|Art by Erik Ly|
It's always a joy when I can say that I'm not looking at a complete issue because I must recuse myself from my own work. On top of the three short stories that I am looking at from this month's Fireside Magazine, my own very short piece, "Foie Gras," is available to read as well. It features a holographic Napoleon and an...interesting way of thwarting his evil ambitions. The rest of the issue also brings a mix of fun and thoughtful SFF, making for a quick and fascinating collection of fiction, all under 1500 words. So yeah, to the reviews!
“Gender and Other Faulty Software” by John Wiswell (1000 words)
No Spoilers: This story is told as a series of log entries by a technician sent to reclaim an apparently malfunctioning ship for their corporate bosses. What starts off seeming like a problem with the hardware or code, however, becomes something much more as the ship itself asks over and over again “what is male?” The piece moves from workplace mystery to something a bit more dangerous as the ship grapples with identity and the narrator tries to offer what they’re good at...support. It’s a mostly-cute story with okay a little murder thrown in but it’s fun and heartwarming all the same.
Keywords: Spaceships, Coding, Gender, Non-binary MC, Questioning
Review: To be clear, the people that get murdered are assholes who were mocking someone in a deeply intimate and violent way, so it’s not like they didn’t have it coming. And for me the story really does a good job of having this situation that everyone assumes is a glitch and showing how common that way of thinking is. Just because code is a lot of the time in binary doesn’t mean gender is, and the piece finds the narrator having to be a kind of mentor to the ship as they go through the difficult journey of questioning their gender and embracing being non-binary. The situation certainly isn’t helped the the narrator’s coworkers, who are complete assholes about it, and for me the piece speaks a bit to the way that things like capitalism aren’t really great for having complex takes on things like gender. The lines are rigid and built on exploitation, on fitting things neatly and quickly into boxes regardless of how well those things fit. The advantage that the ship has is that they have really big guns and aren’t really shy about using them. The result is a rather touching moment of a queer elder getting to help a babyqueer through a really had self awakening. And finding at the end of it that they like the feeling it gives them, like being able to help someone go through something that they already went through. It starts them on a road that they didn’t expect, one that takes them away from the employment they had been in before and toward a future where maybe other people can have an even easier time coming to terms with who they are, protected from bigotry and false binaries. A wonderful read!
“The Intergalactic Shoemaker’s Revenge” by Jordan Rivet (1386 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a future shoe maker, using their CobblerTech to make footwear to the best of their abilities. It’s not a romantic profession, and they might have a bit of a chip of their shoulder because people seem to bend over backwards to give respect to pirates and don’t really give any to the lowly shoe maker. Of course, pirates has sort of earned that respect, or at least fear, by intimidating and criming their way through space. Something the narrator is reminded of when one walks into their shop and demands a pair of boots...quick. The piece is fun and funny, and underlines an almost fairy tale like moral rather nicely: don’t be an asshole.
Keywords: Shoes, Pirates, Space, Threats, Commerce
Review: The running theme of not being an asshole or Bad Things are coming your way is reinforced with this story, where the pirate is just a jerk about basically everything, and the narrator, while not perhaps the shining-est paragon of virtue is at least diligent and cares about their work. Something they don’t have to do, given that the pirate is rude to them at every opportunity. And I love that this could have gone one way, perhaps even the more expected way, where the shoe maker is honest and rewarded for their honesty about the small flaw in the boots and by that earns some respect for standing up for the pirate and preventing them from being injured despite their bad treatment. Which is fine but still sort of reinforces the idea that pirate wasn’t being a complete ass and that it was always somehow on the shoe maker to be more assertive in order to deserve respect. When really, assertiveness shouldn’t be a requirement for being treated well. And the shoe maker sort of proves that it’s not quite necessary. Or, at least, that respect isn’t always the thing you should be really worried about or focused. That fear and respect can be earned and that will get you something, but money might get you faster, at least in the system that they’re living under. Because at the end of the day, going to the authorities might seem unromantic, but it sure pays well, and the narrator at least realizes that they don’t owe the pirate anything. No loyalty for all that some people find that way of life romantic. Rather, they watch out for themself because the pirates don’t care anything for them. And this time at least the shoe maker is the one walking away richer, which is nice. A great read!
“Akhulume” by Larissa Irankunda (1422 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece is being held captive somehow, on a ship it seems. They were taken along with their president, and it’s on that president that a lot of their hopes of rescue hang. In the mean time, though, they are repeatedly interrogated by the beings of the ship, and each time she gives an answer, every time she says her name in the way that would make her family proud to hear it, it destroys the beings and resets her experience. The result is a story that is slightly surreal, very dreamlike, and loose when it comes to world building and structure. The style is interesting, and the piece seems to be saying a lot about voice, and language, and judgment.
Keywords: Language, Aliens, Captivity, Names, Family
Review: This piece really speaks to me of the power of language, of names, but also of the danger of them. The way that they can isolating, the way that there is such a pressure to conform to the dominant language and values of a place. The narrator finds themself taken outside of their culture, placed into an alien setting where their name holds power, yes, but also makes them a target of constant interrogation, pain, and isolation. The aliens here seem intent on getting across that the narrator’s name, that their language itself, is offensive and harmful. They are pushed, through repetition, through means insidious and invasive, to change. To reject the language that they had grown up to be proud of. To tailor their words to a different value system, where they would be slow, timid, not at all the person they are. But it would be comfortable for these aliens, and for the narrator that comes with so much baggage, so much gaslighting and confusion. Because it’s supposed to be something good but it’s also not. It’s supposed to be a triumph but it’s also a loss. There is no uncomplicated way to be, no way forward that doesn’t involve losing something. And it’s a trap that feels very much to me that it has to do with the ways that people are expected to assimilate into other cultures when they move. Hell, not even when they move, but to fit into a certain global or here interplanetary hegemony where there are shared values, shared sounds, where everyone is supposed to be more alike, which is to say everyone is supposed to adopt the ways of the dominant, the most powerful. Anything else is crushed away, de-valued and altered. And it’s a strange, very dreamlike piece that still manages a solid impact. A great read!