Ben Peek’s “Possession” begs for a novel or collection’s space within which to thoroughly unfurl its darkly glittering, vaguely steampunk, magico-futurist vision. Eliana is a reclusive botanist helping to regenerate the soil of a dangerous cleft in the Earth’s crust where nothing grows. One day, after a particularly thick ash-fall from the factories above, she finds a half-shattered female cyborg:
The girl made from bronze, the Returned, since she was not a real girl, this artificial girl had a loud, irregular moan in her chest: a broken machine whine that announced itself in a grinding of gears…
Peek’s rich, descriptive language suffers from syntactic awkwardness at times, but the religious and social structures he sketches around his characters make his narrative vivid and intriguing. His futuristic setting is an environmentally damaged area, and his cyborg is an indentured sex worker who had to sell her organs as well as sexual services to survive:
I had a hole in my heart…I was so afraid. I didn’t see endless service as a problem. I thought, “What’s so different about that to the life I currently live?”…I once had lungs. A liver. I had all my organs, and they worked—but now?…I can’t afford real livers, real replacements. I have fakes. I have simulations for sensations.
This story encourages its readers to re-vision the world they live in as only the best sci-fi and fantasy does, and its depth is rewarding. A woman whose history is written on her flesh meets a woman whose history parted her from her body in a damaged vulvic place where lava reputedly scarred the landscape. A broken heart stays broken, even when it is replaced with one made of metal. A planet’s grave shaft serves as a grave also for a woman whose body was as exploited as it was.
I have to say, though, in relation to the prose comment, I do tend to agree.
When I originally wrote the story, I was trying to shift the prose style round, and give it a beat that was different to what I usually had. I'm at a loss now to tell you why, exactly, I did that, other than I probably thought it was worth a try at the time. But on having a glance at it now, about eight months removed, I find myself thinking that it's a bit awkward in some places--the quote used by reviewer Val Grimm is a good example--and if I had my way, I'd probably go back and smooth it out to what's more my usual style when writing with what I consider the high detail stuff. It's strange: I get a little worried about every story sounding the same, and becoming so that, really, there's nothing new for someone reading it (or me writing it). Still, what can you do? I like a lot of the other story, especially the broken women, the hole, the world, and how everything pulls together as said in the final paragraph there, and it's especially nice to see it noticed, but I misstepped for the prose style, I think.
Also, in case you're curious, there's a nice review by Rich Horton of Lone Star Stories. I get a mention for 'Black Betty', but he spends most of his time talking about the other work this year, and you could do worse than checking it out.