|Art by Katie Chandler|
“The Day After the Red Warlock of Skull Top Mountain Turned Everyone in Beane County into Pigs” by Susan Jane Bigelow (937 words)
No Spoilers: The title sets up the story much better than I can try to summarize, but basically the narrator relates what happens the day after being transformed into a pig. An event which has shaken their father and left them with a lot of feelings that they don’t quite know what to do with. Seeking an escape from their family and its reactions, they go and meet a friend, Crane, whose reaction to the transformation is much different. The story is mysterious in some ways, never quite revealing all of what the narrator felt while a pig, and yet revealing that it has been profound in ways that they might not have been ready for. In ways much different than those around them. And piece flows from this aftermath, this epilogue, all the action of what happened tucked away unseen but still implied vividly.
Keywords: Pigs, Transformations, Friendship, Trans Character, Magic
Review: I love how the story builds up this even that has happened, a confrontation between a warlock and the Scarlets, who seem like the heroes of the larger Story going on in the setting. While that’s going on, though, this story steps away and looks at the people who were transformed and then rescued, and how being caught in that crossfire feels. For Crane, it’s an affirming moment when she begins to really see that being a woman is possible. It’s an epiphany. But for the narrator the reaction isn’t quite so helpful. I kept wanting more of an explanation from the narrator about their experience. We are shown that they don’t want to think about being a pig, and that they didn’t like it. Perhaps more, though, they seem to not like that they didn’t have a larger part to play in everything. They don’t like that they got transformed and while it’s a positive experience for Crane, they didn’t enjoy it. It was a violation to them, or at least something they feel should mean something now. Perhaps what I read most into their reaction is a desire to have something truly transforming happen. They see people so moved and yet their response to it was fairly simple. They aren’t destroyed by it or healed by it. And I feel they want that sort of an experience, want to feel like they get to be important and not just one of so many bystanders. It’s an interesting and brief story that does a fantastic job of building a world quickly and then shifting focus away from where readers are taught where to look. Definitely go read this one!
“Beast of Breath” by Gillian Daniels (992 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this work begins to receive things. Or, rather, halves of things. Half a spoon. Half a seashell. The objects could be anything, but they feel like more to the narrator, who contacts their grandmother and finds out that this might be linked to something...magical. To me the story is infused with a subtle magic and just a hint of darkness. The items open the narrator up to something from her past and something from her future, both meeting in the present in the form of a decision. A bargain to be made. And the narrator will need to be careful lest they make a wrong move and end up agreeing to much more than they want.
Keywords: Halves, Gifts, Dogs, Grandmothers, Bargains
Review: There’s something quiet and lovely about this story, which finds the narrator finding things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. And I love that they go to their grandmother because she could always find things, because she’s open to the idea of another world. For me it feels like fairy magic, which is strange but also quite dangerous. It’s not human, and so it can be difficult to understand. And in that misunderstanding it’s fairly easy to fall into some trap or another. To accidentally agree to more than intended. And there I think the story does a good job allowing not only the narrator to understand what’s being asked when they’re asked a question, but for the fairy-like creature to understand that what’s it’s asking isn’t exactly reasonable. The creature that appears is almost apologetic, nothing of the dangerous and deceptive fae that are often depicted. And I find that I like that vision of what this outsider might be, not trying to swindle the narrator but rather trying to reach out in a way that isn’t quite right for humans. Or not right for most humans. But here it works, showing that their heart, at least, is in the right place. And it allows for a connection to form between the narrator and them, because this wasn’t forced, beause it wasn’t really a trick. Because they feel back for hurting the narrator, and want instead something good for them both. And what grows is possibility, and friendship, and it’s just a great feeling and a fine read!
