Monday, December 3, 2018

Quick Sips - Lackington's #18: Magics

Art by Carol Wellart
Lackington’s gets magical this issue with six new short stories circling the theme of magic. It’s not exactly wizard duels or hidden schools that populate the worlds the stories reveal, though. Rather, the magic is often much thornier, and more subtle. Concentrated into witches, or gods, or lovers trying to make the world a better place. And in good Lackington’s fashion, the pieces all have a rather heady style to them with an emphasis on language. The stories evoke tragedy and romance, comedy and philosophy. It starts off weird and really only gets weirder from there, flowing seamlessly from one experience to the next. Each one might take a little bit of care and deliberation, but these are some fantastic works to wade into, that come alive with resolve and tenacity and, yes, magic. To the reviews!


“When the Vine Came” by S.R. Mandel (3200 words)

No Spoilers: In New Thebes, on a planet that humans have taken from a reptilian people and have ruled for a thousand years, a new god has appeared. And it has spread as a vine through the streets, pushing up the order of things and trailing change like spores. People riot, and revel, and threaten to undo the thousand years of work that has gone into making New Thebes what it is. At the head of the city is Penthe, who is calm and level but refuses to allow his city to fall into ruin. Against what’s happening, though, his calm control might not quite be enough... Strange and mythic, the story is framed as an oral piece passed by someone who might be a beggar, with a voice that might just be a warning, or the herald of invasion.
Keywords: Gods, Transformations, Stories, Change, Revelry
Review: I love what this story does with the idea of change. Penthe is the voice of the status quo, of order, of the rule of law. He believes in the city as it’s been built, but really doesn’t deal with the fact that it’s been built on the destruction of another people. And, when that’s the system that’s valued, law can only remain so long as something stronger doesn’t come along. And with this god, that something has come to not only shatter the law, but to in some ways erase the “progress” that has been made, completely changing the planet and ushering in something new and different. And I like that this becomes a sort of warning from the narrator who is “telling the story.” This narrator might be connected to the god, but whatever the case I do like that this story is a warning about change and about making systems that cannot stand under the weight of their methods. Places built on suffering and violence that might then be subject to just such an act. It’s a call (to me at least) to really examine the system, the law, and look beyond the supposed prosperity to what’s beneath. And to look at what’s at the root of the civilization, so that there might be a chance to clear out the corruption before change comes on swift wings and a sense of justice. A nice way to kick off this magical issue!

“Prima Fuit, Finis Erit” by Julia August (1678 words)

No Spoilers: Sextus is a poet who has written about many things but often about love it seems, and lust, and all the things orbiting those. And now he’s being haunted by perhaps his greatest muse, a woman named Cynthia who was something of an adversary in life (but mostly in a kinky way). Now that she’s dead and hounding him, Sextus makes the rounds to a number of people he knows trying to get advice on how to get rid of her. How to put her to rest. Which turns out to be very caught up in his poetry, and his character, in this piece that celebrates classical poetry and all its glory. A strange and (of course) poetic piece about promises and the magic of words.
Keywords: Poetry, Ghosts, Curses, Promises, Relationships, Necromancers
Review: This is such a great examination of the power and magic of poetry to, in this case, link this poet to the woman he so often wrote about. Their relationship was intense and rather messed up but also this source of passion and pleasure for them, and now that she’s dead I get the feeling that he’s learning that the emotions and declarations that he wrote, that he put out into the world at least in part thinking they were just hot air, turned out to be true. That love that he always played with and thought was just spice to the sex pudding of his existence, that turns out to be what has trapped him to the ghost of Cynthia. It’s not that she’s a pissed-off revenant ready to punish him for what he’s done, but rather that he’s the one carrying her around. Because he misses her. Because he still wants her. Because for all that he thought it was just to get sex and grease his way through life, at the heart of his words there really was magic. There was a spark of something true and wrenching and it’s manifested now like a curse that he’s desperate to escape. Only there is no escape, and the story has to bring him rather baldly back to the truth, to the feelings that he’s been running from. And it’s a strange but beautiful picture of a man in mourning and not quite realizing that’s what it is, and finding through his flight from his ghosts a deeper truth about himself. A fantastic read!

“The Wytch-Byrd of the Nabryd-Keind” by Farah Rose Smith (2900 words)

No Spoilers: Swirling around a pair of men whose business is birds, Claudia is a performer with a complicated relationship with love and a few dark secrets. The piece focuses on one of the men, Forsa, being gifted a brood of birds, red and vibrant and of no known species. They are presumably from the other ornithologist, Girard, as a way of apologizing for something that the story never really reveals. As Forsa becomes enchanted and then obsessed with the birds, though, Claudia notices changes in him, which eventually bubble to the surface in some dramatic ways. The piece is strange, almost dreamlike, and with a focus on Claudia’s past and the legacy she carries with her. Dark, unnerving, and quite weird.
Keywords: Birds, Haunting, Gifts, Obsession, Curses
Review: This is a weird story where the magic involved comes from these birds and, in some ways, from a sense of revenge and being wronged. The strange relationship between Claudia and Forsa and Girard really fleshes out this situation, where Forsa is bitter and hurt, both jealous of Girard’s success and hurt by some thing that Girard has done to him. Something stolen, perhaps, or at least perceived as stolen. Forsa, for his part, seems to know that he did something wrong, but doesn’t seem to think it was _that_ wrong. He wants Girard to forgive him, but he doesn’t really care that much about it. He’s more self centered and self serving, and Claudia uses that to good effect. And for me the story is something of a mystery. Of what happened to Claudia and Roman. Of what the nature of the birds is, and what it means for Forsa. And, ultimately, of who has been pulling the strings all along. And it’s a careful and deliberate story, unfolding like a dance, control and grace and something dark as well. Something hungry. Something circling like a vulture over a death. For me Claudia’s motivation is art, is the performance and magic of what she does. She orchestrates a very personal kind of experience, and I just love how it all comes together, heavy and strange and just the right amount of creepy!

