|Art by Carrie Ann Baade|
"The Lamps Thereof Are Fire and Flames" by Rosamund Hodge (5107 words)
This story takes a little while to pull itself together, but wow, when it does it is a dark fairy tale done oh so right. Mostly it seems a re-imagining of Snow White, only my god is this one more depressing. And it's told over generations, with numerous players. Mostly it's the tale of three women who fall under the spell of Love, or of something preying on them who calls himself Love. At first he seems such a good thing, but he cares only for the fairest, and his love is not safe. It is destructive, to the point where the women, the Queens of a kingdom, keep trying to escape him, so that one sends her daughter away without her heart in hopes that she will be spared the curse. Alone without a heart, she is taken in by seven women who become her friends, and one of them, Leaf, becomes her best friend. There is not much of a happy ending for them. More matricide follows and Leaf is killed by her friend by way of a spell and becomes a magic mirror. But the mirror tells the story of how all of this started, and so in the end
"Those" by Sofia Samatar (5048 words)
This story, a bit like the last, is told mainly as a spoken story. Unlike the last story, though, where the narrator was also the storyteller, this one breaks those roles into two people. The narrator of the story is Sarah, a young woman caring for her aging father, who is the storyteller, who tells her of his time in Africa working on a plantation along with an old friend George. The story meanders a bit, as the old man is easily distracted, taking asides to explain events that happened back then, when he and George and the overseer were the only white people around and when he fell in love with a local girl, Sarah's mother. The story is ponderous and seems to be about the way those locals are treated, the natives that are dehumanized and made into "Those." Because even though Sarah's father married a native from that area of Africa, he still obviously had his issues with her people, as a retelling of an attack on the plantation shows. How he describes it isn't lost to Sarah, who lives in a sort of fog of racism and fear. The story moves until she begins to be more bold in public, until she's about to go a church that might help her feel more like she belongs. The language of the story is strong, subtle. The way the ants are describes and paralleled to the native Africans, how that casual racism gets to Sarah, twisting her dreams. A bit of an understated story, it still manages to hit hard with a great last line and image.
"Translation Corporis" by Kat Howard (3239 words)
This one's a bit of a weird story about a girl and then woman, Lena, who is secretly...host(?) to a city building itself for her. The city, which seems to live inside her, takes her favorite places out of the real world and incorporates them into itself along with pieces of Lena. Some of her blood, a rib, her iron, all are taken out of her body and she weakens, starts seeing doctors. To the city, this is a good thing. It is growing and becoming more realized and it wants to open itself for her. For Lena, it's not quite so good, because it seems like it could kill her. There's a lot of religious imagery taking place in this story, saints and women whose relics are stolen. Again and again the idea that you have to be dead to be a saint comes up. So in many ways it feels like Lena is not long for the world. When she finally disappears entirely, though, and enters into the perfect city, she doesn't linger. She doesn't stay. She takes back herself, takes it all back so that the city collapses. It's a nice way to show that she's not going to let anyone make a saint out of her. She tears it all down and leaves, not willing to be made into a city. And for all the city weeps and is (literally perhaps) broken up by this, she's unapologetic. It's her body, after all, and she never volunteered to have it made into a city. An interesting story and one I might revisit, as I get the sense I might have missed something. Still, solid work.
"Ivory Darts, Golden Arrows" by Maria Dahvana Headley (3544 words)
This is definitely a bizarre story, out of time and out of place. Hypothetically it takes place on Earth, in America (from the reference to the Pony Express), but it also takes place in a magical fantasy realm between two mountains. And Miss Kisseal is a postmistress not to be trifled with. The story is kind of crazy, with Miss Kisseal out delivering mail to all sorts of people on both mountains and between and having to deal with a whole lot of people looking for love. The entire area is terrible at love, so when Cupid comes calling and shoots Miss Kisseal with an arrow, things have gotten weird. What happens next, though, is both amazing and sexual and strange as hell. It's a well done story that had me smiling along with the personality of the writing and the characters. It might not make too much literal sense, but the story does a great job of capturing a feeling. Maybe it's the feeling of getting a love letter in the mail from a secret admirer. Maybe it's the feeling of being struck by a magical arrow on a cold, cold day. Whatever it is, it's the feeling of Valentine's Day and it's cute and affirming and fun.
"Deep Bitch" by C.S.E. Cooney
This poem has an interesting form to it, an interesting flow. In theory it's a conversation between a person and a (perhaps supernatural) talking dog. But then, that explanation of this poem doesn't really do it justice. More, it seems a conversation between a person and their inner fire, that deep part of them that doesn't want to be nice, that wants to rip and tear and be satisfyingly selfish and free of the constraints of societal expectations. A conversation between a person and their personal deep bitch. And in that it seems to click for me. Here is a person very concerned with how they are perceived, with doing the right thing. In some ways it's about a person with some privilege worrying about it, not wanting to take advantage of it. But, obviously, it's a harder road to walk than just pushing forward with complete ignorance and lack of care. So here this person is complaining to to their inner voice, to their Deep Bitch. And their Deep Bitch has absolutely no time for their whining. That part of them is action, violence, and need. And it sees that what the person is doing is just complaining, that it doesn't need her. Or, the person realizes that they have no reason to invoke the Deep Bitch. Yes, things are hard, but things are hard for many people, and the person backs away from the Deep Bitch, saving it for a time when it will truly be needed. It's a nice poem, the way it spreads away from the confines of the left alignment, the way it evokes violence and need. It's striking and I recommend giving it a careful read.
"Afrofuturism Rising" by Ytasha L. Womack
This piece is mainly an overview and brief history of what Afrofuturism is and where to find out more about it. Which is awesome. I names names when it comes to authors in the field which is great for knowing what to go out and buy already. It also discusses identity and the power of having a term and language to define what it is you're into and about. Because having that language allows you to connect with others about it, allows you to identify a certain way and find some solidarity there, to find out that you're a part of something that has a deep history and tradition. It talks about empowerment and optimism and just generally gets me excited to read some of the texts referenced. I find the idea of language effecting identity to be fascinating and quite true, too. That having something to call your movement makes it seem more real, less easy to be dismissed. It connects it to more people, gives it power. So yeah, good stuff.
"Family Matters: How Geek Communities Turn Dysfunctional" by Stephanie Zvan
This is a great and rather nuanced look at communities as family and how people can get really upset about them. This isn't specifically about geek communities, but given the space it appears in it's easy to see how what's being brought up applies. And really it's a call to be mature and listen and, more than anything else, try. It recognizes that trying is not a very fun things, that it's draining and that most people in these communities are doing so because they want to belong. They are working, mostly unpaid, to belong and so when things happen that causes strife they are too personally invested to be truly detached from it. Which is true. I know I'm super invested in things and when I hear something that feel like it's pushing me out or telling me I'm not wanted in the communities that I work hard to belong to, I do feel threatened. I do want to push back. And this gives some different options, urging stepping back and thinking, taking time, perhaps even seeking external help. It's worth reading and thinking about, surely.