And here I am a day later finishing up my reviews of the latest (really big) issue of Augur Magazine. This one has something of a treat, too, because on top of the two short stories and two poems, there’s a graphic story as well, which brings some vivid colors and imagery to look at in all it’s pretty while maintaining that feeling of complex and careful work within SFF. The stories are strong, atmospheric, moody, and creepy at times. The poems are alive with movement and defiance. And the graphic story brings it all home, closing out the issue with a thought on cycles, a fitting end for a publication that will, after all, be out with a new issue in due time. So there is no real end, no real beginning, but it’s all pretty great all the same. To the reviews!
|Art by Lorna Antoniazzi|
“The City We Live On” by Sydney Henderson (short story)
No Spoilers: Adeline lives on a city that asks a lot form its citizens. That requires obedience. And the occasional (or not so occasional) sacrifice. People that just go missing. People like Adeline’s son. Faced with his loss, she’s pulled into herself, but the Administration requires that she attend grief counseling in the form of a support group, which might just be a way to get her to accept the official line on the matter, that any people taken by the city are heroes fueling the security of everyone. The truth might be stranger, though, and far far creepier, and the story explores what kind of a place Adeline is living on, and what she can do about it. It’s a strange but powerful piece exploring grief and loss not just of a person but of a belief that the system you’ve been living under works.
Keywords: Cities, Machines, Grief, Family, CW- Loss of a Child, Support Groups
Review: I really like how the story captures the sort of horror at peeking under the hood, as it were. I mean for most of her life this city has been...all right. Certainly there were probably a lot of indications before this that things weren’t great for some people but, well, she had herself and her child to think of. She was happy, or relatively so. And in that she was probably more willing to belief in the lines that what the city takes doesn’t really meet up with what the city supposedly gives. For the Administration, it seems that a lot of work is put into trying to convince people that not being killed for no reason is some sort of huge gain. And, well, that can seem like a huge gain if the alternative is certain death but if that’s the alternative it’s only because the Administration has made it that way. And so Adeline now sees the lie of it all, the hungry mouth that ate her son. And she’s willing to say something about it, which might not exactly be the safest thing to be, but what’s safe? I love how the story unfolds, how this reveal of what’s inside the city is a descent into horror, into darkness and blood, and that it happens so fast, that turn a surprise except that it’s not, not really, because the city seems aware of what it’s doing. And Adeline gets to see the inner works, gets to smell and touch it and know that this isn’t something that was every safe of good. It’s only ever been a horror and it’s then that she knows she has to do something, hast to try and tear it apart, even if it’s ultimately useless, if it doesn’t have a lasting effect. Because once she knows there’s no going back. It’s a defiant piece but also something of a heartbreaking one because this is something she only sets out after it’s already taken so many. Not that it’s too late to act, but that part of the tragedy of the city is that it can work so well to that point, and only after it crosses that line, and then crosses it further and further, do people really start pushing back, at which point it might be very hard indeed to really stop things. It’s chilling and visceral and difficult, but also a great read!
“The Myth of the Wound Sealer” by Lia Binte Sidin (short story)
No Spoilers: Jun is an arborist contacted by a married couple to try and heal a lemon tree that has been in the family for generations. Normally this isn’t a job of an whole arborist, but the couple can pay, and so Jun journeys out to their home and examines the tree, which seems to suffering from the husband’s uncareful attempts to heal it from his own carelessness. Something that might also be said for the wife, Amani. As Jun works, she finds herself drawn to Amani, by the way she takes up space, the way the heat doesn’t seem to touch her. And she might just stumble on a secret surrounding that lemon tree. Or rather one sheltering in its shade. The piece is strange and full of yearning, quiet and calm but with a power to it, just under the surface, waiting to be gasped.
Keywords: Trees, Marriage, Arborists, Soil, Bones, Queer MC(?)
Review: I love the mood of this story, the way that it centers the power of trees. Their ability to heal from wounds without exactly erasing those wounds. It reminds me of trees that just grow around fences, that engulf chains. And there’s a strength there even as here it’s been kind of fucked up by the supposedly-good-intentions of this husband. When in truth I can’t trust the intentions of someone who thinks they are the expert on everything. That he knows best because he can’t believe that Jun could be right. What he actually seems to want is a mastery he’s just not good at, that he can’t maintain, and that might have already led to a tragedy, a buried secret. And I just love the way that Jun and Amani connect, the way they move around each other. It’s laoded and sensual and okay it’s not like explicitly queer btu also like come one, I at least read that kind of a connection, here, though that seems dangerous in this environment, something neither woman can really talk about. But it seems under the surface, like everything else, waiting, waiting. And I just love how that all comes together, the two women, the truth about why Amani never sweats, why her skin doesn’t feel like flesh, why all of it. It’s kind of creepy at times but it seems more than that about the way the two come together, share their secrets with the tree, mourn all that could have been, all they might have been, while still, for a moment at least, being able to say it, to give it voice, to preserve it with the tree. So that the tree can grow around it, keep their secret, as long as it endures. A stirring and fantastic read!
