Thursday, April 12, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #21 [April stuff]

It’s a full March at Uncanny Magazine, with three original stories and four poems to kick off what in most places is the start of spring. And in many ways these are stories about cold and warmth. About numb moments and numbed hurts and the awakening that spring can bring. Not an erasing or easing of pain but a revealing of it. A thawing, and through that thaw a return of sensation. Not always free of pain (in fact, often full of pain), but also full of the hope that spring can bring. That healing is possible, that live can continue, even after the hurt and desolation of winter. It’s just a powerful issue and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Art by Nilah Magruder

“The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” by Sarah Monette (4136 words)

No Spoilers: A young man working for a museum is put in charge of a part of the literary estate of a man he went to school with, a man who he doesn’t have fond memories of. But a man whose death seems to be not so accidental as it originally was thought. It pulls the main character into the inner workings of this former schoolmate-turned-poet. And it dredges up a bit of the past, allowing the main character to revisit his own hurt and insecurities. The piece is forthright and interesting, moving quickly but with the distance of etiquette and a restrained feeling to me. There seems much unsaid in this piece, but offers a subtle mystery about envy, longing, and resentment.
Keywords: Poetry, Magic, Poppets, Envy, Jealousy, Criticism
Review: The piece has an older feel to it to me, with the narrator forthright and reserved and yet moved to action when he comes across a bit of magic that ends up doing a lot more than a little mischief. It also finds the narrator in a rather awkward position, though, forced to sort through old papers and works from a poet who the narrator went to school with and who was not kind to the narrator. Not exactly. There’s a lot kept in reserve in this story, a lot that I feel goes unsaid. As if the narrator himself is refusing to deal with what happened in his past, in what he really feels about this poet who he went to school with. I love the character work, though, the way all these men keep their feelings very much tucked away and yet they are boiling because of it, the pressure rising within them and the more dangerous for it. And really I just love that there’s a murder mystery surrounding a group of poets with ties back to their school days. It’s a piece that thrives for me with the adorable way the narrator stutters, the way he pushes forward despite not being physically imposing or incredibly daring. He’s got propriety on his side, and dammit if that isn’t enough. A fantastic read!

“Pistol Grip” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (1905 words)

No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are a super soldier who was supposed to be decommissioned and yet wasn’t, thanks mostly to the fact that your partner helped break you out. Together, you now share a relationship both professional and personal. The piece opens on sex and moves quickly, revealing you and your partner only ever by those titles, as you are without names. The pacing is tight and the content graphic but intimate, revealing two characters who have been designed for killing trying to find other ways to express themselves and struggling with tenderness, struggling with reclaiming who they are and who they can be to each other. It’s a startling but (okay yes) sexy read that leaves room for hope and happiness even in a messy, damaged relationship.
Keywords: Super Soldiers, Queer MC, Partners, Guns, Revenge
Review: Okay I am all for stories opening with some graphic and kinda messed up sex. I love the way that the story mixes sex and intimacy, showing how these characters who were designed for combat are trying to find a way to be, well, human. To be a couple and to have a purpose, even if at the moment it’s one dominated by your partner’s quest for revenge. But there’s just this frenetic energy to the piece that is amazing, that moves with speed and with grace and that is contrasted by the slower moments when you think more about what’s happening, what’s happened. Because your partner is all sex and blood and rash decisions and you’re more analytical, more sensitive, despite you’re not supposed to be. And I just love the world that these two characters conjure up and the way that they interact. There is just something achingly beautiful about them, about the way they reach for each other despite how they’ve been hurt, each shaped different from their experiences and programming but now trying to shape themselves into a different shape together, one that doesn’t quite succeed at escaping the legacy of their design but one that is still powerful and perhaps healing. At the very least, it gives them space to grow and to love and to fuck and it’s a rather amazing read you should definitely check out!

“The Howling Detective” by Brandon O’Brien (4844 words)

No Spoilers: Ken has been having some strange experiences sleeping. Waking up dirty, with ripped clothes, with no real idea of what he’s done. With a high profile abduction and murder in the papers, the sudden onset alarms him, and sends him seeking out what it is he’s done—what exactly he’s become. What he finds, though, isn’t exactly what he expected, and the piece is part supernatural mystery, part superhero origin, with Ken’s genesis bracketed by the police being interviewed about what’s happened and why they were unable to catch a child’s killer. Packed with magic and action and touch of the strange, the piece looks at the weight of the disappeared and abused children in a place where the system cannot find them justice. How the force of the wrong done to them coalesces and finds critical mass inside of Ken, and what unfolds from there.
Keywords: Lagahoo, Monsters, Vengeance, Vigilantes, Supernatural, Investigations
Review: I really do like thinking of this story as a monster-meets-superhero tale, because it’s a lot about justice and about power and about the need to know what’s happened. The story breaks itself into sections from Ken’s point of view and those told in more interview format with a newspaper reporter and the head detective assigned to the case of the missing boy. From what I read into the story, this problem of missing children is not entirely uncommon, though finding justice seems to be, and it’s out of that lack of resolution that Ken seems to come into his power. There’s something in his background, a lurking darkness, that he never really dives into, but that still seems to make him a candidate to be a lagahoo, to be empowered to take on those criminals who can avoid more mundane punishments. The piece shows the weight and need for some sort of resolution for these victims, for the disappeared. They are taken as if by magic, and it’s as if the affront of that requires Ken to use magic to show just how mundane and human these disappearances are. Instead, the magic is reserved for punishing those who trespass, who abuse and hurt and who get away with it. Ken is a superhero, a vigilante who uses his mysterious powers to enact vengeances on those who prey on others, turning the tables on their appetites. And it’s a rather fun and delightful take on the idea of heroes and villains, of crime and punishment. The character work is solid, and the setting is written to reveal a police force stymied by corruption, unable to fully serve the people. At which point something must rise to fill that void, or else darkness and death swell and spread. And it’s a really fun read!


