|Art by Dimitrije Miljus|
“Low Bridge! Or The Dark Obstructions” by M. Bennardo (8071 words)
Don’t be an asshole, gents. That is, in my esteemed opinion, the very noble and strongly delivered lesson to be taken from this story. And what a delightful story it is, focusing on the newly married Cannings, Edna and her new husband, the narrator, as they go on a canal journey toward their honeymoon. On the surface, the story deals with a distance between the pair stemming from an argument and complicated by the arrival of a rather awful writer named Mr Bunyan, who writes supernatural stories but dismisses supernatural phenomenon as hogwash. Beneath that, though, a completely different kind of story is playing out, one that has everything to do with expectations and misogyny and the way that men are allowed to bully, intimidate, and silence those they don’t agree with, especially if those people aren’t men. Mr Bunyan is an ass, and in that he’s not really remarkable. Indeed, that’s something I like about him, that he’s not the most evil or obvious of bastards. But he knows the dance of “civilized company” fairly well, knowing just how far he is allowed to go without expected censure, and how far others are allowed to go. For Edna, who takes an instant dislike to the man and is quite adept at putting in his place verbally, this distance is something that Bunyan can exploit to silence and humiliate her, to effectively threaten her with legal beating and how she can be institutionalized if she acts uo too much. Of course, lots of that has to do with the main character, her husband, and how much he buys into the system that gives him power of his wife. And this is where the story excels to me, exploring how this character suddenly realizes just what power he has, and how it makes him feel—at the same time repulsed and tempted. The story follows him circling around the power he has to either affirm his wife and risk social consequences himself, or silence his wife and risk being an irredeemable asshole. How the story handles that and where it goes present a fun, but complicated, study of the situation, and while yes, it centers the man in a story that’s about women’s voices, it does so in a way that I find interesting and well worth checking out. A great read!
“The Wind’s Departure” by Stephen Case (10877 words)
This story is another that deals with voice and with consent and with a man having to deal with his feelings about having power over a woman. It’s another chapter of the Wizard’s House series of stories (not sure if that’s the actual name is, sorry), where Diogenes has become the Wizard following the original Wizard’s fall involving the god. Now Diogenes is stuck trying to figure out what to do next, knowing that he’s needed to deal with threats to the empire and yet also bound by his own promise of freeing Sylva. And really the story revolves around promises and choice. Diogenes could have chosen to put off his promise to Sylva, of freeing her and returning her to her body. He could have waited until he studied more, could have looked for some way to do it. Instead, feeling the pressure to act, to start doing things, he set a course that could cause the ruin of everyone, that could undo all the work the previous Wizard did, and in the mean time tie him tighter to the roll of the Wizard, to the bond that holds him to the house. I feel like the story isn’t so much one of promises as it is one of compromise. Diogenes sees no way out of his situation, sees no way to fulfill all his obligations without losing himself, and so he chooses to lose himself. But he does so without consulting Sylva, without really caring if this is what she wants, for all that he’s acting on her behalf. He’s trying because he doesn’t want to be the person who keeps her because he’s already made too many other compromises, because he wants to do this before he has to promise too much else. And in that way I feel the story shows that it’s often very very difficult to make the decision to have power and still act morally. His actions toward Sylva aren’t cool, for all that he gives her what she wants and fulfills his promise. And he knows it. But he’s already made the choice in his mind to accept the power and roll of being the Wizard. Maybe if he had rejected it, things might have been able to turn out differently, but here we see the cycle at work, power corrupting and pushing Diogenes into isolation, where there will be no one to check his decisions, where he will likely grow even more rigid and set in what he feels he needs to be, the heroic martyr, all the while ignoring that it’s only by letting other people in, by trusting other people, that justice can thrive. It’s an interesting chapter in this larger story, though, and the ending is fitting, even as it’s not entirely happy. A fine read!