|Art by Nilah Magruder|
Uncanny Magazine kicks off the new year with three short stories and two poems that bring energy and resilience in a time when it's very desperately needed. The fiction ranges from post-disaster to rather dystopian (but warm and queer) sci fi race to touching and careful fantasy about ghosts and immigration. The poems complicate fairy tales and traditional depictions of monsters while interrogating identity and navigating some very complex space. The work here reiterates what Uncanny has been publishing since it began—a wonderful mix of genres with resonating characters and richly built worlds.
“Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse” by Rae Carson (5407 words)
No Spoilers: In a world still very much dealing with a zombie apocalypse, Brit and Mari are two members of an enclave of women who are doing the best they can in the face of the terrible threat all around them. They’re also partners and soon-to-be parents, as Brit is pregnant, something made especially dangerous given that zombies are attracted to everything about birth. There is no safe way to do it, but the best way has been to take refuge in an old shipping container to wait out the ravenous horde. That’s the plan this time, too, but it seems the zombies have other ideas. The piece is tense and doesn’t look away from the violence of the situation or the violence of childbirth. And it focuses on the prospect of bringing a child into this world when so much is so dangerous.
Keywords: Zombies, Queer MC, Survival, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth
Review: This story I feel really zeroes in on both the risks and the pressures associated with childbirth in apocalyptic settings. The perception of selfishness that exists for those who choose to have a child. And it’s interesting in part because the normal trend in apocalyptic fiction is to sort of lay it on thick that women have a duty to have children in order to make up for the amount of people dying, in order to save the human race. Which can quickly get into some truly ick moments and with this story at least that’s not a part of the discussion. Everyone involved in this wants the child, and so really the issue slides to be a bit more about how responsible it is to bring a child into this world. A world where they will probably have to be willing to do violence from a very early age, where they’ll never really be able to let their guard down. Basically into the middle of a war. Brit is called selfish by the leader of the enclave, and that moment becomes rather important because it’s a question of what exactly that might mean. Is she selfish because being pregnant and having a child are such a risk, and the enclave can’t afford to lose her and Mari? Or is it selfish because acting on the desire for children in this situation just prolongs the pain and damage that this apocalypse inflicts? And I like that the story rejects both of those, and sort of settles on the idea that there’s hope in this act, and power in it. And Brit and Mari are, ultimately, in control of their own bodies. It might ultimately mean that they’ll hurt their child. Their child is under no obligation to thank them, or consider them selfish for bringing them into this hell. But that’s like any child and any parent. And I do appreciate that this blazes some new ground with the tropes, and presents a rather pulse pounding, nicely realized zombie apocalypse filled with some badass women. A fine read!
“You Perfect, Broken Thing” by C.L. Clark (3735 words)
No Spoilers: Coach is training for a race, and the stakes are life and death. At least, the top three winners get two doses of a mysterious substance that works to cure some sort of degenerative disease that everyone seems to have. Coach is racing for themself and for their partner, Honey, and their training is intense and, because of the degeneration advancing through their body, dangerous. Not as dangerous as the race itself, though, which regularly sees competitors die. It’s part blood sport, part heartwarming found family story, and it’s exhilarating and raw and good.
Keywords: Races, Training, Queer MC, Found Family, Diseases
Review: I kinda love race stories, and this one does an absolutely amazing job not only with the physical descriptions and sensations of the race, the danger and the breathless panic and everything else, but also with the character work, building up this brilliant found family situation that just melts my heart. And Coach is the rock that holds it all together, the person who is first in, last out, the one who has a plan that almost always leaves them carrying the heaviest weight. Which hasn’t been very kind to their body, and they’re the most advanced with this disease that everyone has it seems because of how hard they push. Training makes the disease progress faster, after all, something that the competitors have to weigh against the promise of the shot for the winners, a shot that might be a cure. It’s an all-or-nothing gamble that is made with bodies, with sweat and tears and blood. And there’s such a great physicality to the piece, an understanding and appreciation of body and the ways that people can train it and push it past its limits. Which is brutal and at times a little hard to ready but it carries this beauty, as well, and this freedom. That regardless of the rest of the world and its injustices, Coach and the other racers are reveling in their bodies. Even as it kills them, because it also gives them hope and community and a power that can’t be taken away from them. Where they know that, ultimately, they’re all racing toward death, but what matters is how they race and who they race for. For themselves. For their family. For everyone struggling under the weight of this disease. And it’s a wonderful and hopeful story about people being good to each other even in situations that seem to promote selfishness and brutality. A fantastic story that you should check out immediately!
“My Country Is A Ghost” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (4650 words)
No Spoilers: Niovi is an immigrant, moving from Greece to a new country and a new city—one that doesn’t allow immigrants to bring their own ghosts with them. In Greece, ghosts are advisers and links to the past who are valued and who help those who carry them around. Niovi has carried the ghost of her mother, but at the border she has to make the choice between giving up her mother’s ghost or turning back. With nothing to go back to, she takes the step, but is still haunted, in this case by the absence of a ghost as she tries to make a new life for herself in a place where the locals get to keep their ghosts and everything without is something of a second class citizen. It’s a quiet piece, about grief and loss and isolation, and ultimately about reaching past those things to make new connections and communities and hope.
