|Art by Goñi Montes|
"Three Points Masculine" by An Owomoyela (6030 words)
This is an intense and fast-paced story about gender and presentation and progress and governments and there's a lot happening here, a lot to pay attention to and a lot to like. The setting seems like it's taking place in an America torn apart, where the religious Right has pulled away and entered into open war with the government. The main character is a man who wanted to be a soldier but who had to settle for City Guard when he didn't score high enough on his masculinity test. And gender is at the heart of this story, gender and respect and autonomy. The setting of the story is completely okay with people legally being treated as their gender rather than their assigned-at-birth gender, but only if they score a certain way on a test. There is this idea of validity, that the person is never in control of how they are perceived, that there is some validation from the government but that it comes only based on a test that doesn’t seem to really measure gender. That is, essentially, still rather shitty even if it might be better than what exists currently. That the idea is still that there is some sort of standard that people need to be held to. A metric that applies to everyone. When, just by exploring the main character and John, a nurse working in the Women's Aux, the story does a great job of subverting. Or complicating. Or both. I love the character work and the voice of the main character, love the rather intense vision of what I assume is America (from the rhetoric and from the hilarious box stores). The story is serious, violent, and emotionally resonant but it's also rather fun, with a charming humor. It's a story of people meeting and seeing each other, and seeing in each other a sort of mirror of themselves, their journeys linked and exposing a problem that their society isn't exploring because it's comparing itself to religious extremists in order to declare itself absolved of blame or fault. It's a complex story and a very, very good one. Go read it!
"Deathlight" by Mari Ness (5660 words)
To me this story is about distance and cold and a bit about being doomed. The set up is rather instantly dire as Els and Dun are the sole crew on a space voyage that has experienced a bit of a turn and now they're stuck in a nebula with dwindling supplies and dwindling hope. And I love how the voyage comes to represent their relationship, the way that they had felt and the way that it had shifted until there's nothing less but distance and cold and the knowledge that they're not going to make it. [SPOILERS] I just really like how they were set up as so intensely in love early on and then on this, their last mission together, they cooled so much and it made them slack. They stopped caring about the mission, about the relationship, and both ended up being doomed because they didn't care. Because they got too far away from each other, were ground down by the job, by the pressures. Watching the characters work around each other is interesting because it shows them fallen apart, each grasping at different things, prioritizing different things, and both with the knowledge that they had loved, that in some way their feelings are still there but cold now, frozen and unable to be fully thawed. So when they find the alien it represents different things for them. For Dun it seems to be the hope of getting out, of fixing things. To Els, though, it's much different. She sees her connection to the creature lost to space and time, alone and cold and desperate for something. She wants to wake it up, wants to feel again, and goes to some desperate lengths to do that. It's a subtle story, layering relationships and care, and building a scene that is claustrophobic and expansive at the same time. Another great read!
"The Jaws that Bite, the Claws that Catch" by Seanan McGuire (5220 words)
The title of this story sort of gives away what eventually happens, but it does nothing to diminish the fun and the relish of revisiting a Wonderland both familiar and new. It's a setting that sees a lot of reinventions, after all, and this story is no exception, fleshing out the truth of the jabberwocks and the Tulgey Wood and giving the main character an adventure to save her sister from the demented machinations of the Queen of Hearts. And really, if that hasn't sold you on the story, nothing probably will. It's great fun, capturing both the whimsy and the darkness of Wonderland. The threat, especially to little girls, that lurks in a setting that is layered with meaning and rather uncomfortable implications. This story does not shy away from that legacy but meets it head on and makes it work for a different sort of adventure. One about family and about rescuing a young girl lost in a strange place at risk from a dangerous adult. The main character is given agency and drive and sets about trying to make the City of Hearts just a little less cruel, if not at all less bloody. The prose is sharp and evokes Wonderland to great effect, referencing just enough of the setting without getting bogged down in references or in-jokes. The main character's quest is quite different from Alice's, though both involve trying to return home. The Tulgey Wood is not a garden party, though, but rather a place for the main character and her people to be free, to be safe. The story questions what it is to be a monster and contrasts the main character and the Queen of Hearts well, and [SPOILERS] I might have had a private chuckle muttering "off with her head" to myself during the climactic moment. The action is well reserved and then bursts forth, the hidden power of the main character not a surprise at all because of how she's carried herself, because her power springs from love. It's a great story, and any fans of Wonderland should waste no time in seeking it out and devouring it hungrily!
"Wednesday's Story" by Wole Talabi (6725 words)
Okay yeah, so this is the most meta-textual of the stories this month, an examination of storytelling and intention and trying to change things. In some ways it's a time travel story, too, looking at stories like the fabric of spacetime and each author like a tiny god of their own tales, resistant to change, every attempt more likely than not to affirm what always happens. And it makes a lot of sense to me like that, time and stories linked in that fashion, and no matter how hard you try to alter the text it finds a way of happening all the same. And okay, perhaps I should talk about the plot and such, which revolves around entities that are the days of the week telling stories, and in particular telling the story of Solomon Grundy. Which is great, because this story does change the original story, or at least changes many aspects of it, filling in details surrounding the lines in the rhyme in order to create a moving and tragic story of love and betrayal. And the main character, Wednesday, trying to change things, trying to give the story a happier ending. And to me the story lingers on the idea of altering texts and altering the past, Wednesday desperate to do something, desperate to find a way around the tragedy and [SPOILERS IF I HAVEN'T ALREADY] ultimately finding that she can't. That in some ways, perhaps because her part comes in the middle of the story, she doesn't really have the power to effect the ending. That so long as the power of endings is held away all she can do is find slightly different ways to get to the same tragedy. It's not exactly the happiest of stories but it is inventive and innovative and magnificently layered. There's so much going on in the setting, from the strangeness of the days of the week all telling stories they haven't authored to the way that time travel and storytelling converge. The story ends up placing more of the burden of creating less tragic stories, more just stories, in the hands of the authors. It's a story that to me speaks of storytelling and pain and longing, and it's deep and well worth spending some time with!