|Art by Max Mitenkov|
“An Unexpected Boon” by S.B. Divya (6100 words)
This story focuses on patterns and on people, on the way that the world is hostile toward those who seem different, and how for one pair of siblings, sometimes the only way to reach true happiness is to embrace those dangerous differences. The story follows Kalyani, a young (probably autistic) girl, and her older brother Aruni, who is watching after them while their parents are away. Kalyani’s way of seeing the world is very much defined by numbers and by data, by riddles and routines, while touch and the unexpected cause her great distress. Aruni looks after her as best he can, but he too sees her largely as a burden. When a travelling sage gives Kalyani a boon for her silence and service, though, it sets off a chain of events that gets...pretty disastrous. I like how the story handles Kalyani, though, not framing her as broken or lesser for all that people treat her like she’s weird and wrong, a punishment on her family. And while it does grant her some powers as part of what happens to her, she never stops being herself, and her power does not erase her identity or who she is. The prose is strong and the story as a whole has a sweep to it, a tension that comes from knowing that the world does not treat difference well, that it seems almost inevitable that something Bad will happen. And yet for all the Bad that does, indeed, happen, the story doesn’t revel in sadness or despair. Indeed, it gives Kalyani the tools to get herself to where she wants to go, and does it without requiring her to change or sacrifice herself. In many ways the story is about how she is able to see the world differently, not in a way that makes the world unmanageable, but in a way that makes sense and can in fact help her family into a better situation. It pushes them to recognize that the system doesn’t work for them, either, for all they seek to defend it. But she can see through it, sees the flaws in it, and sees her way toward a better life, one where she might fail at the duties expected of her, but can excel in ways completely unexpected and wonderful. A fantastic read!
“Untilted” by K.A. Teryna, translated by Alex Shvartsman (7700 words)
This is a strange but rather charming story about pain and about loss and about memory and about healing. It features a boy named Marcus and a woman named Dahlia and a magic music box. I love the way the story moves, the cadence of the story, almost musical itself, the way that Marcus and Dahlia move through the world, the way the story skips between their perspectives, Marcus’s bright and sunny and Dahlia’s pained but intrigued, distracted, both looking for a reason to go on and dreading it because of what it might mean. And at its core I think the story has a lot to say about pain and grief, about how Marcus’s quest is about retrieving a grief that was taken from him, that he wants to feel so that he can have closure and move on, and that Dahlia’s quest is for relief, for a respite from her pain so that she can sort things out and get some distance from it, can have a chance to heal some without the pounding, overwhelming pain of what has happened. And the story, while being very much about pain, manages to be a lot of fun, driven by Marcus’s innocence and pep, his desire to set right this wrong that has happened and to help people. He’s just random enough to be disarming, nonthreatening enough to cute, and earnest enough to be endearing. The bond that he and Dahlia form is quick but strong, both of them having experienced losses and both of them trying to make sense of it. But it’s Marcus who can see the clearer because he doesn’t have his pain, and so he almost becomes the adult, the one driving, while Dahlia is more stunned, more willing to go along because she feels directionless. It’s a great combination and a great exploration of the different ways pain can take people, can numb people, can make people want to give up. And how, when people help people, take an interest in people, they can push past that toward a place of healing. Another fabulous story!