|Art by Dawid Planeta|
“On Good Friday the Raven Washes Its Young” by Bogi Takács (1674 words)
No Spoilers: A person who faces intense discrimination on the land of a planet where the oceanic megafauna have been killed off makes their living filling the ecosystem niche those great animals once inhabited. Spending much of their time underwater, using the power of their anger to create magic that helps to keep the water and the planet satisfied, they find life above the surface to be hellish thanks to a right-wing group that has taken power and that operates on hate and fear. The main character is a target because they don’t fit into the neat gender binary that this group believes in, their very existence an affront to the moral lines the group has drawn and imposed on the planet. The piece explores anger and isolation and does a fantastic job of revealing how much energy it takes to live surrounded by constant hate, slowly sinking under its weight.
Keywords: Seas, Megafauna, Anger, Bigotry, Songs
Review: This story speaks to me of cycles of violence and hate. We see the main character on a planet far from Earth, and yet experiencing the same old problems. The destruction of the natural world. Prejudice and hatred stirring violence. These are not new problems. But given the science fantasy world, it almost seems like they are things that humanity should have learned how to avoid. Because they are toxic. Poisonous. They have killed off the megafauna of this world, and left the main character, who is working to try and make the planet habitable for humans as well as the native animal life, constantly tired and vulnerable. I love the way that this exhaustion is portrayed, by the way, the bone-deep weariness the main character feels because they have to work so hard, have to eat their own anger without ever having a way to letting it out. Because it’s not safe and because they don’t want to. I appreciate the way the story shows how the narrator struggles with the anger inside them, not wanting revenge but rather a relief from the constant threats pushing at them. They must spend extra energy just to be, and it’s something that, in isolation, means that their options are dwindling even as those who hate them are emboldened. And I like how the story brings the narrator to the point where they don’t want isolation, don’t want to be alone, but rather want the right kind of company. Want allies. Want support. And the story resonates with that desire, with that need, and there’s a great power in the way that it resolves, in all the potential implies by this great rising shape. It’s a fantastic story that you should definitely check out!
“Before the Burst” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (732 words)
No Spoilers: A person present at an alien event reacts to the fallout of what happens and deals with their own feelings amid the damage done. The fateful meeting between alien and human is handled quickly and abruptly, without dialogue or much in the way of thought. Things happen, people react, but for the main character their reaction is one of shock, first at the alien herself, then at the reaction from those around them. The piece looks in some ways, in my opinion, at the feeling of futility when a situation has already burst. When the fragile hope that things could turn out good is shattered. What’s left is what the story explores, the feelings of remorse and grief and lost potential.
Keywords: Aliens, Chemical Spills, Prejudice, Monsters, Poisoning
Review: That the narrator isn’t the primary actor in the story is interesting to me. When they see the alien they are captivated by its beauty and grace. And yet that’s not the only reaction—the person next to her, Mike, runs off with his chopsticks to literally burst the alien’s bubble, destroying the atmosphere she needed to exist on Earth. After that point, really, there’s nothing left to be done. The narrator is doubly shocked, sickened by what Mike did, by the way that he popped something so beautiful and delicate, and in so doing doomed them all to the fallout, to mercury poisoning and worse. And for me the story responds to how these things happen in a moment, by one person reacting in fear and hate and disgust, and popping the bubble like a kid on the beach kicking over a sandcastle. Once lost, that bit of art, of beauty, cannot be regained. And what might have been enjoyed by so many people instead becomes waste. Which can in turn be framed as something else, as necessary to protect us from them. Because peace and understanding are fragile, are delicate. They require care and patience. And yet those with neither can do a great deal to ruin things for everyone, to allow their rash actions to set the tone of contact and interactions between peoples. It’s a story that leaves a tragic aftertaste, bitter and desolate. But it also feels true, and it makes for a great read!
