Monday, March 23, 2020

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #61

Art by Joey Jordan
The two original stories in March's Diabolical Plots feature new takes on older settings and ideas. From the size-changing potions of Alice in Wonderland to the horrors of Lovecraft. Neither piece exactly allows those texts to exist without complication or challenge, though, and the focus for me is on providing new lenses through which to examine some of the failings and problems of those older texts. And in doing so the stories seem to offer some commentary on generational shifts and changes in attitudes, and the ways that the older generations can fail the younger. So yeah, to the reviews!


“The Eat Me Drink Me Challenge” by Chris Kuriata (2571 words)

No Spoilers: This is a very strange story about the proliferation of a certain drug. Or, well, two drugs. Eat Me and Drink Me is a pair of drugs, one that makes a person shrink, and one that makes them return to normal. Smuggled out of Wonderland by the Mad Hatter, the drug has gone from tool of Cold War espionage to sex aide to propellant for the latest viral stunt sweeping the world, where children shrink and then re-biggen inside dollhouses. But there’s more to Eat Me Drink Me than people know at first, and full implications aren’t known until there’s something like an epidemic going on. It’s strange and a bit haunting for all that it’s pretty fun, as well, a story told as something of a summary rather than drawing close to any one particular person.
Keywords: Transformation, Potions, Alice in Wonderland, CW- Reproduction, Shrinking/Growing, Cold War
Review: This piece is weird and looks rather sharply at how trends work, how a drug could go from tool of war to recreational fun to something else, all the while carrying side effects that no one really notices until a certain critical mass is hit. And I love the strangeness of the piece, that it brings in Alice in Wonderland through the drugs (appropriate, given how trippy that book is), and then filtered through the real world grit and grime. That was something whimsical becomes something a lot darker, with applications that go well beyond young Alice having to find her way through a tiny door. The piece really has its pulse on the ways especially America has acting, the way that the Cold War can actually be nostalgic for people, the way that drugs can just be a part of life for those wealthy enough to afford it. That it’s something that is ripe in especially suburban America, where everyone has a bit more space, where white people especially feel that they can do whatever they way. Where their drugs aren’t the bad kind until their kids find them and find a new use for them. In some ways I feel the story leans a little on the ways that generations change, and the ways that the younger generations end up bearing the consequences for decisions that were made completely absent themselves. It wasn’t them who spread the drug. Wasn’t them who brought it into these homes. But they are the ones to suffer and to be labeled irresponsible for it. The piece draws down to the point when they must take on the real challenge, the dealing with the consequences and trying to push the world in a better direction, one that won’t fall into the same patterns as those that led to this moment. It’s an interesting piece, strange and a bit haunting, and very much worth spending some time with!

“The Old Ones, Great and Small” by Rajiv Moté (2856 words)

No Spoilers: The Old Ones have been fought and, for the most part, subdued in this story of a man taking his grandchildren to a rather special kind of zoo. One where Deep Ones and Shoggoths and even some of the Great Old Ones are on display. Rendered inert, tame, harmless. Or mostly. And the piece looks at nostalgia, and change, and power. It explores how cosmic horrors that used to provoke madness by their very existence might become something else, something definitively not Other. How, once more or less controlled, they evoke not fear and terror but pity. And the piece is complex and deep (excuse the pun), connecting the dots across history as these beings shift in form and function, perhaps revealing who the true monsters are, or perhaps underlining the human fascination with zoos and safety and “progress.”
Keywords: Lovecraftian, Zoos, CW- Slavery, Aliens, Family
Review: I really like what this story does with Lovecraftian mythos, imagining a situation where the Great Old Ones have been beaten. Where humans have pulled them from the depths and caged them, killed the rest. Where they’ve been rendered into something safe, something that doesn’t really pose a threat. The piece looks at the complex web of issues surrounded zoos in general, the way they represent a rather colonial victory lap. Look at the powerful creatures that we have conquered. Look how we exert our control over them. For the narrator here it’s further complicated by the nostalgia that came with being the first to really represent the shift from seeing these creatures as monsters, as evil, to seeing them as animals, as wild creatures who are deserving of respect only because they’re no longer a real threat. The zoo is full of educational material, full of exhibits and explanations. The focus is no on studying these creatures, especially for things that can help humanity. They’ve been turned into lab animals as well, and it’s fascinating to see how the narrator comes to empathize with them, to mourn in some ways for their lost glory, when he never even got to experience it, and when these creatures were trying to destroy humanity. For me, the piece plays with the ways that humans both cage creatures, stripping them of the assumption of sentience, and wish in some weird sort of way that they be freed. Even these eldritch horrors become beings the narrator feels sorry for, but only really as a mirror for himself. Like with most of these instances where a person feels bad for a creature in a cage, part of the issue is that to get them there we’ve destroyed the habitat that they had before. Changed it and dominated it. So that rewilding isn’t exactly an option, and for me it doesn’t really seem like that’s the thing. What’s being mourned is that the conquest is over. That the adventure is done. That some frontier has been mapped and had the old flag planted on it. For me the story is a sharp take on the progression of conquest, and the deeper terrors that are the human drive to bend toward war, toward domination, so that it seems romantic, nostalgic, and wholesome. Which is fucking messed up, and beautifully captured here. A fantastic read!


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