|Art by kiDChan|
Slipping in at the end of the month, Anathema drops four new short stories and two new poems in an issue full of hurt, inheritance, and struggle. The piece focuses on the systemic harms that are passed down, that seem to grow in power and influence the more generations are saddled with them. And it finds characters trying to push back against the weight of history and tradition in order to create a new space for themselves and others to exist. Safely. Where they can express themselves and begin to heal these generational wounds. Only there always seems those eager to destroy the work of dismantling systemic oppression, and these are not easy works, but rather challenging reads that push the reader to confront the world around them through these mirrors that reflect the struggles going on in the real world every day. To the reviews!
“Moses” by L. D. Lewis (4475 words)
No Spoilers: Moses has known she’s...different for a long time, since she was a child and a bully pushed her too far. With her strange powers, though, comes a certain lack of control, triggered by instances of extreme stress and fear. Now an adult, Moses has been running from her powers and the memories of how she’s used them, accidentally and intentionally, by diving into drug abuse in an attempt to sleep and keep herself calm. It’s not a life that her sister really approves of, but Moses has been running for so long she fears she doesn’t know how to do anything else. When she notices a new tragedy about to unfold around her, though, it might just be enough to jar her from her circumstances and push her to trying to change things. Heavy and richly rendered, the piece bends of the weight of Moses’ guilt and trauma, her pain and resolution not to hurt anyone else she cares about. And it’s about maybe coming out of darkness and fear and toward a home that has always been waiting.
Keywords: Fear, Superpowers, PTSD, War, CW- Drug Use, Family/Sisters
Review: This is a beautiful story about powers and about trauma. Moses never asked for the ability to make people disappear, and despite how many people might think it a blessing, for her it’s never really been a good thing. Even when it might help her, even when it might protect her, the power is based on killing, and so it’s not really something to use lightly. Moses struggles with her past and with her loss, with her fear that because of her powers no one could love her or want her around. To me she seems in a position where she thinks everyone else is better off without her, that everyone else should give up on her. And yet at the same time, she’s unwilling to give up on others, putting herself at risk to try and help people, to try and stop the harm being done around her. It’s what gets her to keep an eye on a new woman who is being followed by some bad men, and how eventually I feel Moses is able to feel that she still has good that she can do. That she still deserves a home and a family. That she doesn’t need to run from everything. And in some ways it’s about her decision to step into her powers instead of away from them. To try and control them and use them for good rather than buying into her own powerlessness about them. It’s about using her fear and channelling it where it can be proactive and protective. In some ways it feels to me like a superhero origin story, one where Moses has to reach a place where she stops being a passenger in her own life and really gets behind the wheel to steer towards a brighter future. And it’s a tense, emotionally charged, beautifully rendered portrait of power and fear and hope and family. A wonderful read!
“Raices (Roots)” by Joe Ponce (5950 words)
No Spoilers: Jerry lives on the US side of the US/Mexico border and has taken in a sister he barely knows and her son, half of a family who have had to flee to America in hopes of escaping death in Veracruz. Only her husband and other son were apprehended at the border, and things within the US have deteriorated even further for immigrants and asylum seekers, complicated further by a strange condition effecting recent immigrant children, where their bodies are transforming. The piece is filled with a suffocating feel of seeing a bad situation get worse and feeling hope slowly slipping away. Jerry wants to do good and can feel the system working on him, trying to get him to turn on his family, even as he begins to see just how fucked up everything is. It’s a story of prejudice and fear but also the strength and audacity that comes from fighting for a home, for a place to be.
Keywords: Immigration, Hearings, Trees, Family, Laws, Transformation
Review: I love the way this story really gets into Jerry’s head and shows just how creeping and effective racism is, just how well conservative xenophobia can be used in order to control people and provoke fear. Because even not being white, even having to deal with racism directed at him all the time, he still can feel himself being influenced by the news and the talking points. Manipulated to think that these people who are his family must be doing something wrong, something to deserve the treatment they are receiving. Because the alternative would be to believe that the system is broken, that the system is unjust, and believing that would lead to too much fear, too much anxiety. So he tries to think of the laws and somehow just, the system as somehow working in the best interests of everyone when in fact it’s being gamed specifically to help a small population at the inhuman expense of everyone else. Through confinement, through literally stealing people’s kids away. Jerry finds on multiple occasions that he’s letting it all go on, even sympathizing with those who basically want to murder his sister and nephew. Who want all immigrants gone. Who want all people of color gone. It’s terrifying how that stuff can work into the collective consciousness and from there into people who should know better. And I love how the story brings Jerry to a place where he can see it for what it is and push back. Refuse the party line. And embrace instead this thing he doesn’t really understand. This family he barely knows. Because what he knows is that they are people and deserve life and liberty and safety. And it’s a wrenching story about transformations and injustice and roots, and it’s an amazing read!
“Birds of a Feather” by Eboni J. Dunbar (7200 words)
No Spoilers: Robin is a wolf shifter who, at twenty five, is feeling old for not having found a mate. Sparrow is a practitioner kept locked away by his mother from the rest of the world. Both are lonely, and both feel an instant connection when their paths cross. In a city where wolves and practitioners do not get along at all, though, there are a great many reasons for them not to pursue each other. Will they be able to forgive themselves, though, if they leave things the way things are? The piece is quickly paced and filled with attraction and angst. Both men are isolated, afraid, but find in each other a reason to push back against the forces they have previously been content to accept as law.
