Monday, November 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Omenana #14 [part 1/2]

Art by Sunny Efemena
In an unexpected bonus this month, Omenana is back with a brand new issue! And, well, it’s big! So big that I think what would be best for me is to break it up across two review posts. So today I’ll be looking at the first half of the issue, at four short stories that cover science fiction set on distant worlds, horror pieces much more terrestrially based, and some fantasy to round things out. It’s a challenging start to the issue, not flinching away from some very difficult truths, and it challenges readers to face some things that most would not choose to. So pay attention to the content warnings and I’ll get to the reviews!


“Abeokuta52” by Wole Talabi (2521 words)

No Spoilers: This is a rather intricately framed story, playing out both as an online article and as a post in a forums that sees some activity in the comments thread. It reveals a Nigeria that saw an alien aircraft crash. Scientists responded, salvaging what they could and adapting what tech they could figure out into a new resource. Now globally rising, the new power and wealth hasn’t come without a price, though it’s one that apparently being largely hushed up. The online article is something of a reminder of the real history being lost, and the forum is a chilling look at some of the implications the article talks around. It’s a complex and interesting piece, built in a way that recognizes the power of money and the precarious place for those who would stand between new resources and naked exploitation.
Keywords: Aliens, Illnesses, Forums, Conspiracies, Technology
Review: I really like the framing of the piece, how on the level of the article it’s about not forgetting the price of power and wealth. About recognizing that a great many people died because of the alien impact, and that they deserve to be recognized. That’s not really the PR that the country wants surrounding what has become a great boon, though. Indeed, that there was an alien virus outbreak seems to imply that the government wasn’t as careful as it could have been, which in turn implies that it might not be careful again. Because where there is evidence of a single act of negligence, chances are there are more incidents that aren’t being documented. But caution would slow development, would prevent nations from exploiting this new potential wealth that literally fell from the sky. And for me what starts as a piece about remembering the cost of advancing science becomes something a lot more sinister, because the implications keep mounting that the government isn’t just passively suppressing information, but leading an active campaign to silence people, to take research and notes and even people in an attempt to hush everything up. And it’s done with a great subtlety, not overtly saying what’s going on but making it clear all the same that Something Corrupt As Fuck is going on. Where people’s lives are being put at risk for the sake of profits, for the sake of maintaining a lie that will keep people from realizing the danger they are in, and how close they are from catastrophe. The comments to the article and the sort of pleading way it ends are a sharp way of showing the results of this kind of erasure, leaving only “official” accounts that detail no deaths, no illness, no problems with exploiting these alien resources. Meanwhile the blood is pooling larger and larger, and at some point it might be so big it’s impossible to hide. A wonderful read!

“Refugia” by Caldon Mull (3809 words)

No Spoilers: Wami is the only child on her colony, which has been working nonstop for five years to try and get fully ready to take more people. Only that’s not to be, as the story opens with Wami the last living person on the planet. Not that she’s completely alone. She has a few toys with her with simple AI that might cut through some of the loneliness. It’s a rending story, heartbreaking and tragic, exploring the fragility of space, identity, and people. It finds a sliver of hope, but among the greater shadows cast by the prose, it might seem a cold comfort, so go into this one with a firm handle on your feels.
Keywords: Colonies, Space, AIs, Poisoning, Language
Review: The story is actually split between two narratives and times, linked by the dead colony and the toys that Wami leaves behind. And really, it’s a rather interesting move to kill off the main character, because at first this seems like maybe Wami is immune to something because she’s young, because maybe she’s more native to space than to Earth or whatever planet the colonists came from. At first, it seems like maybe she’ll struggle to survive all on her own, but certainly she would. And then... Well, it’s a very difficult moment for me, because I was waiting to hear how she lived and what she would do next. To find that that’s not the case, that the death of the colony didn’t actually overlook her, just waited a few extra weeks...well, that’s really fucking bleak. Beautiful in its own way and so very tragic, but yeah, bleak. Because the story then becomes about the crew sent to check the distress call, to investigate what happened to the people, how they died. And the results of that are rather depressing, the rescue team finding that there really wasn’t anything that could have been done to save Wami. That she was dead a while ago, but it too a bit to catch up with her. Which is a hard thing to face, for the reader and for the team, who seem to have also wanted a happier ending. All that remains are the AI that have been left behind, the colony’s AI overseer, traumatized by the events, and the smaller AI toys that Wami had played with until the end, that had played music and danced for her in an attempt to break her loneliness. And for me the story shows that for some things there is no walking away from the same. The whole rescue team is effected by this tragedy, because they have to face how fragile humans are, how fragile we all are, that so small a thing could destroy so many, leaving behind only the ghosts and the AI. Again, it’s by no means an easy or a happy read, but I think it’s very much worth spending some time with. A great story!

