Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, December 2017
“Watchers” by David A. Gray
Reviewed by Colleen Chen
“Watchers,” by David A. Gray, was a pleasant surprise after I initially couldn’t understand a thing for several paragraphs. Then I stopped trying so hard and allowed unknown words to define themselves in a visual panorama of a future world that parallels our current one—just the same in its emotions and motivations, but so much more with the technology. I felt, as a reader, that I had become one of the many “shadows” that followed along on the cybernetic feed of protagonist Husker’s expert mind. I saw her navigate the world in a Flask body, surfing through input from the thoughts and emotions in the Mesh and protecting it from the criminal acts of both individuals and the Anti-Mesh Corporation.
The story follows one night on a shift with the top-ten-rated Husker and her “ratings rat” partner Murphy. She flies around, joining the mind of a man dying from a car accident, tagging suspicious people for watching by her many shadows, constantly searching for patterns that might indicate something off in the Mesh. She locates one suspicious Flasked individual and discovers a combat-ready Anti-Mesh Corporation person who is prepared to wipe out the minds of both herself and her growing viewership of shadows. Fighting ensues and ratings soar on another exciting night on shift.
This story is a good metaphor for how social media works, with the complex interplay, the ebbs and flows of the emotional drives of the mass mind. It also features artwork from three artists, each a different interpretation of the visuals of the story, but all of which contribute to a neat package of entertainment and storytelling that provokes thought about both how we might change in the future, and how we probably won’t.
“Revolution Days,” by Gary Kloster, is a coming-of-age fantasy set in a magical alternate Chinese history. Xin is 16 years old, a dedicated and loyal servant of Prosperity House, where she spends her days in meditation, which allows the growing strands of her hair to collect magic for later harvesting. Xin’s innocence is destroyed the day she is taken by a sorcerer who serves the Common Path and her hair-power is used by the sorcerer to seal and scar the wounds of the traitor Hsun, whose eyes, ears, thumbs, toes, and genitals have been sliced away, among other things.
Xin, given the job of tending the blind and deaf Hsun, begins to learn that her beliefs and what and who she serves are wrong. As she takes further steps toward the same conclusions that brought Hsun to the traitor’s fate he suffers, she wonders if there are other ways to change the system and create revolution.
The story’s moral and sociopolitical premises are somewhat simplistic, and the characters two-dimensional, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing—it reads like typical young adult fare, which turns melodrama into an art form and a guilty pleasure. It would be a page-turner if it weren’t on a website. I’m also finding that the pictures that accompany the pieces in this zine add to the enjoyment of each piece, and this story’s art is no exception.