Issue 18, April 2023

Issue 18Editor’s Introduction

As I’ve said in many of these introductions, one of the most enjoyable aspects of editing Embark is the range of stories submitted and the variety of authors who contact us. This issue features the work of writers hailing from places as far afield as Kentucky and Kolkata, and showcases characters living everywhere from Korea to Kansas (all these K’s are coincidental!). One of the issue’s authors is a college student, while others have grown children. The novels themselves represent a number of different genres: speculative fiction, cozy mysteries, contemporary dramas, historical fiction.

Some of the openings in this issue take place in possible futures that are all too likely, given the disastrous pace of climate change. In THE DESERT BURNS CLEAN, Breeann Kyte presents us with Raiah and her father, Joe, both researchers on the Gulf coast who are tracking the ocean’s changing ecosystems after drastic political and environmental upheaval, which has also led to an alarming rise in human infertility. As Kyte explains in her Author’s Statement, her aim with this striking novel is to depict scientific work accurately while also acknowledging that large-scale change can be felt most intimately in our own bodies.

Alicia Winter, in BRIDGE TO EDEN, takes us further into the future, to a time when most of humanity has been destroyed and one small remnant lives in a set of ecodomes, nestled in the mountains. To preserve their fragile community, the members of Eden are forbidden to leave their compound, but India, Winter’s main character, is desperate to escape the difficulty of living with her severely depressive mother and breaks the rule to develop a fascinating bond with a herd of wild horses beyond the valley. Her transgression leads to upheaval within Eden and an exploration of the changed world beyond the dome.

In THREE STEPS OF THE SUN, Axel Forrester looks not to the future but to the past, exploring the life of a remarkable Victorian artist, Mary Watts—now, unfortunately, known primarily for being the wife of the painter G. F. Watts. Mary herself designed and built an extraordinary chapel in the English village of Compton in the 1890s, and Forrester immerses us vividly in a turning point for Mary, when the difficulties of the building project collide with the tensions in her marriage, demonstrating the immense challenges confronting women in the Victorian artistic world.

Julie Stielstra also takes us back in time with her novel ALL BLOODY PRINCIPLES, bringing to life the era of the First World War, when America entered the conflict and presented its young men with an often intolerable choice: join the army (or accept conscription into its ranks) or become conscientious objectors, who in that era were not only vilified by the general public but imprisoned by the government. Stielstra’s captivating story begins in a small town in Kansas, where Daniel, the son of a Quaker, is grappling with the terrible future rising ahead of him.

Well-crafted historical fiction often raises important questions about our own era, and THE WATER BETWEEN, by Kristine Chung Salcedo, is no exception: during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1920s, Youngmi, a Korean girl, recognizes her father’s quiet rebellion against the hostile regime while she herself becomes “Japanized” in her school. Salcedo explains in her Author’s Statement that the novel eventually moves forward in time to show the experiences of Youngmi’s descendants as immigrants in America, emphasizing the similarities and contrasts in these struggles with assimilation.

THE FIRST LIGHT OF DAWN, by H. Romero-Gomez, portrays another hostile takeover with gripping immediacy. The novel opens with Mario Lopez returning to the Latin American country of his birth and remembering the terrible day in the 1990s when guerilla forces conquered his small town. Escaping from the guerillas, young Mario and his girlfriend move to the nearest city, only to fall prey to brutal street gangs. Finally, having run out of options, Mario begins the arduous journey to the United States—his only hope for supporting his family, though it is a country no less rife with injustice and oppression.

While many of the openings in this issue tackle complex and serious subjects, one author brings welcome humor to her novel: Dibyasree Nandy, in LENS ON FIRE, plays with one of her favorite genres, the cozy mystery, by introducing not only an entertainingly misanthropic protagonist but also an intriguing element of the supernatural. Selwyn Harcourt, an eccentric photographer, moves to the idyllic village of Summer’s Lavender but soon discovers that the setting is far from peaceful: mysterious images show up in his photographs, and he turns to the local Chief Inspector for assistance.

In TETHERED, Katherine Buttacoli also foregrounds a member of the police force, but creates an atmosphere of riveting strangeness rather than humor with her story. Quiet and solitary William Campbell, an animal-control officer in Texas, is confused when he receives a call one morning about a lost boy in the woods. But the boy is “feral”: not only does he believe himself to be a dog, he barks like one and has been cruelly tied up by an unknown abuser. After rescuing him, William comes to realize that he has initiated a relationship with far-reaching consequences for both himself and the boy.

E. J. McBride, in TAKING LEEANN, similarly features a man navigating a relationship with a young child, but in this case the protagonist, Mark Rossi, has taken a dubious and daring step: fearing for the well-being of a young girl whom he loves like a daughter, he takes her away from her unstable mother, effectively kidnapping her, and hits the road out of Los Angeles. McBride explores the murky waters where good intentions blur into questionable actions and where generosity looks a lot like self-interest. The scenario cannot end well, and McBride’s opening pages are filled with suspense as well as emotional complexity.

ROCK, SKY, GIRL, by Mark Schimmoeller, offers another take on the bonds between parents and children, while also presenting another vision of an all-too-probable future. The novel opens with the enchanting, dream-like perspective of a young girl named Pia, who has traumatically lost both her parents and must resign herself to the no-nonsense guardianship of her aunt. Though only a child, Pia knows that the beloved forests by her house in Kentucky are vanishing, and that the “megacorps” now running the country will want to tame her powerful and unruly mind. As she grows up, she becomes a determined rebel.

With surprising details and off-kilter approaches to their subject matter, the ten openings in this issue encourage readers to look at the world in new ways. I found each of them absorbing and thought-provoking, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did!

— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor

Table of Contents

TETHERED – Katherine Buttacoli
LENS ON FIRE – Dibyasree Nandy
THE WATER BETWEEN – Kristine Chung Salcedo
ROCK, SKY, GIRL – Mark Schimmoeller
BRIDGE TO EDEN – Alicia Winter