Monday, August 22, 2016

Quick Sips - Omenana #7

After a bit of a break Omenana is back with a full issue of fiction and nonfiction and art (my glob the cover is gorgeous!). The stories this issue seem to take a look at institutions. Not necessarily physical ones, but rather ideological institutions. Religion. Law. Parenthood. Masculinity. Employment. The stories examine the way these forces and concepts shape how people move through the world. How they interact and relate to each other. How they foster guilt and shame and violence and death. It's a rich issue that covers fantasy and science fiction, hope and loss and despair. And I should just get to those reviews! 

Art by Sunny Efemena


"Sweet Like Pawpaw" by Rafeeat Aliyu (4090 words)

This story feels to me like the start of something awesome. In some ways it reads like the opening to a longer work. What's here, though, to me revolves around prejudice and safety, fear and religion and hiding. The action focuses on two opposing sides, one helmed by the Prophetess, a religious figure seeking to ride Nigeria of "demons," and the other including spirits posing as humans, spirits of the earth and water that just seem to want to be left on their own. I love the way that the action can come to embody struggles of many sorts between religious intolerance and any group that has to hide from it. The story takes a look at passing and the spirits as being who can except when confronted by humans with the magic to out them. And that outing can be deadly. And I love how the story doesn't really (excuse the pun!) demonize either side. Both the Prophetess and the spirits act according to their beliefs, and neither seem to be acting completely on their own. The story has the feel to me of something much larger. The Prophetess is working with someone she doesn't like, is participating in the fight because she seems these spirits as demons. And the main spirit in the story, Oyin, is hoping to stay out of things, and yet at the same time is being forced toward Abuja, to some sort of great gathering of spirits. These things don't feel to me like they're coincidental, and the story opens just enough of a mystery to be tantalizing, to make me want to see where it goes. It feels to me like a setup, like there's a much deeper game going on, and I want to know more. This story is compelling, the characters and their powers fun and interesting and the clash of religion and magic and people just trying to be people is great. I want more, essentially. It's a great read!

"The Encounter" by Nnamdi Anyadu (1106 words)

This story also describes a meeting of non-human beings with the modern world. A meeting between something that could be considered magic and the brutal reality of human violence. In the story four friends deal with their own collective border and the rebelliousness that comes from growing up. And, I guess, from being mermaids and living in a situation where limitations are the law of the land. When so much is forbidden it becomes something like a game to break the law, and when the group breaks two of the Sacred Seven, it only seems to embolden them to break more. The story is a bit of a shock, showing this magical situation and world at the border of our own. And kind of reinforcing why these rules are in place. Not just to arbitrarily limit youth but to work within the reality of the situation. And I like how the story ties youth and rules. Because the young have a clearer idea of what is fair and what is not. The young people of the story might not really understand the complexity of the world, but they know that it shouldn't be wrong to go to the beach. And yet they learn that the rules aren't fair, that the rules at times seem arbitrary, because the world itself is that way. The world isn't fair. And the rules, difficult and strict as they are, are designed to keep them safe in a world where their existence is enough to justify their pain and their death. It's a shocking story but one that uses violence to great effect, to show this moment where these friends learn why the rules exist and that the world they live in is filled with people who would crush a crab just for the anger of it. It's a powerful moment and a great story!

"When Rain Fell On the Night of the Red Moon" by Gbolahan Badmus (2949 words)

This is a rather poignant and tragic story about parenting and guilt and loss and sacrifice. About names and about grief. The characters in the story are a couple whose child with severe developmental problems that require near-constant care has recently passed. And in that death a vast rift of guilt and grief has opened. For the wife and mother, it has to do with the nature of the death, and in her desperation she seeks to undo this harm, believes a supernatural person who tells her there's a way to retrieve her daughter…though it has some risk. I love the way the story sets up the sections of the mother in first person and the father in third. Alade's situation is still tied to the death of his daughter but it is also a relief. Not lacking in love but he's not completely aware of what's happened, which makes sense because he was the one absent more from her life. It was the mother who suffered more, who sacrificed more, and I feel the story does a good job of complicating the situation, of showing how there really was no way of winning, that for parents living with that level of care there's often not much to be done. That the grief and the guilt that follow are a weight that cannot always be lifted. That healing here goes hand in hand with gender and ignorance. It's not a happy story but is one that examines parental love and responsibility. It's about the burden of care and the way in which it strains relationships, how the pressure to live up to some ideal of what a family is can be destructive, can be drain. It's powerfully told and powerfully sad but very much worth checking out!

"Potency" by John Barigye (4833 words)

This story looks at power and impotence, poverty and wealth, and one man's relationship with his job, his wife, his child, and himself. It stars Frank, a low level clerk at a bottling company who finds that he can move objects with his mind. It's a power that fills him with a strange sort of hope, a hope that maybe he has found a way to make up for the fact that because of a childhood operation he can't get an erection. The story weaves itself around the ways that Frank is impotent, not just sexually but financially, unable to afford to take his sick child (who isn't biologically his but who is still socially his) to the hospital. Frank is beset by feelings of inadequacy, of regret, of anger and frustration. His ideas of what it means to be a man are caught up in his penis, and impact everything in his life, this kind of masculinity acting as a weight around him that he can't shake off. What's left to him is the fantasy of this power that he discovers, the ability to move objects that he hopes might save him. [SPOILERS] I like how the story shows, though, that even with this power he is unable to escape the oppressive masculinity that seeks to define him sexually first and in all other ways after. That even with his powers all he accomplishes is to scare some children, an act that represents him trying to elevate himself by preying on those with less power than he has. The story builds well and to a sort of tragedy, Frank revealed as powerless, as trying to hard to conform to a role he cannot fit that he ruins what he has, what he might do. It's a bit of a strange tale but a nuanced one, and worth spending some time with. Indeed!

"The Company" by Sanya Noel (1964 words)

This is a nice examination of a very strange corporate atmosphere. One where chips get shot into foreheads and employees are issued new identification and call each other by tag number instead of name. It's a bit like a company of spies but it seems to me to be about the way that corporations (and especially certain kinds) strip employees of their identity. Strip them of what makes them human, really, and attempts to make them into something more like robots. Just number that go around doing business, that add value to the company. Because when people become numbers they can be more readily manipulated. Numbers are bloodless, and I love how this story uses that idea to create this incredibly dubious atmosphere. It speaks to this situation where people are so desperate for a job, for security, that they trade it away for something else. [SPOILERS] And, if the suicide-balcony is anything to go by, it's trading away something rather vital. I love how that the story builds to that moment on the balcony, with the realization of what the outcome of this environment is. That these jobs aren't about keeping employees happy. They're not even really about keeping employees alive. These jobs are about pushing the interests of the owners, who are often so far removed that the employees aren't even fully aware of what they're doing. They're just cogs fulfilling some corporate function over and over again, and the result is…well, not good for employees. It's a charming story with a great sense of humor and a wonderful style. A great way to close out the fiction of the issue!

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