|Art by Galen Dara|
“Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine (5080 words)
No Spoilers: Christine is getting lost following a virtual deer, a part of a large immersive noir mystery game that no one has managed to win. The deer, immortal, appears only once in the game, and yet it seems to have gotten away from its programming and entered the larger city. Immortal, it dies and dies and yet continues, and Christine can’t seem to stop watching it, seeking it. The story is broken into sections where she follows the deer, and ones where she describes the game, and ones where she reveals her own childhood, her tendency to personify her toys, the changes that came when her parents divorced. The piece is marked by longing and hurt, by betrayal and (as the title might suggest) abandonment. More than that, though, for me the piece embodies a sort of simmering frustration with a world that holds no road to victory, where winning is impossible and everything seems fallow.
Keywords: Video Games, Divorce, CW- Cancer, Personification, Deer
Review: This is a wrenching story for me, because it focuses I feel on how some systems seem rigged. The game the story wraps around, after all, is one that no one has managed to win completely. Everything is a puzzle so intricate that it seems doomed to fall apart, to be finished incomplete. And what determines these things can be one decision, one dialogue branch, very early in the game. For Christine this is incredibly frustrating, and perhaps because she knows very intimately that some of those choices weren’t choices. That if life carries this same structure, where one event can skew everything after it toward loss and failure, then Christine is likely doomed, too. That life has taken her down one road and so she feels divorced from a real chance at success, at winning. Instead she is confronted by loss, and hurt, and abandonment. She is left alone, as if she were just a side character in someone else’s story (for example in her father’s life, where she is a sort of mistake that haunts him but only from a distance). And without the story’s focus on her, she is left to wander, never able to effect much change, only ever dying again and again but still there, still stuck. It’s a story that for me carries this deep mourning, not just for the dead but for Christine as well, for all the possibilities and hopes that have died and left her rushing toward the sea, over and over, but never released from the circuit of the game. I’m not sure I get completely everything about the story, because it is lyrical and understated, but I love the feel of it, and it’s definitely worth spending some time with!
“Jump” by Cadwell Turnbull (2860 words)
No Spoilers: Mike and Jessie share a unique experience when, early in their relationship, they teleport together. It’s a moment that comes to define them in some ways, and something that acts both to unite them and drive them apart. The piece follows them as their relationship evolves, with this single moment incredibly important to their success or failure as a couple. It’s a piece that looks very intently at how people share in marriage, and how singular events can take a weight that isn’t necessarily healthy for people being together. That each person interprets the event differently, and is shaped by the event differently. It’s a story that for me mixes magic and expectation, love and the little disappointments of life that can build into a more pervasive, toxic dissatisfaction.
Keywords: Teleportation, Marriage, Relationships, Miracles
Keywords: Teleportation, Marriage, Relationships, Miracles
Review: I love how this story looks at marriage and relationships and how different people have different expectations and desires when it comes to being with another person. And how these two people specifically react to sharing something that is beautiful and magical and awesome but which they can’t seem to recapture. To me is speaks to something that springs up spontaneously, and springs up because it is spontaneous. They share this rare and wonderful thing, but for Mike it becomes a source of constant worry and doubt. For him it becomes about more than their relationship. He wants to prove it, wants to measure it, wants to brag about it. But Jessie is just wants it to be something that they shared. Something wonderful. But not something that defines everything afterward. For her, the relationship is about loving each other (it seems to me), while Mike seems trapped in the confines of a more toxic masculinity that demands there he something to show for it, that the love is there, yes, but not the point. And that is a sharp critique of how (often but not always) men are taught to see relationships. And how they end up sabotaging what is good by obsessing about what it’s not. And the story uses a light speculative touch to dig into the ways that people love, and the ways that maybe people can learn to love better, less self consciously, less selfishly. And it’s a great read!
“You Pretend Like You Never Met Me, And I’ll Pretend Like I Never Met You” by Maria Dahvana Headley (6800 words)
No Spoilers: Wells the Magician is a sham. A charlatan. Not at all like his father, who knew real magic. Not like his father, who was stabbed to death by an possibly-infernal creature right before Wells’ eyes and whose death Wells has been running from for the last few decades. And now, fully an adult and having lived a life of bad decisions (especially concerning women), Wells shows that he never learns by trying to pick up a woman in a bar who turns out to be mourning the recent death of her child. Total class. But the story itself is sleazy and almost charming, funny and surprisingly heartfelt as Wells struggles with his own demons, and those of his father, while trying to find something real beneath the bag of tricks his father left him. A mostly quiet but also devastating story about regret, damage, and magic.
