Special Double Review
Clancy Weeks & Lillian Csernica
Reviewed by Clancy Weeks
Crossed Genres has a very cool concept when it comes to story submissions. Like many magazines, they have an overarching theme for each issue, but where some choose stories and then decide on a theme to emphasize, others are determined by the editors with little or no discussion. A writer submits a work, and while the writing may be good, it doesn’t fit the unspoken theme of the issue and is rejected. Crossed Genres takes another route—they tell you the theme up front and months in advance, and it’s a practice more magazines should consider. The theme for this issue is “success.”
In this issue, Effie Seiberg gives us a look into the mind of a teenage girl and her desperate quest to be “cool” in the story “RedChip BlueChip.” This is a near-future SF tale of corporate greed and control, where everyone is mandated by the government to submit to being “chipped” on their fifteenth birthday, cementing a preference route for the many products available. One chip influences your buying decisions one way—going so far as to making that path seem natural for you—the other chip takes you a different way. The choice is illustrated initially as a preference of Coke (RedChip) over Pepsi (BlueChip). Mikila’s (our protagonist) overriding need to be cool and accepted by her peers by not choosing either makes it seem like a rail against hipsters in general—people who set themselves apart from the masses by not following the crowd, but who all dress and think alike to fit in with their own group. I felt this could have been explored more as an overall theme for the story, but it never really goes anywhere. Another problem is Mikila’s constant inner monologue about being cool, gaining “cool points,” or being accepted in the cool crowd. No teen ever thinks in these terms—at least not explicitly—and the continual reference to the word grew tiresome rather quickly. Still, it’s a fun read, and while some thematic material was left on the cutting room floor, it wasn’t a waste of time.
“The Tear Collector” by Justin C. Key is a very well done fantasy tale that delves into the nature of emotion. The titular Tear Collector, part of a Guild of collectors (Fear, Screams, Yawns, etc.) is tasked with collecting the outward expressions of emotion in vials to appease the gods. After society outgrew animal and ritualistic sacrifices, the gods decreed simple emotions sufficed as a nominal substitute. Mosaic, the original Tear Collector, was banished from the Guild centuries ago, and the current holder of the title has been sent to collect his tears. There is a bit of mystery and intrigue here that makes for a good story, but it is the theme that matters. Are tears better if they are the result of joy rather than melancholy? What about madness? There is much to ponder over after this read, and Key’s decision to use the Great Depression as a backdrop is a brilliant choice. Definitely worth the read.
Each month, Crossed Genres reserves a slot for new authors to spotlight. This month the author is Clint Monette, and his story, “The Plague Between Us,” is an engaging post-apocalyptic SF tale of persistence. The “boy” and “girl” are clearly much older than their descriptive titles, and there is a strong impression they have been at their task for years, if not decades. A plague has changed Earth’s population in some fundamental way, making it nothing more than host for an intelligent bacterial colony. The boy and girl live in isolation in a building somewhere in a large city, working day and night on a cure. The irony is that the key to their success comes from the one thing the hosts have that the boy and girl do not—intimacy. This is a very good story, as well as a strong first effort for a new author. My hat’s off to Mr. Monette, and I hope to see more in the future.
Clancy Weeks is a composer by training, with over two-dozen published works for wind ensemble and orchestra—his most recent work, “Blue Ice, Warm Seas,” was premiered in Houston on March 28, 2015—and an author only in his fevered imagination. Having read SF/F for nearly fifty years, he figured “What the hell, I can do that,” and has set out to prove that, well… maybe not so much. His first short story, “Zombie Like Me,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Stupefying Stories. He currently resides in Texas, but don’t hold that against him.
Reviewed by Lillian Csernica
“RedChip BlueChip” by Effie Seiberg
It’s Mikila’s fifteenth birthday. That means she gets a wonderful gift from the State: her choice of a red microchip or a blue microchip which will be implanted just behind her ear. The chip is meant to elevate the brain chemistry and enhance enjoyment of preferred brands. Mikila’s mother creates sales strategies for the companies who sell products aimed at either Reds or Blues. Mikila is driven by crippling insecurity and the desperate need to avoid being a “colorsheep” so she can hang on to her precarious membership among the cool kids. Adolescent rebellion, teenage angst, and peer pressure prompt Mikila to accept a fellow rebel’s offer to show her how to escape being manipulated by the microchip.
The science content is enough to make this science fiction, but it’s not enough to make it a compelling story. I didn’t feel much sympathy for Mikila. The story doesn’t give me much detail to make Mikila stand out as an individual. The abrupt “twist” ending isn’t much of a surprise. Oddly enough, it’s where the real story could begin. Mikila has the perfect opportunity to prove herself a genuine rebel by taking action on what happens. The action she does take is disappointing, robbing the story of its potential.
“The Tear Collector” by Justin C. Key
The Tear Collector isn’t making his quota. The Rage Collector, president of the Collectors’ Guild, warns him that the Board is not happy. The gods are not happy. There may be layoffs and cutbacks. The Tear Collector is proud of his work and prefers quality over quantity, but that’s not going to help his job security. Determined to maintain his standards despite the danger to his career and to his life, the Tear Collector asks for a really difficult assignment.
The worldbuilding takes some explaining, but that comes out in dialogue that is dramatized effectively. The Tear Collector’s problem is one that is easy to relate to, so he’s a strong sympathetic protagonist. His dedication to the art of his work is admirable given how hard the Rage Collector tries to give him the easy way out. The climax of the story is both disturbing and surprising, leading to an ending that satisfies the Tear Collector, the gods, and best of all, the reader!
“The Plague Between Us” by Clint Monette
A young man and a young woman hide out in a makeshift dwelling powered by solar panels. The young man does the work of growing, catching and cooking the food while also maintaining the water and power systems. The young woman is hard at work in her lab, creating a vague biochemical solution to a problem that isn’t much clearer.
I have no idea who the young man and young woman are, or who they are to each other. The plague referred to in the title might be what the young man and young woman are hiding from. It might also be what the young woman is creating in order to kill off the “hosts,” which are all that’s left of the people who are no longer human. Most of this story details how the young man and young woman are surviving on a daily basis. There’s not a lot of tension or suspense. That actual application of their planned solution isn’t even shown. There’s a scene break, a time lapse of two months, and then the results show themselves. Not much happens, and then the story ends.