Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Quick Sips - Fiyah Literary Magazine #8 [Pilgrimage]

October brings a new issue of Fiyah Literary Magazine, and with it four new stories and two new poems exploring the theme of “Pilgrimage.” For the fiction, the theme tends to move around action and movement, flight and escape. From astronauts fleeing destruction and death to young women navigating a post-apocalypse, the characters find themselves cast adrift, unmoored what they expected their lives to be. What their lives could have been if not for the violence that chases them, the corruption and injustice that hounds them. If not for their own dreams and hopes, reaching toward a future where they can be powerful and free. These stories feature characters dealing with isolation, trying to make connections, even if it’s with themselves. And the poetry takes the theme is a bit of a different direction, showing a pilgrimage not just of moving through space but through narrative itself. The pair of poems explore being cut off not from a place but a literary and narrative tradition that keeps the narrators out or else pushes them to conform to the way things are. It’s a deep and complex issue, so let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Edge

“Bullet” by Stephen Kearse ( words)

No Spoilers: Captain Charlotte Jones is flying the slow bullet from Mercury to Terrar—the last two planets housing humans after Terrar destroyed Earth and the last few humans there who hadn’t migrated with everyone else. Earth’s destruction, though, heralded in a quick escalation and war between Mercury and Terrar, which Charlotte Jones is supposed to stop. And it’s not a train she’s flying, it’s an actual factual planet-destroying bullet. Her journey is not fast. It takes two years to arrive, in which time she has a long time to contemplate her decisions, and to evaluate what she’s doing, and maybe try to stop what she’s agreed to author from happening...though trying isn’t the same as doing. It’s a piece that looks at isolation and choice, inevitability and humanity, and it’s bleak even as it offers up a small glimmer of something like hope.
Keywords: Bullets, Space, War, Destruction, Genocide, Isolation
Review: Riding a bullet to commit planetary genocide is certainly an interesting hook into the story, and I love how the story does so much with this singular situation, just one woman and the bullet she’s in. Her voice and her growing sense of futility carry through as she tries again and again to sabotage her mission and again and again finds that she cannot. That she’s barely able to impact what the bullet does. Which I love, because it implies really that she’s there only to have a human present for this moment, more to give the actual architects of this action a shield than for any other reason. By being the “pilot,” she’s the one who ends up taking the blame for what happens. Other people can wipe their hands of it. Even as she tries to stop it. Even as she recognizes that she’s been used, that she doesn’t want to be there. And as the story moves, she goes through the stages of grief essentially, as the gravity of what’s going to happen really sinks in. And I love that, basically, she thought there would be a way out of it. Because that’s so human, to accept something terrible assuming that there will be a way out, a trick or cheat or moment when she can be the hero. Which the story plays with, having her think about heroes in video games and movies, figures that set her up to fail because the villains there are obvious and cartoonish, where those in real life are subtle and terrifying. Though the scope of their villainy is the same, with plots to destroy planets and people like they were nothing. And it’s a rather shocking place the story brings Charlotte, where she has to face the legacy of humanity and what to do next. And I love that she still doesn’t really despair, but rather decides that she’s going to revel in the relative freedom she has and try to make it somewhere wonderful. And that, too, is human and vital, even as the story very much reveals the uglier aspects of our tendencies. A great read!

“Magician’s Trial” by Sarah A. Macklin ( words)

