2021 has settled in. After a tumultuous first few weeks (insurrection! impeachment! Inauguration!), things have quieted around the country. Sure, we still had an impeachment trial, with its all too predictable outcome (the GQP never willing to do the hard work of holding themselves accountable for their criminal actions). But I am now cautiously hopeful that 2021 will be a year where, if not returning us to a normal that, honestly, constantly failed to meet the needs of millions of people, we find a way to avoid the endless ramp up of horrors that 2020 kept bringing.
I’ve finally gotten out of my own rut. I’m writing again, albeit slowly, but it’s real words and real work and I’m pleased with the results so far. But being in a rut put me behind on getting this review out. So without further ado, let’s get to the stories!
Cover – I want to note that the cover, by artist Erion Makuo, is simply gorgeous.
Dear Susan, by Laura Baker (essay) – I chose to start with the essay that kicks off the issue rather than the fiction because this was a beautiful, heart wrenching, emotional piece of work that really spoke to me in so many touching ways. Laura is the guest editor for the issue, and the essay is a letter to a mentor and friend named Susan, someone who was loved and cherished and clearly a force for good in the world, and whose absence is missed by all who knew her. I won’t say much more about it but to urge you go read it, it’s worth your time.
Commodities, by Zebib K. A. – One of the staples of good dystopia (for me at least) is a constant sense of dread, the oppressive feeling that lives hanging on a tenuous thread are going to go to hell in a hand basket at any moment. One wrong step, and the protagonist is doomed. The author does a stellar job of building that suspense here, revealing detail by detail facts about living in this post-apocalyptic world, yet allowing the protagonist to stretch outside the narrow rules she applies to keep herself alive to bring us a measure of hope by the end. A hopeful ending is a great way to stick the landing when writing dystopia, by the way.
With the Nectar Comes the Sting, by Jennifer Hudak – this is a fascinating take on super hero stories, and on the power of bees, and of the strength of joined bonds. Jennifer mixes in a healthy dose of reflection on what it means to be female in society, being aware of the dangers, covering yourself with stingers and filling your blood with poison to be safe. To not become dangerous, but to recognize you are dangerous. I had a slight problem, though, with the story jumping back and forth between past and present action. I assumed they were both the same voice, that of the daughter, but admit at times I started to think the present voice was her mother’s instead. Still and all, I enjoyed the morally ambiguous tones, the desire to not frame the narrative of the story teller as hero or villain, but as something much more complex.
Honey and Mneme, by Marika Bailey – After a super hero story about bees, we get a story about a man who raises the woman he loved from the dead, nearly costing him his own life. There’s a lot going on here in this story, and a hell of a lot to love. The title alone reveals something of what to expect, the Mneme of mythology being the muse of memory. Memory plays a large part of this story, and how we plant the seeds of our future in hidden recesses of the past. This is a hard read, too, because it revolves around issues of abuse and consent. But since so much of my writing does as well, I consider that a point in its favor and another reason it spoke to me as well.
Shark Girls, by Caroline Diorio – I straight up dug this story and what it did. It’s such an excellent play on the concept of selkies, here represented by the shark girls of the title. This story touches beautiful on ideas of self and identity, the choices we make for those who we love, and how we find ourselves and our family when we open up to who we really are. Beautiful and touching (this whole issue feels this way, to be fair).
It’s Never Just a Necklace, by Ashland East – Now comes a dark tale of witches and resurrections and deliciously creepy name like Mist Wood. Or Mistwood. I loved the use of some traditional spooky tropes here, while centering the story on a main character who felt like a thoroughly modern teen. The story had a satisfyingly pulpy feel to it, although it lacked some of the suspense I would have enjoyed seeing, and I had a strong inkling of the ending before it arrived. Fun read, though, with a nice core wrapped around friendship.
Redlands, by Jay Harper – There are stories with great plots, and stories with beautiful writing, and then there are stories with VOICE from first word to last to carry you through. This definitely fell into the latter category, a well-realized voice that perfectly framed this story with its western America frontier feel to it. It reminded me of the voice of the protagonist from Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory series, and works a charm on the reader. This story is all dry gulch and bile and bitter and sand in your mouth and it’s a force of nature, this story. Highly recommend, it’s gorgeous writing.
Along with the stories we have great poems from Brian Hugenbruch, Elizabeth R. McClellan, Sarah Ramdawar, and Tehnuka. (Note: I’ve opted to skip reviewing poems because I’m just not comfortable doing so; my apologies to all you poets who do fine work). Also an excellent essay by Sameem Siddiqui, Justice is a Gravitational Lens. Justice is what you make of it, and yet changes and moves on its own accord. I’m left considering all the ramifications of that word and what it means to me, as well as to others, and how so many people can reach so many different conclusions about its definition.
It would be a HUGE injustice if you didn’t read this issue (yeah, I went there… you get reviews plus my bad puns, it’s a twofer!).