Thursday, December 15, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #13 (December Stuff)

This issue of Uncanny Magazine features a lot of pieces that examine the idea of knights. Of men and their blades and their games. People who are sworn to serve and protect, even if they call themself a plumber instead of a knight errant. Even if they wear a cape. It's a full month, too, with three stories, a poem, and two pieces of nonfiction that I'm looking at. These are pieces that complicate what it means to be a knight, what it means to fight and what it means to have control of the story. And they also look at what happens when the knight might lose control of the story, and something unexpected might break the cycle of chivalry and misogyny that permeates many a knightly tale. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Julie Dillon


"The Green Knight's Wife" by Kat Howard (1726 words)

This story evokes the story of Gawaine and the Green Knight only to dismantle it, to take away the fantastical conceits of the tale and reveal the heart of it, the story not of two knights but of a woman used in a game she has no control over. I like how the story modernizes the older tale, bringing it forward into a present that treats it like a great game, where arrogant and boastful men challenge the Green Knight on television only to have the cameras cut away right before…well, the story is not exactly light and it's not exactly clean. It's heavy and it's bloody and I love the way that the narrator, the unnamed wife, is shown to be a prisoner of this game. And unlike the errant knights who get to come and maybe leave with their lives, the narrator is always trapped, always playing the role of seducer and temptress. She is stripped of her individuality and becomes trope only, but under that is still a woman who is hurt every time a boy is killed, every time she must perform for her husband's benefit. It's this role that's never explored in the original piece because it's so much about the boys, about the knights. It's their story, and the wife is a prop or even perhaps an aspect of the Green Knight, never her own person. And I like how the tale gives the narrator a power that can't be denied, a way to break the cycle and defy the rules. It's a nicely punchy story, one that doesn't shy away from the sight of blood or the occasional need for violence. For fans of the source material, it's a fantastic complication on gender roles and expectations and all around it's an amazing read!

"White Hart, Black Knight" by Alex Bledsoe (4228 words)

This is another story about knights, and another that alludes to Arthurian traditions, with a white hart and a hunt. Indeed, the story excels at meeting a lot of the expectations that surround this kind of tale. There are fights that can't be avoided and accidental killings and surprise arrivals and the action is very much reminiscent of Mallory in that. What's new and different is the frame, is the perspective chosen, here of a sort of mercenary who is sent by his friend (who happens to be a queen) to accompany a young knight (her nephew) on his very first quest. And it's his voice, weathered and cynical of the whole idea of knighthood, that updates the story and makes it something far away from merely a rehash of an old idea. The old is new and fresh with Eddie (the mercenary) along to provide running commentary. So that instead of a fairly standard action scene that wouldn't really have a lasting impact on the character (say, when Gawaine does something very similar, is sad, but then goes back to being a complete ass), we have a story about how the acts of knights can profoundly effect. And that some never recover, even if they survive. It's a story that veers pretty drastically, given the fairly light start it has, into very dark waters and it does it with a sober perspective and all the power of a train wreck. And while that might be enough to push some people out of the story, for me it works to show that the tropes of knight stories are too often divorced from their proper weight. We see the blood, we see the death, but we don't feel it because it has no real weight in the tale. Not so here. It's a surprisingly emotional story, or was for me, and definitely worth spending some time with. For fans of stories with knights (like me), it's a great read!

"Can't Beat 'Em" by Nalo Hopkinson (1443 words)

This is a short but rather delightful story that tackles a spark of attraction but also the spark at the heart of the universe, the forces of entropy and change, decay and creation, that all seem to come from this small creature that really likes sinks. The story focuses on Marisella, a woman who's sink is clogged not because of build-up exactly but because of a glup, a creature that never dies, that can really not be destroyed, which is a bit like matter in many ways but this seems more…aware of things, an actual animal intelligence that can only grow ever larger. It's a frightening idea in many ways because this small creature can't exactly be stopped. But it also points to something else. To hope. To desire and to resistance. For Marisella, thanks in large part to Dot the plumber, her awareness of the glups goes hand in hand with her awareness of the true scope of the universe. The wonder of it. That such things exist is frightening, yes, but in the same way that black holes existing is frightening. The same way as knowing that our sun might expand and destroy us all. These things are enormous and _cool_. They inspire us and the spark our imagination and our will to live. At least, that's what I read as happening with Marisella. She comes face to face with this small representation of the infinite and she wants to know more, to see more. It's also a story that's cute, that does a great job with the dialogue between Marisella and Dot, and that makes me really wonder what a glup would taste like. I'd go with the onions, personally. Maybe a wine sauce? Whatever the case, the story is great and fun and quick so you have no excuse not to go out and read it! 


