Monday, April 6, 2020

Quick Sips - PodCastle #616 & 620

It's a fairly full month of stories at PodCastle, with a special double release pushing the total stories to three. They aren't exactly the cheeriest of tales, dealing with grief, transformation, loneliness, and death. But the stories hold some tenderness and hope in their hearts, managing to navigate through or around the crush of emotions, the gravity of loss, and steer toward a place where maybe healing can begin. Where maybe the characters can shift the narrative away from tragedy and to a more affirming place. To the reviews!


“Telomerase” by Ian Muneshwar (1383 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a person with cancer, spending the entirety of the piece in a hospital or other care facility. As devastating as that is, the work is also about the strange affliction being suffered by their partner, which leaves them progressively with less and less language. The piece follows the progression of both illnesses, the cancer and the language loss, as the outlook on both remains bleak. The piece finds ways to express the power of illness and grief, of seeing an end that is coming and not being able to avoid it, not even really being able to hope to avoid it. It’s heavy and it’s difficult, but it’s also so beautiful, and so worth checking out.
Keywords: Language, Relationships, CW- Cancer, Myths, Dreams, Loss
Review: Ready to have your feels handed to you on a platter, bleeding and shredded? Because ouch. And yet for me this is a beautiful story about how some things become so big and so intense that the destroy language itself. For the narrator, their illness is something that they contend with, that they retain hope about, that they gradually come to accept (though never to welcome). They fight, and they live as best they can, but they are burdened not just with their own illness but with the way that their partner is effected by it as well. The way that he loses his language. It’s a second hit because it’s difficult not to think it’s about the cancer, about the helpless fear and pain that the partner is experiencing, the way he wants to do something, to make something better, but has run out of words. Or, more, been robbed of them because having words would mean having to find the words to say the painful things that are all that left. Like good bye. And yeah, it’s a gutting piece for all the various hurts it layers on, the way that the partner tries to be there, to be solid, but has fractured, has lost so much. The way that the narrator sees this and can’t really handle it on top of their own grief, their own failing health. And yet through it all there is a beauty to it, a warmth that doesn’t end. And the couple finds ways to still communicate, to still make sure that, however the words have been lost, the sentiments are still there. Are still real. And it’s heartbreaking seeing the narrator hope that their partner recovers, that the words come back, even as they know it will be without them. And gah, it’s an emotionally resonating and devastating piece and you should read it. You should read it and have to feel this so I don’t have to suffer alone. A stunning and lovely story!

“Mycelium” by Eleanor R. Wood (1521 words)

No Spoilers: Harriet has recently lost her brother, who she was very close with. The two of them shared an ability to commune with nature. Learned from their grandfather, it involves a sort of merging with a tree, and on Samhain night she hopes to use this ability to commune with his spirit, which might have been bound up in a tree planted on his grave. The story features a need to reconnect, to find the person who meant so much to her and without whom life seems a more lonely and desolate place. And amidst a communion that’s supposed to be about life, it’s about the complexity of death, and the ways that life continues, in its cycles and its mysteries.
Keywords: Siblings, Grief, Trees, Transformation, Tattoos
Review: This story pairs well with the last, given that they both deal with loss and family, with characters who are trying to make sense of something that really doesn’t make sense. Characters who are trying to make peace with something they feel no peace towards. Death is part of the natural world here, but Harriet doesn’t really care, despite knowing and feeling the importance of that natural cycle, of taking new life from death. And that feels very real to me, that in theory she understands that this happens, that this even needs to happen, in the sense that things need to die to create new life. But this loss is so keen, so intense, that she can’t find comfort in it because it still hurts. And so she goes into this ritual with the intention of in some ways perverting it. Not...exactly. But her distress is something that the trees pick up on and try to soothe by redirecting resources toward her. Which is kind of harmful to the trees, her grief becoming something they want to soothe but cannot, and so none of them is very happy. Until the tree her brother has become gives her something that can help, reminding her that what has happened can’t be undone, and shouldn’t be undone, and needs to be accepted so that life can actually continue, so that it can truly begin again. It’s a piece that moves around this open wound and in the end finds the stitching needed to close it. Not that it won’t still hurt. But that it won’t kill her. And that she can pull strength from it as well, from her memories, from the lingering traces that her brother left behind. And that allows her to get back to the real purpose of the rituals, of reconnecting with the land. And it gives her something to take with her forward. A great read!

“When Hope Is Lost, Touch Remains” by Nin Harris (4520 words)

No Spoilers: Maria loves books and the friction of skin on skin. She enjoys bedding men, and after meeting a man she thinks she could love, she discovers that she has a certain power. To draw out the soul of a person. It happens accidentally, during sex, but even afterward she finds she can do it on purpose. It’s a strange power and it comes with its own set of issues and complications. The piece swirls around power and sensuality and, most of all, choice. It finds in Maria a woman who has a lot of choices to make, but maybe who has been avoiding the hardest, and therefore the most rewarding. It’s a strange and poetic piece, with an almost tender darkness and an ending that puts a lot of the choice into the hands of the reader.
Keywords: Souls, Books, Sex, Magic, CW- Cancer (mentioned)
Review: This is a weird story, but also a delightful one, about a woman who learns she can remove a man’s soul during sex. And also at other times. But so much of the piece to me seems to be about power and choice, and perhaps about the power to choose. Maria has that, is able to take men to bed basically as she wishes, and doesn’t have to censure herself or face punishment for owning her sexuality. At the same time, though, she doesn’t seem sure to me what she wants to ultimately do. Commitment holds a tantalizing promise but also a weight she doesn’t want to put on herself. A restriction that might mean stagnation. And so she moves from man to man, experiencing joys and sorrows, with the feeling of waiting for something. Part of what I love about the story is that she is never robbed of her choice even as she grows older. It’s not bitterness that causes her to reach a crisis, but rather a confrontation with her inheritance, with her powers. A realization that she could be doing even more. And perhaps also a realization that she’s not a monster, something that had been lurking in the background her entire life. The surety that there had to be something wicked about her if she had this power. Because that’s always the case. If a woman owns her sexuality, she’s a demon, a witch. And she realizes that she’s different from that, and it’s a freedom that allows her to confront the tough choices she’s been avoiding. To embrace the grim but perhaps just applications of her magic, or to hold to hope that she can find a quieter happiness. And I love the way the ending here echoes the sentiments from the beginning of the piece, where all endings are both betrayals of hope, and culminations of choices. The story doesn’t reveal, doesn’t set in stone, what Maria decides to do. She walks a line between options, between future, poised to make a choice. Between betrayal and culmination, and perhaps, a bit of both. And it’s a lovely and provocative piece that’s definitely worth sitting down with and thinking on. A great read!


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