|Art by Jeff Brown|
“After Burning” by Wren Wallis (6475 words)
This story centers war and conflict, faith and profession. It features Almas, who along with her wife and child live in what passes for a medical clinic in the midst of a conflict that is claiming everything. That is destroying the world that Almas knows. And really all she wants to do is her job, is to help people heal, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done. Her place is not in the fighting directly but in the aftermath, and its in that aftermath that the story’s action largely takes place. The war has been long and costly, and finally a new military commander has been sent in to end things. The Wolf. And Almas must struggle with her loathing of what the man does, the violence that he inflicts that she then is tasked in healing, and admiration for his conviction and his kindness. He’s a man of contradictions but in that he reveals the muddied state of everyone in the war, in the conflict, showing that there is no real clean, even if there also must be rules and morals even in the chaos of the fight. The world-building here is strange and dark, revealing a world where the night brings devils out to feed on whoever they can find, where Almas’ people harness the tamed dead to fight for them. The action of the story is mostly concealed, which I really like, really showing what it’s like to not be involved in the fighting itself, but to have it still define your life. And Almas struggles with her own faith, with her own code to try and heal those in need, and I love where the story brings her, the crisis and her reaction to it. Because it shows this strength and this faith in her that what she does is not pointless in the face of war. That if anything it’s more important to treat the wounds she finds, to not give up even in the face of horror. It’s a story soaked in blood and fear, and yet at its heart it’s about hope and the possibility of healing. A fantastic read!
“Two Bodies in Basting Stitch” by Allison Jamieson-Lucy (5205 words)
This story speaks to me of partnership and betrayal and resistance and injustice. Of the way that two people can be linked together, here Sere and her lover Tashet. They are two people separated by profession and station and ideals but linked by love. And the story explores what that might mean for both of them when Sere gets caught by police for being involved with an organized resistance and the weight of her decisions threaten to destroy her and Teshet both. I like the way the story builds up the idea of lacing, where two people join their lives together to get an extended lifespan. Their senses are enhanced. Love literally makes their worlds more vivid and gives them power that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course, if one of them dies, so does the other, and there are all kinds of restrictions with who is allowed to go through with the procedure. For Sere and Tashet, as two women, they aren’t allowed, and that they did it anyway is something of a huge deal, one that could save Sere from execution but at the expense of Teshet’s carrier. And it’s this whole ball of a mess with the injustice of the situation pushing Sere to rebel, to join those working for freedom and justice and equity, while keeping it from Teshet. The story does such a great job of showing people in this relationship and also hiding it, hiding things from each other while also hoping that the other person secretly knows. At least, that aspect spoke so much to me, the way that partners can hold back, hoping that their secret is guessed, thinking in some ways that it must be because they fear discovery, because they fear to just openly say what it is. And it drives something of a wedge between Sere and Teshet, and yet for that I love how the story brings things all back together again, how it finds a path that Sere wasn’t expecting, didn’t dare to expect. It’s a beautiful and well-rendered story with a great sense of depth and a setting that I definitely want to visit again. So definitely check this one out!