|Art by Sandro Castelli|
“Maps of Infinity” by Heather Morris ( words)
This story moves around monsters and heroes, sacrifices and rituals. It finds Asterion, who lives underground in darkness, offered up beautiful young sacrifices every seven years. He is a monster physically, someone like a minotaur, and yet he’s also a person, though not one who can speak a human language. The story also stars the King’s Ugly Daughter, who is something of a monster herself and certainly a force of nature, her whole life basically mapped out because she wasn’t born “right”—because she wasn’t born as a man, and so able to step into the role that might have suited her more. Instead she grows large and strong and eager to pit herself against monster, to gain fame and fortune and honor. To prove that she has worth. And these two characters who are so different find that they are more similar than they suspect at first, their fates entwined. It’s a piece that leans heavily on myth and monster legends, where there is a hero and a monster to slay them. Only the King’s Ugly Daughter is not exactly a typically hero, does not care for the standard shape of these stories, just the violence of them, the action of them. And Asterion is not the typical monster, is not the beast who eats young virgins that people think he is. And slowly, as the true nature of both characters come into focus, they find themselves in the same track, Asterion here being a stationary object, and the King’s Ugly Daughter being the train bearing down on him. And it makes for a confrontation that is part tender, part brutal, part heartbreaking, and part redeeming. The story does a great job of giving these glimpses into the characters’ lives, into their worlds, and showing how the idea of monsters effects them both, tearing them apart even as it pulls them together. A fantastic read!
“The Moon, The Sun, and the Truth” by Victoria Sandbrook ( words)
It’s a short piece to close out the issue but one dense in world building and tight with its pacing. Andy is a truth-runner, a person responsible for taking news from place to place, always under the threat of the Directorship, the totalitarian regime that the story implies is all that’s left of the United States. The setting is a Western with hints of science fiction, the landscape a blasted waste where water is at a premium and the Directorship’s goons have a free reign to go where they want and kill who they don’t like. Andy is a character aware of the direction her life has gone, aware that she probably doesn’t have much time left, despite the fact that she’s twenty-two. And the story certainly sells the fact that at twenty-two she’s already old in many ways, has already lost loved ones and most of her prospects, has lost her hope of retirement and the dreams of greener pastures. Really she’s lost everything but the mission, and it’s not exactly one that pays well. But she does it because there are so few checks on the Directorship, and the one thing that might be able to ship things is an organized public, and nothing’s going to do that quite like the truth. Like seeing what the Directorship is up to. I love that as a setup and a mission, and the aesthetic is fun, the flow and language evoking outlaws and lawmen, only with the whole dynamic of that flipped, with those wearing the badges the criminals and those running free some of the few with a care about what’s right. It’s short but it manages to fit an awful lot in and it closes out the issue with the smell of gunpowder and the sound of hope under fire. A great read!