“Cast Off Tight” by Hal Y. Zhang (3200 words)
No Spoilers: The main character of this story has lost his partner, Talia. The how of it is never quite revealed, though it was a sudden thing, unexpected the way that death can often be. It’s difficult to say just how old the characters are/were, but it does seem like the main character, nameless (I think, but might have missed it), isn’t that old. The grief has wrecked him, has left him without much will to do anything but move gently through the apartment they shared and avoiding being pulled into a string of memories and depressive thoughts. When he finds one of her unfinished projects, though, he’s pulled into the craft that she was so passionate about, and through it reconnects to her memory through the kind of special yarn she used. Holding to the yarn like a lifeline, he attempts to finish her project, and through the project to connect to Talia even through she is gone. Wrenching and emotionally resonating, it captures the weight of loss and shows the main character’s attempts to work through his grief in order to honor the memory of his love while continuing to live.
Keywords: Knitting, Memories, Loss, Crafting, Death
Review: Grief is something that can truly devastate a person, especially when, like in this situation, the person grieving got most of their emotional needs met by the person who is gone. And Talia seems to have been so much of the main character’s life. Indeed, I like how the story captures this guy, who seems so much like so many men who don’t have a lot of things that keep them mentally well adjusted. He has his work and he had his partner, and together they did a lot of things, but it was her who had friends, who had hobbies, and who helped the main character feel not alone. Without Talia, he’s suddenly almost entirely isolated, and that feels true to me. And I love that the answer to this that the story follows is the main character getting over his own superiority to crafting and finding this connection not only to the perosn that he lost but to new social situations through the craft. That in some ways knitting becomes his way of coping, closing the wound that has been bleeding out since Talia’s death. Not that it’s healed by any means, but here he’s finally starting to find that his life is not over or empty. And the story I feel does a great job of showing that slow journey, not to a specific end but rather to show one step toward moving on. And grief is tricky—it’s possible that healing will never be “complete.” But life does keep going. New opportunities are out there. New friends, new pursuits, new creations. And here the main character is able to bring a small amount of closure to at least one part of his grief, and it makes for a beautiful and moving read!
“Fascism and Facsimiles” by John Wiswell (908 words)
No Spoilers: Probably spilling out a bit from a certain revelation that a certain America-themed superhero was secretly a Nazi all along, this story explores a similar idea but with a much different outcome and frame. Indeed, it focuses most on LaShawn and Terri, two henchpeople for Kommand, an evil organization with ties back to World War II and beyond (guess what side they were on). With Captain Democracy in their sights, they learn some things they hadn’t really thought about, and have to make some tough decisions (that aren’t actually all that hard). And it’s such a fun little story, full of critique for not only lazy storytelling, but with complicity that arrises from the fear of losing out on privilege. There’s a whole lot going on in this moment, layers of realizations and doubt and determination and, ultimately, action. It examines what heroism is and what it requires, and the insideous way that villainy can hide in bright colors waving a flag.
Keywords: Superheroes, Nazis, Fascism, Retcons, Student Loans, Democracy
Review: So I love the voices within this story, because they come so naturally and encompass so much. Also, the use of h*ck is just rather awesome. But I mean, with LaShawn and Terri, I love the vague irreverance and at the same time the...willful naivety that comes with being henchpeople but not really considering themselves “that bad.” Sure, they know they shouldn’t really be working against Captain Democracy, but there’s this comfort they have that they are always defeated. Which means that they don’t question things too much. Until they accidentally do. At which point it’s not that they are part of an organization that’s linked to Nazis that really throws them for a spin, it’s that Captain Democracy is linked to the same organization. To that point, they were okay because they assumed they could never win. When they found out they could? That in some ways that they already had? It’s a crisis of faith that I feel many people have to face, because to this point being complicit felt safe because things wouldn’t really get too bad. There would be a barrier between the banal evil that “we all participate in” and the sort of shit that we all know is “really bad” and would fight to stop. Only the barrier obviously isn’t a barrier. There’s no common sense or self preservation we can count on any more. We’re in it. And we, like LaShawn and Terri, have to make the choice about what to do about it. Go along, because it’s not like we aren’t a step away from collapse, because we’re broke and controlled by the need to work with the corruption of our capitalism? No. The need is there to fight. To be the democracy we want to see in the world. And to leave nothing back. It’s a powerful and punchy story and I just love it. Go read it!!!