Thursday, June 22, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #16 [June stuff]

Well it’s another busy month at Uncanny Magazine, with three original stories, two poems, and five nonfiction pieces. I was very tempted to just skip the nonfiction, I will admit, because of time concerns, but once I saw it was about Star Trek, food, resistance, and revolution, I kinda had to look at it more in depth. What’s here this month has a great focus on self-determination and strength and stories. About the ways that we write ourselves out of struggles in order to relieve the burden of having to act and the ways that we need to counter that. The stories focus on people being confronted with narratives that don’t leave room for them, where they are often ignored or marginalized, and how they seek to recenter and decolonize these stories to present a more just and more complete vision of the world. And the pieces all do this by subverting tropes and familiar structures and ideas to present wholly new and revolutionary messages. Time travel is revealed as more crutch than cure. Vampirism takes on wholly new levels when crossed with gender and transition. Narrative structure and voice itself is blurred as character and author and reader meet. It’s a lovely collection of works and an amazing call to arms for SFF readers who want to act and fight back against what perhaps is becoming the darkest timeline. So yeah, review time!

Art by Galen Dara

“Paradox” by Naomi Kritzer (1636 words)

This story mixes a rather humorous take on time travel with something deeper and more subtle than the usual “should we go back and kill Hitler” questions. It’s a story narrated in an almost distracted fashion by a time traveler back just to ask questions, just to sort-of visit the past. They are addressing the reader directly, or rather someone from our time, trying to answer our questions while aware of the limitations and history of time travel within the world of the story. And I like that here we have someone who’s come back who understands in some ways what time travel is and participates in it but at the same time can’t really explain it. Meaning there are still mysteries unsolved and still the fact that regardless of how many people go back and change things in the past, it doesn’t really effect the “future” that these people are coming from. They can change so much and can’t change a thing, and so the past becomes both a place to experiment within and a place to visit because once they’ve made peace with the fact that they can’t change things for themselves, they can still enjoy being in the place, and can perhaps offer some advice to the people of the different pasts that might help them help themselves. That might help us help ourselves. And I like that about the story, that it pushes people to not imagine the future as really begin able to save us. As putting the responsibility for now squarely in the present. In our hands. Why would anyone need to go back and stop Hitler if someone had stopped him when he was on the rise? Why would we ever need to go back to right some great mistake if instead we just try harder not to make mistakes, to not make apathy or inertia stop us from acting? The story is a bit of a kick in the pants, sharp and to the point, telling us that we can’t expect salvation from some future humans who will know what to do. We’re on our own, but we’re also in this together, and there’s lots we can do. So yeah, it’s a great story with a charming voice and it’s a great take on the old classic time travel concept. Go check it out!

“Notes from Liminal Spaces” by Hiromi Goto (4110 words)

This is an interesting and formally intricate and rather meta-textual story about stories and about strangeness and about queerness. The piece unfolds as a narrative about a woman getting a vision and an urge to find something inside a trio of dead birds in her yard, as a more intellectual examination of narrative and representation and writing, and as a speech about speculative fiction and queerness. Each of these aspects of the story swirl together to create a rather dense one that comments on itself and also works on many levels, on the intellectual mind and the more visceral mind, on our desire for patterns and also on the comfort and unease we feel at being confronted with narratives outside the narrow strip of expectation and convention. And the level of meta-narrative is interesting, confronting the reader with this multitude of weird, both the rather creepy story that’s being told and the rule-breaking the piece engages in with the blending of forms and voice. The rapid shifts in style might have been jarring, but I found the way the story dropped in and out rather seamless, maintaining a distance between the narrator and the characters of the story but also blurring everything together, so that the distance shrinks and grows and sometimes seems to reach for the reader through the screen, offering up this pearl of green and asking if we’ll eat. [SPOILERS] And the way the plea of the main character of the story, Eiko, echoes with the questions of the meta-story is interesting and great. The way she asks her partner to eat is akin to the way that writers ask the reader to trust them, the way that writers ask the reader to come with into this world that is strange, that might be dangerous, that is decidedly queer. It’s the way that writers ask the reader to be unsettled, to live in that liminal space, if only briefly, and I love the way everything comes together in the end to create this multifaceted story that is definitely worth spending some time with. Another great read!

