I was sure the short story I’d review this month would be “twice-spent comet” by Ziggy Schutz when I finished page 11. I’d already been pulled in by the characters, but Schutz threw a great line in there at page 11 that compelled me to write this review: “the scurrying creature was as small as they were vast, and yet with a word had Named them, and therefore Changed them.” (11) In this sci-fi story with a dash of magic, Fer and three other incarcerated individuals are forced to spend their days preparing asteroids for new building projects for private enterprise. On one such day, Fer happens upon an entity flying through space whose name is Ophelia. It is when Fer decides to name this entity a “mermaid” that this quote appears. I found “twice-spent comet” by Ziggy Schutz to be a riveting story of the power to name and the families found through that power.
Schutz demonstrates the power of naming things in a pretty cool way. First of all, until Fer names these entities “mermaids,” they aren’t named by the narrator, nor does the narrator use any pronouns up until that point. The very moment that Fer calls Ophelia a mermaid marks a change in reality itself. But we realize as time goes on that these space mermaids are actually more like comets, or shooting stars.
That theme of wishing on shooting stars and comets comes up a lot, so perhaps the “power to name” should instead be the “power of a wish”. But I chose “power to name” because there’s also some tension about names, like with one of the other incarcerated characters, Moll. There’s a point where she tells Fer, “a piece of paper and a want to do right by strangers who named me couldn’t make me a good man. Or a man at all.” (33) So even though some names–like “mermaids” have power and change reality itself–other names–like Moll’s deadname–perhaps had power in the past but have been cast aside. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think it really encompasses the tension that I at least feel about names and the power behind them: they have impact, they can affect how people see you and who you are, but only insofar as they fit you and you accept them. “Mermaid” fit these entities, so they accepted it, Moll’s deadname didn’t fit, so she didn’t accept it.
But the power of putting things into words isn’t just powerful because it impacts reality, but because it results in a found family. There’s a shift, midway through, in how the incarcerated characters interact with one another. It comes out of a story, out of the uttered truth of Moll’s tattoos. And once again, it happens in relation to a star, when Moll talks about how her former lovers “called me their little fallen star” (20). Moll, once again, seems to parallel the Mermaids–both are easy to fall in love with and both come along with granted wishes. After this story happens, after they open up about their pasts and their loves, about their most vulnerable sides, things change and they shift from being a couple of incarcerated people to being somewhat of a family.
Now, if I’m not careful, I’ll get into some spoiler territory–so bear with me–but there is another part where the power of putting things into words creates a found family. It’s in the second half, and it’s foreshadowed a few times: first when Benat talks about her former lover, and how she once “wished on a star for him to find his way back” (24), and second when Fer sends a message out with Ophelia’s help. In the case of Benat’s wish, she told the others she didn’t want to say her partner’s name in case it would cause the wish to cancel out. In Fer’s case, Ophelia tells them to “Say it. Spell it out if you have to.” (29) And the last pages of the story do finalize this idea of a wish bringing a found family together. So not only is a found family created through the figurative power of words through Moll’s story and the group’s vulnerability, but it happens literally with the magic of the world as well, making for a very satisfying parallel.
Writing a review for a story like this is really tough because of how all of the pieces are tied perfectly without giving away the ending prematurely. It ends up meaning that there’s a very thin line to balance on in order not to accidentally spoil something. But it also means that Schutz crafted a beautiful story, which ties in the themes and the character arcs into a tidy package.Would I recommend this short story? Absolutely! The world is well-built, the little details and the vague unknowables make for a fully immersive reading experience. Furthermore, the parallels and the foreshadowing is just so wonderfully satisfying that I just adored it. I think that my LGBTQIA+ readers will be particularly invested in these characters, while many of my non-LGBTQIA+ readers will stand to learn a thing or two about why found families are so important to us. I highly recommend you go pick up this story, and I can’t wait to share with you some of the other wonderful pieces in Behind the Sun, Above the Moon in the future.
twice-spent comet by Ziggy Schutz from Behind the Sun, Above the Moon
Publisher: NineStar Press
Number of Pages: 1-51 of 362
Content Warnings: Mentions of body horror, organ donation, mentions of murder, space drowning