“The Huntsman’s Sequence” by Octavia Cade ( words)
No Spoilers: Blending computer code with long-buried historical fact and wrapping all in a fairy tale, this piece focuses on Turing’s efforts during the Second World War and his subsequent treatment and death. How it does that, though, is both beautiful and heartbreaking. The piece leans on both the structure of fairy tales (Snow White, in particular) and the weight of war and national security. Because of the historical nature of the work, it’s not exactly the happiest of things (the historical treatment of Turing is enough to make any happily ever after taste like ash and blood), and it hits in all the places that hurt. It looks at the way that fairy tales frame narratives and push toward tragedies, and it does so with a unique frame and style.
Keywords: Decryption, War, Historical, Fairy Tales, Queer MC, Snow White, Chemical Castration
Review: I think I need to get together a rec list of just heartbreaking Turing stories. Because they get me every time and this one is no exception, looking at the loyalty of Turing and how he is cast in the role of the Huntsman, set to chase after this deadly threat to his nation, and how he is betrayed, and poisoned, and destroyed. And there is just something so moving about the way that the story imagines all this, casting a dark queen and Turing in this place where he just wants to work and live and serve and yet for all that he cannot escape his part in this larger story. That, for all that this might be the time to create new narratives, new forms—for all this is the very beginning of machine language and code, the older narrative styles and, what’s more, the older moralities that went along with them, are infecting the way people think. The way people organize their stories. And so Turing, for all he hopes maybe he can be free from the old standards and expectations, for all that he has so much to offer and can deliver on his own promise, finds himself used as merely a piece in a larger story with someone else as lead, and his own part suppressed and erased. It’s a heartbreaking story that does a whole lot and I’m afraid I might be missing some readings because I’m not as familiar with machine languages as I could be but what’s here is just beautiful and rending and it’s a story you should definitely spend some time with. A great read!
“Never Alone, Never Unarmed” by Bobby Sun ( words)
No Spoilers: Kian Boon has a plan. A plan to date his friend from school, Ravi. unfortunately, Kian Boon is a bit short of funds, which means going out looking for rare spider to sell for the spider fighting rings. Which means, in turn, maybe running into more trouble than originally intended. The story builds up an interesting world and magic system, as people are Shapers, able to effect matter on very micro scales—for battle, construction, and everything in between. Kian Boon uses his abilities to catch and store spiders, but also in defense. What he can’t use Shaping for is getting up the courage to ask Ravi out, and deal with everything that comes after. The piece is sweet, richly drawn, and tinged with just a bit of darkness. The world, for all its magic and wonder, is still very much our own world, full of all the wars and cruelties and dangers and joys that our more mundane existences bring. And it’s ultimately, for me, a very fun and gripping read.
Keywords: Spiders, Tigers, Magic, Shaping, Queer MC, School, Confessions
Review: I think the idea of control and Shaping flows well through this story, with Kian Boon trying to make things just right so that he can ask his friend out. It’s something that tugs at his mind almost constantly, and it feels so real, the way that he wants this thing so badly and yet also knows that he has to work for it. When things start not going right, he has to change his plans, and really in some ways the piece is about facing failure and having the strength not to let that failure break you. Kian Boon puts so much of himself into this plan, and in an adolescent way it seems so big, so important. That it will shape everything to come after. And then it just sort of...doesn’t work out. And as heartbreaking as that is, it shows that Kian Boon is learning, that he is growing. Like with the tiger at the beginning, he uses his skills, he _thinks_, and he does survive. He keeping going. And I kind of love that the phone call to Ravi is given the same weight as a wild tiger showing up, but it shows that Kian Boon is still navigating his way through, keeping his calm so that he doesn’t make mistakes too large to be fixed. It’s a wonderful tale of a young boy growing up and the family dynamic and the relationships and all of it is just wonderful. Definitely a story to check out!
