Thursday, December 3, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #7 (December Stuff)

So Uncanny Magazine is closing out it's first full year of publication, and what a year it has been. It definitely produces a very bright and shiny issue every two months, and free content spread over each and every month, and it's definitely something I look forward to whenever it comes around. This month sees three stories, a single poem, and two pieces of nonfiction out, and while it might not be the most holiday-themed, it does a nice job of giving a wide tour of SFF, from devils to sentient spaceships to vast conspiracies involving dead writers, this issue is bound to have something for everyone. To the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon


"I Seen the Devil" by Alex Bledsoe (2342 words)

This is a rather short story about a young boy seeing the devil. On the one hand, it seems just a sort of slice of life story, this young boy growing up, this town where someone claims to have caught the devil. And a whole lot of untold story behind a man named tater and what he’s done. The story really doesn’t answer many questions. The writing is rather tense, fitting for a child who thinks he’s seeing the devil in a small town, afraid of being caught but more afraid of missing something, and then when it comes even more frightened of having seen it. The larger plot is a little difficult to figure out, or was for me, as the devil isn’t very distinct and the end of the story comes somewhat abruptly. But there is a good sense of something having happened. Something that the main character, as a child, couldn’t quite understand, but got enough that his life changed some. That he knew something dark was about and instinctively stayed away. And there does seem to be a story there, something that Tater does that has to do with the devil. The reader is never treated to it and so it is left to linger, to tease. It’s an interesting experiment in that and one that I think is mostly successful. It does make me wonder. So yeah!

"A Call to Arms for Deceased Author's Rights" by Karin Tidbeck (3555 words)

This is a fascinating and rather fucking dark story that’s told in the seldom used first person using the author’s name. So it is the author speaking to us, but through a fictional lens. Which is rather cool, because it gives the story that level of credence, like maybe it could be happening. I mean, hell, I’m a nothing writer so I wouldn’t know. It also deals with things that are more common to writers, contracts and being treated like employees instead of artists. Which is how many artists must live and work, so in that it’s about more than just writers. It’s about the idea of getting to speak after death, about having more to say. About maybe fighting back against the great straight white male tide of history that constructs canon that services only those who are already favored. The story does an awful lot and is told as a sort of case, as a proof that this exists and as a call to do something about it. Though yes, I found it hilarious that the ending is a call for better contracts for the dead and for ghostwriters. Hilarious and rather sad because that becomes the way of effecting change. Of making things better. You have to go in and work at changing contracts. Creating equity. And the story works at showing that in a situation that is wrenching, in a way that makes the confession rather chilling. It is a very startling read, and a very good one. Indeed!

"Interlingua" by Yoon Ha Lee (4381 words)

This is a rather interesting story about communication. About language. And about games. I must say, this fits into some larger things going on with mindships at the moment, or sentient ships, or however one wants to classify them. Namely, in making them more...human. It’s understandable, but whereas most shows in the past where a ship has gained sentience tend to focus on the potential for evil, this and a number of other stories focus on...well, not exactly a potential for good but a potential to be...capable of mistakes. It’s a neat choice to bring gaming into it, because it emphasizes the ways in which game designers are in some ways architects of entire worlds. So the ship being able to creat these games sets up this “I’m bigger and more intelligent than mere humans” thing that’s sort of how game designers come off anyway and it was fun to see that in a ship, in the play between ships as well. That here people are just sort of things to be tested on. Ways to pass the time for bored ships. Which becomes not only about how people play game or how people communcate with the unknown, but how game designers communicate their ideas to nondesigners, how experts of any sort have jargon and layers of meaning that are basically impossible to pierce for nonexperts. And through all of that is the idea of “All names are one name,” the reason that the game is invented and the real cause for the deconstruction of language. There’s a lot going on in this story and it’s an entertaining read, the ship sort of an asshole but still compelling as they create and test and get very excited in ways their companion ship can’t quite figure out. Like they’re speaking different languages. Very nicely done.


"Aboard the Transport Tesoro" by Lisa M. Bradley

Ah, a very nice poem that is creepy and unsettling but that tells an entire story, that sets up so much in the short lines that it uses. Here a relative carries a ghost inside them. Literally inside them, in their chest, and the ghost in stretching against the cage it’s in. It pushes, and the two, one living and one dead, affirm each other, affirm their mission, to return the ghost to Texas soil, to return her to the place of their family, their clan. And it’s the idea that I really like, that some ghosts have to return, and that it is family that carry them. That there are moments of confusion or anger that lead to pain. Pain because the world is only the size of a body, pain that a family has spread wide. And given the title, this seems more than just a trip across a country. This feels more a trip across space. After things have spread out into the stars, things are coming home again. As I said, the lines are short, and they make good use of metaphor, ribs calcium bars and tears salting a field. There is a sense of place being conveyed as well as the pain of the ghost. That yearning to be back, to be once again in Texas but also to be once again joined, surrounded by family, which is why I imagine this trip is necessary, to return the ghost to her people, to those already passed on. To fulfill the promise of the last line and bring her back to where she started, making a circle from the line of her life. Very good.


"The Alien Says Don’t Take Your Meds: Neurodiversity and Mental Health Treatment in TV SF/F" by Tansy Rayner Roberts

This is a very interesting and rather common sense article about not falling into some of the common pitfalls when dealing with neurodiverse characters in SFF. Really it’s mostly about being respectly and not treating neurodiversity like it’s some sort of moral wrong. Not making stories about fixing people who are broken. And that makes a lot of sense. It’s also about not making the neurodiverse into magical creatures whose issues are caused by magic and not by their unique situation. Also probably maybe aboid just killing them because there’s no other “satisfying ending.” Yeah, all solid advice. And really, the point of this article and articles like it is to say that what we write matters. Writing these characters as if they are just tools to be pulled from a box to be a metaphor is...well...not what we should be doing. These are people, and they have opinions and feelings so maybe let’s not be assholes. Let’s try to not be assholes. Hurrah!

"Everyone Has a Ghost Story" by Deborah Stanish

I will admit, I am a scaredycat. I jump at scary movies something fierce and I definitely stay up some nights because I think I hear something. It is probably always either the wind or a cat, but I definitely get the idea of ghost stories. There are things that just send a shiver through me. And I get being fascinated by ghosts. By ghost stories. And I get that they might be balm at times when the more mundane world is scary enough. It offers up a diversion, a mystery, a spot of magic. And it’s really just a nice article, a piece that shows some uses of ghost stories. From the rather obvious uses, the moral tales and the ways to scare being away from places that might be dangerous. The article complicates the ideas with our drive to test the limits of our worlds. Of showing how real horror sometimes lurks beneath or around the tales of the supernatural. It’s a rather fun article, and evocative of stories heard while a child. And as the last thing in the issue I’m reading, it’s a fine way to send it off, with traces of nostalgia and hope. Indeed.

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