|Art of Reiko Murakami|
“Personal Rakshas” by Suzan Palumbo (983 words)
No Spoilers: Priya is being stalked by a demon, by a Rakshasi who speaks so that only Priya can hear. Who tells Priya that she’s not good enough, who tells her what to do and say, who is a sort of mental poison. The piece follows Priya as she explores her art, as she gets ready to go to college, all the while interacting with her parents and perhaps more prominently with her brother Videsh. The piece is grim in some ways, full of self doubt and fear personified, and yet it doesn’t end on a hopeless note. Instead, it’s a rather tender story about fear and insecurity, about family and expression.
Keywords: Demons, Family, Art, College, Doubt
Review: I like the way this story gives a voice to insecurity and doubt and especially artistic fear. The fear that your work isn’t good, that people won’t like it or you as a result of seeing it. That voice takes this malevolent form in this story, takes the shape of a demon Rakshasi. I also love the relationship between Priya and her brother, the sort of messy thing they have where it’s hard for them to be genuine with each other. That they have this deep affection for one another, but they have to sort of express that through insults and being brats to each other. And how it takes so much for Priya to break through that, to have a moment where she is honest, because she’s so tired, so worn. Because to sort of pick up the dance of annoyance and faux-insults would be to say that everything is okay, that nothing has changed. And Priya wants things to change, wants to be able to banish the demon that is plaguing her. And it really is a stunning look at the way that these kinds of demons thrive where they are never confronted. It’s not easy, because she’s been gaslit about this before, but it’s when she was younger, and she’s hoping that now things will go better. That how she can get some help. And while the story doesn’t explore if she is able to get that, I think there’s a hope to this, that at least she’s going to be honest once more, and maybe she’ll be able to stand up for herself, to advocate for her own mental health. Which is incredibly scary, but she seems to have at least one ally, and I feel the piece closes on a positive note, rather than just uncertainty. But you should definitely check it out and see what you think. A wonderful read!
“Batteries” by Patricia Coral, translated by Julia Rios (368 words)
No Spoilers: This story features a narrator packing things to send to their grandmother (or at least a grandmother). More specifically, they are sending batteries, because that’s what she asked for, and it reveals a sort of desperation and terror in the narrator, because of what it implies. The story might be without speculative element, though it’s also possible that it does, if this situation is unfolding in a future where there’s a fictional war going on, or shortage, or threat (though there are plenty of real world ones to choose from, so without the specific reference it’s impossible to tell. Either way it’s a wrenching story that shows through the narrator’s actions a deep sense of anxiety and possible guilt, mediated by them trying to fulfill a fairly simple request.
Keywords: Batteries, Parcels, Family, Light, Food
Review: I do love the way this story conveys the concern the narrator has for their grandmother. The extent to which they go all out when it comes to a rather simple request of being sent light. Batteries for flashlights. In part because it shows how much the narrator understands what it means for this grandmother to ask for someone, when it’s her who’s so used to sacrificing for others. And the narrator seems to want to finally be able to do something good, to look out for her, and they’re very worried about what might happen to this older woman who sounds like she lives alone. They can’t be there with her, but they can send along all the batteries they can find in all the sizes they can think of, complete with extra flashlights and even a little food. Because they know that these things will be useful and that the grandmother probably would never have asked for any of them, would say not to send them if she knew. So the narrator wants to do this on the sly, so these huge boxes of batteries show up in a gesture that can’t be refused or returned. That will convince this woman that she needs to accept someone else caring for her. And that’s what the narrator wants to do, because they feel that she’s in danger, and this is something they can do, something concrete and simple. Not enough, the story seems to imply, not what this woman deserves, which is to be safe and honored and with those who love her, but that this is something. And it’s just a lovely and touching read that you should definitely check out!
“The Boy on the Roof” by Francesca Forrest (2487 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is constantly on the move, and comes through a boarding house with a rather strange resident. A boy who reminds them of an episode from their own childhood, a desperate and rather dangerous time when they were sent out to entice the rain. In a future where climate change has lead to terrible droughts, these things are happening more and more often as people resort to that kind of superstition where everything else fails. And it’s a rather fun, playful take on that rather grim future framed mostly as a conversation between two people, topped with memories and sprinkled with humor and hope.
