|Art by Brent Hardy-Smith|
"Our King and His Court” by Rich Larson (6923 words)
No Spoilers: Scipio (who goes by El Cuervo, a killer for El Tirano, the brutal ruler of what’s left of civilization after an undisclosed series of disasters and wars) returns to his base after rescuing Mateo, a young boy, from a lab where he was held and possibly tortured. What on the surface seems like just another in a long line of messes that Scipio has cleaned up in service to El Tirano, though, slowly resolves into something completely different, to shattering and heartbreaking effect. The piece is soaked in blood and injustice, the world a fallen place where everything innocent and beautiful is ground to dust. As such, the piece focuses on the ways that Scipio holds to a code that puts him forward as a bit more honest an assassin. More, the piece seems to me to look at the way that violence has a gravity, and perhaps enough of one to pull a meteor down from orbit in order to wipe the board clean.
Keywords: Post-apocalyptic, CW- Violence, Assassins, Loyalty, Political Coup
Spoilers: This story does a great job of building up this very brutal, very corrupt ruler-ship of a future where infrastructure and government has been replaced by what is essentially cartel-rule. As such, the piece does lean a bit on stereotypes and perhaps plays into people’s familiarity with depictions of Latinx organized crime. In doing so, it crafts Scipio, a victim of abuse who manages to rise to the top of this organization thanks to his skills at killing those El Tirano wants dead. The piece follows as the one good thing in his life is basically stolen from him, shaking his loyalty and making him examine what his priorities should be. There’s a definite bleak efficiency to the prose, that wraps an almost romantic air to Scipio’s mission and outlook. He wants so much to have someone else to believe in, and yet the corruption of the setting touches everything. So that nothing remains except to decide that maybe things need to end. It’s a fatalist twist to the piece, to embrace extinction because it means that the brutality will end. Perhaps not all brutality, but that it will give something else a chance to grow, and maybe it will be better. It’s an interesting and tightly-paced story, one that frames itself in a series of conversations between Scipio and those of El Tirano’s court. It’s not exactly an incredibly hopeful piece, but I feel like it does retain some glimmer that even if the here and now is doomed, the future might still turn out better, and is worth meeting head on. And it makes for a fine read.
“Under The Spinodal Curve” by Hanuš Seiner, translated by Julie Novakova (4541 words)
No Spoilers: Bamobah is a metallurgist, a person who puts themselves into an artificial body so that they can enter into the world of liquid metal, helping to shape ingots for applications in a great many other fields. Part science, part magic (it seems to me at least), the process splits a person into two parts, a primary and a residual, who will need to be reallianced in order to keep going. The narrator of the story has fallen in love with Bamobah, and yet because of the intricacies of metallurgy it’s possible that she might lose all memories of the narrator when she goes through the realliance. What the narrator decides to do about that, and the weight of their choices, give the piece a heaviness even as the practice of metallurgy gives it a sort of otherworldly wonder, a pull towards the strange and beautiful.
Keywords: Metallurgy, Split Consciousness, The Cloud, Choice, Consent
Review: For me, so much of this story comes down to the idea of joining and coming apart. I’m drawn back again and again to Bamobah’s description of her favorite part of metallurgy, a place where above this threshold there are two materials so mixed as to be indistinguishable, so complete as to be whole, and yet with only a few variations the two materials come apart, pull their structures into separate spheres, into worlds of themselves. And it just speaks to me of the way that the narrator and Bamobah are, the way that they are so complete within their relationship, within their shared bed, within their shared everything. But how the variables of their lives are changing. How there is such an uncertainty about it all, and a danger that they could lose each other forever. That they could break in the process of quenching. And so they undergo this small change and suddenly there is a space between them where none existed. Suddenly there are secrets. Suddenly there are betrayals. Suddenly the narrator is making decisions for both of them without seeking Bamobah’s consent. And from there things do fall apart. Or promise to. It’s a story with such a strength and fragility to it, how it shows the way that metal can be this resilient amazing thing but if it is altered just a little it can be ruined, can be brittle or just break apart completely. And it’s a wonderful exploration of this central relationship while building up a look at this weird and lovely art of metallurgy. It’s just a fantastic read!