|Art by Julie Dillon|
"An Abundance of Fish" by S. Qiouyi Lu (814 words)
O.O Insert bursting into tears emoji next because readers, this is a rather tragic read. A beautiful and expressive tale about love and traditions and luck and fear, the piece shows a couple getting ready for a festival, being domestic and cute and then, well…shit gets real. The story balances the carnage of what happens, the weirdness of what happens, the magic of what happens, with the quiet of the main character at home, with the weight of the shock of what happens, the desperation and the pain and the recovery. And it’s a story that balances the main character’s…not ambivalence at their heritage, really, but their knowledge that they care about it less than their partner, that they’re farther away from it than their partner. The tragedy that happens in the story is one that walks hand in hand with a sort of miracle, and one that the main character seems to take as a sign. A sign to be more careful and aware, to be more conscious of how they are moving through the world. It’s a care that is sharpened by the grief they feel and the loss they experience, and it is a wrenching read in that regard, to see something so fun and warm ripped apart. The magic here is something that takes and gives, that reminds the main character they they should treasure what they have and find ways to celebrate who they are, and that dual nature is interesting and challenging. The main character’s anger and frustration and desire for the event to mean something are well conveyed and emotionally hitting. It’s a dense little story, one that shows how people can cling to superstition and tradition, especially when the world asserts itself as an often cruel and random place. A fantastic read!
"And Then There Were (N-One)" by Sarah Pinsker (19,303 words)
Okay wow, this is a rather strange novella that at first glance fills me with all sorts of hesitations. It’s a bit of a meta-piece, after all, casting the author as not just the character in the story, and not just the main character, but pretty much every character in the story, in a cross-dimensional convention of Sarah Pinskers. For all this could be an adventure in navel-gazing, though, I find it instead to be a deep and complex look at possibility and the pull of diverging realities, the hurt of loss and the wondering what could make it better, wondering what if the loss had never happened to begin with. Oh, and it’s a murder mystery and [SPOILERS] the murder weapon is a Nebula Award. So it’s also a lot of fun. The story centers a Sarah who is an insurance investigator, who is pulled into looking into the murder because she’s the closest there to a detective. And I like how meticulously the story is set up and how well all the pieces of this fit together. All of the characters are kind-of the same person, and yet all of them are very different, too, and the story shows how circumstance and experience can shape things even as there are things that remain pretty constant through everyone. That there turns out to be a murderer among them is a shocking moment for everyone, then, because so many of the Sarahs (and other not-named-Sarah Sarahs) think of themselves as firmly not murderers.
The story does a great job of exploring divergence and how these different people are related. But not only that. Through this self-examination, the story creates this deeply personal and layered narrative about choices and what’s important. The main Sarah has to face the things within herself that could make her into a murderer while at the same time keeping a handle on the facts of the case. The prose is easy to read and fun, creating this atmosphere of bizarre comfort. When the mystery starts to come together there’s a solid momentum and I love how that it pulled into the idea of chasing down a runaway horse. It all just works so well together and the story pulls away before answering all the questions, before revealing a lot of what comes next. And the weight of that for me is to put this emphasis on how choice can be like that, can be like gazing into a thousand iterations of yourself and wondering which is best, which might be better than your own. And in that moment being guilty of something, because you’re not dealing with the mess in front of you, because you’re letting yourself be distracted by “what ifs.” Which is a wonderful thing to explore in SFF especially because that’s so much of what it is, that asking, that answering. So yeah, it’s an excellent story with a great premise that has definitely won me over. Go check it out immediately!
This poem is very appropriate given the time of year it is, but more than that it’s a great piece that explores the cycles of creation and humanity, the way that humans build things that must be contained, that must be warned against, only to lose the meaning of those things to time, for them to become myth and legend and then rediscovered. I’m not incredibly familiar with the texts that the quoted material comes out of but the poem does an amazing job of integrating it into the larger poem, into this flowing narrative about how there are forces that humanity seeks to tap for a variety of reasons that cannot be withstood, and cannot be adequately contained. That our ideas that we can fully control everything we create is an old one. And it replays itself over and over again. Looking back to those earliest of stories about the shamir, the poem parallels it to the more modern inventions of nuclear weapons, to show how haunting this ideas can be, how much they stay with us, the specter of things that cannot be withstood, the specter of the forces that forged the universe being made into tools of war. At least, I read the poem as drawing the line between these ideas (when we are once again living under the threat of war, and when talk of nuclear weapons has again raised itself to “well, maybe…”) to show that people will listen to wisdom. That they will see that they already have the warnings and the lessons to not make that step. And, hopefully, they will listen to those warnings and we can all reach a better future. Or I might be missing my interpretation entirely. In any event, it is a fascinating piece that I encourage everyone to spend some time with to find your own meanings. A great read!
