I'm not one who goes into a publication hoping for some strict adherence to a theme. Color me the wrong kind of SFF reader, but I like to be surprised and I like to be challenged. Like the alien in the third story, sometimes what we go looking for isn't what we need to learn. And I think that this issue does a good job of justifying its place in the field. It does a nice job of presenting stories that are fresh and unique, that weave genres and themes in interesting ways. So yeah, I should really get to the reviews...
|Art by Anastasia (Mircha) Astasheva|
"She Must" by A.J. Fitzwater (3664 words)
This is a very interesting piece dealing with fairy tales, with the lack of agency that many fairy tale protagonists face. Especially women. The story does an excellent job of using language to get across its message, to mirror that lack of power. The She Must of the title is reflected in the fact that the expectations are always on the main character to do certain things. To be certain things. To force herself to meet the whims of others. Even when she is involved in getting away from the world that oppressed her, that pressed her into a mold. She comes to the Beast, a creature the village fears, but mostly in the specter of freedom that surrounds it, the shadow it casts that seems to promise something different. That allows the main character to begin to deconstruct the fairy tale, the idea of what she must be doing. Slowly she is able to do something, something for herself. She never truly escapes the must, the villagers storming her new home and demanding her obedience, but she does manage some measure of power and honesty with herself. It's a strange story, taking liberties with language that pay off, that make the story memorable and complex. A fine way to kick off this inaugural issue!
"The Harpsichord Elf" by Sean Monaghan (2458 words)
This story manages a nice sci-fantasy feel and a very frenetic energy, with a thief named Shev trying to liberate a family of elves from a harpsichord. And that is a strange premise if I've even seen one, but here it works, Shev being a bit of a career criminal who's still a decent person. He doesn't hurt where he can get around it, and while he talks a big game it's normally him on the receiving end of punishment. Still, he's the kind of character who keeps managing to bounce back, to grin and try something new, to be surprising and fearless. Well maybe not fearless. But certainly fun. The world that is built is a mix of science fiction and fantasy, a galaxy of worlds and yet a fun mashup of fantastical creatures and magical music instruments. Whereas the last story was a bit haunting, this story releases the tension and enjoys itself, drawing the reader into a fast-paced chase and more traditionally happy ending. It had me smiling.
"The Tragic Human Condition of Sleep" by Sabrina Amaya Hoke (2974 words)
This is another rather strange tale, but it brings the mood back down, sinking a bit into the mind of an alien trying to understand the Earth. There as a part of a Colony seeking to understand the universe, the main character gets distracted by a statue of a woman. The alien and the statue start a sort of friendship, or a relationship of sorts, the alien entranced and wanting to learn and the statue tired and wanting to sleep. The statue is on the verge of crumbling, is on the verge of dying, and the alien is compelled to investigate, to want to know. They do not sleep, do not exactly die. They find in the statue, in that image of Gretta Lorraine, something that unsettles them and gets them to question their nature, their quest. Gets them to pursue personal knowledge instead of more universal concerns. There is a longing here, a sort of unanswerable want to understand that is both sweet and sad. It's a bit heartbreaking, watching the main character trying to understand, trying to grow and finding themself on the verge of something, of life and death, of sleep. Of perhaps getting to understand something truly alien. As said, it's another rather strange story, the dialogue of the statue at times hard to pick out of the observations of the main character, but it works, revealing something of the universe in the fate of an old statue. A nice story.
"The Need for Overwhelming Sensation" by Bogi Takács (5027 words)
This story has a lot going on in it. Like, a lot going on in it. The action centers on a pair who control their own ship, a captain and crew of one, a master and a submissive. Nothing quite so easy as can be summed up by any of that, really, but it's the bones around which I can understand the characters and their very complex relationship, one that involves pain and permissions and magic and pride. At a plot level the story is about a failed joining of a planet into a larger alliance. Which, awesome, because these are my favorite kinds of science fictions, kinds that complicate the models established by Star Trek. And the pair and their ship is drawn into a plot that has gotten a bit out of hand, by a person who isn't the saint that they've been portrayed in the media. It's a complicated story and one that has a novel's worth of world building in it. Indeed, this has the feeling of a part of a much longer work in a rather satisfying way, setting up a rich setting and interesting characters and providing here a brief and rather tense chapter in their lives that helps to establish their roles and their place in the larger tapestry. Very solid work, and I would buy the hell of out of a novel or collection of these stories. Just saying. A fine way to close out this first issue of Capricious.