|Art by Beth Spencer|
"Remembery Day" by Sarah Pinsker (2800 words)
A story about war and the scars that it leaves, both the physical ones and the mental and emotional ones. A girl prepares for Remembrance Day, the day when soldier from the war get to remember their service, get to remember the horrors and everything else. Every other day of the year is spent under the Veil, which makes them all forget. It's something that they vote on, that is always voted for by a large margin. For Clara, whose mother is in a wheelchair and whose father died in the war, the day is mixed. Because it reveals a mother that she doesn't really know, a mother who served and lost. A mother who wants to remember but because the vote is all or nothing she has to live out her life without the memories. It's an interesting and hitting story, something that reminds us all that there is no forgetting war, that for those that serve they have to live with what happened every day, even if the rest of the world seems to only remember their service on holidays. It also touches the nature of scars, and on asking the right kind of questions. The writing is tinged with sadness and loss and the characters all seem to be silently mourning, mourning either without knowing why or mourning that they'll never know the woman Clara's mother is without the Veil. An emotionally impacting story with a great central idea and solid character work. Indeed!
"Wildcat (from the Secret Diary of Donna Hooks)" by David Bowles (4800 words)
This is a story told in journal entries about a woman, Donna, living in the wilds of Texas who refuses to live a conventional life. A divorcee, she is also a businesswoman and has begun to build and office building and a farm. It's on the farm that most of the action of the story takes place. One day the workers kill a wild cat only for it to transform into a woman, a witch. But the woman is something of a witch herself, familiar with magic and in using it to grow plants. So when it turns out the witch had just birthed three wildcat children, Donna wants to save them, to remind them of their humanity so that they can live normal lives. They are attracted to music, a single tether to their humanity, and Donna uses that link, sings to them, pouring herself into the songs. And by doing so she saves the two girls. But the third child, the boy, refuses. He holds to his cat-itude and becomes a danger. He starts killing chickens and other birds, starts sneaking away, unable to be very effectively caged. Until he goes too far and Donna agrees that he must be confined. He's taken to a zoo. But such a life is too horrible for Donna to witness. She knows that he needs his freedom, knows that he is her responsibility because she let him live so long ago. So she puts him down, frees him the only way she knows how. It's not a very happy story, but there is strength and a certain wildness to it. Donna is a great character, strong and competent and completely able to take care of herself and her situation. And when it comes down to it, she knows that she can't let the boy live, that no amount of love will save him, only the cold report of her shotgun. A bit chilling in the end, but also beautiful and melancholic. Very good.
"A Sister's Weight in Stone" by JY Yang (4400 words)
A story about loss but also about the power and comfort of stories, this one hits well and hard, a chunk of granite right to the side of the head as things are not quite as they seem. Little Phoenix lost her sister, Jade, to the sea. They had both been living in a town slowly dying because of a boom in dragon worm population that has severely cut back trade. On the way, though, Jade fell into the sea and Little Phoenix discovers that she's been taken by the Prince of the South Sea. Little Phoenix vows to save her, and finally comes up with a way of doing it. The Prince lost a granite pillar and Little Phoenix decides to trade a sister's worth of granite for Jade. As a storyteller this makes sense to her, and yet when she goes to take the stones to the sea she discovers that she's made a mistake of sorts. That she's been forgetting how stories work, and that stories aren't like real life. In real life she can be easily killed by dragon worms in the sea. In real life her sister drowned and is gone and Little Phoenix hasn't accepted it. She created this story where Jade was still alive and could be saved and she has to decide whether she's going to move on or be destroyed by her guilt and her sorrow. And I loved the twist. Because as a reader of SFF I completely went along with the idea that her sister was still alive. Dragon Prince? Sure! But then this twist happens and it sort of hit me right upside the head. It's great, that moment when she realizes that her sister is gone. That there are no dragon princes. That she can't let the guilt consume her. That she has to face the reality of what happened and release the weight of her sister's death. This is a story of small flourishes that really worked for me. That she was unburdening herself literally and metaphorically. That her name was little Phoenix, which was a big clue to what was going on, that she would have to rise out of another death. That when her sister was taken she seemed to be breaking it apart like a story, that it seemed to be a bit unreal, that she was already creating that narrative for it. An excellent story with a lot to unpack. A great way to close out the fiction!
