Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #23 [August stuff[

The second half of the special Dinosaur issue of Uncanny Magazine brings even MOAR dinosaurs, with five new stories and three new poems. Two of the poems aren’t really dinosaur-centric, but the issue as a whole offers up a great diversity in styles and ways of incorporating the source material and expanding the shared space of the issue. Here we are treated to more stories of dinosaurs displaced in time, landing on the Oregon Trail, or in a strange fairy tale, or in the middle of a small town. There’s not quite the same focus on communication and understanding as before, though. Instead, these pieces look a bit more at violence, and hunger, and corruption. They don’t flinch away from showing some dinosaurs getting their feed on, as well as getting their freak on. It’s a strange, rather wonderful collection of short SFF, so let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Galen Dara

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander ( words)

No Spoilers: A trio of raptor sisters (Allie, Betty, and Ceecee) in the far distant past come across a prince who has no real concept of the danger he’s in when he stumbles across their domain. Suspecting a trap, Ceecee decides to take him back to his home to find out what kind of plot the humans are hatching. The piece is told with a heavy fairy tail style, one that mixes well with the addition of dinosaurs, giving it an edge of darkness and the expectation of violence, combining in a sarcastic humor that cackles with the promise of sweet, plump justice. The story diverges from the rest of the issue, though, in how it handles the shared universe, stepped away from the present entirely to simply tell the story of these raptors displaced in time. There is no Owen Corporation or gates mentioned, but it’s a wonderful palate cleanser for the midway point of the issue.
Keywords: Dinosaurs, Princes, Princesses, Decisions, Freedom
Review: This story really gets into the tropes of fairy tales, featuring transformations, not-very-bright-but-assholish princes, princesses pressured to make decisions based on greater good, and plenty of violence. At the same time, it brings an almost cartoon humor to the proceedings. The violence is real, is dark, but with the dinosaurs it opens up the weirdness of what’s happening, brings the work for me both out of and further into the moralizing that fairy tales often engage in. Or, I guess, I gives a wink and a nudge and critiques many of the issues with fairy tail tropes while also using them to tell one hell of an entertaining story. And for me it’s delightful, very much in keeping with the last two stories which have also been about freedom and isolation and raptors. And in some ways this is about found families as well, as much about the princess deciding that she’s not going to sacrifice herself for the stupid prince as it’s about the raptor sisters supporting and helping each other stay free. And the flow and voice of the story is just great, framing this as something being narrated to a group of young raptors, so that there’s the feeling that this is _their_ fairy tale. That the reason why it’s different from our own is that this is not meant for humans (even while as a short story it definitely is). And it’s a fun way to complicate the story, to give it that extra layer, and it makes for a fantastic read!

“The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon, California, and the Unknown” by Brit E. B. Hvide ( words)

No Spoilers: This story brings a dinosaur along on the ill-fated Donner Party expedition. Which, you know, sounds like a great idea. The piece is framed as the newly-discovered journal of Elias, part of the Party in hopes of reaching California, which had always been the dream destination of his deceased wife, Clara. As the expedition goes, spirits are fairly high when Elias and Patty, a young girl on the trip, befriend a strange bird they name Constance. Though the bird is never quite identified as such, it’s a small dinosaur, and one who gets to eat fairly well, given how things go. To me, though, the piece centers Elias and his own demons, the things that he’s running from, and how it all seems to catch up to them on the trail. The piece is strange and haunting, with a lot of unanswered questions to be worked at and unearthed.
Keywords: Historical, Travel, CW- Cannibalism, Dinosaurs, Hunger
Review: There’s a lot about this story that remains mysterious, even as the piece progresses to its climax. Elias is running from the death of his wife, and from his memories and the way they haunt him, it seems clear that he’s the one who killed her. It’s a truth that hunger reveals, getting into his head so that he thinks he’s being stalked by Clara, by death. And instead of facing it, instead of facing what he’s done, he seeks the protection of Constance, the little bird who initiates the first step toward cannibalism in the story. What exactly happened with Clara, though, and what it is that Elias’ is seeing other than a hallucination, are a bit less clear. As is the nature of the expedition’s guide, a man who is always a bit further ahead, leading them on and on toward ruin. The piece also reconstructs a fairly large expedition, with a good many characters, and does so in the way of journals, never really introducing or contextualizing them. They exist as people arriving out the mist and disappearing again, leaving bloody trails in their wake. Slowly the journals become more about Elias’ losing his grip on reality, on what’s happening around him. Showing him embrace the darkness and hunger around him. It’s an unsettling, creepy read, but certainly worth spending some time with!