"The Axolotl Inquest" by Lisa M. Bradley
This is a rather dark and powerful poem about consent and about human arrogance, especially when it comes with a healthy dose of colonialism. The piece looks at the fate of the axolotl, which hardly exists in the wild anymore, which has been taken to be a pet, made into something exotic and subservient. It is used for the ways it can push forward human knowledge and science. It is cherished for its beauty, for its mythology, but as an object. As something to be owned. And the poem asked why the axolotl was not consulted when it was used. When it is still used. And I love the way that the poem concedes that maybe the axolotl would have been fine with all of this. That the actions themselves aren’t really what’s an issue. That what’s really the problem is that we never asked or thought to ask. That we never treat anything around us that we deem as lesser as if it should be able to choose. We choose, as humans, for what is best for us, and assume that everything else is here for our use. That we have dominion over it all and that said dominion means we don’t have to consider what another animal might want. It’s a sharp and heavy poem that goes through the list of crimes humanity has visited upon these creatures. Taking away their habitats and polluting those that remain. Abducting them. Experimenting on them. Torturing them to learn about how they work. The poem hits and it doesn’t let the reader look away from what has happened and from that question of why no one asked. Because it reveals how often we don’t think to ask, how often we assume, and it’s an uncomfortable but beautiful point that the poem manages with a great language and a gripping flow. An amazing poem!
"Fandom in the Classroom" by Paul Booth
This is an interesting look at the academic side of fandom. Not just tracking it, but using fandom as a sort of text to examine larger trends, ideas, and cultural realities. The piece makes a strong argument about why it's important and relevant to study fandom at the university level, on the one hand because not doing so discards it and favors harmful stereotypes about fans and fandom and on the other hand because there's so much to mined from the history and currents of the field. Fandom is not a monolithic thing, and studying it with nuance and care brings so much that might be overlooked to light. And drawing out fandom into history and popular culture, we can see how people find each other, how texts impact society, and how everything sort of works together to create this profound picture of us as people and groups and fans. There's often the tendency to dismiss fan work as useless because it's so tied up in other texts, but art is often referential and treating fan work as lesser just because of the marginalized people who often participate and find vital connections and community there is rather harmful. So yes, this is a great piece about not why fandom should be legitimate but why it is legitimate and should be studied. The bit about history being a collective story and incredibly important to study is something I've seen a lot and thought a lot recently, so definitely give this one a read.
"A Work of Art Is a Refuge and Resistance" by Dawn Xiana Moon
This piece does a wonderful job of exploring how SFF can offer a home to people who feel otherwise between homes. This is one of the things that I think many find in SFF, this feeling of belonging, of coming to it because there doesn't seem to be anywhere else. Because in many ways SFF is about belonging and being an alien in a strange place, even while being human. Part of the shock and disappointment of finding out that SFF can also be a rather fraught place is that most of the people who find it do so as an escape. From loneliness, from despair, from bullying or not fitting into classic roles. There's always the hope that outsiders will understand other outsiders. That you can use this hurt that you feel at being not called in gym class to reach out to others, to decide not to hurt others the way your were hurt. The article does an amazing job of showing just how much of the writer's experiences might be shared by anyone growing up in the US (and probably most people outside the US). And that it has pushed her to resist, to fight back. To be one of those who uses those experiences to help others, to be welcoming to others, to build something that so many can share. To follow through on the promise of what SFF implies instead of falling short of it. Because what the piece touches on but doesn't go into quite so much (because it focuses more on the positive, on the active, on the hope) is how SFF can be a toxic place, and how sad that is for people to use texts that are explicitly about compassion and reaching out to people who are different to further build walls and divides between people. So yes, the essay is all about resistance and pushing back and, perhaps most importantly, translating the lessons of SFF into real world things, into groups and movements that seek to affirm and lift up all people. It's another great read!
"#beautifulresistance" by Shveta Thakrar
This is another great piece about taking resistance and SFF and doing something affirming and, well, beautiful with it. Like the last piece, this one also looks at how SFF can be a welcoming place, a refuge for those buffeted by the storm of life. It can be something that keeps them going. It can be a fuel for resistance and it can be resistance in itself. And the author here looks to that power and promise and calls for people to come together to something beautiful. To do something with art to break down walls and bring people together instead of tearing them apart. The sentiment, especially now, is an important one, to not let the ugliness of the situation at hand, the hatred and threats and uncertainty, prevent us from doing the work of inspiring and using art to reach for something better. To imagine better worlds and how this world can be better. By focusing on the ways that SFF already helps and affirms people, the essay seeks to create a movement where people can consciously come together to take part in resistance and community. To push back against the forces seeking to erase those who “don’t fit.” It’s a bracing and invigorating piece and it balances well the personal narrative elements with the call to action. And it also looks at how our world is made up of stories and how we can try to use that to push for positive change, to try and fight back against those who would use that power corruptly. It’s fun and it’s bright and you should certainly give it a read!