|Art by Priscilla H. Kim|
"The Creeping Woman" by Christopher Barzak (7383 words)
I'm going to guess that this story makes a lot more sense/is more layered and compelling, if you've read "The Yellow Wallpaper." It's a pretty widely-read story (I read it high school English and am thinking I should probably go back and read it again), so most will probably get the references in the story, but just in case you haven't I'd recommend doing that either before or after reading this story. And really, this tale does a great job of capturing the isolation and madness and magic of the situation, the oppression and the tyranny of John and of the times in general toward women. I love the resonating names used in the story, John and Jane and Jennie, all of them linked in that way, all of them from the same class and same place, all of them so close and yet it's John who rules and keeps from each of them their right inheritance, their independence. And I quite like the way the story casts the yellow wallpaper, the oppression that runs so deep in Gilman's tale reproduced here slightly differently. And I absolutely love the way the story treats writing, that idea that each person, and especially each woman, should tell their own story to keep it from those who would tell it for them. I love the way that the story illustrates its own idea that sometimes we must be shown the image in the pattern to really see what's there. The pattern of the clouds is just clouds until someone gives words to its shape. And here history is this collection of patterns that the story gives a shape to, not "the" shape but rather a way of looking at the past that gives it meaning and weight and organization. The story works and is difficult and challenging with the extent of John's power and his treatment of women and there is the lingering message that sometimes the only way out of the forest is over the bodies of those keeping you in. So yeah, I quite enjoyed this one and how it alludes to its literary inspirations and how it complicates history storytelling.
"The Sincerity Game" by Brit Mandelo (3114 words)
You, one of the things I like about Uncanny is that I have no idea what I'm about to read, from Middle Grade science fiction to this nicely erotic…contemporary fiction? I know there will be some to look at this story and complain that it isn't speculative enough but those same people probably will squirm away from the sex anyway so whatever. Really I'm rubbish at caring about genre so what I will say is that this is a great and sensual story about two men finding each other, about honesty and clarity and self. I love the premise of the story, the sincerity game, the way that it protects the main character from having to think too much about his situation. It also makes for a great meta reading of the story because writing is a sort of sincerity game, the author writing themself into their words (not saying this applies any more to this story than to any other, of course), and also in how much the reader is willing and able to read themself into the story. How honest everyone is being and how comforting the lie sometimes is, and how devastating it can be when the lies are peeled away and all that remains is self. For me it's an incredible story with so many layers. The main character is unnamed, after all, and uses the first person, so there is that breaking down of layers, that breaking down of truths. Reader and author and character and the lines of division become shady and there is a deliberate play there that works so well and is fascinating and rewarding. It's not really a happy story, about want and about trying to keep something that will not stay, about the lies we tell ourselves and the moments of true honesty. Seriously, go and read this one.
"The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Bereyyar" by R.B. Lemberg (3354 words)
Well this is a super cute story that's perfect for February, both the romantic elements of it and the letter elements, because this month is Letter Mo, after all. And the story takes the shape of two people exchanging letters. About art and craft but also about seeing the world and learning of each other and a yearning that finally bridges so much distance and difference. The story is set in the same world that the author has used many times, and every time I step back into that world I am delighted and left wanting more. The magic system is complex and, well, deep, leaning on different configurations of names to yield different sorts of magic, blending language and magic and art and everything. And there is the inherent tension to the relationship, to the correspondence, to the waiting. That waiting is full of implications and flights of the imagination and worry, full of things that seem to spill from the ether, wanting so much to know what the other person is thinking, how they will react, and having to sit there until the next letter arrives. In that the story is a slow one that reveals itself over years of time and yet it is no less strong for taking so long, no less triumphant when the end comes and I was smiling so much at that ending, could feel the little rush in me reveling in this moment. It's rare enough to find stories that are unapologetically happy and yet tense and yet don't rely at all upon violence or battle or betrayal, that is deeply positive. So yes, a perfect story for the month, and reason to celebrate!
"The Exquisite Benality of Space" by Leslie J. Anderson
This poem seems to me to be about taking the awesome, the wondrous, and making it normal, almost uninteresting. In finding ways of pushing forward, not to be insolent exactly or ungrateful but to never take what exists as the best, as the furthest, as the highest. And it's full with all the conflict of that, not wanting to take something for granted but wanting to recognize the wonder, the scope, and pushing forward regardless. To complicate what can be complicated and to always push forward. This lesson is drawn both from an exploratory sense and a relational one, which might seem at odds because in a relationship seeing a person as boring can seem, well…the way to end a relationship. But I like the idea that the point is to grow and to continue exploring, both yourself and your partner. That giving that up in many ways signals a lack of caring, a lack of wanting to be better or to know a thing better. A sort of declaring that the work is done, when really the work never ends, even at the farthest reach of space, even at love that seems to blind everything else. There's more work to be done, to maintain that sense of wonder which is one of the strongest drives a person can have. The point is not to be bored and give up, but to fight against boredom by always striving forward. A very nice poem!
"Narrative of the Naga's Heirs" by Bryan Thao Worra