|Art by Carrie Ann Baade|
"When the Circus Lights Down" by Sarah Pinsker (5422 words)
Circuses are popular things in speculative fiction, going back to Bradbury and likely before, and this story is a nice example of using the circus to good effect, capturing the magic and other-worldliness of the place and performances. It also makes the circus timeless, something that normally is used to set the circus as outside the normal dynamic of our world. In this, a young woman who has lived her life resisting the call of the circus finally sees it as an adult. For the first two times she had been to the circus her mother had demanded she keep her distance, had demanded she stay. Now a mother herself, she has to come to terms with her own desires and those of her daughter, who seems just as keen on going with when the circus departs. And the story ends up questioning what is escape, what is running away. Is it cowardly to pursue the magic of the circus, or is it brave? Is it freeing to not have to live by the constraints of the normal world? It makes it's points well and then takes a bow and leaves the stage, the ending a bit clipped but still with the feeling of completeness. Well worth checking out.
"Dr. Polingyouma's Machine" by Emily Deveport (6395 words)
This is a nice, pretty creepy story about a sanitation engineer who, once a month, cleans a hallway around a mysterious Effect. It's not an easy job. It has to be respected, has to be completed diligently and well. Because the Effect surrounds something very strange, a place where Journeyers move about and unwary people can be lost or killed for doing the wrong thing. The area around the Effect is governed by the Entities, who respect Harris, the sanitation engineer, because she cares. Because she does her work and does it well. It's a strange story, but despite the premise, which might seem a little dull (someone cleaning a strange hallway), I found the action rather compelling. At it's core the story is about caring about what you do, about taking care and having respect for yourself and your work. And there's a silver lining for Harris, for even while she cleans she's really applying for a different job as well, one of far greater importance. Or maybe that's not quite true. The cleaning is incredibly important. But it also opens up a door for her. It also shows the Entities what kind of a person she is. Is a slightly disturbing story, but the atmosphere and character of Harris are solid and it's quite a bit of fun. Good times.
"You Are Two Point Three Meters From Your Destination" by Fran Wilde (237 words)
I almost want to call this story poetry. But it is written as prose and so it's a microfiction. Basically I'd describe it as the story of Orpheus told through a GPS device. I hope. I always get nervous when I read things and don't really know what they are. It seems to be the story of Orpheus. Descending to the underworld. Returning and not turning until right at the end. And then...well, it does a great job of rendering those very emotional moments in a cold GPS voice, but also in capturing the impact of them. Because for such a short story it does a good job with the source material. Of course, if I hadn't been familiar with the source (or if I'm completely wrong about what this is about) then it has less impact, but for me the gamble pays off and I did quite enjoy the story. Short and bittersweet and with a good sense of storytelling even with the limitations of the GPS voice. Indeed.
"Cloudbending" by Jennifer Crow
A rather short poem about the changing nature of the sky and clouds. I'm normally a bit hesitant when it comes to poetry that is center aligned. It is a completely unreasonable holdover from my past where I thought that poetry had to be center aligned to be poetry. And so now I tend to hesitate when I see it because it reminds me of my own foolish youth. That said, this is a lovely poem about maps and how they are insufficient to really show what it is they're supposed to represent. They are signifiers of bigger things, but they miss the nuance. And for things like the sky there can be no clear map because it is constantly in flux. By trying to render those aspects in solid form we would be failing to recognize the nature of the sky, as we fail to recognize the true nature of the land when we think we know it through its maps. In this, then, the choice of centering the story makes sense, because it gives the poem more of an airy quality, like it's floating in space, like it might change by the end. And those last, questioning lines become show the changing nature of the sky but also the beauty of them, the transitory bliss of being remade again and again. Like dreams, to never really be captured fully, to be experienced and then lost, but still having a ghostly impact. A nice poem.
"The Eaters" by M Sereno
This poem is dense, complex. True to the image and experience of eating, this poem gives the impression of being very full and yet hungry. The form is using five line stanzas and packing them full, so that the poem looks almost like paragraphs, like large bricks. It's a layer cake of sorts, the stanzas leading into each other, bridging that short distance between them without a real break, pushing the reader to keep going, to keep eating up the words. The imagery is sharp with many food and drink references and, I'll admit, a bunch of things that I didn't catch because I don't know what they are. There's the sense of what they are by the analogies and images around them, and I don't think the use of non-English words made anything unclear, but probably I would get more from the poem if I know what they meant. For the moment I'm just going to treat the poem through my own ignorance of those sections. Because there is a sense of hunger and fullness that plays throughout, that consuming need to keep going, to experience it. In the end I'm not entirely sure if the eating is positive or negative. I lean toward positive, because being hungry seems to hungry for life, for other worlds, for experience and worldliness. At the same time, the last line complicates it with the question of how to become a black hole, which doesn't really seem like a plus. So I feel like I'll need more thought on this one. For now, I like it. I like the style and flow and imagery. So definitely give this a read.