|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"The Proper Motion of Extraordinary Stars" by Kali Wallace (7047 words)
A story about scientific inquiry and rather unscientific discoveries on a remote island, this story had a strange and lonely feel to it, but in end a sense of wider connections and deeper implications. Aurelia, a woman finding being a scientist in a man's world is rather frustrating, if also rather satisfying, has traveled to Asunder Island to study a star whose orbit seems too fast and too erratic to be caused by regular celestial forces. She's out to prove some member of the Royal Society wrong. Her parents were explorers, but died when she was twelve, and in some ways this trip is an attempt to reconnect with them, as they had come to the island to look at the star. When she arrives, Aurelia meets what seems to be a young woman named Constance (who turns out to maybe not be so young) and the two strike up a kind of friendship. They tell each other stories, and through Constance Aurelia learns a bit more about her mother, a bit more about herself and what drives her. The story is steeped in the Victorian sciences and yet strange creatures that remind me of the early Weird, though the style is very modern, not trying to be a found document or otherwise claiming at veracity. Instead the story seems to get its truth from the weight of the revelations about Aurelia and her mother. The link that binds them, the dissatisfaction with a world and society that would squander them. The title works into this, that erratic star like these women, going about their business while men try to claim their motion is impossible. And yet there they are, moving all the same, entirely proper for who they are, completely capable of defying the mandates placed on them. It's a nice story, with a light touch and a lot to pull out of the darkness to examine. Quite good.
"The Mothgate" by J.R. Troughton (5807 words)
A story about killing monsters and also about cycles and persistence and duty, this one combines an interesting gate to a land filled with dark creatures with a mother/daughter relationship that turns out to be not quite what it seems. The premise is interesting, a mother and daughter fighting off the monsters of this dark realm together. The mother teaching the daughter everything she knows, the daughter being groomed to replace the mother, who knows that she will eventually have to leave, to try and end the cycle by entering the gate and facing the horrors beyond. There in a nice added twist, though, at the end, a sly nod that things are not quite what they seem to be, that beyond the gate time is a fluid thing and that some events might seem a bit predestined. That really the duty of these women is one that they are trapped in, that they are trying to gain freedom from. It's a little difficult to understand, because the ending doesn't quite answer some of the questions, how this strange cycle started, but I'll be honest I'm normally willing to overlook things like that if the story is entertaining and this one certainly is, building the lonely mood, the blood and the smoke and ash and everything just working very well to set the mood. The key scene, the one actually through the Mothgate, is well done and everything comes together like a puzzle clicking into place. And there is a feeling that there is hope yet, that there is progress being made in this cycle of violence and death and loss and that eventually there might be release for these women who aren't quite what they seem.