Thursday, April 26, 2018

Quick Sips - Omenana #11

The first Omenana of the 2018 is out! Which means five new stories celebrating African speculative fiction. The stories, as usual, cover a lot ground with regard to genre, theme, and style, but there’s a rather nice unity to the issue as well, focusing on systems and corruption and the frustrations and tragedies that come about when people are preyed upon by predatory beliefs, individuals, or organizations. From science fiction featuring body swapping and uploaded consciousness to fantasy with animated mud, family curses, and superpowers, the stories all showcase fresh and interesting ideas, settings, and characters. So before I gush too much, let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Caitlin Mkhasibe

“Brand New Ways (to lose you over and over and over again)” by Blaize M. Kaye (2462 words)

No Spoilers: A person races to spend thirteen and a half minutes with their wife in a virtual world where they’re second class citizens in this story. Wrenching and tragic, it sets up the rather dire circumstances of the couple—her with a terminal condition and her partner desperate not to lose her. So the main character opts to undergo a procedure that will upload them into a virtual space, one where they will still have to work to cover the cost of their uploading, but where they can be together. Where they can beat the prognosis. Except that, buried in the legalese of the contract they sign waits a different kind of terminal condition, one of technology instead of biology. And the story follows how the couple copes. Powerful and devastating, the piece captures this raw yearning and then turns it into a weapon against the characters.
Keywords: CW- Terminal Illness, Uploaded Consciousness, Glitches, Loss, Virtual Reality, Aging
Review: Uploading consciousnesses is often shown as a way of beating death, and I like how that works out there, the couple trying to stay together, to escape the illness that was taking so much from them. What I feel the story does a great job of is showing not how they manage to beat death, but how corporations and capitalism have wormed their way into death itself, offering people a way out that really isn’t a way out, just a way deeper—into service, into debt, into trouble. And this one doesn’t really allow for a way out, doesn’t have the same death-as-end that regular life does. When someone else owns your very existence, and your soul has become a sort of currency, well...the premise is terrifying and the way the story comes together captures a bit of that horror. Even so, I don’t see the story as saying something so heartless as “it’s arrogant to want to find a way around death, and especially around the pain of losing your partner.” Instead, I find the real target of critique is the company which would offer people a product knowing that it wasn’t what they wanted, and offering it in part _because_ it’s not what they want but they can package it right and make a lot of money. Without care for the misery caused. It’s a powerful look at how people just trying to live and love in the world of capitalism are constantly preyed upon by corporations reaching for every last dollar. It’s a great read!

“The River Doll” by Tariro Ndoro (3785 words)

No Spoilers: Fara is a girl living with the near constant harassment of her brothers, who try their best to make her life miserable. After having evaded their wrath one day, she builds a mud doll who seems to come to life. It doesn’t exactly solver her problems, though, and soon enough the village is in an uproar about what to do. The piece moves quickly and with a flare of myth or fairy tale. The magic of the piece is one that borders on darkness, but upon closer inspection has more to do with justice than anything. Because the piece looks at the way that tradition, prejudice, and fear are used to mistreat the vulnerable and maintain the power of those in charge.
Keywords: Dolls, Magic, Curses, Families, Water, Mud
Review: I love how the piece seems to rise out of the magic of the justice that Fara doesn’t even allow herself to believe in. Grown up in a situation where her mother is shunned and verbally abused, she finds herself the victim of similar treatment, the generational cycle of violence that looks for those with less power to put down in order that Fara’s brothers and other family can feel better about themselves. And yet even though she knows no other way, there is still buried in her heart a desire for something different. For an escape from the fear and pain. And for me the doll, Oseja, becomes the living embodiment of that desire, becomes its vehicle and its fulfillment. That there’s a magic that she taps into by speaking with the world, which seems to evoke its power and leads to her eventually getting free from the fear stalking her. It shows how powerful a force compassion is, that even when other people’s hearts have turned to stone, Fara and those willing to sacrifice themselves for each other can still reach for something better. It’s affirming and fun and wonderful and you should definitely go and check it out!

“The Third Set of Stitches” by Ray Mwihaki (3790 words)

