Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #11 (August Stuff)

The August content of Uncanny Magazine certainly doesn't pull its punches, with two stories, two poems, and two pieces of nonfiction that all hit with a power that leaves a lasting impact. Oh, and if you didn't realize, they're funding Year Three RIGHT NOW! IT IS THE LAST DAY GO!!! Ahem, but anyway...the fiction and poetry especially seem to come from places of hurt and hope. From a world that has failed in a rather fundamental way, that has let people down. That only works for some and for others not at all. Where people struggle to find some plan, some frame that makes it make sense only to have the rug pulled out from under them. These are uncomfortable pieces, mainly, but ones that don't allow the reader to look away, that confront them with the knowledge and the feeling of those hurt. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Javier Caparo


"Snow Day" by Catherynne M. Valente (9204 words)

This is a strange story about a women growing up in an isolated region of Hawaii, growing up alone but for her money because of a paranoia, because she is the daughter of a man who goes on to be a powerful politician. Because she's in danger. And because the world is ending. It's a strange story in that it's told in sections named after erotic novels, which I thought was a great touch, the collection of erotica being Gudrun's education and her main view of the world. It's how she imagines the world, how she imagines she must want things. And it's strange because it examines what happens to people raised in isolation, what happens to Gudrun who never really gets the chance to know what is weird and what isn't. She's very well adjusted, especially for her upbringing, but she's also living under the rules of her mother. The abuse that permeates her world. And also a weird condition where she's allergic to bad art. It's a story that's in some ways difficult to figure out for me because there's this loose link between what's real and what isn't, what magic and what's not. Gudrun has to deal with the world that her mother constructs and the world that the erotic novels construct and the lonely world that she lives in. And when she begins to reach outside what is familiar, what is known, it splits her. She becomes as one a child and an adult. And the break carries through to her budding relationship with a man and her belief that the world is ending, so that by the end it's hard to say if the world is truly ending or just her understanding of it, just her isolation from it. It's a story of distance and love and stories, and it's a fascinating read that's definitely worth spending some time with. Check it out!

"An Ocean the Color of Bruises" by Isabel Yap (5274 words)

Well shit. This story to me is about the hope for the future and the reality of it. The searing optimism of youth and the way that young people are taught to see the future, are taught to see "growing up." As limitless. As some sort of grabbing at their potential. At a vast horizon that stretches on and one. When, really, in many ways getting out of college and entering into the "real world" means a removal of most of the safety nets that made life a bit more safe. A bit easier to make friends and be with people. A bit easier to trust, to connect. A bit easier to hope. It's about a group of friends taking a vacation together after having reached the "real world." Hoping that being together again will recapture that fell, like they were on an escape trajectory. Like they were going to find meaning and fulfillment and everything. When the truth is that people don't magically grow up upon leaving college. It isn't leveling up and it isn't really entering into a brave new world. It's not saving the day. By and large it's lonely work and work that isn't really compensated what it should be. It means hours and hours and hours and fearing that you're becoming someone different and that you're not becoming someone different enough. There's this hope to act on things you never did before and make things more important than they were before and the story does a beautiful, moving job of showing these characters in this moment of uncertainty, this moment of panic, seeing what their lives might be like. Feeling like the world is this force out to get them and pull them under, that they work so hard to stay ahead and still it's only with each other that they manage to just stay above water. It's an aching piece about desire and about hope and about hurt and about loss. The loss of being able to see the world as timeless, at infinite. The loss of being able to not feel the cage and the slowly closing walls. It's a bleak story made slightly less so because the friends stay together, and the story uses I and We collectively, so that the narrator is the relationship of the friends, is their love, and in that it is strained and struggling but still there, still alive and fighting and shit, yeah, it's a great story that you need to go read. Go! 


"The Persecution of Witches" by Ali Trotta

This is a poem that in no uncertain terms links the witch trials to the recent and continued attempts to legislatively and culturally strip women’s body autonomy. To make them vessels and property and to require them to bed to the will of those men who have power over them. It evokes a slew of recent and ongoing comments, laws, scandals, kerfluffles, and incredibly misogynist shit that permeate pretty much every aspect of our culture. It looks at consent in a complex and unflinching way, daring anyone to question the justice of what is happening. Of what happens. The poem, in my opinion, turns the blade of legitimacy back onto those who would attempt to use it by making the argument fairly simple. By using parallels that cannot be denied nor ignored. This is not the first time in our history that we have been shitty to those outside the dominant cis-male group. Hell, there has never been a time in our history where we as a culture have been less than shitty to those outside the dominant cis-male group. Like those trying to argue that racism isn’t a think because there has been progress, this idea that we are past the barbaric and deadly misogyny that was the root of the witch trials. As the poem shows, and gets proven again and again in our culture, these problems do not go away so much as reach their own sort of legitimacy. The misogyny and the racism is what gets preserved by legislation and judicial action while those victimized are given no path to justice. And fuck, yeah, that last stanza, that last line, is a punch to the face, contains with it a breathless power, evoking powerlessness at the same time it calls for resistance, struggle, and change. An amazing work!

