“Tiny Bravery” by Ada Nnadi (4980 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a girl who can turn invisible...and doesn’t want to stop. She’s a resident in a place where people with powers, something now fairly common in Nigeria, go when they have some sort of health or mental issue that arises from their new abilities. And it’s where she meets Chinwe, a young woman with wings that she keeps on trying to pull out. The story explores the damage the two girls have, the ways that they’ve been hurt by tragedies within their families, whether that comes from death or having to constantly hide. And in some ways the reason whey the two are so drawn to each other is because they can understand the other, their issues fitting together in a way that they can really help the other out.
Keywords: Powers, Control, Therapy, Queer Characters, Family, Grief
Review: This is an amazing piece that follows two characters with two very different powers and backgrounds finding in each other something much more...grounding and affirming than anything they’ve seen in therapy. And for me I love the way that in some ways the two give each other such an easy reflection. They each in some way represent what the other _wants_ rather than what they have. At least for Chinwe, being invisible is what she thinks she wants, to hide her powers and her sexuality. Instead she has wings that take her into the sky, which for the narrator could lift her out of the grief she’s in and give her a sense of freedom that she’s lacking because of the cage of guilt and loss she’s in. And by seeing how those things that might seem so perfect can also be burdens, the two find ways to reframe their own feelings about their powers and their lives. They are able to take steps to work through the trauma, and become friends at the same time, and maybe something different and more romantic than that, as well. Essentially, by helping the other with their problems, they are helping themselves as well, working through and toward a place where they can feel comfortable in their own skin, comfortable being seen. And I also just love the characters in the story, and the world building, and the voice, and...well, just about everything about this. I want to see more of them, want to know what happens to them. From Cee and their fierceness to Halima and her fascinating powers to even Grace, who you sort of love to hate. They’re all alive and I now want the novel where they end up becoming a team and doing something big. Because the setting is wonderful and complex, layering powers but also catastrophe and a recovery that is slow in coming and complicated by its own issues. It’s a fantastic story, heartwarming and kind and kickass, and you should definitely go check it out!
“The Return” by Muuka Gwaba (4463 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a third generation priestess of the goddess who lives in the river where she lives. This isn’t just a passive faith, though, and being the third generation doesn’t mean that the first two are gone. Indeed, her grandmother is over three hundred years old and still very much kicking, the growing family some of the last to believe in their god after her river is damned and colonization brings the wrath of Christianity to bear on the nation that grows around the now silent waters of the artificial lake. But the narrator and her family don’t abandon their god, and the piece explores the work they do to try and bring her back. It’s strange but powerful, exploring how people often won’t believe the truth even when it’s crashing down on them with the force of a very-much-not-Biblical flood.
Keywords: Rivers, Family, Gods, Religion, Floods
Review: This story has a great sense of time, and change, and these women who have to live in a world dominated by a religion that actively wants their destruction. Because they represent a narrative that does not endorse the colonial and imperial sentiments of Christianity. Because they have a real connection to their god, even if it’s been...submerged since the damn was finished. But the women are patient, and faithful, and know that regardless of how many times the cops get called on them, regardless of how much they have to hide and worry about being branded witches, there will come a time when their god returns, and she’ll not be too pleased about the long captivity she’s endured. And I really like the way that these women pull together, rather dumbfounded at the way the rest of the world puts their faith in a god they cannot feel, while knowing on a profound level that their god is waiting for them. And so they work, giving what they can to their god, biding their time amid a population that does not wish them well, waiting for the inevitable. Inevitable not because it had to happen, but because corruption and negligence are sort of hard baked into imperialism and colonialism, so that any progress becomes undermined because nothing is put into maintenance, into keeping a proper balance. And it’s a waste, because all the deaths that come about because of it happen for no reason, other than people want to believe in the world ending on their terms, so they never plan for if it keeps on going. Whereas the narrator and her family understand patience and guardianship, and take their roles very seriously, and so end up being able to achieve their goals, even if it ends up taking a long time. A fine read!
“Above the Beach” by VK Thipa (3445 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this work has just broken up with their partner in a rather devastating way, and have all but lost hope of just getting over it. Instead, they begin looking for experimental medical trials that might give them access to a drug or cocktail of drugs that might obliterate his despair and misery. Each promising lead, though, turns to disappointment as he is either ineligible or the study doesn’t look like it will get him what he wants. And then he finds one practically on his doorstep, short on details but long on promises, and decides to check it out. What follows it a strange and oddly funny look at healing and change, and one that puts the main character, Chauncy, on a very new path, which is kinda a win, right?
Keywords: Heartbreak, Transformations, Medical Experiments, Bargains
Review: I hesitate to say this story operates on the more traditional “be careful what you wish for” framework, though I can certainly see a reading that leans more into that. For me, though, I don’t think the...side effects of the study are really a punishment. And in many ways I don’t think the narrator is really depicted as being immoral for wanting a release from their pain. Wanting some escape, some obliteration, seems somewhat reasonable, all things considered, and while the decision to take part in the medical research that is obviously...a little suspect, might have not been the best decision—and while the doctor running the experiments did seem a little sketchy, in the end I don’t really see the narrator as a victim of deceit or corruption. Rather, something unexpected happened, but it seems to have happened because of the narrator, because something in them that...wanted to change in this manner. Who needed a change of this magnitude to break from the feelings of pain and rejection and despair that they were going through. And they get it, and the other transformation seems less a bad thing and more just...something new. And it might be an opportunity, if the teaser ending is anything to go by. It might have given them access to a further adventure, a further change, that could put them literal worlds away from their past and its pain. And it’s a weird, rather humorous piece for all that, with elements of horror but not, to me at least, ultimately horrifying. In fact, it seems more hopeful, because the narrator got what they wanted, and they feel amazing. A great way to close out the issue!