“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” by K.M. Szpara (9177 words)

This story speaks to me of bodies and transformations and transition and hunger. It features Finley, a transman who gets bitten by a vampire while out and who has to come to terms with what that means for him very specifically. In the setting vampires have become more normal, partly accepted by society but also heavily regulated. They’re not supposed to just feed on people and yet Andreas, the vampire who bites Finley, is ancient and occasionally indulges in his bloodlust. However, there are complications and Finley has to decide what to do when his only real options become be turned into a vampire or die. And it’s a situation complicated by Finley’s transition and his body, which reacts to being changed in ways that he can’t predict, in ways that Andreas can’t predict because he didn’t consider the possibility that Finley wasn’t a cisman. And I love how the story explores the very complicated ways that Finley’s transitions intersect and overlaps, how it’s different for him to become a vampire because of how his body reacts, how he has to worry about so much more, how he has to deal with this being something that he didn’t really get to choose. Much of the wider ramifications in Finn’s life are obscured in the story, presented in glimpses of what he has to do with his job and his family, how it all changes and how none of it is prepared for him, is willing to work with him. And it’s a wrenching and at times heartbreaking piece because it deals so much with Finn’s body and his hopes and his fears and the way he so desperately wants to feel like himself. It contrasts nicely to Andreas whose motives seem to be wanting to feel normal, wanting to not be alone, and yet who even with that doesn’t really consider his actions and so pushes Finn into a situation where there’s so little control, so little known, that there is this wound between them that might never heal. It’s a lovely and sensual story, though, that looks at lust and bloodlust, care and harm, sex and arousal. And it is an amazing read that you should read immediately!


“Seven Shoes” by Theodora Goss

This is an interesting and touching poem, though there is a part of me that reacts rather sharply to it I must admit. It’s a piece that sees a young girl make a deal with a witch, who informs her that for whatever it is to work she has to wear through seven pairs of shoes. The poem reveals how she does that by living, just by going through the stages of her life, moving from goal to goal, from job to job, from experience to experience. [SPOILERS] And the poem eventually brings the girl (now a woman) through all seven and reintroduces her to the witch, and we as readers get a glimpse of what she might have asked for from the witch to begin with—to be a writer. And the worn shoes are all part of the education that she needed, the life experience that she needed, to be ready to write. To be ready to truly begin on that part of her life. Which is a neat twist to the poem and a great way of imagining that situation. Because sometimes we don’t have time, don’t have will, and don’t have the discipline required to write. Sometimes we do need to do some personal growing, and if that’s the case for the narrator then it’s a story about someone finding the confidence and the will to write and tell their stories and it’s encouraging and magical and fun. My only hesitation and part of why I have a sharp reaction is because I feel that it drifts close (because it’s the witch telling the narrator that they’re ready, not really the narrator telling herself that) to language that is used to convince people not to write. Telling people they haven’t lived enough, that they haven’t had the right schooling or right job or right relationships or haven’t had kids or any of that. I don’t feel that’s really what the poem is saying, really (after all, another person might have worn through seven pairs of shoes faster) and in the end I feel that what it’s saying is that in order to achieve a goal like being a writer you have to work at it, you have to put the effort into it to wear down your shoes, to improve your craft, to challenge yourself to grow. And however you do that, it’s valid and important and good. So yes, I certainly recommend people check out the poem and see what you think.

