Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #21 [March stuff]

March brings a bit of spring to Uncanny Magazine, with three stories and three poems that feature music and rebirth and love and hope. These are also stories and poems that look at places, though. At haunted houses and magnificent cities and hometowns. That look just as closely at relationships. At the way that interactions build. How in big cities inspiration can seem to grow out of the creativity concentrated in one spot, synergize into something bigger and bigger. How in smaller towns isolation can give way to resentment and fear and depression, but where single gestures can come to mean the universe. These are stories of friends and family, poems of art and love and prayer. And without further delay, the reviews!

Art by Nilah Magruder

“I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise” by Sarah Pinsker (5320 words)

No Spoilers: Told in a series of anecdotes and notes about New York hotels, the story weaves an idea of New York and, more specifically, the artistic energy that is focused there. The synergy of so many creative people all coming together in the same place, at the same time. It looks at the ways that people might inspire people, jumping through time and playing a sort of theoretical game as well, of musical chairs and also the infinite connects of inspiration and innovation. For me, who has never been to New York, it seems something of a love letter to the city, seeking to capture what it’s like to live and to create in a place with such an artistic history.
Keywords: New York, Music, Synergy, History, Art, Hotels
Review: New York has always been a strange sort of idea to me. A place but also something more than that. A sort of cultural hub, out of which spins a great deal of the national identity. Especially looking back at the ways that so much of American art has seemed to condense there, like a magnet drawing together so many people across so much time. And this story, to me, seems to try and take a look at the magic of that magnetism, the feeling of what it’s like to live and breathe New York, to feel those connections and that history reaching forward into the present but also even further, into the future, and also backwards from the present and future into the past. It posits New York as a sort of nexus, a gathering place where inspiration flows and travels in lines both visible and not, where movements and ideas seem to spring forth from the ether, drawing people together and pulling from the art that transcends what they might have been able to do in isolation. New York is a dream and a reality, and I feel the story explores that and celebrates that. The frame, a sort of walking tour of New York hotels, traces the ways these connections took place and might have taken place, is presented largely as nonfiction until the story brings it all together and reveals a stage and a band and an audience that bridges all connections, that truly gets the heart of what it might be light to be a creative person in New York, giving and taking in equal or unequal measure, inspired and inspiring and a part of this experience that goes beyond just one person or one group or one time, to really take the chaos and noise of New York and find within in distinct notes and a guiding harmony that expresses itself at times in music and paint and words. It’s a bit of a strange experiment of a story, but it’s very much worth spending some time with. A great read!

“And Yet” by A. T. Greenblatt (4626 words)

No Spoilers: A scientist back in their hometown to explore a haunted house that started them on the road toward science/physics (as well as was the source of probably the greatest loss and sadness of their life) finds things changed since they were a child. What remains, though, is the will to explore and to figure out this mystery of science and alternate realities. The piece focuses a lot on the main character (the second person “you” of the story) an their motivation for going back to the house, their guilt about what happened to their little brother and the lingering horror of their experiences. The piece is full of buried trauma and pain, the resentment of a childhood moving between being bullied by peers and living in an abusive household. On the cusp of bigger things, of finally realizing a dream they’ve had, the narrator must decide what might be worth giving up on the chance of trying to expose this haunted house to the scientific community—what might justify missing out on the chance to study and dissect something that has caused thm so much hurt.
Keywords: Alternate Realities, Haunted Houses, Bullying, Family, Siblings, Science!
Review: What I love about this story is how it explores many aspects of alternate realities and haunted houses, blending them together and placing the narrator, placing you, as the one looking to uncover the truth behind the strange phenomenon. The effect is horror that is tempered by science fiction, where you still find yourself walking through this house that knows your weaknesses and wants you out, but at the same time some of the fear goes away when you have an idea of what’s really going on. Not all the fear, which is why I think the piece is still creepy as hell and works as horror. But you are also better prepared than as a child to handle what the house is bringing to bear in this contest or battle. It’s something that you lost as a kid and as a result, direct or not, you ended up getting very hurt and your younger brother even more so. What was supposed to keep you away, though, instead gave you a hunger to figure it all out and return, and I love how the hosue seems to know that, seems to see that it made a mistake it hurting you all those years ago. And so it’s changing the game again. And the result is that the story moves as you try to expose the house and find instead that it has more defenses, even more insidious than fear. Because it’s playing with alternate realities. With space and time and probabilities. So it can do more than just frighten you. It can bribe you. And what I like about the piece is that it seems to me to ask if you would be the same person—the same scientist, the same driven and stubborn person, if not for the hardships. Have those defined you? What would getting something back mean, and how do we measure scientific discovery against human life? It’s a wrenching and rather joyous moment at the end when that question gets directly confronted, and it makes for an interesting and fantastic story!

