|Art by Maggie Chiang|
“So It Was Foretold” by Mimi Mondal (998 words)
No Spoilers: A woman finds herself in a foreign land with a husband whose name she devoured in order to become a person. Carrying a legacy that goes far beyond the years of her husband’s life, though, she is a continuation of a story, of a narrative that always found her and those like her erased or dead or both, forced to fit into the lives of those who had more power and influence and used the threat of violence with impunity. The story is dark and moves despite the great weight of injustice pressing down on the narrator. And it follows her and through what she must do, not to find her story with her husband, as part of his tale, but so that she can reach a point when she can wipe the slate clean and begin again, clean, free.
Keywords: Fire, Immigration, Marriage, History, Immortality
Review: For me, the story centers the struggles of the narrator to escape the legacy of where she was born. The intolerance and bigotry based on her name, based on the color of her skin. A legacy that she could partly distance herself from by marrying out, by gaining what protection that offered. But I like that the story doesn’t frame that as a true freedom, trading one kind of vulnerability for another, even if it was one where maybe she would have been treated all right. Maybe she would have been allowed to do her own thing. But it’s still just that, someone allowing her to be and do, someone with the power to change that, no matter his intentions. That the power exists at all is a hindrance and an injustice, and the narrator goes about trying to push it off, to reject the narrative that would make her only the woman rescued by this man. So she burns it all. All that she has, really, except that there isn’t exactly a feeling of loss surrounding it. There’s a sadness because it’s taken so long, because she’s already missed out on so much because of what she had to accept to survive. But the story, for me, follows her burning that away in order to reach a place where true freedom is actually possible. Where she doesn’t have the baggage she had been carrying around. Where she can be anybody, unbound by the names and rules that marginalized her. And it’s a punchy story and a fine read!
“A Promise of Flight” by Lee S. Bruce (1132 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has only their grandfather as family, though that doesn’t seem like so great a lack as their grandfather is also their biggest fan, always sure of their ability and potential. When he asks them to promise him that they’ll fly, though, and then slips into a coma, the story becomes about the narrator’s struggle with their own doubt and uncertainty in the face of their grandfather’s faith and support. The story is sweet and moves quickly, told almost like a fable but with a more modern feel to it. It’s also possible to view a lot of it as an extended joke, as a lot of the piece is humorous and the ending can hit like a punchline. More than that, though, I feel the story dives into the power of having someone who believes in you, and how that can allow you to believe in yourself.
Keywords: Family, Grandparents, Flying, Faith, Belief, Comas
Review: I really like just how fun and heartwarming this story is. That, for me, it boils down to how belief can lead people to great things. How being told that something is possible, that you will be able to do a thing, is sometimes able to make it happen. Because doubt and fear and insecurity hold a lot of people back. Stop them from taking that step and seeing if they can fly. Because they’re convinced that they can’t. And yet here in this story the grandfather believes, and so the narrator is able to make the leap. To try. And to do something that even the grandfather didn’t exactly think was possible. Which is rather the joke of the piece, but I don’t feel that it really detracts from what’s happened. There’s a part of me that feels like changing the meaning of the grandfather’s words might take some of the magic out of the occasion. Instead, though, I feel like it adds to it, by having it not be about the grandfather’s faith. That it wasn’t someone else’s faith that ultimately made it possible, but the narrator’s. It was them who had to believe, and even if through a misunderstanding they did, and they did something amazing. It’s a fun and short story that soars and manages to stick the landing!
“The Paladin Protocol” by Sydnee Thompson (3257 words)
No Spoilers: Aaryn is a nonbinary neuroscientist who finds out that they might be involved with something a lot bigger when they thought following a bombing that killed thousands. The thing is, the bombing might have killed millions, had the citizens not had neural implants that Aaryn helped to develop. It’s a story about pain and about consent, about what’s best for people and who should be able to make that call. For Aaryn, it’s a story about dealing with their fibro as well as how they’re been used, and how they can maybe move forward despite the dangers surrounding them. The piece introduces some big ideas and a future that seems well and truly fucked, as well as the opposing viewpoint of Aaryn and Viktor, a man determined to do what’s best for humanity regardless of what humanity thinks or wants. It manages to do a lot in a short space, and the ending is a tease and a promise of things to come.
