I read Crossed Genres' Issue #25: Indoctrination last night and was mostly underwhelmed. The first story, Cabaret Obscuro was imaginative, but I never really felt enough of the world to really invest in it. In the story, humans are the dominant members of a society also populated by "xenos", alien lifeforms ranging from cartoon stickmen to hobgoblin magpie trainers and household instruments like mattresses and candles brought to life. The performances at a human and xeno cabaret are contrasted, critiquing the use of xeno performers as the "freak" or "novelty act". The thrust of the story felt broadly allegorical (with the xenos standing in for marginalized members of our own society) without enough specificity to provide an interesting critique. The climactic scene in which our protagonist, the hobgoblin musician/stripper had some emotional force and was more creative and delightful than I'd expected, but mostly this story felt like a neat idea not pushed hard enough to have much force.
The second story Distant Gates of Eden Gleam features a career office clerk brought in to the offices of the Illuminati in order to do some of the grunt work associated with running the world. A revelation of the first day is that there are 14 continents, cleverly hidden. The instructions relayed are almost entirely relatively small-time disasters - a forest fire, oil spill, etc. Not surprisingly, he becomes disenchanted and does something about it, giving a speech about how he never really wanted to be a career office clerk, he was just held back by the poor economy. After observing that this is a story about a low-level file clerk in the bowels of the Illuminat, there's not much more to say.
The third story, The Lion God (which I immediately renamed Subverting Aslan in my head), had some potential. A great lion has come to earth, performed various miracles (mostly healing-related), and his very presence compels worship and adulation. The lion has set himself up as God and (perhaps unsurprisingly) implemented a relatively socially conservative society, ensuring at least a few rebels. The story is told from the perspective of one of these rebels during her inquisition by the Lion God himself.
The Lion God got a lot of points for me because the Lion God was genuinely godlike. He's a big, impressive force who performs genuine miracles and inspires worship even in rebels like the protagonist. I've talked before about appreciating science fiction & fantasy that take religion and gods seriously, and this story does. It also gets points for the sheer insolence of basically dropping Aslan into a New York broadcast center. That was pretty awesome.
One of the problems I had with The Lion God was simply a matter of taste - the protagonist is young and impertinent with lines like "In that moment I know that 'Licorice Death' will be the name of my next band". I didn't enjoy this at all, and it knocked me out of the story a bit. More broadly, though, the complaints against the Lion God are predictable, especially for Crossed Genres' audience. Aslan is enforcing the patriarchy - women are banned from boxing and wearing pants is frowned upon. Years of fiction like The Handmaid's Tale are doing the heavy lifting for this story, along with the ongoing and important discussions within the genre.
The Lion God is a fine story. I was delighted (over and over again) at the realization that the author dropped Aslan into a modern broadcast center and made him the villain of a story. I was grateful to the author for presenting a truly godlike creature and never pulling back the curtain to reveal some illusion. And yet despite the strengths of these concepts, the actual grievances against Aslan were stale, the story lasted a bit too long, and the conclusion was a bit of a letdown.
Overall, I wasn't a huge fan of this issue, but I found pieces of each story to enjoy. There's a lot of emotional strength in the final scene of Cabaret Obscuro (and probably a lot more for more marginalized readers than there was for me), I just wish the rest of the story had led me to it more strongly. I think the core concept in Distant Gates of Eden Gleam was worth telling, I just wish it'd showed up in a shorter & punchier form. I will always be happy that I've read Aslan Subverted (and probably will never read The Chronicles of Narnia the same way again), so that's a story I didn't even know I needed checked off my to be read list. But sometimes when you only make space in your lineup of authors for men, the overall product falls a bit short.