Thursday, May 31, 2018

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers May 2018

The Awakenings season has begun at The Book Smugglers! The theme is perhaps the vaguest of their guiding ideas so far, but if this first story is anything to go by, it’s going to be another amazing year of short SFF. Because kicking things off is a story about magic and about portals. About escape and about bodies. And yes, about awakening, not to this secret world where everything is perfect, but rather to the knowledge that the world is complicated, and often corrupt, and magic and happiness are things that must be worked at, especially if you’re one of those who don’t want what the world wants for you. It’s a lovely and inspiring read, even as it doesn’t put much stock in escape fantasies. To the review!

Art by Emma Glaze

“When the Letter Comes” by Sara Fox (6275 words)

No Spoilers: Henry is a young girl growing up in the hope that magic will help her. That she will be one of those to fall through a portal and into another realm where she could feel right about herself. As it is, because she’s trans, her family isn’t very supportive, and most aspects of the world seem wrong. When a letter from a magic school does come, though, it’s not for Henry, but for Henry’s younger sister. And what follows is a piece that I feel explores the injustices in the world in rather frank terms. Henry is beset with things that could be better but aren’t, as are many people in the story. For all of them, the injustice is real and immediate, and yet even with magic it’s not something that they can exactly just snap their fingers are solve. The story is about patience, and degrees, and taking what freedom and progress is possible, while still working for more, and still valuing what good exists in the here and now. For Henry, it means having to navigate a lot of other people’s opinions, standing up when she can and sidestepping when she must but surviving and trying to build a life she can be comfortable in. It’s a tender piece, showing the power of family and friends and, most of all, of Henry herself.
Keywords: Magic School, Sisters, Transgender MC, War, Family, Choice
Review: This is such a beautiful and complicated story. Because for me it’s a story about navigating expectations. The expectations that the world has for Henry and the expectations she has for the world. And she finds, as she grows up, that the expectations the world has for her are much more pressing, much more “real” in the sense that they do inform what she’s able to do, how she’s able to interact with the world. But she also finds that her expectations, her desires, matter just as much, and that she shouldn’t give them up just because it would be easier for other people. But it does mean having to be patient, not because she wants to be but because she can be. It’s not always a reality for some, but she’s able to survive because she can epxress herself in increments, because she does have some people (like her sister) who support her and believe her and love her. But I love how the magic for her becomes something completely different, becomes “choice and learning and sheer damned stubbornness.” Because it’s a magic that she can take for herself, and make the world bend for instead of bending for the world.

At the same time, I feel there’s a level to the story that’s all about struggle and belief and conflict, as framed by the magical war that Henry’s sister fights in and that Henry herself joins at one point. A war being fought out of outrage and out of fear. Out of a desire for things not to change. It’s not a war about gender but about technology, but I feel that there are definite parallels, that this battle is being fought over progress, as nebulous and often troubling as that concept is. But it’s mostly about how people want to govern and how people want to live. How decisions should be made, and how they can be made freely. Which is to say, it’s a battle over whether to base decisions on research and science or on fear and suspicion. And though Henry is patient, she also knows that this is a fight that needs to happen, and keep happening, for as long as people try to use nostalgia and ignorance to maintain corruption and power imbalances. And really it’s a wonderful story about disappointment, disillusionment, and resilience. Not a loss of faith, but a complicating of it. Not an accepting of all the ways the world is wrong, but a constant work to stay alive in hopes that things can get better. It’s a fantastic read!


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