“Njàbò” by Claude Lalumière ( words)
No Spoilers: Cleo experiences a recurring dream in which Njàbò, Mother of Elephants, leads an attack on the humanity responsible for the extinction of her people. In the dream, Njàbò the elephant is also Njàbò, Cleo’s daughter, and this duality at first repels Cleo from these dreams, leads her into insomnia and drug abuse (note here I don’t mean to imply that her drug use is by its nature abuse, but that she does seem to me to cross a line in how and why she’s using hash). As she struggles against her dreams and the way they seem to be reflecting in her real life, with the younger of her daughters, there also comes a time when she has to decide to either continue hiding her fears and pains, or share them with her family. It’s a lovely story that to me is about isolation and fear and acceptance. Cleo can at first see only the violence of her dreams, and yet she knows very well the value of looking beyond the first impression of a thing and to the deeper truths and feelings.
Keywords: Family, Poly-amorous Relationship, Queer MC, Elephants, CW- Childbirth, Dreams, CW- Drug Abuse
Review: I love the central family of this story, made up for seven people (five adults and two children) all living together and very much being a family. Cleo expresses moments of doubt and hesitation when struggling along with her problems, and finds that it’s an impulse she has to fight against. That she has to let go. That it is most likely (as I read it) a hold over from how other people value and judge her relationship, and though she knows what everyone means to her, there is a small barrier she needs to break through in order to really open up about what’s happening with her and what it might mean for all of them. But I love how it all works, how they all function as this beautiful organism, sacrificing for each other when necessary but mostly just adjusting so that what they have works for everyone. It’s fun and it’s refreshing to see, and it works into what’s happening with Cleo’s dreams. That there is a war to be fought. That there is a change that is coming. And however violent and dark and visceral it might be, on the other side of it is peace and understanding. But that in some ways there might be no avoiding the war. No way of fixing the corruption from within. That sometimes it might have to be stamped out with the power of feet that can shatter mountains. And it makes for a wonderful read!
“Feminine Endlings” by Alison Rumfitt
This poem speaks to me of extinction and death and being the last of one’s kind. The piece moves over a number of fates of the last of a species (Tasmanian tiger, passenger pigeon, Stephen’s Island wren), and how each of them had rather ignoble deaths, forgotten and alone. The piece then draws that feeling of being the last to the narrator of the piece, who declares herself at the beginning the last. And by the end the implication to me is that she is the last trans woman, the last following the deaths of all trans women, where she remains until the end comes for her as well and in that ending the world loses out on something bright and beautiful. The piece flows largely without punctuation, new thoughts springing up in the middle of lines, repeating, striking again and again. The poem doesn’t offer up much in the way of rest and I feel that works quite well into the subject matter, this idea of extinction where it just keeps on coming and coming and coming a constant pressure and knowledge and weight a constant reminder of the importance of self the unimportance that the world seems to put on the power and value of the individual if that individual is a trans woman. And the piece I feel carries the grief for all the loss, for the constant reporting of deaths and tragedies, where all that seems to be done is report. Like the other extinctions, the end is known to be coming. But it doesn’t cause people to really try to stop anything. People let that end come, however sad they might fleetingly claim to be about it, and we are all the poorer for it. The poem is wrenching and challenging and just an amazing read. Go check it out!
“Telegram From Tomorrow’s Lovelorn” by Shannon Lippert
As I read the poem, I feel it gets into the ideas of loneliness and the frustration with dating. More, though, I feel like in some ways the voice of the poem, the voice from the future, is one frustrated by consent and desire and subjective nature of love and relationships. For the voice here expounds on how great it is to have a system for love, for determining who is a good fit for who, and then making those people be together. It’s a system that works in absolutes, in objective truths. And in so framing the poem with this voice, as a missive from the future, I feel the poem does a great job of rejecting this idea of love and relationships. Because, for all some people just want an “answer” to their relationship woes, the system that would allow for there to be one answer, one “true love,” is not one that is concerned with choice or consent. Instead, it imagines that people do have just one person they should be with, and that by algorithm and data this person can be found. It’s something that takes all the guesswork and vulnerability out of relationships, and I feel the poem reveals just how dissatisfying a system that would be. Because what it removes is the need for people to connect and to care for each other. To value the other’s will and agency and consent. Instead we have a system of binaries and “perfection,” but only for those who don’t want to learn and grow and be challenged by people. Only for those who feel they are complete, always, without ever needing to interrogate themselves. It’s a poem that sets itself up with this rigid form, too, mirroring the vision of this future world with its rules and standards. That still just seems like an ill-conceived attempt to make corruption seem romantic. It’s a fun and just a bit creepy piece that’s complex and definitely deserves some time and attention!