting, the general unpleasantness of the people around Cindy, those fit quite well. And in any event it’s a rather fun and thoroughly enjoyable story that I very much recommend!
“The Case of the Mysterious Meat” by Kate Ingram (800 words)
This is...a strange piece, but hearing the limits of the contest it came out of (written in under an hour and with a specific prompt), it’s a rather fun and darkly delightful story about a sad private detective named Mauve and a suspicious steakhouse/petting zoo. The piece moves quickly and captures a nice quasi-noir parody style where Mauve isn’t much of a detective but does manage to cut right to the heart of what’s going on in rather short order. The story mixes styles, ideas, and weirdness and provides a fun, if perhaps sometimes jarring adventure that I feel is aimed more at comedy than anything else, but does pick at a few darker elements, which come through nicely. I don’t have a huge amount to say about it, because I think given its mode of creation and overall impact it’s something to just let happen rather than examine too closely. It’s fun and it’s funny and it has a secret llama and really, what more can you ask for? It’s certainly a neat little piece and it brings a nice close to the original fiction of the issue. A fine read!