|Art by James Ng|
"Tomorrow When We See the Sun" by A. Merc Rustad (7000 words)
Well this month is certainly liking the strange far future science fiction stories, so this story fits right in at being set in a strange future beyond the scope of humanity where Mere, a person constructed from parts taken from a great many other people, struggles to remember their past and make their life mean something. Forced to be a court executioner for being that so powerful they are like walking gods, Mere begins to remember when they are made to kill a man, a man who they actually knew, who was actually very important to them. What it sparks is a story of betrayals and torture, Mere experimented on and made to do what they refuse, made to be a killer of their friends, their lovers. It’s a very sad story but it’s also a revenge tale, a revenge tale mixed with a want to make amends, to remember the dead, to prevent their complete erasure. Mere fights not really for themself, but to give rest to those that they killed. It’s about forgiveness and the power of trying to what is right regardless of how it might end. It’s about rebirth and reinvention. And it’s a touching story, though a weird one, a story that takes the reader to a universe wondrous and strange, and asks that they please keep up. It’s a fun story, too, for all its darkness, and one I recommend reading closely.
"Beneath the Silent Stars" by Aidan Doyle (4200 words)
You see what I’m saying about science fiction stories that really up the scope of their conflicts. December is a time for endings, and I guess that means a time for focusing on how humanity might meet the prospect of its utter destruction. Here it does so in a society run like a giant research institution, one that sends pairs of people out after the truth. It’s a neat setup, from the ships that have personality to the palpable uncertainty and fear of the main character. That insecurity is at the heart of the story, that drive for the truth because there is a comfort there, in knowing a thing. And yet in the face of extinction there is also comfort in the unknown. Because a lot of things can happen. The truth can turn out to be…well, not a lie exactly, but misinterpreted. There is hope, which does not always have anything to do with the truth. And there is love, which cannot be verified fully, which only has to be trusted. The story weaves all of these together to show two people finding each other at an ending, and a beginning. It’s a graceful story, one filled with possibilities, with truth. A fine read!
"Tea Time" by Rachel Swirsky (4900 words)
On one level this story is a bit of fanfiction, though the character are public domain so that makes it something else probably. It’s also a story about love and longing, about time and fighting against it, about change and meaning and the nature of madness. Using Alice in Wonderland, and the Mad Hatter and March Hare specifically, the story explores the language of love and desire, need and escape. The Hatter has murdered time in order to keep Tea Time eternal, in order to not have to go back to his trade, his toil, his death. And he loves the Hare, though the Hare doesn’t really love him back. It’s a surprisingly tragic and powerful story, one that looks unflinchingly at the love these two share and then lifts up the illusions. It’s a clever story, told using the conventions of the stories, and in some ways a raw story, all that need of the Hatter shattered, the Hare running free, time resurrected and the whole enterprise in shambles. But there are tea times and there are times for tea, and one ends and one doesn’t. Change creeps in, even into old texts. Change places, change teas. The ending comes and it is an ending, with all the weight of that, the sadness, the loss. There is light as well, hope, the feeling that one can’t stay in one place forever. One can’t escape time. It’s a weird story but that’s just par for the course this month, and it’s quite good, especially for fans of the source material (which I am). So hurrah!
"Ex Libris Noctus" by Jay Lake (5900 words)
And the weird just keeps on coming with this story, as well as a weight of sadness and history. It’s a trip through the unconscious, through the repressed, through the metaphoric representation of dealing with the death of a parent, with this woman dealing with the death of her father. It is unsettling and it is ripe with weirdness, numbers chasing her and the ghosts of men speaking ill of the dead. And her, trapped in it all, just trying to get to his funeral, trying to sort her feelings about a man she loved and might not have loved. The events of the story are strange, surreal, and it’s hard to tell what is metaphor and what really happened. Whatever the case, the story is disturbing but evocative, a tribute to dealing with an estate on top of dealing with loss and grief and guilt. There’s a lot to take in here, but it’s quite worth working through, descending layer by layer so that you can reach bottom and begin to work up again, out, toward something new and rich and beautiful. The story is made especially poignant as it comes posthumously, and there is plenty to read into that as well, and author thinking about a character dealing with death. It’s a fine story, and a rather bittersweet way to close out the original fiction for the issue. Yeah…