|Art by Likhain|
“Abigail Dreams of Weather” by Stu West (5344 words)
No Spoilers: Abigail is one of a group of children being treated at a space station’s hospital, all of them more or less stuck because of what seem to be chronic conditions. For all that, though, battling boredom is often the trickiest part, because there’s not much to do and the adults around them are all much more concerned with an incoming meteor swarm than the entertainment of some sick kids. All but forgotten and ignore, the group decides that they might as well make their own adventures. Which couldn’t go wrong, right? The piece is quiet and really hits home the loneliness of these kids, the way that they depend on each other for their sanity, and how they are so ignored by everyone else except when it comes to their illnesses, except where people feel they can be fixed.
Keywords: Hospitals, Space Stations, Friends, Isolation, Meteors, Supervision
Review: This story for me explores the way that care fails kids with special needs, because they do have special needs, and that can be inconvenient for adults who have very different priorities, who do just want the kids to disappear until there is enough time, enough resources. Until then, the kids are shoved into a situation that isn’t suited to them. Where they are expected to be happy without stimulation, without really anything to do but sit and stare. And it does capture how that feels, and what it does for the kids, who can’t stand the boredom, the being ignored. They want engagement, want something to do, and when they are left alone too long, they find ways to escape, to do something. And in that it’s a rather fun story of adventure and breaking the rules, about these kids getting a chance to slip free of the constant control and passive surveillance that they always have to deal with. When the only time someone will respond to them is if they’re vomiting, if they’re having a meltdown, and then the response is often negative, not exactly a punishment but almost always unpleasant. And I just love the feeling they find when they slip away, when they find something wonderful and bright. It’s a story that keeps things grounded but reveals that kids will be kids, will imagine and will yearn and will refuse to accept rules that they know aren’t fair. And it makes for a complex, moving read!
“Disconnect” by Fran Wilde (7760 words)
No Spoilers: Izzie is an adjunct professor juggling teaching jobs that barely pay the bills and a strange condition where her bones have a tendency of...leaving. Of slipping away into space so that she needs a special kind of equipment to find them and bring them back, to be whole. At the same time, her mentor and friend is in a study that seems to be killing him, and all anyone seems to care about is the abstract, is science, while ignoring the people they are gaining that knowledge from. The piece is strange, featuring a world where the rules don’t exactly apply anymore, where things have been twisted by a war that most of humanity barely knew was going on. But the results now are felt not just with the strange conditions that people are coming down with but in the worsening conditions of the economy where more and more people are being pushed into signing away their safety and lives to be experimented on. For Science!
Keywords: Dreams, Studies, Teaching, Bones, Dislocation, Funding
Review: I love how this story takes a stance that scientific knowledge should not come at the expense of people. That when people ask people to sacrifice—their health, their time, their lives—for science, it’s an act of manipulation that normally has much more to do with economics. With scientific funding, which is being prized higher than human life. It’s something that has happened again and again and it often targets those who are vulnerable, people who are disabled or old or otherwise marginalized, turning them into fuel to burn on the pyre of science, which really only benefits the scientists in charge, and while it might also increase the understanding of certain conditions and situations, it ignores the fact that there are other ways. Other methods. That by and large science could work in a way that wasn’t so damaging to people. But it would be slower. It would cost more. And in a time when it’s difficult to fund science, that means that some people want to cut corners. To sacrifice ethics for the sake of results. And I love that Izzie says no, that she sees her value despite how she’s forced to live, despite how much pressure is being put on her to give in. She’s being told her only value is in a subject, and yet she’s a scientist herself, capable of doing research and teaching and pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge. And she’s refusing to be bullied and gaslight and manipulated into thinking otherwise. It’s an invigorating read, full of anger and frustration and pain, but also joy, also friendship, also hope. It’s about people kicking ass and doing science and it’s just wonderful. Definitely give it a read!
