Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #22 [June stuff]

Uncanny meets June with three stories and two poems and a decidedly dark tone. In these pieces people struggle with big issues. With systems and environments that are broken, that are hungry for blood. Where monsters and demons lurk. And they are settings where the characters are expected to accept their victimization, where if they struggle it will only hurt them more. Only, of course, these characters don’t accept that. Instead, they push back against these environments and when they meet someone who might have the power to change things, they seek to use that power. To convince it or take it in order to remake the world. Or to right a wrong situation. The stories are often violent, and uncomfortable, but they also shine with resilience and with care, and with the hope that things can get better. To the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon
Stories:

“What Gentle Women Dare” by Kelly Robson (6669 words)

No Spoilers: Lolly is a sex worker in 1700s Liverpool who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, I suppose, the right place at the right time, to help discover a body and recover a strange garment. And, inadvertently, be pulled into something much larger than it appeared at first. Lolly moves through this world with her daughter, Meg, and it is a violent and dangerous place where she must constantly make compromises and bargains, must always decide what injuries to take, never being offered a way to avoid them completely. And the piece, by exposing this and making it common in the story to the point that it might be accepted as “just the way things are,” then makes its turn, changing the scope of the narrative (and even the genre of the piece) in a way that hits like a brick to the face. It’s a story with a creeping logic, one that doesn’t care if the reader agrees or not, but instead says the thing that you’re not supposed to say. And there’s certainly something to be said for that, though for personal reasons (and I’m guessing this is done on purpose by the story) it’s not something I’m incredibly comfortable with.
Keywords: Aliens, Possession, Haunting, Loss, Sex Work, Bargains
Review: Okay, so really, spoilers here. Because the story carries with it two rather huge twists that go a long way to giving it its power and punch. The piece itself is gritty and well rendered, though, painting this world as “realistic,” which is probably rather true for the time and place the piece is set in. In that, it’s ugly, and every step Lolly takes seems to put her more and more in danger, especially from men. And then there’s the gutting moment when it’s revealed that even that constant danger is just a fraction of what she’s endured, of what she’s lost, and things get very dark indeed. And in that lack of light, it’s easy enough to make the step to Kill All Men, which is the second twist in the story, that this chance meeting between Lolly and who she considers the devil is actually part of something different, part of something that has the power to do something like destroy all men. And for me so much of the story, then, is about showing how coldly logical this step is, how it only makes sense when you’ve been hurt so profoundly, to want retribution. To want a release from the constant toll. And that there is such a prevalence of this, that 900 women in a row could say the same thing, is a sobering moment. Not, I think, to say that all men deserve to die, but to point out that if that’s the system women are forced to live with, then it makes complete sense that, given the power to actually make a drastic change, they’d pick this. No, I don’t think it’s a just move, or a subtle move, but I think the story does a good job of setting up that calm detachment is impossible when you’re being hunted. That first the pain, the damage, has to stop, before the minutia of logic or morality comes into it. And for that, the story is definitely one to spend some time with. Indeed!

“If We Die Unjustified” by A. Merc Rustad (4929 words)

No Spoilers: Sallowbone is a dog trying to survive in a time of revolution, when his girl-pup, Bryony, has been killed and everything that brought him comfort has been stripped away. Not that there was much comfort at the best of times, but the friendship between Sallow and Bryony was strong and rewarding for them both. Without that, Sallow is not in a good place, and when an angel, or rather Angelcorpse, arrives in order to “save” Bryony, things go from sad to rather visceral and _even darker_. The piece circles around the ideas of justice and violence and systems. Bryony wants to break the cycle of harm that’s going on, but Angelcorpse really only seems to give the option of furthering the harm done. Of leaning into the same old cycles. Instead, Bryony (and Sallow, of course) must find a way to bring about actual change without founding that change on pain and torture and injustice. It’s a bleak piece for the most part, featuring a world full of suffering, and yet in the heart of that there is something redemptive, something beautiful.
Keywords: Dogs, Angels, Bargains, Violence, Reanimation
Review: In some ways this is a very fitting story to come on the heels of the previous one, because they’re both looking at instances of vast harms being done and what people would do to change things. Specifically, we find women being offered the chance to change things by beings who are powerful and can maybe actually do something on a fundamental level to reorganize the world. But here Bryony is required to make a sacrifice in order to bring about this new world. To kill Sallow. And she can see that if she does that, if she allows the world to be built on that action, it won’t be solving what she wants to solve. Not that killing is itself wrong, but that this story doesn’t base who’s going to die solely on gender, but rather on harm done. And it does see that as a vengeance, as a sort of justice. That for this world to heal, the people who are going to work against peace need to just...not be there. Need to be dust. So that those who would hurt people would immediately be erased, so that there could be that level of security, of safety. Because with that, people can be free to make a world that works for everyone. That doesn’t thrive only off of the suffering of others. It’s an intense story, with some great swearing in it, and it’s definitely a piece you should check out. Go read it!

