“The Strawberry Queen of Irapuato” by Sarah Beaudette (1000 words)
No Spoilers: A group of people are held captive because of their difference. Because they have been altered by what I’m guessing is environmental pollution, from the effects of big agriculture. And for that reason they have been taken and imprisoned, hidden away so that people will not know what the price is for the heavy use of dangerous pesticides and other agriculture tech. One of the people especially, Irina, is determined to escape, to perhaps return to a life before her skin began growing a film of plastic over it. For others in the group, escape might not be possible, because of how their difference effects them, but for all of them there is this question of what comes next, what’s to be done with them. It’s a story that doesn’t offer up any easy answers, and there’s an ambiguity in my mind about what might happen with Irina. It’s touching but with a heavy darkness, looking at the human cost of practices that are designed for profit and not safety.
Keywords: Mutation, Pollution, Confinement, Powers, Escape
Review: For me a lot of this story comes down to what you believe happens with Irina. The text presents that she escapes, that she jumps to freedom by shattering the coating on her skin, leaving no other mark that she has returned to being “normal.” For the rest of the people there, it might be a sign of hope, that their own differences will be so easily defeated. That maybe they will go back to the way they were. And I like that there are parallels here to superhero stories, that maybe these are people who have developed “powers” in the vague sense and in the much more real sense mutations that don’t make their lives easier but rather threaten to kill them. What remains consistent is that there are groups who want to hold them, study them. And they themselves are caught between hope that maybe they are special and powerful and the fear that they are special but broken, too different to be able to live “normal” lives. And if you read Irina’s jump as freeing in a literal sense, then I think there’s something to be said about the hope they get from knowing that she’s out there. If the freedom is symbolic, though, and what’s really happened is that Irina killed herself, then it’s a bit different in terms of message. The hope is still there but it’s much more about meeting the end on personal terms, without giving in to the abuse of the situation. Whatever the case it’s an interesting piece that explores confinement and difference and hope, and it’s definitely worth checking out!
“Place Your Bets” by David Whitaker (1000 words)
No Spoilers: An investment banker visits an important client, one who enjoys the thrill of markets in flux, of gambling in the face of conflict, uncertainty, and the chance at winning big. Of course, that’s made a bit more difficult what with the empire being at peace for once. This investor has a long memory, though, and no small amount of resources. There’s a plan, though it’s one that the banker doesn’t catch at first. The piece spans a conversation, but there’s also the feeling that it goes much further than that. What they’re talking about is more than what’s good for markets, but rather how wealth inequality and corruption prospers. And it’s not with peace. Sharp and brutal, it reveals the nature of these kinds of back-room deals—the way the rich push their own agenda, regardless of who is hurt by it.
Keywords: Investments, Space, Economics, CW- Murder, Aliens, Gambling
Review: I like how the scope of this conversation changes. How insidious it is, because of how it works on the way that capitalism is built. The idea that money breeds more money, and that what facilitates that most is war. Is the loss of life. That for the very wealthy it’s not a question of should or should not, but rather scratching an itch, feeding into their drive to gamble not just with money, but with lives. The story depicts how little sentient life is valued among those who know its value—not in a spiritual sense but in an economic one, who know the dollar value of groups of people. And there’s something terrifying about the story, the way it seems so reasonable, so calm and collected, when tallying up past and future genocides. And how really it rings as true, not because there are tons of supervillain-esque rich people personally murdering sentient aliens in order to manipulate the galaxy into war, but because there are so many completely regular rich people who are _in essence_ doing just that. That, when really examined, the way that money works is as good as putting a gun to someone’s head and pulling the trigger. That our economic system is based on human suffering and death. And that, once you’ve accepted that, it’s so much easier to play along, to want your own slice, because it seems impossible to do anything about it. It’s a chilling story, and a rather great read!
“Five Times I Have Slept at Your Bedside” by Jared Oliver Adams (974 words)
No Spoilers: Following a single-child couple as their daughter grows up, the piece focuses on one of the parents as they encounter the numerous times during their daughter’s life that they stay in her room to (typically) help them through a difficult time. Heartwarming and full of care, the story visits how this parent seeks to comfort their daughter in her times of need. How they want in some ways to protect her but more than that to help her grow and develop without pressuring her into anything. The relationship between parent and child is one of respect and love, and it’s a touching portrait capped off at the bittersweet moment when the daughter goes off to college, and the parent will no longer be able to be a constant presence in her life.
Keywords: Parenting, Growing Up, Beds, Sleep, College, Empty Nest
Review: So I’m often wary of parenting stories but I think this one does a good job of showing how parents can respect the boundaries and consent of their children while also being present and wanting to be present. Or, to be a bit more blunt, the story depicts how this parents want to do things (say things or initiate touch) that they do not do without the consent of their child. This isn’t a story about a parent putting their own desire to feel like they’re doing “enough” above what their child wants. And it certainly doesn’t make the parent the authority on what it is the child _needs_. Which is perhaps a long way of saying that I do really like the depiction of family here, where the parents are very present and available and will make sure to offer support and comfort but don’t insist on it. They respect their daughter’s right to refuse even as they hope that she’ll continue to be open with them. And to me then it’s a story about trying to raise a child morally, to take that responsibility to the child as a person seriously. It’s super sweet and often super emotionally resonating (okay yes it might provoke a few tears). And I think it acknowledges just how large a role raising a child can have in the identity of a parent and how hard it can be when that role changes. There’s not a lot of exploration into what comes next, but really the story is about that part not being the real issue. That for these people, this is going to be a large shift that they’ll attempt together, but for the space of this story the focus is on their journey as parents of a child. Which in some ways is triumphant, and in other ways is a little sad. And in any event makes for a wonderful story!