Thursday, February 2, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction #39

I had almost given up on seeing a January release from Fireside Fiction, but lo and behold on the last day of January we have three short stories, two of them flash length, that explore the boundaries of Otherness. All three, in their own ways, look at how people relate to each other. How labels are powerful. Monsters and gods, good and bad, black and white. And each story complicates nicely these concepts, breaking down binary thinking to show just how complicated the supposed dichotomies are. Looking at power and prejudice, the stories don't flinch from getting really fucking dark, but that also gives them a deep strength and lasting impact. These are stories that use voice to great effect, as well, letting the various characters speak and letting their words guide understanding and conflict. It's a great issue and it's time to review it!

Art by Galen Dara
"God Talk: Advice From a Deity in Distress" by Alexis A. Hunter (604 words)

This story takes an interesting view of power and godhood…or is that godhead? The piece is told from the point of view of the severed head of a god constantly burning in a pit of desecrated lava. And the story is framed as a one-sided conversation from this god toward another of their kind, or quasi-kind. It's a bit of a rambling monologue but it's also couched as advice toward this younger being, from someone who had power and destiny but who still ended up a severed head in a pit. The voice is fun and rather funny, but the mood and reality of the story is decidedly dark, and the dissonance between those things is where I found my favorite aspect of the piece to be. That here is a being who is constantly in pain, full of anger that they hide behind a sharp but conversational tongue. And their words and advice something of the world they came from takes shape, questioning who it really is who has the power, and what gods must do to avoid being trapped and killed. For the main character it didn't work out so well, but that's precisely why they're trying to help this newcomer, but the situation seems more complicated still when this severed head learns of why this newer god has arrived to visit. And ultimately for me the story becomes one of the natures of gods and monsters. The main character embodies this idea of the divine singular, and how that divine singular can not only become a monster, but turn those "little" people they seek to rule over into monsters in turn, creating situations where, for good or ill, none are allowed to become too large. It's the cyclical violence of broken trust, and I like that the story really doesn't answer the question of what is right or wrong, whether or not the main character deserves to spend eternity in a pit of lava. As it is, it's a short piece with a scorchingly dark heart and an interesting complication of power and monsters. A great read!

"It Happened to Me: My Doppelganger Stole My Credit Card Info, and then My Life" by Nino Cipri (1364 words)

This is a lovely story about doubles and childhood fancies and navigating a world that seems edged and wrong. The story introduces Nina and Nono, a young child and their doppelganger. As young children, Nono became the one who was blamed for everything. Who was the "bad one." Was, to Nina's parents, just an excuse that Nina used to cause trouble. And yet once Nono gets sent to the Other Country, she starts writing to Nina, and the two start to develop a sort of communication. Nina, now behaving better, is no less frustrated by the world around them. And Nono, still a troublemaker in the Other Country, has a similar dissatisfaction. To me this points to a trauma, that each feels the lack of the other and that in being split, in being distant, a part of each of them has been removed and that lack acts a bit like sand in a clam, an irritant that neither can turn into pearls. And once they're adults they find that they make mistakes, that they are in some ways destructive, and that they need a break. And I love how the story imagines that, how both seem to feel the pull toward the other and yet they resist it. In part because they don't want to lose the other I feel, because neither knows what will happen if they rejoin. Will one be erased? Will both cease to be? As it is there's this great feel that they want to [SPOILERS] switch places because their own lives have become too much and they need distance. It doesn't seem like a wholly healthy call, but it does show how they're dealing with having been parted, that they wonder if there wasn't a mistake back then, if the wrong one had been sent to the Other Country. Also there are many Billy Joel references, which I love and add layers to the story and are just all around great. The description in the editorial says this is the first in a series, though, and I'm super excited to see where it might go. It's an amazing story that you should read immediately!

"Black Like Them" by Troy L. Wiggins (4330 words)

This is a fascinating story framed as a piece of journalism chronicling the after-effects of having a drug on the market that not only allows white people to "become black" for small periods of time but has a very small chance that the effects will be permanent. The creator of the drug is a black woman running a company that specifically supports other people of color and profits largely off (in this case at least) white people wanting to pretend to be black but still have their whiteness to escape back to if things get "too real." He premise is interesting, working from the way that certain white people exoticize black culture, wanting to experience it from the inside without any of the…unpleasantness—so totally divorced from institutional racism and oppression and further free from being "called out" for appropriating blackness. It's an incredibly complex idea that I feel the story presents well, showing how each of the people effected views what's going on. For the woman behind the drug, what's happened to the few white people for whom the effects have not worn off is unfortunate but it's not like the people didn't know the risk. They just took it anyway. [SPOILERS] And what could have been a learning experience for many, to reevaluate their own intentions and drives behind wanting to pretend to be black, instead causes them double down on their same old racism, unaware or unwilling to believe that in doing so they're making themselves vulnerable to it as well. Which holds a certain amount of justice, and it's a great way to show just how hypocritical it is to claim to love blackness so much that, as a white person, you would essentially try to use it to get ahead. It exposes the idea that this springs from an idea of blackness as somehow making things better. And while it might seem that way to people able to turn off and on their blackness at will, it completely ignores the very real difficulties that black people face. So the story does present this whole range of experiences and voices and fleshes out the premise nicely. The framing is spot on and the character work and the voice are both great. And it's a story that feels relevant and captures a large part of the dialogue surrounding appropriation and racism going on both within publishing and in the world at large. A fantastic read!


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