|Art by Tomasz Wieja
"The Whale of Penlan Tork" by Steven Earnshaw (3750 words)
A group of acolytes of a man named Simon venture on the sea to track down the whale of Penlan Tork in this story. The acolytes aren't really sure why they're doing it, but it is the will of Simon and so they go, though it's not exactly an auspicious trip, riddled by seasickness and disdain from the sailors on board. Meanwhile Simon himself is back and contemplating his role and place, wondering about how best to rule when all that he might do is think he rules, hallucinates that he rules. He argues democracy against despotism, meditates and misses the disciples that he sent away, the six that are chasing after the whale. The structure of the story is strange, jumping around a bit, and I was never quite sure what was real and what was vision. The style is interesting, dreamlike but mixed with a bit of conspiracy. It's a bit opaque but still interesting and entertaining, still a story to puzzle over and pull apart. A good way to kick off the issue.
"Spider Moves the World" by Dominik Parisien (1413 words)
A person in a kind of desert loses their horse and nearly dies before they are found and taken in by a caravan of spiders in this story. And, in that band of wanderers, the traveler finds a bit of who they are. They become a spider, not in appearance but in outlook and drive. To embrace the change and the travel. To not look back. It's what they were looking for out in the Greensea, and it's what they find only after they've lost everything of their old self. But even so there are choices to make, whether to stay on with the spiders, traveling, or to go to a beetle city and join with them. The traveler decides to stay for a while, but understands that it will not always be so. And that, while they will always be a spider, part of that is that when they move on they might become something else as well. That acceptance, that knowledge, it what makes them spider for the time, that they can see that they can change. That they can resist looking back and press on because that is what it is to be spider. It's a good story, strong and clear despite the strange style and fever-like narration. It's a sort of awakening, though, and a good read, the imagery vivid and world-building great. Indeed.
"The Selkie" by David K. Yeh (3089 words)
A rather stark story about a man/selkie during World War II trying to get something back to the Allies. It's code-breaking equipment, the Enigma Machine, and it's a nice touch to have it brought this way, to have it be this gift from the supernatural world that is just as threatened by fascism as the rest of the world is. First, though, the ship he was traveling on is sunk and then he is captured by Nazis, who have coerced a sorcerer into helping them. Meanwhile he experiences a series of flashbacks, or maybe just remembers his past with a sorceress who had survived an attack by vikings and ended up using the selkie to have children, one of which she sent with the Vikings when they returned later. It's a strange tale, but elegant and beautiful. The action is sharp and the situation hopeless for a little while and I just rather liked the main character, the way he goes about everything. I've actually not seen many selkie stories where the character is a man and this one was pulled off quite well, a story of longing and history and danger. Magic infuses the setting, the conflict, and gives a nice added layer to everything. The story, despite being somewhat triumphant, is also rather tragic, these characters stuck in the greater struggle, their lives imperiled because of what they are and because they're trying to do the right thing. Dark and bloody, the story is still very satisfying and told with power and grace. Very much recommended.
"Ambergris, or the Sea-Sacrifice" by Rhonda Eikamp (2476 words)
The story of a man who loses his wife in childbirth only to have to make a hard choice about his new daughter. Born weak, the only way to save her is to take her to a sacred place, a place of the sea, where she will be transformed. He knows that he will lose her, but begs that he be allowed to be with her a while longer, to be able to raise her, to be able to have something. His prayer is answered, though in payment he loses an arm, replaced by a fin. His daughter, named Ambergris, is a blessing, though. She calls fish to nets, diverts storms, and the man loves her even as he knows he will lose her. She grows older, nearing adulthood, and still she brings the village good luck. Finally, when an army approaches, she goes out and turns them away, forces them to flee. And at that moment the man knows he can keep his daughter no longer, that she has been blessing enough, and takes her back to the sacred place where she joins with those more like her, people of the sea. Only, for all his sacrifice, the man is given a chance to come along. It's a sweet story, heartwarming and rather happy, the story of loss but also of love. The writing lays everything in simple terms, like a fable, building the magical and strange qualities of the tale to make the ending the more triumphant. Another good one.
"Littoral Drift" by L.S. Johnson (3691 words)
This one is a story of an old woman as she struggles with the choice of whether or not to take a pill that will halt her aging. That will suspend her and maybe, in time, she will be able to reverse the effects of age. It's a sweeping story, with the feel of waves on the beech, the push and pull, the rhythm of building, pushing against the sandcastles on the shore until they give. They last a long time, some of the castles, but in the end they all succumb to the littoral drift. It's a lovely story, about aging and memory. It's full of nostalgia about simpler times, but not necessarily simpler technologically. There is an aspect of that, as aspect of complaint that the world is moving too far away from drift, that people are too engaged all the time with their tethers to each other, but I think more it's complaining about the idea that things don't drift, that things don't move out of the way to make room for the new. Things are trying to be permanent when the brief, when the momentary have a power and a beauty. The story seems to call for an embracing of the drift, or the entropy. To let things go. People, things. I can definitely see (what with all the movies trying to remake the past, what with shows brought back, etc.) that people don't want to let things go. They want to be young forever. But there is a power and force to being old. Something that this main character won't trade away, at least.
"Excerpt from UNLANGUAGE" by Michael Cisco (3169 words)
This is a hard story to describe, which makes sense for the publication. It has a lot of interesting ideas, a mix of textbook and class with a transformative, unknowable language. The unlanguage, which is sort of like the white space between the letter. Each language has that, has the moments between the words, and in those one could perhaps see a sort of universal unlanguage, the letters forming a bit like the picture that comes before the story, like that first line. "White Spaces Black Letters." Through it all the story is also a story, a person coming across another and being given a book. Being taught. Being infected by the ideas of unlanguage. It's a neat story, packed and dense and complex, but I like the feel of it, the way the unlanguage is rather infectious, that it gets inside the mind of the student and changes things, makes it impossible to unlearn. I won't really call it fun. Again, the plot is not exactly a plot, though there is a story unfolding regarding the Third Person being given the book and then becoming rather lost in it. It's dark, but the story really isn't depressing or sad. More impenetrable and a little sticky, like after reading it there is this impression of things that the reader is on the cusp of, about to fall into. It's a nice device, the story within a textbook approach, and makes the story a quite interesting read.