|Art by Christopher Jones|
“The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne (5624 words)
No Spoilers: Mey is a sin-eater, one of a long line who have drank the nanobot-laced blood of the captain of the generation ship in order to rid them of their doubts and the stain of any...indiscretions. In theory it’s to make sure that people can trust fully the grace of the captains as they steer a course for the planet paradise. In practice...well, things are a whole lot darker. The piece is gripping and dripping with sin, with the memories that Mey is forced to endure by the ghosts in their blood, the ghosts of the captains who have done things no person should have to witness, and make certain that Mey cannot reveal their secrets. Even through the blood-soaked memories that make up the history of the ship, though, there is a resilience in Mey that they got from their father, that they might be able to fight back against the system that has for so long operated with impunity.
Keywords: Space, Generation Ships, Memories, Ghosts, Lies, Sins
Review: I love what the story does with Mey and the physical ways that the ghosts inside them use to silence them. To make sure that they cannot speak and cannot investigate the crimes that have been committed on the ship. For Mey it’s a living nightmare, never able to tell anyone of these horrors that have layered deeper and deeper into their soul. The goal is to break them, to make it so that they will not fight, that they will be complicit in this system that no one really benefits from but the Captain. Because it makes manifest the way that the secret abuses of the past often become chains that prevent us from moving into a better future. Because they are things that must be denied or hidden. Because those who end up knowing about them find that it’s too difficult to fight back against the lies and legends of the past. That the lies have become too powerful to take down, especially when trying to do so brings down the brutal violence of a corrupt regime. Mey has the strength to keep going regardless, though, and the moment they have proof that might actually do some real damage they know how quickly they must act. Even so, the story is also conscious of the complications of needing help from within the system, as well. And how to deal with those whose guilt is being equated with other people’s lives. I love how Mey doesn’t shrink when asked by the newest Captain what is to be done. When she admits that she is haunted. Because making too much room for her feelings would push out acknowledging the atrocities that have been committed. And it allows them both to reach for a place where they can dismantle what is broken, and leave the situation with a whole lot more hope, not least because they can let the voices of the past finally stay in the past, and set their sights on a bright new future. A great read!
“Every Song Must End” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (5417 words)
No Spoilers: Florence is grieving a loss of something she had never expected to have, a love between herself and a man other than her husband. Their relationship was not one of betrayal but a sort of opening up of her relationships with Asher, her husband, as they began a new relationship with another couple, Henry and Clara. And the piece does a stunning job of building up this relationship in a way that doesn’t break her other relationships, that doesn’t shame or judge her for what she feels, and that, while things don’t go exactly To Plan, doesn’t punish her for exploring her desires and affections. It’s a beautiful piece that touched by a deep sadness and sorrow, because of how things go, but I think does a wonderful job of sort of underlining the point that love is not a finite resource, and it definitely leaves room for healing and hope.
Keywords: Poly Relationships, Mars, Space, Separation, Love, Queer MC(?)
Review: This is a beautiful and rather heartbreaking story, in large part because of how it refuses to follow traditional trajectories. Which I guess is rather appropriate, as it’s a story that involves people going off to Mars, risking the unknown and expanding beyond Earth, not exactly because they don’t love their home planet, but because they also want to go beyond. It echoes in Florence’s desires, that she’s deeply in love with her husband but also capable of loving other people, and experiencing that in ways that most narratives would punish her for. And I want to say that it’s not like it doesn’t cause her grief. Because Henry, the man she falls in love with, leaves the planet and moves away forever. But what I appreciate about the story is that this is never framed as a punishment. It’s not her just desserts because she had relations with a man outside her marriage. Everything doesn’t implode. Her marriage doesn’t fail, and she doesn’t get cancer, and nothing is broken so bad that it can’t be fixed. And that’s what I like about the story, that it really does approach love as something that doesn’t have to be so jealous and so singular. That yes, Florence is sad about losing Henry, and a little bit broken by it. But that’s just giving respect to a relationship that had come to mean a lot to her. And that it’s not wrong to grieve that. Nor is it wrong to see beyond that grief to a time when she might be better enough to try again. Because there’s nothing wrong with it, and because it obviously can work out. She’s built up this amazing relationship with Asher, so there’s no saying she can’t do that with someone else. It’s an affirming message that people can love outside the traditional Western ways and reach for happiness and it can be messy and hurt sometimes but that it’s natural. That it’s real. And that it’s worth it for her, and wonderful. And it makes for an emotionally powerful and resonating read!
