Thursday, March 29, 2018

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine March 2018

March brings a feeling of oppression and strength to Fireside Magazine, which features four original short stories. From fantasy-tinged history to a future full of ongoing natural disasters, the pieces focus on empathy, loss, and captivity. They show characters who want to live their lives and who all fall into systems that don’t really allow them to be free. They are bound by obligations and restrictions, by ignorance and by prejudice. And in their attempts to push back against those forces they come up against resistance, violence, and exploitation. These are stories that do not flinch away from difficult depictions, and readers should go in prepared to confront some general unpleasantness, to put it mildly. But these are also stories that glow with beauty and power and should definitely be savored. Let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Galen Dara

“Flow” by Marissa Lingen (2956 words)

No Spoilers: Gigi grows up with a flow that marks her as linked to naiads that live hidden in waters all over. The naiads have requests that Gigi works to fulfill, at least until a sickness leaves her with permanent damage to her balance, disrupting her flow and forcing her to take a different path, serving the naiads and herself in a much different way. It’s a story of starts and stops, loss and disruption. Gigi is connected to the water, and yet her own flow continues to be diverted and frustrated, which mirrors in some ways how water is treated now, how it is in danger from pollution and from the whims of humans. The story is heavy with loss and grief, and yet filtered by the care of community and by those who work to help others to recover and to thrive. It looks at the ways that those working tirelessly on behalf of others are often overlooked and ignored, and yet their work is vital and deserving of attention and appreciation.
Keywords: Water, Naiads, Magic, Disability, Parents, Magic
Review: I love how the story looks at the way that we as a culture tend to value the active, the masculine, when it comes to most things. The main character, Gigi, spends a lot of the story upset that the people around her try to push her into the feminine role when she likes being more like her dad, likes being a part of this mysterious world where she is called on to do things to help but never really understands what’s going on. She resists being like her mom, who hovers and who perhaps tries to help too much, and a lot of the story brushes by Gigi’s mom as an almost unwanted presence. Invisible even when she’s mentioned quite a bit. And Gigi has to come to terms with that just as she has to come to terms with the ways that she is erased as well. The ways that even with her flow and her more masculine bearing, she’s not really seen. It’s something she has to confront when she loses her balance and requires an assistive device and needs physical therapy and needs help. And as she confronts it she begins to see that the way she was living before wasn’t without merit, but was also leaving a huge part of the problem unseen and untended to. How sometimes what is required is care and community, is knowledge and patience. And I love how Gigi, in becoming Regina, comes more into her own power, not losing agency but embracing it and all its layers and weight. She recognizes the intricacies of the problems she wants to fight against and sees that to properly do the work and be visible, she must first see those who are in her own life, who she has been ignoring. It’s a powerful piece that seeks to fight toward justice both with magic and more practical means. A great read!

“Object-Oriented” by Arkady Martine (988 words)

No Spoilers: Marisol is a structural engineer working in post-disaster work, condemning checking buildings to see if they need to be demolished. The nature of the work, though, and the nature of this future world, are such that every building isn’t just a building, but a casualty in a epidemic that is sweeping the world. The piece looks at the ability that humans have to empathize with others, to work together in the face of hardship and emergency. It looks at disaster response in an age when every day is a new disaster, and there is no break from the rush of things that Need Doing. It’s a relentless and fraying story about the weight of disaster and how the world seems aimed at ever-increasing need for people to feel the immediacy of the problems facing us.
Keywords: Disaster, Empathy, Drugs, Architecture, Grief
Review: This story packs a lot of punch, thanks in large part for the careful way it tackles disaster, empathy, and humanity. Because it gets at this core idea that humanity does incredible things in a crisis, is able to come together in a way that individuals cooperate and sacrifice for the greater good. It’s something that is often enough exploited for horrible things, but the story asks what might happen if this were exploited in order to actually do good. Because the truth is that the crises are happening all the time, all around us. Climate change is a crisis, a car crash that is already grinding against the guard rail. When it strikes a stationary object, then things get rather real. Earthquakes, floods, and other disasters fall on top of each other pretty much nonstop, and it requires that people not be able to turn off their empathy. It looks at the exhaustion that happens when people have to care all the time, but also the need of it. That exhaustion might be a small price to pay if it actually saves something. That crying at a building needing to be demolished is huge, but at the same time it’s something that needs to be done, day after day until maybe someday humanity is able to climb out of the hole it’s dug for itself. It’s a wrenching and devastating read and one that could easily have tipped into dystopian horror and yet instead doesn’t (to me) seem to be about the horror of drugs designed to keep people hyper-empathetic, but rather about the horror of what happens if people are allowed to check out of disasters that don’t seem to effect them. It’s a timely and fantastic read!

