Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Fusion Fragment, Diabolical Plots, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Fusion Fragment 12/22
Diabolical Plots 12/22
Beneath Ceaseless Skies 12/1/22, 12/15/22

Fusion Fragment’s last issue of 2022 brings a mix of genres and styles, with a decidedly grim and slightly dystopian feel to it. That re­ally coalesces in Owen Leddy’s ‘‘Lifeblood’’, in which a blood heist goes rather wrong for Joel, who is desperate to find a way to save his partner. Aching and not afraid to use some emotional heavy artillery, the story sets Joel as a reasonable person in an unreasonable situation thanks to inequality and healthcare being reserved for the very wealthy. With a bit of illegal phlebotomy he might be able to even the playing field a bit, but things go wrong early and often when he and a small team decide to get the antibodies they need to save people from the living body of a famous pop star. Fast and rather furiously paced, Leddy keeps the story moving like a runaway train on its way to a devastating end. The issue does pull back a bit from doom and gloom, though, ending on ‘‘The Day the Birds Flew Home’’ by Jo Miles. It’s another story that recognizes the harm that humans can do, showing the survivors from Earth made refugees on the Moon. But there’s hope, and people are readying to return to their home planet as the narra­tor walks with her mother and her daughter to watch the launch of the first ship back. Amid all the science, though, there’s a touch of magic in the form of a kind of fairy tale about the birds flying through space to the moon to show humanity the way to safety. It’s a tale the narrator is bitter about, having be­lieved for so long before learning ‘‘the truth’’ about how science works, but it might also hold a truth that speaks to the impossible made real and the rising hope that despite everything, not everything is lost or ruined. Miles weaves a beautiful generational story about resilience, healing, and family.

Diabolical Plots returns to recipes and prim­ers for its last issue of the year, and as always I’m a soft touch for speculative cooking stories. Leonard Richardson offers up one such in ‘‘When There Is Sugar’’, which finds Berl running a bakery in the aftermath of a war, with a missing child and a deep hurt that the arrival of a free decommissioned military oven doesn’t promise to soothe. The oven is magical, but it’s also a piece of military technology, not exactly used to the kind of cooking that Berl does. Together, though, the two find ways to help each other, and recap­ture something from a conflict that cost so many so much. Richardson does steady work in letting the emotions rise in the warmth of the story, layering in flavors of loss and grief but ending with a strong sense of resilience and care that’s worth savoring.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies tried something new to open up December, with an issue full of gods and religions, about being chosen and choosing one’s fate. It wasn’t the themes that were unusual, though – rather, it was that the issue had five stories, all of which were on the short end of what the publication normally puts out. Taken together, they offer a char­cuterie of fantasy full of interesting worlds, magics, and characters. In Marie Vibbert’s ‘‘Forgotten Eyes’’, the narrator is a member of a colonized people whose language has been taken and suppressed, whose religion seems vague in the face of the gods of the colonizers, who walk the streets in radiant visages and who personally answer the sum­mons of the faithful. When the narrator, frus­trated and frayed, decides to summon one herself, it’s not with the expectation she’ll get an answer. But she does. And Vibbert takes on a complex and thorny issue with care and insight, revealing how memory and identity can be their own kind of magic, their own kind of power even for those others have tried to render powerless. In the second issue of the month, focusing more on found family and domesticity, Laine Perez tells a story of survival and care in ‘‘On the Way Home’’. The piece unfolds in a small town where a young woman, an old man, and a little bot all find their worlds changed following the death of a woman who was different things to each of them – a mother, a friend and connection to a distant culture, a goal to aspire towards. In the absence that opens up in each of their lives, though, they find that something new is growing. Perez explores how each is careful of overstepping, almost to the point where they risk losing each other entirely. Because there is respecting space and consent, and then there is hesitating too much and failing to reach out when help is wanted and needed. It’s something that the story examines with piercing insight.

Recommended Stories
“A Shoreline of Oil and Infinity”, Renan Bernardo (Escape Pod 11/22)
“B-ing”, Crystal Odelle (Strange Horizons 11/22)
“Last Stand of the E. 12th St. Pirates”, L.D. Lewis (Lightspeed 12/22)
“Lifeblood”, Owen Leddy (Fusion Fragment 12/22)
“A Girl Explodes”, Ruth Joffre (Three-Lobed Burning Eye 12/22)
“Sis’ Bouki: the Hyena Gifts”, Rob Cameron (F&SF 1-2/23)

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 February 2023 issue of Locus.

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