Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #22 [June stuff]

The May fiction and poetry from Uncanny Magazine has something of a yearning quality to me. The pieces deal with desire, and with longing, and with reaching both backwards in time and forward. Memory and comfort, lust and power all mix and mingle here with characters who want to find something that seems to be missing in their lives, some vital spark that can’t seem to light in the environment they find themselves in. So they must move, or seek aid, or change their environments to better suit their needs. The stories are on the short side, the poetry very concerned with myth and women, and the issue as a whole is a wonderful way to usher in the arrival of warmer weather. Let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon

“Blessings” by Naomi Novik (2267 words)

No Spoilers: Hoping to win for her daughter a fairy blessing, a baroness sets out an elaborate spread and invites a number of fairies to attend. And what starts out as a joyous and lucky occasion becomes something a bit different when the fairies start trying to outdo each other with their blessings. Twisting more traditional fairy tales (most notably Sleeping Beauty), the story explores what these blessings can mean, especially when most parents hope for traits in their daughters that will make them attractive wives rather than powerful in their own right. Fun and with something of a raucous air, the piece shows both the moment of the blessings being given and what results, refusing to fit nicely into the expected and giving a humorous and invigorating take on an old trope.
Keywords: Fairies, Blessings, Fairy Tales, Courting, Parenting
Review: This is a fun little story that subverts fairy tale tropes quite well, giving us much messier fairies than most depictions, with much messier results. Because really, getting fairies drunk and then having them hand out blessings is a recipe for disaster, especially if you’re hoping for everything to stay within the bounds of propriety. What happens instead is that the fairies descend into a sort of blessings bidding war where at then end of things the child in question has grace, wealth, power, ugliness, and strength (this last perhaps doubled). Which does not exactly make for a great match as a wife, which is something that the girl herself learns when she grows up and finds herself disinterested in courting. And I like how the story aims for this moment, when the young woman realizes that with all of her gifts, with all of her blessings, it makes no sense to them tie herself to a man who will just try to leverage them for his own benefit. And I love that the lingering implication of the story as I read it is that she instead decides that she’s going to guide her own destiny, fight her own fights, and likely win, because who else has been five (or six) times blessed by fairies? It’s a fun twist and just a wonderful read!

“Sucks (to Be You)” by Katharine Duckett (2839 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece is a succubus adapted to moving through the present day with much more efficiency than in the past thanks to the proliferation of social media. They move through this digital age with impunity, or so it seems for most of the story. Except that with the advancements in technology, the succubus themself is vulnerable to certain yearnings, certain frustrations, certain obsessions. So proud of being able to provoke it in others, the sting of this kind of rejection is a poisoned influence that seems to get inside the succubus and fester. The piece itself if insidious, wrapping this candied voice and presence in the garb of everyone you’ve ever wanted, but with the edge of a stalker or abuser. The piece complicates the place of a succubus, giving lie to many of the protestations that they are above human failings like longing and jealousy.
Keywords: Social Media, Dating, Succubus, Obsession, Lust
Review: I feel like there’s a whole lot going on in this story about gaze and about desire and about access. About want. And at the same time that it does seem to genuinely celebrate a lot of good things about technology and the present, it also definitely gets into how social media does sort of feed the ways in which people judge themselves and the ways people desire. Because so much of social media is being bombarded with people who seem so much more put together. People who seem like they’re better than your current situation. Who would make better lovers and partners. A sea of people, and if you’re in a monogamous relationship, for many it can be a sea of temptation. And here this succubus knows how to move through these waters and how to stoke the flames of desire and how to draw people in. In the current situation temptation is everywhere and yet this one person is managing to hold out, to turn the tables on a creature who is designed to be tempting, who feeds off of lust and desire. And who now finds themself the one who is a bit obsessed, who is angry and who is thinking of all the ways to retaliate. And it’s an unsettling read because of that, dark with the unseen depths of the internet, the dangerous knowledge that people seeing you on the web might not wish you well, though they might indeed want you. And it carries a strong voice and a great lingering creepiness that makes for a not-always-pleasant (and sometimes skin-crawling) read, but a story very much worth checking out!

