Friday, May 8, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #4 (May Stuff)

So the new issue of Uncanny is out. Woo! Of all the various publications around, Uncanny is normally where has the biggest names consistently, which makes sense for some place looking to create a reputation and secure funding. So maybe go and support them. They're having a funding drive and do provide some amazing stories. In any event, the May offerings are indeed many and some intensely entertaining pieces. Three stories, some short and others pushing the short story word limit, but still everything is very readable. Plus some (as always) great nonfiction and an honest-to-god Sonnet for poetry. So a solid month, which I should get on with already!

Art by Tran Nguyen


"The Practical Witch's Guide to Acquiring Real Estate" by A.C. Wise (2979 words)

This is a rather cute story written as tips to witches seeking to move into a new abode. The guide really is practical, but also humorous and well crafted, a tongue-in-cheek parody of a real estate buying guide. It's also a nice bit of world building, laying out the rules and dangers that these witches face, the magic that they dabble in. It pulls from many sources, nodding to fairy tales and also to works such as the Wizard of Oz. It basically takes all the different stereotypes and cliches about witches and their homes and blends them together, then dips down past that more superficial level to make a statement about homes, ownership, and place. But mostly the story is just a lot of fun, an excuse to tour through the misadventures in witch real estate and see how it would be if houses really were like they are in movies and stories, an extension of a witch's will but also willful creatures themselves. In some ways this advice can apply to anyone, because a lot of the issues involved are ones that most homeowners can understand and recognize, though obviously given a magical twist. It's a fun story that kept me smiling even as it got a bit dark at times. Definitely worth a read.

"Planet Lion" by Catherynne M. Valente (6730 words)

This is a rather abstract story, told in a series of written reports and logs by humans engaged in a galactic war for...reasons, and contrasted by sections from the point of view of alien lions who have been infected with something they weren't supposed to be exposed to. The lion sections are weird but beautiful, the lions having taken on some of the tendencies of the humans. More specifically, they exist in recurring patterns, each lion with one of seven humans, or smallgods, inside of them. The humans are from imprints in a strange substance called sludge that can be used for telekinesis but was also used by the military to quickly create fully trained soldiers by rewriting human brains with these new personalities. They were hoping to give these new soldiers the skills of dead ones, but it went further than that. It gave them those dead soldiers' memories, their lives. And it's a very human bunch, filled with drama and loneliness and violence and in the lions it's a very strange contrast to their more natural state. The story seems mostly about the conceit of humans only understanding intelligent life as they recognize it, and having to be reminded in some terrible ways. Seeing the lions pick up the mannerisms of dead human soldiers is weird but hitting, haunting, the ghosts trapped in a strange machine. It's a very jarring story in some ways, and not really for those looking for a light read, but for those willing to travel the strange paths the story walks, there is a lot to like. An interesting and startlingly original tale.

"Restore the Heart into Love" by John Chu (5000 words)

A project to save the world's texts from the censorship of war and tyranny launches into space in this story. And Max, one of the project's architects, travels with the library's texts in space, trying to make sure they last until the ship returns to Earth, to return all that undiluted text back to sender, to remind Earth that it couldn't erase it's past. War was starting when Max left, with China invading Taiwan, part of the conflict centering around China's efforts to simplify the Chinese script. And it seems like somehow China had managed to sabotage a bit of Max's project, trying to erase the section of saved texts done in traditional Chinese. Every time that Max wakes to fix something, he seems to find that something more has gone wrong with that collection. The story flits between these moments and Max's own past, his own relationship with the Chinese language and with his Taiwanese parents. It's a touching story, a man trying to keep a part of his heritage alive, his culture alive, his parents alive. When the sabotage finally rears up and replaces all the traditional Chinese characters with their new "equivalents," Max makes the decision that he's going to do what he can to reverse the damage. Something much easier said than done, because it involves manually checking the entire collection. But it's his mission, and he takes to it with the same dedication he has shown throughout the story. The idea of this is great, is powerful, that there is such power in language, in text, that a project like this could have such a profound importance to so many people. Just think of what would have happened if the texts of the pre-Columbian Americas had been similarly saved. There's no much power in words, which the story then participates in. Amazing stuff.


"For the Gardener's Daughter" by Alyssa Wong

Uncanny does seem to like to visit Greek Myth and here is a lovely poem exploring love through the relationship of Hades and Persephone. Hades being cold and dark and yet alive with love at the sight of the Gardener's Daughter. That other side of the story that is often overlooked to focus on how Persephone's mother reacts and creates winter, this one shows how the absence of her in the underworld causes Hades to change, to feel in ways that he never knew he was capable of. It's a vivid poetry that moves quickly and flows nicely. And rhymes. I'm not always the biggest fan of rhyming poetry but this works nicely and doesn't rely on the sorts of rhymes that would make it seem juvenile. The rhymes are complex and well done and oh, it's a sonnet. Yup, took me a little while. Ahem. But it does do an excellent job of capturing that feeling, that blushing love. And while it evokes Hades and Persephone it doesn't really pretend to be about them. It's about the love these two others share, the classic use of a sonnet to praise and flatter a lover. It definitely has enough heat to make one blush a little and enough inventive language to make it a joy to read. Good times.


"It's the Big One" by Mike Glyer

This is a very detailed and very lengthy discussion on the Hugos, its importance, and a bit about the recent unpleasantness surrounding it. Really, for people perhaps lacking the context on the Hugos, this is a great article that will fill you in on the history. Which for me is a great thing, because I don't have the best understanding of the award. I'm still relatively new to fandom and really didn't know much about the Hugos except that I would see the name places and it was supposed to mean that a book was very good. But then, obviously there is a lot more to the award than that. And this article does a really detailed rundown on some of the larger personalities behind everything. I laugh and laugh that the Puppies are so down on Scalzi if he was the one who made it so that people would get the packet that makes buying voting memberships so worth it. But I digress. I think that this is a rather even article, not really "picking sides" but rather giving a nice topographic overview on the award and the significance of what has happened. An interesting read for anyone wanting a bit of background on the Hugos. Indeed.

"Top Five Myths About YA" by Julia Rios

This is a great article that really could be about a great many things. In some ways it could be filed under the "Top Five Ways" dominant culture (mostly white and cis-male and straight) seeks to take power away from things that are deemed "too feminine" or "too diverse." And really, though it's not really brought up too much in the article, that is a complaint that I hear all too often when it comes to YA. The article breaks down a lot of the "arguments" that people use to try and dismiss YA and to try and get people to not think of it as legitimate. And really I think that a huge thing about YA is that it is more female-dominated and contains an awful lot of diversity. Because part of what makes YA good at times is that actual young adults are typically some honest and open-minded readers who don't want to deal with the shit. They don't want to have to wade through the "classics" that are so heavily straight and white and dudish (at least it seems not many young adults like that). They want books and stories that reflect their lives, that reflect them. So YA tends to be a bit more diverse as a field, and much more female-dominated. And because of that, to try and take away its power, a lot of people dismiss it and try to box it away. YA is Other. When really YA is only the beginning. For all SFF "purists" are upset about the trends in YA and how more and more people are turning to YA, what they're really saying is they want their genre to remain pure. But I'm ranting a bit. This is a good article with some solid points and does a fine job of defining YA and taking apart some of the complaints about it.

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