|Art by Sin and May|
“Three Meetings of the Pregnant Man Support Group” by James Beamon (5300 words)
No Spoilers: Nick is pregnant with an alien baby that is growing in his appendix. It’s not exactly an easy process, and it’s only allowed on a governmental level because the aliens in question possess much more advanced technology that they trade for men to breed with. Always men, though the aliens themselves are nonbinary. Nick’s approaching a rather crucial stage in the offspring’s development, where his alien partner will return to nir homeworld to build a nest, leaving Nick all alone in the meantime. And for all the big, drastic ideas of the story, it’s neither one that makes light or fun of this situation nor is it concerned with the goings on at a planetary level. It’s intimate, following Nick as he goes through his days, his insecurities, his arguments. Centering how he feels during support group meetings and how the men around him are coping with what’s happening to them, how their experiences are differing from their expectations. And even beneath that I feel there’s this level where the story is getting into what makes choice free, and what makes reproductive health just. It’s a complex and moving story for all that the initial premise of “pregnant men” can be a bit abrasive (especially when the story seems to acknowledge that trans people exist).
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy, Choice, Aliens, Symbionts, Support
Review: I think what I like most about the story is that it doesn’t fall into what most people would think of either when it comes to men being pregnant or people carrying alien fetuses. It deals instead with stigma, and with the weight of having your body change in ways that you didn’t know it was going to. It looks at consent in some very interesting ways, too, where these men all think that they agreed to carry these fetuses but really aren’t sure if that’s the case. I like that the story doesn’t present a clear answer to that, because when dealing with situations where all the information isn’t known ahead of time, consent is pretty meaningless. Without informed consent, it’s still rather coercise, and Nick and the others are dealing with the fact that they have to carry so much on their own, without even the presence of their alien partner for a large stretch of the “pregnancy.” And I like that the story shows how difficult that is, because it’s not like we humans have the greatest answers to these things, assuming that people who can get pregnant “want” to get pregnant when they become pregnant. But can they really fully consent to something like that? Or does that consent need to be reaffirmed at every stage, to avoid putting people in a situation where they are trapped, or feel trapped, and feel that the only way out is through drastic action. It’s a complex read and I appreciate the care the author gives it. I didn’t feel that the premise was to set up a punchline, but rather a chance to explore some very difficult questions in a rather unique way. Which makes for a great read!
“Suzie Q” by Jacqueline Carey (5800 words)
No Spoilers: Suzanne is a summoner, part of an elite group of people who can call angels down for protection from the shadows and the dark forces to seek always to claim people’s souls. Only she also has a a demon inside her, one that kinda got her booted out of the only school for summoners after only three months. The details surrounding both her upbringing and her time at summoning school are linked by the way that she’s been used. Mistreated. Sexually abused. The ways that she’s been coerced and put into positions where she is blamed for the harm done to her. Which, in turn, fuels her demon. Now homeless and trying to get by with a little help from a young boy who doesn’t speak, she’s finding a new way to live. The piece is steeped in the tragedy of her backstory, with the reasons why she has a demon inside her. And there is this injustice at the core of the setting that pushes things forward, that becomes a crushing weight that Suzanne still makes to operate under.
Keywords: CW- Rape, Demons, Angels, School, Homeless, Summoning
Review: This is a rather difficult read, primarily because of the sort of sexual violence and coercion that has defined much of Suzanne’s life. She’s stuck in a cycle of it while she’s in high school, and it keeps her in a vulnerable place, one that seems like it will claim her somehow, except that a rare chance punches her ticket far away. In a gilded school, things are supposed to get better. Things are supposed to be different. She’s supposed to be able to let down some of the shields that she’s had to keep up for so long. Only she learns that really this place is only another sort of high school. Only a different shade of the same bullshit. And the cycles keep right on going, grinded her under their wheels. On the street, there is no real thought that things will get better. It seems like a last stop before annihilation. And yet Suzanne finds there something to fight for. Something to believe in. And someone who she can fully trust. With that on the line, she manages to break the cycle instead of falling victim to it by breaking the rules about what she’s supposed to do. Not by violating herself, but by embracing in some ways the demon inside her in order to fight for herself and on behalf of others. It’s a tense and wrenching story, mostly without action except for the moment of climax, and it’s a rather fantastic read!