Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Quick Sips - Plasma Frequency Q1 2016 Part 2

I'm back looking at the first issue of Plasma Frequency Magazine's triumphant return. Last month I featured the first seven stories of the quarterly issue, and this month I'm cleaning up the final six. And I must say that I think I like the second half of the issue even more than the first half. Most of the stories are fairly short, but there's a nice balance to them, some flash fiction and some a bit longer. There's a good balance to the tone and mood of the pieces, as well, from much darker and more psychological stories to ones that bring the fun and left me smiling. Above all, these are well-crafted speculative stories. There's murky contemporary fantasies and political science fictions and it all comes together nicely, making Plasma Frequency's return a happy thing indeed. To the reviews! 

Art by Tais Teng


"River, Carry Me Away" by Anna Yeatts (869 words)

This is a nicely dark and mysterious story about a woman traveling by river. A woman who, if not made of fire, is both cursed and blessed by it. Only by submerging herself in water can she escape burning, and she moves because she has to, because if she's found people mistake her for a demon or worse. The story centers on the mystery of her existence, what she is, the lingering and disturbing uncertainty of being confronted by something so foreign and yet obviously magical, powerful, and beautiful. People see the devil in her, it seems to me, not because of anything she does (though I imagine she could do much harm if she tried to go among people) but rather because she's a woman on fire. A woman who burns. And the burning can be many things, from ambition to sexuality to curiosity, but that she is lit up makes her a threat to her, something that people would rather attack than let be, even when it's obvious she's in pain, needs assistance, and it leaves the woman to imagine something else of herself, a way to define who she is away from the prejudices of others. And the last image of the story captures that quite well, something powerful and magic and yet lonely, lost. It's a fine story and a great idea. Indeed!

"The Afterward" by Daniel Nathan Horn (2368 words)

Well all right. This story seems to examine war and generations and the way that societies create problems that they then try to push under a rug somewhere. The ways that people react to war. It's about ineffability and the future and transitioning from conflict to not. It's about a man a bit unstuck in time, fighting a war that threatens to kill him but really just kills everyone around him and leaves him broken, unable to find a way forward, let down by the very people who sent him out to fight a pointless series of nearly endless battles. I love the way the story jumps between times, the way that the main character can see it all spread out, knows what's going to happen before it does, but can't really change anything. The way he's stuck, stuck because in the important ways he was never given a choice and never taught to value that choice. As the story says, these are people bred for war, bred to not ask questions. And yes, I love seeing a story that says rather emphatically that parents fuck up their children, that expectations are messed up especially when it leads to such widespread hurt, people unable to really function and then thrown out because it's difficult to deal with them. So the main character is discarded, almost hoping for the battles because it makes sense, because it gives most of the sensations, the visceral pain and joy and relief and release. The story is fast cut by slower moments but it's nicely weighted and interestingly pulled off. A great read!

"Fylgia in the City" by Ian Rose (1205 words)

This is a rather cute if also delightfully dark story about a magical being stepping into town for a bit of fun and finding things…well, the ending is great and actually took me a bit by surprise, which is always nice, while still making complete sense and building on the internal logic of the story. And I love the way that it unfolds, the slow sort of voice that emerges from the Fylgia, the way that it takes its time and has a different view of the world than humans. A deep patience but also a fun to it, a respect for mortality because in many ways it's the herald of it. It slips off to a pub and enjoys itself and slowly it comes to realize that it's nature has given it a sort of warning to something about to happen. Something big. And I really don't want to spoil this story because it is great and because the twist works and because I rather very much enjoyed myself with it. It's genre bending and it's completely logical and it's very well done. So yes, definitely go out and given this story a read and see for yourself. An excellent and highly enjoyable read!

"Brown Cat Blues" by Vaughan Stanger (2019 words)

Awww. This story is both incredibly cute and incredibly difficult to read as a cat owner. It's a bit less about cats, though, and more about anxiety. About worry creating ghosts of people, about a particular situation where a cat gets locked in an apartment and the renter of said apartment suspects the cat might be trapped there. Not because it's likely but because the "main character" of the story has anxiety and worries about everything and is certain that because they didn't walk the apartment one last time it means a cat got in. And in that moment they create a ghost of themself that haunts the apartment, that discovers that there is indeed a cat there, though it is powerless to do anything about it. And it's a great way of conceptualizing that fear and anxiety, as this ghost presence. Because it does become an active part of one's mind all the time, the nagging worry, that certainty something has gone wrong. And yet it is incorporeal, unable to help, unable to do anything but witness the truth. If the cat hadn't been trapped it would have still been there. It's a fine story and is mostly a person's anxiety-ghost watching a cat which makes for some great reading. And I can honestly say that's never a sentence I expected to write, but it works, the story works, the worry and the voice and the cat and the ghost and everything. It takes a close look at this aspect to anxiety and routine and fear and really sells it. Another great story!

"Design Flaw" by Melody Sage (737 words)

Well shit. Uh…trigger warning for suicide I guess. But yeah, wow, this is a great bit of flash that focuses on loss and punishment and tragedy. The main character, Vlad, is an artist of great wealth and influence, and yet most of his time is spent with an android, a recreation of a woman he loved. Vlad and the android are stuck in a cycle, a pattern that doesn't really do much for either of them. The android is obviously built to Vlad's specifications to try and help him heal, but instead just opens up the same wounds. He's stuck, his own arrogance and hurt preventing him from seeing that what happened wasn't about him. [SPOILERS!!!] With any depiction of suicide I think that a great deal of care needs to be taken and if I thought the title was aimed at blaming Aimee the human for killing herself I don't think I'd like the story over all. I do like the story, though, quite a bit, and because as I read it the title points to a flaw in humanity in general, more illuminated by Vlad's inability to move on rather than Aimee's self termination. The story is about grief as I read it, and the stages of grief, and how people can spend so much time and energy fighting against acceptance. I love the naming, too, that he became Vlad at some point, that he's become a sort of vampire of himself, punishing himself over and over again for what he sees as a failure. He wants control, wants mastery and order. And instead of accepting that he has become obsessed with his android, with his pain, with trying to change a past that cannot be changed. It's a striking story and a very dark one, but nuanced and respectful I think and very good. Another excellent story!

"Interlopers" by J F Pierce (3900 words)

Okay so I might have a soft spot for any story with a cat named Mr. Fluffy Britches. Adorably named cats, aside, though, the story does a nice job of capturing Wayne, the main character (and Fluffy Britches' owner) and giving him a situation to shine. Which, really, is a feat, given that Wayne is not exactly a pleasant person. He lives by himself at the fringe of society for a reason, a slob and an alcoholic and a conspiracy nut. And I might not be the hugest of fans of all the aspects of the story (the random violence and targeting of Wayne seems a bit…strange, even for idiot-criminals). But it does present a situation where no one is really the good guy, but where Wayne is basically redeemable because of his cat. His love for his cat. From there the story is a tense action urban fantasy with a humor that's a little uneven but that mostly works. Again, I wasn't hugely sold on the human adversaries that Wayne confronts, but the inhuman ones are done quite well, and the setting is well rendered and Mr. Fluffy Britches is worth the price of admission alone. It's a lighter way to close out the issue but a rather fun way. There's a darkness but really more of a goofiness and a ridiculousness that the story manages to pull off. It might not be the deepest of wells, but it certainly provides and brisk and refreshing experience, a sort of palate cleanser to leave the reader with a smile, ready to face the world.

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