Fireside Magazine is out and…well, contains three short stories and two essays, plus now a number of apologies and announcements coming on the heels of the decision of the publication to have a white man record the audio for the entire issue which included, among others, the personal essay of a Black woman that was in part about her specific lens as a Black woman, and which…was not handled well. And this has opened up a larger conversation about audio recordings, racism, and editorial responsibility which has resulted, among other things, in the stepping down of the editor-in-chief at Fireside. All that said, and not to diminish the harm done, the fiction in this issue is amazing, and I’ll get right to my reviews!
“Body, Remember” by Nicasio Andres Reed (3993 words)
No Spoilers: Jun is on a dig in Italy despite not really knowing the language. He’s also trans and doesn’t really have the greatest relationship with his parents. Indeed, his relationship with the past is complicated, strained at times, yearning in others. The recent past that he’s running from, the ancient past that he reaching back for. The buried children who no one can save, because they are gone now. But for their bones, which Jun is drawn to. But for their voices, which Jun might be hearing while he’s alone and overseeing the dig at night. It’s a strange and richly developed story told skipping through time, back and forth, brushing away the dirt and revealing what time has covered over.
Keywords: Excavations, Bones, Language, Family, Trans MC, CW- Abuse
Review: This is a beautiful story about the past, about the present. And I love how Jun approaches it all, how he frames the past as meaningful because of where it leads. Not because it was this romantic, wonderful thing. A time less complicated and more noble because it is gone and buried. Rather, the past is worth exploring because it has led to the present, to the joys of modern living, computers and air conditioning and energy drinks. Taken across time, there is a certain narrative, a certain arch. Maybe not towards justice, but certainly towards better tech, more profound possibilities. It also implies a survival, where by looking back on history you do make a path between then and now, one that stretches into future, perhaps uncertainly so but it still does act as this affirmation. We survived. Whatever calamity, whatever disaster, whatever horror of the past, there are still humans living now. The story for me seems to take this approach to the ancient and...show the messy applications to the more recent past. To Jun’s own complex feelings about his past, the ways he was abused and pressured to live a lie for the sake of other people. And having that back there, having this past that’s something buried, is an incredibly difficult and weird and fucked up thing. Something he can’t talk about with most people because of the prejudice and risks involved. Something that he doesn’t have the distance of history to insulate him from. But the takeaway might be similar. That he survived. That for all the pain that still lies buried in his past, that he might slowly be unearthing now...that for all he ran from a situation that very likely might have killed him...it’s all loaded and heavy and wrenching. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a reminder of where he is and the amazing things that he’s done. And it’s just an emotionally rich and resonating story, one that looks at the past and its bones and its ghosts but remains grounded in the present, in the living. And wow, just a phenomenal read!
“Fifteen Dogs in a Human Suit” by Paul R. Hardy (4065 words)
No Spoilers: envoy is...well, as the title implies, they’re fifteen dogs in a human suit. And they’re making due in the absence of humans, who have...“ascended to a higher state of being” (thinking vaguely like Childhood’s End?). Of course, humans designed all their tech and AIs to only work with humans. Hence the necessary deception of the dogs appearing human to fly around the galaxy. They aren’t the only beings who were left behind by humans, though, and the Envoy’s current mission deals with one community of such beings who are in danger. Who need to act or else be destroyed. Of course, the meeting between them and the Envoy doesn’t really go to plan. The piece is charming and fun while also holding a certain amount of grimness in the background and world building.
Keywords: Dogs, Space, Cats, Comets, AIs
Review: I like the dynamic between the Envoy and Rover, the AI of their ship. The sort of sweet obliviousness of Rover married to the patience of the Envoy, is a winning combination in my opinion. I just like this idea that the AIs humans designed just...aren’t that bright. On purpose, probably so that they’d never want to take over. But I love how the dogs and the AI get on, and how that shows sort of the way this setting works, where the dogs have to pretend to be human because humans, for all they’ve become energy and moved on...they really didn’t think too much about those they were leaving behind. The dogs have made the most of the situation, for all it’s uncomfortable, for all it’s rather undignified. And the cats...well, the cats have by and large done the opposite. Have cursed the humans who left them. Have lived on their own terms, as much as possible, turning their noses up at the human technologies. And it’s here that I have some hesitation to the piece, because well, because I’m a cat person. And the story shows the cats as bitter, as reactionary, as basically sealing their own fate because they won’t accept that they need to adapt to the situation they’ve been put in. Need to adopt human technology if they hope to survive. And...the cats refuse. Or, at least, most refuse. And those that refuse seem primed to die. And...casting that as their fault, however gently, feels a bit unfair to me. Because, ultimately, it’s the humans’ fault. The humans who ruined the Earth, the humans who prevented the cats from returning there. On the whole, though, it’s still a fun story, cute and charming. And I definitely appreciate it, for all there are elements that I didn’t quite like. A fine read!
“Chosen” by Kate Sheeran Swed (3019 words)
No Spoilers: Beatrice is one of four friends on the Starfinder, a generation ship on its way back to Earth after...falling short of its goal to find a new planet for humans to inhabit. Faced with an empty ship and time to spend waiting to see if the people from Earth will even welcome them back, will accept them despite the broken systems of the ship and the fact that they can’t live there for much longer, the four decide to play a game. It’s a strange choice, perhaps, and certain something of a haunting one as the game draws the characters and readers through the nearly empty vessel, its history, and all they’ve been through. Despite the grim realities of their situation, though, there’s a beating heart at the core of the work, a warmth that binds the characters together, that shines even in the dark of space.
Keywords: Space, Air, Hide and Seek, Growing Up, Generation Ships
Review: I love the feeling of the story, the way that everything hinges on these four characters, the way they hold each other together despite the emptiness of their world, the desolation of the dreams of their parents, dreams that they had no choice in, were just expected to accept, and then just as quickly expected to abandon as their parents found those dreams dust, needing to retreat back to Earth to avoid complete ruin. But, of course, even that didn’t work out, and now these four are the only survivors. Picked by one of their own, the young man who links them. Not their leader. Not their savior. But still a person carrying a weight. The piece seems to map the complex relationships that makes with the rest of the characters. Between Beatrice and him, between him and the other two survivors. There’s a sense to me of such...such a sadness, and almost a futility, the characters not sure how to feel, how to express themselves. They’ve lost everything, and while they might not have been the most on board with their parents’ visions, those dreams they were to be locked into, neither did they really want to be passengers on a ghost ship, survivors who everyone else they knew technically sacrificed themselves to save. It’s too much, too heavy, and so it makes sense that they would opt to play a game. That they would choose to be a bit fatalist, a bit irreverent. But it also makes the ways that they come together in love and understanding, in friendship and togetherness, all the more beautiful. Because for them the future is a complex, broken thing, but they are still moving toward it. They are alive, however guilty or fucked up they might feel about it. And it means they still have a future to reach for, a potential they can still unlock. A great and wrenching and shattering read!