|Art by Li Shuxing|
"Time Bomb Time" by C. C. Finlay (3135 words)
This story is an interesting experiment in form while blending in some subtle theoretical science and a pinch of good old fashioned human emotion. Here again is a story that, to talk about, I have to spoil to some degree. Because the structure of the story is such that it's a palangram, something that is read the same forward and backward. Here, each paragraph appears exactly the same twice, but they read in two different directions. The logistics of making this work as a story are a little mind boggling so full points for the structure, for getting it to fit into the content of the story where a student is desperate to prove his theory by setting off a device that will "reverse" time. It's neat to see how the story works forward and reverse, and mostly it works quite well. There are a few transitions that are a little obvious, that seemed while reading through the first way a little off but that work when read the other way. But given the structural challenges this would provide, it makes sense and I'm willing to let it slide. The story itself focuses on Hannah, a woman who broke up with her boyfriend only for him to barge into her room with this device. I would have liked a bit more to see what happens with the story, because the implication might be that they are now stuck in a sort of loop now. Which is not good for Hannah, prevented from really getting away from a rather unstable ex who is basically trying to "convince" her to take him back. But at least Hannah is having none of it, just trying to get him to leave. An interesting story and worth checking out as a lesson in alternative structure. Indeed.
"The Myth of Rain" by Seanan McGuire (5133 words)
An intense and fast story about climate change and one woman trying to save what she can. And not really succeeding. It's not a happy story, this one, more a fiery brand, an accusation, and the anger in it feels real and almost refreshing. Set in the future but not as far forward as people might expect, it follows a group of conservationists in the Pacific Northwest working to save as many species as they can ahead of a building project that will wipe out the preserved nature of the area. Most of the rest of the country is in dire straights, California a growing desert, but up in Washington and Oregon there is still rain, is still some wildlife less. Which makes it the target of developers who want to turn all the protected land into housing for the influx of wealthy people fleeing from climate change. And fight as they can, the conservationists are unable to stand against money and corruption that sees the laws protecting the environment stripped away to make room for business. It is how things go in this country, money being the thing that speaks and everyone looking first to do what is legal and easy and, if things begin to get to difficult, to try and change what is legal. And this woman knows that she's fighting a losing battle. Knows that she can't save enough. But when she gets the news that construction crews are moving in early, she wants to save something. She sets out to save just one owl, even as she knows she won't really be saving it. That it will lose it's freedom. It's a situation she doesn't want to be in and the owl, like the natural world, isn't exactly mindful of human concerns. It's a nice story, one that I would say is like a wake up call only everyone is already awake. More it calls out the kind of behavior that has led our world to it's current climate crisis.
"Mouth" by Helena Bell (3762 words)
A rather surreal story about a girl and then a woman who can remove other people's body parts. It's a talent she discovers when she accidentally removes her baby brother's mouth one night when he was crying. She's too late to try and put it back but that one action haunts her just as it changes her brother's life forever, causing him to need doctors and surgeries and prosthetic parts to make him more normal. It's something that she starts to do with her lovers when she's older, but only because they ask, only because they want to know what it's like. I really liked that the main character, Ann, is bi in the story and that it's not treated as a big deal. Maybe it's me just refreshed to see that but I was refreshed to see it so hurrah. And it's a dark and a bit creepy story, with Ann having this power to take people's body parts, to detach their mouths. But it's always something that ends the relationship, that causes people to leave her, perhaps because they cannot cope with her having that power. So she is alone mostly but for an owl as a sort of pet. Even Oliver, a man that she grows very close to over a long time, does not last, because while he never asks about her power, that too is something that she can't stand. She doesn't want to be a weird object but it's also something that defines her, that makes her who she is. And ignoring it doesn't work. She's out there looking for someone to care for her as she is and can't seem to find it, only finding people who can't deal or who don't want to face her. It's an interesting story, lonely and something that I think many people can relate to (maybe not the ability to remove body parts but still). It's soft and a bit quiet but alive with emotional impact. A good read.
"The Blood of a Dragon" by Matthew Hughes (7400 words)
Okay, I'm pretty sure that this was the last of the Kaslo Chronicles. Last time, our intrepid hero had been absorbed by a strange creature and here he is shown the secrets of the universe. It's a fair explanation of things, revealing exactly what happened to get things to here and all. I will admit that I have not gone back to the earliest chapters but I don't think that really has stopped me from enjoying the series. Really, I think one of the more interesting aspects of the story was how Kaslo hasn't been able to do an awful lot. He's a person out of place because the laws of the universe have shifted. It has made certain chapters drag but it has been interesting to see him struggle and start to find a way to fit in and be comfortable with himself. I say this mostly because this final chapter in the story does change things dramatically for Kaslo but only really by completely reversing his role and his abilities. He is "fixed" in a Deus Ex Machina sort of way and I just didn't quite think that it did his character that much justice to change his so completely. Now, the world building is solid and everything is wrapped up nicely. There is a nice movement of everything as it speeds towards the ending, the grand conclusion. There are some things that come back, some nice humor through it all as always. Still, as someone who had been rather fond of Kaslo, I'm a bit conflicted about that ending. About the way that it all come together. It's all very neat and tidy and in some ways incredibly satisfying. It certainly is fun in many ways. It is also ending a quite long run, so if you've been following along this is a must to check out.