Thursday, February 1, 2018

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine January 2018

It’s a rather packed start to 2018 at Fireside Magazine, which sort of goes against its url a bit in dipping into some poetry this month. With five short stories, a poem, and the final chapter in the gripping and wrenching novelette that’s been playing out the last few months, there’s a lot to take in, and the works range from speculative takes on the future of genetic manipulation and identity to fantasy worlds ruled by cruel gods to a literary examination of immigration and vulnerability. Basically, the works cover a lot of ground, united by their sharp gaze and moving styles, not by their tone or subjects. Taken as a whole, it’s a group of works that find a nice balance, some fun and sweet, some pitch black and difficult. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Tesslyn B


“Two Years Dead” by Kathryn Kania (846 words)

No Spoilers: A ghost decides to try online dating (against their better judgment, perhaps) after two years of bumming around the afterlife. Strange but cute, it focuses on loneliness and reaching out, the risks of dating, and how sometimes people don’t disclose everything when they’re dealing with the fear of meeting new people.
Keywords: Dating, Ghosts, Queer MC
Review: The idea of dead people dating is rather interesting to me, and one that I probably shouldn’t think about too much. Here, the practicalities mean that the main character, Honor, can touch and interact with objects and with people, but not in the same way that she did while alive. The piece doesn’t really get into the how or why she died, merely picking up from this moment two years later when she decides to try dating, and it’s a decision that I can certainly appreciate, because it takes what could have been a much heavier story about death and the inability to reach out and makes it about taking chances and trying to form new relationships even when you’ve undergone some drastic changes. I like how the story doesn’t condemn Honor for wanting to meet someone, for wanting to be in a relationship, that it’s never framed as selfish or wrong, because here it seems like everyone can go in with eyes mostly open to everything. At least, once the awkward “yeah, so, I’m a ghost” conversation is out of the way (and I love how the story handles that discussion, too, which is something that strikes at how a lot of people have to treat dating, never really knowing what is entirely safe when you care about consent and approach other people from a place of trust and openness). It’s just a really cute story that shows that Honor might be literally dead, but it doesn’t mean that she has to accept being alone. And that there might be people out there who want to be with her, that she wants to be with. A really fun story!

"Arrival” by Sarah Gailey (The Fisher of Bones, chapter 12) (1345 words)

And there you have it. Fuck. You know, this has been such an interesting story to read in serial form, because of the structure of it and because of the thematic resonance with the feeling of time and hardship, of being kicked again and again, tested and taunted and punished. Fisher, once Ducky, never really asked for the mantle of leadership for her people. She didn’t even really ask to go on this journey, to be a part of it. It was the legacy of her father, the original Fisher, that she inherited from him. And experiencing the story over the weeks and months, it’s been a way of living a bit of the story of Fisher-who-was-Ducky, who gave up so much of herself for her father and his vision. Who was pushed into this position and then punished for it. Punished for being a woman. Punished by being not believed, by being questioned, by being resented in ways that her father never was. She faced all of this because she felt she had to, because that was the expectation, and because no one else seemed like they were going to do what was necessary to try and make sure everyone got through. And yet despite her best efforts and her sacrifices and her losses, despite everything that she overcame in order to reach the Promised Land...well, it’s not really what she thought it would be.

And for me this opens up this last wound, reveals this fundamental issue that Fisher was always running from but never free of. That this wasn’t her fight. That this wasn’t her world, or the world she wanted. That for all she believed, because that’s what was demanded of her, it’s never what she liked. Through the entire story she feels the injustice of this situation, of the demands of the gods, of the demands of the other believers—she moves forward because she feels she must, but it’s not a system she seems to enjoy at all. She moves because she wants to protect her child, because she wants the brighter future she was promised, and yet the bullshit she needs to swallow to keep going, the hurt she has to endure...they are woven into the very fabric of this setting, and into any world where inequality and misogyny rule. So of course when Fisher gets to the end of her journey, what she finds waiting for her is no release from the system that she’s found so oppressive. It’s just one more hurt. For me, it points to the idea that for Fisher, for anyone marginalized and oppressed by a system, trying to fulfill the prerequisites for success as set by those in power is rarely/never going to lead to actual change. Because the goalposts always shift, the requirements always move to favor the corrupt system. Fish tried to play by her father’s rules, thinking that they had to be fair. Or, even if unfair, that she could still win, as long as she worked five times as hard.