No Spoilers: Brought to the Great Rift Valley by her mother, Liz is a young woman on the verge of becoming a sorceress, basically the magical equivalent of becoming a full adult. This requires a test, though, trial which Liz must pass in order to step into her full power. It’s a test that brings Liz through a dangerous landscape—one that leads inside herself, where she must confront a series of adversaries and possible allies drawn from her own various aspects. It’s an action-packed and tightly paced read, and one that builds up this system of magic and testing quite well. And it’s a ton of fun getting to see Liz face the different parts of herself and push toward the hope and promise being more independent.
Keywords: Tests, Magic, Gods, Spirits, Family
Review: I love the energy of this story, the way that Liz pushes toward her goal even without really knowing what it looks like. She knows enough to begin the trial, but the trick is what happens after that, as she comes face to face with her different aspects, Doubt and Pain and Panic and all the rest. There are moments of creeping terror, but they are tempered by Liz’s perseverance and her drive to succeed. And I love that she has to face down not just the obviously damaging parts of herself, but also has to learn to see other parts in new ways. Like how Doubt becomes something that both helps and hinders. For me, the story becomes about growing up, and adulthood, and what it means to really step free from the need for supervision. It’s not about power or skill, but rather about a sort of emotional maturity that requires that a person know themself. And that’s where I see the trial in the story taking Liz, so that she can know herself and what’s great about her and what she needs to be careful of. How she has to worry about being vain and being reckless. How she has to worry that she’s doing the right thing, but how that worry has to have a purpose, has to sharpen her to do something. Because worry on its own is pointless. But that it becomes necessary to navigate the other emotions, to avoid making careless mistakes. The piece moves quickly and with a style that’s wonderful, taking Liz from the hesitant hope and fear of the beginning to a more complete and joyous and informed hope at the end. It’s a wonderful story and you should definitely check it out!

“Pedaling” by Tuere T. S. Ganges ( words)

No Spoilers: Trini is the acting leader of a group of young people fleeing a violent incident in a world post-uprising, where the central government is gone and replaced by a general lawlessness and hunger. She joined by family and friends and her girlfriend, all of them riding their bikes for an unknown future where maybe they will be welcomed somewhere and can settle down. First, though, they come across a strange little city where things...aren’t what they seem. And it forces Trini and her tribe to confront even more of the horrors of this new world, and pushes them to make a choice—to avoid the danger of the situation and move on by, or confront the evil they’ve found, and try to save who and what they can. It’s a story that doesn’t flinch away from some difficult themes and chilling content, and it hits with an unsettling but ultimately (I think) hopeful feel. A muted but persistent optimism even in the face of horror, that humans are not inherently fallen, but rather resilient and able to overcome so long as people still try and help people.
Keywords: Post Disaster, Queer MC, CW- Cannibalism, Travel, Rescue
Review: This story definitely captures the mix of desolation, horror, and hope that makes post-disaster and post-apocalypse settings so compelling and uncomfortable. It features humanity at its best and worst, as Trini and her friends are proof positive that people would still try to help each other, that they would still cooperate and try to make something better. Not just the same old from before, but better, with an eye toward not repeating the mistakes of the past. At the same time, it shows that there are plenty of people who are very willing to go backwards, who have indeed been waiting for an excuse to go back to the atrocities of the past. It’s the case here where a town of white cannibals is keeping people of color in cages, treating them as livestock and animals. It’s the situation that Trini walks into, not unwilling to face this ugliness but certainly disappointed that the horrors they’ve already escaped weren’t unique. And I love how the story builds and moves, keeping things tense, showing that even good plans often go astray, and that when things are going wrong it’s all about who you can trust, about people standing together to keep things from falling completely apart. And really I do like to see utopian ideals blooming from the scorched earth of post-disaster settings. That this is a ground where so much can grow, both the beautiful and resilient new growths and the weeds and chokers that had been kept out of the well manicured lawns that civilization had become. It’s a story about danger and about risk and about community and it’s really a fun and exciting and wonderful read!

“Saudade” by Nelson Rolon ( words)

