Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #29 [July stuff]

Art by Julie Dillon
This month’s Uncanny Magazine gets dark. From monsters and murder to abuse and death to magic and exploitation, the fiction features a number of characters facing their own demons. The dark places inside themselves, and the dark forces outside seeking to use them for further harm. Who are seeking to devour them, to corrupt them, to twist them. The works don’t have a lot of bright spots to them, and poetry gets in on the darkness as well, featuring doomed astronauts and haunting songs. The issue on the whole is difficult for me, visceral and tragic, though not entirely without warmth. To the reviews!


“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker (8133 words)

No Spoilers: Zanna is a mystery writer, successful enough to be able to go on retreats when she needs to write, to seclude herself in a remote cabin to get her deadlines seen to. It’s a fairly familiar setup for a horror story, and the story embraces that rather than runs from it. The delight comes from the flavor the story gives to the details and, more, how it twists expectations with how Zanna and her assistant, Shar, react. There’s a lot of weight and history to the secrets buried that come out, and there’s a bit of a wicked streak to it, the recognition perhaps that for writers who create elaborate stories about murder and monsters, the reality of it all can sometimes seem just sort of...matter of course.
Keywords: Writing, Retreats, Isolation, Creatures, Memories, Mysteries
Review: I do really appreciate the setup of the story, setting this author in the middle of no where in a really creepy cabin where anything could go wrong. Where she could be attacked by a serial killer or a monster, where her fascination with death and mysteries might lead her into a situation where she’s the one being hunted and in danger. And really the piece does a great job of selling that, the entire build of the novel kind of like waiting for a jump scare, for the shoe to drop. And that only deepens as the piece moves forward, as she becomes involved in an actual murder, where there are inconsistencies and things that she notices that leads her to think that...things aren’t exactly what they seem. And they aren’t. But way that they aren’t isn’t really what she was expecting. Which isn’t to say that she wasn’t ready for it. And that’s really the part of the story that I love the most, that when presented with this fantasy, this horror, this impossible situation, Zanna resists some but is also fairly quick to absorb everything that’s happened, everything that she’s done and her assistant has done. And again there’s that waiting for the moment when it all becomes Too Much, when she tries to do something drastic and ends up dead or killing someone. Only it...doesn’t go that direction. And I love the soft ending, this way of showing that Zanna isn’t upset about but grateful because she can see how it might go otherwise, how grim it might be, and because she does like her life, likes being a writer and is maybe a bit willing to sacrifice some other people in order to keep that, knowing that it’s not really her fault that it’s happening. It’s dark and unexpected enough to be delightful and sharp and very much worth checking out! A great read!

“Big Box” by Greg van Eekhout (1348 words)

No Spoilers: A person notices that a new box store has opened up in a place that shouldn’t be possible (as in a store that sells lots of things cheaply, not a story that sells only boxes). It’s different from Walmart or Target, though, specializing in magic items. Monkey Paws and pillow that prevent dreams and mirrors that show you at your most attractive. The narrator has a lot of shopping to do, and as they move through the story they are confronted with price, with the bargains they must make for magic, and have a lot of choices to make. It’s a mostly humorous but rather dark piece, looking at the ways people can be tempted, and the justifications they use at times to make deals they know are wrong, but they need things, and don’t know how else to go about it.
Keywords: Shopping, Magic, Bargains, Memories, Stores
Review: I like the detail and the thought that goes into the items in the store. They are sirens, temptations, things that seem Too Good To Pass Up and so the narrator keeps adding to their cart, adding and adding despite the fact that they know that they shouldn’t, that the cost is always too high, that what they are promising probably won’t work out. They’ll need to be chained, to be banished, and yet they keep on putting more into their cart. It speaks to me of the particular desperation that so many people feel, that box stores play into by promising Cheap Above All. The emphasis is on the Deals, and if the cost is that other businesses are driven out, that certain animals go extinct, that we trade away more and more of ourselves chasing after something that will make us happy under this kind of exploitation when what we would be better served doing is to renounce that exploitation... Well, for being a rather charming piece that could be read as mostly jokes, I feel that it’s dealing with something dark and difficult, tracing this feeling that people have of desperately wanting things, of wanting to be comfortable, to be free of pain, to be happy, and not being able to afford it, and being used to further that cycle by supporting something that exploits even more. People chase the deals but the price that no one in the story talks about is that by shopping there people are maintaining the cycle that keeps them poor and miserable. And there’s no real answer to that, just a need that the story maps and leaves us with, to feel the weight of it and to ask if there might be a different way. A better way. A fantastic read!

