Monday, October 1, 2018

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #59

The four stories from Fireside Magazine this month deal with violation and consent, with connections and deceit and fate. There’s a good mix of fun and serious, fantasy and science fiction. There are alien sharks and magic curses, spirits trying to reach out and friends trying to keep each other safe. It’s hard to pin down a possible unifying theme, but I think they all come together in how they reveal the societal pressures at work that try and leave people open to harm. That try to keep people from banding together, from helping each other. And how individuals can push back against that, though often don’t, or often still fall against the pressure to conform, to accept the values and taboos and corruptions of the way things are. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Michelle Wong

“CARBORUNDORUM > /DEV/NULL” by Annalee Flower Horne (3956 words)

No Spoilers: Sandra lives with a controlling mother and a house that can spy on her. And despite the vast leaps in technology that make self driving cars common and smart homes even more scary, it turns out good old fashion sexism is alive and well in this future, with Sandra having to navigate trying to live her life while also trying to protect herself and her friends. The piece has an eye for technology, and the ways that the setting is different from our own. By drawing the technological divide rather sharply, though, it also blurs the social line, the ways that the world of this story is very much the world we’re still living in, and no amount of tech will bring justice without people making it happen through more widespread social change.
Keywords: CW- Rape, High School, Friends, Parties, Hacking
Review: This story does a great job at showing how growing up works for a lot of people, especially survivors of rape and abuse. Because a lot of the time they have to pretend that it didn’t happen. They have to hope that it doesn’t happen again. But, by and large, they can’t exactly stop it if someone decides to hurt them. And they can’t find justice when the system is designed to protect their abusers instead of them. To a point on it, Sandra was raped by a friend of her brother, and that friend is still very much around. And Sandra has to be more vigilant while dealing with her mother who failed to prevent this from happening because she was more concerned with strangers, with being out at night. And the piece does a great job of showing the thin line that so many have to walk between danger and freedom, between healing and despair. Sandra just wants to have fun, but that’s not as easy as it should be. Because instead she has to stay aware and when the time comes where she realizes something isn’t right, she has to take action that might be able to save her and her friend, and it’s incredibly difficult. Because those who would hurt them also know, consciously or not, that they are protected. That as long as they aren’t caught, or caught by the right people at the right time, that they won’t be held accountable. It’s a terrifying story in that, but also one that shows hope. Hope that even surrounded by danger, people can work to keep each other safe. That the bad guys don’t always win, which shouldn’t be a thing to celebrate but it is. And it’s just a very real story, set in a future where the increase in tech has not brought with it an increase in justice. A great read!

“Friday Night Games” by Anne Dafeta (1063 words)

No Spoilers: Adora, Sarah, and Onome are friends living in Lagos, trying to figure out how to spend a friday without plans. When they stumble across a Ouija board in a game store, they’re surprised, but can’t resist the allure of the arcane. At least, Sarah can’t, and she convinces Adora and Onome to have a go of it. Of course, some things, once begun, take on a life of their own. The piece is fun, growing as it does out of equal parts mischief and boredom. And Adora, through her narration, gives a taste of her life and her home, a city with perhaps a bit of a complicated relationship with the supernatural. Not because they don’t believe, though.
Keywords: Board Games, Ghosts, Séances, Friends, Sisters
Review: I love the way this story sort of circles around belief and around magic. Even the way that the friends come across this Ouija board, in a shop in a city that is normally very careful about all things supernatural. They find it, and on a whim they pick it up. And play. Or what they think is going to be play, which turns out to be something a bit different. And I just love the reactions in this story, the way everyone wears their hearts on their sleeves and is definitely not afraid to speak their minds. But I appreciate as well that for me the story is making a point about belief. That this is a city that believes in the supernatural, because without that there would be no aversion, no taboo. They believe, and yet because so much of the supernatural can seem good but be bad, they condemn everything. Without seeing that, maybe, the hand on the lens isn’t the devil’s, but someone else’s. Someone who might be trying to make contact. Not demons, but friends. Family. Reaching out across the divide of death to say something, even if it’s only “hello.” And for me the piece shows that these moments are all around us, not just in the explicit board game, but in the nudges that find us in a certain place at a certain time, finding something serendipitous. It’s a fun and touching story that leaves a lot of potential, a lot of hope still open. And it’s a rather magical read you should definitely check out!

“How to Identify an Alien Shark” by Beth Goder (689 words)

No Spoilers: Earth’s oceans have been...visited, we’ll say. By a race of alien sharks called the Tucabal-Gor. And the story is framed as a presentation or lecture perhaps given to a group assembled to assess and respond to the threat that these sharks represent. The piece is, first and foremost, ridiculously funny. The idea that there are economics-obsessed alien sharks roaming the oceans looking for debate is adorable and great, and the voice throughout does a great job of sliding from mostly helpful to devilishly dark. The piece is part comedy, part horror, but one hundred percent entertaining.
Keywords: Aliens, Sharks, Economics, Presentations, Oceans
Review: So I love how this piece starts out as mostly innocent and drives steadily toward something much more sinister. By innocent, of course, I mean that it seems an effort in good faith by a human scientist to educate people on a possible threat. As the piece moves, though, and more details around these alien sharks is revealed, the voice shifts incrementally until it’s more obvious that the speaker does not have the best of intentions. And really, I love how that works into economics and the idea of sharks in general, the symbol that they represent, that people must be bloodthirsty and interested only in profit to succeed. Indeed, to be moral. And It shows how ridiculous and in-bad-faith it is to listen to anyone with a vested interest in exploitation to talk about ethics and economics. How much skepticism should be held for those who are sharks talking about what’s best for everyone in the ocean. But mostly I think it’s a fun story with a great central premise and a very charming execution. The voice is sharp and increasingly dangerous and it’s a wonderful read!

“The Ceremony” by Mari Ness (1099 words)

No Spoilers: In an unnamed nation, a young man is cursed to sleep until someone wakes him with a kiss. Flipping the script on the classic fairy tale idea, this story explores how this curse has created a sort of tradition of young women all gathering, or being gathered, to try and wake the prince. It’s an event that is used by the current administration to try and...well, we’ll call it honor tradition. And the piece as a whole is strange and for me about the feeling of waiting. Of having traditions that aren’t so much about getting something done, or even celebrating anything, but instead are about power and a shared identity.
Keywords: Sleep, Kissing, Traditions, Holidays, Governments
Review: I love the way that this story takes the familiar and twists it, not (I feel) to shock readers with a “but what if it was a dude” kind of question, but in order to make a point about power and about perception. To show the way these young women made to kiss this prince hesitate, don’t really want to. It’s not romanticized, not erotic. Indeed, there is a sort of coercion at work for them, as if they know that they’re doing something wrong and going along with it because they are expected to, because they must. But by doing so they are also being made complicit in this tradition, in this ritual by which the current administration flexes its power, pushing for people to participate not because they want to do right by this young man, this prince, but because they don’t. Because by participating in this people have a crime, a sin, that they don’t want to be punished for. And it, in turn, puts them in the position of having to also support the current administration or else face punishment alongside it when justice finally comes. At least for me it’s about that forced participation, that generational baton-passing, by which the current administration can maintain its control and corruption. Meanwhile there’s the act itself, a violation that each person attaches their own meaning to. In order to try and make sense of and make peace with what they’re doing, what they’re being made to do. It’s strange and it’s short but there’s a great feel to it, and a creeping dread for me, seeing this played out, seeing that gender swapping the character doesn’t make it okay, doesn’t make it funny or just. It’s a great little story, and very much worth checking out!


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