Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #10 (June Stuff)

Just when I think I have Uncanny Magazine figured out there comes something of a curve ball. Which, I suppose, is a sort of pattern in itself, but this month's fiction offerings are probably the darkest bunch the publication has put out. These are stories that leak inky waters and blood and darkness. So of course they're about family, and about curses, and about the momentum of violence and oppression. There isn't an awful lot of hope in these tales, but that's part of their beauty and a large part of their tragedy. It's a powerful issue, if not a happy one, that I'm going to review now!

Art by Galen Dara


"You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay" by Alyssa Wong (10308 words)

This is a story that equal parts strange and bleak and beautiful to me, like the desert. Like doomed love. It finds Ellis, the son of a magic man who was burned as a witch, working in a brothel with his only friend, Marisol. The two find comfort in each other, a love that isn't sexual but still deep and in some ways redemptive. The place, though, and Ellis' nature as child of a magic user and the desert herself, pushes Ellis down a path that he can't avoid. That he walks for the right reasons but that still mean that tragedy blooms in his wake. In many ways I read the story as about how sometimes there's no escaping a situation, a place. Sometimes who you are, who your parents are, and the machinations and plots of those with more power, are damning and inescapable. Which is not to say that those situations are hopeless. There is a silver lining of sorts here, a push to get out and even though [SPOILERS] Ellis cannot, even though Ellis has to stay behind, it doesn't mean that everyone's story is equally bleak. Yes, I would have loved to see love conquer and thrive, but this is a story about oppression and power, about exploitation and cycles, and the story well earns in my mind the tragedy and the aching hurt that comes with the ending, the bittersweet tang of blood and sand and dancing bones. And I love the feel of the story, how it sets up the relationship between Ellis and Marisol, how it acts as a rudder for them both, though it cannot steer them both clear of the brothel and the desert. It's a beautiful story and one definitely worth checking out.

"The Drowning Line" by Haralambi Markov (5194 words)

Okay fuck. This is a story that, like the first of the issue, involves heredity and inheritance and curses. It shows Heinrich, a man with a husband and two children, dealing with a family curse that draws him to the water, that draws him toward self destruction, the allure and seduction of drowning. The feel of the story is more horror than fantasy, the ghosts of Heinrich's past, his family legacy, one that pulls at him, that tempts him. The story is unsettling, sensual, and dark. Heinrich's struggle is not only against the crush of the past, of history, of his own experience as a child, but also with his guilt at putting his loved ones through the horror of his condition, his guilt at having a child, passing along the curse. In that I read the story with echoes of mental health in mind, where Heinrich's inheritance is, in part, the trauma, the fear, the anxiety, the depression. That he's terrified that he will pass these things on and that fear is like a core of rot in him, twisting what he does, deepening the problem and the tragedy. [SPOILERS] And fuck is this a hard story to read in part because Heinrich can't find a way to save himself. Like the previous story, this one is about Heinrich confronting his demons and finding that he cannot survive them. That they will have him because he is too deep in them, tied to close to them. But he hopes that he can at least save someone else. That he can break the chain. That he can become the last victim. In that there is hope but it comes at such a price, at such a loss, that it's heartbreaking. And it's powerfully done, disturbingly done, and gorgeously done. Go read this one!

"The Plague Givers" by Kameron Hurley (11370 words)

This story marks the confirmation that this is probably the darkest month of Uncanny Magazine yet, with a tale about violence and love and betrayal and violence and plague and blood and violence. Did I mention it's rather violent? But that is where the story both shines and does that thing opposite of shining because yeah, it's dark as hell. Bet is a woman who has lost everything, and lost it because the world wouldn't let her have her love and peace. And so she was drawn to violence and embraced it, tried to do the right thing and only learned, the more she acted, the less clear the right thing became. She acted out of her own inclinations, to put down those who would seek to remake the world by killing most of it. And the decision cost her everything. She retired. And as the story opens two people set forth to bring her back into the game. It's a well built story with a definite momentum, to the point where Bet's actions are done with a sort of dispassionate distance, a realization that it's all one action, all stemming from the first moment she chose violence. It's a powerful story that sees Bet not shy away from anything, no matter how personal, no matter how horrifying. She acts because that is all she has, not because it is right but because there's no turning back. It's not a happy story by any means, is gritty and dark and bathed in blood. But it's compelling, and Bet's character and her tragedy show through. There's no real wishing for a happy ending here. In some ways the story ended well before this tale opens, and all of this is epilogue. But a very good one. A fine story! 


"Brown woman at Safety Beach, Victoria, in June" by M Sereno

To me this story speaks of distance, of being in some ways displaced. Changed or at least forced into a different context. The poem keeps itself to couplets but links images and thoughts, of travel, of being in a foreign place, of lounging on the sand. The title seems to inform on this, capturing a person who is also a dragon, who is unrecognized, who in turn doesn't quite recognize their own surroundings. Things feel almost-familiar, plants and animals that are similar to what is known, to what is comforting, but in their differences become something almost hostile. And yet there is also a pride here, a beauty and a refusal to be erased, to be worn away. The dragon remains, the red remains, deeper than skin and refusing, in the face of all that has already been lost, to lose more. The poem feels at times nostalgic and angry and tired, and through it all seeking for something. For nourishment. For comfort. For a taste of some place or time. [SPOILERS??] And in the end I think there is that hope. The red bloom, overcoming the different world it finds itself planted in, a brilliant shade of difference amid the weeds. A great poem!

"Alamat" by Isabel Yap

This is a rather interesting prose poem that seems to be organized around stories. Around objects, pineapple and fish and termite and Maria, but each object feels to me to coordinate to a story. To a fable or parable. Something that teaches people how to be, how to see the world. How to mourn and how to care and how to hope. To me at least the sections seem to be the stories of women, or perhaps how women appear in stories. The ways in which they are embodied and used to teach. How they become objects, archetypes, tools of oppression and manipulation. The language of the work is great, evocative, giving the impression to me that so much more is going on, that there is such depth to these stories that is not being explored, that like the women in fables these are presented as snippets, flat images that beg to be fleshed out. There is something quite familiar about it, some way that I can hear other stories under these stories, can feel the way that this work subverts those expectations that fables and myths put on women, on gender rolls. On how people love and how they live. It's a complex and beautiful work, and definitely worth reading again and again. Check it out!

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