Thursday, July 26, 2018

Quick Sips - Arsenika #3

So it turns out I had a bit of time this week and instead of just letting a day go to waste, I opted to review the latest issue of Arsenika Magazine. It’s a publication that launched last year and that I’ve very much been meaning to check out, as a fan of both flash fiction and poetry. This third issue does not disappoint, with three stories and two poems that challenge form and expectations within short SFF. The issue has a rather literary bend to it, but decidedly SFF sensibilities, telling stories that celebrate their speculative elements while also making good use of subtlety and uncertainty. From Greek myth to deep space, from moths to possibly vampires and everything in between, it’s a solid issue that I’ll get right to reviewing!

Art by Aspen Eyes

“The Stories of Your Name” by J. M. Melican (578 words)

No Spoilers: A writer crafts a story around an unspoken name in this rather meta-textual piece. Told in first person to a second person, it revolves around the second person’s name. Your name. And the piece explores the gestures that the narrator would do, if they were various professions or people. Ways that they might express themself with regards to you. For me, it’s a bit of a love story, though it does many things to resist being traditional. This could have been a story about a love that dare not speak its name, after all, and yet I don’t get the feeling that the narrator doesn’t dare—but rather that this piece is coming from a respect of this second person, that you shouldn’t be subjected to something against your will or consent. And in that it’s fun, leaving all the power in your hands to imagine these gestures or refuse them.
Keywords: Meta, Names, Gestures, Space, Magic
Review: So I like the direction that this story leads, not exactly a linear story so much as a progression of ways the narrator can show what you mean to them. And in particular, it’s about how they can enshrine your name, make it into something as powerful for other people as you have made it for them. And I love I guess the way I read the story going, falling into a lot of the traps of the sweeping romantic gestures, drawing these huge feats to try and capture just what you mean to the narrator. Unlike many such stories or poems, though, this piece acknowledges that there’s something a little off in the power dynamics there, because as the artist they can do things with your name that you might not want, and if it does then take on a power, that’s something of a violence done to you. And so there’s this second layer of reassurance, that the narrator isn’t going to do that, that this is all reigned in by would and if. If you want the narrator to do this in your name. If you feel something of the same way back. If it’s even necessary at all, because maybe all the grand gestures fall at the feat of the respect that the narrator shows in doing none of those things without first coming to you and explaining how they feel. Which might still leave a bit of pressure on you to respond, but gives the feeling to me at least that they won’t push. It’s a lovely and sweeping story accomplished in a very small space. A great read!

“Mother?” by Cynthia So (1004 words)

No Spoilers: Jessica has just lost her mother, and before they could have a rather important talk. Now, grieving and without a way to get out the energy and frustration she feels, Jessica finds herself interrupted in her numbness by a moth flying into her room. A moth that could be her dead mother returning. Except of course it couldn’t be, right? The piece is quiet and twisted by the thoughts of what might have been, by what should have been. By missed opportunity. And this moment with the moth represents a chance to get that back. Or so it seems at first. It’s a wrenching, but ultimately healing story about loss and the weight of things unsaid, but the hope and possibility of moving on, and finding closure, and living true to oneself.
Keywords: Death, Grief, Moths, Coming Out, Queer MC
Review: Okay, so Jessica coming out to the wrong moth is probably one of the most delightful moments I’ve read in a while. Because it captures both this fragile magic and beauty and yet completely upsets expectations and what this moment could have been. What Jessica thought this moment was. Because it was supposed to be this moment when she can come out to her mom in a way that she was never able to do when her mother was alive. It’s this symbolic moment, heavy and full of meaning, and it’s something that I’d suspect to read in a more litfic piece. Only here that expectation is twisted wiht a bit of a sly wink, where the moth turns out to be someone else entirely, not connected to Jessica at all. And yet the power of the moment is not lost, and Jessica learns that it’s maybe not so much that she needed to tell her mother, but that she wants to be seen, to get out from under this funk, and to talk with someone. And coming out to this moth lowers her defenses in ways that is ultimately freeing, even with how it turns out. So that, when it’s possible her mother does show up in moth form, it doesn’t mean as much as they talk, because Jessica has found her own way forward, with the help of people like her, and knowing that her mother still loves her. It’s a heartwarming read, for all that it’s about death and grief, and it’s very much worth checking out!

