Abby “Merc” Rustad’s story “Queen for a Day” will startle and delight readers. A story of a young woman who gets to be Queen, literally, for a single day, it is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. It is also a marvelously designed tale of a character who has suffered too much injustice in life finally finding a breathtaking way to set things right. Merc is an up-and-coming writer with one of the darkest senses of irony and sharpest senses of humor that I have read in recent memory. Regular M-Brane readers will remember her story “Unpermitted” in issue #2, and she has also had recent publications with Dunesteef and elsewhere. For more information on Merc, follow her entertaining blog.
A couple of weeks ago when I was deciding the order of the table of contents, I decided that I wanted to end the book in a way that would take the reader to a world whose atmosphere and sense of wonder would linger long after reading the story. Things We Are Not will conclude with Alex Jeffers's beautiful novella “Composition with Barbarian and Animal.” It is one of two reprints in this collection, having appeared in a different form, in Silverberg and Haber’s Universe 3 in 1994. From the first line, the reader is pulled into a lushly textured world of strange and highly nuanced social orders, language, religion, personal power and love. Jeffers says that this story may one day be the first segment of a complete novel set in this world. I bet that readers will share my hope that this will indeed happen.
Lisa Shapter offers one of the most deeply subversive stories in the anthology, her “The World in His Throat,” a stand-alone excerpt from a longer novel. Told in a mode that reminded me (for some reason) somewhat of cerebral East European-style sf (think the 1970s Russian-made film version of Lem’s Solaris), it takes on issues of gender roles and reproductive rights in the context of males—military men, no less—needing to bear children as the “mothers” of a new human colony on a distant planet. Without revealing too many “spoilers,” I think readers will find fascinating and perhaps surprising the course of events for the first child of this new world, a boy engineered with the ability to self-impregnate, and the decision he makes for himself.
In “The Offside Trap,” Stephen Gaskell confronts homophobia and the psychological pain of denying who you are in the context of a sports story. Jacksy is a football team captain (that’s “soccer” to those of us in the States) with a strange ability. His personal life and his understanding of himself is upended when a new man joins the team, a man that Jacksy suspects of being a stealth gay and whose very presence comes to be perceived as an attack. Readers who know me personally may raise an eyebrow that I, the epitome of the non-sports fan, even selected a soccer story for this book. Readers will see why I did, however, when they read this one. It is gripping and darkly beautiful, much like (I am told) the game itself can be. Stephen Gaskell is a Clarion grad, a Writers of the Future published finalist and recently appeared in M-Brane SF with his story “Prisoners.”
In a few days, I will post again with some information on a few more writers and their stories.
[Images from top to bottom are of Rustad, Jeffers, Gaskell and Griffiths.]