|Art by Julie Dillon|
The new year brings a new month of short stories and poetry to Uncanny Magazine, with a fresh focus on broken worlds, battered families, and audacious hope. The pieces here outline pathways of resistance, of fighting back against oppression, of refusing to bend under the weight of damage that has been done to the world. It finds characters struggling against their expected roles and finding ways of living true to themselves even in situations where they can't fully escape the touch of injustice or the lingering scars of devastation. Through it all, though, they find moments of tenderness, compassion, and love, and armed with those they go out into a world they can make better. Not whole, perhaps. Not fixed. But soothed a bit under their careful administrations. To the reviews!
"A Catalog of Storms" by Fran Wilde (4078 words)
No Spoilers: Sila is the youngest of three daughters in a family that has already known loss, in a world where the storms seem alive and are battled primarily by weathermen, people who can name the stories and yell them down, fight against them to protect what is left of humanity after some sort of cataclysm. The storms are dangerous, deadly, and determined to wipe out what people it can find. And though everyone is grateful to the weathermen, no one particularly wants their family members to show aptitude, because weathermen pretty invariably end up losing themselves to the storms, transforming, becoming something of the air and rain and lightning. It's a piece that focuses on family and roles and the grief and hope that comes with growing up. Of stepping into a power that is dangerous, that is tinged in sorrow even as it feels right.
Keywords: Siblings, Family, Storms, Transformation, Loss
Review: I love the way the story frames the family and the roles they play. The way that the sisters start out in their defined orbits around each other and their mother, and then the way things change. Because for me the piece is about growing up and growing into the shape you were meant to be. A shape that might be very different from the one your parents wanted for you. For Lillit, it means embracing this thing that is dangerous and honorable, and yet something too that takes her away from her family, from that safety and comfort. It's something her mother seems almost to blame her for, even as she knows that it couldn't really be stopped. And I love the way that plays out, the ways that Sila sees that and feels something reverberate in her as well, the way that the eldest daughter seems so set against it, because she's always been more comfortable in the role that was described for her. And there's this wonderful magic that runs through the piece as well, as wild and untamed as a storm, and violent and mysterious as one as well. It's something that makes for a memorable setting, one that is changed by the end of the piece. And it shows that people will follow their hearts, even if that leads them away entirely, even it leads them directly into danger, into the sky itself to battle storms. And it is a gorgeous and moving read!
"Nothing to Fear, Nothing to Fear" by Senaa Ahmad (6106 words)
No Spoilers: Amina is the middle child in a family dealing with a long-distance grief and a much more immediate fixation on death and fear. The story focuses more closely on Amina and her siblings, older sister Huda and younger brother Sameer, as they deal with a rather distant father and a mother who is dealing with a ill sister. It seems to be the first time that death is a real thing pushing into the family's space, though it's removed quite a bit from where they live in Canada, giving that grief an almost second-hand feeling, separated from the children by the fact they've only met their aunt (who lives in India) once. All the same, it finds the children in a new location, on vacation, and finding diversion from the family issues they don't quite feel acutely by diving into the creation of something new, and dangerous.
Keywords: Siblings, Flying, Vacation, Family, Loss, Fear, Death
Review: The fear of death seems to hang at the center of this story, where Huda asks constantly if Amina is afraid to die. It's a question that Amina tries to dodge or slip away from, always answering that she isn't, or else refusing to answer. And it seems to draw to the background element of Amelia Earhart. To her story and her loss and the sister who she left behind. Siblings, too, define a lot of the story, though I also love that though sisters are the core of the relationships shown between Amelia and her sister, between the children's mother and aunt, it's not the sole relationship with the children. There's more shown between Amina and Huda, but Sameer is no less present, and it's through his participation in their relationship that the girls begin to push past what was holding them back. There seem to be cycles of loss and tragedy working here, of sisters dying in distant places, of grief that rewrites lives. But even with that heavy material the story isn't without levity, and I love the voices of the siblings, the way they're trying to poke and trace this hole inside their family, this grief that they can't quite understand, but need to contextualize. Their mission, to build a wondrous contraption, is one that seems about to blow up in their faces, to maybe even kill them, and yet it's also something that they need to do, a challenge that pushes them to try and try not because they don't fear death, but because they want to live. Because they want to find joy and adventure and not have to be bound always by fear of loss. The specter of a future where they might lose each other is still there, but it's not something they let put distance between them. They seem to say, if death is something that will find them, it will find them together. And I just love the energy and the complexity and the quiet magic of the piece. An excellent read!
