The future is frightening, often radically different, sometimes bleak, sometimes hopeful, sometimes both in the beautiful poems and short fiction included in the latest volume of House of Zolo’s Journal of Speculative Literature. What I appreciate most about this anthology is how it complicates my understanding of the dangers of global warming and ecological devastation. Sometimes the end of the world is breathtakingly beautiful, sometimes hope is dangerous, sometimes a single person can make a difference, often they cannot, and through it all, people still live, love, hope, suffer, or die. There are no polemics here, only sharp insights offered by poets and writers observing the human condition.
To me, the poems in this anthology work between fiction pieces as a kind of heartbeat, and also as reminders, gut punches, pauses, even palette cleansers. I appreciate the deft and occasionally surreal settings and images in “Taggers of the Stratosphere” and “Untitled Sunset Scifaiku” by Russell Nichols. Virginia Boudreau consistently and succinctly captures in poetry horrifying near-futures, as in “Gulls Dreaming,” “Future Truths,” and “Ask the Fossils.” E. H. Lupton explored the impossible made possible in hopeful, sometimes angry poems like “Reterritorialization,” “Permanence,” and “Migration.” “The Ticket” by J. Federle is “in a tin box / in the attic of the house / your grandmother left you” and it allows you entry to see a rare treasure that might sustain you, or leave you even more heartbroken, in this beautiful elegiac poem. “Five Women in a Cramped Shuttle” by the same poet seek a new home, a new dream, in this powerful poem I experienced as hopeful, if potentially bittersweet.
Like the poetry, the fiction is immersive, dropping me into hellscapes, near-future settings, and other locales of hope and no hope. “The Space Ark” by JD Blackrose is a terrible warning for whoever comes next about the consequences of devastating the Earth, but before that, filling the ark is lonely, heartbreaking, maddening work in this elegiac short story. “Every Day is a Day for All of Us” by Joe Baumann features new love against the backdrop of ecological devastation and radical solutions, and is the kind of fiction I wish I’d been able to find when I was young, but grateful to find now. It also features Mars, my day job! “How Many Centuries” by Will Isenberg brought me to tears at the end with a fantastic reveal carefully concealed earlier by excellent craft and form (decrypted messages.) This is fast-paced apocalyptic fiction grounded in earned emotion and astonishing hope. “Atlantis, Iowa” by Jim O’Loughlin is fantastic flash fiction in an incredible setting with a terrific ending. I don’t want to spoil a word, but it lives up to its title and then some. “Sunburn” by Benjamin Hewett hits the accelerator and doesn’t let up until the touching, hopeful ending. Several cool scifi tech ideas in this one! “Her Place on the Horizon” by Jeanne Panek sets compelling family revelations and drama against the backdrop of radical change as humanity grapple with ecological devastation.
I could go on and on, listing all the poems and all the short stories, because they all moved me, provoked me, made me think, filled me with terror or hope or both. There isn’t a bad piece in this anthology. Volume 3 of House of Zolo’s Journal of Speculative Literature is a volume I plan to return to in a few years, the planet further along on its dangerous trajectory, humanity a little further along in our fall or our redemption.
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