|Art by Javier Caparo|
"El Cantar of Rising Sun" by Sabrina Vourvoulias (3465 words)
This story is part fiction and part poetry, an epic that focuses on a family, a brother and sister, children of a gang king, and their friend and witness. The story is one of generations and fate and fighting against it. The children try to run, try to fight against the fate they seem born with, the tired narrative that the rest of the world seems to want, to demand from them. Live but not too long. Suffer. Give people a simple moral story of what not to do. There is a magic to the story, to the characters, to the way that Alonso tries to ward off disaster by updating the tattoos he was given as a child. The way everyone seeks to survive, to get good jobs, to get out of the worst situations, the worst areas. And, ultimately, how the dangerous streets aren’t geographical but sociological. That they exist not in the physical sense, not fully at least, but at the intersections of oppression and violence and poverty. And in these spaces there is no real safety. People are struck by stray bullets or killed for who their parents are or any number of reasons that will be erased and replaced by the idea of gangs and skin and drugs. It’s a beautiful story and one that isn’t afraid to mix poetry and prose, theater and aching reality. This is a tragedy, a play that almost mirrors Hamlet in its scope and trajectory. It’s a memory and a tribute. It’s an epic that’s not over, that won’t be over as long as the situation continues, as long as people live and die and are denied a narrative of their own. A powerful read!
"A Hundred and Seventy Storms" by Aliette de Bodard (5064 words)
This is a story of endurance and escape, about orbits and cycles of pain and death and family. The main character of the story is a ship, The Snow Like a Dancer, who sails in order around a planet which a few times a year passes through a storm that threatens to tear her apart. She’s already pushing the limits of lifespan for ships in her position, and is living with the feeling of being stuck, of not being built to withstand leaving the planet but not really built to withstand staying, either. Not indefinitely. And as she weathers the latest storm, the largest she has known, she spends time with her minder, her Cousin Lua, and the two think about their fates and their futures. I love the way the story builds its world, this vast galactic organization with this little orbital platform out in the boondocks. The Snow Like a Dancer is dealing with being left behind, her mother having left for bigger and better things. Something that she cannot do. It’s a situation that continues to be brought home, the wanting to leave and being unable, the knowledge that other people can leave, that other people can escape, and having to figure out how to deal with that, how to want what is best for them without wanting what is best for her. It’s a heartbreaking story of a ship that deserves better, who deserves a chance to escape this hell she’s in, this slow dying. It’s a cruel situation and shows that, despite her being sentient, she doesn’t exactly get full rights. I love the relationship between her and Cousin Lua, and the extended cast I think gets enough time to be interesting, complex. It’s a yearning story about survival, strength, and endurance, with a breathe of life in the face of fire and defiance in the face of injustice. A great read!
"The Words on My Skin" by Caroline M. Yoachim (759 words)
This is a short and flowing story about cycles and about parents, about what can be passed down and what can be taken and what mistakes people make. In the story magic pens can imbue people with characteristics. Can make people different. And who gets to write on who is something that the story plays with nicely. Because the main character was written on by her mother, who was written on by her husband. There is this passing down, where the main character’s mother knows in some ways the injustice of it, wants to help her daughter by writing better words and allowing the daughter some space to write her own. And yet the entire system of writing words becomes caught up in trying to erase those indelible words that exist as much as trying to find the words that fit. The entire system is a trap, a cage, an inheritance that cannot really be affirming regardless of intention. The story moves and shows how the main character gets caught in thinking that these words can fix problems, and she pays a steep price. I think in some ways I wanted more of the story. I understand the direction it took, quite like the flow, the tight rhythm of the piece. Adding more would have taken away from its impact, but I guess I wanted just a bit more on what those marked people could hope for. [SPOILERS] The moment where the main character decides not to pass along the tradition, the abuse—that is a powerful moment, but I was left wondering what it means for the main character. I understand that in some ways we cannot escape the damage inflicted on us by our childhoods, but I wonder what other paths are open for her now that she’s trying to break the cycle. But wanting more isn't really a bad thing—it means I would read so much with this character, with this world. Because what’s here is fast and poignant and complex, with a great magical premise and an excellent voice. It's a bite-sized story that tantalizes and delights. Indeed!
"Good Neighbors" by Jessica P. Wick
This poem speaks to me of conformity and community, about the way that neighbors build walls and fences. The way that neighbors create groups, belonging but also the opposite of that. Ostracizing some, threatening some, defining themselves by different and by ideology. For the narrator of the poem there is a danger there, their neighbors thinking them a witch, or perhaps suspecting them a witch. And the narrator isn’t entirely sure if it applies, in part because the ideas their neighbors have about witches are so outlandish and wrong that it makes it impossible to really see themself in that role. Not as monster. Not as rotten. And yet the accusation that she might be a witch is dangerous, a looming threat of being outcast, at risk. The poem does a great job of examining how people organize themselves and how they create these complex lies and systems that aren’t about people. And yet they are, because they hurt people, because they allow certain types to be mistreated, thought of as lesser, as without value. As actively bad so that any action against them is justified and condoned. It’s an unsettling piece and a nice deconstruction of neighborhood, community, a fine critique of people too willing to identify themselves by how they hate others. An excellent poem!