Thursday, June 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #28 [June stuff]

Art by Galen Dara
June's Uncanny Magazine brings a bit of heartbreak, a bit of horror, but also a bit of romance. At least, two of the stories feature some rich romantic themes, and develop characters reaching out in compassion even as the world around them seems to descend into some very dark waters. The works explore worlds dominated in many ways by cruelty, and seek to find compassion and empathy, sometimes rather forcibly. Throw in a pair of poems taking on some different meta-fictional lenses, and it's an issue that will make you think even as it entertains. So let's get to the reviews!


“A Catalog of Love at First Sight” by Brit E. B. Hvide (4944 words)

No Spoilers: Told as a series of the narrator falling in love with different people, places, and things, the story details the string of natural disasters that first force the narrator out of their California home and then to increasingly dire situations where they and their family must struggle to find a place to call home. The piece frames a world that has been ravaged by climate change, where huge swathes of America are essentially uninhabitable. Where people are beginning to cast their gazes up and out. It’s something that the narrator very much understands, this urge to leave, but Earth might not quite be done with them, and they might not be done with it, either. It’s a touching and moving story about family and love in the face of disaster and hardship, and it’s beautiful even as it’s difficult and often wonderfully messy.
Keywords: Weather, Disasters, Moving, Fires, Floods, Queer MC, Family
Review: I love the way the story is built, these moments of falling in love that make a coherent narrative over the span of the narrator’s life. The way that love ends up complicating the very difficult reality of their life, where they lose their home very early and after that have a very hard time trusting anything. Which is a very powerful look at trauma, at how the narrator seeks to protect themself from a world that they love, from a nature that they feel they can’t hold onto, that is actively rejecting them. They learn to avoid, and to push away first, to leave when possible. And part of the story looks at the urge that many people have to think of space as an escape from the hell that Earth will become, from the damage that is assumed to be too great. Which is something that appeals to the narrator, but at the same time it’s something that they start to see comes from a place of avoiding really embracing what they love. The piece looks at the loves they have felt over their life, and I just really like that it takes them so long to see that the last one recognized has been running throughout the rest of the story, their love of the Earth tied to their feelings of growing things, of travel, or hope. It really rings true for me the way that these are put forward as sort of flashbulb loves, which might in turn become something more lasting and profound, but which in the moment are so loaded with energy and passion. And it takes a while for them to realize that this feeling isn’t something to be felt one time. They fall in love with their daughter every day, with their partner every day. And yes, with the Earth every day, drawn to its beauty and its resilience, hoping more than anything that it’s not too late to save it but know that even if it is a futile effort, even if the Earth will never recover, trying is still worth the effort. And it’s a heartwarming (if tinged by sadness and tragedy) piece that struggles to find hope among devastation but gets there in the end. A wonderful read!

“Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan” by Christopher Caldwell (5650 words)

No Spoilers: John Wood is a carpenter aboard a whaling ship a month out from port. After having bought his freedom years ago, he’s built up a life for himself aboard the ship, including a rather intimate relationship with one of the harpooners, William. There might not seem like much a future for a black man and a white man to find happiness together in this historical setting, but there might be less of one for them aboard a ship that seems to be steering toward a reckoning with the sea. The piece captures the voice of the time (at least as far as I read it, being no expert) and is has a fully-researched and authentic feel. The speculative element doesn’t come from the setting, but rather from the touches of magic churning around the ship, from the gods involved in the retribution coming.
Keywords: Whales, Whaling, Ships, Seas, Queer MC, Historical
Review: I love the central relationship between John and William, at the same time completely dangerous and necessary for them to survive the harsh conditions on the ship, the need to hide who they are in order to pass under the watchful gaze of the Captain and crew. Not that they always do a great job of it, but I love that messiness, too, that they are both afraid of what they might have, afraid of having to lose it as they are certain they would have to, because a relationship like theirs seems impossible for many reasons. And yet. And wow I like the darkness stalking the ship, this feeling that the exploitation that they’ve been involved in might finally come home to roost. That there are voices in the deep who have found a common enemy with some of the beings who understand being hunted and rendered into profit for white empires. And still John tries to do the right thing, tries to give these men who, even if they’ve never really accepted him fully, have never turned against him, the chance to turn back and live. It’s a piece that seems like it must end tragically (and very nearly broke my heart at one point thank you very much *grumble grumble*) but resolves into this moment of release, of freedom finally knocking free for John in a way that’s powerful and downright fucking magical. I love it, sap that I am, and if you’re looking for a piece that plays with horror, history, and gay romance in some wonderful ways, you’ll probably love it, too. Go read it!