“Give the People What They Want” by Alex Bledsoe ( words)

No Spoilers: Mr Barber is a security guard working at an Owen Corporation installation that allows people to travel through time. It’s an industry that has been heavily regulated since a series of disasters a while back, but now it’s mostly settled down. Enough that a black market exists for certain footage that can only be obtained by illegally travelling back in time. The story is framed mostly as an interrogation, with Barber being questioned by a Detective Long. As Barber relates what happened, a picture of law and order begins to develop, that shows just how corruption and hypocrisy often exist where regulation cannot overcome the drive some wealthy people have to spend their money of some very particular fetishes.
Keywords: Time Travel, Dinosaurs, Interrogation, Police, Porn
Review: So I like the flow of the story, the way that it moves. And Holden is a fun character, going back in time to capture dinosaurs doing the nasty. The story is fairly well contained, not pausing to give readers much a chance to question the sheer number of different ideas and elements introduced. It’s lighthearted, humorous, and doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. At the same time, I do have some reservations about how the idea of dinosaur porn was used. Because while this plays into a sort of “well of course a black market would open up for people who want to watch dinosaurs fuck,” the story also places that market purely into heteronormative gender roles. For the story being set in the future, there was a feeling I got that it approached porn from a more...traditional perspective. First, that it is the sole domain of men (I can assure you that, given that dinosaur porn doesn’t strike me as either misogynist or exploitative, there would be interest across all genders). And the story closes by making enjoying dinosaur porn not only shameful, but exposing the hypocrisy of Detective Long, who has no problem making sure Barber gets arrested (despite kinda illegally letting Barber think there was a deal in place) but who also likes dinosaur porn himself (and hides it from his wife). Now, I kinda like that this is often how corruption works, but I wish there had been more of an emphasis on how systems like this aren’t really about sex or masturbation, but on power. Long seems to enjoy this because of the corruption involved, because he can get away with it and have this secret thing, rather than because he seems to find dinosaurs fucking to be that arousing. And really, it gets at how a man like Long fight to make the thing they do illegal and immoral so that they can do it anyway, and flaunt the rules with their power. But I think I have some strange opinions on porn, so I’m probably just not the right audience for this one. I encourage people to check it out for yourselves and make up your own minds.

“Nails in My Feet” by Mary Robinette Kowal ( words)

No Spoilers: This very short story is narrated by a stop motion puppet, a dinosaur that doesn’t have anything to do with the Owen Corporation. And really this is a weird little piece that breaks largely from the shared world nature of the issue and delivers a little look at the insights from a puppet whose day in the sun came fifty years ago. Now banished to a shelf, the story explores show business and nostalgia, fragility and pride. The voice is charming if bitter, trying to stay personable but not able to really keep some of the anger, loneliness, and fear from its voice. For the length of the story, they seem to have an audience again, and there’s both a sense that they don’t want to lose that, and that they know they’ll never be able to recapture what they once had.
Keywords: Films, Puppets, Cartoons, Age, Stop Motion
Review: There’s something so immensely sad about the story of this puppet. That they are still there, on a shelf, collecting dust. That they had one glorious moment so long ago, when films were much younger, and now are out of time. Both in the sense of displacement, that they belong to a different era, that they are literally a dinosaur and figuratively one as well, and also that they are out of time in lifespan. Their foam has degraded, and now if they were to be moved, or even touched, they would die. And yet they are still alive, still alive because they aren’t touched. But that also means they are forgotten, and so there is this push and pull within the narrator, that they both want someone to come and take them off the shelf and know they wouldn’t survive it. And none of it is even up to them, but rather to chance and to the other people out there that might know their movie. There’s no extra work to do, or words to say. Just a realization that they are alone, and want that to change, but also are afraid of dying. And in that it’s just a wonderful read!

“Everything Under Heaven” by Anya Ow ( words)

No Spoilers: Kee is a chef in a mission to hunt down and cook all the different kinds of dragons she can. Dragons in this case meaning dinosaurs, which appeared in Kee’s world through a strange portal. The story opens just after Kee is rescued from a tiger attack by Sarnai, an Easterner and skilled warrior fleeing the prospect of marriage. The two find that their designations are the same, and decide to travel together. And together they begin to untangle the mess of their emotions and missions. The intricacies of the obligations they feel. For Kee, the trip is very much about facing the lingering ghost of her mother, who was also a martial artist, and who wasn’t exactly around much. For Sarnai, the trip is about making up for a mistake, and trying to bury some of her guilt in the blood of the dinosaur responsible for her pain. It’s a story about these two characters growing closer and using their skills to help each other through their issues, working to put the past to rest so that they can enter into a fresh future.
Keywords: Cooking, Family, Martial Arts, Dinosaurs, Hunting, Queer MC
Review: At this point people probably know that I love cooking and SFF together, and so of course I love a story where a woman gets to cook up all sorts of dinosaurs. Add in that woman having some serious parental issues, a maybe-romance brewing with her rough and rowdy new friend, and a grumpy donkey sidekick, and we have a recipe for success. There’s so much to like about the piece, from the way both characters have been wounded by time and expectations, to the sweet romance that develops between them. At first things are just convenient for Kee and Sarnai to travel together, but as time passes trust blossoms, and I just love the way that they begin to help each other through their issues. For Kee, after all, Sarnai is something of a reflection of her mother, which seems like it shouldn’t work. But it’s exactly that kind of reflection that allows Kee to understand and ultimately appreciate her mother a little more. Because Kee never saw the side of her mother that her father did. The loving side. Because their ideas of love didn’t match up. For Kee, love is food. And she never got to the point where she could get through the hurt to talk to her mother, and death has made that impossible forever. But it doesn’t mean that Kee can’t come to terms with her hurt and her bitterness and still manage to find love and a future. And it’s just a lovely and moving and kickass story about food and about care and you should all go out and read it. Do it!!!


