Spring has officially sprung and at Fantastic Stories of the Imagination it means it's time for tales that bend reality a bit. New perspectives, from a woman brushing against a world dark and alluring to a man recoiling from an experience trading away his past. Plus there's an excellent, amazing crash course in SFF history that I'm super excited about diving into. The stories are interesting and complex, the nonfiction invigorating, and the issue has a feel of springtime to it. So let's get to those reviews!
"Memory and Iron" by Kelly Sandoval (1108 words)
To me this story speaks to parents passing down the same damage that makes them unhappy. Especially at play is the way that mothers can strip their daughters of power, can buy into the systems that bring shame to their actions and take away their agency. The main character, Katherine, is a mother of a daughter born of an [SPOILERS?] illicit union with a Fairy. Or a Fae. The daughter is in two worlds, then, with the potential for both, either a life as a good wife and mother, quiet and unassuming, an object to be bartered, or else she's a creature of magic with power and a place beyond the confines of her expected role. The story does a pretty good job of complicating that, too, because at first blush making the story about "will you let your daughter be a fairy or stifle her to get her to fit in and hope to be safe" is a bit flat. It does a good job of centered the conflict, in highlighting the irony of the husband's concerns because he, while viewing the daughter as his, still views her as a girl/woman first and therefore fit only for marriage and babies and such. Meanwhile Katherine wants to keep her daughter safe and thinks the way to do that is to prevent her from doing what Katherine herself did. But that's where the story does a great job going deeper, because it makes the struggle about safety and freedom, about roles that are what is truly stifling and offer no real safety, because Katherine followed them and was not safe. Not safe or content or happy. And I think the ending does an interesting bit of twisting, pulling back to examine what it means to be a good mother as opposed to a good wife. Basically, that to be a good wife she had to stifle herself and her daughter. To be a good mother she has to not only let her daughter free to take her own risks and follow her own heart. Katherine also has to all space for herself as a woman, to dismantle her own shame and guilt surrounding her infidelity and desire. A very good story!
"Who Ya Living?" by George Allen Miller (932 words)
This is a rather interesting piece, of a future where people live a long, lone time and need external drives to store all their memories. Which means that they can essential trade childhoods, which acts as a sort of drug-like experience. And Ryan, the main character, thinks he has made a mistake. The world built by the story is interesting and there is a nice exploration of the foundational nature of childhood here, but there are aspects of the story that I personally find don't complicate the idea as much as possible. [SPOILERS!!!] That Ryan is old and perhaps just bored and looking to try new things is something that seems possible in the story, which makes trading away his childhood rather…well, not the brightest move. As the story itself establishes, it's possible to make copies of memories so it would have been smart to, before he started, back everything up somewhere. Because as is the story comes off a bit like experience other people's lives isn't worth the hassle (as I read it, of course—this is all my personal reading) because it makes a person not quite themselves. And in some ways yes, it makes complete sense. Childhood is foundational. But I feel the story gets a bit too preachy when it comes to the "be careful what you wish for" parts of this idea. Because though Ryan might want desperately to regain what he has lost, I'm sure others would have absolutely no problem losing their childhoods. There's identity there but there can also often be trauma and damage and I think it kind of unfair to place Ryan in the morally superior position over the rest of the patrons of the bar. As I read it, it's sort of an addiction story but it views addiction as a sort of moral failing (which is rather weird in a setting where, if you do it right, there is literally a way to erase the damage and move on). And I just see it as…a bit more complex. That all said, the story itself paints a vivid picture and does a nice job with Ryan in his quest to get back his memories. I think that the story is worth spending some time with, and definitely provided me with a lot to think about. So hurrah!
"A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction" by Nisi Shawl
I love articles like this. Love them. Because I will admit that I often wonder what to read, what to pick up from the past and what to put down money for. The past is this intimidating force at times, a nearly-infinite source of stories and books, and to have someone (who I trust) lay out a road map like this for getting something of an education is just awesome. And okay, I probably will not be getting to all of these this year, but I do have a number of them on my stacks for my #KTBookChallenge and I will be adding more of them to keep my own education going well past this year. There is just so much here to see and to experience and there are little annotations that put some context to the selections. A lot of thought obviously went into compiling this and so equal thought and care should go into delving into these stories and finding whole new worlds of SFF. So yes, if you're like me you're bookmarking this page and adding a bunch of stuff to your wishlist. An amazing resource!