|Art by Joey Jordan|
Two new short stories mark the fiftieth issue of Diabolical Plots, and the works seem very much to be concerned with generational shifts and issues. To me, at least, the stories focus on the ways that the past builds up systems designed to exploit rather than help younger people. That envision the past and present as castles that must be defended, as sacred objects that should not change or adapt because for the older people policing them, they are comfortable and safe. Only the story reveals how that’s often not even the case, and makes compelling strides to complicate and challenge those systems by showing just how much they tend to let everyone down. Let’s get to the reviews!
“Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey (2113 words)
No Spoilers: Framed as yet another article enumerating the moral and economic failings of the Millennial generation, this piece approaches the criticism from a more religious angle. The form is familiar (painfully so), and it’s a great use of satire to show just how ridiculous this “kind” of reporting can be, while also drawing deeper than the joke to examine how nostalgia and the unwillingness to change in older generations ends up perpetuating some messed up shit. The piece paints its characters in the same bold stroke “everyman” ways that works in news media, presenting “both sides” and even looking where there might be room for compromise.
Keywords: Lovecraftian, Religion, Madness, CW- Genital Trauma, Generations, Journalism
Review: Tucked into this rather humorous story about why Millennials can’t be assed to worship and pay homage to the Elder Dark is something a little more serious, making a rather meta point as I read it about revolutions of time and style, and the push and pull of wanting to continue traditions from the past and wanting to drop the problematic elements of those traditions. After all, the story is one that deals with some Lovecraftian ideas, weaving together a mythology of gods of madness just at the edge of perception, being kept at bay by the obeisance of enough fo the human population. Without that worship, the Elder Dark might invade and destroy everything. Or that’s the logic that’s used to encourage the younger generations to continue on the traditions. The reality might be much more shaded and nuanced. It’s like the literary tradition, like the way that Lovecraftian horror gets talked about, with many enjoying the nostalgic qualities of it and some enjoying rather the sense of cosmic indifference and dread. The question becomes if Lovecraftian literature can be twisted back on itself, critiquing the obvious problems with Lovecraft the man but still widening the door that he helped to open with his works. It’s a question I think a lot of contemporary writers are answering, and this work contributes as well, finding some room to genuinely enjoy the form and the ideas while rejecting the racism often central to Lovecraftian stories. I would have liked to perhaps see more focus on the problematic elements beyond racism in Lovecraft (the sexual elements here are played for laughs in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with), but I do see the piece as trying to keep things light and moving quickly. And combining the form of the anti-Millennial journalism with cosmic horror is just a nice touch, and provides a fine read!
“One Part Per Billion” by Samantha Mills (3400 words)
No Spoilers: Irene Boswell is one of three Americans but the only woman on a space flight that’s supposed to transport eight representative humans to meet (and be “sampled” by) the alien race who sent humanity the designs for the ship and the engine capable of flying it. Only something’s gone terribly wrong, and instead of enjoying the trip and focusing on what an honor it was to be chosen (also though how kinda bullshit) she’s having to deal with a situation that she was very much not prepared for—one that’s deteriorating fast. The piece looks at the complexity of the situation and particular tragedy of Irene Boswell in an emotionally devastating way, showing how fucked up humans can be, and how shit double standards are.
Keywords: Space, Aliens, Space ships, Radiation, Sacrifice, Competitions
Review: I like how this story takes this momentous occasion, this event in the course of the journey of humanity out into the stars, and show just how much it gets screwed up by misogyny and double standards. The focus is squarely on Irene here and her desperate attempt to fix this problem that one of the other crewmembers has caused when he attacked the engine. And I really appreciate the subtle ways the story weaves everything together, the intense pressure that Irene has to work under, the way that she was competing to be the one woman on the mission and had to be so conscious of her emotions and even noticed how some of the men got to be teary when they were selected but she had to be more restrained because of the different expectations put on her. Expectations that, if they had been put on all the men present, would have prevented just this thing from happening. Because this guy didn’t get the same level of scrutiny, the same level of invasiveness. Irene is used to it, and it makes her so very good at her job, but there is no amount of good that can truly make up for a broken system. Which is what I think the story is ultimately getting at, that here is this wonderful opportunity that humanity fucks all the way up because somehow we thought it was an okay thing to have only one woman in a group of eight to represent our species. Which does rather sound like something we’d do. And it’s just a heartbreaking piece, exploring just how hard Irene has worked, just how perfect she’s been, and just how she manages to save everyone else even when they doomed her. It’s difficult and complex and tense as hell, and at the same time it’s a rather lovely and moving read!