|Art by Martin Ende|
"Fire in the Haze" by Mishell Baker (8804 words)
This is a rather odd story about chaos and loyalty, love and change. It features Jal En, a person who has become a Seeress, an agent of the goddess of chaos, a magic user of some power. And something of a Trojan Horse, born with the body of a man and shaped into a woman in order to show the world that men can learn magic as well. Shaped by a "goblin," a different kind of agent of the goddess, and one that En had a relationship with. Before everything sort of fell apart. Before En finds themself in a passionate affair and the spell allowing them to maintain their illusion starts to falter. It's a tricky thing to pull off a setting where misogyny is replaced by institutional misandry. Especially when most of the women in the story are various shades of antagonist and the main character is sometimes male in some ways deceiving women in a sexual manner to bring down the system or at least sow chaos. It's a very complicated situation, because the gender of the main character seems fluid, and it doesn't exactly feel that they're being dishonest to their own desires or identity but they certainly weren't being forthcoming with their sexual partner and it made for a tricky read for me. I do feel that the setting succeeds in being complex and working, being more than just a cardboard premise. And the heart of the story is about the relationship between En and the goblin they have in some ways betrayed, about En and the way they slide into the comforts of the dominant group. And the way that En is reminded of what they left behind and slowly come to realize what they want and what they're going to do. It's a vividly imaginative piece, and the world is magical and rich. I loved the focus on chaos and shapeshifting, and the sentimental way that En and the goblin interact, full of hurt and betrayal and so many emotions. It's a bit of a conflicting piece, but in the end I thought it was pretty fun and quite interesting!
"The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles" by Rachael K. Jones (4870 words)
This is a story about a city in the desert. Oasis, which is another word for prison. At least for Hester it is so, and for the many people who take part in the moonside bazaar, where you can buy an egg that will transform you into something else, something capable of surviving out in the sand and heat. Hester, and Oasis in general, is caught between different pulls. The sunside lover she fears, the moonside lover she can't quite belong with. There is the role she is expected to fit into and she finds she cannot, but also finds that she is barred from becoming something else, becoming an asp and escaping the city. It's a story to me that speaks of oppression and desperation, feeling different but unable to funny express or embody it and knowing that who you are is criminal, means living under constant threat. The world of the story is stark and darkly beautiful, a place where no body goes to waste, where there is the world of the day that is completely different from the world of the night. And Hester finds that she's not the only one suffering, not the only one afraid and looking for a way out. [SPOILERS] And I just love the aesthetic of the piece, the way eating an egg can be transformative, the way that what escapes is the essence of the person, that part that is separate from the body, and that they can find a better way through it. The character work is solid and the ending is joyous, a celebration of self and freedom and form. It's a lovely and at times brutal story and it is one you should definitely check out!