|Art by Veli Nyström|
“The Oracle and the Sea” by Megan Arkenberg (4101 words)
No Spoilers: Kashmai is an Oracle, a person who can see the future. She’s also a musician, and one who took part in a failed coup and was imprisoned for it. But not killed. Because the president admires her music. Because he fears her vision of the future. So she’s imprisoned, and later sent to a remote island where she can live alone, where the president hopes she will continue to compose. It’s a wrenching story, full of...not regret exactly. But an exhaustion with the shape of history. With how hard it is to stand against its flow. And a frustration with the injustices that happen, that can’t seem to be stopped with individual action. And yet through that the story looks at what it means to be an individual at these times. And what good art might do in the face of such sadness and loss. It’s not a story that finds happiness in the heart of despair, but it does leave a bit of room for...for kindness, and creation, and pity.
Keywords: Prisons, Islands, Music, Queer MC, Coups, Prophecy
Review: The setting of this story is real, okay? Seriously, it’s a wrenching read in part because the setting involves a rather authoritarian state, and one that has only gotten worse. Where Kashmai was able to live for a while, to teach, to compose, to enjoy the time with her lovers and her friends. She could enjoy being admired, and could think that the future that she saw could be changed. Except that things kept getting worse, and nothing she did seemed to change things. No amount of her art. No amount of resistance. The fierce love and music that she created didn’t overthrow the president. And he got worse, tightening his control on the city, on the country. To the point where she’s in prison and her lovers are dead and her university disavows her. And she will be erased in the face of the power that the president wields. Which makes things seem...well, rather bleak. And yet I feel the story takes her as a character to a place where that bleakness isn’t only a weight holding her down. It’s still very much a weight, a burden, something that holds her down. But at the same time, she gets to a point where it’s also a goad. A reason to create and to push back. Because though she can see a future, she can only see so far. And even if she cannot stop what is to come, she can do something to try and make people’s lives better now. She can still struggle, even if it’s futile. Because there’s still beauty to be found in that, and maybe a hope that beyond her vision, beyond where she can see into the future, it will get better. And maybe what she does now will matter then. Because that can’t be predicted. And all that’s left is to try to live as best she can, as compassionately as she can, seeking even in the oppressive atmosphere to foster joy and inspiration and kindness. And it’s just an aching, wonderful read that you should check out right now!
“The Bodice, the Hem, the Woman, Death” by Karen Osborne (4850 words)
No Spoilers: Lia is the daughter of nobility nearing the age when she can enter society, find a husband, and continue on the long legacy of her family, one that includes a thousand bound souls. Because in this setting, souls can be put into gems in order to live on as voices that can advise the living. They become fashion, woven into clothing to make a statement of wealth, power, and influence. And they are also fuel for weapons designed to fight against the armies of the underworld. That last bit becomes increasingly important as the privileged world that Lia had known her entire life comes crashing down around her. It’s a tense and tightly paced story that manages a good mix of horror and fantasy, fashion and blood, all while looking at Lia’s shifting attitudes towards her family and the dead.
Keywords: War, Ghosts, Souls, Fashion, Family, Nobility
Review: The setting of this piece is so interesting, where people can have their souls captured at the moment of death and set into gems, which then can be made into fashion. And how that then becomes the mark of “true” wealth, not just having the precious stones but having that resource of all the dead and their knowledge and their help. Being able to maintain these vast lineages of the dead in order to prosper. And yet to Lia they are something of a burden because they don’t really approve of her. She’s a tomboy and disinterested in being a noble. It’s more because she feels she has to in order to appease her mother that she goes along with it. And I love that because it feels like that’s the reason everyone does everything in this world, because the dead are never really gone, and offer such certainty about how to act that it seems a comfort to listen, to let them continue to steer things. Those gems become weights that keep people thinking with the pull of the past. That keeps people from really pushing forward as much because the voices of the dead are still loud. And so when all of this begins to come to a head, when the legions of the underworld rise up and start to basically eat the rich, Lia is caught between wanting to do something to save herself and her family and being stuck because her ideas and opinions aren’t really valued. For me, the story deals with systems that don’t look forward enough. That don’t leave room to change. That are too tethered to the dead, who are lest we all forget dead and shouldn’t be allowed to still steer a world that they are no longer a part of. And that, ultimately, even if the dead are a comfort with their promises of certainty, they are a false comfort, because to survive the future requires more than just listening to the same old opinions of the past. A great read!