Fresh off a successful Kickstarter campaign that will allow the publication to do some interesting and exciting things, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination opens 2017 with a pair of short but sweet SFF stories. These are pieces that look at family and relationships, trauma and effort. They show characters given the opportunity to walk away from some important part of their pasts. To put it down and maybe remake themselves. But these stories are about the choice to go back, to stay, to fight on even in the face of rejection, even in the face of overwhelming cruelty. The stories are at turns disturbing and fun, magical and wrenching, and they do an excellent job of exploring the worlds and characters they introduce. To the reviews!
[Note. I am saddened to hear that Fantastic Stories will be closing after their next issue. Fuck.]
"A Song to Charm the Beasts" by Wendy Nikel (1071 words)
This is a story that captures a great sense of weird Western, revealing Ofira, a woman on a mission to retrieve her husband from trouble. The piece builds a vague but compelling world as Ofira must travel to a place that is only a myth. Or, at least, that people think is only a myth. It turns out that her own reputation as a musician has spread far enough to upset a man, an entity, who doesn't like it when his own fame is encroached upon. And that's a lot of what I like about this story, the classic setup but with a twist, where Ofira isn't a gunslinger but a fiddler, not exactly a warrior but fierce and loyal and willing to do anything to get her husband back. And it's a compelling piece with a weight and a tragedy to it. The situation that Ofira is put in is not enviable, playing a game that she really can't win, and yet even in the face of that she doesn't give up, even when the game seem rigged and hope of coming through it on top seem impossible. And I love how the story doesn't exactly resolve, how it creates something of a myth from this incident, some way of explaining a spot of music on the wind, carried by a desert that is vast and hungry. It's a story that teases a little but and I'm quite all right with that, willing to go along because the setting is vividly rendered and because I want to hope that, given time, things might still work out. Even when it seems a fragile, stupid hope, I'm right there with Ofira, hoping anyway, knowing that failure would be too painful to face. It's a beautiful story and you should definitely check it out!
"The Scars that Made Me" by Tamoha Sengupta (725 words)
Aww. This is a story of scars and memories, abuse and lessons learned. The premise is simple and unsettling—there is a place that can erase scars, but only by erasing the memories associated with them as well. And Jiya is a person who has her share of scars. And who is suddenly faced with the weight of them when she is offered the chance to lose them. The story digs deeper than marks on the skin, though, and builds up a narrative of Jiya and their mother, of two people helping to get each other out of bad situations. Of two people relying on each other, appreciating each other. The scars become the ear marks in the book of their lives, those moments that seem to capture the twists and the turns, the wisdoms and the warnings. And the story asks what a person is without their scars, not necessarily their physical ones but the marks that go deeper. That sit on our character and our spirit. Our battle wounds of everyday life, and not-so-everyday life as well. It's a nicely constructed story, each memory enriching the narrative and selling why Jiya is both seeking help at the beginning and what they ultimately decide to do. It's a sweet story because of the central relationship, Jiva and their mother, and it's something that makes the story work well, showing that staying with the people who affirm you can be more powerful than trying to please those who think you should be different, who flinch away from your scars. There is a nice message here and a fun little story that is explored in the relatively short space of the piece. It's brief but satisfying, and let me smiling. Go check it out!