“This Will Not Happen to You” by Marissa Lingen (856 words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, this piece confronts the reader with all the things that won’t happen to you. The events that are unlikely, because time and science have progressed to respond to something. A disease. An infection. One that targets the nervous system and wasn’t understood when it was first happening. One that left a lot of people damaged, and in need of help. And help came, though slowly, and not without its new problems. But that all has been done. Progress made. So you won’t have to worry. It’s a story that really packs in a tight and coiled anger, that challenges the reader directly about how you view certain diseases, certain conditions. Ones that are supposed to be “no big deal now.” That were supposed to have been “cured.” Because, well, because things can change, and what you won’t have to deal with and live through depends an awful lot on things staying the same.
Keywords: Infection, Prosthetics, Nerve Damage, Cold, Doctors, Complications
Review: I like how this story takes aim at the perceptions people have about disease, about conditions. How they often blame the person who is really a victim, who has suffered from something, because that person doesn’t want to deal with them, doesn’t want to see something that is a reminder that the world around us is full of things that could fuck us up. It’s a huge privilege for people to think that the world is safe, that they will always be okay because they are virtuous. And those who have things, by extension, not virtuous. They must have done something wrong. Because look, it’s so easy to avoid. So well understood. Science and medicine have come so far. Without recognizing that there are always those who fall through the cracks of science and medicine. That, essentially, no one deserves to be in pain all the time, to have lost parts of themselves. No one deserves to suffer, just because they got a disease or infection. Just because they didn’t know or didn’t realize it in time to avoid being damaged. That those people can be us very easily, because change is all around us, and we can never be sure what terrible thing is coming down the line for us. So we must act with compassion and empathy toward people, must not condemn them because they are sick or they are damaged. Because really, they have it bad enough. They should be helped as much as possible, because they are us, in all the ways that matter. A great read!
"The Things I Miss the Most” by Nisi Shawl (3519 words)
No Spoilers: The main character of this story has a severe seizure disorder as a child, one that resists even the more advanced non-surgical techniques that this near-future world has to offer. When she’s given the option of surgery, though, that might make the seizures go away, she accepts the risk, and gets the procedure (with the blessings of her moms, of course). What no one expected was that she would develop what the story calls an Oppositional, a sort of imaginary friend who quickly becomes an imaginary lover and of the best things in her life. Angelique. But as time goes on, and her seizures don’t return, she’s being steered toward a much different and possible heartbreaking choice. The story shines with love and sensuality, the relationship between the narrator and Angelique easy and alive and hot. Beneath that, though, is a very complicated and serious look at adolescence, love, loss, and choice.
Keywords: Seizures, Queer MC, Sex, Family, Brain Surgery
Review: Okay so I love the way that this story revolves around a loss, around an absence that also isn’t an absence, because it’s a person who...who might have been only the narrator’s shadow. Their other half. A part of themself that no one else can see. However, for all that everyone rather believes that she’s an unhealthy fantasy, for the narrator Angelique is alive and is a vibrant part of her life. Certainly she’s tied to the main character’s sexual maturity, because the two are intimate in some rather intense ways. And the two also build each other up. Angelique helps the narrator with her learning, with music, with everything. The become this stable and beautiful system that doesn’t really need anything else. And people think of it as unhealthy, as broken, despite how much the two mean to each other. And so it’s a rather heartbreaking read, because it does ask what’s best for the main character, and the answer is...I have no idea. There’s the part of me that wants so much for Angelique to be real, to be whole and present, and then there’s the part of me that knows that brains are tricky, and that maybe it’s best for the narrator to have to forge bonds with other people. But I can’t not feel the loss that the story conveys so powerfully. And whatever the case, that loss is real, and the that inspired it is real. For the rest, it’s a haunting look at what it means to be real and what it means for your brain to not work like everyone else’s. And okay I’m gonna go cry in the corner a little while you go and read this one, because it’s just excellent!
