|Art by Stacy Nguyen|
“Moths to the Flame” by Daniel Rosen (3070 words)
This story kicks things off with revolution and a great sense of how music can shape culture and, in this case, government and basically everything about the nation of Gom Ilsa. Damian is a musician travelled to Gom Ilsa in order to learn, despite the wishes of his parents. He arrives with little and...doesn’t exactly have the easiest of times in the foreign land. The story is framed as a series of letters from Damien to his friends back home, and they chronicle how he goes from rather luckless beggar to something much more, and much more dangerous. I like how the story examines how music is dangerous, and especially in a place where the ruler is elected based on musical artistry. Deeper than that, the story looks at how the progress of art, the revolutions of style and taste, can be dramatic and huge in scope. Damian stumbles across a form of music that is powerful and haunting, and that fills him with an immense hope. It comes, however, at the expense of traditional values in Gom Ilsa. The story doesn’t pay too much attention to Damian’s role as an outsider in this conflict, simply shows that he is just as able to inspire the people of Gom Ilsa to confront their own traditions and push for something different. It’s a story that’s about change and the resistance to change. Damian becomes associated with a more underground, deviant art, and though he thinks this is perhaps an innocent act, it most assuredly is not. Where music is government, innovation can be revolution, and it is certainly met with a drastic hand from those who do not want to see music change. It’s a fun story that captures an interesting tone and aesthetic, Damian something of a Victorian lay-about but also an artist who believes in the craft, who wants to improve, and who rather accidentally starts a fire that gets far beyond his original intent. I love the moths and the bats and it’s a lovely way to kick off the issue!
“To Sing the Sky from Disarray” by Devan Barlow (2821 words)
This story captures a song of longing and loss as it focuses on Inez, a woman who was part of a quartet of singers whose duty and function were to keep the suns and moons in their proper orbits and, by extension, to protect all life in the world. And Inez, damaged, a survivor who carries within her a host of voices, those of her fellow singers who are now dead, their melodies twisted into bitter condemnation in Inez’s mind. She moves through the world as something of a ghost, not quite able to recover, or heal, because the wound is still open, the world still out of balance even as a new group of singers seeks to make things right. And I like the way the stories handles the darkness within Inez, in the way she hears all of her fears amplified in the voices of those who she loves and who she feels she’s let down, despite not truly knowing what happened when she was tested, when she thinks she failed. The story builds the picture of this world slowly and with a great scope, the magic of the setting enfusing in with everything. Inez’s situation is wrenching and the way the voices in her head speak, so absent of the love and compassion that would have filled them in life, it’s a great way to embody her fear and her desire to be punished, her desire to undo what has been done. The way she hides, the way she denies herself the joy of song, until she is able to confront her fears and gain some closure so that she can move on, is touching and real. And I like that even as she feels alone and worthless, she still has support, and despite feeling like everything is her fault, she is not shunned or punished by her people, because what she faced was more than could be beared, because it was not her failure that caused her pain, but rather the severity of what she faced. It’s a vivid story with a great rhthym and I definitely recommend checking this one out!
“Camouflage” by JB Park (1949 words)
Well okay then. This is a visceral story about feeding and about voice, about meaning and about observation. And it’s a story that follows first an older man and then his son as they travel through a wood. And, really, it’s both about them and about what’s watching them and what’s narrating the story. It’s a rarther unsettling piece in large part because of the framing, which finds the narrator a...thing. A thing that is made out of many other things, that is full of a hunger and a noise and that, ultimately, finds the two men of the story and unites them. The narration is strange and complicated by the fact that the thing seems to be able to know what it consumes, that it can tell the stories of these men in all their detail, knowing everything about them and what drives them. The piece is solidly in the realm of horror, filling the wild forest where it unfolds with a gothic unknown, with a touch of the sublime, something dark but also vast and nearly unimaginable. Something wholly alien and yet at the same time with this deep understanding and almost compassion for the people that it comes to know. [SPOILERS] I like how the story paces itself, cycling through these characters, drawing the action around again and again, implying that this creature, this thing, exists like this and yet only really comprehends as it eats, as it feeds of these people. It gains their voice and their memories, and understands what it does really only then, every other time consumed by the hunger that drives it. What it thinks about it all, the connections it draws, are left ghostly next to the reality of what happens, next to the darkness sitting at the heart of the forest, waiting to reach out and draw in the unsuspecting. It’s a weird, horrific, and fine read!
