|Art by Reiko Murakami|
"Dinosaur Killers" by Chris Kluwe (1560 words)
This story takes a rather stark look at a future where humanity split, some reaching out to the stars (or away from Earth) only to be pulled back into conflict and war. I love the voice of the piece, is which captures part future-lingo and part numb shock at what has happened, as one person surveys the damage done by the most recent conflict. And I love that it deals with gravity without really saying it. The gravity of Earth in particular, the pull it has toward ruin, toward corruption. Toward death. This is shown both in how the people seeking to leave Earth find themselves drawn into conflict with the homeworld and with how the people are literally drawn back to the surface of the planet in said conflict. And fuck is this a dark story. Wrenching and quiet in some ways. Isolated. As the main character tries to figure out what to do next. [SPOILERS] What to do after pretty much all of humanity has died. The action is mostly in flashbacks and mentions, only ever brushing the violence and loss, framing in terms of falling, which is rather fitting because it shows this descent into the madness of war and the finality of it when people can basically bombard Earth with extinction-level projectiles from space. In return, those outside of Earth get nuked. The shock of the main character is portrayed well in my opinion, the way that they just stop talking sometimes, the way that they are stuck between the gravity of Earth and the desire for something else. They are held in zero gravity, needing to decide which direction to fall. And while the story never really answers what which way the character goes, I know what I choose to read in that ending. It's a beautiful story with a great sense of space, darkness, and gravity. Go read it!
"Natural Skin" by Alyssa Wong (4190 words)
…okay then. Well…this is a rather dark story about skin and about family and about abuse. About trying to live up to familial obligations and expectations and finding that where one's dreams used to grow, after they have been devastated by pressure and abuse, something else, something much more dangerous, can take root. The story follows Liin jie, a young woman who wanted to escape her home and the father who puts much more stock in her sister's future than her own. Liin jie is supposed to stay, supposed to take care of things for her father, and isn't supposed to want to do anything more. The sisters are used against each other, to compete and to manipulate them into doing what the father wants. It's difficult and it's complex and it's a fairly common thing that families do, how parents abuse their children. Liin jie, however, has no intention of just going along with the plan. She's made connections in some shadowed alleys and is looking to make enough to escape. It's not free, though, and it's going to take more than a pound of flesh. [SPOILERS] Where the story gets really dark, mixed in with the crowded near-future Toronto, is what Liin jie plans to do, to sell her sister in order to pay for her escape, to get her revenge not just on the sister who she's been taught to hate but on the father who it will utterly destroy, depriving him of both his daughters in one move. It is a devastating moment and one that illustrates how abuse can propagate, how it can how beyond its original confines. How it corrupts what it touches. It is a sharp and wrenching piece that borders on horror and certainly doesn't pull any punches. A great read!
"Shooting Gallery" by J.B. Park (2970 words)
This is another story that uses darkness and horror to stunning effect, weaving together a tale of death and oppression and hope. The story doesn't waste much time on explaining how Paul became effectively a zombie, and it's a decision I appreciate because it gives more room to explore that uncertainty. Paul doesn't know. He only knows that it happened, that it was awful, that it was spurred on by violence and hopelessness and poverty. That he's alive to try and make things easier on his mother, who works a rather crushing job with little hope of being able to rise out of the situation that she's in. So Paul looks to make money by exploiting his nature, by letting rich people shoot him for cash. It's a great premise and I love how the story sets it all in motion, the desperation on Paul's part not really to live but to make up for the drain he has been. He's a zombie not just because he is rather obviously dead but because but because he doesn't have the luxury of caring about his own condition. He has to be numb in order to live because that's the only way to deal with the weight of poverty, of having to see his mother deal with so much shit day after day and knowing that he's a part of it, that he can't really do anything about it except let himself be shot in the hopes that it will help. The story explores the generational nature of poverty and how it drains a person of their vitality until they can become something like a zombie. It's a powerful and bleak story and definitely worth checking out!
"I've Come to Marry the Princess" by Helena Bell (5860 words)
This is a rather strange story about being forgotten and being left behind, about friendship and trust. In it, Jack is a young boy left at camp. And by left I mean left there. For years. Just rotating what camp he's attending, from summer camp to math camp to everything other kind of camp. The story explores what it is to be forgotten and to be forgettable, and how Jack finds a friend in the one person who seems to remember him, a girl named Nancy. And the two plan on performing a skit at the talent show, only things don't exactly go to plan. I like the way the story fits together, this strange situation where Jack seems to be perpetually forgotten, perpetually in limbo. It's like people can't remember him, and a bit like people can't remember anyone, that everyone in the story suffers from an inability to remember names and faces. So that it's only the loud people who get remembered, who become distinct, but only vaguely. Names are important, as the story itself says, and so it seems important that pretty much everyone blends together, that the characters aside from Jack and Nancy are just a string of similar people. Jonathans and Roberts and such. Counselors and cousins. It makes for an interesting setting and I like how it then sets Jack and Nancy as this team. And how when Jack lets Nancy down he struggles with what to do next, with how to make up for it and move on and still be friends. It's a touching story that makes me rather glad I never had to go to summer camp. A nice read and a fine way to close out the issue!