"He Dreams of Salt and Sea" by S.G. Larner
This poem has the feel of the sea to it, the feel of old magic and a tragedy and just a bit of blood. I'm guessing that it's sort of about Selkie's and the making of, because the story is of a witch fashioning a covering for her son out of sea matter, and then at the end giving him up to the sealmothers for (I'm hoping) to raise him (and not eat him). The lines are very short generally with some longer ones, the form that of water hitting the shore, calm mostly but with moments of greater urgency, greater force. There's an awful lot of care being put into this act, the garment being something the witch is making that isn't easy. She obviously cares for her son, echoed in the tears she cries when she gives him up, but either the world beneath the sea offers something she cannot or else she feels that she cannot raise him. Either way, it's nice to see, nice to experience that salt and sadness of having to give up a child without the mother really being reviled for it. She has done something important here, given her son a gift and magic that he could not have otherwise had. A nice poem about letting something go and making difficult decisions. Quietly good.
"If I Only Had A..." by Kelly Dalton
Well that was quite disturbing, a twisting of the Wizard of Oz story in poem form. Instead of the four friends (and Toto too) traveling together and reaching the Wizard and all the ensuing adventure and tragedy and triumph, the three residents of Oz all decide to take the idea that they had their goals with them the entire time in a different way. They turn on Dorothy, divide her up, devour the parts of her that they were lacking. The poem is narrated by the Tin Man, who does seem to finally have emotion, who finds the whole thing amusing and delightful and who is enjoying his new amorous nature. It is a quite disturbing poem, taking something that was supposed to be about friendship and confidence and believing in yourself becomes about betrayal and the giddiness that comes with taking the easy way out. As a fan of the Wizard of Oz, it's an fun poem for the license that it takes with the source material, a sort of horror-retelling, and the images are strong, the voice definitely creepy. It seems mostly a mix of a pun and a healthy dose of horror, and for that it works quite well. For fans of the source material, there's definitely a lot to think of with it. Good times.
"Sidereal" by A.E. Ash
In this poem a soldiers watches over a man fixing machinery under a night sky. The poem is broken up into simple stanzas of two, three, or four lines, most of them anchored by a period at the end. It's a great way to offer up this collection of stark images, these two people working in the relative dark, the soldier wondering after the stars above her, remembering the customs that don't quite make sense when you see the stars with a proper perspective. They are both from a ship, both outside only to repair it or stand guard while it is repaired. And this one moment of freedom from the routine of the ship is precious to the soldier. She finally sees something different, feels a bit why people would want to make wishes on the light off of meteorites, thinking them stars. And in the end it is about the fleeting moments of wonder that can be found. About the ways that people make stories that name the heavens. About the things that seem so stupid at times but that linger, that stick with us. The images are clear and crisp and cold as the night and the feel is of safety in a dangerous situation, a break in battle where lurks a certain beauty. A lovely poem.
"The Automaton to Her Engineer" by Alexandra Seidel
I feel slightly weird calling this poem romantic, and yet there is certainly the feeling of devotion and healing in this poem. It is narrated by an Automaton, a creature that can feel its inner workings failing, running down. As all of us are running down, our parts not quite what they used to be. But in the poem the engineer, faithful and uplifting, can clear away the rush, the grind, the parts that are in danger of breaking. Can disassemble and reassemble and while the result is not without fault, it runs and keeps running. It's a beautiful metaphor for what love can do, for what a partner can do. The title implies this relationship, the metaphoric nature of the rules, and here it is easy enough to see the application. Because love does seem to keep us going. Our loved ones are our engineers, are the peoplel who keep us going, who clear away the sludge and smooth our ragged edges so that we don't tear ourselves apart. I suppose it doesn't need to be romantic (friends do this for us too, as does family). But it's a lovely poem that seems to evoke the idea that we are constantly being taken apart, baring ourselves to those we trust and care about that they can keep us going. Not fix us, but maintain us. Or at least that's what I got from the poem, and I quite enjoyed it. A nice way to close out the issue.