Tor slows down only a little for June, putting out three stories that crack and sizzle, that sink and sprawl. From near-future science fiction to contemporary horror to quasi-historical fantasy…weirdness, the works all take different swings at revealing a world rife with dangers and corruptions but also community and possibility. The tones of the stories couldn’t really get more different, though each has its shadows and grimness. Some are hopeful and defiant, others gutting and haunting, still others ethereal and luminous. Yet through it all the works represent some stunning glimpses into humanity, and those who live parallel to human, in a world that is often harsh, but also often beautiful. To the reviews!
|Art by Goñi Montes|
“We’re Here, We’re Here” by K.M. Szpara (7435 words)
No Spoilers: Tyler is a trans man in a boy band, living his dream along with his three best friends Zeke, Aiden, and Jasper. Only his feelings for Jasper have been moving away in some unexpected directions...directions that clash with the “vision” of the band held by the record label and the band’s manager. When things escalate on stage and questions start getting asked, Tyler is put in an impossible situation, one where he’s pressured to lie to his fans, something he never wanted to do. Only telling the truth is complicated by the fact that he’s not in complete control of his voice thanks to an implant designed to help him sing. The piece is tense and incredibly gay, and it’s a delight to read from beginning to end.
Keywords: Music, Bands, Trans MC, Queer MC, Voices, Control
Review: This is an absolutely adorable and moving story about expression, joy, and how people can be turned into commodities. It’s about boy bands and the complex place they take up in society, in some ways artificial and created to be exploitable sources of nearly unlimited (but often short-lived) money and fame. That the band is put together by the manager looking to brand the right combination of wholesome and sexy to hit with teen girls is right up front. It’s...not exactly great. But at the same time, just because the impulse behind it is exploitative doesn’t mean that the bands themselves are bad, or fake. And that’s the space that the story is really exploring, that for these men (well, mostly men it turns out because one of them might be non-binary) it’s genuine, it’s fun. They are doing what they love and part of what they love is that they aren’t lying to their fans. Their sharing in some ways in a performance, and some things are exaggerated and others downplayed, but everyone’s in on it together. They’re there to have fun, to celebrate, to be happy. Only it’s a fragile thing, because behind their genuine desire to be this band and have fun and make people happy is the reality that they are being exploited and controlled, and the minute that they move outside of what is acceptable for the corporate side, things shift quickly into Fucked Up. And I love how the story moves, the place it takes Tyler who loves what he’s doing but also wants to be honest with his fans. Most of whom would probably support him through everything but because the manager and the record label don’t want to risk it, he’s silenced (quite literally). And seeing the band’s reaction to that is wonderful and uplifting. It’s a heartwarming and romantic and sexy story, and it’s just such a joy to read, showing that dismissing boy bands as garbage isn’t just wrong, it’s wrongheaded, and that there’s a lot more going on here than just teens going wild for pretty guys (though there’s nothing wrong with that, either). A fantastic read!
“Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker (11892 words)
No Spoilers: Stella has a lying game she plays, where she makes up details about her life when she’s asked. To make herself seem more interesting. To give her something to talk about. For reasons she’s not fully aware of. And when she comes home to visit her parents after a long time away, she slips back into this game, telling old high school friends stories. But she also agrees to help one of them clean out a house where his brother had been living, who has just died. His brother, who hoarded a lot of things. And as she helps she’s brought into a web of lies and truths, stories and prophecies that swirl around a television show she thought she made up. And the piece does a wonderful job of mixing truth and lies, stories and stories. It complicates Stella’s place in her own life, and in the lives of others, and it’s creepy as hell to boot!
Keywords: Funerals, Stories, Television, Hoarding, Family, Queer Characters
Review: Okay so I love stories that queer the trope of the compulsive liar. Because I feel like the idea is something that’s so complicated, so informed by the desire or the need to reinvent, to find some sort of “true self” that a lot of queer people end up looking for because their youth is spent either repressed and in hiding or else in ignorance of a lot of who they are, and so there’s a general sense of loss about growing up, about missing things that you feel like you should have. And that’s all worked with care and skill in this story, where Stella finds herself drawn into a lie that turns out to be a truth, pulled into a memory she doesn’t have, a public access television show that apparently exists and indeed that contains a whole lot of very creepy shit. Stories that are about people, that are about Stella, among many others. Stories that become true, for all that they are also lies. And there’s just this wonderful depth to the story and the ways it draws Stella in tighter and tighter, weaving these clues and these elements of herself to find like a trap, like a fate. The television show is creepy enough and that she doesn’t remember it is great and really works with the unreliability not of her memory, but of reality itself, and it’s wonderful how that plays out and where it takes her, to confronting the story of her life, the games she plays, and the way that she seems to have returned home without a body, and no one notices. Which is just wrenching and so well done, the horror mixing with a kind of yearning, a kind of need for acceptance and security and identity. Stella is caught between the power of controlling the story and desire for genuine connect and community and ends up falling somewhere in between, lost, coming back without a body and that just keeps getting me. The ending is a weird, wonderful mess and it’s empowering even as its erasing, horrifying even as its almost appealing and it might just be me but I love it all. A fantastic read!
“The Night Soil Salvagers” by Gregory Norman Bossert (6616 words)
No Spoilers: This is a deeply strange story that revolves around the nightlife of a city, or of all cities. Where a group called the Night Soil Salvagers clean up the waste that people leave behind. But they do more than that. They’re a sort of myth, a sort of bogey, a kind of music that plays in the night of the city. A haunting melody that is also a game with some strange, almost haunting implications. And through the framing of the story, which is a sort of guide with commentary to the various song/games that the Night Soil Salvagers play, the story itself moves and twists, revealing a connection between two characters and between cities and their nights, with the beings whose task it is to make sure things get to where they need to be. And I’m not at all confident I’m getting everything out of the story, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a wonderful and kinda eerie experience.
Keywords: Music, Cities, Waste, Transformations, Rituals
Review: I mean, I keep saying the story is strange, and that continues to be one of the best things about it. Because in its strangeness is a bit of magic, a kind of fae aloofness and otherworldliness. These beings are part of the infrastructure of the city, their role to remove the human waste and move it to where it can be of use, but they’re more than that, too. They are part of the night, part of the shadows, and not people to be crossed. Meanwhile their games and songs spread and infiltrate, becoming part of the background noise, things that seem accidental but that aren’t. And there’s a dreamlike quality to the games, to the roles and the rules of the games that they play. And tucked into that is the story of Parch and Florens, who sort of crystallize the roles of the Salvagers (Parch as a Salvager, Florens as a salvaged). It’s a relationship tinged with shadows, with loss, with being pushed outside the view of the city proper, into the liminal spaces where the Salvagers operate. For me, the story is a kind of fairy tale, exploring the magic of cities, expanding fae courts to exist in the alleys and gutters, on the roofs and in the never-traveled spaces. And even without forests the Salvagers revolve around growing things, around the garden their maintain and the natural order they seek to bolster. It might be a losing battle, seeing as how “progress” is taking some of their work, but for all that it’s keeping the magic of the world, the call and response, the music that creeps into memory and dream. It’s a weird story, and I’m still sort of insecure in my reading of the piece, but it’s lovely all the same, and very much worth spending some time with. A fine read!