"Blue Flowers: Fragments" by Sofia Samatar

This prose-poem is told in glimpses. In flowers. In histories. Each section describes a different flower, all of them blue, and each scene transporting the reader to a place in time, to people who brush against these plants and also, to me, embody them. That the flowers evoke these images, these stories, these lives. The way the blue feels, always brightness tinged with sadness. Each scene has its share of sorrow, each its share of love. They feel almost like fables that would surround the naming of a flower but slightly more…subtle than that. Like a list of secret histories, and behind each we find out something we didn't know about this flower. Some hidden part of it that will complicate our understanding of what the flower is and what it might mean. Whatever the case, the poem builds these scenes very well, revealing whole situations and characters in the space of just a few lines. And in each there is the taste of something, like looking through a collection of pressed flowers and catching a smell and remembering something. Only here the memories seem to come from the flowers themselves, to what they have witnessed, instead of from the reader. It's a very interesting piece and one that's full of a sights and sounds and smells and the personality of flowers as seen through human tragedies and loves. An excellent read! 


"Living, Working, and Fangirling with a Chronic Illness" by Keidra Chaney

This is a great article about fan experiences (or at least one fan's experience) with chronic illness and fandom. I do think that there is a great deal of talk about diversity and inclusion in SFF fandom but far too frequently this doesn't actually translate to policies that allow for everyone to participate, that allow for people to be able to engage with fandom in a way that works for them. I must admit my own failing in that, because I don't even know all of the different ways that I am failing to be accessible with this blog (I am rubbish at metadata for issue covers and with many other elements of the blog and…well, shit…) and that's a problem. That I'm not even really sure of what tools are available to me to be better about creating accessible content speaks to how for granted I take people's ability to access my work in the way that I intend. And there has been numerous pushes in recent years to try and make conventions more accessible, to have actual policies in place so that people can know that they will be able to attend in the way they want. But this piece also speaks deeper than that, to other aspects of accessibility that I hadn't really thought about before. Things like speed. Which, I mean, I will definitely agree that the field moves fast. Content creators are expected to work tirelessly and fast to keep up with what's out and what's happening at the moment. It's something that I struggle with, because while I keep up with lots of short fiction I…don't so much keep up with novels as much. And for people who cannot move as quickly, who have to take longer because of illness and ability, it means perhaps losing income, losing attention, and losing voice. Which is something I find very interesting and something that makes this article so great, that it looks deeper than just one thing. That it draws this map with regards to intersections and fandom that needs to be explored if we are to do more than talk about diversity and inclusion. It's a great read!

"How the Avengers Killed the Justice League" by Tansy Rayner Roberts

I will always read about comic books and this is a very detailed examination of the ways in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered a sort of false flag for Warner Bros. to chase after in its hopes of building a super hero dynasty to rival their historic competitor. It's sad in many ways because it's not like DC had terrible movies. And okay, if didn't have many good movies, but it did have the mega-success of Batman, and instead of taking that in a direction that people might have been really excited about, they instead launched a pair of Superman films that felt like there were trying to out-dark the Dark Knight. Which…well, the article does a very good job of looking at what Marvel has done well and what Marvel has done just well enough to keep on being let off the hook for its various fuck-ups. Yes, the first Avengers movie was good, and I really liked the first Thor and some of the Captain America movies…but really what Avengers proved was that you could have this giant movie and have it not collapse under its own weight. Something that the second Avengers movie really didn't have and that the latest Captain America movie struggled with. These were never the greatest of movies. But they did it well enough and because they timed it right they've done incredibly well financially, something that's allowed them to take some chances now. But yeah, seeing the DC movies so obviously trying to chase that spark is…disappointing, because Suicide Squad always looked like it wanted to be Guardians of the Galaxy. DC's big VS movie just seemed like it wanted to preempt Civil War. It's something that you see sometimes at the comic book level, and something that DC has never won at (imo). Where DC has done well has been when they did their own thing. When they embraced their own history and own feel and didn't try to be Marvel. But yeah, this is a great article for comic book fans and comic book movie fans. Give it a read!


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