|Art by Galen Dara
"Secondhand Bodies" by JY Yang (5800 words)
This stories speaks to me about the cycle of oppression, about how damage gets passed along, how sometimes those that have no power, who are abused, turn that pain outward and become abusers themselves. The story unfolds in a future where getting a new body isn't all that difficult. Where it's not always done legally but it is quite possible. Agatha is rich and unhappy with her body, told to be unhappy with her body, an arrangement that has always existed, that her wealth is not enough to protect her, that there is no real way to protect herself, to be secure. Instead she seeks to get what she wants, to be deeply selfish so that, as I read it, she doesn't feel the oppression so intensely. As long as she can pass along any abuse that lands on her, as long as she can punch down, she can avoid seeing the system as fundamentally broken. She wants a new body, and she finds one, one willing to swap for her body, which might not meet the popular beauty ideal but is still desirable for its race and class. Except that when Agatha meets the woman who wants a way out of the glass ceilings keeping her down, Agatha desires to possess her, which is about as close to love as she gets. It's like she overcompensates. Despite being rich, despite being relatively powerful, Agatha cannot be wholly secure because at any time someone more powerful (read in this case: male of the same race) can take anything away from her. It's a complex story and one that is hard to read at times because it complicates the idea of who is victim and who is abuser. It explores that intersectional area and shows the ugliness that lives there, the self-destruction and the corruption. The story hits, is unrelenting as it careens toward the end, those last lines a lingering curse and warning. A fine story.
"Beyond the Heliopause" by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown (6100 words)
This story takes the reader nearly out of the solar system to tell a tale of discover and change, wonder and awe and mortality. It follows Suzanne, a journalist in the prime of her career who is faced with mortality, not her own but that of her father, the only person who really gets her and that she truly connects with ever since her husband left her to travel to the Heliopause, to the border between the solar system and everything else. Which is…not really what is seems to be. I quite enjoyed how the story built up the suspense for what was out there, how it took compared the drive that draws people to religion and twisted it, not so as to be anti-religion, but to capture something that religion has in common with science fiction and, really, all speculative fiction. The sense of magic or, to say it differently, the sense of purpose. That there is something greater than us, some goal or purpose. That the universe is not, in the end, a cold or clinical place but one filled with new wonders. And in many ways of course that is a question of how you look at the world, but here I think the story does something a bit different, drawing the solar system in such an unusual way that it evokes an almost religious experience in the characters that experience it. Because their understanding of the universe is made to shift. Not toward a necessarily unnatural or unscientific understanding of our place, but toward something...well, rather strange. And it is that strangeness, recognizing that the universe is far more complex and wonderful than our imaginations could have prepared us for, that sells the story, that layers it. The character work is strong and the human drama compelling, and it all comes together nicely. Indeed!
"The Savannah Liars Tour" by Will McIntosh (4300 words)
Fucking goddamn story making my cry! Hold on a sec. Ahem. Ahem! Okay…sorry… Ahem. So this story doesn't exactly play fair, building up a rather dense tragedy and then punching me right in the gut with something different and that much worse. In some ways this story seems about the dangers of holding too hard to the past. Obviously, with a premise that involves being able to enter cryogenic sleep in order to communicate with dead relatives, there is a lot to be said about how people grieve and how they get over loss. For Ben, who's aging and remarried but who still visits his dead first wife as often as he can, it means a rather complex situation. Because he promised his first wife he would always visit, and yet too much of his energy is spent on her now, to the point that his newer marriage is suffering. So he's faced with having to make a choice. And it's a choice that a person shouldn't have to make. Neither love is wrong, and in a world where you do literally get eternity I don't think that the idea that you owe more to the living is completely true, especially when communication and interaction with the dead is possible. Which makes what happens so tragic, so…wrenching, especially because what happens when he tries to "make it right." It's a story of missed chances and memory and loss, and it's quite beautifully done, even if it is devious in its engineering a story that tore at my still-beating heart. A lovely read.
"Maiden, Hunter, Beast" by Kat Howard (2500 words)
This is the shortest original story of the issue and a rather striking one, told from three perspectives that border on archetypes. The unicorn, the virgin, and the hunter. I thought the way the story locked the hunter and the unicorn was interesting, the fable-esque nature of it, the way they were their roles, both old now and tired of the chase, waiting for the next iteration. The wild card, the change, comes from the maiden, a young woman who at first breath seems to have no part of this story but who is drawn in, drawn to the plight of the unicorn. It is her voice that is fresh, that is modern, that looks upon this tragedy with new eyes. And that became the focus for me, the power of this young woman to change the narrative, to not have to accept things as they are. The hunter and the unicorn both give the feeling that this has lasted for a very long time, and yet neither of them offer reasons for beyond the drive to hurt and hunt and outwit. But the purpose escapes both of them. In the end, it is the maiden who makes a stand and shatters the cycles of violence, or at least shifts them. There is still the sinister nature of the ending, the promised hunt to begin again, but here there is also the promise that the old roles will not be repeated. That perhaps this is the end of it, or the start of something completely different. The contrast of voice and roll is strong and pace is quick, driven forward by the inevitability of the outcome which, it turns out, wasn't exactly inevitable after all. Another good one!