Thursday, August 2, 2018

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine July 2018

Five stories fill out the July offerings from Fireside Magazine (all of them, I believe, also available in the inaugural Fireside Quarterly). And the SFF on display rangers from the aching and luminous to the powerful and auditory. Most of the stories, too, feature a voice that is pointed outward. Told in the second person and playing with myth, archetype, and overcoming adversity, these stories are bits of advice wrapped in narrative structure. They offer readers a voice that might just drown out the inner demons trying to be heard, and replace those with resolve and reassurance—not a guarantee of victory or success, but a promise that trying is still worth doing. It’s a somewhat melancholy month of stories, touched with bittersweet notes, but the take away for me is strength and perseverance, and a will to stand in the face of injustice. To the reviews!

Art by Chris Loke

“Rules for Communing with Spirits” by Christopher R. Alonso (3584 words)

No Spoilers: Xenia can see ghosts, but she cannot see them. And Caro can hear them, speak with them, but cannot see where they are. Together the pair seems like a perfect fit, and yet there are some deep fissures in the relationship between Xenia and Caro, ones that Xenia, the narrator, doesn’t quite understand. The piece is quiet, with a rich vein of longing to it. Both Xenia and Caro are young, but by no means children. And they bond over their ability to navigate the world of ghosts together. At first, at least. But they each have different approaches to ghosts, and how much they want to do, and how exactly they want to be involved. They carry two very different burdens when it comes to the dead, the weight of seeing them and the weight of hearing them, and it wears a bit on both of them. Where they go from there, though, and the wrenching realities of relationships and distance and death, are handled with gentle care in this story.
Keywords: Ghosts, Funerals, Listening, Dating, Breakups, Queer MC
Review: Seeing ghosts is a bit of a strange thing, as Xenia and Caro discover. At first it seems cool, something that sets them apart in a way other than their queerness. And yet at the same time, there’s something definitely heavy about it, too. The dead are full of unfinished business, and sadness, and sullen joy. And being there to share in that is both powerful and devastating. Especially when the dead hadn’t really had the opportunity to live. And while Xenia wants to connect with ghosts, wants to help them, it’s Cado who has to hear the screams and sobs and stories. And it’s Cado who tries to tell Xenia what she wants, and when Xenia doesn’t listen, it’s Cado who breaks things off. The story is told from Xenia’s point of view, though, caught off guard by what happened, though there were signs. Conflicted because she, too, wasn’t ready for this thing to be over. She views Cado as something of a ghost, but it’s Xenia who doesn’t want to move on. Who can’t. In which case it’s Xenia who’s the ghost, haunting Cado, unwilling to realize what the situation is really like. Putting herself into the role of bereaved when really it’s not really Cado who leaves, who doesn’t listen. And it’s such a subtle story, handled with a gentle touch, celebrating the culture that the two women share and slowly bringing Xenia to a place where she can recognize what’s happened and move on. To not be hung up on Cado and to learn from what’s happened, so that she’s not a ghost in her own life. And the rules that go along with the story are like the rules for dating, about knowing where you are and what you’re doing and making sure you respect the person you’re with. A wonderful read!

“A Post-Modern Oracle” by Courtney Floyd (455 words)

No Spoilers: You are a supplicant to the Sybil, an oracle, displaced from ancient times to now and operating as a college professor (and an eccentric one at that). You want to know your future, but this Sybil isn’t exactly giving away prophecies for free. And, indeed, so much of the piece, which is rather short, is about the moment of trying to win the prophecy. Needing to bring the right offering, and needing to understand what might be going on, and finally understanding what exactly is happening. The story is a how to, a sort of progression as you try your hardest to find out about the future. The piece is rather fun and funny, featuring a mesh of ancient power and modern (or post-modern) twists. The story illustrates a change in not only perspective but values from the stories about the old oracles, where fighting against prophecy means a person is doomed. This is a story that has learned from those older tales and taken a much different approach to fate and pride.
Keywords: Futures, Prophecy, Espresso, Teaching, Poetry
Review: For me, this story seems to be about reversing a lot of the problems with the older stories about prophecies, that often found protagonists seeking out their fates only to recoil and, in trying to avoid what they were meant to be, falling right into that trap. And that’s a difficult message not because it’s a good idea to know the future, but that it does view the future as something that cannot be changed or avoided. And yet these oracles and prophets still told people, in an almost paternal touch of “be careful what you wish for.” Which really doesn’t help anyone. Instead, this story chooses to refuse giving that glimpse of the future. Not necessarily because it’s impossible to know, but because that lesson, that people should just accept what life has in store for them, is rubbish. It takes away people’s agency. And here that agency is given back, and the woman with the power to see the future has switched things up, right down to the letters in her title. This oracle is not there to tell people the future, but to push them into working for what they want to be. Which is great and inspiring and just a fantastic twisting of the mythology and the baggage that comes along with it. A great read!