“Jiak liu lian” by Yap Xiong (977 words)

No Spoilers: This story, told in the second person, introduces you as a server at a farm of durian. Tourists flock to this place to sample all the various varieties, to explore the strange fruit and enjoy it prepared by people who know what they’re about. And you are part of that experience, carving up durian for consumption, keeping out of the way and yet among all the people. On this particular occasion, the regular throng is joined by a white girl who carries with her a very particular scent—one that’s not quite right. And as the true nature of the girl, and of you, are revealed, the story begins to hint what you are doing on this remote farm, and what durian might have to do with it.
Keywords: Durian, Taste, Scent, Hunger, Flesh, Vampires(?)
Review: I love SFF stories that involve food, and I am very curious about durian, as someone who admittedly only has come across the food as a flavor for wafer cookie. But I love the descriptions of the food, and the way that the narrator melds scent and taste, making the experience of durian something that goes beyond just the food itself. Further, for me at least, the piece looks at what durian means for the narrator, who seems to have hungers that they cannot allow themself to indulge. And part of the way that they suppress the urge is through this food with its creamy flesh and its distinct aroma. So that it buries the smells of the people around them. So that it overpowers the smell of warm blood. Until it doesn’t. Until this outsider comes in and reminds the narrator of what they’re suppressing. And it’s just this wonderfully sensual and aromatic story, that’s all about presentation adn ritual, which happen to be the ways the narrator survives and slips among humans, when they seem to be something much more carnivorous. A strange but fantastic story!


“Past Far Gone” by Toby MacNutt

This poem speaks to me of time and distance, of running and finding yourself in the vast open spaces of the universe. Of finding first someone else there, waiting, to help take you into the dark and away from everything that was wrong and didn’t fit, and who can see in you something you want to see in yourself. The poem for me is structured so it seems like an interview almost, the narrator trying to wrap words around a person who was different and who was important and who was so much to so many people. A teacher and a refuge. A lover and an escape. A home. And I get from the poem a sense that this person is gone, that they have passed into a sort of legend, and that the narrator now seeking to reach through the distance that separate them and connect again. To go through some sort of transformation, some sort of birth, that might make them like this other person was, and in that way might connect them back through time and through memory. Might bridge the gap that time and loss has opened and create something like a ring, a loop, that isn’t so much a closed circuit as it is a widening spiral that can slowly work its way both into the past and the future. The piece is rather long but it flows nicely, moving through sections of different impact and focus. There is a sense of metal and flesh meeting and melding here, of the narrator escaping the planet they grew up on and embracing the possibilities open to them. Of embracing even perhaps a step away from the body that they new and into something else, more electrical, better able to handle the strain of bending the universe around in order to find a home and provide a home for others. A fascinating and moving read!

“Leda’s Womb” by Alix Bosley

This poem takes a look, I believe, at Greek Myth, looking at the story of Leda and the questionable parentage of her children, who are said to have sprung from a pair of eggs. The poem itself sets the scene, really mapping the image of the egg and the idea of this birth, these births, of people coming from inside. It’s a bit of a creepy poem to me, to be honest, because of the way that it conjures up the tangled limbs and the chomping jaws, the hearts all beating entwined, either divine or mortal or, perhaps, both. And it springs from a seduction that, like all of Zeus’ seductions, is partly horrific. Because he is a god persuing a mortal woman. Because he doesn’t care that she is married, or what seducing her as a swan will do. And that she ends up having these eggs that hatch out little humans, or demigods, or some of both, is terrifying as it is wrapped in the magic of myth. The poem isn’t too long but it is packed with allusions and references to the myths as well as to me really humanizing this moment that is so strange, passed over in the myth and accepted because of course swan eggs etc etc but when you actually stop to think about, when you imagine what that would be like and the anxiety and the uncertainty of what would hatch...well, the poem does a nice job of exploring this. And really, for anyone looking for an interesting take on a classic Greek myth—uncomfortable and difficult but also beautiful and haunting—you should definitely check out this poem. A wonderful way to close out the issue!


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