“All the Daughters of My Father’s House” by Gwen C Katz ( words)
No Spoilers: The lone survivor of a shipwreck, the narrator of the story must find a way to make their way through the world while being effectively broken in half, a part of themself lost in the wreck when they find that their bracelet is missing. They introduce themself as Sebastian at the court of the local Duke, begging to be taken on in service to be able to work to pay their way, to recover as they can. Doing so, however, put them in the middle of a strange courtship between the Duke and a local woman grieving the loss of her brother. She won’t have anything to do with the Duke’s attempts to persuade her to reconsider, but the Duke hope’s that Seb will be able to win her over on his behalf. What happens instead is a lot messier than that, but brings the narrator to a point where they can be open about who they are, and bring back into harmony the parts of themself they feared sundered.
Keywords: Family, Transformation, Transgender MC, Non-binary MC, Birds, Seas
Review: I love the way this story builds, the way it builds the relationship both between the narrator and the Duke, and between the narrator and the Countess he wants to woo. Both are slow, are careful but also almost accidental. The narrator begins to fall for both of them, and in some ways both start to fall for them. But it puts a strain on the narrator because they are living a lie. Not fully. But that’s a huge part of my reading of the work. That it’s still a lie if it doesn’t contain the whole truth. Still a prison even if at times it’s what’s chosen. Because for the narrator and indeed for everyone, it’s about freedom of expression, freedom to embody the truths of one’s heart. For the narrator, that means being both a man and a woman, not bound to either always but fluid. And in that fluidity is their truth, not in just one regardless of which “one” that is. Seb or Viola becomes a kind of cage that they don’t fit into if they can’t freely move from one to the other. Only when both are possible are they able to fully express who they are. And only then are they able to be honest with the people around them, the people they’ve come to care for. And it’s such a fun little piece, romantic and in some ways rather unexpected, completely stepping away from the “girl dresses up like a man” trope to provide something more complicated and super h*ckin’ queer. I love the court angle and the addition that magic brings, and everything wraps up in such a sweet, triumphant way. Definitely check this one out!
“Lilium” by Claire Humphrey ( words)
No Spoilers: Julia is in school and spends a good deal of her time climbing a tree and reading poetry in it. Which does sound like a very Romantic Poetry thing to do, but also has to do a lot with the way that they don’t really feel very sure of themself and where they belong. Who they are, especially when surrounded by people, by friends, who seem to have it much more figured out, or who they think have it much more figured out. Between school and being in the tree and getting high, Julia does a lot of watching, a lot of think, and a whole lot of feeling. The piece unfolds during a time of uncertainty, change, and insecurity, where Julia is trying to figure herself out, feeling the pressure to somehow get it right while dealing with emotions and desires she doesn’t have the best language for yet. Realizing perhaps that some things can’t be studied for or analyzed too closely, but must come as they will, and lived. It’s a strange and lovely read, full of yearning but without a clear picture I feel of where that yearning leads.
Keywords: Trees, Poetry, Friendship, School, Queer MC
Review: This story captures so much of what I feel growing up is, being caught in the space of high school where everything is changing, and where there is more freedom, but also where there seems to be so many expectations, and where social pressure is incredibly high. Julia seems to have a friend group, but might not exactly know where she belongs in that, might not know what to do with her feelings, her awakening emotions and desires. Might fear that she will be rejected for them, that she has to define herself alone, solitary. The more she thinks, the more she struggles and tries to cast herself as a loner, the more she’s drawn back to those friends, to the easy kind of comfort they have together. For me it feels like something that’s no longer so simple for her, that she’s feeling things she can’t confess, can’t really even voice because she might not have the language for it. But it’s thrown a wrench in everything, and now she’s floundering, unsure of what to do or where to go. And I just love how the story handles that, weaving lyrical prose around this very loaded situation, where everything seems so difficult, so impossible, so Big, and yet in the end Julia comes to see that sometimes the best way to deal with those weights is to put them down. To allow distraction and joy, to escape the pressure by side-stepping and allowing other people to sort of take the edge off. What remains is still the same mess, but there’s something wonderful about being able to just be with their friends, to just breath and enjoy something without looking at it from all the angles. A lovely and moving read!
“The Forests Here Are Always Dark” by Phoebe Barton (5400 words)
No Spoilers: Amaranth Frost is a pilot in a place where humans have colonized but not really tried to tame. And she looking down the barrel of the future that has been prescribed for her by her community, a group that believes that people need to put their brains into trees that will then allow them to live remotely in artificial bodies free from the possibility that the dangers of the world will touch them. Except that she doesn’t want to go through the ceremony. Doesn’t want her brain put into a tree. Not just because it would mean accepting being misgendered in a rather profound way (even if superficially the people of her community accept her). But because she doesn’t want to go through with it. Given the pressures involved though, refusal doesn’t seem an option. At least, until she talks it out with someone very close to her. It’s a vividly rendered setting and situation, and a complex look at societal pressures and the ways identity and choice are often tangled and tied.