No Spoilers: Kui is a young girl chosen by her village to be a sort of sacrifice, to endure pain in order to make the rains come, in order to avoid the perhaps divine curse that has been placed upon her village. And at the heart of the curse seems to be an old and ongoing violence, and a xenophobia and intolerance that makes strangers enemies instead of valued guests that should be made family. And as the story moves, Kui sees more into the root of the affliction facing her village, and how perhaps she can help do something about it. There’s a heavy tragedy to much of the piece, and the discomfort from seeing how predators can thrive in small communities. That edge of darkness makes for a more ultimately triumphant feel, though, as the magic of the story comes full circle, and Kui finds some measure of peace in her visions and herself.
Keywords: Rain, Song, Inheritance, Sacrifice, Dance
Review: There is a nice amount of strangeness to this piece for me, a mixing of dreams, prophecy, and damage. Kui sits at the nexus of that, a victim of the hungers of those around her, most markedly her father, and the hope born from the pain of those around her, markedly her mother. Kui is made into a sacrifice, a sort of bargaining chip in order to bring the needed rains to the village, and yet even so she can see the real way to bring life and harmony back to her home. And that’s where I feel the heart of the piece rests, with how people treat each other and especially how the village treats those who don’t have much. The mantra of the village, the magic passed down to ensure prosperity, is kindness towards strangers. But in the greed for wealth and power, the village forgets its lessons and allows violence and prejudice to spread and grow. It takes Kui, takes a youth, to see outside the justifications of the older people and set the village back on a proper course. So for me the story becomes about building on the inheritence of the past, not selfishly but for the good of everyone. That only then can old hurts begin to heal, and old joys begin to flower anew. A lovely story!

“Origami Angels” by Derek Lubangakene (5671 words)

No Spoilers: *sniff* Nope, not crying here. Not at all. It just rained, is all, and that’s why my face is wet. Okay, deep breath. This is an incredibly sweet story of Duncan and Asaf, schoolmates who become friends thanks to a shared interest in comic books and Asaf’s having superpowers. Kind of. The piece is slower and has a great YA feel to it, showing the two boys dealing with rather mundane things—school, parents, and a particularly vile little brat named Malik. As a school competition nears, the pair dedicates themselves to besting Malik using their origami skills. Except, well, things happen that make the competition the least of their worries. Compassionate, fun, heartbreaking, and inspiring, the story speaks to me of the drive toward perfection, and finding it in an unexpected place.
Keywords: Superpowers, Origami, Friendship, School, Illness, Competition
Review: This story has wrecked me a bit, not gonna lie. The way that it builds up Duncan and Asaf’s friendship is just so good, the two of them hesitant at first and yet despite getting off on the wrong foot, able to patch things up and be the closer because of it. Finding in each other something that was missing—both in noise and silences—and just sort of being kids together. It’s a very grounded piece, despite the superpowers, and there’s this feeling of magic that infuses the work, that makes the work that Duncan and Asaf do together glow. When Asaf’s condition begins to deteriorate, though, a much heavier feeling begins to push in. What seemed a very low-stakes kind of story suddenly becomes something much bigger, about finding meaning and striving toward perfection. For Asaf, perfection becomes this thing that might be able to justify his too-short life. For Duncan, it becomes a sort of specter looming over him, coupled with the fear that if they find it, he knows that he’ll lose his friend. And I like where both of them come in relation to their quest, how they subtly change their stances on perfection and on each other. At least for me, it stops being about the origami angel, regardless of how perfectly they make it. Instead, the perfection comes from within, from what they are for each other. It’s their love and regard that ends up attaining that perfection—that ends up rising and transcending. It’s their friendship that is the miracle, that is the impossible made read, and it makes for one amazing read. Go out and read this one IT’S SO GOOD!!!

“The Switch” by Rèlme Divingu (2414 words)

No Spoilers: Ndossy secretly visits the MUZY Society, an organization that specializes in allowing people to swap old bodies for new...for a price. The swap wouldn’t exactly be for her. Or, well, not exactly for her benefit. It would be a trade—her body for a new body for her son, whose rare immune disorder means he has to live in a sealed environment. The piece shows how the process works, but also challenges Ndossy’s willingness to sacrifice anything for her child. Because when it comes down to it, the bargain she was hoping to make might not be the one that happens. Moving and richly imagined, the story takes a very complicated moment and explores it to great effect.
Keywords: Body Swapping, Illness, Parenting, Bargains, Secrets
Review: Part of what I love about this story is how it twists the moment of sacrifice, the bargain being made. Ndossy secretly visits with MUZY thinking that she’s going to martyr herself for her family. That her husband Kimeka and son Eli will go on without her. Only Kimeka beat her to the punch, and when MUZY comes to take him away, Ndossy finds herself essentially dealing with what she would have done to him. The moment is loaded and complex and shows the distance between decision and action, between hypothetical and practical. And it shows that when this tech is used for profit, really only for the benefit of those who can afford the huge price tag, that there’s not a lot of justice in the process. And that Ndossy is left to live not only with her husband’s decision and deception, but that she almost did the exact same thing. And what remains is to try and find ways to live, and move on, and maybe escape the system that brought them to that point. Which is why I feel the ending lands nicely, because it shows that despite Eli getting his new body, the price and process have left Ndossy with a much different opinion of the whole thing. It’s a complex and interesting read, and a great way to close out the issue!


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