Monday, August 10, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #5 (August stuff)

Another month of Uncanny Magazine brings a mix of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The stories are a bit extreme in that some are on the longer side of short and one is perhaps the shortest that I've reviewed on the site so far. But all of them deliver strong ideas and a nice vein of darkness that makes this month a little unsettling. In some ways the issue (or this half of it) seems to revolve around the idea of the hidden coming to light, or perhaps seeing something often ignored in a whole new way. It's a strong installment, and I should get to reviewing it!


"Ghost Champagne" by Charlie Jane Anders (6621 words)

This is story seems at its core to be about finding peace with your past and finding ways to forgive yourself the dark feelings and thoughts that find their way into your head. The story follows a youngish tech worker and comedian, two things that are quite difficult for women to be successful in, as she goes through life being haunted by herself, by some future, dead version of herself that seems quite terrible at just talking things out. The story is stark and nicely done, the tone capturing the main character's tendency to use comedy as a defense, to lash out when others get to close. It's the ghost that really brings the story together, though, That she doesn't know how to reach out to herself, that she doesn't realize what it is she's running from exactly. It seems in some ways to be about depression as well, as the ghost is there as a physical embodiment of psychic pain, of fear and doubt, and those things work to strengthen the ghost, which has been with the main character most of her life, helped when she was younger but as she's gotten older that particular coping mechanism has gotten more difficult to handle, and its disapproval now falls on the main character and not the main character's parents. It's a rich and subtle story about a woman coming to terms with herself and her past, accepting a mother who was not exactly a force of good in her life but who is turning over a new leaf. And it's about taking control, about letting ghosts fade and about trying to live a life in the present. A good story.

"The Half-Life of Angels" by Sarah Monette (97 words)

This is an incredibly short but very interesting story without much in the way of character or plot but the idea and image of it is strong and as lingering as the memory of the angels it introduces. It's about an idea, that disasters leave something behind, that much suffering and death creating something that hovers over a place, that acts as a reminder for the loss and the pain. The angels are all suited to the disaster that spawned them, not created by divine forces but probably more from the guilt, shame, and emptiness that is left behind in the wake of mass dying. As a reminder these are angels because they tend to arouse in people a feeling of awe and insight, tend to get people to act better, to remember scope and history and that terrible things are not so far away. In the shadow of these angels people and made to feel more responsible for their actions and possibly more empathetic to people in general. Though, as the story states, that only lasts as long as the angels, only survives as long as the shadow of them falls on our heads. Once the angels fade, once they are forgotten, then there is the implication that people might stop acting in ways that honor the angels, that honor the dead. And if the same mistakes are made that led to the first tragedy, then it's fairly likely that a new angel might be born from. It's a good story, almost a poem, and quite fun to try and unpack. Hurrah!

"Catcall" by Delilah S. Dawson (6703 words)

Rounding out the fiction this month is a story that's a little difficult to read, and I imagine that goes especially for anyone who's never had to deal with this kind of harassment. Because, wow, it's hard to imagine in many ways and way to easy to imagine in other ways. The story focuses on Maria, a young woman finding out how dangerous it is to be a woman, incredibly aware because of how men treat her. The level of harassment here I can't imagine is all that surprising. From what I've heard, most women have stories like Maria's, having to defend themselves from unwanted attention, having to be constantly aware of what they're wearing, where they are, who they're with, because the way the world treats them is that they are not the victim. That they are at fault for any treatment they receive, because that's easier than seeing a problem and trying to do something about it. Only Maria gets an ability, an ability to do something about what happens to here. The story in some ways starts to verge on revenge fantasy, Maria having the ability to basically use Karma against men. And...well, it's a bit unsettling because even the best-meaning men are pretty shitty when it comes to this because even the best-intentioned man is probably not doing enough, not seeing enough. The story follows some seriously dark and violent paths, but in a way that didn't seem glorifying of revenge but rather recognizing the horror there and that it is really no worse that the horror that other people ignore, that it makes strikingly visible what should be visible to everyone. It's a somewhat uncomfortable story, but also a very good one that I'm glad I've read.


"Σειρήνοιϊν" by Sonya Taaffe

A poem about sirens, I loved the way this one used the beauty of their voice, complicated the idea that they were just beasts luring men to their deaths. The lines here, so many good ones, weave a different kind of story, one where the draw of the siren, the awesome power of the siren, isn't in her song but in the truth of her song. That she crafts truths that men cannot bear but that which draw them to the cliffs. And that idea, that truth is so terrible and compelling, destructive and necessary. More than that, it makes every listener of the truth also an instrument of it, that by opening to truth, by hearing that song, the listeners are transformed, become like pipes through which truth sounds in delicate notes. It is a great notion, an almost viral sort of thing, the sirens not evil but incapable of lies, drawing those who have been hurt by the world, those who see the kinship there, who want to pass along the song that breaks ships, that topples kingdoms, that shakes the world. The siren becomes part of a tradition and conversation stretching back to the gods, a song that is still being sung today, that the poem hints at by outlining its shape. A very good read!


"Representation Matters: Embracing Change in Comics" by Caitlín Rosberg

There are two different articles this month about comic books or comic book worlds and diversity, but I'm looking at this one primarily because it's about comics and I was a little more interested in that. The articles compliment each other well, though, so go read the other one. This piece, though, reminds me of why short fiction is often so much ahead of other media, even novels, when it comes to representation, not just of characters but of creators. Because it's no surprise that the change starts at the most accessible level. Change in comics started at the indie level, with creators who were not beholden to Marvel or DC. The thing is, these diverse comics being created, despite not costing anywhere near as much to make, became popular. Critically and sometimes commercially, these comics became what the big companies had to invest in in order not to be cornered out of the market that they dominated. I want to believe that's why movies and television are slower in getting there, because there is no real indie market for those, because there is no way to make it very accessible. So the change has to come from outside and push its way in. For comics, though, it's already happening, and that is great. For novels, it's already happening. Not that there aren't areas of improvement, because there ever are, and not that these changes always go over without some seriously misguided pushback (*coughcoughPuppiescough*). Ahem. Anyway, the article does a nice job of examining some of what has created the climate in comics where publishers are willing to take some chances. Even if there are still many many examples of missteps, at least they're trying to dance.

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