“Acquisition: Earth” by Steven Berger (988 words)
No Spoilers: Following a rather disastrous turn on Yurfiga, the narrator of this story has been assigned by their corporation (Quarrex) to a new acquisition: Earth. Known for its intoxicants and its jewelry, the narrator has to try and figure out a way to make Earth fit into the larger portfolio and identity that Quarrex is developing. Of course, there’s also the growing sense that regardless of how many detailed reports the narrator sends, that it’s possible their placement on Earth was for other reasons than making good business moves. The piece is fun and charming, building up a future of mega-corps that stretch galaxies and marketing that is rather out of this world.
Keywords: Marketing, Business, Earth, Aliens, Intoxicants, Jewelry
Review: I love the way the story de-center Earth in this future-of-capitalism and aggressive marketing, where the narrator is an alien who is part of a large corporation and the sinking realization is that this assignment to Earth might be more of a punishment than just firing them. And I like how that builds up what is swept away in the first paragraph, that the narrator is running from some sort of disaster, some sort of embarrassment that the company doesn’t really want to repeat. And they seem entirely willing to just throw the narrator onto a planet they don’t really have plans for, one they might have gotten as a lark or because it was cheap or for any number of other reasons but certainly one that they don’t really care about. So the narrator is dealing with the silence that is meeting them from their bosses, and I just like how that plays out, how they are left, trying hard (for the most part) to make the best of the situation but still something of a complete mess. Unable to stay out of trouble. And the ending is just a delight. The whole thing comes together with a smile and a laugh, and it’s such a good way to open up this new issue of the publication, because it sort of reaffirms that these are stories meant to be fun. The character work comes alive through the voice of the narrator and their desite to please their bosses while being something of a mess, unable to stop from causing issues. And in the end they embrace that, and find a measure of happiness and freedom that they weren’t getting with their job. Just a great read!
“Quicker to Love a Goat Than a Boy” by James Mimmack (4163 words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are Mahadra’n, a resident in a strange kind of monastery where people go to recover. To heal. but not just from injuries. From violent lives. From tragedies. They are born again, and they are sent to the moon where they can pick apricots and tend fields, play with goats, live simple lives without violence or strife. And when they are ready, when they feel the need to wander again, they can go back into space, and into the galaxy beyond, and find the thrill and excitement and action and possibly the tragedy all over again. Not that people remember their past lives. At least most don’t. You don’t. But there are flashes when you are around a certain man. A man who might be leaving the moon very soon. It’s a nicely built and yearning story, heartfelt and eager but also hesitant, wary of being hurt.
Keywords: Reincarnation, Monasteries, Space, Apricots, Healing
Review: I love the gentle feeling of this story, the way that it focuses on a kind of healing that’s hard to really quantify. A healing of the spirit, where the people are living in peace because it seems like they’ve had some tragedy in their past lives. And for the most part people just sort of enjoy things. You sure do, basking in the warmth of the community and the work. Until a man catches your eye, and things sort of become a bit more complicated. And there’s such a great romantic feel to the story, to the way that you and he grow close, move around each other. It’s slow and careful, unhurried...except that maybe it moved too slow, because the man is on his way out with the next ship, something that neither of them have really thought much about, while at the same time it’s been a shadow passing over them. Meanwhile you are also dealing with a friendship that is fracturing because your friend is jealous of the time you’re no longer spending just with her. It’s a wrenching thing, because you are so passive, so easy to get along with in part because you don’t really press your case, don’t really demand much for yourself. Not even when this man who you might come to love is going to leave. Even then you hold back, even as you desire to be a little selfish, to demand for your own happiness. The story veers away from sorrow all the same, and the ending is warm and hopeful, for all that it doesn’t exactly dismiss some of the tensions. There are still things to come, and a sense that maybe the memories buried from the past life will slip free and complicate things. But it’s a lovely story well worth checking out!