Keywords: Nonbinary MC, Free Will, Neuroscience, Consent, Assistance, Control
Review: I love the world that this story introduces. And okay, no, I guess I don’t mean I love the world, but rather that it just seems so real to me, that I can imagine something like this happening, where a company would promise to do one thing and then just completely betray its users and claim that it was unforeseen when really it was always the plan just waiting to be implemented. Especially with how companies like Facebook have betrayed a lot of the trust that people had in it, I can see people really buying into this escape from so many simple things, giving control over to this program but only because they are told that they will remain in control. And for Aaryn this point is especially important, because they know that no one has their best interests at heart, really. That it’s all an angle. That they can’t trust a system that is traditionally and often violently binary. And when it starts to come out that they’ve been used, that they’ve been used to do the very thing that they care the most about—violating people’s autonomy—they know that they must act. And yet the terrifying reality of this world is that there’s something in the brains of the population. That’s able to do so much to get people to comply. Without even maybe being aware of it. And as bleak as that is, the story still leaves room for hope, for something that goes deeper than this program in people’s heads. For Aaryn, it means tapping into something fundamental to who they are, that might give then a foothold to fight back against the enemy in their brain, so they can take down the asshole trying to act like a god. It’s a complex and richly developed world and so worth checking out. Go read it!
“The Finger” by April Grant (955 words)
No Spoilers: A young adult has a discussion with their father, in which they are urged to take some drastic measures to avoid the draft. Caught between the desire to avoid having to kill in a war that seems unending and detached from daily life, and the desire to not, well, shoot off their own finger, the narrator is stuck in a place where there seems no good option. The story is quick and tense, a squirming kind of read to mirror the emotions that the main character is going through, the strangeness of hearing someone who loves you telling you to shoot a finger off. There’s a sharpness, as well, a lingering violence, as if the path that the narrator walks is lined with spikes, like life is an enormous bear trap that’s ready to spring closed the moment they reach eighteen.
Keywords: War, Drafts, Guns, Fingers, Parents
Review: There’s so much going on in this little story about family and the illusion of safety. About choices and failures. About passing along a toxic system despite knowing how bad things are. Here we see the narrator’s parents know exactly how broken things are, just how awful things are, and yet they’re pushing their child right into it, are already washing their hands of this because they feel it’s not on them. Because they had to deal with it so it can’t be _that_ bad. And yet they also know on some level that it is that bad, that their child could get devoured by this terrible hungry thing called war—and one that they could have worked to end but didn’t. It’s a new status quo now, and reminds me so much of all the ways that parents set their children up to fail, to sink or swim without fully knowing the rules or the why. And having it be, ultimately, that the parents are selfish and entitled, and put so much of themselves first without caring what it would mean for their children. It’s a bleak story full of betrayal and anger, that sets up a situation where parent and child are stuck in a place where the parent pressures the child to embrace and accept a corrupt system because the parent benefits enough from it. And it’s a gripping and terrifying read!
“Now Watch My Rising” by A. Merc Rustad (943 words)
No Spoilers: For the sake of Prophecy, that they will devour the sun at the end of the world, Wolf is put in chains, their jaws muzzled, their tongue pinned. For the sake of this Prophecy, they are told to endure. But from their chains Wolf can still travel, can still search for places where perhaps there are wolves not suffering and made to accept it. Where perhaps the stories don’t always end in blood and loss and death. Looking at the power of narratives and the bullshit of prophecies, the story is very concerned with monsters and how difficult it can be to escape that label when you don’t get to control your own stories. When it’s just generally accepted that wolves are evil and violent and wrong...because. The piece has a yearning feel to it, and I love how it stops in different worlds, different fictional spaces, to reveal how pervasive certain tropes and ideas are. It’s short but punchy, and powerful in the way it encourages a reclamation of story and identity.
Keywords: Wolves, Prophecies, Portals, Tropes, Chains, Nonbinary MC
Review: So okay the first thing I thought of when the story was over was that tiny tiny poem about the tiger being free. Because there’s something powerful and triumphant about this story, where Wolf has been chained and harmed in the name of prophecy, in the guise of being necessary as an evil in the world, as this thing that will destroy everything. Never to know freedom except in a moment of self destruction. And it’s a fate that Wolf never agreed to and, as they travel with their mind to different worlds, they see replicated again and again. Wolves as evil, as destructive, as a sign of The End. Maybe responsible for death or maybe killed in order to avoid cataclysm, but always dark and never free and never the authors of their own stories but instead the villains of other people’s narratives. And I love that the piece visits other fantasy stories, Narnia and Lord of the Rings and more where we find wolves come to represent danger and savagery. And yet Wolf doesn’t want to hurt people, doesn’t want to embrace that roll. They are their own person, and choose instead flight, and freedom, and working to free themself and the other wolves they’ve witnessed from the chains (literal and figurative) that keep them locked into the same roles. It’s a story that urges us to examine skeptically the figures in our stories, to interrogate the lessons we’re supposed to take from these tropes. And, ultimately, to understand the importance of who tells stories about which groups. To realize that entire populations cannot be reduced to one story, but rather should be free to explore where their will. And it’s just a wonderful, invigorating read!