|Art by Steffi Walthall|
It’s a new year and a brand new issue of Fiyah Literary Magazine meets the new year with a bang! The issues doesn’t have an official theme, but I find that a lot of the works seem to circle around water. Rain, floods, seas, potions, rivers, tearsÑthe stories feature people with connections to water. Who have been transformed by it, who seek to protect it, and who in turn are protected and embraced by it. Like islands in a wide sea, the stories wait for readers to risk the waves and currents to sail from one to the next, drawn by the resilience, the need reflected in the stories and poem to live your truths, to fight for them, and to revel in the wonder and beauty of them. To the reviews!
“All That the Storm Took” by Yah Yah Scholfield (5572 words)
No Spoilers: Told during and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this story finds Winnie and her sister Alicia living together, first in New Orleans, where they grew up and where their family home was, and then in Atlanta, where they ended up afterwards. In between, though, there’s a lot of story to tell, and a rather shocking transformation for one of the sisters. The piece is full of grief and shadows, exploring the dynamic between the two characters and the shattering event that couldn’t quite split them apart, though it certainly changed them. But there’s a hope through it all, as well, that regardless of what all the storm took, there are things that remain.
Keywords: Storms, Family, Sister, Transformations, Seas
Review: I like how the story captures the complicated relationship between the sisters, their dynamic before Katrina and what remains afterward. The piece is well titled, as a lot of it details what the storm swept away. Not just the things, the places, the people, but the intangibles as well. For Winnie, who was always nervous, who wanted to leave New Orleans ahead of the storm, who was half-convinced, half-coerced by her sister into staying. Because there was no storm strong enough to chase them out of their family home. They knew that if they left, it might be taken from them. And that lurking shadow, that they have to worry about these things, take risks that they might not otherwise, is a big part of what makes the story’s subtler elements really work. How the storm wasn’t just a storm, but a complete failure of the system to work for so many people. People who had no real reason to trust the system because of how rigged it is, and who were further let down by failing infrastructure, planning, and disaster relief. The storm took a lot, but Katrina was more than just the wind and rain, and included the very racist human elements that led Winnie to Atlanta and her sister...well, to a very altered state of being. One that I don’t feel is a punishment for not wanting to leave her home, but rather is basically the only way that the sister, Alicia, can adapt further. She was already strong, fearless, and it turned out to not be enough. So she changed, and became something even more resilient, even more adapted to the ways the world let her down. It just also made her into something of a monster. But there is still warmth there, still love in the bond between the sisters, and I just really like how the story sets that up, not that this is a complete horror because Alicia becomes a monster, but that the horror has always been the way the system fails black people, and the beauty is that through it all, even through the very worst, the storm can’t take the connection that Winnie and Alicia have. It’s a wonderful read!
“Roots On Ya” by LH Moore (2465 words)
No Spoilers: This story features a Brother Reely, a sort of magical fixer living in the early 1900s. His work never really leaves him alone, and as the story opens he’s sighing at a disruption to a family get-together when a girl starts vomiting up bugs and snakes. The piece focuses on ritual, on the immense care that Reely has to exercise in order to use magic, even magic designed primarily to just deal with other magical threats and ailments. A care that was not used when someone put a trick on the girl spitting up black ichor, which now means Reely’s going to have to be doubly careful to fix it. The piece is fun, the danger direct, and the world building reveals a world not just where magic is possible, but where the use of it can attract the attention of being best left alone.
Keywords: Magic, Potions, Horses, Chickens, Family, Curses, Bargains
Review: This story has a neat feel to it and an almost procedural quality that I really like (I am a big fan of procedural supernatural/mystery stories). If this were the pilot for a television show, I’d be sold. Because the world revealed here, historical fantasy with a guy who can fix supernatural problems and who has a loyal horse and a pissy chicken, seems pretty charming. Reely himself is mostly tired, and tired because he carries a fairly large responsibility. He’s tasked with acting when things go wrong. With trying to save people from either their own mistakes or from other people’s bad intent. And a big part of that is that magic is a tricky business. It’s not simple, not if you want to make it through unharmed. Not if you don’t want to draw down beings who can do some real damage. Everything that Reely does with magic is considered and wrapped in ritual and caution. Even entering his house takes some work, because he doesn’t want anything following him in. He has to be aware at all times of what he’s doing, and his workload skyrockets when other people don’t put in the same effort. It’s a tax, and one that many people bear because other people just don’t think. This time, he’s working to save a girl who’s been cursed for being friendly with the wrong guy. But even as it takes a lot for Reely to try and save the girl, there’s another danger that’s almost more difficult and in need to dealing with--that the person who summoned this curse didn’t fully understand what they were doing. So there’s just this just mess that Reely has to try and figure out, and I love that kind of premise, that here is this good person who almost wishes he were more of an asshole because at least then he would be so very tired. And it’s an interesting world and entertaining story that I very much recommend checking out!
“Lusca” by Soleil Knowles (2562 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story grows up only knowing that the sea is death. The sea must be avoided. But living on an island, it’s not exactly something that they can avoid. And as they discover that they are different, they learn that it’s not the sea that holds dangers for them, but the people all around them. Because they are seen as a monster, and are being kept ignorant of a history of violence and hate that might clue them in on who they really are. The piece is tense and tinged with shadows, the narrator haunting their own story, unsure of how to think of themself when all they hear are the prejudices of those around them.
