“Raders” by Nelson Stanley (4300 words)
No Spoilers: Maggie is in love with Mya, the two linked by their place in the Raders and their rushing abandon to embrace sex, drugs, and loud music. The piece opens with Maggie trying to frame her feelings and express herself through a drug-induced haze, and ends...well, this is the no spoilers section, so let’s just say things get a bit dark. The piece carries a grungy and rather punk-y feel to me, a speed and a looseness that makes for a lot of fun but also a sinking, almost surreal sense of foreboding. Maggie’s situation is wrenching and tragic, prepared in ways that she’s not aware of to fill a role. It’s grim and difficult, but very much worth checking out.
Keywords: Cars, Drugs, Fae, Bargains, Queer MC
Review: This is a rather strange story and a wonderfully fresh take on a rather old kind of story in SFF. Because for all that Maggie thinks that her relationship is one thing, the truth is something more magical and dark than even the drugs and sex and decrepit streets that make up most of their lives. And there’s just this wrenching horror that slowly grows in the story, where Maggie is enamored with Mya and wants so badly to stay in the glow of her presence. For me it’s a piece about addiction and escape, where this group of people is chasing a release from their senses, are chasing the latest high. They want the experience, the magic, the way that it makes them feel. But there is a shadow to it, a danger and a darkness that they’re flirting with. And they’re doing so because their world seems fallen, wasted. They feel at odds with it, without a place. But lacking a place there makes them vulnerable, and this story brings that rather viscerally home for Maggie, who before this hasn’t really thought about safety or the future. Without knowing it, she’s fallen into a kind of trap, fallen into a bargain she had no part in making, though she is going to be the victim of it. It’s not what I expect out of Fae stories, and the take on the subject, on the Wild Hunt, is just breathtaking and weird and so fucking cool. For that alone I’d recommend the piece, but there’s also a lot going on that’s very much worth spending time with. It’s strange and haunting and a great read!
“Best for Baby” by Rivqa Rafael (3100 words)
No Spoilers: Merav works for a company that specializing in modifying zygotes, creating designer children for the super rich. Despite working there, though, having children isn’t really something that Merav can hope for herself, because she has implants that allow her to enter virtual spaces, which also make her able to do her job. It’s a loss she feels deeply, but she’s also a professional, and even though many of the people she has to work for are complete assholes, she does her job diligently and with integrity. It’s easy enough when there’s no other option, but might it be different if she actually had the chance to get what she wanted? It’s a concise and in some ways bleak story about the future of tech and eugenics. At the same time, though, it’s about hope and empathy in the face of injustice and corruption.
Keywords: Employment, Genetics, Modifications, Virtual Reality, Queer MC
Review: The vision of the future here is just great to me in part because it’s so easy to believe—a new kind of class system where people hoping to give themselves an advantage with employment are implanted, only to have the ground pulled out from under them when their implants are legislated to not only take away their advantage but make it something that can be exploited by the super rich. And I love how Merav is put in this situation where they are pushed to give up on a lot of their hope, where they can’t afford to think or dream about certain things, but can’t really help it, either. Because of where they work and what they’re capable of. Skills that they are able to use on the behalf of others but never for herself. Which is all sorts of fucked up but exactly the way that it happens. People get access to tools that are owned by corporations, only affordable for people who are ridiculously expensive, and the employees are stuck getting to see other people get what they want and never getting it for themselves. Only here it doesn’t push Merav into lashing out. Not exactly, at least, even when she’s offered a role in hurting some of the people who treat her like trash and could without a thought buy everything she’s desperate for. Because she knows that’s not the way to really change things. That in order to make a better world, cruelty must give way to compassion. To empathy. And so she makes a decision, one that might have a large impact on a life, but one that might also help to start moving things toward a better future. It’s a rather fun story watching her navigate this moment, tinged with darkness but clinging to hope, no matter how slim. A wonderful read!
“Of Clockwork Hearts and Metal Iguanadons” by Jennifer Lee Rossman (3800 words)
No Spoilers: Tilly is a disabled mechanic and engineer in a steam-bent alt-history where enormous mechanical dinosaurs have been created for the delight and wonderment of Londoners. Except they’ve done quite the opposite for Samira, an autistic archaeologist whose insights into the nature of dinosaurs are as profound as they are completely ignored by the snooty British establishment. Which completely spoils Tilly plans of finally asking Samira out, as these less-than-accurate dinosaurs make Samira decidedly not in the mood to be wooed. The piece is fun, romantic, and about pushing back against intolerance, injustice, and assholes in power. Further, it’s a story about queer people coming together to defy the expectation that they be too oppressed to successfully challenge convention and achieve greatness. It’s sweet, defiant, and utterly charming.