“The Stars Above” by Katharine Duckett (6416 words)
No Spoilers: The end of the world has come in the form of an alien invasion that has killed most of the world population and left the remnants scatters and afraid. Jack, on a humanitarian mission in Kazakhstan, is part of a village that mostly escapes annihilation, and then takes to the road in mobile yurts that he and others help to jury-rig. Their destination is something of a question because what’s happened still isn’t too clear. Just that aliens have arrived, and so much has been lost. For Jack, torn between his desire to stay with the people who have taken him in (and especially the really cute guy he’s been staying with) and needing to know what happened to his family back in the States, he faces a world suddenly even more difficult to navigate with mobility and pain issues. Not that it’s stopping him. The piece is a mix of gentle hope and brutal reality, with Jack caught between the community that has somehow survived and the specter of the family he knows nothing about. It’s a haunting piece about loss and about disaster, and about walking a difficult road when walking any road would be difficult to begin with.
Keywords: Aliens, Invasion, Queer MC, Family, Migration, Loss
Review: Okay, so these stories are breaking my heart a bit. Jack’s situation is so fragile and yet so strong. The community that he’s found could be a family, could be something that gets him through the destruction of the world. In many ways it would be so easy to give into the gravity of it, to embrace all the things that he’s been repressing since he left America, and try to forge forward in this new world. But a lot of the story for me is also about not taking the easy way. It’s about denial, and about pushing past the pain to try and do the right thing. Which hear means risking everything to make a very long and maybe impossible trip all the way back to the States. Because he doesn’t know what happened. And that’s the most dangerous thing, the thing that cuts so deep. Is that those connections aren’t necessarily severed. And Jack refuses to give up on them. And while it might seem foolish and dangerous as hell, it’s also something that he needs to do, and that he’s not going to let pain or an alien invasion keep him from. And for me that just wraps up so much about his outlook and his character. That his condition, his pain, has chiseled him into someone who’s not going to back down just being it’s hard. He’s already helped people to survive despite the hardship. And now he needs to do something for himself, and it’s a rather inspiring thing, even as it’s a bit heartbreaking to see him have to leave behind something that could have been so good. So yeah, another fantastic read!
“A House by the Sea” by P. H. Lee (1394 words)
No Spoilers: This story takes on the legacy of Omelas, and specifically the idea of the child held in the basement, made to suffer so that a city might exist as it’s own sort of Utopia. Except that the story doesn’t stop at the basement, and asks instead what might happen to the children after the basement. When they grow up. Because they can’t stay there forever. So the story asks what happens to them. In this system. More than that, the story demands the reader account for what they _want_ to happen to the people who have been released. And in so doing the story reveals what the narrator wants, and what that entails. It’s a difficult piece, peeling away the layers of the original text and looking to where it might have gone further, asking where the damaged and disabled go in this perfect City.
Keywords: Omelas, Sacrifices, CW- Abuse, Utopia, Imagining
Review: I love how the story really digs into what it means to have a place like Omelas, like the City that depends on children suffering. And how that initial hypothetical never really takes up the question of what happens to the children in the basement. It’s not about them. It’s about the you of this story, the person that the narrator is talking to, questioning. Which also becomes the reader. Because in that original piece the focus is on the people who could walk away or accept what happened. But not fight the system. Not work to change things. There was only two options in that original story, and this one both demands to know why and also why that wasn’t a question that people asked. It shows the lack that was opened up when even those who walked away failed to imagine a future for those children in the basement. And in the act of imagining a life for those people after the basement, the story seems to me to be seeking some measure of healing for them. Some measure of hope for the people who suffer, and everyone expects to just go away, to stay invisible. Here they might have a place to be, and a community of sorts to help them through what’s happened. It’s not an especially happy situation, but it’s one that looks much more complexly at complicity and with how people read stories and cast their tortures. It imagines not revenge or escape exactly, but a spot of piece and security all the same, and a reminder of the more lasting implications of a seemingly simple thought experiment. A fantastic way to place the issue into a large context and close out the original fiction!