Monday, December 16, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #31 [December stuff]

Art by John Picacio
December brings three short stories and two poems to Uncanny Magazine, including two flash fictions. The pieces do a great job of mixing fun with some much darker elements. From superhero academies where a young girl is struggling with an enormous power to a market where the people going in are not always quite the same people who come out, to a very interesting kind of cosmic horror detective tale, the works blend fear, desperation, and vulnerability to amazing effect. Add into the mix the poetry, which looks at grief and monsters, expectations and fear, and the issue as a whole hits hard. And the main balm is that the works are also a joy to read, at turns wrenching and funny, sexy and tense. So let’s get to the reviews!


“Peridot and Rain” by Laura Anne Gilman (1230 words)

No Spoilers: Raisy is taking her sister to the Market, her sister’s first. This isn’t an ordinary affair, though, as it’s not an ordinary market, but one tinged with magic, one that only appears a few times a year and lasts for three days, or five, or seven or nine. And then vanishes. And everyone in their town knows about the Market, and every family has stories about uncareful members who tried to get something at the market and didn’t come back again. At least, not fully. The piece centers Raisy’s apprehension of being there with her sister, and the danger that her sister is in, thinking that it’s all fun and games. It’s a strange and magical piece, but it skates on a thin ice, underneath which giant shadows seem to swim and circle.
Keywords: Markets, Family, Magic, Bargains, Wisdom
Review: I like how the story builds up the dangerous magic of the Market, making it something of a fairie market, a place where people go to buy impossible things. Or maybe just unlikely things. Things that can be incredibly useful, if you know what you want and don’t get pulled into any bad deals. But part of the way the Market works is that it’s not just for the wise, not just for the restrained. Raisy is careful, for all that her own choices at the market leave her chasing the colors she sees there, the magic she feels there. She knows the dangers because she feels pulled to them and has to keep herself back for the sake of her obligations and responsibilities. But it definitely seems like a big part of her just wants to embrace it. Which is part of what makes it so painful to see her sister going out and embracing the market, getting a bit lost in it and to it. Because Raisy understands it. Understands it and has held herself back, and feels like that is the bargain she has made in order to keep her family whole and safe. As if her giving up on what she might have “foolishly” bought means that her family should be safe. But they aren’t, and in any event not everyone wants to be safe. Not everyone would be happy restraining themselves. Raisy doesn’t even seem very happy about it. And so when her sister goes off and seems on the verge of making a “mistake,” Raisy feels something inside her straining, breaking. The story gives this moment such weight and such teeth, and I feel like the implication is that there will be tragedy here. But I also like that the story doesn’t show what happens next. It lives in implication and threat, but part of that is the standard “wisdom” that warns against the fairie deal, which is never in the favor of the human. Only it’s the sister’s choice to make, her money to spend, and i’m curious where this all is going. Probably no where good, but for me it’s a rather wrenching and lovely look at bargains, and family, and how no matter how a person stifles themself for the sake of safety, it doesn’t mean they can control the decisions of other people. A great read!

“Black Flowers Blossom” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (7487 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story isn’t exactly human. how they got to Earth, though, has everything to do with a desperate detective caught in a supernatural situation and without a safe path to survival. So a dangerous path was chosen instead, and the narrator got their first taste of this world. What they didn’t expect to find, though, was something about the detective that kindled in them a warmth that cut through even the dark cold of space. That created a bond that would last past death, a cycle lazily moving forward, content to get nowhere fast. It’s a sexy, sensual, strange story that deals with the Eldritch and odd while also focusing on a strange pairing that manages to just work.
Keywords: Detectives, Supernatural, Summoning, Cities, Flowers, Queer MC, Reincarnation
Review: I love the initial twist of the story, that here this Eldritch horror, this being from another realm, full of shadow and mystery, enters the world and finds what it thinks is a victim and instead of repulsing him...attracts him. And it’s unexpected even from them, for the narrator, to the point that they find some of that attraction reflecting back, and a connection is made. Where the narrator is something of the cat, and the detective a bit of a...curiosity. Something that maybe even the narrator assumes will get old, but that manages somehow to stay engaging, to lodge itself somewhere in the narrator’s mind, in their body, in their essence. On the surface it’s a roaring adventure told through multiple reincarnations, the detective living and dying, the narrator returning to them over and over again, the detective slowly making good on their promise to find out more about the narrator, to figure them out, to map them. And the narrator, relishing the experience, charmed that this cycle keeps on playing out, again and again, in slightly different variations. And in each the detective is their willing partner, their source of pleasure and companionship. And, deeper than that, even as the narrator seems the more powerful, the more dominant, the more timeless, there’s something about the detective that is no less powerful, that for all that the detective seems to change while the narrator remains the same, the narrator, too, is changing. Slowly. On their own time and scale. But changing. The city that is them blooming with flowers that are the detective’s hallmark. The curiosity growing into something deeper. Something profound and perhaps as unnamable as the narrator. But it’s an absolutely stunning piece, full of weirdness and sex and I love it, so definitely go check it out immediately!

