|Art by Carrion House|
May brings a new Voyages-themed issue of Lackington’s, with six original short stories to take you away from the comforts of your chair and transport you to different worlds and different times. The stories are all about movement, about the itch to travel and see new places. That might be another country or another planet. It might be a moon or just a little further down the track. But these are stories that revel in the journey and the joy and the meaning to be found through voyaging. They reveal worlds strange and familiar, haunting and affirming, and before I gush too much I should get to the reviews!
“With God as Our Witness” by A.J. Fitzwater (4700 words)
No Spoilers: Ser Serena and Wilma are the only women on an expedition to see God, to try and succeed where a great many expeditions have failed miserably. It’s a dangerous position for them because of the misogyny of the place they come from, the way that they can be branded witches and killed should they voice the wrong opinions, or show up the wrong man. Still they are determined to do this thing, and they bring to it their considerable skill and innovation, hoping that it will allow them to look upon the face of God. It’s a strange piece, full of snails and dragons and space, and there’s an ethereal beauty to everything that overcomes the grit and grunge of the setting and its injustices.
Keywords: Dragons, Knights, Flight, God, The Moon
Review: I love the feel of the story and the imagery, so strange and so compelling, a bit of chivalric adventure with knights on a quest, and one that exposes the hypocrisy that means that so many of these expeditions end in failure. Because only those who are cruel and shallow seem to be chosen, or are else sabotaged, as the knights try to sabotage Ser Serena. Those that remain are believers but only that God grants them dominion, something at odds with the skills necessary to complete the trip and arrive before God unharmed. It shows just how much gatekeeping women or women-coded people have to deal with, the danger and the double standards. And while I was just a bit disappointed that men were ultimately excluded from the presence of God, I do understand that the story seems to me to be setting up this space where the people who reach that far are supposed to be safe—and for some safety requires a lack of men. It’s a complex piece, one that balances the darkness of the misogyny on display and the casual violence of the knights with a sharp gallows humor and a resolution from the main characters to break through the cage that has been imposed on them and find the truth—that they are God, and God is them, and there is a shattering and magnificent unity to them all. Definitely a story to spend some time with!
“A Cream-Broker’s Courtship” by Nin Harris (4944 words)
No Spoilers: Varna, the eldest of her generation of Viveks, the family who care for the celestial cows on loan from the Eldest Moon, and Chatur, a cream-broker, are very much in love. Only circumstances and an ancient promise make Varna refuse to embrace that love, kicking off a series of events that grow more and more troublesome. The story grows out of the author’s ever-expanding Sesen cycle, where sentient moons watch over a planet shaped and molded by its influence. The moons are like gods, and the people of the planet know well to follow their rules. Sometimes, though, hearts make rules of their own, and even the moons cannot break what humans bind. It’s a lovely and romantic read, darkly funny and once again proving that I should never read one of the author’s stories while hungry.
Keywords: Cows, Milk, Betrothals, Moons, Journeys
Review: The food! The romance! The magic! This is a breathtaking story of love and fear, of two people finding each other at a time when their futures are in turmoil. For Varna, an ancient promise requires her and her family to Ascend, to take the herd back to the Eldest Moon, to a fate unknown and perhaps fatal. For Chatur, being turned down by Varna led him into the machinations of a brutish mayor, and if he doesn’t play ball he might end up a splatter across the footnotes of the city. The trouble arises from the pair not talking to each other, trying to make decisions for the other instead of sitting down and really saying how they feel and what they want. Varna’s fear is palpable, and I love the way that she has to talk it through with her family. And how they end up deciding that facing the prospect of Ascension doesn’t mean that they have to give up their love. That while the Eldest Moon requires them to pay this price, that doesn’t mean they have to pay everything. They can still cling to their loves, and to the hope that though the Eldest Moon is sometimes called the Cruellest Moon, there’s still room for something like compassion, and tenderness, and the desires of two people against all that might tear them apart. I love the voice of the characters and the way the piece plays with melodrama, flirting with it to delicious results. It’s just such a fun story, richly imagined with touches of darkness and strangeness and magic, alive with hope and love and ahhhh just so good! I am 1000% in love with this setting and need a collection to put on all of my wish lists. It’s delightful and you should run out and read this one right now!
