Ever since I heard about this project last year I've been looking forward to the first issue of Fiyah. Guess what? It more than delivers on its promise of excellent SFF stories. The issue is tightly packed with six pieces that work together marvelously, that start out on Earth and then slowly pull away farther and farther, mixing science and magic, alien worlds and our own past. These are stories that examine and challenge the idea of difference among sentient beings, that refuses to allow the "science" of intolerance and hatred to decide who should be considered a person and who should not. And the stories feature characters fighting for better worlds and better lives, fighting because to not fight is to die, to extinguish, and to be erased. It's an excellent issue and you should all rush out and buy it. In the mean time, let's get to the reviews!
|Art by Geneva B.|
"Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber" by Malon Edwards (6912 words)
This is a deep and moving story about guilt and about being part of a system out of need, a system that really isn't just but that promises something better, something easier than the endless crush of poverty and want. At least for some, like Rakaya, the main character of the work, who effectively sell themselves to the government to be used for violence. The setting of the piece is a bit dystopian, with Chicago having split from the rest of Illinois and Rakaya employed by Illinois to either convince Chicago that was a mistake or, at the very least, to punish them for breaking away. The reasons behind the split, however, take a back seat to how this situation is used by Illinois to reinforce a broken system where guilds force people at a young age to serve the powers that be. Whether that's as a soldier or, like Rakaya's lover Roshan, by becoming something like a living battery, the result is the poor (and largely people of color) of the setting are preyed upon by all sides. And Rakaya the struggle is one against a system and against her own conscience, because she has to confront the ways in which she props up an abusive, violent system. It is brought home to her in a way that no amount of money or supposed safety can fix, and it leaves her trying to find a way forward. I love the way the story frames itself, not exactly told from Rakaya's point of view, though I would still call her main character. Instead, the story is told by the technology her body has become, an apparently sentient net that is a part of her but separate, that pushes her live despite the difficulties, to push forward despite the harm and despair, that reminds her that she's still a person, not a monster. And it's a complex story that looks at regret and grief and loss and being stuck, with an almost mythic feel and an awesome aesthetic. A great way to kick off the issue!
"Police Magic" by Brent Lambert (6996 words)
This story takes a look at the climate of now and imagines it as a sort of tipping point between technology and magic, and then uses that backdrop to tell the tale of Adrian and Kalup, two brothers traveling across the twisted ruins of America to try and get rid of a burden that has always been theirs. The setting here is great, imagined as a post-apocalyptic waste where technology has failed and magic has begun to rise. Only...only the magic has predominantly been help by the police, who directly after the Twisting, when the magic first manifested, used it to do terrible things before it drove them to violent ends. It's a magic that has infected Adrian and that he is desperate to escape, for while it offers him some manner of protection it's also not something he wants, is still part of the same thing that destroyed his family, that killed his parents. The story is nicely paced, starting out with a bang before settling into a more steady drive that builds in momentum and force. The story mixes the magic and the reak-world aspects quite well, imagining a new world where the emotions of our current situation have been given force. And as those emotions are tending toward brutality, dominance, and fear, those are the forces that Kalup and Adrian have to confront and put to rest. The story captures a sense of wonder and magic that is refreshing and interesting, that draws into an extended examination of the role police play in fostering the emotions that can destroy us all, that can lead to utter destruction. And the story does chart a course through the ugliness of Adrian and Kalup's world to something better. Not without cost, but still a hope and a future worth working for, worth fighting for. It's a wonderfully affirming story and a damn fine read!
"Revival" by Wendi Dunlap (2808 words)
This story takes things away from Earth and into an even more distant future than the first two pieces in the issue, to a new world where humanity has fled to start over. New. Free. And yet the same prejudices that caused these same people so much pain back on Earth have followed them as the colonists decide what to do with the main character, Serene, who is pregnant with a child whose father is not human. The setting here is startling, an alien world where the human settlers have noticed that they've stopped aging. That they are changing in ways they don't understand. And where a new child might not be fully human. But all of this is wrapped up with the same fear that has always separated people from people, that has always justified murder and injustice. The story does a nice job of imagining a situation where those older tribal prejudices can be complicated and twisted, where the Other is not quite human at all and yet still capable of love, still capable of thought and reason. The story for me becomes about the ways that people cut themselves away from empathy, even when they should know better. That humanity should truly have learned to but down the blades and treat change and the future with compassion, because any transition from now to then will be full of blood with understanding and care. It's an interesting story and something of an uncomfortable read for me but a valuable one, that centers a woman's right over her body in the face of intolerance and violence. It's dense with ideas and the ending is lovely and sensual and beautiful. Another great story!
