Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #29 [August stuff]

Art by Julie Dillon
Three short stories and two poems make August rather standard in amount of content for Uncanny Magazine. The quality of the work, though, makes it another stand-out issue, though, that looks at family and history, magic and love. It’s a mix of science fiction and fantasy, from a story about religion and dragons to one about an exploitative Magician to one featuring the distant origins of a lunar colony that wants to break free of colonization. Add in poetry that echoes back with notes of war and love, and the entire issue flows quite well, leaning a bit grim at times but resolving into beauty and community. To the reviews!


“The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor” by Maurice Broaddus (5648 words)

No Spoilers: Looking more at the history behind some of the other stories in this series of interconnected short stories, this one moves from generation to generation, focusing most on migrations. Some of them are voluntary, people seeking out better lives in new places. Some of them...not so much, as people flee slavery and invasion in order to try and survive and reach for freedom. It’s certainly not the easiest of reads, focusing as it does on historical wrongs and abuses, racism that has shaped so much of national and international politics and reality for so long. But with that is also a moving story about, well, movement. About music and hope and people coming together, helping themselves and each other, on the path to something better.
Keywords: Migration, CW- Slavery, CW- Racism/Slurs, History, The Moon, Names, Music
Review: This series continues to be one that explores the importance of having spaces that don’t cater to whiteness. That don’t attempt to negotiate or co-exist with whiteness. That don’t necessarily even aim to struggle against racism in order to build a better, unified world. Because in part the truth behind that particular utopian bend is that the work is expected to be done by the oppressed. They are supposed to convince the powerful that there is value in diversity and equality. Further, it’s not supposed to be instantaneous, and in the mean time victims of racism are supposed to understand that the system can’t change quickly. That they must be patient. And it’s refreshing to see the alternative to that, where a group of people decide they are going to split away and form a place that has a new system. That can change instantly. That doesn’t need to bring with it the racist infrastructure so long as it brings with the memories of what happened, the spirit of the people who have survived, and who still want to be free. The piece skips forward in time, spending long enough with each new character to give a feel for the worlds they are in, that they are leaving, that they are going to. And while it doesn’t give too much of an arc for each character, it gives a generational arc that carries through, from very early times to the future. And it further contextualizes the setting of the series as a whole, showing the events and the inspirations that led to the settling of First World (a lunar colony) by black settlers. It’s deep and complex, building up and up until it can reach the moon itself. A wonderful read!

“How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise (7436 words)

No Spoilers: Told around a group of people all orbiting the Magician of the story, this piece examines longing and loss, predation and choice. Most of the characters are people in love with the Magician, or with something that he offers. For all of them, though, that love is toxic, exploited by the Magician, who has regard for very little except himself. Despite that, he relies with complete faith on other people, from matters great and small, up to and including giving others the control over his death and life. It’s a piece that really gets into the different characters, drawing them out from being only their relationships to the Magician and having them, through their support of each other, step into their own spotlights.
Keywords: Magic, Performances, Death, Resurrection, Love, Queer Characters, CW- Suicide
Review: I’m a bit of a sucker for stories about longing and magic. For stories about people who are caught in the wake of something larger than themselves and feel that as love. For me, that’s what so many of the people here feel when they follow the Magician. They feel the ease at which he pulls them along after him, how it seems so effortless for him and yet he becomes so important a part of their lives, to the point that they start defining themselves according to their relationship to him. The Magician’s girlfriend. The Magician’s apprentice. The Magician’s stage manager. All of them wanting...something out of the relationship that it seems they’ll never have. Not necessarily just his love, though most of them seem to want that specifically. But a sense that he’s really see them as a person, that he’d really care for him. And it’s rather gutting to see that the strongest feelings he has it toward a rabbit, and one that didn’t even like him. And maybe that says a lot about him, that here was this giant personality, but he doesn’t respect anyone who likes him, who would let him exploit them, and so to him taking them for granted just makes sense. But then I’m not sure he was sad about his rabbit dying or if he was bothered by the fact that the rabbit got away from him, that the rabbit made its last act escape him. It’s not exactly a happy story, full as it is with loss and a rather toxic attraction. But it doesn’t wallow, either. It finds these people pulling each other out of the mire they’re stuck in, to where they can see what what they need to do is to cut themselves loose from the Magician. So they can find new identities free of him. And it’s a complex and emotional and excellent story that you should definitely go read immediately!