The truth, then, is that often there’s no amount of effort that is enough. Not when the system is broken. Which does not mean that trying is wrong, or stupid. It just means that change must come from without, must be forced rather than coaxed. Means that for Fisher, the only way to win was to refuse to play this game and find a way to play another. Which is in some ways more difficult. But which often is the only way to move forward. It’s a story that made me dread and yearn for each additional chapter, and now that it’s over there’s both a sense of a great wrong having been done and a great numbness. It’s a story that hits and does so using the serial format very well. For me, it’s not so much that it tells a satisfying story, but that it points out how completely unsatisfying life can be, and asks what can be done from there. It’s a difficult, perhaps impossible question, but one I feel is well worth asking. So definitely go back and read this one!

“Those We Feed” by Layla Al-Bedawi (557 words)

No Spoilers: Featuring a mother and six-year-old child, the story centers a conversation they have, a sort of prophecy that the child delivers, and how it impacts the mother. Strange and chilling, the piece seems to be about devouring, about the way that people are pressured and devoured by the need to fit in, to reach for those things they’ve been told will fulfill them.
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy, Parenting, CW- Cannibalism, Rituals
Review: This is a very short piece that looks at the costs of being a parent. Or it could be. A lot of how this story might strike you depends on how you interpret the relationship between parent and child. For me, the narrator here has given themselves to have a child, had been devoured first by the want to have a child, so that they visited doctors and churches and finally tried something a bit more...extreme. Whether the child is human or not is a bit up in the air (though I’m betting not), and so in some ways it could be that this desire, this pressure to have children, has eaten away at the narrator. It’s her desire for a child that pushed her into this situation, to try something that she knew was unsafe, and the story addresses that she knew that this cost was there, reached for it anyway. And for me it speaks to the way that people are caught what to want, what to do, what is valuable. How people feed themselves into this system that has an edge to it, a darkness, that it’s a cycle we buy into, that grinds us up a little at a time, a little at a time, so that we are continually diminished. And one that, for all its darkness, does allow for moment of beauty and compassion and joy. The story is a conflicting one for me because I read in it this feeling that the narrator is going forward, trying to make the best of this, trying not to worry that the system will devour them, trying to endure the pain to get as much as they can. Because perhaps that’s the best they can hope for. But whatever the case it’s a difficult read, slow and dense. I feel, though, that it’s very much worth spending some time with, in order to wrestle with the weight of this interaction, this exchange. To wonder what everyone is getting, that makes this cycle continue. Go check it out!

“Hehua” by Millie Ho (3969 words)

No Spoilers: Cassie learns that her friend Hehua has been murdered, and when signs point her toward an unlikely suspect, she has to decide whether to accept what she’s being told by everyone else or pursue her own theories. The story builds a world where genetic manipulation is a new tool of inequality, the wealthy advantaging their children while other people have to risk brain damaged to get Edited as adults. Moving quickly and showing the privilege that comes with power and influence, there’s something of a mystery to solve, and the story manages a great balance of grief, guilt, hurt, and hope.
Keywords: Genetic Manipulation, Murder, Injustice, Law Enforcement
Review: The story does a great job of setting up a rather interesting opening—Cassie paralyzed upon learning of the death of her friend, a friend who had been acting very out of character lately—something that Cassie will return to as she works through her own guilt and anger about what has happened. No stranger to the harm that the criminal justice system can do as the child of a father in jail, a father who can be experimented on against his will in order to test new Edits, new ways of convincing people to change themselves (and risk permanent brain damage). And yet the story shows just how much societal pressures can make lived experience seem like baseless fear. The way that society tries to convince people that it knows them better than they do, that it knows what’s good for them. For Cassie, it’s the world that tells her she should be Edited, despite her visceral rejection of it, despite knowing that it isn’t right or just. But because the system revels in its inequality, because it always puts Wonder Kids first and punishes those without the “right” genetics, it’s a constant pressure, a constant temptation, that maybe if Cassie would just give in things would get better. Only they wouldn’t. Just as they didn’t when Hehua gave in and ended up dead. The mystery of the piece is compelling if not exactly surprising. Instead, it shows just how obvious a thing can be and still be ignored and hushed up. It’s an uncomfortable but powerful story about the ways that we are pushed to conform, to sacrifice what makes us us in the hope of gaining a privileged status, all the while ignoring that privilege is not exactly something you are given so much as it’s something you’re born with. A fantastic read!

