“Hatchi” by Andrew K. Hoe (3015 words)
No Spoilers: Hatchi is on a quest, even if he can’t always quite articulate it well. It’s taken a lot time, and along the way he’s been helped by a lot of people. Battered and dented, he finally finds his way to a facility deep in space, where scientific experiments into a kind of portal have...mostly failed. But Hatchi, though damaged, though barely keeping on, knows that what he’s looking for is here, and isn’t about to give up. The piece is told in a fragmented style, out of time thanks to the banged up nature of Hatchi’s journey. Through it all is the devotion that he acts with, and the loyalty and love that cannot be broken. It’s a wrenching, emotionally resonating story.
Keywords: Robots, Penguins, Space, Travel, Grief, Portals
Review: Sure, go ahead and make me cry. This is a story that really builds up this increasingly emotional experience, as readers learn slowly what Hatchi’s mission is, and how long he’s been pursuing it, and all the lives he’s touched in the mean time, who have in turn touched him, helped him. And I like the way that comes together through the broken narrative, showing the toll that the travel has had on Hatchi. There have been times when he has needed a lot of help, but his journey has brought comfort and joy and resolve to a lot of other people. Helping them to face their issues. To take bold action. And he brings a part of all of them with him forward, as he seeks the universe (and beyond) for the person he needs to be with. Which of course is where the heartbreaking realization comes from, that this girl he’s looking for is dead. That she has been dead for some time, and that his journey is trying to get to be with her again. Which brings him to this research station and these portals which might not really work. But also might. And there’s a question almost of if Hatchi can want this thing enough, can love enough, can be determined enough, can he pierce the veil between life and death and find her again? Does it means he dies himself, that the ending is his entry into an afterlife that his person has already been waiting for him in? Whatever the case, the story is heartfelt and just emotionally devastating. From the full weight of what he’s been trying to do, the seemingly impossible task he’s been pursuing for so many years, to the joy and the sadness that he soothes in his wake, the love he inspires. It’s like the ending of AI and that one episode of Futurama with the dog all rolled into one, and for those willing to go through that kind of an emotional hit, it’s so worth checking out. A fantastic way to open up this section of the issue!
“A Most Professional Demon” by R. J. Howell (2943 words)
No Spoilers: Analistaphel (Anilay for short) is in a bustling little cafe psyching herself up to make a very important call. Or to return a call, rather, regarding her application to her dream job torturing mortals through doubt, anxiety, and self-flagellation. Because, you know, she lives in hell, and is a demon and all. The piece takes a very familiar kind of situation and retains all the tension and possibility for an awkward disaster, and twists it in this interesting way, having Anilay’s prospective profession be all about steering people toward misery, suffering, and damnation. And it does it with charm and snark, showcasing Anilay’s skills and delivering a satisfying exchange as she pursues her dreams.
Keywords: Demons, Employment, Interviews, Doubt
Review: I really like how this story puts you in the position where you probably identify and sympathize with an actual demon applying for a job. Which on the surface seems pretty fucked up, and in a distanced way there’s the feeling that of course this is a Bad Thing, that this demon, for all that she’s recognizable, is Evil. At the same time, though, the piece plays with the ways that...well, that most kinds of this sort of situation are kinda evil. That modern employment, especially in High Powered fields where interviews and jobs are hyper-competitive and geared towards asking people how far they’ll go for The Company, it’s all sort of the same. The victory that Anilay feels mirrors the ways that people celebrate their own business and employment victories, but those sort of cover over the realities of their jobs, of the system that runs off exploitation and pain. And I mean it’s a fun story. And it can be _just_ a fun story, sure. Yes, I am reading too much into this, but it really does strike me in the way that a story asking us to have sympathy for a demon can be deepened by looking at how that reflects back on us, making a story that is fun and charming also rather sharp. Commenting on the ways that people often spend so much of their time and ambition chasing after things that are rather fucked up. Jobs that offer material rewards but that are often morally bankrupt. And with that in mid the story just takes on a different feel, aware that by making the character a demon looking forward to torture mortals, we should be aware of who we’re finding ourselves sympathizing with, and what grim realities our fun might be obscuring. And it’s a wonderful story, layered and complicated while keeping the prose simple and swift and tight. A great read!
“Rockets Launch From Florida” by E. M. Craven (3695 words)
No Spoilers: Nyx is a long way from home. A long, long way. On Earth, when she wants to be back among the stars. But she’s been marooned. Left behind. And has been having a time trying to figure out how to get home. It doesn’t help that along the way she runs into a series of issues. Runs out of gas. Doesn’t have money. Can’t carry the gasoline back to the car. And on and on. But at each point when things look like they’re over, when they’ve ended in disaster, a bystander steps up and helps out, and through this Nyx finds that she might be much closer to her goal than she realizes. It’s a strange read, Nyx’s exact plan not exactly clear until it all comes together, but it’s moved by compassion and kindness, and there’s a lot to be said about that.
Keywords: Travel, Cars, Strangers, Rockets, Distance
Review: I really do like that so much goes wrong for Nyx and yet people all sort of help her out. It’s something that seems almost ridiculous, especially given how a lot of stories like to dwell in the ways that humans let each other down, prey on one another. Certainly while reading I had a few cringing moments where I was worried for Nyx because of her lack of knowledge about humans, about Earth. Because of how dangerous we can be. Instead, though, the story shows people reaching out to help. Seeing a traveler who is in need and then moving to help her get where she needs to go. And it sort shows the different sides of the planet. On the one hand, it’s just as Nyx criticizes, full of exploitation and “backwards” thinking. Unable to do the thinks technologically that she’s used to and still very focused on money and waste and all that. On the other hand, though, she’s a literal alien who depends on people to help her and they come through for her. Not just once or twice but every time. Yes, things go wrong. But they right enough because there are people out there who aren’t assholes. And that sort of pokes holes in her feelings that the planet is the worst. And just maybe it’s that, more than anything else that happens, that prompts her to reach out in the end. To make herself even more vulnerable by trusting that the people she shows her true self to aren’t going to just immediately turn her in. Aren’t going to betray her. At the beginning of the story it seems unlikely to me that she would make that risk. But at the end of the story, after experiencing all the ways that people are willing to help, she lowers a barrier, she shows some trust. And I like that for me the implication is that she won’t be let down. That she’s found some good people, and a chance, maybe, of getting back to where she wants to be. it’s a fun story and a bright one where really not much hurts and the ending is full of hope. A wonderful read!