This week’s best stories are about what it means to be human, about balancing the universe’s harmonies, and about using one’s voice as a weapon or a balm — depending on the situation.

The New Mother by Eugene Fischer | Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (excerpt)

Trigger Warning: abuse, child abuse, forced medical procedures

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The girls were spayed. That is the only word for it. Four sisters, the oldest five and the youngest barely two, with dirt-crusted fingers and baggy T-shirts, huddled next to a police van. They are identical in the way of twins; different sizes but, excepting perhaps some scars and birthmarks, their bodies are the same. The picture of them standing together next to the van is like a textbook illustration of early human development. And hidden under their shirts, carved low across the belly, the one scar they all share.

None of the many news services that reported the story said that the girls had been spayed like bitches. In the articles, they were “subjected to hysterectomies,” or similar overly clinical distortions. But the video of the police raid on the Charismatic Church of the Redeemer shows the Reverend Kenny Kendall’s eyes wheeling in their sunken sockets as he is led out in handcuffs. While there are no known videos of the sermons he delivered to his followers in their South Texas compound, if they were anything like the screeds on his website then he told his congregation that “a person in whom a seed has not been planted cannot have a soul, and so is not a person true, but an animal grown obscenely person-shaped.” It seems clear that what Reverend Kendall saw growing up and wearing out shoes in his perfect community were not little girls. They were vermin. Only a matter of years away from becoming a pestilence. What he had ordered done was a veterinary procedure.

This novella takes place in a very near future. So near that the issues it tackles are barely removed from their current counterparts. Reproductive rights, personhood, our culture’s puritanical views on sex, religion, cloning, and so many of the other conversations connected to these topics. Fisher avoids preachiness (well, I say that because I happen to be the choir) and instead uses all of this to explore what it means to be human.

The Universe, Sung in Stars by Kat Howard | Lightspeed Magazine

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There is music in the stars. The stars, the planets, the asteroids, the galaxies. Everything that is flung, whirling in orbit through space and time. We dwell inside an enormous, ever-changing symphony, and each of the many universes sings a song of its own.

I replicate them. I make clockwork universes, astraria and orreries, planets and stars and galaxies made microcosm and set ticking in orbit. Gears of bronze and iron and titanium, planets of marble and stars of precious faceted stones, diamonds that twinkle in the light. Each orbit in perfect harmonic distance so that the piece performs the music of the spheres. It’s a different kind of beauty from that of the living universes, one artificial and made in miniature, but the songs are no less real for it, and the beauty no less true.

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I’m enamored with the idea of the music of the spheres, so this story had me from the start. It’s the kind of story i wish there was a soundtrack for, or multiple soundtracks. I’d love to see how different musicians interpret the harmonies of the different universes.

Noise Pollution by Alison Wilgus | Strange Horizons

I’m not an idiot, but I can’t really pay attention to more than a couple of things at once, either. I’ve got no problem with keeping one ear open to make sure the cloak Song’s running while I’m on the train or at the store or you know . . . doing normal things like an adult is supposed to. I can leave my apartment, I’m not one of those people.

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But sometimes it’s three or four things. Sometimes a punk-ass kid wants to haggle with you over an unopened ten-pack of Type Two BASF Chrome Maximas and you’re on the phone with your goddamn choir director and your walkman runs down while both your earbuds are out. And you don’t notice right away. And then the Noise comes swooping down on you like a summer storm, and you’ve got problems a whole truckload of responsibility batteries isn’t gonna fish you out of.

From the balanced harmony of the previous story to the cacophony of this one. The battle to keep noise at bay is a lot of fun to imagine, and I’m so down with the world Wilgus has created where musical folk must sing and create music to help people, cure disease, and keep chaotic noise away. More than that, I adore the narrator’s voice. It’s strong and grabby and amazing.

Image: Noise? by Alan Grinberg on Flickr

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K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author and media critic. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.