“Discard the Sun, for It Has Failed Us” by Marina J. Lostetter (924 words)

No Spoilers: Aboard a starship, a Decanus brings a haul of hydrogen to feed the Sun, to keep it burning long after it would otherwise have flamed out. This journey is not the first of its kind, and this particular Decanus must deal with a newcomer to the ship who believes that humanity should allow the Sun to be extinguished. The two talk, and the story wraps itself around the Decanus and their mission, and their reasons for pursuing this path, though it is expensive and time consuming. Rather philosophical for such a short piece, the story seems to ask what sacrifice and value mean, and what debts should be paid even if they don’t have to be.
Keywords: The Sun, Sacrifices, Faith, Memory, Pilgrimages, Space
Review: This story speaks to me of utility and loyalty. Of paying debts or getting out of them. Of faith and comfort and the value of that. And of how we treat those people who are no longer able to work in the way that capitalism values. Because, at its core, I feel the story is a critique on the way that capitalism treats...everything. That it demands everything have a use and a profit to it. That anything that can’t afford to exists...shouldn’t. And it does that by looking at Sol, at the Sun, and showing what it’s meant to people over the years, and just how vital it has been for human development. And the story imagines what happens after the Earth is basically gone, but the Sun remains. Does it have value, over any other star? Enough to justify spending a lot of time and resources keeping it alive? The story complicates that by making the Sun a living being, capable of understanding human desires, of being grateful for the intervention, for its continued existence. And the story moves with a quiet power and certainty, that no one should be abandoned when they are in need, especially not when they made a lifetime of making sure that others could grow and thrive. And it’s a nice, affirming story that makes for a great read!


“Persephone in Hades” by Theodora Goss

As the title implies, this poem finds Persephone in Hades, among the endless summer there, among the poppies and the numb dead. In a place where there is no wind and no real excitement, where her husband, morose and melancholy, sits and does nothing. There is no real hope in Hades, which is a feeling that dominates the poem for me, that there is no real hope where there is no real change. That for there to be hope there must be stakes and when you cannot ever lose you cannot ever win, only persist in a way that isn’t really satisfying. While in the world above there is winter and rage and frost, below there is only the waiting. And I like that the waiting really isn’t waiting for a release from this cycle, a release from summer. When Persephone is let out she will be in summer again. It’s more simply a change, and any change away from the dull presence of her husband is a relief of sorts. For me, the poem becomes about passion and about flavor. Persephone’s sin was eating fruit, was seeking something vibrant and alive, and yet in Hades there isn’t really any life because there isn’t any death. Everything is oppressively the same, and nothing she can do can release her from it. It’s a story about the persistence of injustice, the way that people can become stuck in routines, in perceived security, in a rut that allows them no expression and no happiness. It’s a bit of bleak poem for me, because of the inevitable feel of it, the draining loneliness and sadness that makes summer into a prison and winter into a dream that can’t be reached. It’s an interesting take on the myth and a fine read!

“Lorelei” by Ali Trotta

Like the previous poem, this one also looks at myth, at a woman and (in part) her relationship to her mother. And to men. Here the focus shifts away from Greek Myth and to those of the Rhine, were Lorelei sings and draws men to their deaths in the churning waters. The poem is structured in stanzas with short lines, giving the piece for me an almost tumbling effect, evoking perhaps the promontory where Lorelei was supposed to sit, the great rock cliff jutting from the water. The piece is filled with longing but not really for the men that she would lure to their dooms. But rather a reaching backwards to the time where she was with her mother and things felt more whole. And yet at the same time the narrator seems to embrace the moment, her role and the beauty that she can create, both with her voice and from the destruction it brings. How in this way she can embrace her power and her self fully, without shame, being full of the song and power and the deadly grace that is her birthright. The piece is also full of things that the narrator’s mother would say, bits of wisdom that paint a grim picture of the world but not an inaccurate one. It’s a picture of power and double standards and how they can be used perhaps to prosper, turning them back against those who designed them to keep those like Lorelei down. It’s an interesting poem, building up a smell of water and rock, the feel of spray, and most of all the song of the river, seductive and wild. It’s a great read and a fantastic way to close out the issue!


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