“On the Impurity of Dragon-kind” by Marie Brennan (2613 words)

No Spoilers: Taking place in the Lady Trent series, this story steps into the shoes of her son, at the ripe age of fifteen, taking part in a religious ceremony that is supposed to mark his emergence into adulthood. It’s supposed to be an opportunity to speak on a religious topic that’s important to him, and in that he takes the bait and runs with it, examining whether dragons are impure according to the religious texts, and what the implications of that question might be. It’s a story that wraps itself in a kind of polite language that carries an edge, a defiance that very much plays into the character’s age but also his passion, revealing a young man very much finding his faith, even as he remains happily non-religious.
Keywords: Dragons, Religion, Cleanliness, Scholarship, Ceremonies
Review: There is something rather satisfying about reading a story that is essentially a very polite middle finger to a bunch of adults trying to pressure a young man into hating his mother. His mother, a scientist who threatens the status quo of their religion and whose research has helped to solve mysteries that, as he himself proves, could have vast implications both religious and secular. That he’d be put into the situation where people want him to turn on his mother is understanding enough—people expect that for a young and fairly well-to-do man like himself, the allure of being a privileged shit would be a siren call he couldn’t resist. Wouldn’t he like to be able to treat women as servants instead of equals? Wouldn’t he like to be a part of a powerful line of people who will help him out if he ever needed it, who would ensure that he got a share of power and influence? Except he’s already a believer in his mother’s research and in her drive, in being a person who acts not to tear down those seeking change but rather to help them change things faster. And I love how he does it, by speaking to a faith he has that flies in the face of the religion while also being closely tied to it. That can exist inside the scholarship and texts of the religion but not the dogmatic interpretations that are used to punish those that don’t fall into line. I really like what he says about faith, because it asks in many ways what is more important, living faithfully or being obedient. And he makes his call on that one, throwing his support behind a religious-based argument in favor of change (and dragons). And it’s a fun and charming piece, full of personality and a bit of mischief. A delightful read!


“Buruburu” by Betsy Aoki

This piece speaks to me of ghosts and war, of fear contrasted with a desire not to fight. Now, my main experience with the titular entity is Supernatural and a quick wikipedia, but from that I find it interesting the path this poem takes away from the idea of this being just a monster, just a curse, just a manifestation of cowardice. Because to flee from battle, from the intense trauma of it, is hardly an act of cowardice. Rather it is the acknowledgement of limits, and the desire to survive, to escape the hungry maw of death that feasts in these times of conflict. And it becomes a cycle because wanting to get out of war carries with it a death sentence. There is no abstaining here, no being allowed to quit the army. There is only death waiting on all sides, and the main character of the piece, the second person “you” that brings the reader into this situation, has no real choice. Run and die. Fight and die. But in running and being killed you become part of the tragedy, stuck int he cycle of death and fighting that’s not allowed to end until someone far from the fighting decides it’s over. Not the people caught in the grinding bloody business of it. Not you, who becomes a ghost haunting others you see with the same desire to stop that you had. With the same need to get away. Only at the same time, reaching out for that connection, for that bit of similarity and possible bond, dooms them. Dooms them and does nothing to help you, except that increases your number, so that more and more are stricken, and run, and die. Which does echo nicely the way that trauma and war can operate, the longer it lasts the more damaging it becomes not just on soldiers’ bodies but their minds as well. Their spirits. And it’s a great poem well worth spending some time with!

“If Love Is Real, So Are Fairies” by Cynthia So

This was a surprisingly emotionally powerful piece for me, filled with a way of framing love that is striking and simple and magical and fun. That imagines love as a fairy flitting between two people, bearing a constant reminder of love when the people are apart, giving comfort and a feeling of relief no matter the distance or time. It’s a beautiful way of putting things, of feeling things, and yet with that beauty there is also a wrenching moment as the narrator makes clear that this feeling passes. Not only that, but sometimes it goes very wrong. That relationships are sometimes fragile, and for all the seeming magic of them, there is a darkness to them as well. Still, I love the maturity of the piece, the way that after time has healed some of the hurt, I feel the narrator begins to be able to feel for this person again. To feel that fairy still active, still alive. That they want to give some relief to a person who has obviously hurt them, and who they don’t want to be with anymore. But it’s like...I feel like it’s hoping that each relationship gets a fairy. Not each person, but each love. So that even if things go wrong, and that love fades, or changes in its nature, the fairy might still exist. It’s a statement for viewing the permanence of love. Not that a person only has the love they are experiencing right now, but that magic of their previous loves lingers, remains even as they might fall in love with someone new, or out of love, or any of it. That there’s something wonderful about the idea that our loves don’t die, but rather shift, and can still bring us relief and happiness, if in different ways. At the least it’s a hope maybe that a breakup doesn’t poison the memories that are still beautiful, that are still full of joy and connection (one hopes). It doesn’t shame a person for breaking up, doesn’t put the sole importance on a person’s single “true love.” Instead it takes a very adult approach to love (even, yes, as it imagines love as a fairy, something that might seem rather childish), where a person can have this rather complex relationship to their fairies, but that ultimately they don’t want to lose them, don’t want them to die. It’s a fantastic piece, layered and imaginative and a great way to close out the issue!


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