“Henrietta and the End of the Line” by Andi C Buchanan (4630 words)
No Spoilers: Henrietta is perhaps the only child on a train fleeing the flood-metals, a wave of what might be magic that transforms all it touches. It’s already touched everyone aboard the train, though, as well as the train itself, and so now all of them aren’t quite what they once were. For the train, it means having squid tentacles and sentience. For Henrieta and the rest of the passengers, it means no longer being wholly human, but having other kinds of parts, like scales and a tail. The piece follows their journey, and the relentless pursuit of the flood-metals, and how they cope and how they live despite.
Keywords: Trains, Transformation, Magic, Water, Floods
Review: I love the aesthetic of this story, the way that everything has been twisted, and the feel of total gutted loss that is barely kept at bay, mostly because it interferes too much with the continued need to survive. The people on the train are haunted and in many ways hunted, trying to flee from something that seems like a grim inevitability. And Henrietta is young and wants to be more hopeful about the future, but it’s not something she can easily think about. Like the past, the future holds certain things that need to be repressed—the need for money, the growing exhaustion of the people on board. There is a despair that is chasing them all just as viscerally as the flood-metals, and while Henrietta can do nothing about the flood-metals, she can do something about the despair. Which I love, because her role becomes being a source of hope. Becomes showing people that there’s still energy left to fight, and flee, and maybe reach a point where rest and safety don’t seem like such far-away things. The piece is certainly draining, though. Everyone is basically running on empty. But out of that Henrietta relies on compassion, reaching out with encouragement and kindness instead of wallowing in sorrow or adding to it with negativity. For me it really speaks to the feeling of being just deeply tired but still going back in and being as kind as possible, knowing that it might not prevent a tragic end, but knowing that at any given moment it might make the difference between defeat and escape, between death and making it a little further, a little longer, and leaving the hope alive that things can get better. That maybe a brighter shore can be reached, and for all the loss that has occurred, there has been some good as well. And I find it just delightful that here the end of the line doesn’t mean a death, doesn’t mean a termination, but rather a new beginning, and a breaking through of barriers. A wonderful story!
“First Dates” by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers (2085 words)
No Spoilers: Val is a woman looking for a romantic relationship but wants to be up front about her terminal illness. She’s probably not dying tomorrow, but she puts her optimistic limit at about fifteen years and doesn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea about that. But she does want to date, wants to make find someone to love. Only online dating has yielded no results and speed dating, what she’s doing when the piece begins...isn’t really going that well. And then her friend sets her up in a new kind of speed dating, and it might just be what she’s looking for. The piece mixes humor and a more wrenching tragedy, finding the some heart even in a situation tinged with sadness and potential grief.
Keywords: Aliens, Dating, Terminal Illness, Money
Review: What an opening line. It really does draw the reader into the story and the character in this effortless but complex way. Because in some ways it’s the pick up line for the reader, cluing us into the fact that this character is dying and then letting us sit with that as she goes about the rather practical business of trying to get a date. It’s up front, and it does capture a lot of Val’s voice and attitude. And it basically asks what her responsibilities are as a person with a terminal illness seeking a romantic partner. Which is not something that most people have to think about, but which is an added burden, because it’s an important thing to disclose, seeing as how it would have a huge impact on any potential partner’s role in the relationship. That she can’t find anyone is because it comes off as...weird in a way that it probably shouldn’t, but in a way that does gently critique the way most people approach dating, as something of a dance of masks and lies. Where people put their best selves forward in the hopes that the other person will become emotionally invested before revealing anything less pleasant, because then the other person is less likely to nope out, when really noping out is their right. It’s a story that has a bit more of a subtle point to make about dating and consent and I love how it handles that, by showing how Val breaks with convention and does something a bit taboo, when really what she’s doing is cutting through the rituals of human dating and approaching it a bit more honestly and in a way that works for her. Which is something that most people get taught they shouldn’t do. That there’s a “right way” to date and do that sort of thing and any deviation from that is just asking for loneliness. When really there are many ways that dating as a scene and practice can be improved to make everyone safer and probably happier, and here Val is sort of proving just that. Also, it’s just a really cute, fun, and funny story, and you should check it out immediately!
“To Build a Bridge Out of Song” by L Chan (4954 words)
No Spoilers: Qian is an engineer in a world where mechanical creatures do more than function—they live. Qian works for herself in a Singapore under the threat of a war growing closer and closer, while her heart remains fixed on a star above her, on one of the weavers whose magical energies and labor keep the skies safe from enemy bombs and magic. Even as the onslaught of war finally darkens the skies of her city, Qian finds herself having to decide between the utilitarian demands of the war machine or...love. It’s a story full of longing and magic, the setting alive with conflict and complicated by the beings from folklore and new innovations unleashed in the world, which still follows the old colonial models. The world building is excellent, and at its heart the story is a love story set against an epic backdrop.