“Expecting a Dinosaur” by Mari Ness

To me, this poem gets at a lot of different things, from how people respond to disasters to how corruption makes helping people in the face of immanent danger very difficult. The action of the poem, which is told in various parts and doesn’t have a specific rhyming pattern throughout but does use rhyme to keep a flow going, focuses on a dinosaur appearing in a small town and immediately going on a rampage. People respond, but their response is limited both by their expectations and the reality of the system in place. There is no specific place to call for dinosaur attack, and the traditional emergency response system isn’t equipped to handle dinosaurs. So people take to social media, making this horror, this tragedy, into something that will trend. That will get attention. Because if they didn’t there would be no response at all. As it is, the response is...well, not super heartening. The dinosaur belongs to a company (the Owen Corporation, I’m guessing) and as such there can be no real punishment for it. The dinosaur itself isn’t even handled (it’s possible it’s still out there, rampaging). The piece shows how privileging corporations and businesses over people, over lives, means that for the average person there is no way to win. There is no preparing for every possible (or in this case, impossible) situation, and to be guilty for being a victim is just wrong. And yet it is how our world is often organized, allowing corruption to break systems that are supposed to help people. And it’s just a weird and rather delightful read, capturing all the chaos of a dinosaur attack and the depressing reality of how people try to cope with the utter lack of support for those hit by a disaster. Go check it out!

“The Year We Got Rid of Our Ghosts” by Ali Trotta

This poem to me is about relationships and baggage, about transformation and hunger. The title seems to be literal and figurative at once, the action of the piece beginning with what I feel are ways of banishing ghosts. Pushing them out. It seems, to make room enough that these people can more fully explore each other and their feelings. To give them a chance to see who they are without all of the things haunting them. The piece is long and told in short lines, leaving a lot of the page blank, unsaid. There is a rush to it as well, a way that the poem varies it’s line length and sounds that’s almost like tripping, like fumbling, these people trying to find words and a way to express things that they’re not sure of. That they don’t know how to. And for me I love the idea that this is a year, which makes it a temporary thing. And that what the characters seem to learn during this year is that the ghosts don’t define them. The ghosts might change them in some ways, but the core of who they are exists outside of their hauntings. And the feelings they have for each other exist as well, strong and yearning. There’s the feeling I get that the poem brings the characters to this point not to break them apart but to find them closer together, having discovered just how entwined they are, knowing that with the year up and the ghosts set to return, they can weather it. For me, it’s a poem that looks at taking some time for a relationship. Really giving it some time and attention. And finding that it’s still passionate and strong and wonderful. Messy and above all else alive, which means that it’s full of potential and possibility. A wonderful read!


This is a blistering poem about racism and misogyny and the intersection of the two. And for me, so much of what the poem is doing comes from who’s narrating the piece. Because the speaker of the poem is filtering themself through the perspective of the men around her. The men who fetishize her, who commodify her. Who make her into a literal object like a pillow or a robot or the merest step beyond that, almost a person but really just for purposes of sex and in all other ways more like a walking manifestation of submission. The title of the poem helps to ground this, as well, the all caps shout that one sees in spam subject lines. Which exists because this is a prevalent idea, and one that makes navigating dating and relationships and intimacy incredibly difficult but more than that makes existing and being perceived difficult, because perception drives how people treat each other, sentiment seeking to create a reality suited specifically to _good_ guys who just want the perfect girlfriend. As the narrator peels back the layers of bullshit she’s subjected to, though, she begins to reveal herself, away from the expectations and aggressions micro and macro that she is subjected to. She asserts herself as a person and as a part of a single flame burning with rage. A fire that burns within everyone dealing wtih this treatment. A fire that they are tempered by, making them stronger in ways that their oppressors cannot quite imagine. And the piece points to reality that these women are strong, strong for having to endure so much. Infinitely tough. But not, perhaps, infinitely patient, and I love what I feel is an implication at the end that this isn’t a fire that will born out internally. That it’s a fire waiting to be directed and unleashed. That once there is a hot enough rage, there will be no stopping it. Which is a rather intense and invigorating way to close out not only a great poem, but a fantastic issue!


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