|Art by Clarissa Ferguson|
“Behind Her, Trailing Like Butterfly Wings” by Daniela Tomova (6300 words)
This is a beautiful story about movement and about dying, about hope and faith and loss. It features a reporter named Marrow interviewing a man part of a massive movement of people on a road, on the road, walking endlessly in order to avoid strange anomalies, tears in reality called mouths that have many different effect, though pretty much all of them are fatal. The story becomes about both Frank, the man Marrow is interviewing, and Marrow themself, the observations and lives of both, why Marrow chooses to stay in one of the towns relatively untouched by the mouths, called oases, and why Frank left his home behind in order to follow the Wandering Woman and the road, which seems to be safe from the mouths. For me the story becomes about safety in a dying world. The anomalies seem to be physical manifestations, a symptom, of a larger problem, that the Earth itself is dying, and that we’re to blame. And in the face of that, in the face of that knowledge, people are looking for ways to still live. Because life goes on, even for the dying, which I think is a great sentiment the story captures. That for those walking the road, they’re continuing because they can neither stay put waiting to die nor find any better option than walking a path that seems safe, enjoying the journey as much as they can for as long as they can. It’s telling to me that no one in the setting seems to be looking for a way to fix the anomalies or battle against them. There’s a grim resignation to it all and yet people still find ways to hope and ways to live and there’s something there, some hope and beauty to how they choose to live. It’s not an easy story, though, because of how the world building and character work swirl around loss and the specter of loss, some deciding to stay in one place, others choosing to meet the end on their feet, though how much of a difference it makes is anyone’s guess. The story for me doesn’t seem to try to offer explanations or resolutions, instead revealing the very human ways we are pulled away into the void, a plea for mercy on our lips even as the end takes us. It’s a wrenching and lovely story that you should definitely check out!
“The Edge of Things” by Katharine E.K. Duckett (6600 words)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, or at least something to that effect, for the main character of this story, a woman who has lost her name and past and exists now in the press of a continuous party that seems to stretch infinitely onward in a house where only the main level is safe, where above and below stretch darknesses that might conceal any number of dangers and beyond is only a field of stars. The story does a wonderful job of setting the scene, of dropping the reader and the main character into this mystery of a world that she must try to figure out even as it seems to defy her, even as she lacks the tools to really measure and interrogate what’s happened to her and the world. Instead she is drawn into the party, interacting with the people she finds there, the characters she finds there, and I am sure that I am missing so many references in that part of the story but I’m kind of hoping they’re supposed to be slightly obscure in order to make the puzzle that much harder to figure out right away. And to me the story itself deals with themes of progress and advancement and exploration. It’s a bit cautionary at times, warning against reckless chasing of knowledge, of creation. The consequences of study are often difficult to predict, and messing with the very fabric of reality and consciousness can have some rather severe repercussions. For the main character, this is hidden behind the absence of memory and tucked into the dark recesses she doesn’t want to pierce. But only by allowing that confrontation, facing the full scope of what has happened, can any sort of lesson be learned, can any sort of progress be made. Because progress isn’t just about the tech or the science, but about having the safeguards and processes in place to assure that scientific study can go forward safely. Just as safety glasses and controlled experiments don’t slow down advancement, but refine it and allow it to progress farther. Working her way through the mess of what’s happened, though, is difficult, and again takes collaboration and time, working with peers toward a common goal, but with eyes fully open. It’s a strange but wonderful story about possibilities, stories, and science. An excellent read!