|Art by Sam Schechter|
“The Null Space Conundrum” by Violet Allen (7879 words)
No Spoilers: Aria Astra is back. Yes, the interstellar cyborg “fixer” who I think last appeared in “Infinite Love Engine” has returned for a new madcap adventure, this time trying to help a man from the future made of music find a strange god-thing that will judge the universe in order to convince this being that the universe is full of beauty. Which, you know, nice. Only Aria and Kantikle, the man, don’t exactly get along. And as their harmony sinks into discord, there are worse surprises yet in store. The piece is ridiculous and fun and charming, capturing a sense of bored hyperactivity. Aria is neutral, driven by whim and by what she needs to keep on going, which doesn’t exactly make her heroic but that doesn’t stop her from saving the universe. As one does.
Keywords: Space, Music, Cyborgs, Evil Twins, Neutrality
Review: This is a fast and fun story, moving with an interesting mix of manic and chill. Aria is someone who doesn’t exactly like standing still, but her definition of that isn’t quite like everyone else’s. She gets bored with tedium but is easily amused or distracted? To me, at least, she represents someone who wants to experience things, who wants to hear and taste and feel and see all the things out there to experience, but doesn’t really want to be bothered too much about it. She goes with the flow, as long as the flow it taking her somewhere, and otherwise she bristles when she’s stuck in a small space with someone who is a little too similar to her, but also different. And I just love the chemistry between Aria and Kantikle, and how the story plays with doubles. How Aria and Kantikle are similar and even share an existence at one point. How they are different and manage to help each other through the trials they face. Then there’s Aria’s evil twin from another dimension. But not the evil to Aria’s Good. Evil to Aria’s Neutral. Which is great, because she’s not really good, but rather doing what she does because she likes living, likes moving through the universe, so if it was all destroyed it would be a drag. The piece moves from weird to weird, Aria always taking it in stride, shrugging even when she’s covering up maybe some deeper emotional moments, which the story handles so well. Aria has to bend a little, has to care a little, in order to take a risk on something new, practicing empathy and growing just a bit and grumpy about it. But it works, and it’s a wildly fun story you should go check out immediately!
“Miles and Miles and Miles” by Andrew Penn Romine (4127 words)
No Spoilers: Noah dives a hopper on the Moon, doing cargo runs that suddenly don’t cover the bills when his wife is diagnosed with cancer. It’s a rather difficult and gutting read, following the compromises Noah makes in his desperation to help his wife—in his frantic scrambling for what’s essentially the American Dream on a moon riddled with a corruption that makes that rather impossible. It’s a meat grinder, all the more tragic for having been the space of such hope and wonder, transformed from the next great possibility to a new place to be exploited and die. And if that seems a bit harsh, the story goes even further, showing with at times difficult weight and clarity the grit and suffering Noah goes through.
Keywords: The Moon, CW- Cancer, CW- Dementia, Family, Side Jobs
Review: I mean the MC could have been named Job, right? It might have been a little too on the nose, though, given the series of bad things that happen to him, all stemming from his belief and piety not in God but in the system. Meaning, in capitalism. He believes in it, believes that he can get ahead, still succeed, still win. Even if, yes, he has to make some ethical compromises. Agree to do some jobs he knows aren’t good. And there’s a certain amount of sympathy with that because what else can he do? In this situation the diagnosis of cancer is the one bad thing he was away from utter ruin, and it’s something built into the fabric of the culture because everyone gets the shielding that isn’t quite good enough, because everyone is trying to squeeze as much as they can out of everyone else. Because there are no protections for people, no safety net, and so it’s all on chance that they succeed or fail. And so all of them gamble on their health, gamble that they’ll be the lucky ones, and none of them are. And Noah, who leaned the most into the corruption in the hopes of staying ahead, who compromised himself the most, ends up being the one to live the longest but suffer the most. Which is not an easy thing to read, so pay attention to the content warnings. It’s a draining, rather relentlessly sad story, and for that it does impact well, does carry a visceral weight that’s definitely worth spending some time with. It’s not a fun read, but it certainly packs an emotional punch!
