Thursday, July 9, 2015

Quick Sips - Three Stories from One Throne Magazine (Winter 2014/Summer 2015)

So this is a bit odd for me. One Throne Magazine actually contacted me with an invitation to read/review a few of their stories. Now, not all of these are recent. Not all of these are even from this year, but then I saw the names and I was a little too tempted to resist. Chikodili Emelumadu and Tendai Huchu have both appeared in my Monthly Round series (three times between them) and I know I've read something from Nikki Vogel before (though I cannot for the life of me remember what). So while I normally try to look at only issues that have been out this month, I'm making an exception to look at these three stories. Anyway, onward to the reviews!


"Soup" by Chikodili Emelumadu (4219 words)

Well okay. This story mixes some different elements extremely well. On the one hand, the food. Oh the food is gloriously described and had my mouth watering. The aromas, the tactile feel of cooking was strong, mirroring Akwaugo's own attempts to live orderly, to toil to create something worthwhile. On the other hand, the darkness of the piece. Because wow, this piece gets dark. At the surface it is about a magical fish (another great aspect of the story for me because I kinda love talking fish). But it's also about a family and a situation that is suffocating. It claimed Akwaugo's mother, who could no longer take the abuse, the expectations, and who killed herself. And it looks about ready to claim Akwaugo, who is going to be married off, who is going to be pushed away so that her father and brother don't need to see her any more. The cycle of abuse, of seeing women as inferior, would continue, and it's something that finally shocks Akwaugo out of her inaction, right into bloody action with the weight of her machete. And wow, yeah, things get pretty grim and this has the feel of a fairy tale, the kind not afraid to leave a trail of corpses. For all t he violence and darkness, though, there is that sense of freedom that rises, that pushes the story to its conclusion, that is captured in that final image of the fish, the sky above, the sky below. A very good story.

"The Past, of Course" by Nikki Vogel (3651 words)

This story shows a rather bleak vision of the future, though not exactly one that is difficult to imagine happening. The main character, Dar-lene, is a sex worker and is rather hardened to the way the world works in this future, where she has very little power, where the police are corrupt, where everything has a cost and because she is who she is she has no real power. Sex is traded for everything, and anyone uncomfortable with the arrangement is not really cut out for this world. Like Dar-lene's boyfriend, who doesn't like being a sex worker but who can't escape because he doesn't have the money, the connections. The future world is facing a crisis with what to do because time travel exists and might start being available for commercial use, and Dar-lene wonders what she would use such an extravagance to achieve. The story is very dark, a twisted mirror help up to our own world (as many such science fictional futures are). It shows the picture of farther down the path that we could all go, where people are not treated as people but as commodities to be exploited. In a world of scarcity, where the wealthy control so much of the resources, everyone else becomes something lesser, something not quite deserving full human consideration. The ending is heartbreaking and captures well the forced values of the world, Dar-lene not able to even properly grieve or pause when tragedy finds her. It's striking and worth a read.

"The Second Coming of Dambudzo Marechera" by Tendai Huchu (2399 words)

Well here I am reminded once more that I should be reading more and seeking out more from outside the US. Because if the style and the surrealism and humor and biting criticism of this story are supposed to embody the work of Dambudzo Marechera, or even give a small taste of the flavor of that artist's works, then it's definitely something that would be interesting to seek out. The story follows the resurrection of Marechera, emerging into a world much like the one he left but updated, with small shifts. The prose is slightly steam of consciousness, though there is a structure to it that loops it back around, that approaches idea again and again. The story seems to be a way of celebrating the writer Marechera while also maintaining his own critical gaze at himself. It's a neat story, one that I feel like I miss some of because of my lack of familiarity with the subject. Still, the story is vivid and moves with an internal logic that cannot be denied. There is a sadness, too, perhaps that things are not better, are not fixed, that there has been progress but that things remain troubled, and there is what feels to me like a call to take back up the critical gaze of the troubled artist, the one willing to show the ugliness of the situation, to be what some would call crude or too distorted. Because in that distortion the reader is confronted with uncomfortable truths, which is a valuable aspect of art. The story succeeds, then, at both making a point on its own and also making me want to read the material it alludes to. Another solid work.

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