Friday, March 1, 2019

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #64

Art by Ashanti Fortson
Four stories and a poem make February a rather full month for Fireside Magazine. Though most of the fiction is fairly short, the pieces end up packing a rather palpable emotional punch, from a story about sentient spaceships to a piece about gods and grandmothers to a guide to surviving on Mars. The longest piece, too, is a great exploration of the magical girl idea through a very new lens and split between different perspectives that have some disagreements on What Actually Happened. Throw in a poem full of history and hurt and hope and the issue is a strong one that shows just what makes short SFF so wonderful. To the reviews!


“Symphony for the Space Between the Stars” by Jenn Reese (802 words)

No Spoilers: Aurora is a ship flying through the void, heading for Earth. Her mission is set out by the protocols that she follows, the routine that is dictated by her captain and crew. Not that she doesn’t bend the rules a little bit, trying to bring a bit of music into a situation that her captain doesn’t appreciate. But for the most part her life is this rigid set of guidelines that she doesn’t deviate from. And the truth about that comes more and more clear as the story progresses, and what has happened with \Aurora, and more importantly her crew, is revealed. It’s a quiet piece for all that it is full of music, or perhaps I should say it’s a piece defined by restraint. By distance. By rules and by loss. But one that finds a bit of freedom, and takes a chance on life and noise and rebellion.
Keywords: Music, Spaceships, AI, Protocols, Loss
Review: This is such a sweet story, though one that grows out of something of a horrifying situation, where Aurora is going about her business every day as if her crew is still alive. And, well...yeah. But because she wasn’t released from her mission, because her captain bound her by the orders to return to Earth and essentially pretend that everything was still the same...well, it’s not a great situation for her. She’s stuck trying to keep herself fulfilled in the small ways she can deviate from the script. In doing the things that didn’t have protocols, so she can fudge a little. But only a little. Until another ship comes along. And I like that it’s this moment of finding another person, of breaking through the isolation that had settled around her, that allows her to see that she doesn’t have to follow orders. That there might be something more than just following orders. Not that she didn’t want to do other things before, but that she didn’t exactly have the means, and she might still have been a bit directionless after losing her crew. Her mission. And I just love the way the story brings her back around, to act on her own initiative, as she had been experimenting with. To make noise into music, and her own inclinations into a mission to live and explore. It’s short but packs quite the punch all the same, and it’s a wonderful read!

“The Autumn of June” by Stu West (910 words)

No Spoilers: This piece finds a young person staying or living with their grandparents and having mostly a normal childhood. Except that their grandmother is friends with a lot of gods who like to stop by and hang out and tell stories and store their magical weapons around. The piece follows this, capturing a slice of life that is rather nostalgic in its look, showing a moment when the narrator learns something about their grandmother. How she goes beyond their memory of her, their picture of her just in the kitchen, being old. And in some ways it’s about them finding out that their grandmother is a lot more adventurous and sought after than they might have wanted to know, too.
Keywords: Gods, Grandparents, Legends, Monsters
Review: I really like the way the story takes this idea and builds it, that this little old lady who the narrator sees very much as a little old lady has all of this hidden depth to her. Not just a slew of stories, which are easy for a child to dismiss as just stories of the Forever Ago that might as well be made up. But rather that they have to sort of put their grandmother in this new context because she’s kickass, because she’s friends with gods for a reason, and it’s something that maybe never really occurred to the narrator before. To them, the grandmother’s friendship with the gods is just part of her charm. But they, too, are rather mundane in all of this. it’s not until they get to see her in action, staring down an enormous demon, that they really start to see that their grandmother is much more than they thought. That the reason she’s so impressive is because she acts, and acts righteously, and gives strength of conviction even to the gods. Where they might have hesitated, when she shows her own bravery, she inspires it in them, so that they don’t let wrongs go by unfought. And it’s really a charming little story, balanced with the narrator’s boredom at there not being anything on the television while a real-life hero is a room away with some real-life gods. A great read!

“Due By the End of the Week” by Brandon O’Brien (3910 words)