“Abeona, Goddess of Outward Journeys, Hits the Glass Ceiling” by Nisa Malli
I love the power of the piece, the way that it comes across as something of a defiant and final fuck you, a resignation, a erupting up of all the times that the narrator has had to swallow down her rage, her indignation, her hurt at having been passed over, her work assigned to someone else, credited to people less qualified and skilled than her so that they are the ones that get the assignments that she wants. That she’d do better at. But I feel like the piece is doing something a little different with that, too, perhaps showing that the goal here, the barreling up the ladder, the finding ways to be better and better in the hopes of maybe getting that promotion, aren’t all that it’s really cracked up to be. At least, the voice of the poem for me takes on something of a harsh edge, a sharpness because what’s being discussed in part is how good the narrator is at a job that’s in part about life and death. About commodifying people, about numbers and results rather than being about...people. There’s a certain dismissal of people as unimportant, flesh-bags, and I like here that this ceiling doesn’t imply that the narrator isn’t willing to be just as ruthless, just as cutting, just as brutal as her counterparts. Rather, there seems to be a part of me where the poem sort of frames this ceiling...not as a good thing. But as a way of perhaps pausing to see the shape of things, and what’s further up the ladder, and what that might mean not sure for the narrator, but for everyone in this system. For me at least the piece does a great job of setting up this situation and...and the narrator herself seems too close to it, too immersed in it, too angry at the injustice of it, whereas we the readers can see the wider injustices and perhaps see that it’s not the ceiling that needs to be broken through, but rather the whole system that needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. In any event, it’s an invigorating, wonderful read!
“Re-Wilding” by Tiffany Morris
This piece speaks to me of emotions, primal angers and passions welling up. Being reclaimed by a person who refuses to be tame. For me, at least, the piece doesn’t seem to be about the idea of re-wilding that gets discussed sometimes with regards to ecosystems. Not about finding mega-fauna to replace extinct niches in various geographies. Though there is animal imagery throughout, I don’t get the feeling that it’s really about just re-introducing these animals into an environment to undo human-impacted ecological erosion and narrowing of biodiversity. I think the re-wilding here takes on a much more personal tone and meaning, the second person you of the piece reclaiming your own wildness. Throwing off the pressure to be calm, to be polite, to be placid. To be tame for another’s benefit. The re-wilding is internal, inside you, perhaps in that sense taken from the natural, from the animal, the wolf’s snarl, the harpy’s wings, the snake’s shedding skin. Defensive measure all of them but also useful tools for those who want to be free. Who want to warn others to back the fuck off, step the fuck down. To get that feeling of air whistling through fur, caressing feathers, the feel of the ground racing under scaled skin. The piece for me begins with a kind of bone-deep exhaustion, the need to express, and sort of explodes. Without direction, without shape, there’s no real way of harnessing that. The re-wilding becomes then the mechanism to take that energy and give it a form. A way to utilize it to break from the confines, the chains, the pressures to be nice and smile and accept all the bullshit that people shovel on you. The call is to become wild, fierce, unable to be caged. And it’s a wonderful, bracing, inspiring piece you should definitely check out!
“Cyclic” by Jade Zhang
This is a gorgeous comic that deals with immortality, with divinity, with two goddesses who are facing down the idea of eternity and finding that it’s not exactly a comfort, even if they do get to spend so much of it together. The two seem to be a couple, partners, the sea and the stars. The sea, how to hidden dangers, hidden beauties, almost a bit more shifting, stormy. The stars and their constancy, their brightness, their slow turnings. Together they are fun and passionate, even as their conversation on this night takes them into some more choppy waters. Because they know they are essentially characters written into existence, divinities that might wane and fade as humanity’s worship slows and shifts and eventually stops. So for all they might be around from the beginning, and might be around for an end, they might also be gone before the universe ends, and they can see even that distance eventuality as a shore drawing nearer. It’s not something especially the sea likes to think about, as she seems to bristle a bit at the idea of shores, but I love how it’s all drawn together, how the characters circle around the idea of cycles, around being these figures who are larger than life. They are divine, they are goddesses, and yet part of them obviously feel bound, finite, restricted. It takes talking through that with each other to sort of come back to the place where they can enjoy where they are without worrying about what happens when they’re gone. Whatever happens, the sea and the stars will endure, and there’s such a great power and comfort to that, which pairs so well with the visuals, which are stunning, and the voice, which mixes prose with a nice sense of poetry. The colors really capture the space where sea and stars meet, very cool and dim, blues and purples and greens. I love the way the characters blend into their elements, become part of the natural world, as if they were pulled from that, personified by human stories and faith and destined, eventually, to meld back in. But the idea of cycles that the title evokes seems to promise for me that there will always be a return, and even when not personified, the elements will still touch, will still keep each other company. Amazing work!