“Lest We Forget” by Elizabeth Bear (2190 words)

No Spoilers: Lee is a veteran and war criminal who “just followed orders.” They’re not ever going to be officially punished for the misery and atrocity they unleashed, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering for it in other ways. Dying of it. But not really in a way that anyone would guess. The framing of this story is actually very fascinating, unfolding on a stage that doesn’t become clear until the very end, the full weight of what’s happened blooming in horror and impact as the full scale of everything sinks in and what’s left is a single voice. It’s a dark and at times difficult piece because of its subject matter, but it’s also one that doesn’t blink when examining war, memories, and justice.
Keywords: War, Warcrimes, Memories, Parasites, CW- Suicide, CW- Torture
Review: This story is a bit of a mindfuck (rather literally, given brain parasite reproduction!), featuring the voice of a narrator who seems to be confessing. Who tells the story of what happened to them, how they served in combat and did terrible things because they were told to, because it was easy to not stand up to the violence and the certainty in the chain of command. Only it comes with its own kind of wounds, its own scars that the narrator comes to intimately know, and that they’re given a chance to share with the world. And I admit I’m a suck for empathy viruses, and this one takes it in a different direction than I’ve seen, not trying to instill in others a general sense of caring for others but rather giving anyone infected a specific and real sense of what the narrator felt. What it was like to live with it, so that everyone understands better what they’re complicit in. Because, as the story itself points out, people need to be confronted by what it means to be complicit, rather than keeping it at a distance. And it’s a wonderful moment of form matching function, where the story acts as the voice of infection, starting out as if coming externally but then slipping inward, so that by the end the implication is clear that the voice is within the subject’s (and by extension the reader’s) own mind. The call is coming from inside the house! It’s a quick and punchy story, with lots to think on, and it’s a wonderful (if rather creepy because no thank you, brain worms) experience!


“The Magician Speaks to the Fool” by Ali Trotta

The title of this poem gives it a good deal of its framing for me, evoking I think the Tarot and the two major arcana characters of the Magician and the Fool. And the Fool becomes the subject of the piece, the person being addressed, which by virtue of the second person also becomes the reader. And I like that the Fool is chosen because I’ve always felt a pull for the character, the sort of oblivious urge to go and to do, the feeling of being fearless in the face of everything, even if that isn’t necessarily “earned”—even if it comes from an ignorance to how the world works rather than a deep optimism in hte face of everything. But for me the poem addresses that as well, placing a value in that kind of feeling, in that potential. Not that you won’t become more jaded in time, more wise, more careful. Not that you won’t learn to mourn and to despair and to plod through hardship. Not that you won’t be hurt and have to piece yourself back together again. But that the journey of getting there is very much a necessary part of your survival, something that will also serve you by putting you out into the world, taking chances that you might not as an older and more learned person. Being the Fool does give you an energy and spark to still believe that you can fly, that you can overcome it all. And while that doesn’t really guarantee that you will, won’t save you from hardship or pain or any of it, it’s only someone convinced that they can fly who tends to even try, and some things you don’t really know are possible until you make that leap, until you let go of fear and embrace it is that you’re doing, that you can do. And so for me it’s an ode of sorts to the Fool, to the person who isn’t going to bow to conventional wisdom and so is going to strike out and make mistakes but maybe, just maybe, also do something no one thought was possible. And that there is a magic to the act of going out and dancing the cliff, so sure and hopeful that the daunting darkness of the future doesn’t slow you down. A wonderful read!

“Elegy for the Self as Villeneuve’s Beast” by Brandon O’Brien

This piece takes the story of Beauty and the Beast and twists it. Or maybe that’s not exactly right. The piece is an elegy, after all. A lament for the dead. But who has died? In Villeneuve’s story, no one really dies. But the poem also speaks of the self as Beast. And in the original story it’s true enough that the beast does die, “cured” as it were by the love of Beauty. A touching moment, and one with some parallels inside the poem as I read it, but I think perhaps that’s where I read more into the situation within the poem and the original fairy story. Because I feel that the situation in the poem imagines a narrative that is very much not in line with the standard narratives, where the Beast is the one full of threat and violence, where Beauty is kind and sweet and powerful precisely because she is needed to redeem the Beast, to sooth him and accept him despite his beastliness. But in the situation of the story, this common narrative is challenged by the narrator, where it becomes a cage that they are trying to break free of. Where, because he is perceived as a Beast, everyone is quick to believe that this Beauty is afraid of him, is caring and kind and healing. Is the only one who can help him to stop being a Beast. Which means that she can never be the one to hurt him. Can never really be the one with claws and hungers, with the intent to harm. And he, made a victim twice by her (first by the damage she does and then by her twisting the narrative against him), must navigate what to do and how to react. But embody this role that he’s been forced into, dealing with the gaslighting this brings. And so for me the death that the poem is elegizing is not the narrator but his role in the common narrative. He’s rejecting the self as _that_ Beast. Because if he’s to be cast as Beast, then he’s going to own that role, but in a way that challenges it, to demand a more complex and nuanced reading of this story that doesn’t fall back on prejudice and cliche and gender roles. It feels defiant to me, and carries a strong sound and rhythm and rhyme. Definitely a piece to spend some time with and a great read!


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