Monday, June 12, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #25

June’s The Dark Magazine brings two stories of women living with the realities of their own vulnerability. In each, the female protagonist is unsafe. They are different, threatening because they have power or simply because they don’t fit in well enough in their society. And in both this vulnerability opens doors that should perhaps have been left closed, provides them with layers of tragedy and victims, death and skin and magic. The stories are very different in the SFF they reveal but both also show the hunger and the violence that being under constant threat can create. The sharp edge that these women hone within themselves, becoming in their attempts to not be prey a new sort of predator. So yeah, let’s jump right into the reviews!

Art by Lonely

“In Your Wake We Sin” by Hadeer Elsbai (4710 words)

This is a rather haunting story of love and loss, grief and vulnerability, that reveals Madiha, a young woman whose whole life seemed ahead of her until a fateful night. The story takes place in a Cairo full of dangers and traces of magic that feed on the desperate, the hurting. And Madiha, who has recently lost the woman she had hoped to live with, to make a life with, is both of those things. Together with two friends she seeks out a woman schooled in magic, a sahira, in order to talk to her love one last time. What happens is...not really what she expected. The story definitely taps into the tragic nature of queer love when it has to hide and when it always makes those who don’t fit in vulnerable. Constantly under threat. Madiha loved Ashraqat but their home and their situation were far from ideal and when death splits them it leaves Madiha unsure of what to do or where to go. It also makes her a sort of magnet to a darkness that finds purchase in her heart, and I like how it’s implied that it finds her because the situation is so fucked up, because her life seems reduced to this one dream and she would do almost anything to get it back. It’s a wrenching story in part because of that doomed love but also because it shows how hard it is for Madiha to move forward when she has nothing, how tempting it might be to have even a pale reflection of what she had. And the horror then becomes that some of that violence that Madiha always lives in fear of, the violence that has visited the woman she loved, lodges a bit inside of her and makes her a more welcoming place for the shadows of darkness. I love the way that it complicates Madiha’s journey and her desires, how it ends without really resolving fully, showing that things aren’t over so much as just beginning, hinting that grief is something that you never really stop battling against. It’s a lovely and sharp piece that you should definitely check out!

“Seams” by Karolina Fedyk (4570 words)

Well this one definitely lives up the name of the publication, something I say most months with The Dark (because, well, they’re really good at picking really dark pieces). Here, though, the story is about skins, with Alina a biologist dealing with the aftermath of success and the uncertainty of what to do with her life. The story is another that, like the first, also deals with the dangers rather unique to being vulnerable. Alina is predator and prey at the same time, obsessed with finding new skins to wear that might provide her with some way of finally feeling in control. Finally feeling all right with herself. And part of what I love about the story is how that reflects the way that women are often trained to prey on each other, becoming a twisted mirror of the violence already so prevalent from men. Alina fits that quite well, specifically leveraging that she seems safer to other women in order to victimize them. And it’s a rather disturbing read in that as well, because the victimization is described in detail and because it is such a betrayal, because it seems to deepen the tragedy how much Alina internalizes the fear and hatred of women, especially those who are talented, who are powerful. I feel that the story does a very good job of showing how Alina’s fear because of her visibility, because of the expectations on her, because of how she has become a target, make her a prisoner to her flat and her skin, one that she feels she can only escape through the skin of other people. It’s brilliantly creepy and the story moves with this great grotesquery to it. And oh glob that ending! I will not spoil it but I love the way the story brings Alina to the logical conclusion of her actions, makes her transformation more extreme and with the implication that even then it isn’t enough, is never quite safe. A fantastic read!


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