|Art by Ashley Mackenzie|
"Dune Time" by Jack Nicholls (7188 words)
This is a beautiful story about time and about movement. About movements, really. It features two brothers alone with the desert as part of a study, chronicling the slowly shifting sands of the Sahara. Tariq is younger and involved in politics, at least so far as he is engaged in openly questioning the government and working for change. His brother, Hasan, is slower and more spiritual, and has been out in the desert longer. What follows is partly Gothic, the distance and the remoteness giving the brothers a different perspective. A different time. Which comes to trap them, or try to trap them. That works its way into the bones and requires them to work together, to come together across their many differences, to help each other escape and remain sane. And I love the way the story moves, the parallels it draws between the movements of the sands and the movements of people. That progress, be it geological or political, often requires a distance to see the logic of. The movement of. To see that things change slowly even when they appear to change quickly. It's a great way of framing that story and bringing it home to the characters. Their isolation is well conveyed and their philosophies are well grounded. And it is love that ultimately saves them, love and understanding and working together. The ending might be somewhat too neat a bow to draw on things but it does make rather clear the implications of the brothers' experience in the desert. They are moved, and once they have been they see with new eyes, see patterns that others cannot. And it's just a well constructed and executed story, human and complex with a touch of the sublime, very Gothic and very good. Indeed!
"The Destroyer" by Tara Isabella Burton (5082 words)
This story has slight echoes of the previous one in it, in that it's also about movements. But this looks at heritage and at systems and at the weight of history. The weight of tyranny and hate and oppression. The story shows a Rome that never fell, that is still strong and thriving. Where a woman, the main character of the story's mother, is a great scientist pushing the bounds of science forward in great strides. And part of that is creating for herself a daughter with no father, just of her own. It's that daughter the story centers on, though really the story is more about the mother. The mother's drive to be viewed with respect. With admiration. As people would treat a man. As people would treat a Caesar. But no matter how she tries, what she cannot really undo with scientific progress is erase the prejudices of the past. She is stuck, and unlike the last story she is unwilling to wait for change, needs it with a driving passion and so…well, [SPOILERS] kind of destroys the world. I love how the story plays out, too, because it shows how much she internalized the misogyny of the world, how much hate has twisted her, how much she wants respect but knows that it will be forever out of reach because she will always be filtered by what people think of her gender. And so she tries to change it and does, though perhaps not as she intended. It's a rather haunting story, one that explores the results of abuse and oppression and prejudice and hate. But also one that shows a way forward. By burning everything down. And I love that message as well, that sometimes you can't build on a rotten foundation. That sometimes it's all you can do to tear it all down and start again. Start better. It's a great story with a captivating voice and a desolate, but ultimately redemptive arc. Definitely check it out!
"La beauté sans vertu" by Genevieve Valentine (4212 words)
This is sharp and unsettling story about beauty perception and the fashion industry and the commodity of girls. Quite literally, as the story looks at a world where taking the bones of thirteen year olds and transplanting them into (slightly) older women is the norm, is an art, everything very high concept and spiritual without really pausing to think about the cost, the human cost, and what gaze is at work in a world where having the bones of a thirteen-year-old but totally being over eighteen is desirous so that there's not something wrong about sexualizing fashion models. Like people can agree that it's not right to rape children but it is okay to fantasize about raping children. Where youth and beauty are conflated and where delicacy and fragility are supposed to be all that is woman. Breakable and exploited. Hungry, starved, angry, still. It's a story ripe with industry and speed and the business of beauty, of manufacturing bodies and appearance. It follows a number of women, all brushing against the industry but some inside it and some outside and some steering and some steered but all of them effected by it, made victim of it, all of them repulsed and drawn and destroyed by different increments. It's powerful and it's filled with a glitzy veneer, a sort of faux beauty that does not quite cover up the violence and harm that it is helping to spread. It takes a complex look at beauty and fashion and doesn't flinch away, captures the many sides of it and left me as a reader a bit shattered, shaken. A great read!