My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Both stories in issue #203 of BCS deal with transformation, gender, and the strict roles of women and men in two very different societies and two very different settings. Both writers paint their worlds so vividly, and there are additional parallels between the two worlds that makes for a satisfying pairing. Both stories take place in urban centers; there are pathways through these cities that seem to be always in motion; both societies have beliefs that turn out to be false; the allowed relationships are inclusive (compared, for example, to our real world) but exclusion exists at other intersections in these societies; and the protagonists are often most in danger from those closest to them.
The protagonist and inciting incident in “Fire in the Haze” by Mishell Baker are immediately fascinating. Baker imbues the story with both human and non-human perspectives that I really love to read in speculative fiction. The end, though, is what really made me love the story; it’s incredibly satisfying emotionally, with just enough ambiguity to excite a couple possible readings. The story stays very close to the protagonist even as implications related to what they discover begin to reshape the larger world in the background. I really appreciated the writer hinting at ramifications while sticking close to the protagonist.
“The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles” by Rachael K. Jones sets the protagonist on a similar journey as the first story, in a world that is entirely different. This is a world in constant motion with the titular reptiles always underfoot or in the process of emerging. That works well as a background to the protagonist’s plight. Most unique about the story in my opinion are the relationships and how these lead to complexities related to companionship and parenthood.