Monday, November 14, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #13 (November Stuff)

The November content from Uncanny Magazine does a lovely job of showing the power of stories. Of narratives. Of how the ownership of those stories is importance and empowering. How, when the narrative begins to slip away, it can be used to isolate people. To exploit people. To erase people. And only when people can control their own stories, can have their own agency, can there be justice. Can there be hope. Can there be the recognition that people are all people and that the roles they think are absolute might only be a narrowing of their perspective, and when the blinders are pulled away their world suddenly becomes larger, richer, and more rewarding. These are not all easy works of fiction or poetry or nonfiction, but they are all powerful in their own ways, and I'm going to get to reviewing them. 

Art by Julie Dillon


"Don't You Worry, You Aliens" by Paul Cornell (3262 words)

This is a story about distance and about loss, about an aging man living alone in a small, British town and dealing with the daily routine of it but also the fear and vulnerability. The story seems to me to come from a place of looking at how a society can isolate its people, and especially its elderly. The main (I think) remains unnamed throughout the piece, and part of that seems to me to highlight the way that identity seems to bleed away in the absence of other people. How it's harder to remember who we are when we are so alone. The main character here has installed himself as a librarian of the town but really he's just passing time, trying to learn how to grow a garden and watch after his adopted dog and otherwise just being frightened of everything. Which, again, is something that isolation does. It keeps people afraid. And it's a feeling that the story captures very well. The main character fears because he is alone, because as he is alone he is at risk from everything, and yet this fear only strengthens his loneliness, only makes it more difficult to reach out. Isolation here is a self-sustaining cycle, one that reinforces itself. The main character becomes more and more alone until the only thing left to him is his dog, but even that (as the dog's name implies) is a patch on a gaping tear in the fabric of his life. He needs people as we all need people, as we all seek community. We are social creatures and when we forget that, when we let the fear rule us, we hurt ourselves just as we were trying to prevent that. It's a nicely understated story with a touch of dystopic world building and a strong voice. A good read!

"Kamanti's Child" by Jennifer Marie Brissett (5183 words)

This is an interesting story about conflict and survival, about strength and about the barriers between people. In it, Kamanti is pregnant and missing her husband, who has traveled off to defend their village from some sort of outside attack. The setting at first seems familiar but quickly turns out to be anything but, and I love the way the story builds up this strikingly complex and wonderful world, one that might have some relation to our own. At the very least, there are certain parallels that are difficult to miss, the way that Kamanti and her people face the looming threat of violence and the way that she acts to protect her young and herself. The story is full of action and events that happen without an abundance of context, so that the story in many ways acts as a mystery, not in the whodunit sense, but because as a reader I kept waiting for the next pull back, to the next layer of the narrative to be revealed. What started out as maybe a historical fantasy quickly became something more resembling science fiction, and the genre bending nature of the piece made it captivating. There's so much here, such promise that I want to know more, want to learn more. The focus of the piece to me is on difference and similarity. On shared heritage. On community on a scale larger than we typically want to envision. [SPOILERS] Because Kamanti meets a young hooman and despite their differences they help each other. They rely on the instinct to help rather than the decision to harm. And together they make their way, leaning on a shared bond, something that links them as sentient beings even if their people are in conflict. It's a story about overcoming prejudice and violence and reaching for understanding, and it's a fun and fascinating read. Definitely check it out!

"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies" by Brooke Bolander (1064 words)

This is a sharp bit of flash fiction that focuses on narratives and on the erasure of victims in popular culture. Of the tendency to forget the names of people who die in murders, in everything, and focus instead on the celebrity of murders and rapists and otherwisely-awful people. Usually men, because this trend is not without a heaping helping of misogyny and the story does a great job of, well, quite literally tearing that apart. It focuses on a woman who is also something more, is immortal and winged and very powerful, and when she is murdered while on a jaunt as a mortal, she and her sisters descend upon the mortal plain and things get real. [SPOILERS] Part of what I like about this story is that it's told without names. Pointedly so, I'd say, neither the original killer is named nor is the narrator. For me this works both to undermine and reverse the tendency to privilege the killer, the murderer, and to resist simply flipping the script. If the story was just a revenge tale where the victim got to keep their agency and then serve up some violence for violence, I'd probably still find it entertaining, sure, as the writing has a great beat and rhythm and the character work is solid. But to me the story avoids making the focus about either the murder of the main character or the murder of the "promising young man from a good family." This is about absence and presence and the wicked and defiant and joyous scream that defines the main character and her sisters. That killer wasn't even important enough to make the story about his pain. In the story he merely disappears. And what remains is body of a woman and the roar of an engine and the sounds of sisters laughing away into the distance, into the end of all things. It's a lovely piece and moving piece and you should go read it! 