Keywords: Shifters, Gods, Magic, Mates, Queer MC, Star-crossed Love
Review: It’s rare to find shifter stories in SFF spaces (the links between romance and SFF are very present but the borders are rather rigorously patrolled on both sides by genre purists), so it’s rather refreshing to find a story that is gloriously smutty, nicely romantic, and angsty as all h*ck. The characters are both trapped in their own insecurities, a beta wolf mostly content to do as he’s told and a strictly-controlled son whose power has been locked away by a rather abusive and manipulative mother. They are classic star-crossed lovers, and watching as they find each other and decide that they’re not happy with the status quo is rather great. Now, for those who aren’t fans of the instant-connections of true mates, this piece might not be for you, but I personally am so happy that here is a story that is for those who are fans of instant-connections, who can’t help melting a little bit at these two men finding each other and finding in each other something that was missing in their lives, something that will push them to fight back against the pressures they feel to conform, to obey. And to find in each other something affirming and freeing and loving and good. Built on consent as much as on a sort of divine intervention, and bringing them both to a place where neither of them is in charge, where they both remain their beta selves but able to explore each other and the space between them and move into new and exciting territory, all while maybe building bridges between their respective people, who have been at odds for too long. It’s cute and it’s fun and it’s another great read!
“Inheritance” by Qurat Dar (3525 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story grows up enamored with stories about djinn, much to the frustration of his grandfather. By the time he moves to America at eighteen, though, on his way to becoming a doctor, he’s given up on djinn and spirits. He still keeps in close contact with his grandfather, though, who gave so much so that he could travel abroad and find his success. Until circumstances push him back to Pakistan and a confrontation with an inheritance he never suspected. It’s a story that creeps darker and darker, slowly revealing why the grandfather never liked hearing djinn stories, and bringing things to a rather terrifying conclusion.
Keywords: Family, Immigration, Curses, Djinn, Inheritance
Review: This story sets the stage quite well, drawing the horror over a lifetime as the narrator moves away from his home country only to return as someone completely different. And in many ways I feel the story is about that movement, about his own relationship to his home and his grandfather, and to the stories that he grew up around. He notes himself on his return that he’s like a stranger, like a foreigner despite being born there. And he’s lost his interest and belief in the stories that his grandfather always warned him about. He moves directly into danger despite all the warning signs because he can’t imagine them as real any longer, and it ends up being his undoing. In some ways it might just be a story of a kind of haunting, a kind of curse. But it certainly seems to me that a big part of it is that he’s gone, lost most of his connections back to Pakistan. He returns but in many ways he does so too late, from a sort of guilt rather than a true desire to go. And it really is a well constructing horror, where the pacing and small elements work together to go from a rather sleepy and almost nostalgic opening to a much darker and visceral ending, where the narrator is fleeing for his life, lulled into a sense of security that he never would have had had he remembered that there are certain doors you shouldn’t open, certain forces you shouldn’t be seen by. But he steps in it, and it’s a roller coaster of terror as he is made to understand what exactly that means. And fuck, yeah, it’s a dark and unsettling read!
“Planting Season” by Jessica Jo Horowitz
This poem speaks to me of, well, of speaking. Of voice. Of language and identity. And also of loss, and immigration, and an attempt to find a home where a person doesn’t have to lose all that they were, where they can plant something and have it flourish, its roots pushing so deep that it becomes a part of this new land, inseparable. And for me it gets at the hope of movement, of surviving persecution and danger in order to make a new home elsewhere. Of course, elsewhere isn’t necessarily all that welcoming, all that accepting. In some cases, elsewhere contributed to what led to that original place being lost. Whatever the case, though, I feel that the narrator here is seeking not to assimilate into a new world, though that might be the expectation, the condition placed on them for being allowed to settle in a new place. They have no intention of bending in that fashion. Instead, they bring parts of their home that was lost with them as a sort of seed. Of language and culture, of stories and practises. And they plant the seed in their new place, not asking for permission, not waiting to be allowed. They plant their seeds, and from that act the growth is something beautiful, something like what they lost but tinged to reflect the new soil. It is changed, yes, different, but is also changes the world it grows into, making space for the narrator to have a bit of their home and to give a part of their home to others, to feel bits of their language, their culture, sink into the ground and into the skin of others, coming back in the form of stories, of words, of practises. Things that cannot be burned away or stopped easily, because they have become part of the land, part of the fabric of this new place, and trying to remove them would damage everything, would hurt everyone. Which is audacious in the face of diaspora, immigration, and the pressure to assimilate. And it makes for a wonderful read!
“Things to do When You Believe You Have Been Cursed: A Checklist” by Maya Chhabra
I love the framing of this poem, how it places the reader into the place of someone who has been cursed, the “You” of the piece someone who doesn’t seem to know much beyond that they’ve been cursed. The poem expands as a list with points and subpoints, detailing what you should do next, and next, and next. What remains clouded in mystery, which I appreciate, is what exactly happened. We don’t get to know what the shape of the curse looks like, what the details entail. We know that you are shunned and that the narrator of the piece advises you to flee into the woods, to lose yourself there in every meaningful way. And I love how the poem twists a bit, how in some ways the advice that the poem gives is part of the curse, as if the curse has been to be stuck in this poem, listening to the voice to tell you to flee, to lose your humanity, to be confronted with the severity of what you’ve done, and to be slowly drained of your food and water, your means to feed yourself. How you end up surrounded by the dead, without much of a chance at anything...except to give in to the voice of the narrator urging...well, nothing good. For me at least it’s a dark piece, one that seems to offer a way out of a curse only to reveal another reality entirely. One where it was the curse all along and you, you deserve it for what you’ve done, deserve to be led to the place where all that remains is the end that the knife promises. And eff. I mean, I suppose there’s also a reading where the use of the knife at the end is defiant, where you are able to fight back with it, but the implication I get is that using the knife on the dead would be fairly useless. They’re dead and probably would feel it. That final like is chilling and sharp and yeah, the whole poem is a great and unsettling read!