Monday, May 2, 2016

Quick Sips - Lackington's #9 - Architecture

When I saw the theme of Lackington’s ninth issue, architecture, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Stories about buildings? About construction? About utility? What I ended up finding in these stories were, yes, those things, but so much more. Experiments with the architecture of fiction, for example, as each of these tales manages to innovate structure and storytelling. And also looks at the architecture of biology, of history, of physics, of relationships. There are structures all around us, as mysterious and wonderful and foreboding and complex as the most awe-inspiring cathedral or castle. These stories explore what architecture can be, and what it is, and how it matters to us. They are at turns startling and unsettling and inspiring stories, and I’m going to get to reviewing them! 

Art by Carrion House


"Under Dead Marsh" by Julia August (3415 words)

There’s something quite delightful about a story told as a radio show of a story about ants on Mars. Told in texts and read with a flare for the dramatic and the surreal. Bureaucratic documents contrast effectively the frustrated personal letters and various news articles that surround the possibility of life on Mars and the desires of one man to build himself an algae farm for the purposes of terraforming. The story weaves in and out of these various documents, twisting them together into something strange but compelling, and then framing all of those inside of the radio broadcast is just a neat twist, paying homage to the past by imagining a future on other worlds, one where the fantastic is also very real. And it fits the theme of the issue well, both in how it constructs the story and how it imagines the construction of the ants. The voices that begin and interrupt the narrative of the humans on Mars are those of something different, something organized in a way that is a bit jarring but also elegant, easily understood and appreciated. It flows and it arcs and it captures something alien and familiar—sort of like the idea of ants on Mars. And yes, okay, I really did love the ant sections, the song of the ants and the voice of the workers and the image of the queen and the growing conflict of everything. And I love how the story ends, acts as just the first part of a story that could go many different ways. War, perhaps? Or understanding? Does the greedy prospector foul things for everyone or is he thwarted. There’s a lot going on and it’s up to the reader to fill in the blanks and it’s just done very well. Definitely give this one some time and attention!

"Sui Generis" by Y.X. Acs (3627 words)

Well whenever I read an issue of Lackington’s I rather expect to be confronted by some weird. Pretty much every story so far has been strange, but this one takes things to a new level in imagining a suburban couple navigating religion and atheism while a small colony of…something slowly growing in the back of the fridge. There is such a great use of religion and religiousness in this story, the contrast to the characters not having a religion but maintaining a clear religiousness, a piety and a ritual all their own. And there’s just a lot of really weird things going on, like a Masonic leader named Moondius and the aforementioned colony of…something. But it’s also a story about domesticity and the suburban ideal, about work and gender roles and seclusion and imprisonment. And it’s about what that colony in the fridge builds, the alien architecture of the familiar and the more metaphoric construction of distance and isolation. It looks at the suburban ideal of the housewife who cooks and cleans but who has no outer life. Who doesn’t meet with people and is a servant of her husband, in charge of providing for his work because hers can never be individually important. And yet she hides this secret that grows out of the disdain she has for her husband and that he has for her. That grows and grows, that becomes something alien and mysterious, that becomes for her an object of worship but also a worshipper. And the story keeps its secrets close, not really revealing what it all means, not really showing where everything is leading, stepping away at the last moment and wondering what has been built. What has happened? It’s a light touch and very well done and the story as a whole is interesting, numbered in sections that reveal a structure that is tight and confining but infinitely appropriate. Another good one!

"Salt and Cement and Other Denials" by Sara Saab (2242 words)

Well all right. This is a strange story about barnacles and about longing and about the architecture of desire and bodies. Biological architecture that means that barnacles can change their gender based on their surroundings so that [SPOILERS?] Paulette can become Paul, Alexander can become Alexandra. And the story does an amazing job with showing the relationship between the two, how it has always been Alexander pursuing, morning. Being all cement-hurt that he can’t get with Paulette while Paulette just wants freedom from his attention. It’s strange in a way that only a barnacle love story can be strange, about transformations and about desire. About death and time and loss. The two find themselves reacting, changing to each other and to their own internal demands. Paulette wants no part of Alexander, but that is not to say that the two are doomed to always be apart. The story moves in a sort of antiquated fashion, the voices archaic and full of chaste love, denied love (at least, Alexander has that way about him, the way of a man pining away for someone he cannot have). The architecture of body, the various stages of barnacle biology, is fascinating and when paired with the anthropomorphized gender dynamics the story explodes with implications and meaning and twists and is just rather striking and good and yes, weird and yes, bordering on unsettling but in the best of ways. Another fine read!

"Contra Gravitatem (Vita Genevievis)" by Arkady Martine (1598 words)

This is another story that succeeds at showcasing interesting architecture on multiple levels. Inside the story, the idea that St. Genevieve was very interested in construction and building is evidenced by her ship building and also her concerns about human construction at an atomic level, her search to escape gravity and dissolve into pure energy, to break the bonds between the atoms and defy the demiurge who poisoned humanity with substance and gravity. At a story-structural level, the writing creates a text that is built around a apocryphal text that reads as a religious tome about the character, about her life and about her path to saint-hood. And I love the sense of oppression that the architecture in the story conveys, the way that it feel claustrophobic (the time in the ballast of the ship, the time Genevieve spent working building ships, even the meeting in the board room in the sky). There is a feeling here that I got that all of these structures were limiting, confining, and that Genevieve’s ultimate goal was to escape them, to reach a place where there is no imposed structure, no form. Her ships allowed for that but aren’t the real goal of the story in my mind. Even those, as free as they can be from gravity, are limiting, and I thought the story did a great job of showing Genevieve’s trajectory, her drive to escape. Making into a story of a saint is interesting because there are such religious parallels here and because it’s a way that blends science and religion in an interesting and rather innovative fashion, not in opposing force but requiring each other and enriching. It’s a fascinating story and a great read!

"Manapolis" by Natalia Theodoridou (1784 words)

This story seems to me to be about the architecture of culture and place, a woman who became a city who became a story who became a ruin who became a woman again, listening to what has become of her, listening to an archaeologist who has tracked her down and found her old bones. I love the way the story only eludes to what has happened to make her return to flesh, what the archaeologist saw when he arrived. It’s a mystery and it’s something that lingers, a bit of magic never really seen so as a reader I’m not sure if it was real or some trick, if the woman really is an ancient city, the mother of an entire culture, of if she’s something else. The story explores cycles, though, and how cities are built and change and fall apart. How the bones of the city remain after the flesh is peeled away by the unrelenting tide of the dessert and time. But how in those bones something of memory remains. That there is something to go back to, that by studying that past and place it is like having a conversation with another time, a conversation with a city itself. The sense of magic is muted but present and intriguing, and the sense of history is deep and dark and brimming with possibilities. Like all the stories in this issue, this one has a neat structure, jumping back in time to tell this story that might or might not be true, might or might not be myth, but stands at the center of the scene between the woman and the archaeologist. It’s a story with the sweep of a dessert breeze and the feeling of a drink after long thirst. A great way to close out an impressive issue!

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