This was a difficult issue to rate because these two stories were to different degrees a little opaque and difficult for me to read and understand. They both rewarded my effort, however, and gave me much to think about, in terms of their content and their craft. I think my mistake was assuming initially that I was reading about human characters, but I think these characters are nonhumans, even when they fit inside human-like exteriors and experience human-like emotions. Once I accepted that, then I could really begin to value these stories and especially the writers’ incredible attention to craft.
While reading “Ebb Stung by the Flow” by E. Catherine Tobler, it at first seemed very abstract and vague. I struggled to understand the perspective and the imagery. It took me several pages to learn how to read the story. When the protagonist finally arrived fully-bodied, I abruptly realized that the writer was using this opacity in the story to help the reader experience the events in an analogous way to the protagonist’s unique experience of them! This is just so cool!
I’m still not entirely sure what is going on in the story (I read elsewhere that BCS has published earlier stories by this writer set in this same strange universe) but the experience of it, the attention to detail, and the elements of craft at work in the piece make it worth recommending. Another element I found fascinating was how the scenes flowed together: there is a surreal, dreamlike quality to the story as it progresses. The protagonist weaves inside and outside of the setting in a lovely way.
I remain a little confused about how the story seems to end where it begins, and this leaves me with questions about what has changed, and if nothing has, exactly what this implies.
It took me a few pages of “Under She Who Devours Suns” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew to realize that I was reading fantasy with elements that may or may not be science fiction. Ultimately, I really love that about this story. The protagonist is not really human, and yet there is something compellingly human about her. The journey she is on is an emotional one, and this story really touched me by the end. There is some ambiguity at the end that I liked a lot; I think I understand the outcome, but there is the possibility that I missed something.
Ultimately, I’m rating this issue four stars because despite the difficulty I had reading the stories, they are thought-provoking and vivid and showcase truly amazing craft.