Keywords: Family, School, Blood, Water, Seas, Transformations
Review: I really like how the story sets up the situation with the narrator, where they’ve been cut off from this huge part of themself. They know that they are different, but the only clues they get about that difference is that it’s bad, is that they must hide it, avoid it, suppress it. Which in part is meant to protect them, to insulate them from the violence that apparently destroyed the others like them. But mostly it’s meant to avoid questioning that violence. The mother especially but the entire community is eager to look away, to deny, because they must know that what they did, that what they let happen or even participated in, was wrong. Worse, it was supposed to be final. And part of why they did it was probably that they wanted it to be final. A genocide. An extinction. And what they don’t want to face is that it might not be something they can kill away. That it might just be a part of some people like it’s a part of the narrator. So instead they try and get the narrator to suppress it, to deny it, so that they won’t have to deal with it, so they won’t have to see it. But it’s an impossible thing, a constant weight that the narrator can’t wait to shrug off. And once they start to discover the joy of being who they are instead of only the pain and fear, they are able to embrace more who they are. They are able to see the hidden violence, and decide all the same to embrace who they are, monster or not, which is a wonderful and powerful moment. A great read!
“The Transition of Osoosi” by Ozzie M. Gartrell (7900 words)
No Spoilers: Mal is a young man hoping to do something to help his country, a future America where True Americans (read: White and Affluent) can do just about anything they want to Citizen Americans (read: Everyone Else) with impunity. And the help he wants to give can only come with the aid of a group of hackers who adopt the avatars of African gods. They are the Anansi, and Mal knows they’re incredibly dangerous to deal with. but also incredibly effective. And he has to decide how far he’s willing to go in order to fight back against the fascist regime running his country. Who he’s willing to hurt. What he’s willing to risk. As the story progresses, the true scope not just of his plan, but of his transgressions and transformation, makes for a thrilling, techno-thriller-tinged heist story that does not disappoint.
Keywords: Resistance, Empathy, Hacking, Heists, Authoritarianism, Racism
Review: The world building here is strong and terrifying, building up an America where the fascists have won. Where racism isn’t just the spirit of the law but the letter of it once more. The story really follows him on this quest to try and take back something. To try and force the “True Americans” to actually feel what it’s like to be a second class citizen. To know the fear and the pain and the humiliation. And he’s doing this in the face of opposition from his own friends and family, who just want to try and live their lives as they can. Not that they want to keep their heads down, but that they resist by living, by trying at whatever happiness they can find, whatever expression might get them heard. But for Mal it’s not enough, not enough because they are all hoping to be lucky. To be passed over by violence, by injustice, by murder. When they shouldn’t have to be lucky. They should have rights and protections. And the only way he sees to get that is through more active resistance, through a program that would allow people to actually feel the emotions he decided. To get to that point, though, he’ll need to prove himself, and so the story shapes itself into a heist, into him trying to get into the restricted areas of a bank to hack private servers. Things are tense and action-packed when they get going, and it’s a rather visceral read in that sense, where Mal builds himself into someone new. Someone in many ways unlike the idealistic young man he was, and into the much more committed and ruthless person who can be what the government sees as a domestic terrorist. And I like that the largest part of the transformation isn’t the violence he does, isn’t that he’s willing to fight. It’s that he’s willing to use his best friends in order to further the mission. Willing to in many ways betray their hopes for peace by forcing this fight, knowing that people will die, knowing that there’s no going back. But if there’s no future free of this government, then there’s no future he can really see for his friends. It’s a complex and messy situation that Mal meets as best he can, and it’s hard to fault him for his choices. They aren’t peaceful, aren’t kind, but at their core they’re pushing for empathy, for freedom, and those are things that might require some extreme steps to reach. And really it’s a wonderful read, full of careful balance of hope and loss, pain and progress, and the desperate need to build something that will keep everyone safe. Go check this one out!
"Aliens Visit the Caribbean” by Terese Mason Pierre
The title of this poem sets the mood as a bit strange and a bit mysterious, and I think that carries through with the fact that the narrator of the piece isn’t exactly defined. They speak, yes, but for me at least it’s not clear if the narrator is an alien or a human. And I feel that it changes a lot depending on who is speaking, depending on if it’s humans who are the ones embodying the narrator or aliens. To me it feels more like aliens are the ones speaking, and speaking in a strangely familiar way. Giving the humans listening some advice, or maybe a reassurance. At the very least witnessing them and telling them that they will be remembered. And I think I like that reading more because it shows these aliens having this moment of understand with the humans of the area. Where the aliens can see the situation, can see the likely course of it, and want to give the humans some words to lean on, a hope that regardless of the pain they are enduring, the cuts, the shattered glass, they will survive. They will take the pain that others seek to impose on them and will make it into something beautiful and hard. That from whatever adversity awaits, be that war or climate change or something else, these people of the Caribbean will emerge forged stronger because they thrive in the face of hardship. Because they know how to come together, how to fight, how to burn fear and make it into a light to follow. And though the poem implies that there will come an end, where maybe the whole planet will die, the mood of the poem is one of resilience, of continuation. That for all that these aliens are the ones moving from world to world, they will take something with them from this place, from these people. A spirit, perhaps, or a story, or a song whose echo the aliens can take with them onward and onward. Now, that’s only one reading, and I love that the piece has many ways to read it, many ways to approach it. And it’s a great way to close out the issue!