|Art by Sandro Castelli|
“Salamander Six-Guns” by Martin Cahill ( words)
This is an action-packed and nicely weird western story featuring mutants, guns, loneliness, and hurt. The action picks up in Sunblooders Stand, a town on the edge of a swamp teeming with creatures once human and now infected and warped into lizard-people. Copper, the main character, is a sort-of leader after the death of their mother, at least until a man arrives who becomes known as Mayor. The situation between the two is intense and complicated, Copper bitter but also rightly distrustful of a man who shows up and seems far too good to be true. He has an agenda in town, that’s for sure, and also a way about him that puts people at ease, even as it covers up his own issues, his own hurts. And Copper comes to be in a position where they know his secrets, and decide they want to help. What follows is not a happy story by any means. The world that is painted is one with heavy shadows and a pervading sense of wrong. The hurt that has been done to the world is mirrored in the hurts done to the characters—Copper’s cynicism and Mayor’s drive toward destruction. And yet despite that the characters still find that they care about each other, and about the world. Instead of giving into the voices telling them that it’s useless, that fighting back is only wrong, they push forward toward some semblance of healing, even as they layer new wounds atop the old ones. It’s a story that centers this idea that trying, even against a seemingly-insurmountable foe, is the only real option. Because without trying, everything is already lost. And it’s a dark and moving story with a fast pace and a fun aesthetic, which makes for a great read!
“Itself at the Heart of Things” by Andrea Corbin ( words)
This is a weird story. But, I feel, rather pointedly so, about two people, the main character and their husband, Benoît, living in France during a time of uncertainty, when everyone has been having dreams that the Szemurians are going to be invading, though no one knows quite how. The story moves with a fluidity, the characters both fleeing and disassembling themselves in the face of this threat that has been revealed to them through dreams, though not the same dreams. As I said, the story is weird, and I found the plot at times difficult to follow, but definitely feel that the plot isn’t quite as important as some of the impressions that the story is conveying, this feeling that these characters are living in time and place defined by war and paranoia and aren’t entirely able to escape that. The story I think takes place in 1924, so after World War I and before II, which isn’t really the most popular time to be setting stories but it is a fascinating choice, because you have so many people living with the scars of that conflict still fresh, and in many ways unable to close or heal. What results is this intense desire to break from the cycle of history, from the cycle of war and violence and more war. Here we have two people who find a sort of absurdity to what has happened, even as there is this dense tragedy to it as well. Their weapons against this strange invasion they fight is to be strange, is to be striking and different. And the result is a story that worked for me as long as I was willing to follow where it went, as long as I was willing to try and feel it out. Because it doesn’t exactly make sense, but in doing so it seems to ask what of the world does? What of war makes sense? Is it so strange that there should be Szemurians attacking in dreams given what has happened, what is happening? It’s a weird but striking story that I definitely recommend that you spend some time with to see what you might take from it. Indeed!