“The Story of How You Died” by Simbiat Haroun (1105 words)

No Spoilers: This story unfolds from the perspective of a collective we that encompasses three siblings who live in a small house. A small house that guards a valuable prize. A prize that often attracts thieves. Thieves who don’t realize that the wall is only the first defense that they have to keep their mat safe. It’s not new, but when the latest thief arrives and draws their attention once more out the window to watch his progress, it ends up feeling different. And it’s a rather creepy piece, full of shadows and violence, but also a bit of sorrow, and more than a little regret.
Keywords: Family, Undead, Desperation, Death, Watching
Review: This is the shortest piece of the issue and packs a nice understated but creepy punch. It’s told from the collective first person, which is an interesting choice, giving the siblings here a feeling of unity, of almost-singularity, though they each also feel distinct. They are united and yet have elements of individuality that feed into the feeling I get that they are essentially their entire world. Outside of their grandmother, who seems dying, they have only each other, it is in this isolation that I feel the real tragedy of their situation is felt. At first, though, it seems that they’ll only be creepy kids, reveling in the death of a man who has come to take something from them. As the story moves, that narrative is challenged, and we learn more about not just the kids, but the man. And we see that the whole cast is locked into this dance that they don’t want to be in. The man doesn’t want to steal, the kids don’t really want to watch him die, and yet that’s the only set of choices that seem open to them. They are stuck, trapped in this cycle where the kids who have the mat don’t enjoy it and can’t leave the security of their home, which is laced with violence and hunger. And the man is trapped with the need for money and the crushing reality that it isn’t available to him. So he has to do the only thing that’s open to him. It’s just a way to push him towards death, though, to feed those of the kds’ family who are waiting and hungry, using the mat as a lure to sate themselves without ever doing anything to help anyone else. It’s a short but deep read, and I definitely recommend checking it out!

“The Silent God” by Haku Jackson (3423 words)

No Spoilers: This story finds its narrator an observer of the world but no longer able to really interact with it. Once a physicist, they found a way to put themselves into the negative dimensions of existence, but lack a means of getting back. So they wander, able to do small intangible things but otherwise something more than a ghost and so much less than a god. The piece is...rather graphic, and rather disturbing, and really gets at the narrator’s desire to escape humanity, which wasn’t the goal when they were researching the negative dimensions but has certainly made them think about their place now that they aren’t physical in the traditional sense. it’s disturbing and haunted, and fuck, at times rather hard to read.
Keywords: Ghosts, The Moon, CW- Rape, Displaced, Monsters
Review: Again, this is a rather difficult story to read at times, not because it’s poorly written but because of the honesty with which it shows some truly awful things. Because the narrator is struggling with their place in humanity, their role when they can’t really do anything to anyone. Not that they don’t try. They do have powers that allow them to effect people’s dreams. They can take away nightmares, at the least. They can do something. But against the horrors that they witness, it really doesn’t feel like much, and more and more the narrator is dissociating from their humanity, from feeling like a person. There is the question of what they are, then, and at the beginning the question is if they’re a god. But they can’t deliver anyone. Can’t punish the wicked. Can’t even really give comfort. Later in the story their description is changed and I do find ghost much more apt. They are a ghost, haunting the world. And without the power any longer to fight for change in the physical world, they are left only with the desire to leave, to escape humanity and all its ugliness. Which really it’s hard to blame them for. But...I also think that what the story is doing is facing readers with a similar choice. By confronting us with these horrors, with these realities that are going on, we are put in that position of either turning away from them or facing them and trying to do something about them. And perhaps it’s a comfort for us that the narrator can float away, can go to live on the Moon. But the narrator can’t interact with the physical world. We can. And so the story I don’t think is letting us off the hook for what’s happening, and if anything is putting that line of who should be acting to stop things like this at “has physical presence in this dimension” which qualifies all of us. And instead of trying to find ways to opt out of that harm, we must strive to prevent it and do something about it, or else we are complicit as humans, however much we try to say that it’s only monsters who do such things. It’s a challenging but I think necessary point, and very well handled in the piece, though I strongly recommend people check out the content warnings on this one before digging in.


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