Keywords: Magic, Magicians, Tricks, Death, Bargains, Souls, CW- Death of a Child
Review: Okay, so I almost hate that I feel for Wells the Magician, who is totally a sleaze. He’s not precisely honest and he really only concerns himself with who he’s having sex with next. He’s got a limited amount of tricks and uses them to subsist but otherwise he seems to be playing a losing game, going back to the slots again and again but refusing to acknowledge that the house always wins. And there’s something almost sympathetic about that. Certainly there’s something pitiable about it, for all that he’s a bit of a creep. Perhaps it’s that he walks that line where he’s so damaged himself that he can only be in a rather messed up, rather superficial relationship. That he doesn’t know how to be anything else because of his life in magic. And that it takes this series of blunders on his part, this series of fucking up and getting beaten up and realizing that he’s hit a very low point that gets him to reconsider things, and try finally try better. And finally believe in something more than his own jaded bullshit outlook on life. And it’s a story filled with the faded hope of magic, the frustration that it’s taken so long, and yet still the wonder when it arrives in all it’s glory, that even here there can be a genuine connect made, with compassion and hope. And it’s a really beautiful read that everyone should check out!
“Conspicuous Plumage” by Sam J. Miller (4730 words)
No Spoilers: Bette’s brother, Cory, is dead, and in the wake of his violent demise the world seems encased in ice. Bette’s parents, deep in mourning, cannot seem to pull themselves out enough to really deal with Bette, and so she’s making her own plans. Plans that involve another boy in her high school class, Hiram, who has the power to give people visions. The story is steeped in loss and the numb fear that Bette is only half facing. For her, she needs to know what happened, and how her brother’s gifts might have gotten him killed. It’s a wrenching but also beautiful story, because while the focus is on loss and death, it’s also about the power of hope, and expression, and love. And it shows how fear can be overcome, and hatred battle against, not with fists or violence but with visions and flight, with a power that can never be snuffed out.
Keywords: Loss, CW- Hate Violence, Queer Character, Family, Powers, Ice, Birds
Review: This story doesn’t pull its punches, opening with death and following that death to its ugly, beautiful, almost inevitable conclusion. On one level the story is about Bette finding out what happened to her brother. Because she doesn’t want to make the same mistakes. Because she wants to be safe. As the piece moves forward, however, it becomes more and more obvious that she doesn’t really need to see how it happened. She knows, knows that he was killed for his beauty, for what he might make other people feel. Killed for the ugliness in other people, their hate and their violence. And what I love about the story is that she slowly comes to realize that, and see that, and...then she makes the same “mistakes.” Because they aren’t mistakes. Because there is nothing wrong with them. And because staying safe is an illusion. That danger of death, of violence, is always there, and it’s the bowing to it that allows it to continue. That what beats it back is beauty, is expression, is standing. Even though it means sometimes tragedy happens. Even if it means there’s always that risk. But Bette seems to me to discover that her abilities, her powers, are her best way to fight back. To refuse to be silenced. To refuse to hide. And to honor the love she has for her brother by allowing herself the chance to find happiness, to love herself enough to fully embrace her hopes and her future. And it is a glorious, sweeping story that captures a taste of grief but gives way to a deeper strength and joy. Go read this one. Do it!!!
“A Brief Guide to the Seeking of Ghosts” by Kat Howard (1340 words)
No Spoilers: This story is, as its title suggest, a sort of guide. For those seeking to summon a ghost, or those trying to avoid them. It’s broken up into sections, that might give the reader a better idea of the moods of ghosts, and how to draw them forward. And with each section, the methods and moods of ghosts are revealed, giving people multiple ways of approaching the problem, depending on the ghost, depending on what has or has not worked before. For me, the increasing options leave room for a sort of hope, a sort of yearning, that if a ghost does not appear in one season, then maybe another method is required. Even as the choices increase, though, the story is careful not to offer too much, and the overall tone is more, well, more haunting, with a soft sort of grief and memory.
Keywords: Ghosts, Seasons, Weather, Time, Mourning
Review: For me, I love how the story becomes a sort of cross section, giving people different axis by which ghosts might respond. If a season doesn’t, try a weather. Or a time of day. And for bonus points, match all of them and try again. And again. It’s the promise of the opening of the story, that acknowledgement that people have their own reasons for pursuing ghosts. And that there are many ways to move forward. But that, ultimately, all the seeking of ghosts is also a refusal to move forward. It’s staying still, lingering with the hope of one last word, one final connection. And sometimes that just isn’t possible. And so with that in mind the story for me becomes about time, and about healing. About moving through these steps to get closer to something. Maybe it’s to the ghost being sought. Or maybe it’s closer to closure, these rituals giving the mourner a chance to face their ghosts whether or not that actually materialize. For me, the piece is about getting people to the point where they’re ready to move on, and find beauty in the seasons, and the weather, and the time of day. Or, to fill in a point at the very beginning of the story with an interpretation of my own: it makes sense to seek out the dead, but the living ultimately need to take care of themselves, whether or not they get that opportunity. And it’s a lovely and moving read and a fitting way to close out the original fiction in this anniversary special issue!