That is, except for the story by Daniel José Older that I reviewed earlier this month. The rest from Tor.com means four more original stories. They are, by and large, on the longer side, but definitely manageable with only one novelette. Great to be read one at a time or, like me, all at once. So here we go!
"A Beautiful Accident" by Peter Orullian (10983 words)
This isn't a terribly long novelette but boy does it seem to feel like it. Not in a bad way, really, but reading about extended torture, both physical and emotional, is just draining, and I did feel a bit drained by the time I got to the end of this. The setting is fascinating, and the culture of the Mal is obviously one that supposed to inspire some revulsion in the reader. A place that tortures all of its citizens, that believes pain unavoidable and so denies the smallest easing of it. I mean, the work is Mal, so it's kind of obvious they're supposed to be "bad." That there is another side to their philosophy is interesting, that there are those among them that believe and who find virtue in that way of life is interesting and a credit to the story. Of course, it doesn't really work to alleviate the problems with the Mal, because if there are ways that people didn't have to suffer and die, then it seems inhumane to take away people's choice in if they want to accept it. And by indoctrinating the children to this, that choice is effectively taken away. So it's a layered story, and well done and well balanced. The relationship between the characters is one of friendship and is well done and refreshing, but I think drawing any conclusions from this story out is fraught. I liked the story over all, though, and for it being a lot about torture means it's done something right.
"And the Burned Moths Remain" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (6275 words)
Another story dealing with a different sort of torture, though this is much more psychological, as a a woman who betrayed her empire is trapped inside a sort of computer, one that doesn't allow her to die, that captures her every memory and creates more and more instances of her. It's an interesting and rather disturbing idea, because the instances are male and female and while they are all her they are also rather distinct. She fights herself, and she holds onto her guilt at having led to the downfall of her people, despite the fact that her people would have let her be destroyed. Her betrayal, though, led to her world being assimilated by an outside power, a power that now wants the last of her secrets, wants the key to the eternal existence that she is stuck in. The prose is elegant but was a little difficult for me to decipher at times. I think I understood all that was going on but I feel that I missed something near the end. This is another story filled with pain that just feels longer than it really is. But it has some killer lines and a strong central idea, that forgiveness is a stalk of thorns that just keeps on going, that it's not a destination but something to always be striving toward. And that's a strong, resonant idea that works for this story.
"Damage" by David Levine (7449 words)
Well that one was a lot more fun than the other two stories, and for one centered around death and loss and hopeless war, that's saying something. But there's something charming about the ship main character, programmed to love an ass of a pilot and yet with a core of morality that doesn't allow it to commit the greatest of crimes, doesn't allow it to kill millions of people in a desperate attempt at revenge. And though the action of the story is frantic and harsh, and though there is a lot of loss and death, this is still a triumphant story. The ship manages to escape, finally, manages to be something other than a tool of war. And that is something to hope for. I liked that this was a war the main character was on the "wrong" side of, though perhaps that was a bit heavy-handed, with no real explanation given as to why the two sides were fighting. But the story is fun with some great action and a nice message, that sometimes doing the right thing means giving up the things you love, and that even when you think yourself unequal to a task, sometimes you have to try anyway. Good stuff.
"The Sound of Useless Wings" by Cecil Castellucci (3308 words)
Another funner story despite some rather sad business, this one follows an alien who finds himself an outcast among his people. Smaller and more open to the unknown, to space and all its mysteries, he is excited when he is chosen to move to a new world, and that hope emboldens him to hope for more, to perhaps hope that he can succeed as a member of his people, to get a mate and sire broods. Fortunately or unfortunately, he is taught that it's not to be, and is betrayed by a brother so that he has no choice but to flee. But in that flight he gains what he had always hoped for. It's a strange story, but one that shows how what we want is something we're not always aware of. And while the main character thinks that his life is over when he loses the dream of having a family, instead he finds that he just needed to look elsewhere, just needed to find himself among the stars that he yearned to see. It's a sweet story, a nice way to finish off the month.