“To This You Cling, With Jagged Fingernails” by Beth Cato (991 words)

No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are an adolescent starting to lose your hold on magic, something that has been a part of your life as a child but something that seems to fade for all people when they age. Well, all people except your Grandma, who still believed, even when it led people to think her strange. Your Grandma has died, though, and in some ways it feels that with her passing magic’s days in your life are numbered. Slow and mourning on different levels, the piece circles around the doubts and insecurities of growing up, of what it means to stop being a child. Especially with how childishness gets weaponized against those who are young, who are strongly pressured into giving up their wonder and magic in favor of the trappings of adulthood (which don’t often bring happiness). It’s a graceful read, though, careful and with a blush of defiance, a hope that maybe magic isn’t just for those too young to know better.
Keywords: Loss, Funerals, Magic, Growing Up, Family
Review: I love how this story looks a bit at nostalgia and magic, and how childhood is a time when wonder and innocence are supposed to prosper. Inside the story, you are getting close to aging out of magical things—the belief in fairies and gnomes, spells and talking animals. It’s a rather sad time for you, who has relied on that magic to make life vibrant. Without it, there’s the question of what fills the space that magic takes up. For those older than you, it seems to be boredom and a general dissatisfaction with life. Which does ring a certain amount of true, because children are expected to “get serious about their futures” as they age, and become like their parents, who gave up the magic and wonder in favor of the practical needs of fool and shelter and repression. Which is why adults seem to have a nostalgia for their own childhoods, because they liked that time more, and feel like they’ve lost something, mostly because they have. They’ve lost access to magic, and to a good portion of their imaginations, that atrophy from disuse. And I like that the main character uses their Grandma to decide that giving up magic isn’t the only way. Yes, there is stigma, but that it also means not having to kill a part of yourself that brings you joy. It’s a great read!

“The Story of a Young Woman” by Ose Utomi (827 words)

No Spoilers: A speaker directs an ancient and powerful tale toward an audience, of which the reader is a member, tasked with gathering close and hanging on every word as the narrator describes the travails of a woman born, marked by dragons, with a fire in her stomach that made her vulnerable and hated. The piece is something of a tragedy and something of a triumph, depending on how you look at it. Either way, it stands out as inspiring, building up this idea of a young woman finding the world a very dangerous place, and yet no more dangerous than herself.
Keywords: Storytelling, Love, Intolerance, Transformation, Fire
Review: I love how the story builds so perfectly to an ending that is powerful and yet understated. It leans on classic techniques to cycle and build up the story of this young woman, making it mythic, and epic, and tragic. She loses those around her—her father, her husband, and all the while she must deal with the attacks of those who hate her just for being. Just for having something inside her they don’t understand. Just for having a power that they fear. And so they attack, and try to quench the fire inside her. But there is a strength to her. A strength to keep going, and go push past the hardships and reach toward a place that isn’t quite so terrible, that isn’t so full of people who want you dead. It’s a difficult story in that respect, because it’s very focused on bad things happening to the character, to the constant stream of violence they face, and the way things go from bad to worse. At the same time, though, the focus is on how they get through the hardships. How they survive. And there is something inspiring and uplifting about that, because it acknowledges that harm happens. That it’s not her fault that all this shit is happening to her. That it wouldn’t make her a terrible person to succumb to the attacks against her. But that her strength in getting through it all is something to celebrate. To pass on. Which works with the framing of the story, that this is a story of a nameless woman who could be anyone. For whom survival was difficult, and yet she did it. And it’s simple and yet profound, and makes for a great read!

“Love in Every Stitch” by Alexandra Rowland (535 words)

No Spoilers: This story is framed as advice. or a kind of guide. Or a secret revealed. It details how to escape, and in doing so it evokes stitching and different kinds of thread, which in turn, for me, speak to the idea of mazes and labyrinths and finding your way free. It’s told in the second person, and there’s a sort of insecurity to the prose that feels to me genuine and earnest—not uncertain, but aware that any attempt to give advice to people in bad situations is difficult and dangers. It’s quiet and it’s almost pleading, trying to get through because times can be hard, and situations can be painful, but escape is possible, if you know how to find it.
Keywords: Escape, Thread, Stitches, Maps, Advice
Review: So the first this that occurred to me while reading this was the story of the labyrinth, of being lost and using a length of thread to find your way back. And here I feel the piece does play with that idea but takes it deeper. The labyrinth becomes both the external situation that you’re dealing with and the expression of thread through cross stitch or knitting or anything that uses thread or yarn or string. The point doesn’t seem to me to be about avoiding the mazes, the labyrinths, but rather embracing them. Diving into them. Because there really can’t be an escape until you recognize the maze that you’re in. Whatever your trouble, you can basically seek to take control of it like it’s a sewing project, counting out the rhythm, the pattern, in order to make it manageable. In order to work through it, laying down a thread to follow to the end, the exit. There’s a feeling I get that the piece is focusing on the potential for these sorts of projects, for this kind of creating, to help a person work through their worry and stress and find their way through the problems that are pushing down on them. Focusing on the act of creation, on thread moving, so that the focus isn’t solely on the stress and pain and anxiety. At least, that’s what I get from it. In any event, it’s a short and neat read that’s well worth checking out!


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