|Art by Alexey Shugurov|
“Fire and Falling” by Andrew Dykstal (15175 words)
No Spoilers: Mir is a low level agent on her first mission, taking ciphers for her ladyship. It’s not supposed to be a particularly dangerous job, but almost immediately she finds that she’s onboard an airship with over a dozen enemy agents. And the steps she takes are...drastic. More drastic even than she knows, and the story explores the fallout from that, and from an unlikely partnership she gets into with a notorious independent agent and supposed anarchist. Together they work to stay one step ahead of the plots to destroy them while uncovering conspiracies, betrayals, and secrets that will rock Mir, at least, to her core, and bring her into a new world of possibilities, intrigues, and magic. The piece is exciting and fun, sharp and with a great cast of characters. It’s something between a tragedy and a swashbuckling adventure, spinning out of an initial action that sets a more somber and complicated tone while still leaving room for atonement and hope.
Keywords: Airships, Aliens, Politics, Psychics, Bonding
Review: I really like the way the story moves, the way it builds up Mir and her situation. She’s an agent over her head, trying to do her best with a bad situation. But part of that means she does some things that...well, aren’t exactly great. She starts out by killing something like fifty people and destroying an airship. It’s her first kill, and it’s quite the way that enter into the scene. As much as she knows that it’s what she’s meant to do, the job that she’s been given, it’s also something she’s not ready for, something that she’s not comfortable with. Especially when she starts to learn that blowing up an airship isn’t just taking out a bit of technology. The world building in the story flows seamlessly from the story, from what Mir has to learn in order to give context to her actions and in order to expose all of what’s been happening. It’s complex, and it brings Mir to some unexpected places. Because on the surface she’s playing someone else’s game the entire time. Her employer, the woman who coopts her into a much different plot--Mir doesn’t get to set her own course very often. A lot of her story is one of her trying to get out of being pulled deeper into what’s going on. Of her just trying to get her head above water. And it’s not an easy process, because in many ways she was a willing participant in her own subjugation, an agent who thought she owed everything to her lady, her employer, but really isn’t value, is just a disposable pawn in these plots that are running deep into things Mir knows nothing about. Mysteries that hold the fate of the world in their hands. And Mir stumbles in, not wanting the power that stretch to give themselves to her. But he also knows she has to make things right. And as much as she kind of hopes it will be easy, that it will merely kill her, instead it makes her a figure in the struggle to save the world. From the people who would have thrown her out as worthless. From the people only concerned with their own power and influence, and everything else be damned. And it’s not clean, not easy, not pretty. It’s blood and bonding, it’s giving up a piece of her freedom before she even got to really know it. And it’s a wrenching and interesting and fun read, thrilling and definitely worth checking out!
“The Transubstantiation” by Evan Dicken (11371 words)
No Spoilers: Defflin is a veteran of a number of wars both with and against heroes, people who are imbued with power, who are stronger, faster, towering above everyone else. Guided by justice that often turns into corruption. For a while now, though, heroes have been abandoned in favor of a supposedly level playing field. More than abandoned, heroes are hunted for their divine bones, their blood, their bodies. Hunted by people like Defflin. Except that things seem to be changing again. The biggest heroes have almost been killed off. Those who remain are smaller, weaker, though still quite potent. And then Defflin and his group catch a rumor that might change everything. That put them on a collision course with destiny...and the one hero who ascended into heaven itself in a moment of supreme betrayal. It’s a well built story, gritty and bloody, and it carries a weight, of choice, of worth, and of heroism.
Keywords: Heroes, War, Chosen Family, Bones, Body Harvesting
Review: I like the take on heroes here, how this is a world where the power of these divinely chosen individuals has led to these great wars, these great fracturings. And Defflin, feeling his age, has lived through some dark times. Through a war he fought under one of the great heroes, the Weeper, to the war her fought in the aftermath of her desertion. When the heroes caused untold destruction and the Levelers, as they came to be known, set about killing the heroes to make sure that no one would have that kind of power again. And Defflin is caught now in a place where he hunts down heroes, selling off their bodies and blood for money, not exactly above board but with a group that’s like his family--that is his family. There’s a nice sense of tired to the piece, exhaustion as Defflin faces the long campaign of his life, the fighting, the maybe wanting it to be done but also needing to keep fighting to live for those who died without getting this far. And I love how the piece comes to really look at the way that the ideals that they fought for were good, but how they’ve fallen short of it. That for all the heroes are not the answer, are corrupt, are really unworthy of the kind of worship they expect, neither is just basing a system around being against those heroes. Because what that does is create a different kind of divide, a different way that people are definitely not level. And there is a way to believe in the power of people to effect change without falling prey to greed and hate and injustice. That people are capable of acting well not because they are divinely inspired but because they want to help each other. Because they can act with compassion and hope. And it’s a beautiful point at the bottom of what is a rather bloody story, one that avoids the tragedy that the story walks through and finds something light and warm, a strength to keep moving forward, toward something better. A great read!