"Phaya Nak Goes to the West" by Bryan Thao Worra

This is a great poem about the ways in which certain cultures demonize others. The ways in which the West, called out here specifically, makes monsters out of the gods of other lands, trying to strip their powers away and transforming them into repulsive beasts. The poem does a great job looking at power, and the tenuous balance of it, the way in which the West has always pitted itself against everything else, stealing myths and ideas from other lands and perverting them to fit an agenda. To fit a hatred and an violence. I quite like how the poem here is from someone outside the West, seeing how people are treated. Seeing how creatures are treated. Seeing how beauty is marketed as evil, dirty, and wrong. How it is fed in the form of a religion that exists only by placing any other belief system as a tool of a demon or devil. That there are wonders and instead of being able to see them, instead of wanting to experience them, the West would rather recast them and then destroy them. It’s something that happens again and again with appropriation, with myths from other cultures being extracted and made into bad movie monsters. The poem manages a great voice full of power and confidence and a weary sense of trying to educate people who just won’t learn. It’s a fun power that still manages to get to something deep, to this entire erased and twisted history that the West treats as real in the face of the people who would know better. It’s colonial and conceited and loses so much in refusing to bend or try to appreciate difference. A great read! 


"Myth Has Momentum, or: How I Accidentally Deified a Jar of Jelly" by Kelly McCullough

This piece speaks to me about the power of stories. And, more than that, about the power of people to tell them. It’s part recollection, part anecdote, but also part blueprint. Not a complete one, because what it describes is rather difficult to force. For every throw-away joke that becomes suddenly relevant and almost inexplicably popular there are many that just sort of fade. But this piece is about the ones that don’t, are about the stories that seem to snowball out of control. A few get mentioned. And it’s a fun couple of stories revealing some charming people and situations. But again, to me it’s also about how powerful stories are and how they can be used not just to entertain but to create identity. A party that starts off as a joke becomes an actual holiday. A series of tweets that likewise start as a way of coping with a tough situation become more meaningful and eventually transform into a book. These are, as the author points out, serendipitous. But they aren’t impossible to imagine nor really impossible to create. The thing is that you don’t really get to decide as an author what hits and what doesn’t. You don’t get to decide which of your stories might be picked up for a rec list and which won’t. The story is pointing toward something else. Toward, as I see it, an openness to the serendipities of the world. To the random chance of stories to hit and take off. Even if it’s just among friends. The piece seems to be a call to take chances with stories. Have fun. Start there, and if something takes off, try to be ready for it. So yeah, a very fun and interesting read!

"The Death of Very Special Diversity Comics" by Sigrid Ellis

Have I told you all that I love lists. It is perhaps not surprising as I do recommendation lists of SFF short fiction every month, but I’m a bit of a lazy person at heart and absolutely appreciate the work that goes into putting together a list of works that are doing it right. In this case, the topic is comics. What kind of comics? Comics that embody not the “diversity” of older comic books, the after-school-special mentality that created for marginalized groups a separate and nowhere-near-equal space where they could be a special problem for a heteropatriarchal hero to deal with before getting back to the regularly scheduled programming, but rather a diversity that is joyous and affirming and doesn’t wait for uncomfortable white dudes to be okay with diversity before including it. Instead it aims at diverse and marginalized readers, seeing that, if nothing else, there is money to be made outside the traditional readership of very white, very straight, very male comic books. The list is filled with titles that don’t bother justifying their own existence. That don’t apologize for taking up space. There is no playing to the dominant group in order to be allowed to exist. There is instead and wry grin and a swaggering confidence and a fun and an adventure and a great big fuck off to people who don’t want to read it. Don’t like? Then go back to the hundreds of other titles that exist for the “traditional” comic book reader. But I for one am very glad for these titles that innovate and that provide characters that live and breathe. Characters who are queer and/or otherwisely marginalized and allowed to win, allowed to live. Who are not defined by tragedy. It’s a great piece and a nice dissection of how the treatment of diversity in comic books has begun to shift in the best of ways. Go check it out!

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