|Art by Katy Shuttleworth|
"Love Is Never Still" by Rachel Swirsky (9541 words)
Ah, a story steeped in mythology and love. Greek, to be specific (the mythology, that is—the love is a bit more universal I think). The story features a fairly large cast and two primary, parallel stories, one featuring a sculptor and his sculpture, brought to life by the whim of Aphrodite, and the other features the goddess herself in a triangle with her husband Hephaestus and her lover (and her husband’s brother) Ares. Both offer a mix of loves and repulsions, betrayals and hurts and longings. There is a sense in both that love is both of a moment and timeless, fleeting and relentless, singular and legion. I quite enjoyed the way the story played with love, touched on love in the abstract and in the real, love on a pedestal and love in reality. There’s a lot going on here, and fate and death are both present as the story slowly circles and dances from perspective to perspective. It’s mythic in its scope and in its characters but there’s also something deeply human about it (something that can be said about a lot of Greek mythology, I suppose), something that shows how love can lift up and love can shatter. The characters are compelling even as they are presented in breathes, brief touches that become a tapestry of longing and violence and design. The two storylines balance each other quite nicely, showing love as pursued, and women especially as objects that aren’t really considered people, are there to be fought over or prayed for. There’s a nice examination of masculine ideas of love and perfection and how there is no satisfaction there, no real joining because the relationships are defined by disappointment, jealousy, and paranoia. That it’s not about love so much as fear of losing something. In the end the story is rather long but strikingly told, unfold slowly and carrying with it a weight borrowed from myth, from forces of humanity personified. A very good read!
"The Shadow Collector" by Shveta Thakrar (6017 words)
This is quite a strange story about shadows and flower-girls and queens and revenge, but through its strangeness it’s also about freedom and about yearning and a bit about art. And it’s interesting that it’s paired in the same issue as the Hines article, because it deals with a very complex set of ideas, key among them how a man who does such terrible things as steal shadows can be capable of creating such beauty and nurturing such fragile things as the girl-blossoms. The story is, after all, primarily about violation. About Rajesh’s violation of others as he takes their shadows, and about how he views the queen violating him by basically existing. That he wants her shadow so much that he hates her for it. That he allows himself to be used to do something that dooms him even as it gets him what he wants. It’s a complex story and not an incredibly happy one. Rajesh’s story is one that so many would sympathize with, that he is put in a position subordinate to a woman and so his misogyny has to manifest as a lust for her shadow. That he must put himself above her, as superior, in order for his world to make sense, and that the conflict between this inner fantasy world where he is doing something worthy and deserves the shadows he steals and the outer world where he is a servant must be harmonized. And I love the wisdoms of Padmamukhi, the ways that he is constantly misunderstanding them, refusing to understand them, refusing to see his own future in her words. It’s a story with a great sense of weird to it, and a heavy darkness, and a rather uncomfortable climax. But it’s also a very evocative story, mixing scent and song and sight, and it gets into Rajesh’s head, as conflicting an experience as that turns out to be. A fine read!
"Foxgirl Cycle Song: 1" by C. S. E. Cooney
This is a nice paced rhyming poem that examines foxgirls. There is a magic to the lines that flows nicely, a form but one that is a bit loose, that allows for shifting, that matches the freedom and flexibility of the woman being honored. The rhyming also gives the poem a playfulness that is a bit deceptive as it covers a strong darkness that pervades, a danger and also a threat from outside. That foxgirls are pursued, that their freedom is an affront to some that want to crush it, that want to kill it, that want to capture it. And so the freedom in bending the stanza structure while also adhering to a rhyming pattern is a clever choice and something that I think pays off well. It’s a subversive poem, one that plays with labels as much as myth. The foxgirls here are both literal (magical beings that are part fox, who are tricksters and seductresses) as well as women who are called foxgirls in order to shame them and strip them of power. The poem wrests the power back into the word, into the title, reclaiming that wildness, that danger, and questioning how much of the foxgirl’s reputation is earned and how much of it springs from misogyny and an attempt to oppress. And the poem’s just rather fun, too, with a solid beat and a sound that’s fresh.
"Men of Their Times" by Jim C. Hines
It would be slightly weird of me to leap up, clap this article on the back, and say “hurrah!” because, as this article kinda emphasizes, one white person clapping another white person on the back for saying something in a conversation about racism is…well, yeah. But this is an interesting look not at racism among literary figures but at the arguments people now use to excuse ignoring the racism of literary figures. I mean, obviously this works for many many things. One cannot exactly look back at literary figures and works and not talk about misogyny, for example. And people have a tendency to want to say “but we’re better now” as a way of hand-waving away calls to simply not ignore that literary history does not stand magically outside social history. The article looks at how people try to steer arguments about how texts hurt people into the realm of “you’re just over-analyzing” (I tend to hear this a lot from people who are terrified about analyzing certain aspects of texts but will go on for hours about other minutia). And it does a fair job of capturing the ways that people try to obfuscate and derail conversations that need to happen in order to have a full understanding of canon and gatekeeping and oppression. I mean, in some ways the article is about talking points to counter other talking points. But it does a good job of it, I think, and I found it a rather thoughtful read. Indeed!
"Furry Fandom" by Kyell Gold
Ah, in another life I would have been a HUGE furry. It’s something that’s always interested me and I’ve been hanging around the fringes of anthropomorphic animal awesomeness for a long time. And yes, I avoided being open about it like the plague because I avoided anything that might be construed as not “normal” like the plague (hurrah toxic masculinity). Seriously I kind of want to get into it now but feel like I have…not enough time to do everything that I want to do and I’m so used to doing it in private now that I’m now afraid that if I got into it I’d be doing it wrong somehow. But this article is a very informative sort of “Hi there” from at least one individual making sure people know that furry fandom isn’t just something talking heads on television and the internet make fun of on a slow news day (hurrah toxic masculinity!). I actually really like the aesthetic and there is something rather fun about imagining a world where there are animal people. I do rather regret that I didn’t get into more fandoms when I was younger and had more time, but this article does a nice job of assuring me that it’s not too late. Definitely an interesting read and for people wanting to know what furry fandom is, maybe read this instead of doing an internet search. Way more informative and engaging!