“The Cook” by C.L. Clark (868 words)

No Spoilers: Short but incredibly sweet (and plenty savory as well), this story follows as unnamed soldier who finds in a inn’s kitchen a flavor she didn’t know she craved—and a cook who lights a fire under her heart. The piece moves quickly, establishing first meeting and how the two get closer. And closer. Finding in each other something that brings out the best in both of them, like the perfect wine paired with the perfect meal. And they find something rarer still—love, and intimacy in a setting where wars seem fairly common, and the narrator’s life is never very certain. I love the amount of romance and emotion that the story fits into such a small span, and it’s a testament to the writing (which instantly conjures up a scene very familiar to fantasy fans but with a new depth and aroma) that I got so invested in this relationship to the point that the turn, when it comes, shook me. Because it also shakes this fragile and beautiful relationship, rising as if it might be a souffle only to reveal that it’s made of stronger stuff and won’t deflate at the first loud noise.
Keywords: Food, Cooking, Queer MC, Soldiers, Injuries
Review: So the opening put me in the mind of older adventure fantasy, the kind that inspired and then was inspired by D&D. We find a group of warriors in an inn on the eve of battle, celebrating the way they know how. And yet in the middle of this the narrator finds something that sustains them that goes beyond the bread (which does sound delicious, I admit). She finds the spark of attraction, the rush of feeling a connection to someone. And it’s something that doesn’t wink out, but rather catches inside her, warming her, filling her, and I love the way the story explores that. The way these two people flirt and court. The way that they meet, and speak in ways that don’t always involve words. And the fear and the uncertainty when the narrator is injured. When everything they’ve found and only just begun to explore is threatened. And yet through that they still come together, draw closer. And to me they are making the decision not to emotionally distance themselves from each other. Despite the fact that this is a taste of the hurt they would feel if something did happen to the narrator. If something happened to either of them. There’s the fear, but there’s also the strength they draw from each other. To try. To stay together. To live and love while they can. And it’s a wonderful, amazing read!

Poetry:

“What Grew” by Sarah Gailey

[CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth] This poem deals with growth and with invasion. With creeping change and with bodies. For me, it speaks to feeling yourself changing in profound ways that don’t quite seem right. And with the way that people, and especially people who can get pregnant, are often ignored and gaslit when it comes to what’s going on in their own bodies. That, for doctors and most medical professionals, the patients are always considered to be lying if what they’re describing falls outside what the medical person things is appropriate. And here it takes on a more sinister tone as the body of the narrator is literally being invaded by mushrooms. While they are also pregant with a child, they have this complication that makes it much different. Which they can feel but that no one will believe them about. And it’s a chilling reminder about how people are often ignored when dealing with their own treatment, and especially around pregnancy how pregnant people are often made into vessels without a full range of rights because of what is growing inside of them. It’s striking and a bit disturbing and when the actual birth comes it only gets moreso as child and mushroom are birthed at the same time and seem to be sharing a body. It’s a wicked bit of body horror but also shows what may people have to do in order to be a step ahead of their doctors because they aren’t being believed, because they aren’t being treated like they should be. And it’s a long but well paced poem that delivers a nice bit of creepy alongside something rather sweet—the assurance that the narrator has that their child is complete, whole, and valuable, regardless of what their condition in. It’s a complex and great read!

“Okuri Inu, or the sending-off dog demon” by Betsy Aoki

This poem speaks to me of danger and of predation. About the risk that people, and especially women, take in trusting people. Because even people who seem like they’re your friend might not be, under the right (or wrong) circumstances. I will admit I haven’t read the piece that the poem is inspired by, but the poem seems to blend myth and reality together, placing this malevolent spirit into all-too-familiar trappings, into that predator who is just waiting, under the pretext of a smile, a helping hand, to strike. The piece sets the scene well with heavy darkness and the feeling of being followed. It makes the danger subtle, almost paranoid. That the person being followed can never really be sure who is a friend and who is not. That it gets in your head that way, makes it so that the guilt never exactly rests with the monster, with the demon, but rather with the victim for somehow not being able to tell friend from foe. Except here the narrator _does_ know. Or, at least, they are ready to meet the intentions of the demon with some of their own. And there’s an action to that part of the poem that passes largely unseen, a quickness that reverses the danger, that makes the supposed victim into something else. And it gives them the power, showing this demon not as all powerful or inevitably better, but rather as dog who can be dispatched. And I just like the way the poem brings this creature out of the shadows and shines a light on him, on his reflections in the real world, and on the best way to handle them. Which is the best way to handle most demons, I think—with a ready blade. And yeah, just a great read!

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