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“Your Mind Is the Superfund Site” by Andrew Dana Hudson & C.Y. Ballard (6366 words)
No Spoilers: Tracey is a hypnocath, a person with a skill at lucid dreaming who can move through the hypnogeography of a place, the shared dream-space that humans create in communities. That effects their dreams, and their moods, and so much more. That has been damaged by brand advertising and capitalism. That, in the case of Boston, has become overrun with vestigial advertising mascots who are giving people insomnia, and before long might give them worse. Tracey is paired with Alleyah, a hypnopomp, who is along not just as the local agent familiar with the case, but to try and keep Tracey from going too deep and becoming lost int he dream world. In the hypnogeography, though, more dangerous than t he brands and the mascots might be the fears and insecurities buried within Tracey, things that could be turned into weapons in the wrong hands.
Keywords: Dreams, Brands, Mascots, Holidays, Violence
Review: I like the way the story sort of explores the ways that advertising has injured our collective imagination. How capitalism has worked to specifically target those things, archetypes, metaphors. Upon discovering of these things, these were turned into ways of making money, were exploited to get people to spend money and give their time and resources. The result is this very injured space where even those things that were supposed to be innocent have become hungry, sharp, dangerous. And I like the way thte story sort of reveals all this, casts Tracey in the role of never really getting to stay in one place, his work rather essentially isolating him because it’s a different kind of violence he visits to the dream space. That even when it’s remediative, it’s also something that the communities seek to reject. So that no place that he’s worked in will allow him to sleep. So the world building is fascinating, and I like how it renders Tracey as damaged as constantly both facing and deepening the ammunition that the vestigials can use against him. Every new job a ghost of a place he can’t go back to. And I just like where that leaves him, the almost reckless plunge he takes because there’s no use pulling punches, no use going half way. In fact, he’s only really effective if he goes in guns blazing, using that cathartic violence to exorcize the toxic elements and bring the hypnogeography into something like balance, or at least to a place where it can be balanced. And it’s a fun read, for all it features some gratuitous violence against brand mascots. A fine read!
“PARTY TIME!” by Ben H. Winters (2366 words)
No Spoilers: Janet just wants to throw a little birthday party for another worker in her office. As she works in an office that helps to run the vast and authoritarian bureaucracy that monitors all aspects of every citizen’s life and which can and does often disappear and erase people, that’s...maybe a big ask? At the very least, it’s something that gets more complex than it was meant to when she overhears something that could get some people in a lot of trouble--even herself, given she keeps on forgetting to report the incident to the proper channels. The voice of the work is charming, a bit absent-minded but perhaps only so in an attempt to shield Janet from the crushing reality of her situation, of her world. And in that space the story might bridge from a fun quasi-spoof to something a bit more complex and grim.
Keywords: Dystopias, Offices, Parties, Thought Police, Employment
Review: I love the voice of the story, the peppiness, the way that Janet seems in many ways to be a True Believer of this system, which is obviously rather draconian and corrupt and fucked up. But she’s just the office ray of sunshine, and that’s what she focuses on. She seems clueless, ditzy, but at the same time there’s reason to believe that it might be something of a front, or at least a defense mechanism. Because everything here is based on who seems threatening. And Janet...doesn’t. She seems rather dim, and while not incompetent, not really the person you want to trust with a lot of difficult tasks. She tries to make people happier, and given the setting, that’s a lot. Only, given the setting, it’s also sort of impossible. Because bad things are happening at all times. People are disappearing. People are being killed. Everything is balanced on a razor’s edge and Janet just sort of walks through it by being oblivious. Mostly, it works. But there’s the lingering doubt for me if that’s the real her or if that’s what she’s done to try and be safe, in which case she’s a lot smarter and a lot more damaged than she lets on. Which is good, because otherwise she would be dead. And it’s that point that the story sort of turns to at the end. Away from the fun and funny way her voice clashes with the setting, and toward the realization that this is actually a rather brilliant way to try and survive. One that still might have backfired because she might have failed up. Might have done so good a job seeming unthreatening that she outlasted any competition and has landed in a position of power--which means a position of a lot more risk and pressure. And while she outwardly seems happy by what might be a promotion, she’s also shattered by the thought of being the person with that much responsibility, that much danger. And for all that it’s a deep and satisfying story very much woth spending soem time with. A great read!
