"Closed Circuit" by J.S. Arquin (3875 words)
This is a sweet and moving story about resistance and about standing. About self-sufficiency and about the will to stand outside a system, to stand up for what you believe in. It focuses on Sand, a man who ran away from his partner and their colony because he was afraid of dying, because he was afraid of conflict, and now twenty years later there's a new conflict brewing and he's running again. I rather love the way that the story builds in its age and loss, the missed opportunity that has haunted Sand for the past twenty years. The prose is beautiful, effective, full of small moments that highlight the grief and the longing and the uncertainty of the main character. He's named Sand quite aptly, because the harder he tries to hold on to things, to his life, to his dreams, the more slips away, and he refuses to see that what he should be doing is making something. Finding something to run to, as the story concludes. The plot outside Sand and Casey, his partner, is sweeping and large, humanity being brought to toe under one system, but all of that pales in the face of the very human drama that plays out in the story. The character work is solid and the ending is solidly crafted and satisfying to me. It's hopeful and it's fun and it's just a great story and a fine way to kick off the issue!
"In the Emptiness of Anger" by D. A. D'Amico (941 words)
This is an interesting story that, to me, can be read in a few different ways or, as I do, as a blend of two main readings. I quite enjoyed the premise of the piece, that with technology reality can be augmented and unpleasant elements covered over. Hidden from the senses. To manicure existence. And I think that's an interesting idea and a powerful one, one that allows Chandrika, the main character, to exercise control over her environment when she feels she has none. It's brilliant at that, the way that she can take out the things she finds triggering, the ways she doesn't want to deal with things. It's a form of opting out and it's a form of trying to remake a world that is more accepting when it's not really possible. And seeing the reaction from the men who oversee the program, their disgust and condescension, is very well done and seems like how people would react, especially men to a woman not wanting to be in the world. [SPOILERS] The only part of this that gives me pause is that as I read the story I was getting the sense that the story could be seen as judging Chandrika a bit for wanting to opt out, for wanting to not see the world, which is a valid point except that for many, and it seems like for Chandrika, it doesn't seem quite so much like being shallow or superficial but actually not wanting to deal with shit and seeing a way to maybe not. And ultimately the ending remains ambiguous, a terrifying situation that I personally, see as symptomatic of a society that doesn't treat people decently, that Chandrika is a victim of misogyny and judgment and punishment for being who she is rather than she was stupid and doomed for being too greedy with technology. Which means that I quite enjoy the story and think that it's definitely worth checking out.
"Miranda Blue" by Romana Guillotte (2214 words)
Welp, this is a rather sad and wrenching story about a woman-turned-cyborg and the life she has and the life she had and what is left of both. In the story Miranda Blue is the first successful cyborg, the first of a wave that fight crime and keep their space station safe. She's also a product, though, made for a purpose and without free will. The story revolves around her memories, her past, and her nature. And fuck it is not a happy story, involving sickness and hope and, well, a business that exists to turn people into machines. I love the way the story interrupts Miranda's day with memories, with the ghosts of her past, things that she's not really able to remember but that exist there, that exist just below the surface and are reaching up, trying to pull something down with them. There is this aching loss, the absence not just of memory but of [SPOILERS] the man Miranda Blue knew when she was still fully human, when she was still Vanessa, trying to find a cure for her husband's terminal illness. The story reveals the full backstory slowly, with a grace and a momentum that can't be stopped, that contrast with the emotionless stare with which Miranda Blue takes in the world. It's stark and it's sad and it's quite good, a story to read within reach of a box of tissues. Indeed!
"The Third Dimension" by Steve Simpson (2531 words)
Okay and this story surprised me, I will admit, beginning as it does as a slow story about sickness and healing, about resonance and finding meaning in a life. But with that there was something else, a waiting darkness that, when it struck, took me rather completely by surprise. The plot of the story is rather straightforward, for a while at least. Leandro is a boy with a serious illness, one that is miraculously cured, or at least stalled, by the kiss from a friend. It's an event that inspires Leandro, but for all the good it does for him and others there's a side to it that remains obscure, a wrinkle that becomes more and more unsettling, more and more frightening as it is explored. [SPOILERS] What begins as something of a near science fiction piece adds some horror elements and does so in a striking and profound manner, dropping the floor out and leaving me as the reader weightless for a moment before the full implications of that twist settled and then…well, damn, this story is dark and it is layered and it presents a situation and a net of relationships that is compelling and frightening. It's subtle and it uses a light touch but it's certainly heavy with its implications and the power of the ending. A fascinating tale and one to check out!