|Art by Dario Bijelac|
“Crater Meet” by Brian Trent (1000 words)
This story takes a look at the distance between enemy and friend set against the backdrop of the trenches of World War I. A lot like the Christmas ceasefire, where the two sides came together to play football and otherwise bond, the story features some German and some British soldiers meeting in No Man’s Land in order to share a meal and play chess and tell stories. It’s a story that’s very much about how the distance between the trenches was, at this point, largely conceived at the top of the Chain of Command, where nations battled nations but where the people were not quite so taken by the same hate. They were stuck just as much as the soldiers on the other side, and from this shared pain and suffering there is something like empathy that develops, compassion and fellowship despite them being on different sides, despite that they must try to kill each other. But here the focus is on the peace, is on the understanding and the desire to end the fighting, to resist the orders of useless slaughter in a war that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense for anyone fighting it. This is not a war of nationalism, exactly, not about world domination. It’s a conflict that is often thought of as the last war where something like this would be possible, fought in lines and very slowly, the weapons becoming deadlier and deadlier but a strange sort of etiquette still in the back of a lot of people’s heads. It’s certainly a rather pivotal moment in terms of the scope of wars, but the story chooses to hold to this idea that moments of kindness and understanding can exist even here, and in some ways are even more important here, in the presence of death. It’s an interesting story, and a rather fun one, even not being SFF. A fine read!
“The Stars and the Rain” by Emily McCosh (1000 words)
This is a wrenching story about family and about distance. About illness and about powerlessness. About a main character who leaves her family behind at least in part because of a beloved brother who has a chronic and apparently terminal condition. They leave because they don’t want to watch their brother die. They leave because they don’t want to make his death about her desires. But she leaves. They leave to go capture in pictures the aftermath of a war on a distant planet. But they continue to correspond with their brother, their relationship not waning as they grow, for all that they don’t see each other in person. And I love how the story circles wide around the specter of the brother’s death, this moment that the main character keeps expecting, so that they allow a distance between them and their brother, to protect both of them. And the way they communicate, through pictures of their worlds, is touching and beautiful. That the brother, too, is waiting for his time to be up, that he is just as scared, just as hesitant to trust, is something I think the story handles well, and how the siblings are able to eventually try to bridge the gap between them is touching and amazing. It’s just such a warm story, not happy exactly for all that it’s dealing with pain and with this idea that they might not have time, and their time together might be touched by the sadness of the loss they’re all waiting for, but that it shouldn’t keep them apart, that it shouldn’t mean they can’t try, can’t help each other now. The world building is light but resonates with the rest of the story, the siblings having been through their own sort of war, an internal struggle against their fears that has left their relationship strained, damaged, but still alive and still waiting for them to return to heal it, for however long they have. Just...just go read the story. It’s sweet and uplifting and fantastic!
“Baker” by Sheila Massie (999 words)
This story finds Rafael, a baker, facing the pervasive problems of his city—a city where demons plague nearly everyone, from wealthy to poor, from old to newborn. These demons ride the people they plague, prompting them to larger and larger cruelties, their aim to stomp out compassion, to put people against people. And Rafael is a special kind of baker, one who able to use his magic to infuse special loaves with a sort of power that can fight back against the demons, that can energize people to be more free of the dark influence. And the story, for me, revolves around Rafael trying to figure out how best to use his ability. Trying desperately to try and discover where his bread will have the most impact. Because there isn’t enough of his magic, isn’t enough that he personally can di in order to push back against the weight of the demons. Which for some is enough of an argument to do nothing, and that sentiment has been around a lot of late, typically from those who are frustrated that they lack the power to change everything but still find themselves with an abundance of power and energy. Rafael is not that poor off, so he feels the responsibility to act, but there are always others who decide they shouldn’t help anyone because what does it matter if it doesn’t solve the problem? What does it help when it’s not permanent, when the magic does not sustain a person indefinitely? But I like how the story looks at that...well, really not mattering. That for power and despair it’s not an all or nothing proposition. That Rafael’s responsibility is not eased just because his actions might ultimately prove futile, that indeed it becomes more important to do what he can, to act as best he is able. And I do like that the story seems to say that sometimes the best a person can do is to help someone else to help people. That compassion is always worth giving, and that in the face of overwhelming darkness, keeping the light as long as possible still does good, still saves lives and keeps hope alive. A great way to close out the issue!