Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Worlds of Possibility, Baffling, and Cast of Wonders

Worlds of Possibility 10/22
Baffling 10/22
Cast of Wonders 10/14/22, 10/23/22, 10/29/22, 10/31/22

I’m quite happy that Julia Rios is back in an editing chair, and Worlds of Possibility makes for an interesting next chapter for them. As sad as I was to see Mermaids Monthly come to a close at the end of 2021 (and as much as I’m hoping that project will still find a way to return with a new editorial team), Rios reaffirms with this new venture that they’re just really good at picking great fiction. The publication’s second issue is packed with it, and I applaud the issue as a whole for its magic, its humor, and its heart. Y.M. Resnik captures a lot of what I love about the publication so far with “The Chavrusa”, which finds in Mirit, a closeted queer Jewish girl attending a conservative religious school, a character desperate to escape the confines of the future mapped out for her, but still respecting much of the rich history and culture that she’s inherited. And together with Aviva, the girl she’s crushing on, Mirit has to find a way to stay true both to her root and to the truth of her heart. Resnik takes some risks, eschewing what might be the expected romantic trajectory and navigat­ing instead toward a future for the characters that respects their choices and doesn’t diminish the bond they share. There are some wonderful twists, an irresistible charm, and an attention to character that makes for a fantastic read. Eden Royce also focuses on inheritance, family, and learning some difficult truths in “3AM Eternal”. When Mikayla returns home to find her magicless mother missing in a city that gets much more dangerous during the witching hour, she recruits two sister witches to help track her down. What she finds along the way, however, isn’t just what happened to her mom – it’s a larger lesson about accountability and living. Royce does some stun­ning worldbuilding, using the setting as another character, one capricious and yet familiar, with rules that can’t be broken, but that may still be bent. And there’s a warmth that’s captured in the family surrounding Mikayla, both the one that binds her blood and the one that she’s chosen all her own.

Baffling Magazine released a new issue in Octo­ber, and as always there’s an exhilarating diversity of queer-focused speculative fiction. Though the works cover a great deal of thematic ground, and move between speculative genres, they retain a flow, and certain echoes that unite the issue. “What Are We If I Stay” by K.S. Walker, for instance, resonates with grief and loss as Esme mourns the departure of her lover, Georgia, who stepped through a magical door and hasn’t been seen since. Esme struggles with understanding why Georgia left while still cut deep by a sorrow and uncertainty that grow with each day that she doesn’t return. Walker pulls no punches, confront­ing both Esme and readers with a separation that leaves so much incomplete, that doesn’t offer resolution or satisfaction – twisting conventions when it comes to portal fantasies and lingering on the haunting lack of finality Esme is left with. And that feeling echoes into “Despair, Divided” by Tamara Jerée, where instead of a separation, the focus is on a chance encounter between the narrator and Arcane, a god of despair. Arcane’s powers aren’t to heighten despair, though, but to absorb them, to give pleasure as only ve can. Jerée crafts a sensual experience ripe with contradic­tions, where god and mortal awaken something in each other that, even surrounded by a corrupt and unjust world, cannot be denied or destroyed. And there’s an electric crack to the prose, a tenderness and a power to this shared moment, this encounter that cuts through so much loneliness and pain. It’s a wonderful piece, and cannily situated in the issue as a whole.

October was another busy month at Cast of Wonders as well, which released five originals. Marguerite Sheffer’s “A Full Set of Specials” finds Elsie working in a salon for a relative, get­ting some early work experience but mostly just waiting to be out of there. In a city beset by hur­ricanes and damage, though, what begins as a kind of boredom turns to understanding as she sees the magic the salon offers – the specials that aren’t for just anyone. But for Juliette, a girl about her age who has lost almost everything in the most recent storm, the specials are a needed magic of resil­ience, of luck and strength and love and wealth, that make even the most daunting problems seem suddenly manageable. And Elsie begins to better see and appreciate the fabric of the city around her, and how she might fit into it. Jasinta Jim Langer also mixes heavy themes with a sense of kindness and warmth in “The Whipping Bot”. The whipping bot is the accepted outlet for bully­ing and prejudice, a preferred victim over having any human child fill the role. For Alej, though, the whipping bot’s plight is still an injustice, and they try to reach through the expected violence and abuse in friendship. Langer captures the ca­sual cruelty and viciousness of children clearly, but doesn’t stop there. Rather, the story comes to show how, as terrible as hate can be, empathy and kindness are just as natural in children, and even more powerful.

Recommended Stories:
“The Chavrusa”, Y.M. Resnik (Worlds of Possibility 10/22)
“Despair, Divided”, Tamara Jerée (Baffling 10/22)

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 January 2023 issue of Locus.

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