“Like a River Loves the Sky” by Emma Törzs (3283 words)

No Spoilers: Adriana is a young(ish) person dealing with the death of their father and earl onset Alzheimer’s of their mother. To top things off, their friend and roommate is moving away, leaving them with a feeling of loss, betrayal, and a deep sadness. At the same time, they are experiencing rather intense sensations (dreams or something more) of being other things (an apple, a rock, a river) in love with other things (a deer, a fire, a sky). The piece moves with a poetic numbness, Adriana not really able to speak about their particular hurt but instead living in this place of being drained, struggling to work and to support themself. It’s lonely and slightly haunting, and yet for all its darkness there’s a feeling that it might give way to joy, to something brighter and easier. A melancholy and beautiful experience.
Keywords: Dogs, Taxidermy, Friendship, Loss, Depression, Gifts
Review: This story has a sharp literary edge to it, but a conscious one, where the characters discuss metaphor and symbol. What dogs represent. What they mean. The characters talk in some ways in order to define what they mean to each other, friends and intimate but not in a sexual way, their relationship in many ways strained by the expectations of society, by the way that friendship is considered less than more romantic relationships. But I love how the story portrays them, so close and so much a part of each other’s worlds, having been friends for so long. And yet still not quite able to talk about what they have. So they seek to show something to the other. Adriana by helping NPW move away, and NPW by leaving behind a gift. And in a story that is dominated by the feeling of heavy grief and depression, the story resolves into something a bit lighter. Where Adriana is able to feel warmth again, to feel valued and alive. It’s a small step, ultimately, but it represents the first one away from the dark place that they were at, with the gaping chasm beneath them, the shadow of NPW’s departure. What remains is a recognition of how important they are to each other while leaving room for them to move and grow now in different directions. Still a part of the other’s life, but in a bit different a way. It’s a challenging read, slow and merciless at times, but I love how it ends, the breath of hope and life, the presence and possibility of joy. A great read!


“The Sea Never Says It Loves You” by Fran Wilde

This is a strange and yearning poem about (to me) longing and the intensity of love. The piece is framed in a way as a warning. A bit of advice. That to love the sea is not something to go into with certain expectations. That it is all encompassing and immediate, vast enough that you lose yourself in it, to it, all that is you washed away no matter your feelings on the matter. And perhaps what I get from that is a similar warning about a love for something that is similarly huge and encompassing. That doesn’t compromise and doesn’t move to meet you halfway. That such a love can be powerful and intense but that the sea really can’t be tender or soft or small. And that loving something that is going to consume you...doesn’t always work out well. That perhaps relationships that are built more around an equality, a mutual respect and recognition, will end up being a bit more healthy. A bit more stable. That when one person in the relationship is human and the other the sea...well, things might not work out so well. And I love the feeling of it, the magic of it. The poem picks up speed as it moves, shaping this experience around the way that the sea can be seductive, the way that it can seem to see only you, care for only you. But that in some way you’ll always have to accept that the sea is the sea. And there’s really no changing the sea, and if your needs in the relationship change, the sea isn’t going to change with you. And there’s just something sweeping and wrecking about this poem, like the sea itself, offering up this warning whether or not you’re going to take it. A wonderful read!

“Found Discarded: A Love Poem, Questionably Addressed.” by Cassandra Khaw

The title of this poem does a fantastic job of giving a complicating frame to the rest of the piece, which examines desire and love and the feeling of being incomplete somehow without this intense and transforming bond that some people feel. The poem breaks that feeling, that idea, down to some degree, looking at how it is influenced by sex, by religion, by a specific place and time. The piece acknowledges that the idea of being incomplete is itself a bit problematic, and yet that it borders on something that _feels_ real at times, that brushes against the intensity of love and lust and everything that goes with it. That there is something Greek (in the mythological sense—human, flawed, powerful, divine) that lends itself to thinking of love in this very poetic way. And yet the title wrinkles this, adds something like a joke, something like a rebuttal, that here is this person not asking so much “are you my other half?” but declaring that the recipient of the poem _is_ that other half, or that they want them to be. Seeking with this poem to win the affections that they crave, to map their desires in the hopes that the person the poem was intended for might feel it sound in them a similar vibration and song. Of course, that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the poem has been discarded, as it has been cast aside. So that the original recipient did not feel this strike them, and threw it out. And yet. And yet I feel that part of the appeal of the poem is that some people can still be struck by this poem even as we’re not the intended reader (can be being key, as I don’t wish to imply to react makes us human, or that any real human would react, but that for some there is this feeling that we’re looking for that other half, and here is something that resonates with that insecurity and hope). That there is something about falling in love—the suddenness with which it can happen, the drive, the need, the want—that can happen even between reader and unknown poet. That we can still feel something of their fire kindling in our hearts. And it’sa fun poem that captures this desire, this hope, this rejection, and yet this beauty wrapped in grand and frought words. Another great poem!

“drop some amens” by Brandon O’Brien

This poem does a fantastic job of framing good fortune during rough times. How it can almost feel like being at war, like living under the constant fear of being erased, crushed. Only here the poem twists expectations, showing the terrible power of good fortune. Of answered prayers. Showing the impact it can have when everyone is struggling. When everyone is needing. How strange and awesome it is to find people getting something they need. Getting a chance to improve. Getting just a breath of air when even that seems impossible. It creates this alternate battle-squadron of people flying over, dropping fortune from on high. Which can often feel like how the world works, that people struggle and struggle and struggle and the only ones who seem able to improve or make it through in okay shape are those who didn’t just earn it. Because everyone has earned it. Because everyone should have these things, the surgeries and the schooling and the opportunities. But people don’t. And often the only way that people do is by some stroke of luck. Winning the lottery. Getting your crowdfunding picked up by someplace big and boosted. Finding that you ended up in front of the right person at the right time to be truly considered. And having that strange push and pull, wanting things so badly (needing things so badly) and yet being stuck. Wanting to get hit by one of the prayer-bombs, knowing that chance and placement are what has separated you from someone else who got their shot. And not wanting them to lose out, not wanting them to have been passed over. But also wanting something for yourself, and hoping, and feeling everything around like a war you want out of. It’s a powerful piece told in couplets that move and imagine a world so familiar and so sad and yet so full of joy and promise. An amazing way to close out the month’s content!


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