|Art by Vinz El Tabanas|
“Bargains by the Slant-Light” by Cassandra Khaw (1000 words)
No Spoilers: A woman is visited by a devil. Though really that isn’t too much of a special occasion in this situation. Not when the devil visits every night. To do the same thing. To cut her apart and put her back together. The story stays rooted in the devil’s perspective, though, which gives a strange, dark, and rather lonely feel. The devil and the woman are both locked into a situation because of their natures, because of their drives and desires. In many ways both know that they shouldn’t do this, and yet they find themselves in the same place every night.
Keywords: Hearts, Scars, Love, CW- Surgery (kinda), Devils, Bargains
Review: This story looks at...not addiction at least, though I think it’s something like it. The devil here is used to making bargains, and yet in this particular case he’s unsure if he should continue, if he should keep on giving this woman what she wants, because he knows that he’s not doing her any favors, because some part of him feels bad about this. At the same time, she knows that what she’s doing really isn’t healthy, isn’t good for her. But she doesn’t have a good alternative. She feels what she feels, and in order to change that, she needs a new heart. Which means pain. Which means making a deal. And for me I think the story is about giving up on the idea that you can change someone else. She’s not really hoping to change the person she desires. The person she can’t get over. I don’t think it’s about that. I think it’s about changing herself so that she doesn’t need that relationship, doesn’t feel it’s pull constantly on her. And though the devil seems to believe that she’s going to ultimately fail in what she trying to do, I think there’s something compelling to her attempt. Something resilient and hard and beautiful in how she doesn’t shrink from the pain or the difficulty. So she keeps coming back to this moment of hope, unwilling to put it down, knowing that if she’s ever successful she’ll know, even if that’s not exactly true. For me, it’s a story about personal demons, about the things about ourselves that we are desperate to change because we know how bad they are for us, and how impossible it can actually be to do anything about it. A great read!
“The Standard of Ur” by Hassan Abdulrazzak (7300 words)
No Spoilers: Adam is an English museum employee in the not-so-distant future (2103) where climate change has rendered large portions of the world scorched but still populated. Iraq has survived and perhaps even thrived thanks to abundant solar energy and The Solution, which has ended all secular violence in the country. People get along now, and the country is doing well. So well that they’re looking to recapture the lost treasures that Britain had taken from the ancient cities of the Middle East. Adam is on a mission that’s supposed to be about evaluating if Iraq’s newest museum is a good site for an important ancient piece, but secretly he’s also got plans of his own. Plans that might just set in motion something dangerous and wild—that might awaken something that perhaps should have been left slumbering. Told in a series of journal entries, the piece is part mystery and part exploration of the scars left on a country that has long been the site of “history”, all wrapped in a layer of chilling horror.
Keywords: Iraq, Archaeology, Artifacts, War, Gods, Conflict, Mind Control
Review: This story does a wonderful job of capturing Adam’s prejudice and his pride—the two things that will come to dominate his destruction. Because when he arrives in Iraq it’s already about his own advancement. About setting up his own career. Though he’s supposed to be seeing if Iraq should have their history back, he obviously doesn’t want to make that recommendation. He sees Britain as the center of the world still, and everyone else as backwards and savage. Iraq is the stage for his fantasies, where he can play out the role of explorer and colonizer. Where he can conquer the ignorant and superstitious locals. And of course that doesn’t really play out for him. Go figure. But I love how the story sets that up, how it’s organized as a found text for even further in the future. How it comes as this bubbling rage that Iraq is expected to swallow down in order to be considered legitimate by the West and yet it’s a standard they can never meet. And so the rage comes through, needs expression, and Adam forgets that he’s also supposed to be afraid. He thinks that Iraq is mostly harmless because it’s trying to win on the UK’s terms. It seems to be submitting to the UK’s judgement. But it’s not. And the powers of the country are tired of being denied and are willing to take action if they need to. Which is a rather visceral experience, but one that Adam himself sets into motion with his ambition and his racism. It really is a fun and interesting and wonderful story!
“With Lips Sewn Shut” by Kristi Demeester (4200 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a girl without a name. A girl who wasn’t allowed to have a name because that would give her something, would make her a person instead of an object, something for a man to own and control. On top of the lack of a name, she also has her mouth sewn shut, something done to girls as soon as they can walk and that they aren’t allowed to outgrow. Her brothers, though, do not live with all of the same restrictions, and theirs come with an expiration date. And that’s exactly what the narrator’s mother wants for her. An escape from the hell that’s waiting for her. A chance to reach a fabled town where maybe she can be free. Where she can have a voice. The story is unsettling and intense, building up this palpable dread as the narrator’s brothers all grow, already not punished to the extent that she was and emboldened by that, knowing that they get to outgrow their stitches. It’s a dark, rending read with a great payoff.
Keywords: Family, Sewing, Payment, CW- Threats of Violence/Rape, Voice, Escape
Review: The story does a great job of bringing in the injustice that is done to women and to children and showing how it shapes people. I love the care it takes around the brothers, who are basically monsters but in part because the system makes them into monsters. They are hurt, and denied a voice (whether that be voting or actually being listened to or having full rights, etc) but they are aware that they _will get_ that voice. And because they can see that central inequality, they react to the pain of their own abuse by amplifying it and turning on the women around them. The women who have it worse, and must always be voiceless, and abused. Because the system tells them that’s their right. And it’s a sharp critique of the way that mistreatment of children and rigid bullshit gender roles make it so that there is reconciliation, no justice. Only violence cycling into more violence, but for where maybe, just maybe, someone can escape. But even then, it takes another woman’s life to buy that escape, and that’s a heartbreaking and poignant moment in the story. For me, the piece comes down to voice, to being able to speak physically and metaphorically. And for that voice to be respected. Not spoken over. Not twisted. Not ignored. It’s a dark and creepy read, tense and with an omnipresence of the threat of violence, and it is very much worth checking out!