“By the Mother’s Trunk” by Lisa M. Bradley (1914 words)

No Spoilers: There are few things more powerful than Tillie the elephant’s nose. With it she experiences the world, more so than with her eyes or ears. It’s her nose that allows her to understand the world that she moves through, the emotions, pains, and cruelties of the humans around her. As a part of a circus, Tillie typically grasps very quickly what people want her to do, and because she has little other choice, she endeavors to do as good a job as she can. The action of the story is fairly limited, looking at a strange tradition from the past, but for me the piece is really about sensation and fear and the distance between what Tillie’s audience interprets from her act and her true thoughts.
Keywords: Elephants, Smelling, Bridges, Circuses, Water
Review: Spinning out of historical oddity, this story looks at the old practice of making elephants cross bridges to test them, but from the elephant’s point of view. Which is pretty amazing, because I have now learned something about elephants and bridges I didn’t know and because the story otherwise is a wonderfully layered piece (in my opinion) showing how performance works and how Tillie navigates a world that is so dangerous and cruel. And it shows just how deep Tillie’s performance goes, how it deepens and deepens because of the different ways she has to live. At the surface is her perforance within the circus, where she is an entertainer. This is one that the Governor is essentially “in on” because he’s a part of that performance. But underneath that the Governor is a man, and just going out his business. Underneath Tillie’s first performance is a second and perhaps more impressive one, where she must fit into how people want a “real” elephant to behave. A GOOD elephant. But Tillie explains how that is an act, too, in order to avoid mistreatment, in order to keep things running smoothly. ANd it’s one she hides because if the Governor or other humans knew how she really felt, knew just how much she understood and yearned for something better, she’d likely be punished for it. So she maintains her performance almost at all times, only ever able to rest when alone, when not observed. Having to hold on to the truth of herself where no one else sees. And it exposes just how difficult and just how much a shame that is, because of how powerful she is, because of how sharp and smart she is. The loss is not just hers, though he must bear the entirety of the punishment. The loss is everyone’s and the story does a fantastic job of exploring that fact. An amazing story!

“Iyanuoluwa-Mercy of God” by Jojo Bee (920 words)

No Spoilers: Iyanu, a young woman without much in the way of family, is given or sold into slavery by her chief and suffers aboard a white man’s ship. The piece is forthrightly told, with an honesty that doesn’t really leave room to avoid the uncomfortable and degrading parts. It shows just how Iyanu is betrayed by her chief and then hurt by her captors. It shows the brutality of what happens to her and tragedy of the kind of freedom that she has to hope for. It’s a short but powerful piece. Just don’t take the content warning at the beginning of the piece lightly, as this is a visceral read.
Keywords: CW- Slavery, CW- Torture, Goddesses, Devils, Historical
Review: For me, this story is about the point where hope and tragedy meet, where a release from pain and degradation is freedom enough, even if it means death. Or at least heavily implies death. But that moment of uncertainty, of embracing a freedom that might be destructive, is nonetheless a beautiful depicted moment, a weight falling away from Iyanu because she is beyond the ability of her captors to hurt her. Because her prayers were answered, at least of a sort. The story is interesting is that it opens with a directive from the Goddess of the piece that Iyanu is unable to follow. Because she is vulnerable, because she doesn’t have a family to look out for her and help give weight to her voice, she is most at risk for being used. And though the Goddess warns her, there really is no way of Iyanu to escape what happens. Not when those around her are all too willing to sacrifice a young woman with no family. Not when the system is corrupt to the point where slavery is something to profit from instead of fight to oppose. It’s a heartbreaking story because it shows how...almost mundane it can be. The slavers visiting the town and leaving with Iyanu told in a style that evokes the older travel adventures when young woman would move abroad. It twists this narrative that is reserved for privileged white women and gives the voice to someone else instead, someone who has traditionally had little voice in literature, no representation. And it doesn’t hold back from confronting the reader with the fact that there is no pluck or honesty or forthrightness or Chosen One status that can protect Iyanu, because everything is so stacked against her. So for her the goalposts move. Winning isn’t a good husband and a home in the country, but rather freedom at any cost. A powerful read!


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