Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Diabolical Plots, GigaNotoSaurus, Escape Pod and Cast of Wonders
Diabolical Plots 2/23
Escape Pod 2/5/23
Cast of Wonders 2/1/23
February’s Diabolical Plots features two stories where the lines between the human and supernatural worlds touch and ideals of perfection must give way to the beauty and magic of being able to make mistakes. It’s not an easy thing, though, especially for a goddess, as in Anja Hendrikse Liu’s “The Monologue of a Moon Goddess in the Palace of Pervasive Cold”. In it, a goddess has to suffer through the formality and demands of a festival meant to honor her and, perhaps more tangibly important, give her enough sustenance to get her through the coming year. Tributes are drying up, though, and the pain of the pageantry of the festival makes the goddess question her obligations and traditions. Liu does a great job of showing how passion can become lost in the need to survive, turning what was once joy and freedom into a cage – the key to which might be finding a way back to something authentic and vulnerable.
Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga brings readers on a tour of an alien world in “Fell Our Selves” in the February GigaNotoSaurus. And it’s alien not just because it’s definitely not Earth, but because for both of the main characters, Dustin and Akesa, the world isn’t quite home, despite for Dustin at least it being the place he was raised. He acts as guide and mechanic for Akesa, a visitor recreating a journey her father took, but he is still caught between worlds and between peoples, angry and insecure. Niyonsenga returns again and again to the idea of shapeshifting, from the ship that the pair fly to the creatures they find in the wilderness, to the very political situation of the planet itself, always coming back to the ways things change and the ways they don’t. It’s a complex and rewarding story with vivid worldbuilding and careful character work.
At Escape Pod, February brought “Common Speech” by Elise Stephens, a stirring tale about Jai, a linguist on a world humans are trying to colonize despite there being a sentient species already there – a plant-like people who turn out to be resistant to a disease the humans hadn’t known about before touching down. Now that the disease is likely to wipe them out, the humans have turned to trying to find relief from these plant-beings… and they aren’t exactly asking nicely. Stephens follows how violation and coercion only deepen the tragedy unfolding, finding in Jai someone willing perhaps to believe in the power of language and understanding to solve problems and maybe stop even greater injustices and violence from spilling out over the planet. It’s a great read!
February’s Cast of Wonders explores identity, family, and freedom in Riley Tao’s “Both Hope and Breath”. In it, Laiara has been living in the stifling atmosphere of their family home – with a father who can only seem to find fault with the person he sees as his son – while also languishing under the weight of having a fairly unremarkable aspiration, which in this setting is a physical gaseous by-product that people create. When a friend helps them start to embody who they truly are, though, more than just their wardrobe starts to change, and Tao captures the tension, beauty, and revelation of that moment, and its fallout, with care and skill.
“Fell Our Selves”, Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga (GigaNotoSaurus 2/23)
“Common Speech”, Elise Stephens (Escape Pod 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 April 2023 issue of Locus.
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