“One For Sorrow, Two For Joy” by LaShawn M. Wanak (3471 words)
No Spoilers: The Undertaker is a woman who cares for the dead. Who works with crows in order to help parents of dead children deal with their grief. Not to take it away entirely, but to hopefully make it more manageable. By taking away the body of the child, and offering in its place a coin that seems able to lessen the pain of loss. The story follows the Undertaker through a number of exchanges, culminating in one that...doesn’t go as expected. The piece is heavy with the weight of loss and grief, and yet even so it carries a more numb feeling to it, the Undertaker dealing with her own grief and her own bargain. Slow, rending, and powerful.
Keywords: CW- Loss of a Child, Crows, Rites, Grief, Queer Relationship
Review: The story to me is a lot about cycles. Cycles of grief, for one, and how individual people all react to loss differently but how many of them follow the same patterns and needs. To get out from under the grief that is threatening to crush them. The story, in my opinion, doesn’t pass judgement on people who opt to seek out the Undertaker, to take some of their pain away. To the Undertaker, it all just shows that people are different, that they all process their grief differently. And the story does a great job of showing that, from the Undertaker’s own past to the couple who comes in at the end and gives the Undertaker a sense of closure for her own grief. And in doing that it goes into the cycle of this process, of the crows and the people. The crows, who are waiting for bargains, who are neither good nor evil, cruel nor kind. But they are good to their word, and perhaps they take advantage of something in the exchange. What is certain is that there seems to always be an Undertaker, though not always the same one. But that it does offer a road of working through guilt, of giving these people time to come to terms with their loss, to heal even if it’s not without scars. The piece is beautiful and wrenching, the Undertaker not exactly happy in her role but not ready quite to leave it until the end. Which I like that the story doesn’t cast as a moral failing. Above all, the story holds that grief is powerful and personal, and that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Which makes this a story you should certainly give some time and attention to. A great read!
“50 Ways to Leave Your Fairy Lover” by Aimee Picchi (957 words)
No Spoilers: Awesome grandparent stories hold a special place in my heart, and this story definitely fits the bill. Framed as a letter from Grandma Carol to her granddaughter Mia, it’s part advice and part story about a particular time in Carol’s life. In particular, it draws a line between Mia and Carol in that they’ve both been envolved with a Fae. For Carol, it was something that she got out of and for Mia it’s something she thinks she wants out of. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about how to go about breaking up with a Fae, though, and Carol lays down some wisdom gleened from her own experiences. And as the piece moves it reveals a bit about Carol’s personality, her cleverness, and the rather (in my opinion) bittersweet nature of being in a relationship with a Fae. Fun, charming, and giving a great nudge and wink at the ending, the piece shows that it often pays to listen to your elders.
Keywords: Queer MC, Fae, Dating, Technology, Breakups, Grandparents
Review: Part of what I love about this story is the way it treats the Fae, as perhaps partly having earned a reputation as being a bit forward and a bit...resistant to look at relationships with humans on human terms. But nothing like the monsters they are sometimes depicted as. The Fae here are a bit capricious, but they are also fun and warm and romantic, and it’s fun essentially listening to Carol relate her own experiences, the way that she met and fell in with Morgaine. And the way that she had to go about planning her exit from that relationship. Not with something so crude or barbaric as iron, but with, in good Fae fashion, bargains. And the story does sort of go through how relationships can be like bargains at times, can be about navigating conflicting desires and having to get the other person to a point where they must respect your consent. Here, Carol gives Morgaine impossible quests to match Morgaine’s impossible standards when it comes to love. Because those absolutes fail, Morgaine is left with either having to accept that True Love can also be flawed, or that their relationship isn’t really True Love and so Morgaine should look elsewhere. Which is funny and sad and rather deep all at the same time. But I just like how the story keeps things rather light and has fun getting to an ending where the advice is really what it would be in any relationship—communicate, and where communication with the other person fails, don’t forget to also check in with yourself, to see what it is you really want. And it’s a cute and heartwarming story that I dare you not to smile reading the ending of. Just you try! A fantastic read!