Keywords: Remote Control, Colonization, Pilots, Trees, Transgender MC, CW- Abuse
Review: I love the way the story handles the different pressures and expectations put on Amaranth. She’s already gone through one kind of defiance in coming out as a trans woman, and in some ways here that seems like the easier thing to do, as compared to not wanting to put her brain into a tree and live remotely. Except that her community’s willingness to “respect” her gender seems to be something that only goes so far. Only so deep. Their acceptance is superficial, couching it as more of less an aesthetic choice rather than as a part of her identity. For them, her identity is her connection to them, to her “destiny.” Nothing else should be so important. And it’s in that distance that the strain grows and grows, that underlines why she’s uncomfortable around her “home” and why she’s been avoiding thinking about or dealing with the specifics of being put into the tree. Even so, the weight of all that expectation, the scars of the emotional manipulation and abuse that she’s undergone, the gaslighting--it all builds into these chains meant to tie her forever in place. And I love how she decides to stand against that, how she comes to see that her community is built on lies and bad science, and thrives only where it can hide from oversight, where it can completely control the story. And when Amaranth takes control of her story, she builds something stronger than those lies. Builds a home for herself away from that, in a place and with people who accept her without reservation or stipulation. It’s a wonderful read!
“By Mist and Salt” by Kat Riddell
This is a sharp poem laced with fairy tale, but flipping the script in a great many ways. First and most, for me at least, it’s a twist on the Little Mermaid, the story of a mermaid who cut herself, who changes herself and her nature to walk on the land all for the hope of love. This poem, however, features a narrator who does the reverse, sewing herself a tail and cutting gills into herself for the love of a mermaid, becoming of that world because of what it might hold for her. And in twisting the text in that way, it retains some of the implication that a person can or even should change themself for their love. Except that the piece also queers the text, so that in some ways it’s not just about being with the mermaid that the narrator loves. In some ways for me it’s also about escaping the systems on the shore that would denounce and cast the love that they share as somehow wrong. Here the world beneath the surface of the water is a place of possibility and magic, a place away from whatever it might be that the narrator wants to get away from. It’s not just about the mermaid, but about empowering the narrator to chase the things that they want. It’s not about giving up the wild freedom and magic of the waters but rather rejecting the morals and restrictions of the people on land, their judgments and values. For me, the poem is about the joy that comes from change, from escape, not from giving something up but from truly embodying what you want to be. The narrator finds release and joy in the water, and the magic of the situation allows them to swim free and love free. A great read!
“High Season” by Lore Graham
This piece carries a weight from the past, a trauma--the narrator is from a place where violence, where abuse, was common, protected, expected. The poem marks a distinction between the an Old Mars and a new one. The Old Mars seems to me to be war, violence, the sort of idolized masculine warrior that people have always seemed to value. The soldier. The conqueror. For me the narrator speaks of an upbringing surrounded by believers in this Old Mars, this glorified war and violence. That leaks into every interaction, every relationship. Under the shadow of Old Mars, it’s difficult to be because it’s constantly living under the threat of violence, the threat that might makes right, that it’s the only important thing. But I love the power that comes from calling it the Old Mars, because it implies that the New Mars is different. Which for me speaks of both a changed societal focus and perhaps too a changed masculine value, one that doesn’t center violence and the ability to dominate. One that values cooperation and love. One that the narrator seems both to be moving toward and taking part in. For me at least the poem brings the narrator to a place where they are leaving the Old Mars behind. Maybe along with Earth, as well, as the end of the poem seems to bring up the possibility of flight, that maybe the New Mars is actually...Mars, the planet, and holds so much new possibility because it’s outside the influence of Earth, some place where people can really build something new, something affirming, something wonderful. There’s so much that opens up with the ending, where the narrator and their chosen family are reaching for a place where the Old Mars hasn’t tainted, and where things can finally be better, can heal, can change. A fantastic read!
“You, Him, and I” by Elena Sichrovsky
This is a sensual poem about desire and about bodies, about the narrator and another woman exploring each other, tasting each other, free from the constraints of the narrator’s relationship with a man, with Him. The piece begins slow but direct, drawing the narrator and this woman together having sex, witih mention of a relationship the narrator seems to be outside of now, with a man who seems like he was controlling, like he tried to dictate what the narrator could wear, what she could do. Certainly from that I get the feeling that he also tried to control who she could desire, who she could be with. And from that the picture becomes more interesting, because with this situation, with this title, there’s a sense that there’s some participation from three people in this. Like maybe it’s a threesome and the narrator is the I from the title, the other woman the You, and the narrator’s partner the Him. And really I think those assignments work, but this is not a traditional threesome. Because the Him involved in it isn’t...alive any longer, is being sliced and consumed. Is dead, and the women now are free to enjoy themselves, to enjoy each other, to express and feel and all the things that they weren’t supposed to, because for a man like this guy seems to have been, a threesome was supposed to be all about him. And it’s not. And so the narrator is taking control of their life, their sexuality, their desire. Is breaking free from the ways that they were being controlled, were being restricted. And it’s a lovely and sexy read, with a lot going on in it than just the sensual language. For me it’s about that freedom, about finally embracing something that is for the narrator, not selfish but for the self. Expressing who they are and who they want to be. Bold. Defiant. Taking no prisoners. And it’s a great way to close out the original content of the issue!