“Something to Light the Sunless Winter” by Sara Beitia (3963 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece has gone into space with their partner, Asa, in the hope of doing something adventurous (and also to escape the oppressive despair of Earth and its scarcity). At first it seems like a place for them to live in a sort of idle happiness, propelled by their desire to go and do something. As the time drags on, though, circumstances on the ship change, as does how the narrator thinks about their trip. The framing is interesting, a journal that at first seems purely personal but which becomes a way for the narrator to “speak” to different people even as their isolation grows. It’s a dark and heavy story, full of loss and a kind of creeping loneliness that pulls the reader and the narrator down into a science fictional situation tinged with horror.
Keywords: Ships, Space, Death, Growths, CW- Pregnancy(?)
Review: This is a strange and heavy piece, one that finds the narrator in space on what’s supposed to be an adventure, a trip to...someplace better, but that doesn’t really turn out that way. And in some ways the piece explores the way that the narrator has been broken by their lack of hope, by the sort of driftless way that they approach everything, manipulated by Asa, who convinces them to do this thing they don’t want to do, but which is made a kind of bearable because they are together and it is a break of sorts from the crushing pressures to work on Earth and Be Productive and the narrator here can slip free of that. Only there are catches, and risks, and the truth of the matter is that they are lab rats in a scenario where their lives aren’t being valued, where they are doing this in order to make it safer for the people who will come after, for the wealthy people who don’t have to risk their lives for a chance at something better. And the piece really shows the narrator not trying to break free from their isolation, but to embrace it. It maps their grief at the loss of their partner in wrenching and beautiful ways, all the while deepening the Weird Shit that’s happening on the ship, the darkness that the narrator seems to be sinking more and more into. I love the mood, and the sort of bereft feel to it, and I love how the piece becomes divorced from time at a certain point, everything falling away as the narrator steps into themself, as they come to realize that there is no escape from the problems that they left behind, that they can never outrun themself. It’s a difficult but lovely read, and definitely worth checking out!
“That Damned Cat” by Barbara Turney Wieland (3778 words)
No Spoilers: A man and a woman. A train. A cat. This piece follows a strange sort of logic—a man who was in an accident and visited by a cat who told him a future he was compelled to work toward. It’s disjointed in time, told in nested narratives and jumping perspectives as the character meet each other on a train, dancing around their mutual attraction and hope. In some ways the two feel like they’re acting off a script, but there’s nothing really forced to it, rather that they know where they’re going. They’re on a train, after all, the tracks bringing them a singular destination. For all that, there’s still the hint of mystery, and doubt, that’s delightful and strange and intriguing.
Keywords: Cats, Trains, Meetings, Fate, Accidents
Review: I really like how this story plays out, the planned nature of it that is both really weird and really compelling. For me it does rather capture the feeling of a train on its tracks, moving along. The route doesn’t change. The timing doesn’t really change, either. But for all the routine, for all that there are many things about the journey that you know ahead of time, there is a pleasure in the undertaking and always a chance for a meeting or a reunion or any number of things. Here we find two very different characters, one waiting for something to finally get him out of his rut and the other one without much expectations whatever, just going from place to place. And yet they find each other. For her, a chance meeting. For him, a culmination of a kind of curse and promise. And I just love the feel of the story, the flow of it, the way that the characters are locked in this conversation that’s more than words, that has these comfortable silences. Again, it’s not exactly about the rush of getting to know each other, but rather enjoying this ride, full of moments of wonder and moments of quiet and all around just lovely and fun and warm. And it builds up a sense for me of the two drawing nearer, seeing each other and appreciating each other and deciding that they want to continue, knowing that they could exit at any time, at any stop, but choosing to stay on together, to connect and reconnect, and for all the man seems to resent the cat for what it’s done to him, it also brought him to this moment, to a chance to maybe turn his life around so that he can stop being the asshole he was and start being a more patient, appreciative person. A wonderful read!