“A Legal Alien” by Maya Kanwal (397 words)

No Spoilers: A group of people faced with the looming presence and threat of ICE takes steps they hope will protect them. At least, most of them. Not exactly a speculative piece, it still captures the weight that wears on immigrants or people who look like immigrants in a time and place where their presence in America is a fragile, tenuous thing.
Keywords: Immigration, ICE, Vulnerability, Fear
Review: To me, the story speaks to the ways that communities are taught to police themselves in order to try and protect themselves from the dangers of a corrupt state. In some ways it’s like “The Lottery,” where this population hopes that it can keep itself safe, can keep itself together and whole, only so long as they sacrifice one of their own to the hungry maw of the state, to ICE. Basically, they know that innocence is no true defense, that it’s only part of what’s expected of them in order to avoid harassment and possible deportation. They must become complicit, must become part of the problem, in hopes of avoiding attention, in order to stay. The story, though very brief, offers this sharp look at what happens to people who know that it doesn’t matter how good they are, who can’t really expect any help from the outside, and who know that resisting will likely mean even harsher treatment. It’s about the cycles of abuse and pain that pass through these groups, and the stark horror of this situation, complicating the idea of innocence, the idea of legality. It’s a difficult and complex story, but one that’s very much worth checking out. Go read it!

“Riddle” by Ogbewe Amadin (1159 words)

No Spoilers: Idara suspects that their Aunty Adesuwa is a witch, at first because they’re told so but later they conduct their own investigation. And yet the lines between good and evil, witch and non-witch, blur a bit as the story progresses, and Idara must work to create their own map of the situation, with all its pitfalls and dangers. Short and (mostly) sweet, but with a touch of darkness as well, and the ending is empowering and does a great job of complicating how we think of witches and evil.
Keywords: Witches, Magic, Transformation, Independence, Prejudice
Review: This story has a great voice and flow to it, the situation unfolding around Idara mostly because they are young and has been brought up with this very rigid set of rules. Though their mother always challenges them to consider the facts, these facts are often framed as absolutes that don’t always reflect observable reality. Idara believes that their mother doesn’t lie, for instance, which then lends whatever their mother says the status of fact. For raising children, this way of doing things is often tempting because it makes certain things easier, but at the same time I like how the story shows that it’s limiting, and can sometimes lead a child into very serious trouble. Because it sets up things as good or evil, everything in between is lost, and Idara loses some of the nuance that might have helped them deal with the nature of their Aunty. It’s something that the story sets up, that this moment at the end is the beginning of a new kind of education for Idara, and I love that, because it has for me something almost unsettling but freeing about it, that Idara could have had a much different introduction into all of this but instead doesn’t really know what she’s getting into. Still, it’s a fun piece about challenging assumptions and complicating what is truth and what lie, what honest and what a mistake. And it’s a great way to close out the month’s short fiction!


“Thunderstorm in Glasgow, July 25, 2013” by Amal El-Mohtar, illustrated by Molly Crabapple

 This is a wondrous blend of poetry and art, the visuals giving a watercolor feel, something very strongly linked to the text, which features a woman and two children and a storm. And just as the piece blends visuals and text, so does the text itself blend languages, circling around language and resistance, defiance and assimilation. The piece finds these three stranded in a barracks, waiting for something that is never exactly revealed. There’s a sense I got that this situation is one loaded with worry and uncertainty. The subjects of the poem are waiting, the mother holding tight to her children, unwilling to let them slip away, knowing that in this situation the dangers of being separated are more than the rain and the lightning. At the same time, at least one of the children is eager to go and meet the storm and, to me at least, the world beyond. And that child, that sister, for me becomes more of the focus in the later half of the piece, where it is her drive to embrace the storm, to negotiate with it, to find a peace with it, that creates this feeling of departure, of loss. That the language and traditions end up being something left behind in the rush to embrace the wet, the loud, the dark, the bright. There’s something tragic about the piece to me, something melancholy. Not overwhelmingly sad because it is about meeting the storm, about staring it down and coming to terms with it. But that it’s also about what gets washed away, or buried, or blurred under the force of the torrent. It’s about what gets lost in coming to terms with the storm in its language, regardless of how necessary it might be. And as triumphant as that ending might be, to stand up to the storm, there’s an edge of something else, deeper, and much more complex. For me it’s a difficult poem because of my own inability to translate, because of how I have to come to it, but there’s a power there, as well, I think. That I must bend to the poem, that I (someone who is only fluent in English) must face this break from my language and engage with it on its terms, seek to understand it and not demand that it be filtered to me in my language. That it refuses to translate itself (and even translates itself further in the text by flowing into a different alphabet), is a great touch and makes for a fascinating and rewarding read. Go check it out!


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