In this issue, as often happens, there were some surprising congruences among the ten featured openings, though each was chosen entirely on its own merits. For me these chance similarities highlight the vast range of theme and style that fiction offers, by demonstrating how the same elements can be used in dramatically different ways.
Two of the openings take place in America in the 1970s, and in each one a parent of the protagonist has recently died. In SHATTERPROOF GLASS, by Ann Faison, a teenage girl is devastated by her mother’s death; on an evening when the lights go out all over Manhattan, she contemplates a world she has known all her life, grown suddenly unfamiliar. Before that, however, a Prologue set four years later foreshadows the transformative friendship that will ultimately, and painfully, pull her into a new stage of life. In RAZED, by Thatcher Carter, the protagonist has reached adulthood, but the death of her estranged father in upstate New York—and his high-society funeral, where she feels like an outcast—brings back a host of disturbing earlier memories. Supported by a woman who is her partner in both business and love, she must uncover and face the ramifications of her family’s past actions.
Two of the openings are historical novels, taking place in 15th-century Italy and the Levant in the 12th century. These settings are very different, yet both openings feature ailing protagonists who drift in an out of consciousness, rescued by figures who, to the protagonists, are profoundly alien. In Virginia Crow’s POISONED PILGRIMAGE, a young man from Wales journeys to Italy in the hope of a miraculous cure for his affliction. He faints outside of Florence and is rescued by an idealistic, domineering monk named Girolamo Savonarola—soon to become one of the most influential figures in Italian history. Cher Holt-Fortin, in THE SCALPEL AND THE PEN, introduces a Welsh knight wounded in the bloody Battle of Hattin, which took place in 1152 between European Crusaders and Saladin’s Muslim army. An Arabic physician takes him in and introduces him to his sister—who has also studied medicine, to the knight’s astonishment.
Speculative fiction about the ravages of climate change is becoming ever more pertinent, and two of this issue’s openings fall into this category. Both concern humanity’s relationship with the natural world and our connections to plants and animals. In 108, by Dheepa R. Maturi, a journalist in near-future San Francisco, a city plagued by drought and wildfires, inexplicably finds herself transported to a forest in India where she grew up. Even more puzzling, she is physically connected to this forest, which is being devastated by a terrifying scourge. Reconciling these two endangered worlds becomes her urgent goal. In ARCHITECTS OF A BETTER EXISTENCE, by Jessica Bryant Klagmann, an Alaskan researcher whose job is to track caribou in a rapidly changing landscape must also figure out what’s happening to her deteriorating botanist father, who has delved into the connections between humans and plants and discovered a secret with potentially world-altering consequences.
Two of the issue’s openings play with time and immortality, pondering the repercussions if humans could find a way to live forever or—a variant on the same concept—to travel in time. In VITA, by Rachel Klein, a man in the 22nd century must venture into the frightening city of Old Venice, outside the world’s connected zone, to find his son, who, unlike him, has rejected the world’s use of Aeterna, a treatment that allows humans to live forever, in favor of anti-tech subversion. V. J. Knipe, in HER BORROWED GRAVE, tackles the same problem from the opposite direction, so to speak, by posing the question of what would happen if two people from Britain’s 6th century were magically kept alive for centuries and then awakened in present-day York, to the bewilderment of the city’s modern inhabitants and the consternation of its forensic scientists.
Two of this issue’s openings explore the fracturing of reality by focusing on trauma—though they approach the subject from very different perspectives and in very different settings. In DIMITRI AND THE WORM, Malcolm Chang tackles the controversial real-life figure of Dimitri Tsafendas, who in 1966 assassinated South Africa’s Prime Minister, the architect of Apartheid. Delving into Dimitri’s troubled childhood in Egypt, Chang shows the far-reaching effects of parental neglect and untreated mental illness on an outsider who can’t find help. Lynne Cook, in THE SHACK, addresses what has become for Australians an all-too-common phenomenon: the missing child. Her protagonist, a woman who has married into an abrasive and ever-increasing family, feels deeply reluctant to have a child, in part because she can’t escape the trauma of her past, when her younger sister vanished from a crowded beach, never to return.
As I wrote this Introduction I kept spotting more similarities among these ten openings, but to discuss them all would be to reveal too much. I hope that readers will enjoy discovering for themselves all the shared themes and striking contrasts within this collection of transporting tales!
— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor
Table of Contents
RAZED – Thatcher Carter
DIMITRI AND THE WORM – Malcolm Chang
THE SHACK – Lynne Cook
POISONED PILGRIMAGE – Virginia Crow
SHATTERPROOF GLASS – Ann Faison
THE SCALPEL AND THE PEN – Cher Holt-Fortin
ARCHITECTS OF A BETTER EXISTENCE – Jessica Bryant Klagmann
VITA – Rachel Klein
HER BORROWED GRAVE – V. J. Knipe
108 – Dheepa R. Maturi