Thursday, November 15, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #25 [November stuff]

Art by John Picacio

After a few special issues, it’s a relatively small month from Uncanny Magazine. That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t A Lot to enjoy. Anchoring things is a novelette that blends magic and song, sword and myth. And really both of the stories this month deal with stories, with narratives, and how they can be twisted. How specifically women can alter the narrative structures that keep them prisoner and use them to cut their way free of the conventions and expectations that would keep them caged. That, plus two very short but densely powerful poems, and it’s one heck of an issue. So let’s get to the reviews!


“How to Swallow the Moon” by Isabel Yap (11190 words)

No Spoilers: Amira is the servant and guard of Anyag, a woman who has been hidden away—from the sun and the eyes of everyone but those allowed into her inner sanctum—waiting for the day a suitor arrives who is worthy of her. Except that she’s not really that interested, and both she and Amira have their own reasons for not wanting that day to come, or at least for not wanting the life that’s been prescribed for them. They want freedom, from conventions certainly and from the restraints that everyone tries to use to cage them. And just when they think they might have something figured out, a myth that turns out to be all too true reveals itself to them. Sweeping and romantic, the story captures the fragile beauty of a love that defies societal prejudices and strengthens both women for the fight they suddenly have on their hands. Thrilling and tender, it’s about changing narratives and prevailing over a consuming darkness.
Keywords: Dragons, Songs, Queer MC, Training, Magic
Review: I love the way this story melds song and magic and swords and myth with Amira and Anyag at its core. That is slowly pulls out their true feelings for each other, repressed as much as possible because it is forbidden, because it would never be allowed. Because Anyag has been prepared for something else. Both women are bound, Amira by her station and literally being bought as a child and Anyag by the role she is expected to embrace and by the man who will marry her and take her away. A man, it turns out, who is not at all what he seems. And for me the story is about the strength of stories, of myths. That the one about the bakunawa eating the moon and stealing a maiden has created a sort of weight, a gravity toward that kind of sacrifice and death. Which isn’t a happy story—not, at least, for the woman who was eaten so as to spare her village. It’s a gravity that nearly crushes Amira and Anyag, and yet even as they know the patterns of it, they push back. They refuse to let that be the narrative that defines and confines them. And so they sing their own. And I love how that is the answer here, that their song is to change the ending of the story, to allow room for them to have a happy ending. Or happier at least. Where they can be together and support each other. Not just replaying the old tropes of princess and knight, maiden and warrior, but forging a wholly new set of archetypes, where Anyag is not the maiden, the jewel, but can be a shield, strong and protecting. And it’s just such a fun and wonderful read that you should go out and read right. NOW!

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (1887 words)

No Spoilers: Every year a group of fae gather in the mortal world to stare into a fire and remember. Remember Rose MacGregor, and how she lost her sheep, and they each, in their turn, helped her to find it for a time. The piece is a collection of stories all recovering the same ground, over and over again, revealing the natures of those fathered around the fire and a bit of Rose as well. And it’s a story that turns a lot of expectations, having fun while it pokes a bit of raunchy fun at stories of mortals pining for their lost fae loves. It’s charming and short, building to a nice little punchline and perhaps a bit of a middle finger to the prudish.
Keywords: Faeries, Meetings, Memories, Sex, Stories
Review: This story does a rather great job of flipping the script when it comes to faery stories, which often feature human maidens being seduced by the crafty and seductive fae only to be betrayed by their inhuman cruelty and die of loneliness or shame or some other such contrivance. Here we get the details delivered through a series of stories around a fire, ones that play out a bit like an AA meeting. Hello, my name is X, and I’m addicted to Rose MacGregor. For each of the men assembled, they got into a relationship with Rose expecting it to stay on script, for her to be the one desperate for them to stay, for her to suffer when they ditched her to head back to the faerie realm. Only it didn’t happen that way, and I love how she treats them a bit how they treat her, only without any of the cruelty. She’s just out for a good time, looking for someone to make her feel good until they’re both done. She enters expecting them to leave, enjoying it for what it is, and I love that what bothers them is that she doesn’t miss them. That, essentially, she refused to be seduced. It shatters their egos, and in turn gives her power over them, because she never put stock in the things that make them powerful. Never cared for shame about sex or feeling good, which is the true thing that they prey upon. They don’t go for innocence, but rather a deep guilt and shame about sex and about having sexual agency and against Rose they don’t stand a chance, and they are the ones who end up deeply effected. It’s an interesting and subversive read, and also crudely funny, so yeah, a delightful read!


“smile” by Beth Cato

Aimed (to me, at least) at any man who would give the unsolicited demand (couched always as “advice”) of smiling more, this very very short poem is as sharp and fast as a dagger. It doesn’t mince words—it shreds them instead, foregoing the need for the woman in the poem to speak at all. And really, probably this isn’t a poem that requires an overly long interpretation. The meaning is clear (don’t be this asshole unless you want women to want you to die an agonizing death), and it hits its mark like splitting the cork on a bulls-eye. But it’s me so I’m going to say that I love how the piece brings fantasy into reality, how it makes this kind of justice (sharp, fiery, violent) a mirror of the injustice that it faces. That, for all that people might say that “you should smile” is just being nice or can be innocent or at the very least isn’t “You should smile” is certainly violent, and the reaction within the poem a rather appropriate reaction. Because “you should smile” is a reminder of what might happen should she not smile. It’s a reminder of the power that men hold, and what they are allowed to flagrantly get away with. What violence they are encouraged to engage in. And I like how this poem doesn’t bother to hide that, that it reflects that hidden (but blatant) brutality of “you should smile more” back on the man saying it, shredding him not with this sadistic violence of women but rather with the reflected violence he engaged in, made real through a magic that would be, well, rather fitting. So yeah, a great little poem!

“cardioid” by Hal Y. Zhang

This poem speaks to me of hearts and of touch and of, well, love. Which might seem kinda sappy for a piece that seems essentially about the narrator inviting someone to reach into their chest capity and touch the flesh of their heart. But I am nothing if not romantic and it’s just such a striking and powerful image and symbol, of asking for someone to sort of fuck you up that badly. Asking someone to mark you, to leave their fingerprint on flesh that was not meant to be handled, that will keep that touch suspended and eternal. Which is hardcore and sweet at the same time. And I really love the feel of the piece, the flow and the beat of it. Because it creates in a very limited space the texture and sound and rhythm of a heart, and someone reaching in to touch it, and that touch lingering in ways that cannot be shaken or forgotten. It just speaks to me of this enduring feeling, the narrator making themself vulnerable in this incredibly way, asking for someone to reach inside them and being answered. And for me there’s no hesitation, really. Rather, there’s a trust and a tenderness that comes from affection and from love, where there is no danger that the person touching them will hurt them. And it’s beautiful and you should read it. Just a lovely read!


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