"Rose Child" by Theodora Goss

This is a lovely poem about gardens and about people and about the wild. The untamed. The action of the piece comes when the narrator finds a small girl living in their garden. And not small like young but small like only a few inches tall. A being who can fend for herself, who hunts and who the narrator helps by leaving small things for her to use. The story is filled with this great magic, this sense of the living world like a visitor to their garden coming and going and leaving just hints of passage. That this small being is linked to the narrator, sharing in a humanity and yet also outside the narrator's experiences, as the rose child chooses to live in the wild, in the free spaces. It is not without risk but it is also not without a beauty and a power and a magic. I like the way the narrator attempts to respect the choices of those that they find in the garden, the way that they don't judge the small beings as savage or feral or less-than-human. The way that they recognize that they are of a kind in many ways and that they are choosing to cohabitate here, to share with each other different aspects of their lives. That in many ways the garden represents that synthesis, the wild brought in and never really tamed fully but made a place of balance and of beauty, where the narrator can be safe and the wild can be a bit more safe. Not completely, and not without running the risk of catching something perhaps avoided by being truly free, but it's a poem that speaks to me of the drive of naturalism, not to abandon civilization in favor of the forests but to live beside the wild and appreciate for what it is, in its power and its grace, and finding some peace there. A great read!

"The Long Run" by Neil Gaiman

This is a poem that keeps this short and with a nice sense of vagueness, a metaphor that could be applied to many things but, to me, giving more mystery than answers. The piece looks at a relationship, between the narrator and an unnamed woman, and that core is what helps to determine how a reader might interpret the work. Is the narrator the woman's son? Daughter? Wife? Husband? Mother? Father? I read a familial bond here, though what form that takes I can't quite say. It's a poem, though, that seems to be more about a parental bond than a romantic one. At least, the admonishment to not run ahead seems one delivered from a parent seeking to prtect a child, to keep them from the darkness ahead, to keep them safe. And at the same time the ease with which the narrator defies, slips into a run, speaks more of a child to me than an adult, the lack of restraint a sort of lack of acknowledgement of mortality. With this reading the mother seeks to hold onto the daylight of youth, to the moments when the child can be protected by her presence and gaze. And yet the poem seems to say that it cannot last, that at some point the narrator slips free, either running too far ahead or, perhaps, because the woman of the poem is no longer there. There's a nice sense of a complicated darkness to the piece, the approach of night rather ominous but also freeing, the long night offering a sort of boundless space but one that is not entirely safe, and the Long Run seems to me to speak of life, and remembering that it's not really about the destination nor how fast you get there. It's an interesting poem and certainly one worth spending some time with. Indeed! 


"They Love Me Not: How Fictional Villains Saved by Life" by Alyssa Wong

This is a great piece about representation and about the yawning void that is positive queer and marginalized characters in popular culture. In books and movies. In comics and video games. It's about not being able to truly identify with the hero (almost always white and male and straight and able and cis gendered) and by extension learning to identify with the characters cast as villains. Who might be queer and who might be women but who were able to maintain some agency over that. Now, it was agency that was cast as bad. As evil. And it was almost always punished and vanquished. But it existed, even if only for the dominant character to assert (most likely) himself over them, to put them in their place. But when you have to choose between identifying with the villain, who at least gets some measure of control before it is stripped away, and a sidekick, who is allowed no power that isn't given by the hero, it's not much of a choice. And the piece is vividly rendered, showing how a person can be moved to identity with a villain, even a problematic one, because life can suck and situations can suck and internalizing the harmful messages of cultures and religions and parents can be really hard for a young person to deal with. And yet people can also write through it. Can work through it. And can, maybe, get to a point where they break the hold those narratives have over their thinking and their creativity. That there comes a time when you can shrug off the dominant narratives and start making your own unapologetic heroes who are queer and who are otherwise non-dominant and you are allowed to own their identities without fear of the story crushing them to death. Definitely make plans to read this article!

"We Have Always Been Here, Motherfucker" by Monica Valentinelli

This is another piece about narratives, this one about seeing the one that exists, not necessarily in the stories that we are allowed to see and that get the most volume, but in the stories that are going on all around us. The successes and the struggles of the very real people who are involved in pushing back against the tide of straight white male exceptionalism. The women and the people of color who have always worked in the industries that we are told again and again that they have never stepped foot in. Gaming. SFF. This goes deeper and beyond but as this piece appears in an SFF publication that's mostly what it looks like. But it's the same for people working in every field that has been classed masculine and white. Has been classed elite. Intellectual. Important. It manifests in how we imagine gamers. What does a Gamer look like? What does an SFF fan look like? The language we use (like fanboy) only emphasize this and everyone who falls outside is told to accept the way it is or face harassments and threats. The piece is deeply personal, a history of pain and struggle but also of success. Also of turning a hand to so many different things and finding talent. Skill. Dedication. And of still being full of doubt. It's a moving story and one that's creatively framed and poignantly told. I love the way that it calls for people to wake up, to see the world around them, to stop ignoring all the "exceptions" to the rules that are not really exceptions but just people. People working and people loving and people trying to live. It's a wonderful read and you should definitely check it out!


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