Monday, April 9, 2018

Quick Sips - Fiyah #6 [Big Mama Earth]

Entering into the meaty part of their second year of publication, Fiyah Magazine focuses on the theme of “Big Mama Nature,” exploring the natural world through the lens of black speculative fiction and poetry. There are four stories and one poem in the issue, and the genres range from eco-horror to science fiction to contemporary fantasy. They look at nature in many of its forms, as victim and as perpetrator of violence—as source of great power and home of great cruelty. In some of the pieces, the world is a living thing with a definite will, and in others it is a cold witness to the troubling events taking place on its skin. These are stories that reveal deep hurts—in people and in the planet—and don’t always offer pathways to healing. Through it all, though, I feel like hope hangs on, battered and bruised at times, but refusing to back down, and finding strength in community, family, and resilience. To the reviews!

Art by Jessica McCottrell

“The Sower” by Takim Williams ( words)

No Spoilers: Framed as a trailer for an upcoming movie about ecological awakening, the story slowly and terrifyingly reveals a series of events that find humanity acting as fertilizer for the true destiny of Earth, one where animal life is not in charge at all. The piece is told in voice overs and descriptions of what’s happening on screen, a transcript of the trailer that really does come alive as it progresses. The piece is one that does a masterful job of getting under my skin, starting subtle and then bring more and more dread, more and more weirdness and horror. Combining classic tropes likes zombies and aliens and mind control but giving them a brand new edge, the story is unsettling and tense and wonderfully alive. It focuses on what might happen if humanity found they were not the dominant force they thought. If humanity found that instead of the architects of its own destiny, it discovered it was just a player in someone else’s story. Bending the bounds of fiction, the piece creates a multi-sensory experience that is certain to please eco-horror fans.
Keywords: Plants, Invasion, Awakening, Nature, Zombies, Video, Eco-Horror
Review: I think my favorite part of this story is that as I read it what happens isn’t a punishment on humanity for the shitty way that we’ve treated the planet. There’s a certain understanding that this was always the plan, after all, that Earth was seeded for the purpose of whatever is happening, for this awakening of plants. That humanity is there at all feels purposeful but part of some larger design. Rather, I feel like the idea here is that, more than being a punishment, what this represents is that humanity finds that the system that they’ve used to assert their dominance over everything is one that extends up, and that once humanity isn’t at the top, then what happens in the story is just according to the value system that we use to continue destroying the planet. In some ways, what I feel is going on is that the movie is not warning about a specific disaster, but rather about the way that we decide value and interact with the natural world. And that what we need desperately is a just system, one where we care about the world and about everyone. Where humans aren’t there to dominate and exploit. Because if that’s the way we organize things, we might find ourselves in a situation where we aren’t on top. And if we did, we’d be treated just as we treat nature, which is to say, horrifically. And wow, yeah, the story is just a lot of fun while being creepy as fuck. I love the way that it all works together, the visuals and the text, the narrative of a world coming apart and a new world coming together. It’s chilling even as it’s a wake up call to try and get people to think about how they interact with the natural world, and how we should do better, lest we find ourselves torn apart by our own philosophies. A fantastic read!

“Furious Girls” by Juliana Goodman ( words)

No Spoilers: Amberjack is fifteen years old and has recently been sent away to a home for Furious Girls because she accidentally lit her sister’s hair on fire. Being a Furious Girl means having powers, means channeling anger into fire. Means sometimes not really being in control of that fire. The piece focuses on Amberjack as she tries to navigate this new space, full of other girls who have been sent here, who are furious. Most of them hate those who have cast them out, but Amberjack still has connections back, still has family. And the piece looks at what it means to have power and what it means to try and harness and turn anger into a tool for more than hurting, to make it into something that can protect and shield those in need.
Keywords: Pyrokenesis, Anger, Prejudice, Home for Girls, Family
Review: I am all for both stories that involve girls’ homes for those who have been cast out of polite society and superhero stories about people having to protect those who hate and fear them. And here are both wrapped into an origin story where Amberjack is a bit adrift, not really sure of where to turn. Her family has thrown her out because she’s dangerous and the other girls in her school are all for embracing the crueler side of their anger. Using it to hurt others. Those who might deserve it, yes, but it’s still about lashing out, about furthering the harm done. And Amberjack is more uncomfortable about that, though that doesn’t exactly stop her from wanting to make others pay for her pain. What’s been done to her is unfair, and that unfairness pushes the fury inside her deeper and hotter. And yet there are also those around her who know that furthering the violence and hate is futile. Who know that in order to really reach for justice, that anger has to be directed in a way that will do something more than burn things down. And I love the way the story finds that balance. It’s a piece that features a lot to be angry about, a lot of characters who are fueled by their fear and by their ignorance. But it also shows how Amberjack and her found family work to do something that might just close some of the rifts that keep everyone apart. That maybe they can use their fury to do good, to help people, to protect them from danger. It’s a wonderfully realized story with a YA flare and it’s another great read! 

