|Art by Christopher Park|
"An Offeratory to Our Drowned Gods" by Teresa Naval (1200 words)
To me this is a story of floods and cleansing, about erasure and survival. It stars Johnnyboy, a young woman who lived once in comfort in a large house with her family until…well, until the rain came and flooded it all. The story holds a kernel of loss and, deeper than that, a sense of rebirth. There's lots of imagery of the original flood touched with modern ideas of baptism and the waters of heaven that require a loss of memory in order to be cleansed permeate. This is still bound by a young perspective and a vision of the world as a place of violence and pollution. Johnnyboy comes from money but remains slightly apart from it. The flood is revolution, part justice and part the outpouring of hurt, something that doesn't easily differentiate innocent from guilty, if there is such a thing as innocence in a world with such inequality. [SPOILERS] And I like how the story positions Johnnyboy as part of the flood, as part of the water, where heaven and America are both the same kind of fiction, a place that's supposed to be beyond it all and yet isn't. It's a story that doesn't hold back on the implications of the flood but doesn't seem to me to rely on a divine force. This is a flood brought on by people, and it seems a way to say the dead can be for the Drowned Gods but the living have work to do. A great way to kick things off.
"Other Metamorphoses" by Fabio Fernandes (380 words)
Okay then. This story…this story leans a bit on the Kafka story it eludes to, and both in its length and its style could be said to be Kafka-esque, occupying a unique kind of strange and blending dreams with reality with oppressions with punishment and crime and science fiction. It unfolds in the nebulous space of dreams, in the person of Gregor Samsa, a man who can dream himself to other realities, into other bodies. A man trying to get back to his own head and…well, the story maintains an ambiguous quality throughout, the question of is this real or not, a dream or not, and whether that matters in the face of Gregor's dilemma, that feeling of being disconnected, of trying to reach some place where he is himself and finding that very act criminal, outlawed. Kafka's works often deal with twists and surprises, mazes where the cat always wins, bodies that suddenly don't fit right, and the threat of violence omnipresent. I like how the story unfolds, how it seems to contradict itself, how it says something only to deny it and ends in a place of almost baffled oppression. Especially for Kafka fans, definitely check this one out!
"Breathe Deep, Breathe Free" by Jennifer Marie Brissett (1400 words)
As I read it, this story speaks very well to two main things, environmental damage and systemic white supremacy. And I say two things but really there's a very real way that those are one thing, linked hand in hand in ways designed to make people desperate, to keep people down. The story, the plot, is really a conversation between two young people trapped in a town where a gas spill or frakking or some similar ecological disaster has happened, where people have left but some remain, trying to hold onto what is theirs. It's a story that happens with some frequency now, invisible but for obscure news pieces online. And it has everything to do with race and class and power, the people suffering because of frakking never the wealthy. The story explores the ways that these things act and how these ecological disasters mirror the reality for people simply living where they can. Where white supremacy is a sort of living cloud seeking to choke the life from people. The conversation in the story is natural but also a sort of poetry, broken by prose sections that reveal the landscape and the situation. It's dire and it's bleak but there's also the call to action, the idea that this is something that can be fought. That people will see a fire burning, that people will pay attention if that fire spreads. An amazing story!
"Morning Cravings" by Nin Harris (1500 words)
Confession time. I love eggs. I love basically every preparation of eggs I have ever tried and this story breaks my heart. Breaks. My. Heart. Because at it's core it's about belief and about custom and about betrayals, both small and large. It takes place in a beautifully rendered setting, a planet alive with song and energy, crafted at the first brush with humanity to contain a multitude of people, all of them present and in some ways competing but also coexisting according to some shared rules and some that only apply to certain groups. And that is what I feel is driving the narrative and the tragedy, that this world is different depending on what group you fall in. That for some eating an egg is just that. No taboo and no punishment. But for other groups it's not, not just because of the taboo but because of the real consequences it might cause. The rules of the world they live in force different standards on them. Certain actions are just not safe, the way that certain actions in our world are just not safe depending on your group, depending on how you are perceived. It's not enough to say that oh, we're beyond that, it doesn't matter, because there are institutions in place to enforce the rules. Violence waits for those who transgress, if you are of certain groups, as Ycliss is here, as Derthye is not. And fuck is that point painfully illustrated here, with eggs and love and violence. Go read this story.
"The Peacemaker" by T. S. Bazelli (1400 words)
This story takes place in a city devastated by war in a future where peacekeeping robots feel but are not people. The story examines the idea of home, of foreignness, of feeling and empathy and a solution to war. In many ways it's about internalized narratives, about the peacekeeper being told always that they are not a person. That they cannot be a person. That they must always come behind human needs and wants. And if that's the message, if that's what's being sold, then what options are there for the robots. How are they to face such no-win situations like war where their primary functions are not only mostly meaningless but impossible as well? [SPOILERS] And I love the way the story approaches its conclusion, the decision on the part of the main character to disassemble, to try and make the humans more comfortable by going home, by going "back," only to find that it's not so simple. That origin and home are about more than just DNA and ancestry. That people everyone is made of so much that to attempt to go back from where you came from would mean dissecting yourself. It's a clever twist and a brilliant story!