Keywords: Ghosts, Immigration, Employment, Food, Memory
Review: I really like that the story features a haunting that features not being haunted. A loss that involves taking away the reminder of that loss. Which at first seems like it might be for the best, except that these ghosts are also resources, are memories and comforts and sources of strength and knowledge. The dead help to watch over the living, and it’s a sharp and damning point to show how eager immigration would strip a person of that. Not because ghosts aren’t allowed, but because foreign ghosts are considered unnecessary. When in reality it is solely to hurt, solely to demean, solely to show the people immigrating who has the power, and who makes the decisions, and who is valued. Niovi has to live seeing the ghosts around her, ghosts that she can’t entirely connect to, that have no real interest in watching over her or protecting her or reminding her how to make certain recipes, or any of that. And I like how the story deals with the anger that leaves Niovi with, the resentment she carries that also isolates her from other immigrants, other people who have been left ghostless. Because they are a reminder of what she has lost more than the people of this new country who have ghosts. Because in this country the ghosts are different, aren’t treated with the same respect and care. They’re more like shadows. But that keeps Niovi alone and really unable to tap back into her full potential. It keeps her chasing values that aren’t native to her, and I like how she is able to come back to herself, to her memories, to the ghosts that she’s left behind. By reaching out in compassion. By asking questions and pushing through the walls that this new country hopes will grow between her and everyone else. And even though it hurts, she’s able to come to better appreciate what ghosts she can still touch and communicate with. And the people who are more like her than she wanted to see. It’s a touching and tender read and very much worth spending some time with!
“Elegy for the Self as Villeneuve’s Belle” by Brandon O’Brien
This piece speaks to me of relationships and pain, of duty and obedience and also the putting down of those in favor of self care and reflection. The piece unfolds through the lens of Beauty and the Beast, where the narrator sort of places themself in the position of Belle, a place that allows them to speak to the beast of their life, who here is not a man but a woman. For me the piece revolves around how the desires of the narrator are subverted and used to sort of trap them in a relationship that doesn’t really work for them, where their desires are weaponized, used to bring them more and more under the control of the beast, who seeks to isolate them from the rest of the world, from their family. There is a very interesting and complex take on that, on the part of the story when Belle revisits her family only to return when she realizes that her extended absence is killing the beast. For the narrator of this poem, the time they spend with their family is something that slowly extends not because they forget but because being away from the beast allows them to really see and interrogate that relationship and their desires. Meanwhile they aren’t allowed to forget about the beast, and the idea here, the implication that the beast is being hurt by the separation, is one that seems to again been made into a tool by the beast to try and force the narrator back. To make them submit to the authority of the beast which has been wrapped in shades of protection and comfort but which played to what the narrator wanted, to what they were hungry for, but never really satisfied them. That really just kept them hungry and wanting because that makes them more pliable. And for me I really like how the poem handles that, how it finds the narrator seeing that their relationship wasn’t exactly healthy but not rejecting what they wanted from it all. Just recognizing that they weren’t actually getting that. They confront their own hurt and fear, the ways that this lesson has taught them to be cautious, guarded, but still hungry. Still yearning, but no longer so trusting or open. Which is a loss, even as for them it is a necessary step to be safe in a world with its share of beasts. A wonderful read!
“Who Do You Think You Are” by Ada Hoffmann
I like how the piece opens with the title, which for me reads as almost argumentative at first. At first glance, it’s a challenge, worded in a way that brings to my mind a sort of “how dare?” Who do you think you are comes to mean what authority do you have. Are you somebody who gets to have an opinion on something, whatever that something is. And yet as the poem itself unfolds, the meaning there is completely shifted, like it’s a question asked in anger that gets interpreted literally, and the narrator does their best to actually answer, and in answering to ask their own questions to the one who was questioning them and also to the reader. It’s a short read, but one that does a good deal with an economy of words. And for me the answer to the question taken earnestly in the title is a lovely and powerful exploration of what it means to try and identify yourself. To try and say who you are, or even who you think you are. The piece is awash in contradictions, in backs and forths. The narrator acknowledges that they don’t know what the answer is, really, doesn’t have any sort of certainty. And that opens up the beauty of the piece for me, that the real answer to the question is a sort of layered question that reflects back. It captures feelings, bright and quick, a sense of distance and space, of vastness contrasting with smallness. The answer is fragile but unfathomably strong. It’s a haze, a dream, a journey that the narrator is always engaged in, and that we all are constantly engaged in, our lives and our goals, our questing through stories and, yes, poems, a way to try and grasp parts of answers to the question of who we are. And so the piece twists back, taking that challenge from the unknown “you” of the poem and confronting you with a different kind of question, a realization that maybe the distance between us isn’t that great. That we’re all out there searching in the same ways, united by our common ignorance and yearning and by that notion equals, peers, none more qualified to exist, or inhabit space, to hold an opinion. And the more we are conscious of and compassionate about the space we share, the people we discover there, discovering themselves as we discover ourselves, maybe the richer and more rewarding the journey will be. A fantastic way to close out the month’s content!