Friday, July 22, 2016
Quick Sips - Harlot Media July 2016
I must say, Harlot continues to be a delight when it comes to finding speculative stories that don't shy away from sex or sexuality and that paint moving and gripping portraits of characters in conflict. From science fiction to fantasy to this piece, which is a metafictional experience that I would probably describe as a contemporary alt-history memoir, the stories show the power of speculative fiction to open up spaces between the "real world" and the infinite worlds beyond. So, without further hesitation, let's jump right into the review!
"The Unsolved 'Case of the Club Tarrare'" by Steve Berman (3375 words)
This is a somewhat heartbreaking story about appetites and growing up and, through it all, surviving. It's a story told in part as confession, as the synopsis to a story never finished, and as a sort of memoir to things done or not done, wanted and not acted on. It blends history and fiction, both the real-life history of writers in Victorian times and the personal history of the narrator, his growing up in a time and place where being gay was, like in Victorian times, still incredibly dangerous.
The story builds beautifully, though, linking the story of the narrator to the story he is creating of Wiggins. This feeling of being damaged, of being cut. In the story the narrator is creating, Wiggins loses his tongue, an act that seems to fall in line with the narrator's own failure to finish the story he intends to write. Fits as well to the narrator's fear that he has become lesser because it has been so long since he had sex. Since he experienced what he's trying to write about. And at the same time the story feels to me about surviving, about being left behind. Wiggins in the story is damaged by the loss of Sherlock, by the loss of his benefactor, by the purpose and safety that he provided. The narrator, meanwhile, is also being left, but by those men who were formative on him sexually. [SPOILERS] And it's here that the story really layered the narrative for me because the narrator tells a story about him and these men and then tells a different one. In the first he acts on his desires. It doesn't always go well. But then at the ends walks back that statement. Reveals that he has not acted because of fear. Because of danger.
And as I read the story there's also a linking between the sexual and the creative. That the narrator is seeking, through this story, the same reward he gives to Wiggins at the end of the mystery. The serum. The fix. The mad science. That the narrator hopes that by linking himself to the character that he can write himself out of his slump, out of the hesitation and the fear and the timidity. That if he searches enough he will end up with that perfect story that will heal the wounds left by death and by the world. That he will finally be able to write again, be able to fuck again, will feel the passion that seems lacking flow back into him. It's a complex story and I love the layers and the links between them. From the narrator to Wiggins, from the narrator to other Victorian writers, from those writers back into the story, to Mycroft and to Jekyll and then back to Wiggins. From the narrator to his own fictionalized past, the story he wants to tell about his sexual awakening and development. All of it builds this rich look at a character who is mostly forgotten and a narrator who identifies with that. It seeks to reclaim something from the past, to take from it something to make up for the fear and the pain and the loss. It's a touching and a yearning story, reaching for something past, present, and future. Definitely check this one out!