“When Dooryards First in the Lilac Bloomed” by B. Morris Allen (2407 words)
Can I just say first that I absolutely love the contrast between the repeated Fuck Yous from the main character and the final, beautiful, heartfelt message that they give? Yeah? Okay, there. But really, this is a wonderful story about grief and about longing, about hurt and about memory. And, really, about peace and progress. The main character here has recently buried their partner, Isaac, and the process has left them frayed, angry. The two had worked for peace but it seems throughout that it was always Isaac that believed more in peace, in Love/War. And I do love the math of that, the idea that Love is greater and that in order for there to be peace people have to value war over violence, over difference. The main character begins the story with some death on their mind, though, and their own kind of war—not against a person but against their own hurt and the memories of Isaac and the feelings those memories evoke. And the story then is the main character coming to terms with what happened and working out the anger that runs through them, that is left in the wake of Isaac passing and, perhaps, taking the peace with him. The story also does a great job of examining innovation and discovering, trying to shirt the main motivation of invention and progress away from war and towards something else. Curiosity maybe, or else the human capacity to love and to want to be loved. The main character finds themself at a rather interesting moment and initiates contact that is beyond themself, that is beyond anything they’ve ever known. Without Isaac and his boundless optimism, it seems almost too daunting, but the main character manages to make decisions in that moment. About what they want. About what they want to do with the real legacy Isaac left behind—his beliefs and his dedication to peace. It’s a wonderful story that you should definitely spend some time with!
“At the Still Point” by Suzanne J. Willis (4529 words)
This is another story that captures some of the power of music to provoke resistance and political change. It finds the main character, an agent of a rather corrupt Leader, who is drawn to Alice, a singer whose song has a power that reaches through his fear and his hopelessness and lights a fire within him that will lead him to take actions he didn’t know he was capable of. (I’m using he pronouns based on the admittedly flimsy evidence of the main character being called Brother, my apologies if I’m misinterpreting that) I like how the story builds up the main character, placing him in this world that is largely devoid of color and sound. He has a form of synesthesia where he experiences music as colors. It’s what draws him to Alice, to the beauty of her songs. It’s also what brings him to the attention of the agents of the Leader, who want to use his talents in order to craft a weapon out of sound, out of music. It’s a frightening through, because where the previous story about resistance showed the value of music in fostering free thought and the push toward progress and freedom, this story brings in the specter of music being used as a tool of oppression, as a weapon to be used to keep people under control and complacent. And through that is a touching story about this growing love and how the main character seeks to turn Alice’s music into a weapon while slowly realizing that in some ways it already is one, and that he’s been its target. That for all he considers himself an agent of the Leader, the music and the colors that he didn’t even know were possible wake something else in him, and make him reconsider. It’s an ultimately hopeful story, though it is a bittersweet one as well, aware of the danger of authoritarian rule, but also the need to stand up against it, to sing against tyranny. It’s a great read!
“Glasswort, Ice” by Emily B. Cataneo (3939 words)
This is a story of loss and of change, of scapegoats and hatred and a deep magic. It unfolds in a town encased in ice, where the inhabitant live with a fragile peace between them and the ice-whales, fae-like beings whose world waits directly beneath that of the human world. The ice-whales, who seventy-two years ago took Piper’s sister, Saskia, to their world. It’s an event that kicked off the tense kind-of-truce that exists to this day, and despite the fact that Saskia was one of many who brought the town to the attention of the ice-whales, it is she alone who bears the hatred and blame for what happened. Because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because she backed away from a policeman’s threat. Because she was a girl in a world that doesn’t trust women. And so she was blamed, and her image is burned in effigy, and she and Piper wage a silent but constant battle of their own, not for the town that scorns them but for themselves, and for justice. And I love the world building of the piece and how it splits itself among different times, the present where Piper is an old woman, forgotten and disdained, the past where she is a girl, living with her sister and thinking of a future that will not happen, and the moment of the event, the immensity and the smallness of it, everything hinged on this one moment that they had no huge role in, and yet has come to represent so much in the town. And I love how it portrays Piper as resilient and standing up for what she knows is right, working even as people hope that she will disappear, hoping that she will die. And that she is the only one trying to fix things instead of blame someone. That she is committed to trying to do what is right, even when it’s her who has lost the most from what’s happened. It’s a powerful and gutting read that marks an incredible end to the issue. Go read it!