"Binaries" by S.B. Divya (900 words)
*Totally not crying at all* This story does an amazing job of capturing scope in time and space and tying the supremely limitless down into something that is human. That is hurt. That can never be whole. The story follows the narrator through their life and in some ways beyond that, beyond the tradition limits of human life into a future where rejuvenation is possible, where body transformations are possible, where people can become energy itself, unable to really be destroyed or even age and it's all beautifully done. Because most of all, for me, the story is about a loss that science and the push of human knowledge and being cannot undo. That the main character is always chasing something that seems forward but is really back, that is buried in a past that cannot be returned to. The story excels in its imagination, in the way it builds this future and captures time by stopping back every once and a while. Every milestone, which come farther and farther apart as the main character drifts from the initial human perceptions of time. It's a vast story but very intimate and very emotionally hitting. Another excellent read!
"Chocolate Milkshake Number 314" by Caroline M. Yoachim (800 words)
This is a story that mixes the crushing weight of cosmic death with a light romance involving a food printer and two people with not an awful lot to do other than sit around and drink milkshakes. Especially coming off the last story it almost seems happy. And it is, in many ways, as I read it, about finding something beautiful in the face of certain doom. About having a limited amount of time and still taking it, still refusing to rush or panic. All life has limits, after all, and there is something to said about allowing it to unfold at its own pace, even when it seems like the clock of oblivion is ticking very quickly indeed. I love the detail of it. And yes, I love the food, because stories about food are awesome. The way that it builds the relationship between the two main characters is sweet and doubly so for the gaping tragedy that is their situation. [SPOILERS] Because yes, they are going to die. They are going to die in a black hole and nothing will stop that. And yet they date slowly instead of rushing headlong into sex and drama (not that I have anything against sex and drama), which does a great job of showing that love can be sharing a milkshake together, that love can seem quiet and slow and still be intense and amazing. Like this story.
"Four and Twenty Blackbirds" by JY Yang (1500 words)
And here we have a story that breaks rather quickly from the sweet romance of the last story and blasts straight into alien spores that turn women into incubators for bird-things that seem like they might be children until they don't. It's creepy and it's stark and it's difficult and it's…good. The way the story draws the fear surrounding pregnancy, the way it shows that women get blamed for whatever happens to the child while inside them. That they become objects housing other objects, human-sized slot machines that men want to control so that they can profit in children. The story has some great horror moments, the tension of what might be, the vague and omnipresent alien threat, and the xenophobia and hatred of the populous, especially the men, in trying to eradicate the aliens. There is also a great sense of unseen contagion here, that the main character is being infected, that women in general are becoming infected. Not with alien spores but something different. A yearning for freedom, for wings, for escape, a yearning that the men react violently to, preferring women dead to disobedient. It's a dark story but a gripping one, and definitely one to check out!
"A Handful of Dal" by Naru Dames Sundar (1500 words)
This story speaks to me of generations and migrations and, yes, food. I do love that these flash fictions have brought on a lot when it comes to cuisine, and this story definitely goes the farthest, told as a series of recipes that translate struggle and distance and hope and despair into how people cook their dal. How people value cooking and what they have. The story is a cycle in many ways, a series of movements and loses and chances. A march of hope that is never quite killed, even when dal itself is gone, or seems to be. Always there is a seed of hope hidden in the recipes, in the scraps of paper this family saves and passes on. [SPOILERS] And I love the ending, that there is a cycle complete, returned to its origins, but different. I love that there is the acknowledgement that the taste might change. That what they know as cumin might taste entirely different on a different world, with different soil, but that what remains is the connection back and the hope going forward, the remembrance and the strength of it. It's such a simple recipe and that's part of it, that there here is something so simple and yet even that changes, alters. It's a great framing of a complex idea and a moving narrative told down the generations. Indeed!
"Hiranyagarbha" by Kevin Jared Hosein (1500 words)
This story mixes the tragedy of a slow death with a nice bit of humor and a great voice in the form of Balgobin, a man who finds a strange pool of golden liquid flowing from the trunk of a mangrove. The story follows him and he tries to figure out what it is, as he confronts the death and slow spread of the liquid, the way that it coats all that touch it, the way that there is no stopping it. [SPOILERS] And I like how the substance gets drawn out, not really as a pollutant, not as an oil or byproduct of some human creation, but mirroring it and making it something almost opposite. A sort of unpollution that will lead to a rebirth. After, of course, it gets rid of everything that's already here. And I like that, the sort of growing realization that Balgobin has that maybe that's not such a bad thing. That what with all the pollution and spills, maybe this makes sense. Maybe this is a good thing. And I just like the voice of the story, the flow of it, the ridiculousness of the white people TV show. It's a story that pokes about at the fringes at what might be the end of the world and nods and goes about its business. A nice way to close out the flash fiction!