|Art by Carly Sorge
"Going Endo" by Rich Larson (3250 words)
This is a fun and surprisingly sensual tale told of a exosuit mechanic and one of the suits that he works on. except, I suppose, it's not exactly just a suit, not just an it. The exo is more than that, alive on some level, built for war but capable of much more than that. And as the mechanic spends more time around Puck, the exo, he starts to see them as having more than basic wants and needs. He's gentle with it even as he sees the endo, the pilot of the exo, as too rough and sloppy. He starts to think about Puck in ways that are not exactly man and machine. His desires turn sexual, turn to wanting to be with the exo, wanting to be inside it, to have it inside him. It's a very interesting sexual situation that develops, and there is a part of me that would a bit more uncomfortable because Puck seems slightly less able to consent (the mechanic could, basically, be imagining that he's getting the go-ahead when that's not the case), but I think the story handles that quite well, handles all of it quite well so that there is a love story between mechanic and exo, and that the love story is even more complex, more rewarding, as it draws in a sort of triangle, or triad. It's a very interesting story, sexy and fun and with a voice that is consistent and evokes the setting well. A nice story.
"All Who Tremble" by A.A. Balaskovits (3900 words)
This is a very strange story about a family living in a house with a secret, a basement that vibrates, that hums, that makes the family outcasts, that makes the son forever five years old, that makes the daughter yearn for a way out, a way away from the house and the abuse and the trap that the house is for her. There is not much for her, and she lives in two worlds, the one of the house, her family, and the one outside, where she has sex for money and dreams of getting away, of having a place of her own or something. The vibrations of her house are different for different people. For some it is comforting, for some it is disturbing, but whatever way it is no one does anything about it. To me the story is about abuse and about freedom, about what a town is willing to overlook, willing to put up with. No one tries to help the family, who obviously can use some help. The children especially don't deserve the scorn and yet the people of the village seem to demonize them as well, make it easier to do nothing by seeing daughter and son as tainted by the house instead of victims of it. Some are drawn to the place, like the suffering of the one family makes their village better. The daughter, though, has aspirations, and while her drives seem largely self-destructive, they are also transformative. She wants a change, and so she changes. It's a surreal story, but the ending captures a bit of her desperation, her resolve to leave a mark. It's a striking story, and one worth checking out.
"Never Chose This Way" by Shira Lipkin (1600 words)
Closing out the fiction this month is this very dark and yet touchingly beautiful story about a person in a mental health facility slowly coming to better understand themself. The story begins with a statement, a sort of declaration that the main character is not a girl, and that statement arises in part from the way that girl is defined by people, as being one thing, as being submissive and "good." Instead of being a girl, the main character sees herself as a monster, finds some comfort and belonging with the other monsters, girls who are really dragons or werewolves or witches. And the main character isn't sure what they are, isn't sure what they want to be. It's a gripping story, slow and tragic and for anyone who has struggled with mental health probably a bit triggering. But it works, the prose disjointed enough, showing a person yearning to be understood, yearning for people to care, yearning to know that she will fit somewhere. Slowly these things open to them, but not because they are offered. More because they are stubborn and they start to figure themself out. Slowly they figure out what they are and, because they know the pain of it all, they begin to try and help other people. It's a nice story, positing basically that monsters have to help each other, that monsters aren't exactly monsters, that all they are are people who are pushed into categories that don't fit. The sense of slow despair in the story slowly lifts, and a deeper current can be felt tugging at things. A current of empathy, which is really what the main character really wanted. What most people really want. It's a somewhat chilling and definitely a dark piece, but one that has a vein of bright gold to it, a vein of hope. Good stuff!
"How the World Was Made--A Super Crown" Roger Bonair-Agard
Wow. So this month features just one poem but it's long and formal and...and good. It's a series of twenty four sonnets (and one brief coda) that covers the creation of the world. The poem comes with a note from the editors which is helpful in that it identifies and names the form and gives a little background on the character of Anansi (context is a good thing). The imagery of the poem follows Anansi as he discovers his power, as he learns how to create, as he learns how to lie. I love that the power of creation and the power of lying come together, linked, because there has to be a power to say what is and a power to name the new, to make things up, to invent and also to recognize that such invention does not imply ownership or control, that all creation is a mixture of order and chaos, that it's a dance and as such has to have the looseness of a dance. There is a sense that Anansi is learning from someone, from the Medicine Man, and yet as the poem moves Anansi begins to realize that the Medicine Man is really only a guide, only a part of himself that is there to help him contextualize his own power. And then, when in the end he understands, the Medicine Man disappears, and Anansi begins his work in earnest, because he has learned the secrets of lies and creation and no longer needs a guide. It's a poem with a strong rhythm, of repetition and circling, the form acting as a sort of dance, some elements recurring while leaving room for completely new steps, for flourishes and asides, all returning to the central steps, to the unifying meter of it all. And again, I love that the poem basically begins and ends with the idea that creation is an act of writing, which means it is an act of fiction that is willed into the world, that Anansi writes and that becomes real and not real, truth and lies. This is an incredibly interesting poem and one that begs to be read again and again. So do not miss out on this one. Go now, go now and read it!
"How Horror Made Me More Empathetic" by Mark Allan Gunnells
Hey, a rather interesting rundown on how the common inference that people who like horror must lack empathy is rather messed up. And I agree with this, because as I see it enjoying horror can be very useful for building empathy. Especially when it's good horror, horror that strives to make a point and that is aware of the sometimes problematic tropes that are used in the genre. I agree that the most powerful stories are ones that set a protagonist against a vast darkness, and that is something that most people can relate to. And that it's not the inevitable death that drives the story but how the character can somehow overcome the horror and perhaps stay sane and find a way to overcome the darkness. Now, as it's brought up, that's not the point of all horror, but even in cosmic horror, which really doesn't operate with victory over darkness in mind, the point is still to be exposed to the sublime. To something that places the viewer in scale, that uses the primal fear of erasure and insignificance. And even that I think is something that can build empathy, because even when faced with the vast cosmic terrors the implication (for good horror) is not that it is then pointless to try. The point is more that what we do is more important, that how we treat people is basically all that's important. At least, as I tend to read it. But the article is a good examination of how horror can actually lead people to empathize more with people, that horror is not some bogey man that makes young people "bad." Like most genres, the best stories, the best movies, are not the ones that say there is no hope, that empathy is weakness, but the ones that say that hope and empathy are our greatest strengths, and the only way to distance ourselves from the monsters lurking in the darkness. So yes, go give this one a read!