|Art by Artur Zima|
“The Iron Eels” by Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis (7559 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of the story, Private Telmans, is a veteran of a war that nearly tore the nation apart. The world apart. That was fought in part with wild magic, which can infect a person and twist them into something monstrous. It’s also used for industry, though, and when a refinery explodes for unknown reasons, it puts Telmans’ village in a quarantine zone. Telmans himself is put in charge of testing his fellow citizens for signs of contamination, which is as good as a death sentence, carried out swiftly by soldiers as well as magical devices called Iron Eels, which carry out their cleansing with brutal efficiency. It’s a setting layered with harms and trauma, where Telmans must face trying to protect his family and trust a government he already knows better than to trust fully. It’s tense and gritty and full of death.
Keywords: Contamination, War, Family, Military, Magic, CW- Suicide
Review: The story captures very well the trauma that Telmans carries from his time in the military. This whole nation is one that is supposed to be recovering from the horrors of war, but is thrown back in screaming when this accident happens. And people who have tried to carve out something for themselves are faced with the fact that it was all so fragile, and that their nation doesn’t really care about them, is all too willing to sacrifice them in the name of “safety and security.” Which is a great talking point when the disaster has already happened, when nothing (or not enough) went into keeping them safe from the horror that finds them. It’s harrowing because it sends so many people who were hanging on by a thin strand of hope over the edge. They snap, and they die. It is not a happy story by any means, and it deals very viscerally with suicide and with the weight that Telmans carries as the person who is supposed to keep the town safe, but who can’t really see a way out of anything. He, too, is holding desperately to the hope that things will be okay. That the horrors of the war have ended. Because they already took such a toll on him. The trauma is something he’s definitely not over, and having to deal with it all over again breaks him further. And I think the story does a good job of dealing with that, with the ways that these things layer and deepen, the hurts becoming more and more severe. He’s tried to live the life he was told he was owed. But that future that was promised, of peace and prosperity, can’t grow out of the poisoned soil that was the horrors committed during the war. And no matter where he goes, or how far he runs, he can’t escape what he did and what he saw. And it’s a rather devastating and grim look at what war does to people, and while it does have something of a happy ending, it’s not without the edge of trauma that will never be fully healed. A fine read!
“That August Song” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (5972 words)
No Spoilers: Sanenya is a melodist, a woman capable of singing vanquishers to life, creatures that can be piloted by people in order to fight off behemoths, creatures that threaten to destroy everything. Though, more specifically, that threaten to destroy the citadels, floating cities where the wealthy elites live while maintaining the order below that feeds pilots and vanquishers into the slaughter in exchange for security for the wealthy. Only ever since Tizeva has taken over as captain of the pilots fight against the behemoths, the slaughter has been rather one sided, something that the lords in their citadels are pleased with, though Tizeva has a deeper motive to being so good at her job. The piece sizzles with action and with the attraction between Tizeva and Sanenya, the two women connected by their roles with the vanquishers and their desire to do something about the waste and death they see too often. But can they trust each other enough to do something about it all?
Keywords: Monsters, Class Structures, Queer MC, Kaiju, Pilots, Songs
Review: The story is fast, hot, and gorgeous. The world building is striking, with the vanquishers acting as monsters bent to human wills in order to fight against the very creatures that they were made from. For all that, though, and the grotesque horror that the behemoths represent, it’s the human corruptions that seem more dangerous and more unsettling. The way that the citadels maintain a status quo, never doing enough to truly end the threat of the behemoths, as if their forever war serves more purposes than just fighting for survival. As if it’s way to keep their power and feed those elements they don’t want to the waiting arms of bloody conflict. It’s something that Sanenya and Tizeva can both see, though they have different ways of expressing themselves. Sunenya is the more professional of the two, who wears a mask of serenity. She seems to go with the flow even as she does everything she can to try and save lives and keep people safe. Tizeva, on the other hand, wears a different mask, one of borderline insubordination, one of reckless hedonism. But, as Sunenya discovers, it’s no less a mask. Her true mission, and methods, are hidden beneath the brash grandstanding. She’s actually playing a very subtle game while pretending to be obvious, and it’s no less difficult than the burden that Sunenya carries. But it means that they are both slow to trust, even as it’s obvious they want to right away, that they are attracted to each other, drawn to each other. And it’s a hell of a ride getting to where they can trust fully, where they can give into their desires and also their dreams of rebelling, of building a system that doesn’t use them and people like them as disposable resources. Throw in a weird and horror-tinged aesthetic and a nicely building pacing, and it’s definitely a story to sit back and enjoy. The action is punchy, the romance steamy, and the story as a whole is a delight to read!