Keywords: Animals, Mechanics, Magic, Historical, War
Review: I really like the feel of the story, Qian and her weaver stars pulling at each other, caught in one another’s gravity, torn apart by the war. And for me it’s a story about the horrors of war, the pointless tragedy of it, the way that it grew out of the same abuses and tragedies that fueled colonialism. The lust for Empire over people, over love. The story shifts that by making the plot a series of choices, where Qian can try to play it safe, can try to get ahead through the methods of empire and money and power, or she can choose love. Or she can choose to make her mission not about the war but about the song of her heart, calling out to the weaver above her. It’s something of a doomed romance, and not one that gets a lot of room or explanation in the story. We are told simply that these people are linked, are drawn to one another, and for me that’s enough, because it explores what that means, how they share this deep and intimate bond and yet only meet so briefly, because in this world their love stands in contrast to the will of emperors and generals. They are something of a threat because they would choose each other, would make that decision that others might call selfish but which is really making the call not to bend to nationalism, to imperialism. To value human life and love more than war, more than expansion and violence. And even as they are taken into military service, even as Qian must service mechanical animals for the war effort, she’s playing a different game. Seeking for a way to rise up out of the cage that the war and all its authors would put her in. To make the radical choice to value love over revenge or safety. To take a chance on something fragile as bird song, as strong as steel. A fantastic read!
“Growing Resistance” by Juliet Kemp (4170 words)
No Spoilers: Oak is a chemist in a city literally divided between wealthy and poor by a wall built originally to keep out a plague. Now, though, it exists in order to reinforce the inequality that was set up at that time when people were much too busy dying to protest. Now, though, the people on the outside of the wall are starting to more seriously push back, and seek some sort of relief from the poverty and lack of infrastructure they must deal with as they labor for the good of those inside. And the story follows Oak as he grapples with the guilt of not being on the front lines of the movement, and still bearing the psychological damage of what he went through while the plague was at its height. It’s not exactly a happy story, dominated as it is by corruption and oppression, but it’s resilient in the face of those, and centers compassion, hope, and ability.
Keywords: Plague, Inequality, Resistance, Trans MC, Queer MC, Drugs, PTSD
Review: I do love that the story recognizes the different ways that people can fight oppression. That there are those who can be up front lobbing bricks and there can be those who stay behind and make sure that people have the life saving hormones and drugs that they need. And though Oak struggles with his feelings of inadequacy surrounding it, I really appreciate that as the story progresses he comes to see his contribution to the resistance, to the effort, as invaluable. Because he saves lives. He gives people the ability to fight, even when he can’t do that for himself. And it’s a piece that looks rather frankly at the costs of trauma, at the different battles that people fight. Not always against a rush of physical violence. But in the story Oak still battles the police. He just does so in a much different way than his partner. And I appreciate just how the story sets up the world, where there are these very obvious corruptions that still don’t feel unbelievable. That feel like they grow out of the same old prejudices and structures, where it’s an oppression of police and force, yes, but also of just leaning into the ways that wealth has a tendency of taking away people’s desire to empathize and be compassionate. And Oak has such a deep bitterness and deep hurt about it because they know exactly how it works and where it comes from. And they know the magic of perception, and privilege, and are still out there fighting as hard as they can for what they believe in. Even if he isn’t the best at seeing the good in himself, he’s still there, on the “wrong” side of the wall when he doesn’t have to be. He’s made a choice, and his choice is perhaps the most powerful kind of resistance, because it’s (in some ways) optional. And if there were more people who had who opted instead of stand with those that have not...well, a lot would change. And it’s a wonderful story, balancing some very grim elements with Oak’s grumpy soft heart. Another fabulous story!
“Copies Without Originals” by Morgan Swim (4572 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a museum bot who has for the majority of their life overseen an empty edifice of human creativity. But humans have long gone extinct, and all that the narrator has done in the mean time is follow their protocols, their routines. Monitoring and maintaining an empty building for guests that they never expect to arrive. And then, completely out of the blue, a human shows up. And the loneliness that has been festering in the narrator for so long bubbles over, and they resolve themself to try and convince the human to stay. What follows is a fragile, tender look at isolation and fear, originality and expression. It features two characters afraid they cannot produce genuine originality finding that the distinctions fall away in the messy space between people.
Keywords: AIs, Post-Disaster, Clones, Art, Museums
Review: Awwwwwww. My feels. My...feels... Seriously this is a super adorable story that manages out of the bleak reality of a world where humans have gone extinct to find something sweet and hopeful and affirming. There’s such a gulf that opens up around the characters for me, that sort of puts them over this precipice, trying desperately not to look down into it. Because humans are gone. All that remains are the artifacts they left behind, and that includes both the narrator and the person they meet. They are both created, both struggling with the weight of humanity’s destruction, and both very much lonely and fragile. They circle each other because they want the other to fill the void that they sense and don’t want to confront. They see in the other something beautiful, not just a reflection back on what has been lost but something whole and new, something worth celebrating and valuing. Which is of course what they need, because otherwise all they have is the eroding fear that they don’t measure up, that they can’t hope to live up to the legacy of humanity. Only of course they can, because they are still people, maybe not the same as the humans that lived before but no less people and no less capable of compassion and love. And so the two find each other and find in each other what they are missing, what they need, and how to keep going in a big, mostly empty world. The hope here isn’t that they can somehow revive humanity and a semblance of civilization but that they can keep the spark of love and kindness going, can fan it for as long as they have so that those that remain can live a little warmer. It’s a tender and touching and wonderful story and a perfect way to close out this excellent first issue!