No Spoilers: Derek is the resident high school brain, and he opens the story lamenting that he’s been given a group presentation with one of the more popular, athletic girls in the school, Kelly Francis. Told between the two in alternating perspectives that cover the same periods of time, the story explores how they both experience the world very, very differently. And While Derek is certain that Kelly just isn’t trying hard enough and is spending all her time partying, the truth of the matter is a much different story, and involves a talking cat, some magic accessories, and a bunch of really gross aliens in need of some discipline. It’s a fun story, full of energy and innovative in the way it overlaps the narratives, revealing how differently the same events sound depending on who the narrator is.
Keywords: Transformations, High School, Aliens, Homework, Magic, Cats
Review: I love the way this story uses perspective to sort of twist expectations and show how this is a much different thing for these two different people. How, for Derek, this is a story all about his problem, about this group project that he doesn’t want, and his selfishness in trying to get ahead. Which in itself might not be the worst thing. I mean, he works hard and tries to excel at what he does so that he can maybe get a piece of the pie that Kelly’s mom wants for her, too. He applies himself, but at the same time he’s a bit of an asshole, and completely turned inward. He’s resentful of Kelly for her seeming popularity and wants nothing to do with working with her so that they can both get a good grade. And Kelly, who he sees as selfish and absorbed in only her preppy problems, is actually working herself ragged trying to help and save everyone, even Derek, both in the realms of her magical battle against the aliens trying to eat the students of her school and against the dangers of failing. She wants to work with Derek on the project but is rebuffed and insulted and still manages to make sure he doesn’t end up partly digested by an alien eye monster. It’s just great because it goes over the same events and the reader gets to see how Derek changes things to make himself seem more of the good guy, more of the victim, when it becomes obvious that he’s not narrating in good faith. That he’s dedicated to the idea that he’s good rather than to the practices of being good. And it’s fun and a wonderful twist of the magical girl tropes and I just really like it. It’s sweet, full of weird action and distinctly hilarious characters, and very much worth checking out. Go read it!

“A Martian Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Gravity Chamber” by Jennifer Stephan Kapral ( words)

No Spoilers: Presented as a list of part advice, part personal narrative of the process of reproducing on Mars, the piece follows a woman taking part in the process, and what she feels and thinks as it progresses. The piece lingers on the ways that Mars is different from Earth, the different requirements and the overall more precarious feeling of the situation there. It looks at survival, and what that means, and reproduction, and what that means, all in a way that reveals a deep kind of hurt, and a need for such a guide as the title implies. It’s a piece that mixes some lighter elements with what is at its core a heavy message and experience, which is perhaps incredibly appropriate given that the piece unfolds in a gravity chamber.
Keywords: Mars, Survival, Family Leave, Gravity, CW- Pregnancy/Reproduction
Review: Adaptation. In many ways it’s something that humans excel at, because we can reason through it, alter ourselves to fit into hostile environments. And there aren’t many so hostile as Mars, a planet that humans have not evolved to live. And so a lot of things there depend on adaptation in an artificial sense. The designing of crops, the designing of chambers that will mimic enough Earth-like conditions that people can produce viable reproductive material. And here I feel the story touches on how that ability to adapt isn’t necessarily a good thing. Because it means that humans will often let things go past the point when they should act. Because Earth in this case seems like it has been largely wrecked, and humans on Mars are surviving, but that’s not really the brightest of futures. Just getting by, just holding on. That’s not really what we should be aspiring to. And I think the story might go a little further than that and imply that we lose something whatever the reason of adaptation, and that humanity changing how they have children specifically might be wrong, which I don’t necessarily warm to as much, but that could be my bias sneaking into my reading. Basically, I want the message to be that the reason for adaptation matters. That if it’s entered into consensually and cooperatively, then I don’t think changing traditional means of reproduction is Wrong. But I do think that with the mentions of what happened on Earth, what the story is doing instead is saying that because people didn’t really choose this, because this is just how people are surviving, it does represent a loss and a sort of tragedy. Which does speak to me. But yeah, it’s a quick and fine read that people should definitely check out!


“Roots to Touch Sky” by Sheree Renée Thomas

This poem speaks to me of growth and time, expression and yearning. It revolves around imagery that evokes trees, with roots that dig deep when they aren’t necessarily given access to light and a environment that promotes growth. It is tinged with a recognition that for some it’s the roots that give rise to thriving, to success in a botanical and perhaps personal sense. That when the canopy is crowded so as not to encourage competition or growth from below, there are ways around and through that roadblock. And the piece is organized into four parts that seem to reach forward and upward. That see the cost of growth, the history of it trapped in the fossil record, and uses that history as a sort of fuel for change. As a way to resist the dominant narrative and, more than that, the dominant desires. Because where many might see the goal of trees growing is to eventually rot and decay, here there seems to me to be a different call. A different aim. That the more audacious action, the more profound statement, is to resist bending to that narrative and instead to insist that the world, that time, that history, is the one to bend. And ultimately I see in the poem a sense of subversion and rebellion, to change everything instead of just trying to improve things enough to catch a glimpse of sunlight filtered through the canopy above. That the game here should not be to adapt to dark but instead to adapt around it, through it, toward a place of belonging and plenty that is not monitored or filtered. To actively become something else, made of air and light instead of branch and bough. To evade the system of rules that always benefit those at the top, and instead build something else, vibrant and alive, where people can truly live their best lives. It’s a great read!


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