Monday, July 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #5 (July Stuff)

Back again to review this month's offering from Uncanny Magazine, which once more has a nice mix of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I must say, the more I read the publication the more I feel I get the title, get the vision that unites it. I really dislike that people would see a publication like Uncanny and not see a unified whole. That some people might say "Oh, look, they publish different genres which means there can be NO other way to organize a magazine" is...disappointing to me. Because I do see that Uncanny really does stick to the idea of the Uncanny, of the unexplained and the magical, of the living metaphor, of the slightly twist on the expected. The stories are indeed uncanny, unable to be easily categorized, and I quite like them for that. Anyway, I should probably stop rambling and get to the stories. Onward!

Art by Antonio Javier Caparo


"Woman at Exhibition" by E. Lily Yu (3043 words)

This is a strange story about a woman who goes to an exhibition of art by Edward Hopper. Pushed out of her apartment by her fiance, she goes looking for...inspiration perhaps, or maybe just escape. She goes in want, though, and as she steps through the exhibit, as she views the paintings, she gets the uncontrollable urge to eat one of them. It's a very strange story, part ghost story and part art examination. The most interesting part for me was the descriptions of the paintings that didn't exist, all done by Hopper's wife, who had also been an artist whose work has been lost or destroyed because she complicated Hopper's story, because she was a woman. It mirrors vaguely the situation Estelle, the main character, finds herself in, her fiance's will pushing her aside, making their relationship, personal and professional, more about him. That she can see the paintings at all is a mark that they hold special significance for her, because they don't really exist, are ghost images that come and go, that are meant only for certain people. The story ends with a sort of lingering slap, the idea that something has happened that is just sinking in, that will change things for Estelle, that make me think wedding bells are not in her future. It's a lovely, slightly surreal piece, but I think it comes together nicely, a wake-up call delivered from the ghostly beyond.

"Midnight Hour" by Mary Robinette Kowal (6966 words)

Well here's a nicely disturbing, dark, and tragic story about a kingdom paying the price for its prosperity. To save it from a devastating plague, the king and queen sought out a witch, who gave them what they wanted in exchange for certain things. That the king be mad for all but one hour of the day. Like the queen lose her name. For seven years. After five of those years, the strain is almost too much for the couple, who get by but only just. When a foreign prince starts poking around in their business, though, things get worse. The story is told from the queen's perspective, an insight into her unique pain at being nameless, as so many queens are, invisible in many ways and yet the true power in a kingdom rule by a madman much of the time. The prince, rash and with thoughts of doing great things, represents something of an escape for her, a seduction, but in truth he offers nothing, sees her as nothing but a tool, a damsel to be saved. It is her husband, trapped inside the mind of a madman, who sees her as his equal, who loves her and who holds their love. The resolve they show, in the face of everything, is strong and powerful. That the queen refuses to relent, refuses even when it would lift her pain, lift both their pains, is amazing. The story is dark, very dark, and with a shattering tragedy to it, but even so there is hope, that ray of light that the price need only be paid for two more years. What might happen in that time, especially given the events of the story, is a bit up on the air, but the king and queen seem more than capable enough to handle it. Their love, the strongest weapon they have, will see them through. An excellent story.

"The Rainbow Flame" by Shveta Thakrar (6918 words)

The last of the fiction this month focuses on Rupali, a young woman who makes rainbow candles out of her own imagination, who sacrifices her stories so that the Singers, the keepers of the field of stars that enrich the city they all live in, can continue to hold everything in order. It's an interesting story about what happens when the power of storytelling is taken away from the people, when one group tries to control all of it because they cannot bring themselves to trust. It's no surprise that when fascist groups come to power, one of the things they try to do is control the narrative of their rise, of their history. To control the narratives of everything, so that it works for them. Similarly, though perhaps not with quite the same level of malicious intent, the Singers use the candles to hold everything in status, pleasant perhaps but also stuck in a loop, unable to find new and better ways because the power to do so has been stripped away. Rupali, along with Daya, the daughter of one of the Singers, begins to discover that she shouldn't have to sacrifice her imagination, that if she is to be fuel for others that she deserves to have a say in the course of things. And when she is denied, she decides to flex her considerable power and force change. Change that will give power back to the people, that will free the stories, make them alive again. It's an excellent story, layered and sensual and complex. Rupali is stuck between tradition and forging a new destiny, and the story is careful not to demonize tradition, but to not be slave to it. Traditions are fine, but they must serve the people who follow them. When they do not, when they cause harm, then they should be changed. Not destroyed, but altered, built from, better than before. A very nice story.


