|Art by Reiko Murakami|
"Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station" by Caroline M. Yoachim (2100 words)
Well this is a rather delightful almost-choose-your-own-adventure story about science fictional health care. Or, perhaps, about not-so-fictional health care. It's a fun piece, sarcastic and fourth-wall breaking and it flows nicely, loops and twists and creates the feel of navigating a system that not only is incredibly stressful but also designed to be frustrating and challenging (because how else to discourage people from seeking aid?). The style is slick and rather cute, the humor strong, but underneath that is a biting commentary on the trap that health care can be, the ways in which people are kept from things that might save them. The construction of the story plays with the idea of choice, with the idea of determination in the system, and in the end the story is a bit bleak, though wildly entertaining. [SOME SPOILERS] And I think what I like the most about the story is the way that it complicates choice, deciding to use the CYOA format to all lead to one ending, the rather harsh You Die ending because in many ways, in the system the story establishes, that's the only outcome. The only non-choice for surviving was to avoid that first incident entirely. Which the story doesn't even allow for, but which is basically the whole reason the character (or the reader?) is doomed to die, because they got injured. Some assholes might say the moral then is to not take a shortcut through hydroponics (so basically, blame the victim), and in many ways that's the system that we have now, but the story is pointing out just how fucked up that is. That there should be better options, that there should be a better way of doing things. It's a very fun story, though, so definitely check it out.
"RedKing" by Craig DeLancey (6400 words)
Here’s a story about hacking, about risk, about the natures of viruses and people's reactions to them. Mostly it's a rather engaging and tense technological crime story about a police code monkey putting himself at risk in order to outmaneuver a dangerous hacker. The premise of the story is interesting, a world where people have opened their brains, which brings a great deal of potential but also a great deal of potential risk. For the main character it's just work tracking down the person responsible for a virus that turns people into killers, a mutating virus that's already responsible for dozens of deaths. The tone of the story is tense, paranoid because of the what happens to the main character, and rendered quite well. Showing what makes people fear, what makes people hesitant about change and technology. Which is, in the end, what I take away from the story, a message about fear and about hope. [SOME SPOILERS] Because at the end there is a discussion about what comes next, the sides being basically "this is the new normal" and "run away and hide." Which is well rendered but I think leaves out some options there. Of course, the two people represent two rather different approaches to technology, and with what they went through it makes sense that they might have some rigid opinions on the matter. In the end, though, it's a neat little procedural techno-crime thriller, compact and concise and well executed. A fine read!
"Sparks Fly" by Rich Larson (3500 words)
Awwww! This is a super-cute story about a guy who has a rare condition where he basically fries electronics, a condition that reacts to his emotions. Which makes agreeing to go out with a girl he really likes without telling her about it a rather…well, it's a very well done story, cute and sweet and a bit sensual and definitely fun. The dynamic between the main character, Arthur, and Christina, the woman he takes out, is easy and light and interesting. The chemistry is strong and the date is funny and a bit dorky and very, very charming. The use of the sparks and Arthur's attempts to not fuck anything up work, along with his back story and subtle world building that the story manages. I loved the romance of the story and the humor of it, the small details that sell the date, that kept me smiling throughout the story. It's a great story for the beginning of spring, full of love and mishap and near-misses and an ending that manages to pull victory from the jaws of disaster. The writing does spark with sexual tension and awkwardness and a desperate hope that is relatable and compelling. So yes, this is rather a great story, triumphant and celebratory and unashamedly cute. Go check it out!
"Michael Doesn't Hate His Mother" by Marie Vibbert (3900 words)
This is a rather dark story about two children, Michael and Julie, whose mother…well, whose mother is not exactly normal. And I kind of love how the story goes about framing their relationship with their mother, how it shows how children are often ignored and that by being ignored are left in terrible situations. That some people are not really suited to being parents and need help and that it's unreasonable to leave them to children. The story does a great job of rendering the mother, showing her as a sort of destructive mechanical centipede who makes things rather difficult for Michael and Julie, who leaves them to cling to each other through the pain of their shared ordeal, and just also yearning for lives of their own. The story shows a rather sweet young relationship, as well, and Michael's difficulties with it, with trying to keep his own situation secret, with seeing how other families, other mothers are. The title speaks to the conflicted and complicated relationship Michael has with his mother, contrasts nicely with Julie's feelings, all of it gripping and intense and disturbing. The story shows a very difficult situation, one that people do tend to want to ignore because our society fails children in almost every way, and there are no good options here, no good ways forward, just a tragedy and sadness and a numbness that the story shows quite well, a hope and a raw need and a little boy and little girl and their mother. Quite difficult to read at times but very good!