“The Fairies in the Crawlspace” by Beth Cato

This is a nicely dark poem that leans on a sort of macabre whimsy and then twists even that into something heavy with shadows and bright with edges. The piece finds a young girl hiding from her abusive mother and finding a small group of fairies, who intrigue and tempt her. They are dangerous and they are wild and they wake something up within the girl, who sees in them a vision of what she wants for herself, fearless and powerful and dangerous. Able to go after things bigger than they are. Only...only when she asks if she can be like them they turn her down. And I love where the poem goes from there, mixing this childhood innocence with the terrible certainty that this girl had it taken from her long ago. That she’s all pain and the need to stop the pain, and to do that she will transform. If not into a fairy then into something more dangerous still. She will embrace the ways she can change, not her appearance perhaps but her attitude. How she can still learn to be small and dangerous and free, so gloriously free. But only after she’s eaten her way there. And it’s creepy as fuck but also just a wee bit adorable and the pairing of those things, the balance, is deftly handled. And there’s such a nice flow, giving it this energy, this wonder that never really leaves, even as the mood of the piece dissolves into darkness and horror. It’s just really fun, and that might make me a terrible person because it’s dealing with abuse and with coping and with trauma, but there’s something beautifully haunting about the way this poem moves. An amazing poem!

“השורי יד” by Sonya Taaffe

This poem speaks to me of movement, of immigration, of personal and family history. It features a narrator and a suitcase that seems to live in the back of a closet. Present, but tucked away. And for me it comes to represent the baggage of time, of flight, of violence and needing to move, and move. It’s having a bit of safety and comfort but knowing with the weight of the stories that have been passed down that those things are nebulous, fragile. That though the suitcase is tucked away and perhaps nearly forgotten at times, it is never left behind. Never disappears. It’s there for when the bad times come and you need to run, when family start being taken, when all there is to do is get out and travel. In that, it seems to contain all the memories of the narrator’s family connections to moving, and acts as a reminder that such movement, such travel, such immigration, is something that can be put down, but especially for those with such a history of having to move, is not something that can be entirely unpacked. A bit of it remains ever ready to move again, because the alternative might be to stay and die. And the poem itself is a dense block, like a suitcase itself. And like the suitcase of the poem the structure allows us to see the outside and catch small feelings of what is inside, but there’s also the sense that the case is larger on the inside, carrying everything it needs to. And there is both the anxiety of knowing it might be necessary and the comfort of knowing it will always be there ready. A fantastic read!

“Swallow” by Hal Y. Zhang

I love the way this poem complicates not just the idea of reincarnation but of eating in general. The title for me works into this idea of both swallowing food (an act that is normally demanded of people who don’t want to eat something, in my experience), and the bird (a swallow). The ambiguity of the title then lends a bit of magic and ambiguity to the text, where the characters engage with their past lives as food animals and their current human practice of eating said animals. And here I feel like the piece brings up the idea of inheritance, the idea of memory, the ways in which some people know very intimately what it is to be preyed upon and how it changes their outlook, how it alters what they do and what they think. And here the narrator of the piece is having a child, hoping perhaps that this child won’t have the same reactions that they do, hoping that this child will be able to fly free of them with only the memory of freedom and air. Though perhaps it’s more that the narrator wants to give their child added context and support to help them make the transition into becoming a human, into having all this baggage and weight to carry around. And to remember the cost of the food we swallow. It’s a complex piece that has an interesting flow to it, a way of moving down the page with building momentum before that last solitary line. It’s a neat effect and a wonderful poem!

“A View from Inside the Refrigerator” by Andrea Tang

This is a pleasantly kickass poem about fridging and death and media. About heroes, and how heroes are framed in texts, in society. As male. As needing women to die for them, to motivate them. So that they are pure and Good. And I love the power that this poem evokes in its form, cyclic and repetitive, using stanzas of three lines (until the end four-line stanza) and hitting again and again how this goes, how women are made into objects, into ghosts, into reasons, into anything other than people with agency and lives for their own and never, ever, heroes themselves. They are there to act as prize and prod, to poke heroes into action and make the heroes into the victims and erase these women entirely. And it echoes with the names and faces behind the men behind the masks, those who are use again and again and again as plot devices. The idea of fridging is just something that...that strikes at the core of how traditionally dominant male writers tell stories. Though crystallized as an observation (and how dangerous is it when an observation is also a criticism?) on superhero comics, the pattern has always existed, from fairy tales onward. It persists, building up your brooding hero, caring only for his pain, his narrative, and foregoing all others. It’s a sharp and vivid way of connecting all the women in refrigerators, all those who have been sacrificed on the altar of the male hero. Not just recently but always, always. A fantastic read!


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