|Art by Joey Jordan
“Tracing an Original Thought” by Novae Caelum (2801 words)
No Spoilers: Gin 8381 is a tracer living in a world where original thought is a commodity to be harvested by elites, using people like Gin 8381 to track down those original thinkers who didn’t want to submit to servitude. Gin 8381, meanwhile, likes being unoriginal, moving through a world where sex and gender have been eliminated and, as long as you keep your thoughts unoriginal enough, you can mostly enjoy a stable, almost comfortable life. Their latest target, though, might have had a thought to dangerous that it could shake Gin 8381’s dedication to normalcy, and push them into thinking about all sorts of original things.
Keywords: Sex, Gender, Originality, Dystopias, Art, Non-binary MC
Review: I like how the story recognizes that while sex and gender are tied up in injustice and inequality, assuming that there is a one-size-fits-all approach that’s not just “treat people with respect”...leads to problems. Because trying to make any one body or identity universal is really just a kind of genocide, attempting to kill off whole kinds of people, assuming that there is a way to suppress difference. But the thing about people is that they can be so wildly different. While most of society seems to have had no problem “giving up” their gender and sex, and now operate with that being normal, there are still those for whom this rigid system doesn’t work. Who still feel a gender, even where the default is supposed to be genderless, sexless. And I like how this idea is so dangerous, that it’s something that can get more people to question the status quo, to start having original thoughts. Because if the structures of the society are built on lies, on violence and theft that has merely been written into the myth that the system is just, then it opens so much. It requires a willful ignorance to really stand against the obvious proof that this idea that gender and sex can just be stripped from humanity as a whole is a lie. That at best it refers to how many humans don’t have strong feelings about the gender or bodies. That they accept what they’re given, what they know. But there have always been, will always be those who don’t fit into rigid structures, be they binary or uniform. And the story explores how this society, which for some might seem a utopia, is just another authoritarian slog, pitting people against people for the benefit of the elite. It’s a wrenching and sharp piece, and I love the way the cracks in Gin 8381’s armor start to show by the end, promising that change might be coming to this supposedly stability-obsessed world.
“Save the God Damn Pandas” by Anaea Lay (2997 words)
No Spoilers: Jason is a Panda Breeding Encouragement Specialist, something that’s much less sexy than it sounds. In fact, it’s a source of constant stress, especially given that he’s always wanted kids and feels like he’s running out of time, made harder to bear (heh) by the fact that being a Panda Breeding Encouragement Specialist tends to scare off any would-be romantic partners. Which almost pales to the reality of the job, which includes the speculative wrinkle that these pandas are able to talk, are effectively uplifted and yet still completely disinterested in reproduction, which makes the job that much harder. It’s a story that rides on a rather sarcastic, suffering humor, dispelling any romantic notions of pandas but also building an interesting portrait of Jason and his desire for kids and a family.
Keywords: Pandas, CW- Conception/Pregnancy/Adoption, Dating, Queer Character, Talking Animals
Review: Well if you’re a fan of pandas I’m not sure I can recommend the story to you, though I think it does a good job of showing that pandas are just not on board for the human value system, and even the threat of extinction doesn’t really mean that it’s okay to force sentient beings to reproduce. And I like that the story centers that, centers Jason’s desire not just for the pandas to reproduce, but for himself to. He claims that his biological clock is ticking, and this makes him...well, kinda a dick. He’s jealous and he’s bitter. He’s more concerned with his own desires than the feelings of those around him. And he’s fixated on this idea that he’s owed kids, a family, the whole thing. It comes through in the sarcastic and rather angry way he talks about pandas, wanting to punch them, hating them, etc. And the story does point out that it’s Jason who probably needs therapy, Jason who has the real problem. That what he needs to do is find a way to be happy in himself. Or, in this case, that he needs to try and adopt kids with his gay roommate. Which is an interesting direction for the story to go, and certainly one that moves away from Jason expecting other people to give him what he wants and instead looks at what he can do for himself. How he can try to reach for his goals without being an asshole. Now, the ease at which he makes this decision and the fact that the major hurdle seems to be paperwork and not discrimination that makes it difficult for even married gay men to adopt children are things that tripped me a little, but it's hopefully set in a better future or in a place that's not so terrible, and I do appreciate that the story makes the room for him to be able to pursue having the kind of family he wants. Where he can be a co-parent with a platonic friend, which is awesome, and should definitely be an option for people wanting kids but not wanting to go it alone. And it’s a cute piece, funny but sharp, and especially for those looking for stories of men wanting children and kids, I feel like it’s well worth checking out. A fine read!