Submitting to Crossed Genres is an interesting exercise in interpretation and limiting one’s creativity – every month, there is a theme, and submissions should fit the theme of any given month. The themes are interpreted in a variety of ways, so it’s pretty exciting to see what comes out of any given theme. A small semi-pro magazine, Crossed Genres has accrued a reputation for good speculative fiction, and this second year is celebrated with the release of an anthology.
If you’ve never read any of Crossed Genres, and can’t handle reading fiction online, but would still like to sample Crossed Genres, this anthology is a wonderful collection. The editors, Bart Leib, Kay T. Holt and Kelly Jennings, have pulled together 12 stories from Issues 13 to 24, with a lovely cover from Brittany Jackson, of a lava lamp that somewhat breaks the rules of being a lava lamp.
Crossed Genres Year Two begins with Kelly Jennings’ action-filled, tense story “Lunch Money,” set in a war-torn secondary world in the midst of revolution, where factions have to bargain for survival. The politics of this setting are complex, and I won’t claim I understand it very well – while the characters are realistic, the details and grouping of characters were blurry.
Some of the stories are set in our contemporary world, with comedic additions, such as “The Seder Guest” by Barbara Krasnoff, a sweet domestic tale in which a Jewish mother nervously wonders about her daughter’s satyr boyfriend, having never heard of the word “satyr” before, or darker elements, like Cat Rambo’s “Centzon Totochin” that explores what and how chupacabras manifest in a little town where there’s not much else to do but drink, with supernatural, violent consequences. Of the two, the former does an excellent job of portraying the hustle that goes into preparing for a festival and the nervousness of meeting a stranger who may or may not meet family expectations. The latter tells the story from the perspective of tourists in a foreign land that they have no desire to get to know, and much later, gives them less reason to stay.
Still recognizably inspired by our world are “High School 3000” by Timothy Miller and “The Last Rickshaw” by Stephanie Lai. The former is set in a futuristic high school where students literally fight and kill each other to get through, and Miller gives us characters most North Americans who have attended some hoity-toity prep school can possibly identity with. (The rest of us plebes can still identify with it somewhat, since North American culture doesn’t let us off the hook.) The theme is “anti-hero,” which I’m indifferent towards in the first place, but Miller has detailed, if fantastical, elements that keep the story exciting. Lai’s story is set in an alternate-world where airships float across skies, and the action takes place in Penang, Malaysia, where a mass transit system has been introduced, endangering the livelihoods of local rickshaw drivers and illustrating the tension that comes from modernization.
A bit further afield into science fiction worlds, we have “Yelloween,” Sam Cash’s outer-space tale of a man sent on a wild unicorn hunt of sorts. Cash’s Lou Baylo is not a particularly pleasant man, and his story of being pranked is not particularly compelling, but it’s still a good read. And of course, moving onto stories in which the protagonists aren’t quite human: Polenth Blake’s “Whirligig and Globular” is an almost-otherworldly take on the steampunk theme, where the titular characters are the only creatures alive and wish to create a new companion, but in due process, the chipper Whirligig learns a terrible secret of Globular’s. In “Conflicts,” Timothy Murphy gives us a caregiver cat that learns how to process information beyond the obvious in order to protect its owner and keep her happy, by helping keep her friends safe, even at great cost.
The fantasy spectrum isn’t neglected either. In “The Mongrel Scholar,” Ursula Wood gives us the story in which fairies have become part of the human world, only separated through dreams and nightmares, and the half-fairy protagonist has to live with the prejudice he and his fairy kin face from humans. Through a painful experience with bullies at the behest of a well-intentioned classmate, reminiscent of the bullying that young people of color can face in school, a friendship is formed. Tim Barlow gives us a Bildungsroman of a boy who discovers that his streak of good luck comes at the cost of everyone’s happiness, even his own, in “Luck of the Harvest.” It’s not a particularly new theme, nor even a new story, but the voice is strong and the pathos palpable. And in a beautiful, magical-realistic style, Caleb Jordan Schulz’s “The Vanishing Sea” tells of one man’s solution to prevent the sea from receding further from the shore: plug up the sinkhole. This is a story you’d really have to suspend disbelief for, and it is worth every moment, as Shulz’s storytelling style rolls from scene to scene like waves in the seaside village the story is set in.
I’ve been telling you of the stories out of order, but this last one I’m telling you about is the end of the anthology, and it really is quite an amazing story – Sabrina Vourvoulias’ “Flying With the Dead” gives us a story of one man’s moral dilemma of having to infiltrate Mexican communities to catch illegal immigrants, and what happens when he finds he begins to connect with them on a deeper, personal level, to the point where he wants to save them, and does so with a gift from his long-dead mother. I can’t begin to summarize in a way that does it justice, but it’s filled with the hope and bitterness and fear tied in the issue of illegal immigration, the common and not-so-common humanity of the people involved, and wrapped in a wonderful, winged ending. It doesn’t make the world any better, obviously, but it’s warmth in an otherwise cold place. It’s quite possibly the best place to end the anthology: with ghosts whispering promises.
The editors have clearly had a successful year. Kay T. Holt and Bart Leib recently stepped down as editors, making way for Jaym Gates and Natania Barron. Dec. 10 is also Bart’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Bart!
Crossed Genres Year Two is available in print from Amazon.com or, more interestingly, in an ebook bundle of 7 formats: EPUB, LIT, LRF, MOBI, PDB, PDF and PRC. Or you could trawl through their archives, which is also quite fun.