|Art by Sophia Zarders|
There’s a new issue of Fiyah Literary Magazine out now! Rejoice! The issue featuers three short stories, one novelette, and one poem that all revolve around the theme of chains. Chains that bind. Chains that chafe. In most of the pieces the chains are there to be broken, to be shattered. But that’s perhaps a simplistic way of really looking at it. Because not all the chains are broken. Not all are evil. Not all limitations are corrupt. Some are mutually agreed upon. Some chains are used for support, for anchoring, for something constructive instead of oppressive. But it’s the complex and multifaceted nature of chains that become clear in these works, and it’s a stunning issue very much worth considering. To the reviews!
“The Midnight Hose” by Gregory Neil Harris (6750 words)
No Spoilers: Koda and Donnie are on a trip with their grandmother to visit a relative in the rural south, where they accidentally cross the border into a place they should not have entered. The piece mixes history and the supernatural, Koda and Donnie inadvertently pulled into a deadly trap without fully understanding the rules of where they’ve ended up. The piece deals with the prevalence of history and violence in places where slavery existed, where huge numbers of people were tortured and murdered. Though they don’t know the rules at first, though, both boys are quick studies, and the story itself plays out a bit like a Goosebumps book but, you know...good.
Keywords: Plantations, Tobacco, Ghosts, Scarecrows, CW- Slavery, Family
Review: And okay seriously when I say that the story is a bit like a Goosebumps book I mean it (and here I mean it in the best way possible) because it features two siblings thrown into a rather creepy, rather heavy supernatural situation and then having to fight their way out. The adults are either uninterested in them (their own relatives) or else actively trying to destroy them (the evil neighbor and his army of Confederate scarecrows). And there’s a certain energy and a certain...the story takes what in a different piece would have been goofy (the scarecrows, the rules, the whole dead-by-dawn thing) and ties it to the historical and contemporary abuses of the area in a way that really is rather horrifying. Koda and Donnie have to contend with being strangers to this place and being effectively led into danger by adults not bothering to fully explain things. And the stakes are real and high. The action is griping. This is not Scooby and the gang investigating something spooky, but rather a pair of boys stepping into something that wants their blood and their bodies. That wants to tie them to something forever, to continue the tradition of exploitation and abuse that has been going on since the colonization of what would become America began. It’s a piece that builds to a rather shattering conclusion, to an expected tragedy, because everyone was told that the system worked a certain way, that the slaves on the plantation had to prop up the scarecrows or else the crop, which held their souls, would be devoured by birds. But it’s a kind of lie to keep them bound, and I love that in truth the birds offer not destruction and damnation, but a long-awaited freedom. Which is wonderful and makes for a strong opening to the issue!
“Reclaiming Tess” by Brittany Smith (6829 words)
No Spoilers: Tess doesn’t fit in with her family, which is a problem when every member is supposed to be all-hands-in to try and push forward the family business—being linked to a lesser god. Queer and fat and not ashamed of either, Tess has swallowed a lot of anger and hurt in an attempt to keep the peace, but all it gets her is more pain, more reasons to be angry. The matriarch of the family, the person linked to the god Rust, is her grandmother, Willow. Who is dying. Who wants to pass the link to Rust to Tess’ cousin, who has always been the favorite. Only that’s not quite how things have gone... The piece deals with the complexities of family and abuse, wanting to be seen and wanting more than just to fit into the shape family demands, but having a place to belong.
Keywords: Gods, Family, CW- Abuse, Defiance, Inheritance, Queer MC
Review: I love the family dynamic of this story not because it’s healthy or, you know, good. But because I understand the desire both to have a family that you don’t really have and to show who you are, loudly and unafraid. Something that Tess has never really been able to do. Because of the pressures to conform, it’s like she’s a different person when she’s around her family, unable to properly express herself because of the abuse she’s faced, the way everyone has tried to put her in her place. Against the collective will of an entire family, it’s very hard to be different. And Tess doesn’t hate them. Not...exactly. Not all of them. And even those she does hate she loves as well, or wants to love, or feels the loss keenly where she should have love. And I love that her reaction to all of this isn’t to shrink away from who she is. It’s not even to want distance from her family, though she does that to some extent to survive. Instead she seeks to make them listen, to make them stop the cycles of abuse they have going on. She’s going to be seen, and even if it’s not going to get her the love she’s missed out on, it’s going to make her family reckon with what they’ve done, what she’s gone through, and where she’s going to be leading their legacy. It’s a story very much about the very messy feeling and place that is being seen. Wanting it, needing it, fearing it, being vulnerable because of it. The character work throughout is phenomenal, the world building interesting, and I so want to know what happens next with these characters. A fantastic read!
“Corialis” by T.L. Huchu (7019 words)
No Spoilers: Thandeka is a member of a group of people colonizing the distant titular moon of Corialis. To do this involves an intricate trade of microbes as the humans must shed their old natural flora and adapt at the deepest of levels with their new home. Even with the adaptations, though, and the hellish months of acclimation, something about Corialis seems to be unsettled, primed to reject the human presence. It’s nothing that Thandeka can explain entirely, but with her home and growing family on the line, she is determined to figure out what’s wrong...and fix it. It’s a story with a great sweep, lush in detail and marrying science and a light natural mysticism into something warm and vibrant.