No Spoilers: Vida is a Venutian on the run thanks to a necklace that can allow her to transport and animate statues to use in her defense. After crashing on Earth, in Korea, she meets and quasi-abducts Menino, a young man who feels trapped in the city of his birth, the city of his parents. Vida seems like part of an adventure, though as the story progresses it becomes much more complicated and messy than that. Because Vida’s a sort of con artist, always on the run, and her past is definitely catching up with her when a giant rat and overpowered bounty hunter arrive to bring her in. In the middle of everything the story is fast and punchy with a great style, and it never loses sight of the relationship between Vida and Menino, the ways in which they seem doomed and the ways in which the help each other reach for something beautiful and freeing.
Keywords: Space, Bounty Hunters, Pursuit, Scams, Repairs, Queer MC(?)
Review: This story has such a visual energy to it, creating a vaguely punky setting and then unleashing chaos into it in the form of Vida, who is a rather damaged but relentless character, hunted and because of that more fox-like, quick to run, resourceful, and just a bit brutal. It’s that last bit that pairs her with Menino here, who is bored and looking for an escape from the cage of expectations and stagnation around him and who might be of use to Vida, seeing as how he seems to have an affinity to the necklace she has that allows her to summon statues to her aid. And I just love so much about the premise and about the dynamic between the characters, where she is messed up from a life of running, from seeing her father die, from not really knowing what it’s all about. And hunting her is a cyborg with some serious firepower who doesn’t like taking no for an answer. It all just comes together so well, kickass and vibrant and pitting Vida a bit against everyone, but mostly against herself and her won defenses, her own reluctance to really trust anyone. And yet Menino is the opposite, so willing to trust because Vida offers him something, though not quite what she or anyone else things she’s offering. It’s friendship that becomes the beating heart of the story for me, because that’s something that Vida can’t fake, that’s not a lie or pretense. She likes having someone who sees her as good, and becomes better because she has someone who does believe in her, who wants to be her friend despite everything. And Menino isn’t under any illusions. He does see through to who Vida is and who she wants to be, when everything isn’t exploding around her. And it’s just a wonderfully action-packed and emotional journey, not exactly happy but with a feeling that it might not be over, that what these two characters found can’t be lost so easily. And it’s a fantastic read and stellar way to close out the fiction!


“Octopus” by Martha Darr

This poem speaks to me of longing, of difference, of a girl or young woman who wants to be something else, who wants to go somewhere else, who feels in their home, in their kingdom, a lack that only change can satisfy. The piece is told in quiet stanzas, four short lines each, and centered on the page I get the feeling almost of waves, of slow but steady movement that really doesn’t go anywhere. For me it gives the piece a feeling of isolation, of being in the middle, squeezed. The narrator of the piece is telling a sort of story about their friend, and I love that because for me it’s so loaded, in all the ways that we all have “friends” who have desires, who have secrets, who have problems. This girl they describe, it might be someone else who they see but don’t really approach, who they know a lot about but don’t feel incredibly connected to. Because for this girl there’s a draw away. A pulling toward the surface, toward the sky, toward a different world when maybe she will belong and be powerful. Where maybe she won’t be so full of longing. And really I just love the imagery and the feel, the way that the title and working builds up an entire world under the sea, full of its own rules, and how for this girl it’s not enough. She entranced by the magic of stories, of princesses and transformations. Which I think speaks to a kind of tragedy, to the way that not all stories about people from the sea have happy endings. It’s strange and touched by darkness and it’s a very lovely read that’s definitely worth spending some time with!

“Black Rapunzel” by Doxa Zannou

Keeping the fairy tale theme alive through this pair of poems, this piece for me also looks at isolation and hope, at not fitting in and wanting desperately something different and free. Only here that feeling is complicated a bit further in a narrator who also wants to be a princess but sees in that idea something that doesn’t mesh with what she looks like, with who she is. She becomes convinced not that she needs to wait as she is to change but that she has to change herself, lighten her skin and “fix” her hair so that it will resemble the princesses in the stories. So that she can be “worthy” of a prince and a happy ending. Only this is something that is weaponized against her, turned into a way of trying to erase her. Turned into a vehicle for her own imprisonment, where as long as she believes in the values that those stories support, she is trapped by them. It’s uncomfortable because it’s something that those who see themselves in the stories don’t have to face, don’t have to question. For them, it must be right, because it plays out in real life that way, where they are seen as beautiful and worthy of success, safety, and all those storybook happily ever afters. For those who don’t fit, though, trying to get themselves to fit is a violence they are convinced they must do to themselves, and the poem shows the devastating effect that has, the terrible price it exacts on the narrator. And yet even so it’s not a piece that lacks hope. Rather, it shows the all-too-real way that wisdom often comes only with time and with loss, with realizing that no amount of trying to fit the mold would be enough. That enough means having to have been born that way, white and affluent. And what’s left is to forge ahead as one can, perhaps damaged by the experience but not broken, not dead. At least, hopefully not. The ending of the poem might evoke a kind of self destruction, but I read that as more the only way left forwad, that the body might break, but that the spirit will keep on, and the body will hopefully heal. It’s a bracing and moving piece about who gets to be present in stories and what power that has. And it’s a wonderful read!


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