|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"All the Colors You Thought Were Kings" by Arkady Martine ( words)
This is an intense story about love and longing, about the stars and about treason and about taking a chance. It features a small group of nearly-adults entering military service. Except one is a clone of the current Empress, and as such (and in true Highlander fashion) there can be only one. They will fight and one will die, and it's expected that the reigning Empress will easily claim victory. Only the clone's friends, the main character Elias and the lower-gened Petros, have a plan to keep that from happening. The story moves and it moves fast, with a voice that is hungry, driven. Desperate for both the stars and for the clone, for Tamar. It is the path he chooses, to want everything, the path that he is designed to want, to be blindingly loyal and deadly and bold. It is what makes the empire great. It is what makes the empire terrible. There is a sense throughout that regardless of what happens, it all might fall apart. That in some ways, with everyone having the same genes, that they are the same people. And yet the characters prove that a lie, prove by their loyalty and love of each other. By the way they refuse to back down. There is the danger that the power, that the ambition, that all of it will get in the way. But there is also a hope that, maybe, if they stick together, they can do something good. Probably also something violent and maybe something foolish, but the story shows the devotion well and how ambiguous a blessing it can be. It's a fast, fun story, full of stars and blood and longing, and it's very good. Go read it!
"Suicide Bots" by Bentley A. Reese ( words)
This is a frantic and rather disturbing story about a group of robots hastily and poorly built and sent to rob a bank. The world building of the story is interesting, strange—robots are beginning to be truly sentient, beginning to be people, and the world is slow to move. And the main characters are…well, they're designed to be flawed, to be a bit mad, a bit unstable. So that they can rob a bank. So that they can benefit their master. There are elements of mad science here, the monsters alive and unsure and knowing only that they've been designed to suffer and die. And deciding, ultimately, that they don't really want to. The action of the piece is constant, bloody, and rather unsettling. But also well done. That the robots are unfinished, only kind-of feeling, that they can't tell the difference between laughing and crying, is pulled off to good effect, and it does confront the reader with the morality of the situation. Are these sentient creatures? What is the best course of action to take with them. They are criminals, but how much of that is on them and how much on their creator. It all swirls around in blood and in speed and the ending doesn't offer a lot of answers, instead lets the questions linger, lets the harrowing images stand in place of any attempt to wrap the actions of the characters in a neat bow of right and wrong. A difficult piece at times, but worth spending some time with I think.
"Define Symbiont" by Rich Larson ( words)
So it turns out pretty much all the May stories in this issue are rather strange and heartbreaking. But this last one is probably the most wrenchingly sad, told around a loss and an emptiness that cannot be filled. About a woman, a soldier, whose become a prisoner of her exo suit. Who is kept alive and abused in a constant state of wishing for release. Lost in memories of happier times. The story explores the wounds that Pilar, the main character, has suffered, but also the wounds she has inflicted, especially surrounding her lover, Rocio. [SPOILERS FROM HERE] And I like that the story looks at abuse in a relationship, the way that Pilar's treatment of Rocio in some ways is mirrored in how Pilar is treated by the exo, the way that she teaches the exo, essentially, from Rocio's memories and Pilar's own desperation not to be left behind and not to let Rocio go. The story is dense and it is sad, muddy in its anger and longing, another story about (in a way) the monsters we create coming back to haunt us. To torture us. It's about cycles of violence and how memory can be used to erase harm, to gloss over the difficult portions of a relationship, to make it seem more romantic than it is. And the story does a fine job of that, selling the love between Pilar and Rocio before revealing it to be uglier than anticipated, not the redemptive or uplifting love it might have been but the reason why Pilar is trapped, because of how she treated Rocio and couldn't let go. A gripping and visceral story and worth checking out!