“A Mindreader’s Guide to Surviving Your First Year at the All-Girls Superhero Academy” by Jenn Reese (1063 words)

No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are a girl dropped off at a superhero academy. You power is mindreading, and it’s not exactly a power that comes with a lot of social grace because everyone’s thoughts are a bit too loud, and it’s hard to ignore the press of them, and it’s hard to see the things that people want to hide. What they really think. The mean impulses that they might have to suppress. But you’re sort of stuck there, trying to find a way to be, a way to control your powers, and a way to maybe make a friend. Or a girlfriend. It’s a sweet, careful piece that moves quickly but manages to lean on superhero tropes to create an interesting world and a great emotional core, where two girls are struggling with the powers, their futures, their fears, and their feelings.
Keywords: Superpowers, Schools, Telepathy, Queer MC, Relationships
Review: This is a really fun little story, one that manages to sort to imply a lot of world building without having to really get bogged down in the gritty details. It’s enough to know that this is a world of superheroes and villains, where henching is a legitimate career choice, and where one of the largest ethical concerns for a (probably) teen girl with telepathy is “is it okay to eavesdrop of girls making out if I can’t help it?” Which, ya know, is not something I’ve thought about but like it does make for a great insight into her character, caught between not wanting to be close to anyone because she doesn’t want to know what they’re really thinking and being so desperate for attention and affection and physical touch. She’s isolated, mostly by choice but also because other people can be put off by a telepath (especially when she sort of forces the matter). And that’s the space I also appreciate the story exploring, the way that being a mindreader makes her want to step ahead of any criticism, so that she’s her worst critic most of the time, eager to tell people how to think of her (even if or especially if it’s negative) so that it doesn’t hurt as much when she reads that from her. Except that it still hurts. Except that she never really gets used to seeing herself through another person’s eyes. Until she gets to know one of the other students better, and gets more control of her powers, and finds that her powers can be amazing when they’re used respectfully and consensually. And it’s just such a sweet piece, short but full of the drama of being young and special and in a new place. It twists the superhero genre nicely and delivers a wonderfully fun experience. A great read!


“The Wooden Box” by Annie Neugebauer

This poem speaks to me of loss and memory, comfort and pain. The narrator is someone who lost someone very important to them, though what exactly their relationship was is never fully revealed. And it’s possible the relationship here is romantic, and this is the death of a partner. For me, my reading leaned more than it was a parent or guardian, though, perhaps even a grandparent. Someone who represented security and a sort of timeless solidity. The titular box is housed inside the narrator’s body, discovered only after the person in question has died. And it’s a rather visceral discovery, the narrator reaching into their chest through a zippered opening and pulling out this pristine box. Clean and real. And for me it comes to represent a sort of legacy, something more than memory, that the narrator carries with them. Something that pushes back against the loss and the grief that came with it. Because for a poem very intimate with loss, with the death of someone close, the focus is not on sadness. Not exactly, at least, not to me. The rummaging around in the body might speak to a certain numbness instead, because it’s not described as painful. Rather, it seems to be a sort of comfort. A sort of agonizing joy. One that speaks to the ways that people can die but also live on in those they leave behind. That box in an inheritance, one that the narrator can take with them and find and open up whenever they need to. So that they don’t have to hurt as much. And the hope maybe is that over time they won’t need to as much, that the _need_ for that comforting haunting, that lingering presence, might fade as they heal. But for now I don’t see it as a failure or a failing that they reach for that box. That they open themselves and it in order to feel that hug, in order to see that smile. Even if it might keep some of the pain alive longer, it’s worth it to them, and there’s something beautiful about that, about the desire to be haunted, not out of some sort of self-harm, but because it allows the narrator to ease into the full weight of the loss, having this box to open when they need. A lovely read!

“Manananggal” by Sylvia Santiago

This piece takes mythology and twists it, features a woman who at night separates, her top half taking to the darkened sky on wings, searching for food. The creature is the titular Manananggal, but the poem doesn’t just retell an old myth, nor evoke a standard monster. The description and imagery of the piece are certainly horrifying enough, though, the way that the woman comes apart, sprouts wings. The way that she flies, the way that she feeds. These things are depicted with blood and with viscera, with the taste of organ meat, with the hunger... And if the piece had ended at the second stanza, that might have been it, just a description, beautifully rendered, of a monster. But the third stanza twists that, changes that, re-frames that so it’s not exactly the picture of a monster. It’s the picture of a woman. A woman who tears herself in two in order to live, who has to hide in order to be safe, who must feed where she can, from what she can. And it complicates the idea that this creature is rare, that it is a figment of someone’s imagination, that it’s fantasy. Rather, it’s a reality for so many people, comes to represent how women have to live, how they have to be more than one thing, have to fit themselves into the shapes that society leaves them which doesn’t really leave them another option except to double-time, to split in half. And I love that observation, how it draws the reader in almost like the punchline to a joke. Only the joke is depressing as fuck and real, a commentary on how we make monsters out of women just trying to survive. We make them into vampires, into things that aren’t even fully human. It’s a burden and a threat, too, because it implies that if women let how they survive become known, they’ll be treated like monsters and probably hunted. It’s a complex and sharp piece that really nails the ending. A fantastic way to close the issue!


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