“Sand Castles” by Adam-Troy Castro (8268 words)
No Spoilers: The story opens with Loren and Lauren in a bar, just sort of pissing away a day that looks like rain until Loren remembers a giant sandcastle that was constructed nearby, and might only last through the afternoon. The two set out, but what Lauren finds there is not at all what she was expecting, and the story takes a rather weird turn that leads to some interesting adventures for her. The piece is nicely conversational, Lauren’s experiences wild and larger-than-life (kinda literally) and yet she approaches them with a quiet reserve. She’s deeply tired, worn down, and looking for something to go right. When they don’t, she adapts, and accepts the role that given to her, even if that role is monster. It’s a strange piece, violent and brutal at times, but at heart it seems to me about exhaustion, and rest, and finding a place that’s better than most other places.
Keywords: Portals, Sands, Monsters, Castles, Rats
Review: Okay so this one’s a weird sort of portal story I’ve never seen before, where Lauren is transported through a detailed sand castle to a world of sand, with sand people and sand kingdoms. Where she is giant-sized, a monster come to visit destruction on anything in her way. And...I mean, not on purpose. But she’s also someone who has lived hard, who has struggled, who has never really found rest in her life, just the release from her situation that alcohol can bring. And partly the story for me is about the power of simply leaving your problems, of getting distance from the things that are causing you distress. Lauren is in a situation where she doesn’t really have hope, where she sees no escape from her problems, and so she drinks to endure them. But getting inside the sand castle, getting into a place where magic is real and she doesn’t have to go to work tomorrow, doesn’t have to deal with people hurting her, doesn’t have to pay bills, where she can just sort of be and have enough to eat and a place to sleep...that actually helps her out a lot. It’s the safety net that she was missing, that might have allowed her to get to a better place mentally and emotionally and even financially. And even if it makes her into a monster it’s more that she’s been made a monster by this setting, pushed to make herself small and get by when what she’s finally able to accomplish when she embraces the monstrosity of herself is more affirming. Because that monstrosity isn’t good for other people, isn’t being a good capitalist, isn’t sacrificing herself. It’s taking up space and insisting on her own happiness, and there’s a nice power to that. A strangely fun and interesting read!
“Ahura Yazda, the Great Extraordinary” by Senaa Ahmad (5014 words)
No Spoilers: Ahura Yazda is a trickster who has fled to Canada with a brace of mythological creatures and enough magic to keep him going for some time. Though they once operated like a side-show, they’ve since settled down, Ahura Yazda having children and feeling like he has everything in the world. The great trick of time, though, is that things don’t stay the same, no matter how much Ahura Yazda tries to make it otherwise. It’s a beautiful story of the fragility of moments of joy and tenderness. It shows a darkness at the heart of the life that Ahura Yazda and his family has built, an aspect they are overlooking because they don’t want what they have to end. It’s wrenching and emotionally devastating and I think I might need to cry this one out a bit.
Keywords: Creatures, Farms, Family, Change, Tricksters, Dreams
Review: I really love how the story builds this life that Ahura Yazda and his family (human and creature) have made for themselves. Idyllic in so many ways, and peaceful, and after the life he’s lived it seems to feel like exactly what he wants. The just reward for all the times he did the impossible and stole delight from despair. Only at the same time it ignores the natures of the creatures who are living with him, dangerous beings who have wills of their own and power of their own who have rather been reduced (even of their own choice) to being first sideshow attractions and now idle. And it’s the very idleness that Ahura Yazda has embraced so readily that is causing them to experience an urge to move on, to do something new, to change. And he’s terrified of losing them, terrified of losing what he has, that he flirts with disaster in order to try and avoid making the hard decision. Which almost costs him much more than he thought. The piece is sharp and full of both joy and despair. And in some ways it shows that the two often walk hand in hand. That time is always short of joy, and always a moment away from losing something. From a sadness creeping in. For that perfection, or the feeling of it, being lost forever. But that you can’t hold on too tight, or you’ll only make things worse. That endings are not necessarily The End. That there are always more adventures, and more beauties, and more joys. And that family does not fracture from distance but from fear. That what they have built cannot be broken unless they break it. It’s a moving, wonderful story!