"The Shade Caller" by DaVaun Sander (4808 words)
This story moves very smoothly from the last, building on the themes of Otherness and difference, on power that is feared and reviled because it is not understand, and because it threatens what people want to understand as human and right. The story features a young person entering into adulthood and desperate for the rites that will protect them, that will make them a full member of society despite their nature, which marks them as Unseen, as lesser and tainted. The person learns, however, that what has always seemed like a curse is anything but, and begins to come to terms with not being lesser, but certainly being different. And learning that sometimes it's not a person that needs to change but the values that they live under. They are a person who has lived their entire life with one name, a name that erases the power that they posses, and then learns that they have another. To me the story becomes about the pressures to conform to a system that doesn't treat you as fully human. Expanding on the themes from the previous story, I read it as a call to recognize that the culture of dominance and subordination is not the only culture. Within the story, there is a place that the main character and the others like them can go to in order to be more themselves and embrace how they are different. There is a place for them to discover the past that has been kept from them, the power that comes from discovering who they are and what their nature is divorced from the lies and misinformation of the elders they grew up around. The story reveals a place where they are lied to specifically to strip them of their power, to keep them subservient when they could be peers, for no other reason than fear of their power. It's an interesting story and, it appears, part of a shared universe that I definitely hope to read more of. An excellent read!
"Sisi Je Kuisha (We Have Ended)" by V.H. Galloway (2882 words)
This is a wrenching story about loss and extinction, about revenge and violence and despair. Like the previous two stories it looks at and expands the idea of a shared personhood amongst people who are quite different. Not exactly a shared humanity, as each of these stories features people who are part of groups who redefine and expand the traditional definition of humanity. Here the main character is an Eloko, from a species of people living in Africa and hunted mercilessly with the arrival of firearms and Europeans to the area. The story focuses on the main character as he flees, as he deals with the specter of extinction and the thought that he might be the very last of his kind. It's also a story of revenge, a story of violence, and how that violence defines the relationships that the main character has with humans, with the Ituri as they are called to his people. It's a violence and a legacy that the main character can never really escape, that becomes a cage for him and for the humans that he hates. And I love how the story shows the loneliness and the despair, the way that t he main character comes almost to love the human who hurt him most because they can finally understand each other and the grief and pain that they feel. [SPOILERS] Only, even as it joins them it cuts them apart, makes them too wounded to ever find a way through the violence. It's a sad and tragic piece that doesn't flinch away from showing the realities of hatred and genocide. It is a difficult read because the hope here is swallowed by the realities of the atrocities committed, by the hope that has been crushed by hate. Even as it is difficult, though, it is also another great story.
"Chesirah" by L.D. Lewis (8962 words)
This story completes the issue marvelously, further looking at distance across difference the relentless drive to be free. The titular character is a Fenox, a person who combusts and reforms and who, because of this cycle, has been controlled from a young age. Or, if not controlled, at least owned from a young age. And the story opens as she prepares to finally free herself, to finally escape being seen as property. Or so she hopes. The story has a great action to it and a great pace, setting up obstacle after obstacle as Chesirah tries to run without really ever having known freedom, without knowing the how or the where of her flight. The story doesn't hide or blunt the power of Chesirah and her need to be free, gives her full agency as she navigates a world that was always closed to her. But it also shows the necessity of assistance in the face of systemic issues. It shows that getting free and staying free are slightly different things and that working with people as equals is much, much different than being owned. It's a story that also shows how difficult it is to trust after so long an abuse and how much responsibility is on the people hoping to fix the system to earn that trust. Through positive action and kindness and respect. Because only with those things can freedom truly be achieved, and only with those things can some wounds close, even if they never truly heal completely. I love the world built, too, this sci-fantasy setting that takes things to a universe very, very different from our own. It's got an amazing visual flare and style and the character and voice of Chesirah sells the story wonderfully. It's an affirming, pulse-pounding adventure that refuses to compromise, and it's a perfect close to an amazing issue!