Sunday, February 5, 2017

Author Spotlight - Priya Sridhar

So today I'm doing something new. I'm looking at a number of stories from one author that have fallen outside of the scope of my reviews. Now this isn't exactly an unusual thing, that I would read and very much like a story by an author only to find that they have a larger body of work out there. In this case, the story that I read was "The Jeweled Nawab Jungle Retreat" by Priya Sridhar (appearing in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #214). In this case, though, the author reached out and asked if I'd be interested in reading/reviewing more. And given that I liked "The Jeweled Nawab Jungle Retreat" enough to put it in my Monthly Round, and because I had some time, it worked out. So yeah, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to do spotlights like this, but here's the first!

Art by L.E. Badillo
"Porphyria: Dazzle Con Debut" from The Future Fire 2016.37 (4043 words)

This is a rather sweet story of superpowers and heroes and geek conventions. The story centers on Rani, a young woman who has discovered that she has powers. Which is kind of convenient, really, because it just so happens that she knows her best friend, Wallace, also has powers, though he's been trying to hide it from everyone. After failing to convince Wallace to accompany her to Dazzle Con, Rani goes on her own, in a personalized cosplay, and that's when things get…a little out of hand. I like how the story unfolds, how it builds up Rani and her powers. The situation is compelling and fun, tense but still classic in the superhero sense. It's a first outing in many ways, discovering what she's capable of in terms of powers but also in terms of what she's willing to risk, what she's willing to do in order to protect people. She's been living with the desire to be like Wallace, who tries to balance school and superheroing but also has wealth and privilege to step back on. And I like what the story does with that, showing the ways in which Wallace mistreats Rani when he learns what she can do and what she wants to do. In many ways he stands for the classic hero, the young man who treats his role as a great responsibility. But Rani is slightly different, acting because it's right, acting because she's good at it. She rejects the "responsibility" that others try to define for her (to please her parents, to stay safe, to remain removed from the fight because she might get hurt). And the story leaves room that Wallace might still learn that he's wrong, and that the decision ultimately resides with Rani, and that everyone else will just have to accept what she decides because it's her live. It's a fun piece with a great sense of humor (yes, I laughed a bit out loud when the story mentioned the League of Extraordinary Gentleman). A great read!

"The Farthest Nebula" from Mantid Magazine Summer 2016 (3377 words)

This is a story about cosmic horror and cosmic longing, about monsters and hunger. It features Asher, an Old One trapped in the body of a boy for the benefit of parents who allow themselves and their offspring to be possessed in order to gain arcane power. Only for Asher the powers and the hunger pale in comparison to the great vastness of space and time. And I do like how this story complicates the Mythos, which always had these vast creatures coming to Earth for…reasons. Unimaginable reasons. Which seems odd because if there is some dark purpose to these creatures and if their terror is rooted in their vastness, in how insignificant humanity seems in the face of such age and power, then it does rather require asking why these beings are on Earth at all. For Asher the answer is that he's been forced, that he's forgotten why exactly but whatever the case if he stays too long he'll lose the vastness of his being, will become too human to ever be able to escape. And what he wants is to be free. And I like that Asher is a sort of monstrous character but one obviously dealing with his own humanity, his own human-ness, because he still cares for people and mopes and shows kindness. There is a sense from him that the things that prompt people to label the Old Ones as monsters on Earth is not innate to them but innate to the power they wield on Earth, that it's being so different and greater than that pushes them to be monstrous, that makes them terrible and terrifying, but that in their natural state they are not evil. It's an interesting interpretation of the idea of Old Ones and a fascinating read!

"The Castle’s Women" from Expanded Horizons #47 (3292 words)

This story features Norma, a military veteran returned home, dealing with the lasting trauma of her service and trying to rebuild something of herself. It's a story that is ripe with struggle and difficulty as Norma must navigate a world that doesn't much care about her, that in fact shames and abuses her for being a veteran, for being a woman, for being overweight. And when an old friend sends her a toy castle that solidifies different aspects of herself into miniature beings that only she can see…well, things get a bit complicated from there. The story takes a rather classic trope, though, that of physical manifestations of emotional states, and does a great job of putting an original spin on it. Norma has a great voice and a definite damage that has come not only from being in the military but from coming back and finding no real place to be. She is isolated and alone and her various anxieties and fears only deepen that isolation. When the various aspects of her come out, it's a bit of a nightmare, and I like how the personas act in a way that isn't really helpful. They are coping mechanisms, yes, but they are ones developed in stress and dysfunction, and bringing them into her more mundane day job does her no favors. It's only by facing herself and starting to come to terms with how she interacts with the world now that she can work toward peace, so that she isn't constantly at war with herself. It's a great way of imagining the psychological processes that people use to recover and to heal after traumatic events and to deal with the ongoing injustices of life. Another great story!

"The Opera Singer" from Nightmare Magazine, reprinted from She Walks in Shadows (3160 words)

This is another story that deals nicely with anger and with something unknown and alien pushing itself into the waking world. This story introduces Circe, an older woman and former music professor specializing in singing. Who draws strength from song and yet who seems to a bit adrift in life, especially following a stroke. There is a power within her, a power that sometimes expresses itself when she is angry, and it's a power that Circe could embrace more. The story is also a nicely strange one, mixing falling meteors with alien visitations with family dynamics and loneliness and the fear of being meaningless in the face of the cosmos. And that I think is at the heart of the story, the fear of being immaterial, unimportant. Like the previous piece, the story does conjure up a bit of a cosmic perspective and here we see that twisted somewhat, that Circe feels rather insignificant in purely human terms, stuck and lost and lashing out at a world that doesn't seem to hold an lasting meaning. And the touching something larger, something beyond that, helps Circe to find herself, to contextualize her life and her struggle. It helps to give her meaning and to find out why she feels the way she does. It's a nicely emotional story and I like that he we have an older disable character still finding plenty of strength and resolve to do what needs to be done. The horror here is slow but grows throughout as this pit that threatens to open up under Circe, that would draw her into this dark place of power and domination. And I like the way that it steps back from that and shows that Circe can find meaning in herself and in her life. A wonderful story!

Some overall thoughts:

It's interesting getting to read so many stories by a single author in a row. I very much like how certain ideas shit and grow throughout these stories. I like that yellow wallpaper recurs more than once, and like that cosmic terror recurs more than once. I like that these are stories that range quite largely in genre and yet keep coming back to being confined and trapped and finding the strength to stand against the voices trying to cut you down, trying to convince you that you're worthless, that you're not capable. These are some great stories and I definitely recommend you give them a read and keep an eye out for more of the author's works!


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