Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Quick Sips - Nightmare #71

The August issue of Nightmare Magazine offers an effective one-two punch of dark SFF focused on family, weight, and the (sometimes) futile efforts to escape from a bad situation. Both situations feature characters who have suffered, and who are dealing with that. Who are holding onto someone else in the hopes of overcoming the darkness swirling around them. But who, ultimately, learn to make the bargains they can to save who they can, even if it means losing themselves to the dark. These are two rather unsettling and moody stories, full of longing and fragility that cannot withstand the knee-jerk force of the quick pull of the noose or the terrible chaos of a car crash. But even there, the stories find beauty, and meaning, and something even more terrible. To the reviews!

Art by Itskatjas / Fotolia

“Dead Air” by Nino Cipri (10284 words)

No Spoilers: Nita is an artist doing a sort of study/project on the people she hooks up with. The latest of whom is Maddie, a young woman with a mess of scars and a mysterious past. And for Nita, the mystery of it all drives her to look into Maddie’s past, and why there are no pictures of her as a child, and why there doesn’t seem to be any record of her home town. The piece is intensely creepy, slowly building up over these recordings, which make up the project that Nita is compiling, though it’s not really the project she thought it would be. The story does a great job of setting up both the relationship and the chilling terror of what’s going on, Nita and Maddie obviously drawn to each other, good for each other, except...well, except. The piece uses its framing to good effect, especially in utilizing noises that exist outside of dialogue, which begin to create a creeping sense that things are going to go wrong wrong oh glob whyiwantoffthisridewhyarethedoorslockedahhhhhhh. Ahem. Anyway, it’s pretty awesome.
Keywords: Art, Recording, Interview, Queer MC, Voices
Review: So this is a story that really breathes into the space. It’s not the longest of stories (though it is a novelette), and yet because of the spacing the story takes up a lot of room. It makes for a piece that varies in pace, where at times it slows down and at times it rushes forward, making me have to remember to breath at times because fuck, yeah, it gets intense. And I also just love that in part this story is a discussion about boundaries and consent and respect in this relationship. That Nita starts this all because she’s...not nosy, exactly, but because she’s treating Maddie a bit more like a subject in her project than as a person. She sees a source of material and not necessarily someone who feels put on the spot because her lover pulled out a recorder. It’s shows in part that science and art can indeed feed off each other, but that sometimes that feeding becomes something like a vampire draining a victim dry. Because art doesn’t come with the same methods, the same ethical restrictions. And while Nita sees her art as personal, it also very much involves the people she’s recording and...well...I guess I feel that part of the horror and the tragedy for me stems from how Nita seems to invite this darkness in (or back in where Maddie is concerned). That she doesn’t ask enough if this is something she wants to hear from. Which is why the ending resonates so well for me, because it gets back to who Nita opens doors, turns on the recording, thinking that to know something will make it more manageable, and that’s not necessarily the case. Here, the haunting message seems to be that sometimes those doors shouldn’t be opened with a lot of care, and some traumas shouldn’t be dredged up just because of curiosity or art. Some hurts aren’t for spectators. They are personal, and must be treated with respect and care. And really, it’s an amazing, chilling story that you should check out. GO READ IT!!!!

“Crook’s Landing, by Scaffold” by G.V. Anderson (5042 words)

No Spoilers: A boy is hanged two days after his brother, and promptly arrives in Crook’s Landing, the place where all thieves and conmen go when they die. It’s also a place that seems to eat memory, stripping everything away from people except maybe their name and their skills. When the narrator arrives, though, he holds on to one things—his brother. Because, for all that life was never fair to either of them, the narrator blames himself for getting Charlie involved in crime, for getting them both caught and executed. So he sets out to find his brother, and maybe make some sense of the afterlife. What follows, though, isn’t quite what he expects, and it’s a haunting and moody story that presents an interesting look at how these people exist after death, and how the narrator’s quest becomes about a bit more than just finding his brother.
Keywords: Afterlife, Brothers, Thieves, Bargains, Memory, Executions
Review: This story has such a weight to it. The weight of inheritance that the narrator takes with him down into Crook’s Landing. That pulled at him through life. That his father was a criminal, and that he was poor, and that at the age of fourteen he had to try and provide for his family. The weight of his obligations, to his mother and Charlie, that he shouldn’t have had to bear. That dragged him down as surely as gravity and the noose around his neck. And I love that when he arrives in the afterlife he’s not concerned with himself or the next con. In some ways it proves that he doesn’t belong there, because he, out of everyone, is willing to lose himself before his brother, who he feels responsible for. And he spreads that caring around when he goes, makes it into something almost viral, so that as he passes he inspires people to remember, and to feel something more than just the continual grift of the afterlife. It’s a story of longing and hope, though not really of healing. It lands in Nightmare I think because though it offers a spot of hope, it comes at a cost that still shouldn’t have been paid. The darkness comes out of the knowledge that though the narrator can save Charlie, there’s no one to save him, and that he’s still going to spend his life among murderers for something that he blames himself for but wasn’t exactly his fault. Which makes for a rather heartbreaking read, one limned by the love he has for his brother, but still weighed down and, ultimately, unable to fully reach escape velocity. Still, it’s a moving, tender, and wonderful read!


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