Keywords: Dinosaurs, Steam Technology, Queer MC, Romantic Gestures, Alt-History
Review: I really love how this story comes together, featuring a woman and her desire to do something larger than life for her crush. Or, I mean...technically it’s precisely as large as life, but it’s a dinosaur, so that’s still...plenty big. And it’s such a sweet premise, surrounded as it is by this lurking darkness, the prejudice and misogyny that these people must navigate. They’re all incredibly talented, with the skills and drive to be stand-outs in their fields, and yet because of who they are, because of how they’re perceived, they are denied opportunity, are denied the attention that in others (straight white men, namely) would make them heroes and very influential people indeed. The piece looks at the loss that comes from intolerance and prejudice, from ignoring and suppressing the work of those who are exceptional just because of their skin/gender/sexuality/disability/etc. Further, though, it shows the beauty of people pushing forward regardless, refusing to be stopped, and so creating things that no one thought possible, that indeed people counted on not being possible because, once created, they challenge the foundation of power that maintains the status quo. Once a more accurate mechanical dinosaur exists, after all, it’s only a matter of time before the ones that were done incorrectly will have to change or become obsolete. And the romance aspects of the story are amazing, sweet and fun and awkward and just so refreshing to see. I also love just the dynamics between the characters, the way they care for and help each other, the way they build in each other a community where they can flourish. It’s a fantastic read full of win! Go check it out!
“Vampiric Tendencies in the Year 4500” by Renee Christopher
This is a strange piece about light and about searching, its title evoking a certain kind of hunger, a certain kind of drive, while the language of the piece for me speaks more of longing, and loneliness, and a break perhaps from both of those things. I love the natural focus of the piece, the animal and insect life that carries through it where the narrator seems to me to be an observer, watching the various creatures of the night and day move through the world. And it begins to call into question who exactly the narrator might be. Though the title mentions vampiric tendencies, it doesn’t really mention vampires. So could the narrator be something different, something that feeds off of others but in a more natural way? An animal maybe or even plant, given the importance of the sun, of light. Whatever, the case, it’s a piece that for me is about seeking, about moving into a future that seems at the same time familiar and foreign, comforting and dangerous. It connects the narrator to a world that might be like our own but might also be entirely transformed, and there is no hint as to whether they are human or not, or if humans even still exist. It’s a fantastic little mystery, moody and dark with a disjointed look that still manages to flow and carry a sense of wonder. A great read!
“Aubade: King Under the Mountain” by Tristan Beiter
This piece combines the mythic feel of trolls and forests, heroes and battle, with a softer, quieter kind of poetry—with an aubade, a poem about lovers separated by the dawn. Here the narrator seems to wake alone in a grand bed made of animal skins, their lover gone but due to return later. It’s a piece that embraces the romance of chivalric stories but throws out the need for the hero to slay everyone they come across, especially if it’s a giant or other “monster.” Here the narrator seems human and their lover seems able to carry them in a hand. I love the magic at play here, the sort of coziness that the narrator weaves into this world that might otherwise seem frightening and harsh. It’s certainly not overflowing with servants or technology or any number of modern conveniences. For all that their lover might be royalty, it doesn’t seem like a very active court. Indeed, the entire area seems deserted but for the two of them. But still it seems like the culmination of a fairy tale, like exactly the ending that the narrator wanted. And there’s this warmth that cuts through the coldness of what might have been felt in the setting, full of snow and rock and trees. For me it’s a piece that lives up to the promise of the form, to the romance and the softness of yearning that comes from waking in the morning light satisfied and alive with hope. Content and safe and knowing that the parting is temporary, and the future will bring with it many returns, and many happy days. It’s just a beautiful feeling that I think the poem carries off so well, complicating the typical narratives and forging a new one that’s definitely worth checking out. A lovely read!
“Shortcake” by Jade Homa
This is by far the shortest of the poems this issue, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to it. For me the piece speaks of this core relationship between the narrator and their partner (now perhaps their ex?)—one full of passion but also perhaps one with some...issues. I love the way that it’s understated, that it uses the past tense to open up this question of what the current status is between the narrator and the person they are speaking to. At the very least they must have been lovers once, or partners. Their relationship seems to have been fiery, full of teeth and swearing, full of ways that they might have hurt each other. But it also feels like a living thing, like a real relationship where the people draw out the best and worst from each other, reveling in the ways that they are sharp and smooth, the way they occasionally draw blood. And it’s framed by this idea of strawberries, of sweetness, of something that is traditionally seen as more...not innocent really, but rather having to do with pleasure. Strawberries for me evoke a kind of passion but they don’t typically make me think of blood, of the messy pulp they can become. The narrator seems to be thinking of how they interacted with this other person, how they made something that was sweet but that also edged, their outward appearance maybe hiding something darker underneath. But it’s a lovely and fun poem to dive into, a sensual experience that’s very quick but that invites multiple reads to get the most out of the flavor, out of the many possible implications. A great way to close out the original offerings of the issue!