Expanded Horizons #27 by Jessica Barnes
This issue features four female authors, three of whom are Indian, and one who is from the Philippines. Though there are only four stories, they cover such varied topics as transdimensional portals, mermaids, the Indian goddess of destruction, and space travel. The offerings of Filipina Eliza Victoria and Keyan Bowes are flavored with tragedy, Neesha Meminger’s “Daughters of Kali” reads like a modern folktale, and Devyani Borade ends the issue on a light-hearted note that celebrates imagination.
In “Intersections,” by Eliza Victoria, two friends, Isaac and Jacob, are trapped in a different version of their own world after accidentally going through a portal. They studied portals in their world and developed a way to predict them, and as they fake their way through new lives in this new world (a world where Isaac exists but Jacob doesn’t), they try to predict when another portal will happen so they can go home. The story starts in the present, then goes back to the beginning of their predicament and works its way forward, but once it reaches the present again, it’s unclear if we’re now before or after the beginning of the story. They don’t quite seem to line up. The story is about being stuck, about waiting and fighting despair, and the story structure reflects that by not having any forward plot momentum once the flashback catches up to the present. It’s just as stuck as Jacob and Isaac. While this makes sense from an stylistic point-of-view, it’s somewhat unsatisfying for the reader, as we’re stuck in the same limbo as the characters, with no resolution in sight.
“The Mermaid’s Eldest Sister,” by Keyan Bowes, is a continuation of the Little Mermaid. Adel is the son of the Little Mermaid, and he meets his mermaid aunt at the edge of the sea in order to learn the truth about his mother. Her story, told to Adel by his aunt, is essentially a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, condensed and verbalized, and takes up the majority of the plot. When it is complete, Adel is given the same choice as his mother—and makes the same decision. The idea of this story could easily be fleshed out into a much longer format, and so it feels rushed and undervalued here, as if it deserved more. Adel’s choice comes easily to him; there’s no real deliberation or conflict on his part. His answer is immediate and firm. While this underlies his good nature, it pulls the last wind out of the story’s sails. It starts with such promise, the flush of recognition of a childhood staple brushed off and given new life, but once Adel’s sister rises out of the ocean (and this doesn’t seem nearly as impactful for Adel as you’d expect it to be), everything feels … flat. The majority of the story is simply reminding the reader of the details of the Andersen tale, and new, original plot is relegated to a short, almost tension-free segment at the end.
In “Daughters of Kali,” by Neesha Meminger, a young girl is sent from her village to that of her new husband with only a warning from her mother to “rein it in.” What she must rein in, the girl—who remains nameless throughout the story—doesn’t know. Her new home life is rough—though she loves her husband, he is gone for months at a time to do his job, and his blind old aunt and brother are cruel and heartless. Her husband does not stand up for her the way she desires, and she misses the freedom and independence of her village and family. Her rage against her in-laws and even her husband slowly builds, until it finally takes over when her brother-in-law threatens her unborn daughter and the protagonist becomes cloud and smoke, a spirit rather than a woman. It is then that she learns what her mother warned her against: who she truly is. The title of his story kind of gives away the ending, but it also works to add satisfaction, if not surprise, to the reader’s anticipation, as they wait for her nature to kick in. Kali is the goddess of destruction, “the divine combination of love and rage,” who destroys “only in the name of creation.” The story’s voice fits its setting very well, with an oral storytelling feel, and the only drawback is that after we discover the girl’s secret, we don’t get to see her return to her home and put her new knowledge to use—defending herself against her brother-in-law and putting the old aunt in her place. We can assume these things happen, but it would have been fun to see it.
The final story in the collection, “Cosmic Cacoethes,” by Devyani Borade, reads like a Calvin & Hobbes Sunday comic, one of the adventures of Spaceman Spiff. It’s a young girl’s imaginative, more than a little silly, jaunt through space via her ladybug-like spaceship, ASpaceship. On her quick trip to space before dinner, she has tea with the Man in the Moon, admires Orion’s latest catch, and then heads to Mars, which is purple, not red. Everything on Mars is purple, the girl informs us, and everything has the same name. “There seems to be some sort of fierce sentiment amongst all Martians regarding equality and such-like.” Our young heroine even saves the earth from alien invasion using only the spinach she nicked from the kitchen before she left. The voice is casual and colloquial, like the chatty young girl whose story it tells, and the story as a whole has an improvised feel. It’s the kind of thing you could expect to hear a space-obsessed girl shout to her friend as they race around the backyard in cardboard spaceships. An ode to the imagination of children, to the romance and fascination of space, to the days when all we needed to have a grand adventure were our own minds and maybe a simple prop or two, “Cosmic Cacoethes” makes you smile from start to finish.
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