“These Are the Attributes By Which You Shall Know God” by R.B. Lemberg (1800 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is hoping to get into what seems to be a prestigious architectural school, where perhaps they can explore their vision of form that isn’t driven by reason, the guiding principle for humanity since they were shaped by the alien beings known as the Ruvan. And yet by my reading the story layers the ways that people and idea influence each other, twist each other, bending things so that they fit with some philosophy, some ideal. And the narrator, stuck in the middle, heretical and drawn to something not constrained by rigid lines, has to decide what they want and how to respond to a situation and environment that wishes to shape them according to the religion of reason. It’s a dark but beautiful story about the way that systems that are supposed to be universal and absolute create their own proofs at the expense of those who disprove them.
Keywords: Architecture, Religion, Reason, Transformation, Queer Characters, Aliens
Review: There’s so much to read into the subtle world building of the story, to this place where an alien race has remade the Earth after their own aesthetics and philosophies concerning form and function and reason. I admit to not be super read on Spinoza, but I love here that these aliens “spare” Earth because they see in his philosophy something worthy. Something that further proves their own thoughts on the matter. They are religious, but they have built reason as the only way of knowing God, the only way of touching the objective face of the universe. And so their art all bends around that, constructed to try and present a unified front against the forces of disorder and faith and imagination. And I like that the rebel book in this setting is something like the Bible, is this set of stories that speak to a more miraculous and emotional religious experience, one that the narrator connects to, yearning for the swirling shapes of nature, of coexistence, of landing in a field without damaging the plants like the Ruvans used to do, rather than razing cities to create flat “perfect” landscapes. And I love that this change in the Ruvans speaks to the dangers of dogma that is too rigid and which pretends to be universal, because it refuses to make exceptions for the exceptional, for those that don’t fit or see or experience the universe in the same way. Those people are, like the Earth, expected to be broken down and recreated. Made to fit enough to prove the religious doctrines, without a care for their consent or joy or the benefit of having people who are different and can innovate creatively. So yeah, it’s a wrenching story, heartbreaking for the trauma that the narrator goes through, and yet there is a resilient beauty to it as well, that they are not broken entirely, though their shape is altered. That they still reach out into the darkness toward the forbidden and mysterious. A wonderful read!
“Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit” by Cynthia So (4900 words)
No Spoilers: Sunae and Oaru are girls growing up in Miraya, an island that was until recently under colonial rule and is now free, but not free of the violence that has been done to it, the damage to its history and culture. And part of that is the story behind a monster that must be Appeased every ten years, but that has been defeated before for much longer than that. On the island and in the colonial power that rule for so long, queer relationships are illegal, punished by feeding the guilty to the monster. And yet Sunae and Oaru grow up very much in love, and together hope to be able to deliver their home from the threat of the monster. In getting there, though, they first have to confront the more power monsters—prejudice, injustice, and the systemic curating of history.
Keywords: Poetry, Monsters, CW- Discrimination, CW- Colonization, Queer MC, History
Review: This is an absolutely amazing story about love and about history and about the weight of erasure. The setting is one laced with intolerance, where being queer carries with it a death sentence. And yet as the story goes it seems to build the idea that this wasn’t always the case on Miraya, that this might be the case of a colonizing power coming in and rewriting history as well as the law in order to support their own agenda and morality. And that Miraya now carries those wounds, unable to heal because the history of the island has been destroyed and carted away, locked in the attics of the colonizers. The story follows this incredible arc of Sunae having to rediscover the legacy of her people and their stories through the tinted lens of those who altered those histories to suit their vision of what should have been. The queerness is erased in the colonizers’ text, made “safe” and even supporting their own prejudices by sanitizing it. Sunae has to dig deeper, has to reclaim the history that was denied her in order to fight for her very survival, to not be killed for being queer, for the love that is actually the key to saving her people from the Appeasements that have been going on ever since colonization suppressed the truth of how to fight back. With love. And art. And it’s just this wonderfully imagined, powerfully written story of defiance and historical reclamation and queer love and you all need to go out and read it now. It’s so good!
“The Girl With All the Ghosts” by Alex Yuschik (4400 words)
No Spoilers: Go-Eun works in a funeral palace, a place that is supposed to care for and contain the dead, preventing them from becoming ghosts that might attack the city and necessitate the intervention of the giant mechs that are employed to put them down. She’s also a fanfic writer, essentially medicating herself with the release of writing while she patrols the halls and floors of her work, counting down the days until she quits and can get an easier job. The piece is full of a longing, a desire for the world to not be so broken, for there to be some hope and some way to do something meaningful, so complicated by the way that employment and exploitation and capitalism have gone. It’s lonely and lovely and it’s complex and punctuated by action, violence, and defiance.