Keywords: Colonization, Bacteria, Bargains, Family, Balance, CW- Pregnancy, CW- Suicide(?)
Review: The story makes a great point when looking at how important out microbial population is, our natural flora that helps us digest food and repel opportunistic dangers. It’s a common enough idea in science fiction but the solution here makes sense and really gets at some of the realities of settling other worlds, where if people don’t consider all aspects, great and small, disaster can strike. So they are dealing with the very small. With the microbes and bacteria. But, as Thandeka begins to suspect, they are missing the very large. What might be considered the will of the moon itself. It’s not exactly something that she can talk about with many others, as it’s a rather religious belief in a situation where science reigns. But it’s something she sees all the same, in the small things that are going wrong. That could continue to go wrong in a cascade that could wipe them out, as so many human colonization efforts in the setting have been. And so she has to weigh what might be her superstition against the welfare of the colony. Has to judge where she faith is leading her, and how she can really help her people become a part of the world that they have settled on. The result is in many ways tragic, especially for those left behind, but the piece does a good job of showing that as much as people need to take their remedy of eating the dirt of the place they settle in, so too might that dirt need to taste them, even if it means someone making a huge sacrifice to make that happen. It’s a powerful story, and very much worth checking out!
“An Irrational Love” by Marika Bailey (15206 words)
No Spoilers: In some ways this story is a sort of re-imagining of the story of the Labyrinth. Only the being caged in the dark depths is no monster. And the gods are not Greek but freshly conceived to weave a story of desire and violation, cages and family. The presumptive main character of the piece is a young woman named Ayo, at the heart of so many plots swirling around her. But, mostly, her own person with her own stubborn will and a deep longing for her family who have been taken from her. She’s a princess of sorts, but also a sacrifice, and there is no man coming to save and claim her. Instead the story is about justice, growth, and love over desire and ambition.
Keywords: Mythology, Family, Desire, Cages, Gods
Review: I love the way the quasi-retelling of the Labyrinth myth gives an added depth to the piece, the way that it changes the roles of Daedalus, the king, the Minotaur, everyone. It makes it a part of something larger, a wrong that happened between the gods, where one desired another and refused to take no for an answer, and so set into motion a kind of tragedy that seemed like it would only have a terrible outcome. Because those are the stakes that this covetous god set on the story, that either his will would be obeyed or he would make sure that everything drowned in blood and sorrow. For a lot time, it seems like it’s inevitable. That someone will have to lose for there to be an end to it. That a sacrifice has to be made. And maybe that’s just how the gods operate, assuming that once one of them makes the determination that what they want is more important than everything, the only way to stop them is through more death. Only...to hell with that. The story refuses to give into the power the god wields to try and force the world to either bend to him or else destroy the happiness of others. He’s shown as petulant and, ultimately, as vastly overestimating his own power, as dark and terrible as it might be. Because he doesn’t understand the power not of destruction, but creation. The power not of desire, but love, which is so very different. For me the story is about overcoming the weight of tragedy, of being able to shrug it off, not easily or effortlessly but still being able to refuse the violence of petulance that cannot stand for other people to be happy. And finding in the end that love is the stronger force and doesn’t need to sacrifice itself to defeat hate and greed. It’s a lovely and incredibly imaginative fantasy, with a sweeping world and a complex, rewarding plot. The characters are carefully rendered and wonderful, and the ending is everything I needed at the end of an issue about chains, and how they can be broken.
“Not an ordinary dream” by Dike Okoro
This poem unfolds as couplets, or at least as two-line stanzas that give something of a breezy feel to it. There’s a lot of space, and the lines themselves are short, heightening the feel for me that there’s a lot of room on the page, that the text itself is only a part of what’s going on. Which makes sense to me for a poem that is about a dream, the narrator in the first half of the piece relating their night-time adventure in a place that seems to mirror our own world to some extent—a place where history is rejected, where people move through driven by commerce and a need to spend, not seeing what’s around them, the robots selling the food. The narrator gets caught, though, and for me there’s a sense of them not knowing really how to react. How to be. Feeling in some way that something is deeply wrong but pressured to just go with the flow. Waking to find that their voice is choked by a kind of indecision. One that resolves only by recognizing that the dream isn’t an ordinary one (hence the title). With that, though, the narrator seems content, whatever added power the dream might have not exactly, at least to me, provoking them to greater action. For me, I read it like a kind of wake-up-call, the dream meant to push the narrator into action, only once the narrator realizes that’s what it is, the urge to act is lost. They recline instead, perhaps thinking that if it’s a call, then they don’t have to do anything to help or heed it. Perhaps thinking that deciphering that it’s not ordinary was enough for one day. And that there’s a comfort for them that it’s not just random, not just a dream, even if they’re not really rising to do anything about it. And it’s a charming piece, full of a quiet possibility that lingers unfulfilled as the narrator basks a bit in this moment. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!