Caroline M. Yoachim has created a moving, melancholy, and ultimately hopeful story set in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Yoachim follows the lives of five interconnected people as they come to terms with sporefall—aliens attempted terraforming of Earth. We are given glimpses of the new world, filtered through the survivors stories. Mention is made of ruined cities and caravans and one of the characters is intimately involved with alien negotiations. The frog-like aliens themselves are intriguing and just outside human comprehension. The ‘invasion’ is only hinted at as the story is more interested in a meditation on grief.
Joseph Tomaras’ Bonfires in Anacostia is a near-future story of surveillance, repressed desires, cover-ups, and murder. Tomaras uses unusual points of view, such as surveillance cameras and even a futuristic table that listens and records, to emphasize the paranoia and draconian watchfulness of the world. References to current events as history help ground it in the possibilities of the present day. The characters, however, were not particularly engaging, and ultimately the story was an interesting and thought-provoking exercise but it never grabbed me.
Kat Howard’s story is a meditation of faith, human nature, and the nature of miracles. Joan is a desperate young woman, who in a moment of weakness makes a prayer to the Saint of Sidewalks. She asks only for a miracle, and the result is not at all what she expected. Howard uses Joan’s experiences to examine what makes someone a saint, and why humans need to believe. Off-kilter and strange, the story nevertheless feels true. The highlight of the issue.
James Patrick Kelley’s The Rose Witch is a dark and lyrical fairytale. Julianja was a great witch’s most promising apprentice, the only one allowed to tend the magic garden. The witch’s last charm ties Julianja to the quest of a strange man burdened by the curse of his ancestors. The resulting story is a note perfect character piece, full of depths, magic, and the power of choice.
Naomi Novik is probably most known for her Temeraire Series, essentially the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. This story, however, is the first piece I’ve actually read by her. It is a sci-fi story of clashing cultures and war crimes. The narrator recounts her history years later heavy with guilt, having paid the penalty for her crimes. The story’s greatest strength is world building, particularly of the alien Melidans with hints of larger galactic politics. It was occasionally rushed, and I was never quite able to connect with the characters, but it was well plotted and enjoyable.
Ian R. Macleod’s Nevermore is a tale of broken dreams, art and faded love in a utopian future of virtual reality. The world has become a sea of virtual realities, of ghosts uploaded and eternal. Virtual reality has become so commonplace that what we call reality is now “foreal” and reality means the virtual. Gustav is an artist, his days of greatness and relevance long behind him, who struggles to find meaning in art and in foreal. This is a meditation on what value art would have in such a world, and on what drives the artist.