|Art by Dario Bijelac|
“A Siren Song for Two” by Steven Fischer (1000 words)
This story captures for me a taste of the vast and unknown reaches of the cosmos, of pushing out onto strange new worlds without really understanding them, and the danger of being lost to the call of something foreign and deep and resonating. The narrator here is working on the planet Siren, important and valuable because of the song that it emits, a song that has a very definite effect on the human mind. The world is all ice and seismic shifts but the reason there narrator is there is to help build something that will capture the sound, the ice, and export it off world. As they work, other workers succumb to the sound, the song, and wander off into the ice, never to return. The narrator is on the planet with Chalia, their partner, and the action mainly follows the difference between the narrator and her, as they witness how the song creeps into her mind, gets its tendrils into her imagination and her longing. And I like how the narrator feels the music differently, is less effected by it in part because they are entranced already by Chalia’s music, by the same kind of longing so that they aren’t quite so hit by the song of Siren. I like, too, though, that part of it might also be that they’re more tone-deaf, that they aren’t hearing quite what everyone else is, and that what sets them apart as being less able to appreciate music is also what protects them from the worst of the song’s effects. It’s a story with a present darkness, quite literally in fact as the build site is surrounded by a darkness that people wander into, set in a space full of darkness that humans have already wandered into, full of strange lights and music. The piece for me examines how that feeling of being drawn pushes humans into discovery, into exploration, even as sometimes they have to rely on those with less imagination, less in love with the dark, to bring people back from the brink. An interesting and moving read!
“Claire Weinraub’s Top Five Sea Monster Stories (For Allie)” by Evan Berkow (1000 words)
Well this is a rather heartbreaking story about loss and about stories, about two people bound by love and by their passions forced apart, and how in speculative fiction the narrator, Claire, finds a way to move forward. It’s a flash piece told as a list of story recommendations but what it really does is chronicle the declining health of Allie, who is present now in memory and in the stories that they loved. I’m not going to lie a story about story recommendations is one that I can very much appreciate, the short synopses not really as important as the bits of domestic life with Claire and Allie that the memories surrounding the stories create. The piece does an excellent job of getting the reader, or me at least, invested in this relationship, charmed by the characters only to be fucking devastated as the reality of the situation drops. In some ways this is a tragic queer love story, which are at the best of times rather difficult, so certainly be warned there. The story wields some very heavy emotional weaponry to sell the relationship and then to break it apart, following Claire as they must deal with the prospect of losing the person who seemed to make life complete. More than merely sadness porn, though, I do feel like the story gets to something deeper, a way of capturing the scope of loss and the possibility of healing. The way that it offers Claire, through these stories that they shared with Allie, a means to imagine the path forward. Which is an interesting prospect, capturing the power of speculative fiction to imagine not only different worlds but to change the way we see this world, full of a magic and potential that is otherwise invisible. It’s a complicated story with a lovely feel to, and I definitely recommend checking it out.
“Monsters” by Edward Ashton (1000 words)
Okay not going to lie but there’s a bit of a cruel one-two punch between this story and the last in terms of welp I’m crying now. Here we find another couple dealing with chronic illness, here Daria sick with something and Niko trying to care for her, trying to keep her from the darkness without, which he imagines as a sea of hungry monsters waiting to drag her away. It’s something of a reversal of the last story, actually, where speculative fiction and ideas allowed for a certain amount of comfort with loss and grief, allowing a character to re-contextualize their situation to create a story of what was happening that they could process and accept. Here we find that Niko is using speculative elements, the monsters that plague him, to run away from the inevitable ending that is coming. He’s trying to bargain with a universe that doesn’t allow for bargaining and it’s wrenching and difficult to read at times because the emotion is there, his pain and fear so acute. Of course, is centering his pain and fear there isn’t a whole lot paid to Daria’s feelings beyond the physical symptoms of her illness and general exhaustion she feels. The story to me, then, becomes about Niko dealing with that selfishness, with his desires against Daria’s, and how he comes to listen, finally, to what he knows is right. It’s another emotionally battering story, one that doesn’t pull its punches or soften the weight of impact of what happens. Indeed, it seems to want the reader to feel the cost of the decision that’s made, the power of it, and how hard it is to make, even though without making it it’s Niko who would become the monster. A fine read and a great way to close out the issue!