Keywords: Ghosts, Employment, Fanfiction, Queer MC, Mechs
Review: There’s so much here that just speaks to the way that exploitation permeates a culture, pushing Go-Eun to work and earn money but in a way that is in some ways killing her. That risks her physical and ethereal self, yes, but also that is just incredibly not rewarding for her mentally or spiritually. She’s in a constant state of trying to escape, of trying to distract herself from the reality of the world she lives in, one that has been wrecked by the dead and by the treatment of the dead. To me, at least, part of the reason for the ghosts is that life leaves them too hungry, too in need of relief and rest and yet unable to rest. Exhausted but incapable of feeling done. The way that Go-Eun works constantly and even when she’s not she’s working on something else, seeking validation and positive feedback and something to keep her going. Everything she does and loves is viewed as useless, and worthless, and yet she feels she has no real choices, no access to loving the things that are supposed to “matter.” Which I think allows them to really connect to this ghost that she comes across in her last days of work, that allows her to recognize its hunger, because she feels it as her own. And there’s something beautiful and tragic about it, about the kind of inevitability that seems to permeate, but that Go-Eun does eventually begin to push back against. Because it’s the narrative that allows the exploitation to continue. That there is no better option. And Go-Eun rejects that, reaching for something better even if for most of the story she’s not sure what that would look like. She gets there, and what she sees is beautiful and haunting and it’s an amazing story!
“The Lamentations of Old Money” by Chanter
This poem speaks to me of desire and in some ways of the difficulty of living in a place where your desires conflict and shift, never quite fitting with an established mold, always pulled from thing to thing. For me, the piece follows the narrator, Jennifer, as she explores her desires, what she decidedly doesn’t want (which in some ways is easier to enunciated and list) and the things that she wants. And I really like the way the story shows that push and pull, the different sides of the coin of her desire, because for me is speaks to this unavailability of something that feels truly right. It seems to reveal a character who can she herself happy in many different ways, but only piecemeal, only a bit here, a bit there, a sort of collage of happiness and fulfillment, but without a specific reference or example that captures everything. Because what she wants is not something that really get represented in media, that gest put out there as possible. But there are parts of many things that speak to her, and she’s left trying to find a way to harmonize them, even when they seem in conflict with each other. And it does such a great job of building that up through layers, through repetition, showing a person who wants many things, companionship and community and intimacy but not sex, not submission but maybe a kind of enthusiastic subordination. It’s a complicated and lovely read, with maybe a bit of commentary on older views of romance and chastity and adventure, seeing something there that feels alive vibrant but wanting to rewrite it, recontextualize it to be consensual and queer and freeing. And yeah, definitely check this one out!
“Female Figure of the Early Spedos Type, 1884-” by Sonya Taaffe
This is a rather strange poem for me, that speaks to a sort of archetype, an idea of a woman who seems to become something more, a figure that represents something iconic and recognizable. The piece follows the narrator as they recall this person and their time with her. How they meet and accompany each other through Europe, from Naxos to Paris, and in that time how this woman transforms, from a sort of blank slate to something else. For me, the poem takes on time and change, looking at how a more stylized or generalized depiction of art can change depending on the person interpreting it. For me, the piece speaks to this way that the narrator experiences art, the way the narrator experiences this woman, how the narrator feels like they have a deeper understanding of both through this experience they have. And it’s possible that I’m missing some context or the depth of a reference, but for me I get the feeling that the narrator is talking about this moment they have of connection, of understanding, where they feel they have received a name, made person and intimate something that was otherwise general and featureless. And how that kind of experience, of really getting to know a person, is transforming and artistic in itself. Timeless and yet linked so much to the one person having that moment. For me at least, I really like the feeling that this is part of something different, where the narrator is experiencing something profound by this interaction, by this meeting—like a person coming across a figure five thousand years on and being deeply moved by it. So yeah, it’s a wonderful piece and one that’s definitely worth spending some time with!
“Chrysalis” by Kendall Evans
This piece speaks to me of transformation and hope. It also does a really nice job of mixing genres and feels, moving from starships to terrestrial festivals, from the cold between stars to the coziness of home. The imagery feels to me to revolve around fertility and birth, though not really about human reproduction. Instead the newborns are a ship, a robot, a mutant of interstellar dust. The title seems to indicate that there’s a becoming involved here, not a birth as such but a sort of transformation, where something is waiting, nearly dormant, but about to become something else, something beautiful and powerful and free. The first stanza echoes this most clearly, and for me at least the piece as a whole might tell the story leading to that moment, where this starship began its life as something else, as the creation of the narrator and their partner, and together they make the robot that will one day become the ship, this creation part of something larger as well, all of them linked to greater and greater cycles of becoming, pointed outward into the stars, allowing people to push further and further into the mysterious night. And the structure, the short lines and short stanzas, give it a feeling of speed and progress and progression, that this is part of a system, a cycle, but one that moves forward, a wheel turning rather than a circle spinning. For me at least it’s a piece that speaks to the iterations of potential, of reaching for something with passion and mind, dancing toward a new frontier and a new way of existing. It’s a strange and excellent read!