“Blue” by Kathleen Brigid (536 words)
No Spoilers: This story centers on a spaceship, and more specifically with its engineering department, and more specifically still the chief engineer, Zyghkays, and xer attitude towards the rest of the staff, especially other members of xer species. And tucked into a rather ridiculous conversation as witnessed by one human is a rather hilarious point about translation, nuance, and difference. The piece is the shortest in this section of the issue, but it’s not short on humor or laughs. And while it might seem obvious where the inspiration for the story is pulled, it keeps enough to the tropes that its impact for me feels larger than just commenting on one text or fandom.
Keywords: Colors, Space, Discipline, Translation, Aliens
Review: This has the feeling of a Star Trek fic with the serial numbers filed off and as someone who has done the exact same thing I approve wholeheartedly. It’s a great and very short look at one aspect of a lot of sci fi that gets overlooked or obfuscated a lot--the magic of the universal translator. And, really, about the limits of that magic, as Kowal, the human, watches the chief engineer dress down a subordinate for bringing the wrong folder. Xe wanted the blue folder, but this ensign brought blue folder instead. How dare! And it’s great, the way the story shows how translations often can’t capture the true range of expression, how for people using the translators as short cuts, as cheats almost, that there’s still a lot of loss. It might make things work enough to get by, but there are gaps as well that can’t easily be filled, and into which a lot of misunderstandings can fall. And I just love that Kowal tries to stand up for the ensign and just...sort of make things worse. It’s a great moment that stresses the importance of knowing the language of the people speaking, because without that there’s bound to be a lot of...awkwardness. And okay, there’s not a huge amount I can say beyond that, but for a story that’s only a bit over 500 words that’s perfectly okay. It’s fun and funny, charming and light, and the punchline had me chuckling out loud. It shows the limitation of technology, even very advanced and hand-wavey technology, in a keen and hilarious way. A fantastic read!
“The Swarm of Giant Gnats I Sent After Kent, My Assistant Manager” by Marissa Lingen (1448 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has a problem in the form of their manager, an asshole named Kent. Fortunately, they have the solution as well--a spell pulled from a family grimoire. One that summons a swarm of giant gnats to “take care” of Kent. And no, it’s not fatal or anything. But it doesn’t need to be in order to be effective. And what starts with the expectation that it’s going to be a one time thing turns out to be just the beginning of something that goes beyond revenge or justice--friendship. In an unexpected but wonderful and beautiful way. It’s a story that has such unapologetic fun, and works out for everyone (I’m counting Kent on that as well because being forced to be less of an asshole is actually doing his a favor, tbh). It’s a wry, funny, and heartwarming.
Keywords: Spells, Gnats, Revenge/Justice, Friendship
Review: I really love that this story that starts as being about revenge just twists into something deeper. Because the gnats are more than just a punishing force in the world, a reason for assholes everywhere to think twice about groping or otherwise abusing their power. And really I like that the piece looks a bit at power, at the way that the gnats could become this power that the narrator could exploit and abuse but...they just don’t. Instead the gnats become their friend. Become someone they care about, and share with, and cooperate with. And yes, the gnats will make those who abuse their power pay, but it’s not a corrupting influence. It’s a reminder that power doesn’t necessarily corrupt. Only when it’s absolute, only where it’s singular. But for the narrator their power is something that they share, something that they check in with. They want to make sure that they’re not going to go “power mad” and do something they’ll regret. So they make sure that they are accountable to others. That they aren’t going to be making all the decisions on their own. And that prevents them from really slipping down that slope. Rather, they can responsibly use their power, and they can have fun and build community and make the world a better place. Because they can get some assholes to hold back from abusing their own power. And it is the magic of someone with power not abusing it, not giving in to corruption, that makes other people with power less likely to abuse their own. Because that sort of corruption flourishes when it’s not challenged, when it’s assumed to be inevitable. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one that the narrator (and the gnats) doesn’t give into. And it’s another wonderful read and a great way to close out this section of the publication!