"Poems Written While" by Natalia Theodoridou (3603 words)
No Spoilers: This piece follows a trans man named Daddy as he moves through a world ravaged by disaster, where humanity has been left a bit fractured, the stars forever concealed behind a new more opaque sky. He's older than most, having grown with parents who had seen the stars and who had sung about, who had passed on a loss because of it to their children who would never be able to see what they did. And so Daddy is a sort of memory of stars, a bard who keeps bits of poetry about them and who trades those poems for what he needs. He's carved out a space for himself, with some people who he trusts, but theirs is a fragile existence, made more so by one of Daddy's friends, who keeps on finding people in need of help and healing. The story is full of broken longing and a sort of nameless want, this desire for what has been lost, and the search for beauty and meaning in what remains.
Keywords: Stars, Poetry, Post Disaster, Trans MC, Queer MC
Review: I love how this story approaches post-disaster work, where the world is definitely broken, humanity not always at its best, but the world is still full of people helping people, of people surviving and doing more than just surviving. Daddy here is someone who (as I read him) has been so let down by a society that used to have more opportunity. Where he might have been able to do more with his transition but for the technology and the things that have been lost. Like the stars themselves, the promise of the past, of what might have been, has been shattered, and in its place is the...well, the consolation that even without those things, life goes on. That Daddy still lives, still loves, still can be himself. Not that it makes it right or good. Really, so much of this story for me becomes about the longing. The anger. The hurt at being let down by the previous generations who should have been able to prevent this. Who let down the future so that no one remembers the stars. But stars are not people, and I like that this story doesn't imply that trans people just...disappear in a post-disaster setting. That even without the heavenly lights there are still people who need hormones and binders and everything they can to feel more right. But that some things get pushed beyond reach, and some hurts can't really be healed, only endured. And it's a beautiful story, richly imagined and rather devastating in its impact. A wonderful read!
"The Watchword" by Sonya Taaffe
This piece speaks to me of art, and impact, and memory. It speaks to me of poetry and song, and the ways that art lives on. To me it's a poem that makes very good use of the second person, the narrator speaking to someone who is never exactly named, though their role is one of underground poet, a sort of rebel whose work is aimed at the oppressed and dispossessed. And the piece focuses on that, on the power of art in the face of wrongness and injustice. It speaks to the way that poetry can get into a person, echoing through them. The way that the narrator of the poem finds the words of this other person coming from their own mouth and from the mouths of others. For me the piece is a lot about the value and power and purpose of art and poetry. The way that it points to things that should not be ignored, that must be faced and fought. Of course, it's also possible that the poem does name the person the narrator is speaking to, a dead poet whose work maybe is resurfacing after a period of relative obscurity. Or someone whose work has new and important meaning in the light of recent events. Someone who spoke truth to something while they were alive and whose words are now coming through again, their work no less vital or alive as it was then. In any event, the piece for me dives into the role of poetry and art to live on past the original author, past the original events that framed them. Because they speak to something deep and enduring and, perhaps sadly, needed. It's a great read and definitely a piece to spend some time with!
"A Letter from One Woman to Another" by Cassandra Khaw
This poem takes on fairy tales and more specifically (or so it seems to me at least) the kind of Disney-ified fairy tales and the gender roles they teach and reinforce. Here, as the title implies, one woman writes to another about their possible fates, about the routes that their stories have left open to them. The options...aren't exactly great. And I love the language of the piece, the sort of romantic but also slimy quality of the fate that has been laid out for these women. Because it rings true to me, how people get pressured into accepting things because of the weight of these stories. Because of how they are romanticized and how they are expected. The poem doesn't exactly feel like advice to me, because advice in the face of all that's happening here is kind of shallow. Instead, it's the revealing of a way of just...not following the rules. Of finding a kind of loophole. Where, if you're not allowed to be the prince of the story, that leaves either falling into line with the princess tropes and all the harms that go along with that, or branching out into one of the other roles. The dragon. The witch. Someone with enough power maybe to break the stories. To fight back against the gravity of them, the pull toward subservience and erasure and abuse. The piece is defiant, refusing to coat in sugared words the role that's expected of women, and talking up instead the power of the dragon, the force of nature that might just be able to break the stories and find a new way forward. One where women are not just the trophies and rewards of men. It's a dark but rewarding read, fun in its sharpness and definitely worth checking out!