Friday, July 6, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #23 [July stuff]


It’s dinosaur time at Uncanny Magazine, with the first half of the special shared-universe series of stories. These works (the fiction, at least) sets up a Jurassic Park-esque world, except instead of using DNA to recreate dinos, there are portals and a bit of magic going on. And some of the stories take on the world-building of the setting a bit more than others. In that respect the issue starts strong, with back-to-back stories about the history and development of the dinosaur programs and science as filtered through the very personal lenses of characters struggling with betrayal, loss, and identity. And really the stories as a whole show just how much space the setting opens up to explore. Basically, I love it all, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the second half of the issue! Until then, to the reviews!

Art by Galen Dara
Stories:

“Red Lizard Brigade” by Sam J. Miller (3265 words)

No Spoilers: The dinosaur issues kicks off with a story set in the past, where Russia has discovered how to open gates to different places, different times. Where they can bring things back through. Like dinosaurs. For the main character, an orphan from the slums of Moscow, the opportunity to be a dinosaur trainer is a big step up, and one that they meet with absolute loyalty. Except, it turns out, when it comes to their superior, a man named Osip. The two are lovers, and yet the story opens with the news that the main character—and Russia—have been betrayed. The piece follows a moment of genesis for the issue, setting up the origins of the dinosaurs and how the Owen Corporation got involved, but it’s also an emotionally devastating piece about loyalty and the desire for freedom, and the fear that comes from having survived something very difficult and not knowing where loyalty should be given.
Keywords: Dinosaurs, Treason, Queer MC, Military, History
Review: This is a heavy story, featuring two people whose relationship is taboo, hidden, and who in some ways dream of a world where they don’t have to hide, where their work doesn’t go to a military machine that casually tortures the animals that they train. For the main character, things are complicated by the fact that they don’t want to rebel, don’t want to question authority. They follow orders because that’s what protects them, and doing anything else is huge and terrifying. And yet...and yet Osip means something to them, is a taste of something sweet and freeing that they want. Unfortunately, things don’t exactly work out. It is a gutting story in that respect, setting up why Owen Corporation gets its hands on the dinosaurs, on the gates, but also setting up this foundational tragedy, that the main character cannot break from the military, that they are too loyal, to afraid to take that step outside, to act in their own interests instead of the interests of the state. It’s conditioning and propaganda at work and it’s terrifying in part because it’s obvious that their queerness is allowed to a point. To a point. But not openly. And still they choose to fall back on the familiar because everything else is too much, too foreign. It’s a heartbreaking but great read!

“You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me” by K.M. Szpara (7087 words)

No Spoilers: You’re Emerick, a trans man and the son of the head of the Owen Corporation, Collier Owen. And you need bottom surgery. And fuck if this isn’t a beautiful story about science and belief and families. It centers Emerick and his partner, Leo, who’s also a trans man and who is supportive as h*ck. And while the couple really doesn’t have the money to get serious about surgery yet (despite a growing need for it), they do have the option of trying to reconnect with Emerick’s dad, who has plenty. The problem is, Collier might be super into super science, but is absolute garbage at accepting his son for who he is. The piece is tender and affirming, showing very frankly and compassionately how queer relationship can look like and how intimacy and identity can become very complicated and very charged. It’s honestly a story I never thought I’d see at a pro sff venue, and it comes with awesome dinosaurs and a little science magic, and it’s amazing.
Keywords: Dinosaurs, Trans MC, Queer MC, Transition, Family, CW- Misgendering
Review: This story takes the focus of the issue squarely into the “present” time and on the Owen family. Or at least part of it. Emerick is dealing with a lot, and dealing with it largely without help from his parents. His mom left and his dad doesn’t acknowledge who he is. He has Leo, who is awesome, but for things like surgery that’s not often enough, especially as they’re not exactly rich. And while it is incredibly difficult to read at times because of the way that Emerick is treated by his father, and because of how Emerick is struggling with his body, with the way it makes him feel and with trying to articulate that when emotions are high. And for me it’s also a story about family, though not exactly in the traditional sense. It’s about found family, about those people who Emerick wants to be in his life, the people who truly do support him, and make him feel good about himself. The dinosaurs in the piece are almost incidental, except they’re also very much vital to the way the story shows how people can accept something like portals to other realms and dinosaurs who can spontaneously “change sex” and yet struggle with something so relatively simple as a person being transgender. For Collier especially, his failure isn’t just as a father (though that is the more profound and personally harmful one) but as someone interested in science (the science is definitely in on trans people, they exist, thanks). And it’s summed up in the title, which is just perfect. And really, it is a wonderful depiction of a queer family very much in love and it’s so good, people! Go read it right now!!!

