“Express to Beijing West Railway Station” by Congyun Mu Ming Gu (2021 Ignyte Awards)

Kiera Johnson’s English translation of “Express to Beijing West Railway Station” by Congyun Mu Ming Gu can be read online at Strange Horizons.

A train passenger is viisted by an attendant in a knitted vest, who asks him for a ticket. To his surprise, his standard ticket is not accepted: it turns out that passengers are expected to show something rather more personal before they can be allowed to continue. One man presents a diary as a ticket; another has a photo album; still another shows a telephone bearing blog posts. With nothing on his person to fit the bill, the protagonist is forced to step off into the station.

This is, ostensibly, a station that he has visited before: Beijing West. Yet something has changed, the regular exits now replaced with revolving doors attended by staff members who – like the ticket-collector on the train – wear knitted vests and demand a special sort of ticket. Things get even stranger when the protagonist tries to see the square outside the station, and witnesses nothing more than an expanse of grey mist. The traveller finally receives an explanation from the “auntie” who sits knitting in the late fares office:

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“Body, Remember” by Nicasio Andres Reed (2021 Ignyte Awards)

“Body, Remember” can be read online at Fireside Magazine.

Archaeologist Jun Meyers is staying in Italy to examine the ruins of a city buried Pompeii-like beneath a layer of volcanic debris. Jun is, in more than one way, a misfit. He struggles with Italian, despite having been in the country for three years; he also has trouble getting on with his colleagues, who find some of his attitudes towards his chosen discipline to be unorthodox:

Jun’s desire for modern urban amenities is the source of some disdain from his colleagues. He’s heard Liz warning the newest intern not to engage him on his grand theory of history: that these things are the point of their work, that the present is the point of the past. That the people whose bones they treasure so selfishly would mean less were it not for the things that separate us from them. That it isn’t the ancient in itself that is sublime, but rather the act of wiping the dust of the ancient from your hands, walking into a halogen-lit 24-hour 7-11 for an energy drink, and later ridding yourself of it down a flush toilet.

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“Rat and Finch Are Friends” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo (2021 Ignyte Awards)

Beginning a series on the short-fiction finalists at this year’s Ignyte Awards, here is my look at Innocent Chizaram Ilo’s story “Rat and Finch Are Friends”.

At an all-boys boarding school, protagonist Izuchukwu becomes attracted to a fellow pupil named Okwudili. The two boys — who lend each other the nicknames of Finch and Rat — eventually kiss, an event that becomes public knowledge. Mr. Okeke, the dorm master, forbids the pair from speaking to each other. Pastor Emega visits Finch in the evenings, preaching hellfire and brimstone about the sins of Sodom and forcing the boy to drink anointed oil. Prejudice engulfs Finch’s family: “just the other day,” says his mother, “that nonsense salesgirl at the grocery store mocked me with her eyes the whole time she was attending to me. All because I am the mother of the boy who kissed another boy.”

The fantasy thread that runs through this narrative of young love and cultural prejudice is largely symbolic. The two title characters are Amusus — an Igbo term typically translated as “witches”, although as is typically the case with attempts to translate folklore between cultures, this obscures a number of complexities. The story portrays Amusus as existing in an ambiguous state between human and animal, between waking and dreaming. Finch describes how he started flying at the age of six, initially believing that his nocturnal flights were no more than dreams until an incident in which he grazed his wing at night and woke up with a bleeding arm. While he became a finch, he met other children who became other flying animals:

The children who were falcons, eagles, hawks, and albatrosses made fun of how little I was. They would fling me into the wind and catch me just before I hit the ground. So I always stuck with the smaller Amusus: the bats, the hummingbirds, the swallows, the pigeons, and the crows.

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