Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Black Cat Weekly, Fusion Fragment, and Cast of Wonders

Black Cat Weekly 4/9/22, 4/15/22
Fusion Fragment 5/22
Cast of Wonders 5/22

I’m starting out this month reaching all the way back to April with two issues of Black Cat Weekly. Though primarily a reprint publica­tion, there are occasional originals as well from editor Cynthia Ward. Of the two in these issues, I was a bit more taken by “It Gazes Back” by Jayme Lynn Blaschke & Don Webb, which sets its action in deep space, where the Abyss between stars is a deadly serious threat that only certain humans are able to withstand. Susan is one such, though she’s hidden the fact all her life. When a key member of her ship’s crew dies, however – the man who piloted the ship through the maddening Abyss – she is pulled into the mind-bending role of pilot. Blaschke and Webb do great work exploring the human mind touching on folds of reality that it can’t fully understand, and showing how a desire for wealth and movement might have convinced humanity to overlook a larger predatory hunger in their midst, and stopped them from asking ques­tions about the gift of technology that opened up the stars to them. The story is intense and haunting, and ends with a rather wicked twist that readers should definitely stick around for.

May’s Fusion Fragment offers a wide range of themes and genres, and touches on loneliness, family, and the connections people make to escape, or to stay, in places that are stifling and dangerous. Mark W. Tiedemann touches on these ideas in “A Momentary Treason”, where Amit just wants to find augments that will allow his sister to move to a better place. In a world where augments are incredibly politicized, though, anyone whose body is more than half augmented immediately becomes illegal, an enemy working for the mechanical AI who have fought free of human control. Tiede­mann builds a compelling setting, setting Amit in the middle of a maze of violence, prejudice, and hypocrisy. At turns emotionally wrenching and action-packed, the story pulls no punches as Amit tries to hold to a thin and fragile hope. Adriana C. Grigore crafts a bit more of a contemplative and quiet story with “String Potpourri”, circling around a violin that only seems to play three melodies, regardless of how talented the musician playing it is. Albert is given the instrument by a friend, and through his life he finds that certain loves unlock the melodies – though they’re often keyed to loss as well. Grigore keeps the piece poetic and moving, musically flowing through Albert’s years. The way that the story refuses the familiar tragedies of the fairy tale it brushes against is something that really resonated with me. For all that the story is ripe with yearning and a patience that seems destined for disappointment, there is a joy in it and a power that is undeniable and beautifully accomplished.

Anja Hendrikse Liu’s “The Planned Obso­lescence of the Human Body” is in some ways a very different story – it’s a science fiction work examining the movement of humans to upload their consciousnesses and find a kind of perma­nence, but it links to Grigore’s story through a shared sense of loneliness and connection and a focus on family, chosen family, and transitions. Liu’s story reveals Mo, an artist who managed to find a home, who has escaped a past that didn’t fit them and managed to make peace of a sort with the world. But that peace is shattered when uploading is introduced, as they lose their friends to a place they can’t follow, that would divorce them from their art, they feel, and the ownership of their story. The piece is told through secondary texts – interviews, articles, obituaries – as well as small segments that tie it all together. The whole is an exploration of the fear of death, the corruption of corporeality, the beauty of impermanence, and the role of art and expression in an uploaded world, and it all comes together wonderfully.

May’s Cast of Wonders includes the alt-religious comedy “And I Will Make Thy Name Great” by Louis Evans. In it, a series of would-be central religious figures are approached by the Almighty to take up the mantel of religious (or secular, even, because after a while even deities stop being picky) leader. The humor comes from the way people might… refuse, maintaining their quieter lives in the face of heavenly pressure to do something else, which prompts the question whether that divine mandate is actually “more” or “greater” than what these people otherwise might have done. Evans keeps things light, but it’s still a deep and ponderous story about greatness and the elasticity of history. For all that things are hugely different in this alternate world, they also aren’t, regardless of how specific religions might have risen and fallen. It’s an insightful and clever piece.

Recommended Stories
“It Gazes Back,” Jayme Lynn Blaschke & Don Webb (Black Cat Weekly 4/22)
“The Planned Obsolescence of the Human Body,” Anja Hendrikse Liu (Fusion Fragment 5/22)
“And I Will Make Thy Name Great,” Louis Evans (Cast of Wonder 5/22)

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others, and many are included in his debut collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the series editor of We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and a multiple-time Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When not drunkenly discussing Goosebumps, X-Men comic books, and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably found raising a beer with his husband, Matt, in their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

This review and more like it in the August 2022 issue of Locus.

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