Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Quick Sips - Omenana #12

Omenana’s second issue of the year is out and it contains four new SFF short stories. Things are leaning rather dark in these pieces, too, where characters must navigate situations where they must struggle against powerlessness. For most of them, who they are makes for some difficulties. They must deal with the world not really being set up for them, not really fair for them. They must deal with other people’s expectations on how they act and what they do. And each of them must decide whether to accept that or whether to push back and try to take back what power they can. Not always kindly. But with strength and resilience and cleverness. With kindness and cruelty and hunger and hope. It’s a wonderful bunch of stories, so I’ll get right to the reviews!

Art by Tamara Reddy

“A Bridal Shroud” by Mirette Bahgat (3442 words)

No Spoilers: Kiya is the daughter of Tut, a man living along the Nile and a worshiper of Kemet. For Tut, life is about trying to placate the gods, trying to earn some measure of reprieve from the hardships and tragedies through offerings. For Kiya, however, the situation is more complicated, in part because as a girl she must navigate more dangerous waters, and also because she has lost more. When her situation becomes rather dire, she’s faced with a choice that isn’t exactly a choice, and has to face the prospect that fate isn’t really something one can change, but that it does matter how you face it. Yearning and just a little bit doomed, the story has an interesting religious side about fear and love and surrender.
Keywords: Gods, Sickness, Sacrifice, Fate, Love, Fear
Review: I think for me a lot of this story comes down to the central choice that Kiya is given by the god Kemet—fear or love. I think it’s interesting that with both choices death is rather a foregone conclusion. There are some things that just can’t be changed, after all, and if the gods have a plan, the real choice isn’t about actions, but rather about attitudes. About fear and love. About surrender in the religious sense. And when dealing with literal gods it makes a certain sense, though it’s still unfortunate to me that Kiya cannot live, that she has been caught up in this fate where she can’t really avoid death. But it does allow her to define how she will die. To define what her death will mean. Not punished for resisting a forced marriage, but rather choosing to embrace the divine and to give herself to a new life. When viewed like that, the tragedy of it is lessened. It becomes something that she is doing, something that she is choosing, and that choice carries weight that allows her to meet the end bravely, with a saunter and promise. It’s a rather difficult story for me as a non-religious person, but I do appreciate the care the story takes with Kiya, and how it gives her a way not to alter her fate, really, but to meet it on her own terms. And I think for me that’s what the story is doing, showing that Kiya still has some power, even while it recognizes that she’s pulled a rather awful fate (or, at the least, a very short life). A fine read!

“In the Garden Watching Nim Noms” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (3351 words)

No Spoilers: Ella won’t stop eating nim noms, a kind of prized plant that grows in her auntie’s garden. She won’t, because she craves the magic of them, the goodness of them, the purity of them. Battling against the forces that insist that she is bad and wicked, against her own guilt and doubt and shame, she eats, and her eating gives her something like power. Only people are definitely noticing that the nim noms are being devoured, and Ella’s brother Sunday is determined to show who’s doing it. The piece is strange and almost whimsical with the name of the plant and the almost childish drama. But that whimsy is hiding a solid and creeping darkness, and a reality that is complex and dangerous, circling around the idea of goodness and especially in relation to girls and women.
Keywords: Plants, Eating, CW- Cannibalism, Family, Expectations, Purity
Review: I just love the style of this story, because it grows and grows around what might otherwise have been an almost normal thing—the eating of flowers. Ella wants the purity that they represent, the goodness. She’s internalized so much that she been told, that she’s been expected to be, that all that seems left to her is to eat the nim noms. To take them in. To let them fill her with the goodness she needs, the goodness that she seems incapable of producing on her own. It really gets at the ways that girls are conditioned to feel guilt, to feel shame. About their desires and appetites especially. So that when Ella does embrace this small thing that makes her feel better, everyone tries to find her business and expose it, allowing her no privacy and no margin for error. She must be perfect, and yet the strain of trying to hit that perfection is killing her. Is pushing her toward the nim noms. And it’s such a visceral, creepy story because of the hunger that, unable to be fully repressed, grows out of control. It’s part eating disorder, part possession, part result of the toxic atmosphere that she must take in like the pesticides on the nim noms that she eats. And the ending is so weird, so unsettling, and just amazing. Go read this one!

“Momento Mori” by Tiah Marie Beautement (3133 words)

No Spoilers: A woman who lives by the sea has an interesting arrangement with Death, acting as his agent in the dark of the oceans to gather lost souls who have slipped away from those still living. Living with a condition that, among other things, causes her chronic pain, she manages her independence well, even when Death hovers in his concern. And it’s really a quiet, moving story about two people who obviously care about each other, each of them dealing with their own issues but very much finding a way to make it work between them. It’s careful, compassionate, and just a little bit weirdly sexy. So you know I love it!
Keywords: Death, Souls, Chronic Pain, Oceans, Service Dogs
Review: Okay so much about this story is just beautiful. The relationship between the main character and Death, though, is probably the most unexpected part of it and also the most rewarding for me. I just love that here are two people who each have conditions that might make it difficult for them to navigate the world (her pain and joint issues, his silence), and yet they cope incredibly well, and they treat each other with love and respect. There seems to be this desire in both of them to help each other, but at the same time both understand that help is something that’s asked for, and when it’s not it can often become something else, something harmful. So they’re so careful around each other, but not in a bad way. Perhaps I should say that they are appropriately careful, negotiating consent and intimacy in a way that really speaks to me as real. And, of course, at the same time she’s essentially a merperson during the nights she works for him and he’s, well, Death. I can honestly say that I’ve not seen such a tender portrayal of Death before, and yet it makes complete sense to me. It works, because of course he would admire this woman who does so much, who is indomitable and kind and who isn’t repelled by him. And glob it’s just a sweet story, romantic in a surprising but deeply appreciated way and with a great mixture of tension and care. People, it is amazing and you should definitely check it out! This issue is on a roll!

“Lee-ah (Sister)” by H.J. Golakai (4711 words)

No Spoilers: This is one of the rare kinds of short stories that carries with it a sort of prologue, a scene from the past where two young girls consecrate their friendship into sisterhood. The two are inseparable but also mischievous and daring. They enter into this new bond with a rush of emotions, wanting always to stay together. As adults, it’s a bond that has mostly held, but a mysterious fever that’s been going around seems like it might just unravel what they’ve spent so long forging. Thrilling and tightly paced, the story sets its pieces and then races for the finish line. The action is intense and the emotional beats strong, putting Miatta, one of the women, in a place where she has to re-examine her relationship with Nyenpu, and make some difficult decisions.
Keywords: Friendship, Sisters, Sickness, Death, Monsters
Review: This story has such an energy to it. And I personally love the first section and how it sets up the relationship of these girls who will become sisters, because it establishes that they are friends, yes, but they are also rivals. They are in a sort of constant competition with each other, each one pushing the other to do more and more and better and better. Which makes them both strive more to live life, to not have to make compromises. It works out for them, basically, except that there is this thing at the heart of their relationship that isn’t exactly encouraging or nurturing. That is jealous and a bit angry. And it’s that seed that blooms into something dangerous and possessive when Nyenpu gets sick and becomes something much different than she was. The piece is a horror to me, slowly raising the unease and then reaching the point where Miatta realizes what’s going on and has to run for her life. It’s creepy and unsettling and I think it does a great job of showing just how friendships and sisterhoods can be corrupted, twisted by envy and by competition when it’s engaged in maliciously. And yeah, it’s a great read and a wonderful way to close out a fantastic issue!


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