“What to expect from the Hadron Collider as a college roommate” by Betsy Aoki

This is a fun little poem that revolves around the idea of learning and having the Hadron Collider as a roommate. And in that it’s a very cute piece, because the idea is yes, rather ridiculous, but at the same time I really want to read the webcomic where a person is college roommates with the Hadron Collider and what that must be like. The poem captures a lot of it quite well—the ironic t-shirts, the general aloofness, the importance, the airiness. I like the way that the story is both told as a how-to but then presumably told by someone who has lived this. And in that it feels in some ways like it’s getting at something more than just this little joke, that it’s getting at something like the nature of science and research and especially working on something like the Hadron Collider which is used by so many people on so many different projects. So that it feels like you’re its college roommate because you’re spending all your time with it, because one moment it seems like it’s a black hole of money and then as if by magic it can also secure a huge grant and everything seems to work out. And the last line is great, capturing the feeling of the person, the roommate, gaining enough importance, being around enough, that the Hadron Collider remembers them. It’s a momentous occasion and, I imagine, exactly what it must feel like to have something so big seem to acknowledge you, to be considered important enough that your name appears next to its, and it’s a lovely way that the poem builds to that moment, to that fulfillment of all the discomfort of being the Hadron Collider’s college roommate. That in that moment it’s all worth it and it shines through in the piece. For me, at least, it’s a great use of personification and humor to make a statement on how it can feel to be a scientist working around a piece of equipment as well known as the Hadron Collider. A great read!


“How Deep Space Nine Almost Didn’t Fail Me” by David J. Schwartz

This is a great essay on one of my favorite subjects—Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I’m fully in the camp of DS9 is the best Trek, but also that it has a long way to go with regards to many things, and especially gender. Gender in general is something that Star Trek has always struggled with, because while it has made huge strides in representation of women in key roles with the structure of Star Fleet and the Federation, it’s also a setting that has been somewhat plagued at times with not knowing what to say about gender. And it’s definitely a setting overall that has some messed up relationships with colonialism and progressiveness in general. There’s so much to think about with this essay and where it draws that line between liberal and progressive, and what the value of difference is. I think it’s a great point to see that Star Trek really is for a sort of homogenization of people and identities. It values people not wanting to identify, people wanting to be more about their profession and pursuits and talents. Because I do think that Star Trek values people’s unique gifts and talents...just not so much those things that might make them “too different.” Star Trek is all about assimilation, to the point where the Borg is the Federation’s dark mirror. But where in that Borg/Federation comparison it’s obvious that wanting to make your enemies your friends is much better than wanting to forcefully consume and pirate your enemies, the Federation still does need to be examined. It’s something that DS9 did quite often, because it could see that racism and misogyny were still very much a part of Star Fleet. Pretending that they were products of the unenlightened past is just as dangerous as pointing back to a past that was somehow perfect and great. I love how this essay examines the regressive and progressive elements possible with science fiction, and speculative fiction as a whole, and how there’s still a lot more ground to cover if we want to actually explore not just the depths of space but the vastness of human experience.

“Learning to Turn Your Lips Sideways” by LaShawn M. Wanak

I absolutely love the idea and the image of turning your lips sideways. It just captures something so deep and so real, because it shows how people tend to ignore what they’re used to hearing. How the fuck else do so many people just tune out other people trying to tell them what’s going on? With regards to poverty or race or gender or even outside of that with regards to science or justice or anything? The moment that people recognize the pattern of something that they’ve already made their minds up about, the blinders go up. The blast shields drop. There is no real progress made. Similarly, when people hear the familiar narrative that they want to believe, they just nod along without examining it. It fits with some way they want to see the world, and so they pass it on through. There’s a lot said about how people need to frame things or say things in ways that will somehow break through people’s hesitations and prejudices. There’s a lot said about needing to be nice or understanding or blah blah blah. But I think the real thing is what this essay gets at—if people hear something from a different angle, from a different direction than the one they were expecting, then they will have no canned reaction. It forces people to think about things, even if it’s just to double down. Because it should, or it might, get people to question enough that something new might slip through. When we have to approach even old thoughts in new ways it’s possible to see something that we missed. To understand something that seemed impenetrable. The essay speaks to quite a bit but especially to challenging narratives and seeking to find frames that people don’t expect, that will slip through their guard to catch them in ways that are provocative and positive. It’s a great read!