“Collar for Captain Cormorant” by Rekha Valliappan (3050 words)

No Spoilers: This is a deeply strange story about Captain Cormorant, a knight who is also a bird, or almost a bird, on a quest in hopes of avoiding a fate that has already been handed out to the rest his peers. The piece slips between scenes just as the narrator slips between human flesh and bird feathers, between hands and webbed feet. There’s a sense of chivalry that I get from the story, but also age. Captain Cormorant has been on the trail for quite some time, caught between worlds, on a bridge that connects him to so many places and times. He’s tired, and perhaps a part of him doubts if his quest is even possible to complete. But he moves, and keeps going, until something happens that causes him to pause, and in so doing making a change in his journey. It’s an often surreal but quite lovely story about quests and happy endings.
Keywords: Birds, Quests, Ducks, Foxes, Waters, Time
Review: For me this isn’t the easiest story to make literal sense of, though the general direction wasn’t something I struggled with. The piece follows Captain Cormorant, who carries with him this great loneliness. He’s isolated, the last of his kind, and he’s on a journey that might never end. It’s a situation that might lead someone to despair, and yet there is a resilience to him as well. He’s still a knight, and so when he glances an attack on a family of ducks, something is moved in him and he has to go back. And really I do love the surreal quality of the piece, that it flits between times and places, building up world that are bound by magic but seem largely unaware of each other, where Captain Cormorant travels through it all, strange and sometimes a bird, sometimes a man, his mission vague and difficult to define but weighted with a curse that seems destined to consume him. And yet nestled in that is the power of the part he plays. Because he sees himself as a knight, and his journey a quest, he’s playing with the magic of stories, where everyone gets to have their happily ever after. It’s a deeply odd story, but lyrically stunning and very much worth checking out!

“Song of the Oliphant” by KT Bryski (4000 words)

No Spoilers: In a Canada very much changed not only by climate change but by a new and rather terrifying realtionship with the Free States of America, the narrator of this story is a witch using what little magic she has left to shelter refugees and dissidents in an underground helping Americans escape America. Ellie is the latest charge she’s given, but this time things don’t go the way they’re supposed to. And with the climate getting worse and worse, and with law enforcement getting closer and closer to clamping down on the narrator’s operation, something’s got to give. Work into that a strange and haunting look at waiting, resistance, and legends, and the story weaves together a devastating look at hope and loss and magic.
Keywords: Refugees, Music, Witches, Climate Change, Nationalism, Storms,
Review: It’s rather chilling that this vision of a future where the US-Canadian border is heavily policed and depends on the Canadian side on complicity with US policy in order to stay intact at all. And I love the focus on the narrator being this older witch who isn’t about to make fear of the government stop her from doing the right thing. Even when sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t seem to make much a difference. She’s working on an individual level, though, trying to do what she can do to help other people. To save one after another, never really knowing if she’s saving them for real or if they’re killed directly after she hands them off. Still, it’s a tense and fairly realistic take on what happens in authoritarian states, where most of the population just wants to maintain a status quo that is so far gone that it’s laughable that they can’t see what’s all around them. But people want to believe that things aren’t that bad. Even when winter has given way to an endless heat. And the relationship between the narrator and Ellie is great, too, both of them sort of relying on the other to keep calm, to keep their shit together. And both, ultimately, flailing as best they can while the world goes to ruin around them. And no amount of calling for help does anything, because the time for that passed so long ago. Because the time to sound the Oliphant is now. With us, the readers. And it’s a wonderful message and a beautiful story!

“Love Letters from Velveteen” by M. Raoulee (4873 words)

No Spoilers: Velveteen and her husband are going out to sea aboard a ship with magic on board, in search of treasure in the form of orbs that fall to the planet, bringing more magic with them. The piece is framed as a series of letters by Velveteen to her husband as they travel, her pregnant, and interact with the crew, the captain, each other, and the world at large. It’s a beautiful and lushly imaginative, strange and luminous and just full of love. The frame of the story is fascinating as well, as a collection of letters that don’t necessarily have a “correct” order, though there are accepted orders. Bit are missing, though, and the letters are spread over galleries and private collections and it gives the piece an added layer, a questioning of if the work is a piece of fiction within a piece of fiction or if there’s something else going on.
Keywords: Seas, Letters, Queer MC, CW- Pregnancy, Sailing
Review: This is just such a fun story, magical and vibrant and alive and good. The relationship between Velveteen and her husband is compelling and deep, where they have this bond from leaving behind a world where they might have had more. Where magic was something so much more a part of their lives. And yet they chose to go out into the more mundane world to bring their own magic to it. To experience it and share in it. There’s just this great flow, despite how fractured the piece is organized. And it gives the feeling for me of this truth that the story is revealing within the world, how it’s being interpreted as a fiction while the reader never gets to know anything about the setting that is reading it that way. Because it plays with how we as readers approach texts, experiencing these stories as if they are “real” and then having to look at what exactly is real and what isn’t. And looking at how Velveteen and her husband are also from another world, how all of this crosses boundaries and yet remains so coherent and poetic. For me, I just love when stories fuck with the narrative distance, and here I found myself more willing to believe the story than the frame, wanting to believe that these were found letters rather than works of fiction. Because that holds more magic, for me, and more wonder and more joy. But whatever the case, it is an interesting and delightfully complex read, and one that I strongly urge you all to go and read immediately!


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