“Sestine for Medea” by Alexandra Munck (2700 words)
No Spoilers: This story takes the mythological Medea (who was connected to Jason of the Argonauts for a while) and recasts her as a woman living alone in a house covered in ivy. A man arrives with graft and possible violence in mind only for her to barter her way out into the world he brings alive with his stories. It begins a chase of sorts. A cataloging. A collecting. Of stories and places. Of life and all its shades and flavors. Medea wants to know the world, and so she sets about doing just that. The story is organized in a fascinating way, taking the poetic structure of a sestina and altering it to work for prose. The result is strange but full of longing and hope and the love of change. Medea is someone who cannot be stationary even if she’s staying in one place, who knows the value of stories, which makes the piece nicely meta.
Keywords: Travel, Stories, Librarians, Languages, Barter
Review: I love the yearning feel that the story carries, the sense of excitement that Medea brings to experiencing the world. And the rather complex and often difficult way that it impacts her, that it leads her, that she struggles with that. Because at first she’s led out into the world thinking of it like an adventure, like a bit of magic, only to find that the experiences don’t really hold up to her anticipation. That when she’s interested only in doing things she misses out on listening to and interacting with people. And it’s the people, more than the physical places, that interest her. She wants their stories, and over time she gets better at knowing how to go about really doing what she wants. Which doesn’t involve as much physical travel, but rather becomes about curating the books that allow her to go anywhere she wants to go, to experience that magic over and over again, until she runs out and needs to move on. And it then becomes less about following the man who found her in her lonely home and becomes more about finding fulfillment in herself and through her work, through the people that she meets and is enriched by. And I like that it’s something that she never has to give up, that regardless of age and wealth, stories are available and accessible, and she follows them just as eagerly when she’s old as when she’s young, capturing them, recording them, and then letting them free again. A great read!
“Enchiridion of the Soltite” by Xue Xihe (6600 words)
No Spoilers: At a time when an authoritarian and xenophobic ruler has come to power, the religion/way of life of Soltitism is under attack. And this story, framed as a seditious pamphlet detailing the tenets of the faith as well as being just a handy guide to a realm that used to be much more open, is a rather brilliant push back against closed borders and closed minds. It’s organized to be user friendly, to be a resource, and it does do a great job of being a bit of history, a bit of a tour guide, and a bit of a companion for those looking to travel through this realm of Yon. Richly imagined and described, the story breathes life into a world and its people, painting a scene all too familiar where a new authority tries to solidify itself by attacking the institutions that keep people free and thinking.
Keywords: Maps, Mazes, Pamphlets, Religion, Resistance
Review: I just love the construction of the story and the narrative it builds through the voice of the narrator, who acts as guide for both the travelers inside the world of the story, and for us, the tourists visiting from outside. And that’s just such a delightful detail, that we are brought into the world through this meta angle that the story even acknowledges, showing that stories are vehicles for journeys as well, and very much in keeping with the teaching of Solt and Ponya. And the idea of a seditious pamphlet is great too, the act of reading it an act of rebellion against tyrants and anyone who would seek to close borders, to try and rob people from the richness of the cultures and peoples of the world. Of all worlds, even the fictional ones, as actual censorship and book bannings and burnings are no less robberies. Of places that people can no longer visit. Of all the history and the joys that can be found there, all the things to learn and experience. The world described in the story, the realm of Yon, is vibrant and mysterious and carries such depth to it that the lack of a central plot isn’t for me an issue at all. The point is to convey the situation and the world, to show the sense of urgency, the loss and the cost of policies that cage people, that keep them from the boundless horizons out there. It’s a story that makes me want to see more, to journey further, to really step into Yon and see its wonders. And it’s a story that makes me want to pay more attention to the possibilities all around me, and to push all the harder for the opening of borders and the opening of cell doors. It’s a fantastic piece, and just a perfect way to close out the issue!