“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Damn Eyeball” by Dongwon Song

I love food and I love reading about food and this essay does a great job of exploring where food and culture, imperialism and racism all intersect and mingle. The piece begins anecdotally and then moves out from there, showing the ways that dominant narratives can be internalized, how people can be chased away from things that they love because they don’t feel they can fully embrace those loves and because they feel the pressure to conform and accept the stories that are told about the Other, about themselves as Other and not-Other at the same time. And through it all the focus is on food and how food is often used to show cultures as civilized or not. The examples used are Indiana Jones and Star Trek, two texts that I am very familiar with, and I love the analysis there, the way that both have treated food and especially food outside the “normal” paradigms of the Western tradition. Klingon food especially is something that gets brought up time and again as disgusting and barbaric, especially in TNG. I actually love how that was challenged to some degree in DS9 where we got more into characters who embraced other food and we got to see occasionally people passionate about Klingon cuisine (I really wish they had done more with the Klingon restaurant, tbh, because it was one of the only fooderies on the station and yet for most of the show’s run there were very few Klingons around, which means that it was there either as a running joke [very much a possibility] or to subvert that joke by implying that Klingon food actually has a wide appeal [which would then get into questions of “authenticity” and things like that but I should probably stop thinking about Star Trek food]). But I love the way the essay interrogates food and comes to terms with food, and I really like the way that taste is described toward the end, losing the most Western revulsion to what is acceptable to eat and concentrating instead on the food as food and as a cultural product that shouldn’t just be dismissed or ignored. It’s a great look at the ways food is handled both within fiction (and SFF specifically) and in the real world and you should definitely find time to check this out!

“The Resistance—Becoming a Local Politician” by Kelly McCullough

I will admit that I’m slightly weirded out that two of the nonfiction pieces in this month’s offerings talk at least a bit about living in Wisconsin. As a current cheesehead this is odd to me, and especially this piece, which is written from from a city that’s basically “next door” to where I live, in Eau Claire. And really the issue here is getting involved and being a part of a system that not only seems unwelcoming but at times outwardly hostile to those who are most needed to be involved. Politics. Fuck. The essay is about getting involved at the local level and being a progressive voice in a realm that has been pretty successfully taken over by conservative voices. And that’s really the thing about the situation in Wisconsin that bothers me, that this was once seen as a bastion of progressive ideals and has become Walker’s state. And it’s happened like so many other places because from the local level conservatives have leveraged their positions and influence to further their own agenda while not being held accountable by their constituents. And part of that is far too many conservatives run unopposed. What is required are more liberal and progressive people to run and to get elected and this essay gives a brief overview of what that might look like and how even it can be advantageous for writers to seek office. Now, the author does note that this will be easier for some than for others, and that boils in large part down to privilege, but it often falls on people with privilege to use it for good and not use it as an excuse not to act. Many cannot seek office because they can’t afford to or because their schedules don’t allow them to attend regular meetings. But for some this is a great idea, especially now, to start to take back seats in government at every level and try to build momentum to fight back against the conservative and regressive policies that are threatening to undo so much gooa and important work in government. A fine read!

“Nunca Más” by Yamile Saied Méndez

This essay really focuses on the different ways that people can battle against authoritarianism, against injustice. It reminds me of some of the language around social justice and most specifically social justice warriors. Because while that’s the title most often taken or used against people fighting for justice, there is a great need for people other than warriors to fight as well. Social justice bards and rogues and clerics. People who will not only go out into the streets but people who will sit at the desk and write, teachers wo will protect stories and protect information and use them as ways of working to defeat the monsters of the world. This piece talks about seeds of resistance and revolution and how they can take time but, perhaps more importantly, how they take nurturing and care. How it requires not only a hunger for something better and more free but a willingness to see and to explain what’s happening. To teach. To inspire. To organize. The essay looks specifically at the situation in Argentina as the author grew up and eventually left for America, and how the shadow of oppression and tyranny spreads in all directions, across all lands, and needs to be constantly kept in check. In our present moment it’s a very important message about not being silent and letting abuses pass by. About planting the seeds of resistance now so that they can grow and prosper again and again and again. And it’s a great read that calls the reader to never again let the injustices of the past encroach into the present or overrun the future.


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