Friday, May 1, 2015

Quick Sips - April 2015

Sometimes I wish that the stories at would be shorter. Because even intrepid readers might have a little difficulty fitting in some of these stories in the otherwise packed month. None of these stories are quick, none of them light. But they are all rewarding, all interesting and deep and worth wading into. Or diving into headfirst. Most of them have a longing quality about them, circle around a lack that might or might not be filled by the end. The most successful of the stories seem to leave the question open, leave it to the reader to fill in, but all the stories are interesting and compelling. Another excellent month from one of the few non-print/free publications that will put out novellas. So let's get to it!


"Ballroom Blitz" by Veronica Schanoes (8288 words)

This story features a band of twelve brothers who get cursed to remain in a punk dance club after the oldest brother, Jake, beats a kid for puking on his shoes and then refuses to leave. The bartender, who turns out to be some sort of magical being, curses him and his brothers that they need to be visited by women for one hundred and one nights in a row to be free of it. And for a while the brothers simply exist, unable to die, unable to move on. They party and then they wake, bloodied as Jake bloodied the kid that first night and they clean and start again. Then the women come. Twelve, just like them. And Isabel, the oldest, immediately connections with Jake. They fall in a sort of love with each other, but it's not exactly a healthy relationship. It's messed up because Jake is a bit of a selfish ass and Isabel is not in a great place mentally. She's depressed and has trouble feeling, of maintaining her feelings. She keeps on with Jake because she feels needed, but she knows that he's not good for her. There's a lot of human failing in this story, missed connection. Jake remains rather selfish, rather dickish, but Isabel does manage to free him and his brother, who disperse, get real jobs. Except for Jake, who is obsessed with Isabel. And after a while he's able to find her again, and they reconnect. And it's not exactly a great thing, because they are still rather messed up, but it is sweet and it seems that even if they're not going to be good, that maybe they will be able to help each other out. Not fix each other, but some things can't be fixed, and maybe they're finally at a place where they can be okay, where they can be together and have it not be destructive and unhealthy. It's not the happiest of stories, but it does have a glimmer of hope for them, that even someone like Jake can learn from his past. That he can learn to be less selfish. It's a nice story.

"The Ways of Walls and Words" by Sabrina Vourvoulias (7057 words)

Two young girls in New Spain deal with the strict demands of the Inquisition in their own ways in this story. Neither are Christian, and Anica, who is Jewish, is imprisoned with her family in small cells at a small convent where Bienvenida, a native girl from a family of healers, cleans. The two are drawn to each other, at first for the poetry of their prayers, and then as succor from the loneliness that has been forced upon them. Across the distance of their religions they find something that binds them and grow as friends. Despite their care for each other, though, the walls that the Inquisition and intolerance have built are too tall to merely climb over. They are both young, and neither is completely in control of their fate. For Anica, the future is not a bright one. Her family is taken, tortured, and killed, all except her and one of her sisters. For Bienvenida there is also trial as the Inquisition encroaches more and more, as it makes more and larger demands. Her way of life must be hidden, must be protected, but it is a dangerous game. Both women are caged in their own ways, but in some ways they hold the keys to their imprisonment. And Bienvenida gives Anica a way out, a way to separate her soul from her body. As a bird she flies away from the bonds of the flesh, up and over the walls that kept her trapped. The ending is one of longing, of continued loneliness. Still the women are apart, separate, and there is a feeling that maybe time will bring them together again, but also a sense that loss and pain might keep them apart. Still, the focus is on what can be done, what must be done. Bienvenida acted, and will act again, because it is the right thing to do, because prayers are not enough. It's a well crafted story, dark and steeped in bloody history. Indeed.

"The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman Malik (22548 words)

I think this is the first novella that I'm reviewing this year. So hurrah for that? Really, it is a rather satisfying exploration of family and magic and the secrets behind things. A young man of Pakistani descent is brought into a strange story thanks to his grandfather. In good fantasy fashion, the grandfather is full of strange stories, stories that seem to stretch what is possible, and for this he is somewhat outcast. The grandson, Salman. believes to some degree when he is a child, but as he grows he becomes more concerned with other things and loses touch with his grandfather. Then the grandfather dies, and that death brings Salman back in sideways. Now living far away and with a white girlfriend, Salman doesn't know where he belongs in his heritage, doesn't know how to relate back to his family and his now dead grandfather. Only as he looks through his grandfather's past he uncovers a strange mystery that relates back to the stories he heard as a child. It's a well crafted story, careful and steady with the tension rising slowly, with Salman pulled into the story in small but powerful increments. There is a gravity to the mystery that he cannot resist, and slowly it threatens to engulf him until he finds what he is looking for. The reveal, the magical center of the story, is interesting and strong, mixing creation and metaphysics and magic. But really this is a story about family and culture, about not looking back, about not letting some past stop you from living your life. It's a long story, but one that provides a solid reward for reading all the way through. Uplifting and with a great style, the story manages to maintain its momentum and polish throughout. A fine read.

"Ambiguity Machines: An Examination" by Vandana Singh (7842 words)

A story told in three parts and bound together in the frame as a sort of test for candidates wanting to explore the nebulous topography of Conceptual Machine-Space, this one is another that flows out slows, three stories that start to knit together, that seem to form linked circles, an enormous Ven Diagram of thought and concept, where at the middle are implications large and abstract. Taken individually, the three stories are about longing, about science trying to find sense in the ambiguous magic of the universe, of impossible machines, and the inability of science to truly map those boundaries. In each there is folly, the scientist going too far or losing themselves to that which they study. And that these machines, while a bit addictive, are also dangerous, are also a bit destructive. Are also elusive. Because in the end all of the machines vanish. Not really lost, but absent, perhaps taking up residence in a place beyond the human, like the machines themselves have gathered what they needed and transcended. But what of the people? The human element is left, fittingly, ambiguous. There is no real clue as to what happened to them, but the feeling of it is that they are still out there, but that somehow the machines have found a way to perfect themselves. That they all came from human longing and frailty, human failing. They were flawed, but needed the flaw, and that after a while the machines were able to complete their own repairs, that they were able to perfect that which they were created for. It's a strange story, hints and theories and never really any answers, but it gives the entire thing that magical feeling, that impossible impact. Certainly there is a lot to think about with this story, with these three stories, and finding out how it all fits together. It's lovely and lingers in the mind, that feeling of longing, of curiosity, that desire for answers. And in evoking that feeling the story succeeds at capturing a bit of the magic it examines. An excellent read.

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