“Compassionate Simulation” by Rachel Swirsky and P. H. Lee (3978 words)

No Spoilers: Winnie is dead. Except that she’s been brought back to life, after a fashion, thanks to a very expensive procedure that is supposed to produce a life-like approximation of her in order to help people grieve for her. In this case, her father has paid for this to be done. Her father, who she was estranged from, but who harassed and stalked her, demanding that she explain, that she forgive, that she submit. It’s a difficult and visceral read as the story unfolds from her perspective, a jumble of memories and an AI designed to help the client, who is very definitely not Winnie. It’s claustrophobic and rather terrifying, and I recommend that people proceed with caution if the content seems to intense or upsetting.
Keywords: Death, Conversations, Memories, CW- Parental Abuse, CW- Harassment
Review: Well shit. This is a terrifying story, and that shows just how...just how far abusive family members can go to try and assert their will over a person they feel they own. That they feel entitled to. To the point that they will bring back a facsimile that they’ve paid for to essentially force this likeness of their daughter to say the words that she would never say. That she died before saying, because she would have rather died than say it. The story captures so much of what it can be like to be estranged, especially where it’s a one-sided decision, especially where a child decides that they aren’t going to submit to their parents. The words the father uses, the logic, it all carries a harsh edge that it made more visceral by the power behind him, by the fact that he can do this, can impose his will on his daughter even after she’s dead. The piece is heavy with the trauma that she’s suffered, that has followed her through life, that in turn gets erased by her father and his drive to control the narrative of their lives. It’s upsetting and difficult and crushingly tragic, because she’s dead and could never really escape, and that’s just so gutting. For me, it’s a piece that shows very sharply just how little this man cares for his child, and just how powerless she is in the face of his abuse and his harassment and his stalking. It’s a story that it would be very easy to look away from, but I think that for those who don’t know what this is like, it’s important to see, and it’s very well rendered and just a devastating read.


“Sing” by Alexandra Seidel

This is a dark poem that seems to me to speak to loss and memorial, where a narrator is taking part in a feast that is just as much mourning as it is celebrating. Where there is food and song but not necessarily all that joyful. I love the imagery of the piece, the strange way that it builds this scene that is full of ceremony—food and masks, art and song. There’s a great sense that I fet that there’s something very organized going on, and something large. There are flocks of wooden birds and there are feast tables and there is just the feeling that this is big. And yet the only real person we get to see is the narrator who is in pain, who is going through this ritual that damages them, for some unknown reason. And for me it comes back to who the narrator is speaking to, who the “my dear” is that they are humming to, that they seem to be trying to honor. For me, it’s a poem about loss and about honoring those who aren’t there any longer. The food is not meant to be eaten, the mask harsh and solid, the birds important to the person the narrator is speaking to, a person I would guess is dead, and this is part of some elaborate funeral rite. Which might be way off but it’s the feeling that the poem gives to me, of sorrow and emotion that is barely kept in check, that the narrator is only keeping hold of thanks to the mask, thanks to the actions that are ingrained with meaning and history. And it’s a haunting piece, full of something beautiful and dark, and it’s very much worth checking out. A great read!

“capturing the mood” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

This is another rather haunting poem, featuring a narrator who is floating in space. Just...floating up there. There isn’t too much of an explanation about what happened, only that their tether shredded and now they are adrift, probably doomed (though I do read the poem as if they are alive and not narrating this as some sort of space ghost). And while that is going on, something rises and finds them floating there, and they catch it. A mood. A feeling. Something that strikes them in this moment that is probably numb, or angry, or full of despair. And it provides a moment of warmth. Of...not hope, really, but grounding. Despite the floating doomed in space, it provides an emotional tether for them. And the part of the poem that most intrigues me is the identity of the you in the story, the person that the narrator is speaking to, the person who let go of this mood. Is this the narrator’s partner or other family member? Does this person know what has happened to them? Is the person a member of the ground team working with the narrator’s mission? The mood that lifts, that rises and finds the narrator, doesn’t seem heavy or melancholy, which might be expected given the situation. Instead, the mood seems almost playful, and certainly designed to give a bit of comfort. To be there with the narrator as they face what is probably the end. And it’s a rather tender moment then, at the end, this feeling connecting the narrator back to Earth, back to the person that they are speaking to. It’s probably only a temporary thing, no real salvation, but at the same time it’s huge, a comfort in the face of death, and it takes some of the sting out of the read, out of the tragedy that the poem walks around. It’s still a dark piece, but there’s something quietly beautiful about it as well. A lovely way to close out the month!


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