|Art by Tran Nguyen|
"In Libres" by Elizabeth Bear (6259 words)
Ah books. I love the quote that precedes this story, and the story in general is pretty great too, about two students, a human woman and a centaur man, working on their dissertations and having to travel to the strange library on campus for additional sources. It's a neat setup, because the library in question seems to be one that is not designed to help people looking for books. As a magical library, it's a labyrinth that seems to eat the people who venture in. There are creatures inside that can attack, to say nothing of the danger of getting lost. To say nothing of the danger of actually getting to the place where the characters need to be and meeting the library of the special collection. It's a cute story, an adventure tale that moves quickly and has a charming set of characters. I'm think that it would be especially entertaining for anyone who's dealt with being sent back to gather more sources after believing they were done with an important project. There is a sense of strange magic and a great world building in the story, the characters fun and their relationship a great friendship. It might not be the deepest of the stories, but I don't think it's really supposed to be. It's a fun ride, a chase through a dangerous maze of a library, a place where most readers wish they could go, even with the dangers. And it's a fine story.
"Three Voices" by Lisa Bolekaja (7076 words)
Okay so I get to cheat a little bit because I was at the Mixtape at WisCon this year where the author talked briefly about this story, so I got to hear some thoughts about it before I read the piece. Which is interesting, but I don't think really changes my thoughts on the story. Because the whole piece is so nicely built, from this university composer meeting a more rough and tumble singer at a concert he didn't want to go to to the slow descent or ascent of that singer as she struggled through the song that the composer's father had written. The composer, the main character of the story, doesn't really come off at the greatest of guys. He's manipulative and selfish most of the time, incredibly driven to see his work performed, though he doesn't really understand it. He just wants things for himself and is not all that concerned about what happens to his singers. Because in the past the singers who have tried to perform Three Voices have all had tragic things happen to their voices. And Tye, the new singer, fears this will happen to her. For good reason. The song seems to be alive, seems to be hungry for something. It's a story that could have easily veered into horror, that kind of did veer in that direction before pulling away at the last moment, revealing a fate for the singer and for the composer that isn't quite as bleak as it could have been. Instead it pulls on a mythology that there is this way of speaking, this way of communicating, that can open doors most humans don't realized are closed. That there is a power in song and language and voice that is waiting to be discovered, that some might already know about. It's an effective piece, one that plants a seed of magic and lets it bloom. Indeed!
"From the High Priestess to the Hanged Man" by Ali Trotta
I'm not sure if I'd have liked this poem as much as I do six months ago. I don't think I'd understand it quite so well. It's a poem that is, in part, steeped in the Tarot, the High Priestess and the Hanged Man from the major arcana. Knowing some of the meanings of the cards informs some of the poem, as does knowing what the cards look like. In many ways this is about captivity, not perhaps of literal bonds (as the Hanged Man is suspended in a strange pose upside down) but in a more mental and spiritual sense. The poem's structure, that of fairly short lines filled with imagery, opens the meaning up to different interpretations, or at least did for me when coupled with the Tarot imagery. There really isn't a wrong way to read Tarot per se, just a system of symbols and meanings that can be used for divination. But the poem moves through the parts of the reading, mentioning the house, the past, the future. The reading/poem seems to me to be about freedom, not a freedom that takes you away, that has you leave behind your life. But a freedom from feeling trapped by circumstance. A freedom of being able to feel like you're still worth something, still alive and striving and not just stuck in a rut of paying bills and waiting for the next vacation. It is a call to act, but the importance is not on the physical act. It's on keeping your dreams alive. Resisting the rust in your bones. Of never giving in the grim pressure to be a cog in a machine. A lovely poem, and one that no doubt will only grow with meaning once I get out my deck and examine the imagery and the lines closer. Hurrah!
"Apologies for breaking the glass slipper" by Isabel Yap
Poems dealing with fairy tales and the ridiculous expectations they set for young people are not incredibly rare. There is a reason for their popularity, though, and this poem captures it quite well. Part of it is the imagery, iconic and striking. Here a young woman in Tokyo races away from a dance and shatters one of her glass slippers at the train station. She runs. She doesn't really care about it, feels vaguely bad if people get hurt but she's late and in a hurry and didn't really like the shoe that much anyway. There's also the twisting of expectations with fairy tales. Here Cinderella is not struck with love for her prince. This woman doesn't miss the man she left behind at the party. She's free of him, free of caring about him. She yearns for different parties to attend, for places where she doesn't have to be uncomfortable, where she doesn't have to wear glass slippers or ballgowns. And from that imagery and twisting of the expected story, the poem delivers something interesting. Not only is this a fairy tale repurposed for a different culture, it's rejecting the package of the original fairy tale. Rejecting it's place as a manifestation of values. It creates its own values: freedom, rebellion, fun, and even as it is an apology it's more a sorry not sorry kind of thing. A fun read.
"I Don't Care About Your MFA: On Writing vs. Stroytelling" by Kameron Hurley
I think this is a pretty interesting article about how writing classes in school can and do often let down young writers because they don't really offer up much in the way of storytelling advice. Some of the anecdotes here about classes speak to me because I rather had a similar attitude about writing for a long time. Wanting so desperately to be a writer, and not taking rejection well, and struggling because people would say my writing was good and when they didn't I was so bolstered by others that I didn't want to listen. Add to that that no one really wanted to teach spec stories anywhere and that's mostly what I wanted to do. So yes, I agree that a lot of the education in writing spec comes from learning more than just how to write but learning how to tell a compelling story. Not just beautiful prose but compelling conflict. Not just angst but action. For anyone else that had to deal with an education system that is very difficult to get much out of sometimes, this article is affirming. It places the focus of good teaching on the people who are out there. Learn what you can from the writers you're trying to be like. Study stories and study what it takes to be a writer. Remember what a lot of what it takes is the ability to be rejected hundreds of times and keep going. Then keep going. So yeah, a nice article with plenty of interesting storytelling.