“The Athuran Interpreter’s Flight” by Eleanna Castroinni (3591 words)
No Spoilers: Sam-Sa-Ee ia an Athuran, a member of an alien race whose brains can be put into human children’s bodies in order to create an interpreter, a sort of tool/machine that translates for Earthians, that allows them to conduct business with other alien peoples. The interpreters aren’t considered people, and aren’t supposed to remember anything, and aren’t supposed to be able to act on their own. And yet Sam-Sa-Ee, through the pain she experiences, through the situation she is put into, begins to find that maybe she is still able to do some things. Maybe enough to stop a tragedy, and even further exploitation. The piece is difficult and full of trauma, and in that it captures capitalism and colonialism very well. And it’s not unrelentingly dark, and has a strong vein of hope that refuses to be snuffed out.
Keywords: Aliens, Language, Translation, Interpretation, CW- Abuse (Rape?), Exploitation
Review: There’s a lot that’s difficult about this story, from the way that this person has been altered so that she can’t remember, so that she can’t speak for herself, can’t act for herself, to the way that she is abused by the Earthian Envoy because she cannot speak for herself or remember. But she does. She remembers. And I love that the story puts that emphasis on how powerful that becomes. How the fact that no one thinks of her as a person is what dooms them. It dooms her, as well, or at least it leads her through a lot of pain. But in another sense it’s what provokes her to act out. To resist harder. To fight. Because it’s because of the abuse that she remembers, and she hates. And it’s because of that hate that she’s able to do something. And it’s wonderful, because it’s such a small thing and yet it’s also so huge, because it reveals how much everyone relies on her, relies on these people who have been stripped of so much, in order to do business. No one learns each others languages. Instead, just by holding back a single sentence, she is able to completely ruin the Envoy’s business deal, and prevent a mine from being built that would poison the water for a great many Athurans. And I appreciate that for all the pain the main character goes through, she’s able to find her way back home. Changed, yes, but also still alive and still able to enjoy that life. Able to heal, perhaps. And I love that so much of this comes back to how her people, the Athuran’s, are underestimated and exploited, and yet still remain strong, and still resist, and still fight for justice. And it’s...well, it’s maybe not exactly fun, but it’s rather amazing. The prose is haunting and wrenching, the character work slowly emerging as Sam-Sa-Ee breaks through her abuse, and the world building exquisite. A fantastic read!
“Chasing the Start” by Evan Marcroft (8455 words)
No Spoilers: Sa Segokgo is a champion racer, and yet age is starting to be a factor for her, limiting her physically in ways she’s never delt with before. In a race through time in armored suits, though, she’s still got her experience and her drive to keep her going. Back again at an important race, she finds that her drive might be faltering some. At least, she can feel her age more, and fears that she might be racing for the wrong reasons. But she still does it, still fights against those seeking to dethrone her. And through this final race she pushes not to win, exactly, but rather to pay a debt she owes. It’s a thrilling and tight;y-paced story, reveling in the chaos and skill of the race, of the competition, but also looking back on Sa’s career, her motivations, and her heart.
Keywords: Racing, Armor, Age, Time Travel, Queer MC
Review: This story has such a wonderful flow to it, an energy and a grim determination. And I love Sa as a character, all of her drive and all of her stubbornness and all of her pride. In part because it doesn’t read as arrogance to me, but rather something like a lack of humility. She owns her skill, and her experience, and it allows her to succeed. And for all that she has done, she’s not satisfied. And I love that, to me, she’s not racing at this point to win. Not really. Nor to quiet the critics or to avoid thinking about time or death. Everyone else in the story seems to guess at her motives. Her rivals and critics and even her lover all think they might know why she keeps going, and yet its this intensely intimate thing, beecause of where she started, because of what inspired her to keep racing when she first wanted to quit. And the story builds all this up through a frantic race, while all hell is breaking loose through time itself, the race taking Sa through all of these battlefields and disasters. I guess I like the idea that she needs to bring her career full circle, to fulfill the promise to herself that she wouldn’t stop until she was ready. Not because of age, not because she wouldn’t win, but when she finally felt like it was enough, to that racer she was just starting out. It’s touching and it’s exhilerating and it’s so much fun. Seriously, it’s a wonderfully intense story that hits and doesn’t stop hitting and you should really go read it!
“Cassini’s Mini-Packets Home” by Jessy Randall
Somehow, thinking of personified cosmic machines makes for a rather wrenching and heartbreaking and yet beautiful and inspiring experience. Here, Cassini reports back on her progress, only her reports aren’t exactly what you might expect from a machine, from a space probe. First, they are full of life and enthusiasm. They are full of excitement! It’s obvious from the start that Cassini wants to do this, wants to enjoy it, wants to share her joy with the people back home, with the scientists who built and launched her. And the reports also reveal a character who is learning, who is figuring out how to be in part by how their reports are received. And while we get no actual view of the response to Cassini, there’s a lot that I take on implication. That the scientists bristle at her tone, at her joy. That in some ways they want her to be dignified, to not take ownership of her accomplishments. They want her humble, and serving, and quiet. And she refuses. There are small changes, as if time and the pressure to conform do get her down a bit, do refine her away from expressing the ure joy that she begins with, and yet at the same time she never loses her happiness, never gives into the complete demands of those around her. She goes out with a blast of glory, splintering into part that will live on, into images and data and a legacy of exploration and pushing boundaries. And there’s an infectious fun that goes along with this poem for me, where Cassini manages to capture a wonder of space that is almost childlike but isn’t. It’s an adult wonder that we don’t allow ourselves to experience because it’s read as childish, as immature. And yet there is a magic to space, an excitement for going out into the unknown, discovering previously unseen moons and worlds. It’s a refreshing, hopeful poem, for all that it features a bit of death and destruction, and it makes for a wonderful poem!
“King of Swords” by Evelyn Deshane
This poem speaks to me of transitions and memory, identity and the complex web of emotions that surround relationships when people both change and stay the same. To me, the story is told from the point of view of someone in a relationship with a trans man, witness to the changes that he undergoes and support and advocate for their partner. And the poem captures so much of what makes this situation difficult and complicated—the way that past is both erased and validated, the ways that bodies can change, and names can change, and yet at the same time it’s like wiping away something from a mirror so that it becomes clearer. Closer to the truth. And for the narrator, this means standing by and affirming their partner’s journey, his decisions, his identity. Against the tide of people who think that they know better. Especially with things like healthcare, where so much is stacked against trans people getting treatment. Where they have to navigate a minefield of deadnaming, shaming, concern trolling, and outright gatekeeping. And for the narrator to be there, to stand by their partner, to advocate for him and to help him to be heard and try to protect him some from the bullshit and pain that goes along with dealing with systems that don’t really understand tarns people. It’s a poem that captures in my opinion a bit of the mood of that, recognizing it as the battle it is, and framing these two people as fighting the good fight, with and for each other and themselves. It’s a wonderful read!