|Art by Chris Seaman|
"Bringing Out the Demons" by John Skipp (3370 words)
This is a surprisingly balanced story about pain and about demons internal and external. I say surprising because the tone and the feel of the story are full of anger and pain and the plot features a man at his lowest point, turning his own hurt outward into abuse and trolling. But this is not a story that really glories in revenge or punishment, does not exactly dehumanize the man at the root of the suffering. It does not let him off the hook, though, does not excuse his actions nor does it privilege his pain over the pain he causes. It takes a complex look at what happens when someone you care about does something extremely troubling and the conflicting emotions that comes with confronting such actions. The language of the piece is heated and hurt, and I liked the way that it sought to portray all people as mixture of human and demon. Obviously with any story that externalizes inner feelings there is a risk of oversimplifying abuse and abusers, strength and weakness. [SPOILERS] That idea that the "real" Stanley is one not controlled by his demons is an interesting thought and the reason why his friends stage their particular kind of intervention, but I'm not convinced that thinking about a "real" Stanley as opposed to a demon-infested one (a "fake" one?) is entirely helpful or accurate, but I understand where that hope comes from and it does make for a compelling read, one with a weight and a passion that carries it through. In many ways, I like that the story didn't focus on revenge, that the violence of the piece was meant to be in some ways redemptive, but I just don't know that I buy that anything changes by the end. At least, without a stronger sense of where Stanley will go from the point I'm not sure what the story is saying. Are his friends now cutting ties from him? Or are they locked in again in case his demons resurface? The ending is vague and perhaps necessarily so. I cannot personally think of a way it might have ended better, but it did leave me wanting a bit. All that said, it's still a fine read and a story definitely worth thinking about.
"The Modern Ladies' Letter-Writer" by Sandra McDonald (2207)
As the title of the story might imply, this story is told as both a letter and a guide to writing letters. It's from a source that becomes more and more obvious and more and more disturbing as the letter progresses, and addressed to a young woman in Providence who also turns out to be someone…well, if not really familiar, then at least part of a tradition that is popular. [PROBABLY SPOILERS] And I do like the way the story seeks to create a new history to the Mythos, drawing out the pervasive presence of the Elder Gods beyond HP and showing here his mother as a young woman at odds with her desires, with this force trying to keep her pure in order to have access to her as-yet-unborn son. As the story unfolds and the letter becomes more and more personal, the role of the letter-writer becomes more and more a monolithic oppressor seeking to force Winfield to maintain her purity and accept her place as footnote, as unimportant, as good only for breeding. It's a bit of an uncomfortable read in that, because it centers HP, as a man, as being the only capable of creating the Mythos. Which, given the problematic nature of the Mythos, might indeed be true. But I think the story succeeds at showing the ways that forces conspire to oppress women, especially historically, making them into vessels and nothing more, erasing their drives and their passions. The story is dark and fits well with the publication, nicely creepy and easily capturing what makes the Mythos interesting, unsettling, and problematic. A fine read!