“A Sharp Breath of Birds” by Tina Connolly (1119 words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are a girl then woman in what feels to me like WWII-era America, discovering that you are different from most of the rest of the world. You see birds. Personal birds. And you’re not the only one, as your friend Alice sees them, too, and together you create fantasies where you are bird bandits or princesses who can save each other, or yourselves, or any number of other things. But cultures can be confining things, and marriage to a man a cage for any bird dreaming of flying free. The piece is heartfelt and magical, your resolve and comfort in your own body and desires a sword and shield and ship with which to sail into brighter skies and daring adventures.
Keywords: Birds, Feathers, Marriage, Queer MC, Flight
Review: I love how the story takes the main character, the You of the piece, and builds up this trap. A trap that you see and yet one that you walk into all the same because of the weight of expectations, the weight of everyone wanting you to be “normal” and do “normal” things. Especially for the time period, having models of more “deviant” behavior wasn’t really a thing, and so it’s heartbreaking to see these two girls who have created a sort of language and space for their identities and desires to be forced to pass in a world that will not accept them. A world that demands they cage their hearts and limit themselves to trying to force themselves to be like they’re supposed to be. And I love that you just...don’t. That the more you age the more certain you are that the birds, that the space, that the magic of the world you see around you isn’t wrong. That indeed it’s the world that you’re forced to engage in that is false, and the one that other people would label fantasy is what is true and real. And I love that it’s something where you are able to embrace that and take wing, expecting to have to rescue Alice but finding instead that the stories never left her heart, either. And that neither of you have to save the other, but can instead embark into the bright dawn together, taking that magic with and finding a place where you can live that truth. It’s a beautiful and freeing read, and you should definitely go check it out!
“Childhood Memory from the Old Victorian House on Warner” by Beth Cato
This piece delves into the past, into memory, and into a kind of haunting that is unsettling. Because it mixes with nostalgia, with the feelings of comfort and protection that come with the idea of home. The narrator of the piece is confronted with something, though, with proof that what they thought was magical and beautiful was actually something darker. And I love the way that it shows that twisting of the home, of a room, into something that isn’t safe. That isn’t protective. It’s a moment that for me speaks to so much and especially to the moments when a child realizes that they aren’t safe in their own home, if indeed that’s something a person ever has to face. But yeah, facing that as a child and having that stand as a sort of architectural home for their fears and their insecurities is powerful and achieved so well through the poem. It’s dark and it’s wrenching because of the way they aren’t believed, because of the heartbreaking image of the butterfly trapped in the wallpaper trying to escape, the ways that it feels like the narrator is trapped there as well, by what happened, by their fear. And that it takes something drastic, takes this big Thing like a fire burning it all away to sort of psychical break the link and allow the narrator to move on. To heal. Because the room and the house are gone, and the haunting in some ways has to go with them. It’s a beautifully rendered poem, with short lines and an almost winding feel that put me in the mind of memories, of a vague haze of age and magic and nightmare, and I love that ends on that note of hope, that sometimes the prisons burn all the way to the ground and prisoners don’t burn with it. They get to slips free, and away. A wonderful read!
“Taho” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
This poem speaks to me of food and of distance, of home even on a distant and mostly barren planet. It features a bot, a vendor of Taho, as he moves through the wastes of Mars on his way to a settlement, a civilization where he might peddle his wares. The poem is strange in setting and tone, mixing this seller of desserts with an alien desert, no one for miles to hear and yet still his call the same, as if entreating the planet itself, calling for the sake of calling rather than because he expects customers. For me it’s a piece that speaks to the distance that people can go, that humanity and civilization can go, and the things that people bring with them. Not just the technology and the drive, but the bits of home that stretch out from their origins and into the stars. This bot, diligently carrying Taho toward a place that might appreciate it. Going about his trek because that’s what he does, that’s who he is. And it’s a familiar sight in a very unfamiliar place, almost eerie with the uncanniness of it (which hey, fitting given the publication). A bot selling Taho to an empty world might seem dark to some, but for me the piece doesn’t really carry a threat or any indication that humanity has been devastated. For me, at least, the swinging dessert, the call out into the Martian sands, is more comforting than anything. A testament to the power of small things—comforts and practises that will not die out just because humanity shoots itself into space. That will continue because there is something warm and good about them. Nostalgic, maybe, but not solely. Delicious as well. And hopeful, if also kind of lonely and haunting. That across this dessert there will be people who will answer the call of the vendor, who will find relief in his offerings and who can take heart from the fact that he’s still out there, calling, calling. It’s a lovely read but I’m really hungry now, so be warned and definitely go check this one out!