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“Ally” by Nalo Hopkinson (3100 words)
No Spoilers: Sally attends the funeral of an old friend, the husband of an even older friend, Pete. Sally’s friendship with Pete cooled, though, when he hesitated about accepting her after she came out as transgender. Now, after losing his husband, Pete wants to meet with Sally to...confess something. And in so doing he opens up a rather ambiguous and possibly terrifying situation that Sally has to try and frame and deal with. The piece is largely about the past, about the weight of ghosts, and about violence. The story is populated by people who have known violence because the system isn’t designed to protect them. When something beyond the system attempts to step in and act as that protection, the story seems to ask at what point does compassion bleed into terror. It’s a very interesting and complex piece, quiet and fragile but with a stubborn joy.
Keywords: Trans woman MC, Death, Haunting, Friendship, CW- Child Abuse
Review: This story does a very interesting thing with the idea of being haunted. And I love the way that it complicates Pete and the friendship between him and Sally. Because while it’s mostly a story about Pete’s past, it also puts all of the power of the story in Sally’s hands. It’s her who ultimately has to make sense of what Pete has said. And how he’s changed. I love how in some ways it’s a mystery that Pete is just sort of figuring out but that Sally gets it almost immediately. That she can see what might have happened. And that she’s completely okay with it. Here we have Pete who doubts a good portion of his life because maybe his father is entering into people in Pete’s life and changing them. Making them nicer. Pete kind of has a guardian angel. One who might have decided it has to act through Pete himself. And I just love that Sally’s response to all of this is to look at the results. Does it matter, if the result has been to decrease the violence? If the result is that less people will hurt? There’s a weird line where agonizing about what actions are the “real” person and which are the ghost just doesn’t make sense when the result is that there’s more compassion, more joy. That stressing people’s “right” to do harm is a pretty terrible argument in the face of a chance for everyone to be better to each other. Safer. Kinder. And it’s just a really nice story that looks at friendship and queerness in some awesome ways, and seeks to define Ally not by good intent, but by not doing harm. A fantastic story!
“Bride Before You” by Stephanie Malia Morris (3750 words)
No Spoilers: Cornelius Clay is cursed. Twice has he fallen in love and gotten engaged. Twice has his betrothed been the victim of a grisly murder. The nature of his curse, though, is more than magic. It’s familial. And the story moves from a voice very close to Cornelius, and yet one he’s never fully heard. Creepy and creeping, the piece moves slowly and full of rage at the injustice of what’s been done and forgotten. The piece is told in a dialect that evokes the time and place that the story is set, and captures very well the feelings and nature of the narrator. And the piece for me is ultimately about bargains, and seeing them through, and finding ways to bring justice back out of pain.
Keywords: Siblings, Spiders, CW- Childbirth, Marriage, Magic, Bargains
Review: The story builds itself up very effectively, focusing on the almost charmed nature of Cornelius Clay. Affluent and charming, he moves through the story as a constant reminder of what his mother won by relying on magic when she wanted a child. The story for me is very much about the bargains that people make, as she did in swallowing the seeds that led to Cornelius’ birth. Because they also led to the birth of Cornelius’ sister, the narrator, who is the counter weight to the charmed life that Cornelius lives. She is the darkness at the heart of the exchange, and as the first born she is also entitled to be married first, even if no one else in her family acknowledges her. She makes herself known, in webbing and death, and I like how this is all done according to the rules that the mother broke. So that, in order for there to be any hope of progress, any hope that the family won’t be destroyed by this shadow cast over them, the mother has to make things right. Not by dying, but by having to take it on herself to overcome her daughter’s plight and drag her out of the darkness she’s descended into. Only then can the narrator be reconciled with the world and the old festering wounds maybe finally close. And it’s a story that flows with a power and momentum, building to the moment when everything has to be faced in the light of day and resolved. A great read!