“Bones in the Rock” by R.K. Kalaw (5340 words)

No Spoilers: Telea is a raptor who has been transformed into a human and given ten lifetimes to find the remains of her love, dead now since the meteor extinction. The story follows this quest, this obsession, as she moves through the ages looking for bones, for remains. In this latest incarnation, her last, she works for a prestigious museum that gives her access to a huge amount of bones, and processes them with ruthless but careful efficiency. When Owen Corporation enters the picture, though, things take something of a turn. This also represents something of a turn in the shared universe, because the details here differ somewhat from the last two stories. It’s a fascinating combination of magic and science, though, and a wrenching portrayal of someone desperate to be reunited with her love after so many years and troubles.
Keywords: Dinosaurs, Bones, Queer MC, Science!, Reincarnation
Review: This story switches some things up with the shared world. First, the gates aren’t mentioned, which isn’t exactly surprising because maybe that would be secret, but here the Owen Corporation isn’t the dinosaur factory that it was in the last story, instead struggling with their science that revolves not around gates but on bones. Owen Corp becomes interested in the collection at the museum and that’s where they find Telea, and immediately are drawn to her. The implication isn’t terribly clear but it seems as least like Telea might not be unique. Still, I really like the mood and the drive of Telea, pushing toward this one end, lifetime after lifetime. She wants to get her love back, to experience what they had again. And it’s a bit heartbreaking what happens, how she is successful only to find that _she’s_ the one stuck in the wrong body, that her love cannot recognize her. And where the story goes from there is dark but appropriate. It speaks of the shifting goalposts of driven people, who she never really thought past the moment of finding her love and bringing her back so that when it happens and it’s not the same, because of course it couldn’t be the same, she has to quickly cast forward once again. And it’s beautiful and resonating and a great read!

“By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speech” by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry & A. Merc Rustad (4413 words)

No Spoilers: Ellery (Gray-Eyes) is a paleontologist who is brought into a project at the Owen Corporation to study dinosaurs and perhaps find ways to communicate with them. Being deaf, she can’t teach the raptor she’s working with, Sharp-Claw (V-5 and later, Velma), using vocal commands. But she can do better, using sign language to not only express herself to Velma, but giving Velma the tools to communicate back. The story gets into the heads of both Ellery and Sharp-Claw, showing how they experience each other and their shared language, showing that communication is personal to both of them, and yet they understand each other perfectly. There’s a wonderful sense of reaching out and trust within the story, and a release from isolation that comes from that reaching out.
Keywords: Dinosaurs, Deaf MC, Communication, Science!, Sign Language
Review: I love how this story centers isolation of various sorts. Isolation in the physical sense, that here are two characters who by choice or not have been placed in a rather remote situation where they don’t have much contact with others. And isolation is a more psychological sense, because even where other people are present there’s not really a connection—they are not pack. And through this idea the story builds up how Sharp-Claw and Ellery are able to cross the divide between them, through not just patience but a deep desire to have that connection. If it was just because of food, or just because it was a job, that would be one thing, but both people seem so motivated to do this because they are driven to break out of their isolation. And there’s layers to it, too, Ellery well aware that even as they form a pack they are entering into a new, different kind of isolation, one from the dominant, able culture writ large, but that having this community, this pack, makes that easier. It’s another story that doesn’t get too much into the shared world. There’s the Owen Corporation, yes, but this seems to be a smaller project, and there’s really no mention of the gates or any kind of magic. Which doesn’t make it any less a wonderful story! Go check it out!

Poetry:

“Octavia’s Letter to Marcus Anthony on the Discovery of His Faithlessness” by Cassandra Khaw

This story speaks to me of masks and betrayal, of the feeling of caring for someone and having them falter, and having to decide what to do with that. The poem seems to me to engage with the past, with the conduct of Octavia, the wife of Marc Antony, who had the very famous and public affair with Clepatra. And yet the piece also seems to defy that reading, twisting things a bit (using the name Marcus Anthony, for one). It suggest a bit of revision of history, to me, and indeed the piece seems to be about revision. About love poetry. About painting over the pain of betrayal with something different. With verse. With something beautiful. And I like that this painting over is a revenge of sorts, is a way of stiriking back at the man who hurt her. For Octavia, then, taking control of the narrative means not only that she decides what is included and what isn’t in the story, in the historical record of what happened, but that she gets to erase him entirely. If she lets her love he loud, be something that drowns out the reality of who this man was, the ugliness and unworthiness of him, then she is scrubbing him from history, something that he would hate. For me, at least, that gets into the title, the spelling of the name, the feeling that her revenge has been final and complete and, ultimately, she’s won. Which is an interesting and complex idea. And I might be way off in that reading. At the very least the piece does a wonderful job with flow and with language, making this profession of love feel like something else, something with a much more cutting edge. And it’s a great poem that’s definitely worth spending some time with!

“The One” by Brandon O’Brien

This is another poem that for me speaks of love, though in a much different way than the previous piece. Or perhaps in a similar way, because here we find a main character who is looking for love, who has been convinced that he had found it only to be shown that he was mistaken. Or perhaps it goes deeper than that. I feel the peom builds the main character here as a kind of immortal, though what exactly his nature is isn’t clear to me. He could be a god of some sort, striving always for love, doomed by his humanity, his flaws, to pursue and never be able to pierce deeper than that. Or he could be a vampire or other immortal creature, searching for love despite it all. Or he might just be ageless, timeless, reincarnated again and again and never able to find that one person that would help him to break this cycle. And what I like about the poem is that while he seems to have this dissatisfaction with the cycle, it’s also the thing that keeps him going. Though he might not find The One, each time he thinks he does it’s as if he does, because that becomes real to him, becomes everything. And I like that after so many so-called failed attempts he’s still moving forward, still looking. There’s this sense of longing that I read in the work, but also of constant discovery, finding joy and meaning while also finding an inevitable slide to judge these relationships after the fact, as not The One. And I’m not sure what I think The One would look like here, and I’m not really sure the main character does either, always hoping and yet perhaps unaware what he’s even looking forward. An interesting read!

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