“Valley Fieldwork” by Stefani Cox ( words)

No Spoilers: Lydia is a senior research student helping her professor (and lover) study agriculture in a time when climate change has pushed temperatures dangerously high and even the advances in food science haven’t kept up with the fungi and other blights destroying crops and food trees. Tensions are high as Lydia finds herself torn between her professor and his focus on results above all else and the promise of doing things more ethically and sustainably using paid human labor and less modern but no less effective means of growing food. The piece follows as Lydia struggles with her conscience and her fashion, her style changing as her outlook and work ethic shifts. The piece is procedural and patient, taking its time to set up the issues and then seek to resolve them. It’s not a story where the ending wraps everything up into a neat bow, but there is a wonderful feeling of hope that goes along with Lydia’s resolve and her direction as the story closes. It makes for a fun and balanced read that captures some of the bullshit of academic research when seeking practical (and just) results.
Keywords: Academia, Science!, Agriculture, Home Remedies, Farming
Review: What I love about this story is how it treats the distance between academic research (government funded with an emphasis on Results because it’s often more about reputations and people’s jobs than about trying to Do Good) and doing right by the planet. Lydia runs up against this drive for results, which are important and yet the question remains that if the methods the study used are part of the same system that created this mess in the first place, what’s really the point? If the issue is to grow food in a time when climate change has made that more difficult, then isn’t it even more important not to double down on the very sort of industrial/tech-driven agriculture that has been a part of pushing climate change? Lydia begins to find that what she believes, something she always thought she was more neutral about, just doesn’t fit with the ethos of her professor. She wants to do right by people and by the environment, which means trying to grow food ethically. Which is a lot more difficult that it might seem. But still, I love how the story brings her to a place where she’s going to try, where she sees and realizes the value of home remedies, of the science of experience, and is willing to walk the road that might ultimately be more difficult, but actually leads to the place where she and the rest of the planet need to go. It’s a wonderful story!

“The Other Side of Otto Mountain” by Ivy Spadille ( words)

No Spoilers: Lazarus is an old man whose main regret in life is about his youngest son, Pete, who ended up in prison. Living with his wife, Mae, at the edge of a lake surrounding a strange mountain, Laz spends his days listening to his wife, mostly, allowing her to guide him to where he needs to go. Except when he goes out onto the lake to fish. It’s there that he can have something of his own way, and indulge in feeling guilty about how things went with Pete. Laz blames himself, because of mistakes he made at about the same time Pete fell into trouble for the first time, and the piece follows Laz as he deals with his feelings and stumbles across something big and damning. It’s a slower story, moving with the steady pace of a rowboat before getting pulled into strange and dark and devastating. And there is a sort of hunger to the piece, Laz always trying to return to the lake but never able to bring home anything to eat. It’s stark, chilling, and wonderfully complex.
Keywords: Prison, Experiments, Fishing, Travel, Exploitation
Review: For me, the story is so much about sight and seeing and exploitation and ignorance. Lazarus on the water is there because it’s this freedom for him, this space where he can explore his own inner thoughts. He’s a man who mostly lets himself be led because he recognizes that his wife can see better, can lead better, and when he strayed from that in the past because of his own pride it led to the problems with his son and other things. And it mostly suits him. There are things that still get at him, though, and part of it is that he’s never really been absolved of what he did, never dragged it out into the open. It’s a quiet thing, gnawing at him, and I think that recurs in the story, the way that what happened to Mae’s sister gnaws at her. The way that what happens to their son as the story progresses eats at them all. Because even as they blame themselves for what happened, the real culprits and authors to their various tragedies and pains goes unpunished. Mae can see it, but knows how little that means, how little she can do to make that truth into a weapon to punish evil. Lazarus is largely ignorant of it, because he can be, because there’s nothing he can do about it either. What happened to Mae’s sister, what happened to Pete—these things are just a part of their life, like the mountain they live in the shadow of. It’s this huge and immovable thing and they are left to simply try and live regardless. To keep going. It’s a completely devastating read because the ending doesn’t really offer much in the way of hope or healing. Only the relative release of ignorance. And it’s a haunting thing, that all of this hurt just keeps on, keeps on, while they go about their business. Another great read!


“a combustible illness clots the blood” by Terrance Brown

This poem speaks to me about the parallels between the body and the Earth. How the planet is being poisoned, exploited, and mined. It’s blood both the mineral wealth of oil and other resources as well as the waters that we pollute, that we deplete. The piece evokes war and the way that humans fight for control over what comes out of the Earth, and what goes back in. How corruption spreads from the wealth of people looking to get something for nothing, to keep the system by which those with money have the power and the weapons and can buy people to fight, can buy conflicts to make them fight in. And for me the poem also speaks to the way that those people talk about the Earth, like it’s a never-ending resource, like they can just keep taking and taking and never have to worry about the harm they’re doing. Because the Earth will bounce back, find balance, even as they’re doing their utmost to upset that balance. Their rhetoric is designed to sound like it celebrating the Earth, honoring her, and yet their actions are hurting her, pushing her to a breaking point. It sums up so nicely and viscerally the way that those with power justify their actions by “praising” how resilient the Earth is, how able to take the pain. When in reality all they care about is the money, is the continuation of their dominance. And I like how the poem achieves its effect, with lots of short lines and lots of &s. It’s a bit breathless, cataloging the damage while trying to reveal those responsible, those ideologies responsible. It’s a wonderful poem and a great way to close out the issue!


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