“Ports of Perceptions” by Izzy Wasserstein (297 words)
No Spoilers: Chase and Hunter experience a type of mind-altering substance, PKD, and experience some trippy results. The piece is very short, with some meta nods to SFF, and the focus for me is on the feel of joining, of changings skins and views. And really it might just be about the ways and power of SFF to help a person build empathy. The mood is strange, sensuous, and passionate, and the effect is unique and joyous.
Keywords: Drugs, SFF, Body Swapping, Joining, Queer MC
Review: For me the story, which includes nods to Dick’s rather trippy science fiction but also some of the darker corners of SFF (the v0x virus). The effect, for me, is to really look at what SFF can mean to people. The doorways it can open. The experiences that it can lend to people who can, through reading, get into the minds of the characters. Into these humans, these androids, these aliens. Who are begin to perhaps understand how completely different peoples can think and feel. I believe that SFF can be an amazing way to help people build empathy, because it’s asking us to imagine breaking rules that seem foundational to the way the world works. And while some choose not to embrace the full implications and power of that, others do indeed seek to push people into another body, another mind. To understand what that means. To join and to meld and to understand that people are all part of the same world, the same social landscape. Envisioning barriers and walls where there could be connections is the reactionary response, but here we find people who revel in the ways that SFF can tear down walls and blur boundaries. It’s a sensuous, tender exploration that hits fast and hard and leaves a definite impression. A wonderful story!
“The Questing Beast” by Amy Griswold (2331 words)
No Spoilers: Sir Palamedes, the Questing Knight, considers his life and his goals in three moments of temptation with Sir Tristan. The setting is firmly Arthurian and yet much...queerer than most texts that one finds (I mean, with attempting kissing _as well_ as all the protestations of love and affection between the knights that was pretty common). It gets at how these men are always with each other—often away from any women for long stretches of time, and how this can seem to imply not a saintly celibacy (I mean, have you read those stories?) but rather that a reason they might spend so much time out on adventures is because they wouldn’t really be acceptable if they tried to stay back under the prying eyes of court. The piece has a sort of melancholy to it as Palamedes moves through this world, not native to this world but taken into it all the same, trying to find where he fits. And it’s just a lovely piece with a heavy mood broken up by lighter moments and a warm, charming ending.
Keywords: Arthurian, Knights, Monsters, Quests, Queer MC
Review: Oh plops do I love queer Arthurian stories. Especially Palamedes, who is one of my favorite knights for both his role with the Questing Beast and various relationships with the better-known knights (he’s right up there with Launcelot, Tristan, & Lamorak, imo). And this story explores a bit of his story, finding it when it intersects Tristan’s (which it did quite often), but also where it did not. It shows him traveling through hardship and through ease as he pursues his quarry, and I love the way that it frames it, how this pursuit give him purpose and joy that go beyond what he could hope to find if he allowed himself to be converted and made into a Christian knight. Though the thought of some things make him tempted to leave off his quest, he’s ultimately someone in love with what he does. With the journey. With the adventure. And continuing on gives him a constant sense of renewal without having to worry about what would come next with a wife and home. His goal, in essence, is to keep having a goal, and so his quest to kill the Questing Beast is one that will never end. And for me the story then is about not only enjoying the journey, but about how, in a world without really safe destinations, all that is left to some people is the places between. Is the moving from place to place. It’s not always the most comfortable or rewarding, but what it offers is not available anywhere else. For Palamedes and his queerness, and his faith, there is not a place for him in the castles of the land. Not a permanent one, not without fundamentally changing himself. So the story is about making the decision not to change, and to value the moments and connections made in transit. It’s a beautiful story that you should definitely check out!
“Cucumber” by Penny Stirling
[edited to remove my assumption the characters are asexual] This poem takes on a lot about relationships and labels and the bonds between people. The narrator here is one half of a partnership that brings great meaning and joy to the two people in it. They are friends and they are adventurers and they are mighty, and yet at every turn they are questioned because of the labels that they use, because of the way that they are perceived. Friends, despite that relationship meaning a rather specific and inferior thing to most people. Just friends. The term gets into this relationship, gets between the two characters as much as the narrator’s partner claims it doesn’t matter. Because for the narrator it does matter. Because of the added pressures they might have to bear in the relationship, or because maybe they are just tired of being told the same things again and again. Because, if it doesn’t matter, then they can subvert expectations of what a married relationship looks like just as easily as what bonded partners look like. And I like how the poem gets at this, revealing the power of labels and the conflict of them. That in some ways they erase, but because certain kinds of relationships are erased otherwise, as well, this way at least the two people can have certain protections, certain protections. At least now they can breathe a bit and just be together. There will invariably still be other just as invasive, just as insensitive questions and insinuations. And yet a part of their connection is recognized just as real as any other married couple. And it is a sweet look at these two people deciding that maybe they can make this part of the system work for them, that they don’t have to avoid getting married just because their bond doesn’t fit with expectations. A great read!