Keywords: Rain, Rituals, Sacrifices, Drought, Laundry, Climate Refugees
Review: I really like how the story plays out, the way that the characters meet and find in each other this kind of mirror. Where they both have been made spouses of the rain or clouds, meant to bring about the rain. In some other ways, though, they are both also sacrifices, as if they fail to produce the rain it will be assumed that there is something wrong with them, that the offering was offensive. And the narrator lived through that, was able to escape with their family and go on to live a life. It’s one that a bit mysterious, but it seems to have given them a bit of wanderlust, that they never really stay in one place for long. And yet when they come across this boy they are almost surprised to find that he doesn’t want to go, that he’s almost happy to be chosen, to be one who might bring the rain. It plays into his ego and his relative innocence, the way that he wants there to be a bit of magic and is almost disappointed when the narrator explains how he’s being used. And it’s just a rather nice connection that gets made, that whatever else keeps these people apart, this thing that they share draws them together in a way that they both seem to learn a lot from the other. For the narrator, it pushes them back into examining their relationship with the rain and maybe, just maybe, believing a little bit more in its magic. And for the boy hopefully it teaches him that there’s a danger, that if the magic doesn’t strike then he needs to worry about himself, needs to be ready to run because he’ll probably be in danger. And it’s a fun, rather funny story, the characters conversing with a nice bit of chemistry and energy, amused with each other and glad to have someone to talk to who understands. A wonderful story!
“FEMALE COMPUTER WANTED, APPLY WITHIN” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo (2607 words)
No Spoilers: Dell is a lesbian robot living with her partner, Yasmine, and generally struggling to get by in a place where hate crimes and murders of robots is rampant and the laws protecting them are flimsy at best. Yasmine needs repairs, though, and when a job listing seems to promise at least some decent money, Dell decides to risk going out and interviewing. Of course, it’s not exactly as advertised. The piece is very much about prejudice and risk, about the harassment and danger Dell and Yas live with just by being themselves. It’s also a deeply tragic story, one that uses some very heavy emotional artillery, so if you’re not ready for that, proceed with definite caution. It’s devastating, but also sharp and on point, showing how impossible it is to live as a person not seen as a person.
Keywords: Robots, AIs, Employment, CW- Sexual Harassment, Queer MC, CW- Death
Review: This is rather a gutting story, and one that seems almost prescribed by the setup of the story. At least for me there’s a feeling of gravity toward it, perhaps drawing on the tendency for struggling queer couples to...not do too well when it comes to making it out of stories happy and healthy. So when the story opens on this loving pair of robot women, there’s something for me rather heartbreaking even before the tragedy arrives. Like...like bracing for an asteroid to strike the planet, still hoping that maybe this time it’s going to miss. But no, it hits, and the story renders it powerfully, showing just how impossible the situation is for them. That Dell feels compelled to try and take this sketchy job and it turns out to be awful and disgusting. That it was supposed to be something that would have brought them out of danger and instead it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It opens the floodgates of sorrow. And it shows just how perfect Dell can be at everything she does and still fall victim to intolerance, harassment, and deep loss. She is so careful, so calm and collected, so restrained, and yet it doesn’t get her anything. All it does in the end is make things more comfortable for the people making her life hell. Taking things from her. And she’s supposed to grin and bear it, and bear it, and bear it. And it’s a sharp look at how marginalized people often have to live, hyperaware of everything they’re doing and yet still not safe, still not protected or secure. And how they are often put into situations that are no-win. And how awful that is. A wonderful read that’s very much worth spending some time with!
“who i am” by Amber Bird
This piece speaks to me of acceptance and care, of relationships and a sense of power and fragility. It’s built around a sort of...acknowledgment of a confession. A reminder. A way that the narrator is telling the second person you here that they’ve laid their cards on the table. They told you they were a river, and so you can’t really be surprised when they...act like one. Not that this seems abusive or like the narrator is excusing terrible behavior. But in some ways it seems to me that the narrator does feel like being a river must preclude them from being in a relationship, from someone wanting to be with them. And...I love that the feeling I get from the piece is that you aren’t surprised that they’re a river. That you did understand that going in, and still wanted the relationship, still wanted the narrator. That the surprise here is actually more on the part of the narrator who expects or expected you to run away first. To be repulsed or pushed away, and that you weren’t is a source of some confusion and some stress but mostly a good kind. Because both the narrator and you seem to want what they have, this understanding and acceptance. And if a part of them can’t quite trust it completely because of the baggage they carry, because of the hurts they’ve endured, then at least they can trust it enough not to run away from it. Maybe they can hold to it for as long as it lasts, and for that time it can be affirming and joyous and rewarding and good. And that, especially for someone who thought they could never find someone to really be with them, might be enough. It’s certainly a lovely poem, full of tenderness and affection and a fear that never quite fades, though there’s something like acceptance there as well. And it’s a wonderful piece that you should definitely check out!