“The Salt Warrior” by Kali Wallace (4533 words)
No Spoilers: Angela has just survived a raider attack on her village--and thanks to the fact that she was in prison at the time, she might be the only one. Everyone else is dead. A toxic corpse littering the village. Anyone who survived has been taken, out to sea as slaves. All that remains is Angela. Well, and the saint. The saint who was supposed to protect the village. The saint who supposedly can’t be killed by normal means. And maybe that’s true, because despite his wounds, the saint isn’t dead. He just isn’t all that alive, either. And Angela is left with the weight of everything that has happened and a future that is completely uncertain. All she knows is that scavengers will come soon in the wake of the attack, and before then there will be decisions to make. The piece is intensely grim, but also filled with a kind of resolve to keep going, in spite of everything, to make a go of reaching for a future that might be better, even if it means fighting for it.
Keywords: Attacks, Religion, Saints, Trials, CW- Torture
Review: This is not exactly a cheery story, but it is one that deals with faith and with toxic religion, with victims and violence. Angela has suffered because she doesn’t want what the church wants for her. She likes sex and she doesn’t seem interested in the traditional role laid out for her life. At the same time, she’s been humiliated and tortured by her church, by her village, and it means her relationship to them all is...complicated. Especially now that they’re all dead or slaves, and she’s about the only one left. The only one except for the strange being, the saint, who was supposed to keep them safe. Who, it turns out, might also be a victim of the church, who might have been tortured more than she was. In different ways, though. And it’s all just so...much. The death, what happened, what might still happen. It speaks of the weight of violence, the violence that attempts at simplification bring, be they religious or otherwise. For some they can only see the binaries. The simple sides. Black and white. Maiden or whore. Sinner or saint. Tucked into that, though, is the messy reality of people. People who are often hurting, who are often afraid and who often don’t have the choices they wish they did. What they do, then, what they make of what they have, is what defines them, and for Angela that means when she decides to put on the saint’s armor, to take his blade, he’s making a very complicated decision. Breaking binaries. Choosing to live, or to try to. And it’s a powerful, stirring story, definitely worth checking out!
“Ann-of-Rags” by P H Lee (3264 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a story teller, one who professes to only tell the truth, and who then spins a tale of a girl lost in the woods, and her talking doll, a witch that might end them both. As a fairy tale, the piece works brilliantly. It moves in patterns, in cycles. It has wolves and witches and a faithful doll who gets absolutely no reward for her service and valor. Meaning, the story works as a traditional fairy tale, and yet has this edge to it, a contemporary twist not in any of its setting or narrative choices, but in t he way it cuts into what it means to be a fairy tale, what it means to be a fantasy story. The piece is aware of the fine and blurry line between lies and fiction. Which are not always the same thing. Fiction can be true in some vital ways, and I just really like how the story moves around that idea, dances with it, leads it into the woods on a dark and frigid night.
Keywords: Stories, Witches, Dolls, Lies, Fairy Tales
Review: To me, this story gets at the nature of story telling, the nature of fairy tales, and the line between lies and truth. For me, at least, it matters a lot that within the nested story of the narrator’s tale, the little girl wants to believe appearances more than she wants to listen to the truth that the doll is telling her. She refuses to go with the owl, refuses to go with the wolf, and instead goes with the witch who appears friendly. And though she learns to trust the doll, it’s only when the choice is between getting her own hands and eyes ripped out and off, or letting it happen to another. The piece circles around these ways that what is true it wrapped in something that doesn’t seem true. That a lie is wrapped in something comforting and seemingly safe. And so the story to me seems to comment on the nature of stories, the way the narrator says they tell only the truth. Do they? Certainly the events of the story seem impossible, wrapped in magic and myth. They aren’t literally true, because they are fantasy. Simple. And yet, within that seeming lie, is there no greater or more profound truths? And really, isn’t that what fairy tales, what a lot of stories, are about. Conveying these truths wrapped in lies. Not all of one, not all of the other. All of them complicating the idea of lies and truths, and which is which. And, if you know anything about my Star Trek preferences, you’ll know that I love this complication, this way of interrogating and dissecting truth and narrative, lies and meaning. And the story does such a great job really building a nested fairy tale and an effective framing device, which make a stunning one-two punch for this slightly chilling, entirely fantastic read!