And it’s time for the last of my four-part look at the wonderful Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales from a World that Wouldn’t Die, edited by dave ring and published by Neon Hemlock. The anthology so far has been incredibly, starting strong and having a lot of fun before in the third quarter dipping into a bit more tragic and heavy elements. And while those aren’t entirely gone, the home stretch builds back up, focusing on healing, on recovery, on love, and on community. On the power of queer people helping queer people survive, and in that survival making sure that no apocalypse, no end of the world, is stronger than the connections we make with each other. There’s so many amazing works, and I’ll get right to reviewing them!
|Art by Grace Fong|
“For the Taking, For the Making” by V. Medina (short story)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has survived the end of the world only to end up with another survivor, M, and the prospect of joining a new community. To get there, though, they have to go through something like a ritual, something like a labyrinth. They enter without a name, and they exit with one, that and so much more. The journey, then, is an introspection, a looking into themself and what has happened to them, where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going. It’s a strange piece, the world different in more than just the loss of people. There’s a kind of mourning but also not a judgment against those for whom the end wasn’t quite as shattering as it could have been. People who were already surviving, and so in some ways ready for what the end of the world brought.
Keywords: Labyrinths, Apocalypses, Names, Queer MC, Myths, Ghosts, CW- Self-Harm(?)
Review: I love the journey the narrator takes, the ritual, the quest. And I like that they don’t really know what to expect, except that they have to do this and, more, want to do this. Want to be with M, want to find out what’s ahead for them. And I like that it means a confrontation with ghosts. All kinds of ghosts. The ghosts of their family who died. Of the whole world that is gone and how that’s not exactly the devastating thing it could be. Because it was a world that was already mostly at odds with the narrator, and in some ways now that it’s gone they have a bit more hope. A confidence that they are in control of their own life. That their survival is their power, and that they have come so far. It’s a confrontation there with their own ghost. The version of themself that lived in the world that ended. It might sound a little melodramatic but I think that ghost might be the most important of all. As M says near the beginning, the identity that was tied to that old world doesn’t mean as much. What matters more is the identity that the narrator claims for themself. Still messy, still dealing with a lot, but not defined by the terms the odl world used. Not broken. Not worthless. But rather vital, loved, part of something bigger and magical. Able to go through this ritual and come out the other side having confronted themself and found their name. Found the road forward and the hope to fuel their passage down it. And it’s a delightful story, a strong way to pick up the anthology again, packed with a resilience and a looking forward. A great read!
“When She Nothing Shines Upon” by Blake Jessop (short story)
No Spoilers: Caydee is a mechanic, the keeper of a mech suit that her underground community uses to help scavenge for supplies on a surface that has been scoured, that is dark, that is cold. A mech suit that has a pilot, who goes by Pilot, and who does her best to numb herself to everything but the missions she runs. But Caydee, bright and chatty, is throwing off her rhythm. Just as Pilot, dour and silent, is threatening to throw off Caydee’s. Of course, throughout all of this is the continued...well, end of the world. And the dangers that come with being a pilot. And around that, Caydee and Pilot find that the things they think they’d doing a great job compartmentalizing, they really aren’t. And despite the dark and cold, something warm and new might be starting to grow.
Keywords: Mech Suits, Apocalypse, Repairs, Queer MC, Hope
Review: I’m intrigued by the world building here, which feels a bit Matrix to me (the sky, the need for humans to be underground, the danger from a source the story itself never really identifies). And Caydee and Pilot are two very different sides of a coin when it comes to adjusting to this new world. To living underground and scavenging using giant mech suits. Caydee focuses on fixing the suits and staying chipper. She copes by doing what she can to make things better. The suit is always ready to go, always checked and rechecked. Whereas Pilot just sort of...gets through everything else. She only focuses on when she’s out on the surface, only really comes alive there, and otherwise operates in a kind of fugue state. And Caydee starts to draw her out of that. Which seems almost a threat at first. A distraction. But the question becomes a distraction from what? The easy answer is from the dangers of the surface. But those come regardless, and when the Pilot is injured, it’s not the time she’s spent with Caydee that the Pilot finds she regrets. Rather, she sort of wakes up more, and finds that she might want to spend more of her time awake. That for however broken she thinks of herself as, Caydee isn’t. She’s whole and she’s...not hopeful exactly. But she shines in the absence of a sun. Where everything else is cold and dark, Caydee defies that, and it’s enough to get through Pilot’s armor, at least. Some. Their relationship is slow burn but powerful all the same, and I love seeing it play out, seeing Pilot start to melt a little to the unrelenting warmth of Caydee. They have a great chemistry, a bond through the suit they both share. And it’s a fun story that grows out of this very grim setting. One that, for all it seems hopeless, still yields this wonderful and beautiful thing. A fantastic read!
“The Last Dawn of Targadrides” by Trip Galey (short story)
No Spoilers: Virtus is the son of the matriarch of their House, the First of the Legendary Houses, and it’s a position she’s not about to give up. She rules with a brutal hand, and without much love for her son, who has desires he barely allows himself to act on, secrets that he almost doesn’t dare to pursue. But at the current competition between the Houses, which is something like a pageant, something like a drag show, he’s got some surprises. For his mother, for himself, and for everyone else. The piece unfolds a bit unstuck in time, building around the moment of his debut, or should I say, the debut of a persona he hasn’t before has the courage to let out. The results are...dramatic.
