Also, this month marks a new transition for GigaNotoSaurus, with the arrival of new editor Elora Gatts. Rashida J. Smith has done a stellar job with the publication, and I'm saddened to see her go, but also excited what the future holds for the this awesome venue!
"Compost Traumatic Stress" by Brian Koukol (19170 words)
No Spoilers: So I feel like the title of this piece sets the mood of it up quite well. It's a pun that is almost funny but mostly kinda hurts. Because it's just not something to joke about. And yet with Mort, the main character who has been assigned to garden a world newly won against an alien adversary, it's something where you either crack a joke or crack yourself and risk shattering completely. Mort is a veteran and survivor of a terrible struggle on Limos, named after a goddess of famine, which was little more than mud when humans and the Chokes arrived to fight over it. Mort is deeply wounded by his time in battle—not just with the loss of his arms, but emotionally as well, having lost most of his comrades in the bloody last days of fighting on the planet's surface. The gardening is a way to keep his military-issue arms and maybe recover, though that hasn't exactly been working out. He's haunted, and the only thing helping is to stay busy, and that only avoids his memories and issues. Until a new visitor arrives, and pushes Mort to examine himself and maybe move forward from his trauma.
Keywords: CW- War, Trauma, Loss, Plants, Goats, Aliens, Space
Review: There's a good deal in the story about naming. Like the planet, which moves from Limos to be renamed Demeter as an attempt to rebrand it after the war is moved past it. But also with the idea of golems, something one of Mort's fellow soldiers talks about. About the words needed to raise a golem, and to put them down. To make life from death. Which of course also goes into Mort's name, which seems a pretty direct line to death. He's seen and been through a lot, including the deaths of all of his friends in the military. They all died, and died violently, around him. To make matters particularly complicated, they were always responsible for watching out for him. They were better soldiers, and he was kind of a fuckup. And yet he survived. Yes, he had his arms eaten by aliens while he was mostly conscious, but he survived. And now lives on the same planet where the blood and bodies of the soldiers have become new growth. Turning Limos into Demeter, into something alive.
At the same time, the planet isn't entirely safe for humans, because half of these new plants are Choke plants. Mort's job is to clear those away, to make this something that will work just for humans, but there's a certain amount of ignorance in that project. Because it refuses to acknowledge the loss that happened here on both sides. And it takes the arrival of Artie, a Choke goat, to really get Mort to begin to figure things out. Because Artie is cute and comforting and friendly. And Mort almost kills him almost immediately on accident. Like he feels he's killed everyone else. And it gets him to go places he never went before to try and find a cure for Artie, when really at that point they are linked. And Mort has to journey back to the events of the way emotionally and mentally in order to see what's around him and in order to see a way forward. One that isn't entirely sanitized and human. One that honors the mess and the pain and the death that happened on the planet, that became the fertilizer for what the planet could grow into.
It is a tense and harrowing story, mixing the more humorous moments with pure gut-wrenching hurt. The sections that deal with Mort's time in the war aren't easy to read, nor at those times afterward when he's dealing with the need to escape his own mind. He's deeply wounded, and really not getting any help. It does take someone reaching out to him without complication to make him start to heal, to realize that he doesn't kill everything that he touches. And I love the conclusions he draws from his time, from what happens to him. How he decides he needs to harmonize the human and Choke elements on the planet or there can be no healing. That, for him, the war can't end until there is a peace. A peace of more than just the fighting stopping. A peace that means a sort of merging, a sort of synthesis. So that something different and new can grow, instead of the old prejudices and violence. It's a difficult story but also a rather sweet one, that even on this world defined by blood and mud, there is beauty, and possibility, and life. A wonderful read!