Crossed Genres #26, February 2015

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Crossed Genres #26, February 2015

“These Eyes Are Not My Own” by Jennifer Nestojko
“Universal Print” by Fonda Lee
“And to the Republic” by Rachel Kolar

Reviewed by Charles Payseur

A wheelchair-bound woman with a genetic disorder discovers that her loving partner has actually been hiding some terrible secrets in Jennifer Nestojko‘s “These Eyes Are Not My Own.” Leah sneaks into her partner’s lab while she is away to a conference in Germany, and finds…herself. Or rather, a walking copy of herself, a copy that has been cured of the disorder that has led to her being in a wheelchair. It is a revelation Leah wasn’t expecting to find, because she is comfortable with who she is, with being in the chair. She might now like it, but she doesn’t see it as a limitation, sees it rather as a part of who she is. Her partner, Sarah, has a different opinion, and is determined to “fix” her, and in so doing creates a duplicate named Rachel to be a new body so that Leah’s mind can have a place to be “whole.” It’s a rather unsettling proposition, because Rachel is sentient and doesn’t want to die, and because Leah doesn’t want to be fixed. So, because she knows Sarah doesn’t understand her, she decides to flee with Rachel, to take control of the situation. It’s a great story about how people can view people with disabilities, either physical or mental, as broken somehow. But that’s a narrative Leah refuses to endorse, so she decides to make her own. Strong work.

Fonda Lee‘s “Universal Print” opens with two friends, Cutter and Strung, stranded on a technologically backward planet following a botched attempt to make a little extra money doing some smuggling. The dynamic between the two men is complex and classic, with Cutter being a jerk, a lazy narcissist, and Strung being a bit too spineless and easily led, making it difficult for him to resist Cutter’s crazy ideas. Partially stranded and fairly sure he will lose his job, Strung has to examine his relationship with Cutter, who obviously cares for little other than his own immediate comfort and amusement. The story is light and full of fun moments, the dynamic of Cutter and Strung giving good humor to the sad situation. When Cutter decides to take his antics to the next level, though, and prints himself a huge amount of the local currency, Strung finally gets tired of being strung along on adventures that always seem to leave him to clean up the mess, and cuts out on the newly repaired ship, leaving Cutter to deal with the consequences of his actions. It’s a cute story, charming in its humor, and fun when placed next to the heavier fare of the rest of the issue.

America is re-imagined as a cross between the country we know and the Roman Empire in the alt-present “And to the Republic” by Rachel Kolar. In this new America, citizens are watched over and can be audited for their loyalty and faith in idols which are kind-of like gods. While the normal Roman set is there, new American gods like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln are worshipped as well as more fringe personalities. But faith is not exactly optional. Non-believers are considered to be terrorists and are put in prison camps. And Lavinia, an agent of the government, wants to protect her sister Antonia from being the next sent to the prison camps. Antonia doesn’t believe, and resists faking it in order to get through her audit, despite the fact that it will effect more than just her future, will put her family at risk. To Lavinia this is petulance, idiocy, but Antonia doesn’t believe and doesn’t want to lie, and eventually takes the only way out she can think of, which is killing herself. It might be a little over the top, but it does question patriotism and loyalty and what one person’s responsibility is to their own beliefs. Like with the Pledge of Allegiance, which the title evokes, the question is whether people who refuse to conform are “bad people.” Should people say the words if they don’t believe, and does it say something about a society that pressures people into lying to keep the freedoms that same society espouses are universal? While there is no force in our country out there hauling people away for failing to stand or recite the Pledge, there are certainly societal pressures to conform, and as news stories continue to pop up about laws and controversies concerning the Pledge in schools, it’s a subject ripe for exploration. It’s an interesting story that I think mostly worked, and it’s worth reading.

Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, and Nightmare Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @ClowderofTwo