Keywords: Fabric, Drag, Competitions, Personas, Queer MC, Family, CW- Abuse, Powers
Review: I love the festival feel of the story, the way that is surrounds this strange ritual, this competition where all the Houses vie for power. And tucked into that are powers, are the flowers and gems that fall from Virtus’ mouth. the immortality of his mother. The way that it all swirls in this false kind of refuge. False because it’s become this strange quasi dystopia where everyone is at everyone’s throats, worrying about being the next to fall, to be destroyed. Reminded always of the destruction around them, and the possibility that it could all come crashing down. So there’s this manic energy in the end, in the way that they pull on their best looks and acts and perform in the face of it all. And for Virtus the performance is layered. Is layered because he’s always performing for his mother and for himself, holding back from what he wants and what he feels. Pretending to be something that she wants when the truth is she doesn’t, will never, and he just needs to embrace his own happiness, his own fire, his own spotlight. The piece is disjointed in time, bouncing around, but in doing so it builds nicely this picture of him, the hidden rebel, holding so much in, needing to just that true expression that he can only really get on the stage, as Aurora, shedding the personas that his mother would have his wear and choosing one all his own. And the result is bright and wonderful and terrible, powerful and triumphant, and it’s a wonderful read!
“The Dreadnought and the Stars” by Phoebe Barton (short story)
No Spoilers: Grace is a giant lesbian. And like, literally. Huge. Towering over the landscape as she searches for her lost partner, Nora. Along the way, she tries to do what good she can because, well, doing things can be easy when you’re hundreds of feet tall. And it helps to keep people friendly and maybe get some information about Nora. The world’s been broken, and yet for Grace, who holds the power of a Dreadnought, things are pretty okay. That is, until she ends up shrinking back down to interact with a queer community and ends up getting stuck that way and pulled into the local politics which...aren’t good. The story is a wonderful blend of magic and homophobia, love and community, and it’s powerful and deeply satisfying.
Keywords: Giants, Transformations, Queer MC, Community, Searching
Review: With this story the trajectory of this final section of the collection is really coming together. From the grimness of the third section, this final quarter maintains a lot of the heavier elements in the settings, but lifts a lot more in terms of brightness in the characters. There is a sense of tragedy in many of these works, but it’s something that the characters are more or less recovering from. As here, Grace is dealing with the loss of her home, the loss of her partner, but at the same time is building something, is healing from the wounds. The process is slow, complicated by her trauma, the fear and the exhaustion that gets her stuck in her smaller form for a while. But with Grace and with the rest of the stories so far in this section, the real path is toward a way to trust again, to be vulnerable again, and not being destroyed by it. Not being wrecked by it or betrayed by it. And the reason is because the people involved have grown and been shaped by the apocalypses. They have survived. And because they have survived they have reached a new place, a new slate on which they can paint their own stories, their own dreams. They are mighty, powerful, and they’re not going to let people keep hurting them and those they care about. Here, it’s through mutual support, trust, and belief that Grace is able to recover for her time being small, and through the magic of it she’s not the only one who finds she’s huge and mighty. It’s a delightful story that uses homophobia well, showing the lingering traces of it and vehicle by which it might not have a place after the end of the world. A fabulous read!
Poetry (& other):
“Apocalypse” by Saida Agostini (poem)
This is an interesting piece, and for me it speaks to the ways people can approach and react to the end of the world. And yet in some ways it doesn’t really contain an apocalypse, imagines an end of the world that is physical, like a place on a map. On the other side, the prospect of heaven, of eternal reward, of that kind of cosmic finality. On the other side, the earth, the fallen earth, with its sins and its harsh edges. The piece is a question without having a question mark. A kind of measure to guage people’s reactions to the idea of the end of the world. Do you try and bend to the conventions, to the stories, to the religions that try to tell how to win the game. How to get into heaven in the next life. Or do you decide that this life isn’t over, that this world doesn’t have an end. And however far you go, however wide you wander, what you’ll find won’t be the stories of others but the one you write yourself. One new and different. And there’s where I feel the piece brings in the apocalypse. Not in the end of the world but in the reinvention of it. The freedom to remake, to create a heaven that isn’t exclusionary, that isn’t closed to queer people. The piece imagines that, the power of it, the audacity, the way it might be labeled villainous when what it is is so much more than just villainy. It’s revolution, and it’s pulling something out of the traditional ways of looking at apocalypse and finding instead some joy, some wild hunger, and the resilience and strength to keep going. A great read!
“Dream Askew” by Avery Alder (tabletop game)
Okay so this is a fascinating way to close out the collection, and I rather love it for the leap it makes, bringing reader into a more active participation with the text and with the idea of apocalypse and post-apocalypse, really getting into what it means and incorporating queer identity, relationships, and community into the mix in some wonderful ways. Now, this isn’t like a lot of tabletop games I’ve played, but it sounds amazing! I love the focus on communal storytelling and building and a sort of falling away of the shame about imagination and narrative that often push tabletop games into a more rules-focused, dice-driven mechanic. This is definitely not that. Given, this is just what would be the “DMG” for the setting, the rules, and without the “PHB,” the actual sheets and elements that make up the actual gameplay, it’s hard to get a complete feel for it. Luckily, that’s all available for free online. And it’s just a really cool idea and a fantastic way of structuring play and fostering connections and community, because as players move through the sessions, they also learn more about connections, also are engaged in community building. Which is just a wonderful dynamic and I love how the game uses that and forwards that. Coming at the end of the anthology, it’s a way to leap out from the page and into the meat spaces of people everywhere. Reminding them that we’re already living post-apocalypse. That for all of history there have been apocalypses, especially for queer people and communities, and what has been lost doesn’t stop what we do now or where we can go from here. That the strength of our bonds and the brightness of our futures are not down to the horrors or hardships we might face. They rest rather in the connections we make with each other, to help up, to protect, or to remember those we stand with and beside. And it’s a beautiful close to a powerful and necessary anthology!