"Slices of Failure in Super Science" by Bryan Thao Worra

This is a fun and rather subversive poem that follows the dual presence of a mad scientist. At least as I read it, this poem features the disembodied voice of a person who has been saved in a bid for immortality. Their consciousness has been saved but as time passes the original, the one who at some point had cared so much for living forever, has been too busy to really care. Has moved on to other things. Has let that project had and now that project is upset, neglected. The lines of the poem are short, the stanzas short (mostly couplets). The feel of the poem is one of both opportunity and dwindling. The program, this person's immortal self, is running down. They will not be around forever, now. Will be forgotten. But there is also a sense of space, of possibility, that the original, the living person, is so wrapped up in projects, is too busy living to worry about living after death. It's an interesting situation and manages to split the main character nicely, capturing that slightly mad presence of the mad scientist. Good times.

"The Saga of Captain Jens" by C. S. E. Cooney

This is a strange little ode, a sort of rhyming sea song, a pirate's poem. It's fun and it moves and it (mostly) rhymes (though some take a wee bit of squinting). It is certainly a rollicking good time that she seems to be having, this outlaw and pirate who's sort of like a Robin Hood but also more a myth. The poem is slightly difficult to place in time, as there is a reference to briefcases and that seems something much more modern. But then, there seems to be the current that the Captain isn't exactly supposed to be seen as a real person. That the story of the Captain is more important. She interacts with fictional sailors and pirates and bests them all, and to me it implies that she's not so much a woman of flesh and blood but an idea. That if you become too stagnated in your "real" life you can sign up for a more rich fantasy life that will sort of bleed over, that you can metaphorically become a privateer and it will put you in a better place mentally, allowing you to be more free, more yourself. It seems to be about freedom, about having strength, about not letting the weight of the mundane world take away your fierceness. About finding people who will encourage you to take chances, to fight (by whatever means necessary) the injustices of the world. All while being rather fun and funny and a great read. Indeed!


"Ethics in Reviewing" by Natalie Luhrs

This is a rather interesting piece for me to read because, well...maybe I review things. And maybe at multiple places, so for me it's an interesting thing that she's talking about. I will admit I struggle with "objectivity" at times. In that, I don't ever really try to present some sort of rating on the stories that I review at this site but I do for other places. Here is my "I'm reading because I love stories" self that is reading and reviewing and basically gushing about all the stories. I try to react honestly, I will admit, but I think that ethics in reviewing is definitely something that should be discussed and thought about. It's not something that I personally have ever really worried too much about, really, because I don't get paid. That seems like a large step for me, that if I was getting paid I would feel added pressure to remove myself from what I'm reviewing. Or maybe not. Being a writer and a reviewer is a sort of odd thing, because I suppose it is a bit fraught. What happens if I give a bad review to a publication I want to get into? Or a good review? I do stress about that some and kind of just hope that people can keep writer-me and reviewer-me separate and that it all works out. But it is something to think about and struggle with. Always. A very interesting read, this.

"Writing Queerly: Three Snapshots" by Sofia Samatar

This is a great project, three small digressions into works that capture what it is to write queerly. I will admit sometimes I feel like a crappy queer person because my reading, especially growing up, was so straight and male, but these snippets give me a look and projects that have been around for a long time and that I should really go out and read. That everyone should go out and read (if they haven't). Because, among other things, it captures the idea that writing queerly isn't really about one thing. It isn't about the characters being queer, isn't about queerness being a theme or motif in the work. By picking these three very different works ranging greatly in when they were published, the reader is confronted by the fact that there is no simply guide to writing queerly, that it comes from the person, from the general insights and problems that being queer can make it easier to understand and write about. The piece really does make me want to set out and track down all these books and stories. Which, thanks a lot, even more things to buy and read :p Seriously, though, I think this is a great answer to the prompt, to examine what it is to write queerly, which seems like it would be a very difficult question to answer. Here, the answer seems simple. Write. A nice way to close out the issue.

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