The theme for this issue of Crossed Genres Magazine is Success. Which is an interesting and wide theme to play with, not really a content restriction so much as a way of ending. And the three stories tackle the theme in different ways, some of them having victory but at the cost of bodies on the ground, mass death and sickness and some having a bit more personal of success, a new way of seeing the world, a new way of doing a job. In all the characters overcome some aspect of the world that is oppressing them. Not always completely, but these are most definitely success stories. Onward with the reviews!
"RedChip BlueChip" by Effie Seiberg (4479 words)
This story is about advertising and choice and focuses in on Mikila, a young woman just turned fifteen who has to be implanted by a chip that will influence which brands she prefers. Coke or Pepsi, Jiff or Skippy, everything is apparently influenced by these chips that interact with the brain. For Mikila, who prides herself on being rebellious so that she can fit in with the "cool" rebels at school, being Chipped means that she might get kicked out of the group. She knows that she'll have to do something big to stay in with them, something dramatic. It's interesting how the story handles the pressures young people (and all people) face, both from advertising and companies trying to tell them what to buy and from each other. Mikila's group is based around peer pressure in many ways, a pressure not to conform, while advertisers use pressure to consume, to seem cool, to try and get people to buy their products. It's a wrinkle of the story that I enjoyed, though it's not addressed too much directly. It is present though and Mikila starts to try and figure out a new way of doing things, a new way of existing, when she's introduced to an Underground where (supposedly) people can buy products with no brand affiliation. Except, of course, that too is a bit of an illusion, evidence of a different chip that works even on rebels. It's a nice story that comes together well, showing just how pressure can shape how people act and consume. A good read.
"The Tear Collector" by Justin C. Key (5708 words)
This one is a strange sort of historical fantasy set during the Depression and featuring supernatural collectors of emotions. The main character is the Tear Collector, who uses a sort of telepathy to drive people into negative thoughts and emotions so that he can harvest emotions. It's a novel setup, one that see this guild that the Tear Collector is a part of working with a glut of negative emotions. Too many people are sad, are afraid, are stressed. It makes the market of such things saturated and means that more tears must be collected to make up for it. Only the Tear Collector wants to focus on the art of the collection and not just the quantity. He wants to get back to how the guild was under other leaders, before the collapse of the market. It's nice how it implies that this guild and greed were in part to blame for the Depression. It's a little difficult to place the story in time, though, as there isn't a great focus on the city or on the time period. The story, the language, everything still kind of feels like it's set in the present. And at first I wasn't quite sure how this would pull all together, but it does a nice job of coming up with a conflict that forces the Tear Collector to face the failures and betrayals of his superiors. And in doing so he finds a new way of doing things, a new way of collecting that suddenly makes doing his job no longer a chore. An interesting story, with some neat ideas.
"The Plague Between Us" by Clint Monette (5065 words)
In this one a pair of human, perhaps one of the last pairs of human, works on a cure to a sentient virus that has taken over the world. From their secluded workshop they live and try to figure out a way to fight back against the bacterial or viral agents that are now using humanity as hosts. It's a weird setup that is revealed slowly and even then not complete, as the cause of the infection is really never known. The pacing of the story is slow, gradually building, the life these two characters live one of casual and relaxed companionship. They are at ease with one another and despite the craziness of their situation they don't really fight. They care for each other, and the story focuses a bit more on the boy in the relationship. Which was one interesting part of the story, that the couple are referred to as boy and girl, not man and woman, and get they are both wrinkled, both apparently feeling their age. But they are young in that they are together and working toward a goal. They keep each other young and moving forward, the boy cooking and cleaning and the woman working on the cure. Which is something I wasn't quite sure about with everything that was going on. Because the virus or bacteria is supposed to be sentient. Which does make what they are trying to do a form of genocide. If the humans suffered such a fate first, there's still something to be said about doing it for revenge, so that nothing really will be left. I wasn't sure how many humans remained aside from these two. It's possible there are more out there. But if there aren't, and the story really doesn't give all that much hope to their being more, the ending is still rather sad. Or tragic. There's a beauty to it, to what these character have and have accomplished, but there is a darkness lurking there, those smiles at the sight of corpses. Definitely worth checking out, though.