|Art by Kathleen Jennings|
"Trigger" by Courtney Alameda (9083 words)
There is definitely a fun to this story that makes it an entertaining read. About Micheline Helsing, heir of two different kinds of undead hunting families, it feels very much like a heart-pumping video game, down to the use of classic Dracula-inspired names for the various families and titles used by this undead-hunting organization. Micheline is still in school, still only fifteen, but already taking on the legacy of her father, the head Helsing, the commander-in-chief of the entire organization. She's got eyes that can see the auras of the dead and training and resolve that makes her someone you don't want to mess with. She's also got family issues and a desperate need not to let her parents down. As I said, this story reminds me of a video game, in part because the mechanics of the story feel a little like design elements to a game. Being able to see the aura of the undead feels like a way of giving the player that glowing target. These are enemies, the move seems to say, and it works very well for the story, for the setting. And it works because the story does capture that visceral feel of being in a game, of being the character firing the shots, trying to take down the monster. There is also nuance, though, and some good sense of mystery. There are things going on with the family, with Micheline's mother, that are a little suspicious, and I'm curious to see where that might go. There's also a lingering question of Micheline's drive, of questioning at what point is her drive to live up to her family's name too much. She's the one who forces the confrontation that kills a great number of people. She "win" in the video game sense, but there is also a feeling that she's dangerous, not just to the undead but to the people she's trying to protect. It's a fun and complex story and one fans of Resident Evil or Helsing should definitely check out.
"Waters of Versailles" by Kelly Robson (19323 words)
This story opens right at the...climax. Okay, okay, I couldn't resist that one. Seriously, though, this is a historical fantasy set in Versailles at the height of French decadence. It is kind of amazing, what with the court etiquette and the vying for power and the sex and perfume and the toilets. Because the story is also about plumbing and is just incredibly good at taking something so basic by today's standards and making it seem magical. Making it actually magic, in fact, because the way that Sylvain, the main character, gets water pumping through Versailles is by the use of a water creature that looks like a little girl. Sylvain is a great name for the character, too, on the one hand very natural, evoking a forest and trees and on the other hand it has that vain in it, the vanity that Sylvain sort of embodies with his trying to better himself, with trying to one up everyone else. There are a few very spot-on conversations that he has throughout with the woman he's been seducing about his nature, and these conversations reveal the conflicted man wanting both to be respected and yet hating the dance of it. Being good at what he does and yet not wanting to have to parade around and be political. I mean, he parades around quite well, but he is not the man he wants people to think he is. He's more sensitive even than he knows, and through it takes him a while to get there, he discovers just what kind of a man he is in the end. It's a fun story and while parts of it can feel a little drawn out, it's definitely a story worth spending some time with figuring out and having some fun with. Did I mention there is a monkey? And toilets? I really cannot undersell the toilets. Go read it!
"The Deepest Rift" by Ruthanna Emrys (7801 words)
This is an interesting story about a group of researchers on an alien world, studying a species of flying mantas that they believe have a language. The group has been working together for a year, and in addition to working together, they all share a love, a bond that they despair might be forced apart with their coming judgement. A proctor is on the way, and they have little to show for their year's time. Still, they work to show their proctor, who turns out to not be quite so adversarial as they feared, that they deserve to stay and work together and not be shipped out to new, separate assignments. The main character is one of the four, a linguist who has a cochlear implant that allows them to hear. The story is incredibly complex and well constructed. There is just so much going on, the world building effective at establishing this whole universe where rationality is something like a religion and where limited resources mean that science teams need to prove their worth. This plus the mantas and the place and the team, each member distinct and interesting. Plus the proctor, who is actually an AI clone of a former scientist who did similar work as the team. There is a lot going on, but I never felt lost while reading, and I loved the relationship between the four people and how everyone fit together. I loved the science and the mantas and the stubborn need to stay together. It's a fun story, and makes me really want to know what happens next. Good times!