|Art by Andrey Kiselev / Fotolia|
“Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep” by Nibedita Sen (5402 words)
No Spoilers: A whaling captain on his final voyage (capping a thirty year career) has along a scientist this time, who is studying whalesong and who has great ambitions indeed. The story unfolds as the written account by the captain of this prestigious voyage, and all its successes and the slowly dawning realization of something else entirely going on. Set in a place like our own but also distinct (a second world fantasy but one without the usual trappings of magic), the piece explores the casual brutality of whaling and the cruel aspirations of science, at least as they have often existed. The resource-driven mania for bigger and better paydays even in the face of over fishing is horrifying and real, even as it wakens a response from something new and ancient at the same time. Slowly creepy, dark as black ice, and featuring the fracturing effect of coming across something truly different, the story follows a long history of creepy stories at sea framed as the written account of the captain, and manages to do something new and terrifying with the form.
Keywords: Whales, Science!, Songs, Expeditions, Hunting, Seas
Review: Stories that take place at sea always put me a little on edge, I’ll admit. Large bodies of water are just that—large. That sheer scope, as well as the fact that humans are just not designed to live at sea, where any number of relatively small problems could lead to catastrophe, gives the seas and the oceans a bit of darkness that really can’t be shaken off. Here, especially, the waters hide the violence that humans bring to this environment, the hungry consumption that demands whales be rendered into oil and meat. Already the captain can see a death of his profession, not because of lack of willing men, but because of overfishing. Instead of wondering how to cut back, though, or look into alternatives, the question becomes how to get more. And it’s something that the captain is offered, a way not to scale back whale hunting, but to scale it up. And in looking into that, in pursuing that, the captain ends up scaling up a lot of things. The terror of the sea, for one. And what follows, the descent of the crew into madness and mutiny, is rendered all the more terrifying because of what they wanted and how that’s been twisted back on them. The violence that they brought and used against the whales has now been re-purposed, and there’s this huge (huge!) implication of what’s coming down now and it’s just wonderfully done. What the waters might be hiding, and how that might challenge the human idea of superiority over the natural world, is what the story plays with, and it leaves me creeped right the fuck out. It’s a slow piece but one that builds momentum to a shattering, devouring end. A fantastic read!
“Red Rain” by Adam-Troy Castro (3464 words)
No Spoilers: Told entirely in the second person in a series of questions, the story is an interrogation of trauma and horror as you are first witness and then part of a strange and grotesque spectacle turned disaster. People are falling from the sky. Without explanation or warning. And you are walking around outside. And what starts as a mere sprinkle transforms into a downpour, and as it does you are faced with horror upon horror, seeking refuge that seems increasingly pointless in the face of such carnage. Such death. The piece is bloody in the extreme and really focuses on the immediate reaction to this event. No wondering about how or why, but rather having to deal with the danger of it, the immediate pounding feel of it. The questions are asked, over and over, despite there being no real dialogue in the story, everything drowned out up the flooding downpour of human bodies. Be warned, it’s a graphic read.
Keywords: CW- Gore, Blood, Trauma, Falling, Disaster
Review: This is not an easy story to read, focusing as it does on the pulping of human life. And yet for all of its ugliness, its violence, its death, I think there’s a lot to dig into this story and a rather nuanced portrayal of shock and trauma and at least one reaction to that kind of loss of life. I like that this is something happening without explanation, without reason, because it confronts the main character with this slaughter out of any hope of finding a context that will make it easier to deal with. Instead you are pulled along by the events, which at first are shocking, terrible, and never exactly become less so, but it loses its individual tragedy. And with that goes a lot of the main characters grip on reality. In the face of so much horror, so much blood, so much death, there’s little that you can do beyond try to live. And yet even that seems almost impossible, as the bodies pile up and everything starts to crumble under their weight. The story for me seems to bring the character to a place where you have to decide to live or not. To try and move on despite this direction the world has moved, this descent into hell. And the story does confront the reader and the character with that question directly. What to do? Try something, in the face of the scale of the death, or give into the gravity of it, the inevitability of it. The piece is dark and a bit bleak, but it does still leave it up to the reader what happens next. And it makes for a rather disturbing but interesting read!