The theme for this month's Crossed Genres is Portals. And the stories do a great job exploring that idea, that theme. For portals are openings, are possibilities. They lead somewhere, and not always to places that are expected or what they seem. In each of these stories there are portals, be they food or rifts in space or boxes that can shift reality. To step through that portal is to take a chance, to find something wholly new. These stories are strong and they are powerful. So I'm going to get to reviewing, okay?
"Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?" by Yusra Amjad (1645 words)
So I might rather love stories that feature cooking, and this one stars a woman who can transport people with her food. It's not a wholly unique gift, but it is a rare enough one, that the food she cooks takes people to a place, most often in their memories but not necessarily. It's both blessing and curse for her, because she can't really control where the food will take people, can't really control what they will see. But it is a fun story, the voice of the main character arresting and clear and a little sad through it all. And I like that tinge of sadness, that slightly edge of emotion that runs with everything, like it's something she keeps in check but that works its way into her food regardless. And I love the back-and-forth between her and her nephew, the way his questions, though innocent, cut to a part of her that she tries to ignore or keep hidden, that it worries her about her powers and how they work. And there is a sort of lingering tension about what emotions might have gotten into that food that she's making the child, where it might take him. Mostly, though, it's a fun examination of food's power to transport people to specific places and times, to show what words cannot, and how food is different things to different people, how it's not something that can be reproduced or captured easily, that it finds a way of revealing something deep and at times troubling. A very good story.
"Infinite Skeins" by Naru Dames Sundar (4578 words)
Well fuck. Crying now. This is...this story is good. About two women, Kuan and Ayo, who have lost their child, Xikele. Without a trace. And Ayo, who works in quantum possibilities, has an idea. She and her colleagues have created a box that allows them to explore different realities, some very similar to their own. And it is possible to take things from those realities. It sparks a series of tragedies, a series of losses, a drive of Ayo to find in one of those realities a daughter she can return with to her reality, to be whole again. It is a terrible thing, because she would be stealing that child from that realities Ayo and Kuan, but she cannot stop, is caught in a cycle, a cycle of grief and the inability to let go, the inability to resist the what ifs. The story is dark but it is beautiful, all these others worlds the raw and aching wounds of a mother who has lost. There is no way for her to stop, to give up on the life she feels she should have had. Which is how the tragedy unfolds and how the story continues to just build and build the tension and sadness and the grief. This one...this one has an amazing power to it, with prose that flows and images that haunt. And the ending. I won't spoil this one, but I love the way it examines the nature of grief and obsession, the cost of going for something that shouldn't be pursued, about running from dealing with grief. You need to read this. Go now!
"The Copperlin U.S. Post Office Manual" by Lauren Rudin (4241 words)
People might not know this, but I'm a big fan of the mail, being a part of a few penpal organizations. There is something magic about the mail, and it's no surprise to me that the mail makes it's way into spec fic (thinking a bit of the Valentine's Day story by Maria Dahvana Headley at Uncanny this year). This story is a great one of two women working at a post office near a rift to the realm of the dead, where the dead send messages out and the living can come and collect them. The messages are always something of mysteries, not real letters but strange scraps and bits of nonsense. Which I suppose means that no one is really sure that they're coming from the dead, except that they are addressed to and from. It's more about people hoping that they are getting messages from beyond, though, both the terror and the comfort that it would bring. The story is told as entries in response to the rules of the post office, and it is slow and beautifully built. There is a weight to the rather inane things the women get up, and the main character especially lives with a need to be near this mail, perhaps hoping to find something in the messages that would bring some sort of answer. What answer she receives, though, is that she'll basically have to wait to find out. Or, perhaps, there's a deeper message still, one that has nothing to do with the dead but everything do with the living, with the relationship of these two women working together, caring for each other. It's a nice story, and one that's sticking with me. A great way to end the issue!