Thursday, April 23, 2020

Quick Sips - Uncanny #33 [April stuff]

Art by Galen Dara
The April content from Uncanny Magazine offers up three short stories and two poems (as well as a bunch of nonfiction that I don’t cover), and it’s a rather heavy much of stories. From genocide to doomed timeloops to a slow decline in the dark of space, to the aching loss of destroyed books, to having to leave a dying planet behind, all the works deal with loss in some ways. All of them find characters who aren’t quite sure what to do in the face of their dreams turning to dust in their hands, or threatening to. They have to find ways to move forward, both to honor the past and dead, and to find ways to maybe keep living, keep going, even through some intense damage. It’s an emotionally difficult but of works, but it shows how moving and powerful short SFF can. So let’s get to the reviews!


“If You Want to Erase Us, You Must Be Thorough” by L. Tu (6117 words)

No Spoilers: Aida is a student at a school that is supposed to make “proper mainland citizens” out of the children of an island that resisted Mainland rule. Dubbed filthy by the mainland, the official story is that the people died from plague, the remains of which is a deadly miasma that takes up the majority of the island. The only salvation for the students is supposed to be through assimilation, through proving that “transcendence” is possible. But a lot of what the school says is shrouded in lies and misinformation, and as Aida begins to discover the truth, she uncovers a past that has been denied to her, and begins to question what role she wants to play in the plans of the Mainland teachers who look to her and her classmates as data to win an argument rather than as people. It’s a difficult read at times, about colonialism and the erasure of history and peoples. It also powerful, and looks at the resilience of memory even where suppression of history is supposed to have been complete.
Keywords: CW- Genocide, Ghosts, Possession, Schools, War, Memories
Review: I like how the story engages with cultural erasure, with genocide and how it’s treated by the colonizers, where these children are nothing more than desired “proof” not that conquered people are deserving of consideration, not that conquered people are fully human, but that they _might be_ with the “proper” education. So it’s genocide with a side of anthropological experimentation to see if these children can assimilate into the Mainland culture successfully. As a small nitpick, the only thing that tripped me while reading was that there should have only been like four classes total, as no one over the age of 3 survivied the genocide, and yet there’s an implication that the series of tests and such have been running for years, instead of Aida’s class being the second ever. But it’s a very small thing amidst a very well built world, one where the fallen warriors of the island are waiting, holding themselves back from an afterlife of peace, so that they can try to reclaim the children who were taken from them. Aida is caught in an impossible situation, made to choose between the values that have been hammered into her from the youngest of ages and those she discovers in the miasma she’s always thought was deadly. I also love that the whole reason she enters the miasma is because of the colonizer’s dog that she needs to retrieve, knowing that she’ll be punished severely if she doesn’t get it back. And I like that the choice really isn’t that hard to make despite the violent intentions of the ghosts because the ghosts at least don’t really lie to her. Not like the school with its false narratives, it’s false history. And though I’m not sure what’s past that moment for Aida and the other students, it profoundly rejects the idea that the colonized only have value to the extent that they can assimilate, and that no amount of abuse or brainwashing can make the stain of genocide “worth it” or justified. A stunning read!

“Getaway” by Nicole Kornher-Stace (4672 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is the getaway driver for a heist gone wrong, one where, on the first iteration, the crew was killed (including her), but she bled into the strange artifact they were there to steal, and somehow it locked her into a timeloop. One of only fifteen minutes (or so) where she lives the events leading up to the heist. It’s not time enough really to change anything. It’s time enough to die and start the cycle over again. Or to watch everyone else die and start the situation over again. It’s a wrenching, bloody story that manages a certain thrill to it all the same, and that delivers a rather wrenching portrayal of one person stuck trying to figure out a way forward when there doesn’t seem to be one.
Keywords: Time Loops, Heists, Death, Driving, Artifacts
Review: I really like how the narrator (you, as the story is told in the second person) has an awareness of what’s going on, enough to realize that she’s stuck in something of a literary device. One that’s supposed to give the person going through the timelopp (the asshole, as they call it) a chance to recognize the error of their ways and learn how to maybe not be an asshole any longer. But being aware of that in this instance doesn’t really help, because the narrator can’t really fiture out how they are somehow more of an asshole than anyone else. Why them if there’s some sort of bit reason for what’s happening? And I love that, because it explores how this might be just...something of a cosmic accident. Something random, that can’t be fixed by somehow finding the perfect way through the situation. And that in some ways then it doesn’t matter. And some ways it still very much does matter. There’s a sense for me at least that the only way that the intervals of time that the narrator lives after they loop only get longer because they never really give up on trying to live. On trying to get the rest of the people in the crew to live, too. But it’s not a fix. It’s not a fix because in some ways time has no fix. No solution. No given situation necessarily has a “right” way to unfold. In the first iteration, they all die. But walking away doesn’t fix things. Rather, it all just cycles on, over and over again, and you are left having to move foward all the same, both hoping for the future but paying attention to the present. To the moment. Because each and every time it’s still important. No less beautiful or wonderful or awful for being a cycle, for feeling perhaps powerless in the face of time. Which I feel is how we all feel at times, caught in cycles we can’t change, replaying the same moments, victims of time we can’t escape from. But even so, we still have to live as we can, appreciate what we can, and still try to reach for the best outcomes. It’s a complex and violent piece, but very much worth spending some time with. A great read!

“Georgie in the Sun” by Natalia Theodoridou (2590 words)

No Spoilers: George (Georgie to his partner, Eliza) was once Vlad, and is still very much a vampires as he maintains a spaceship bound for a planet where he and his love can share a sunset together. Only it’s taking a long time, and the years aboard the ship, unable to sleep, unable to feed but in the brief times when Eliza is out of stasis, take their toll. The piece follows George in his isolation, as the time and distance wear on him, as he must wonder what to do when every option seems like a violation. The piece is quiet but also a bit gutting, the portrayal of vampires and Dracula in particular in stark contrast to those traditionally found. Here he takes only consensually, and that leads him to a place where every choice seems doomed. The isolation is richly rendered, though, the sense of scale and sadness and being lost as a dream full of light and love slowly loses its luster.
Keywords: Space, Vampires, Stasis, Video Games, Time, Stars
Review: Poor George. The piece opens as he’s already kind of having difficulties, as he’s lost the ability to sleep, but the hope is still burning in him that they might find a planet that will allow him and Eliza to share an intimate moment that he could never feel on Earth. But even that seems to be wrapped up in things that aren’t quite the case. I mean, it’s a grand romantic gesture that the two of them would get into a ship in search of a planet where he can be in the sun. But it’s also something of a retreat, and one that might not even be possible. What it’s supposed to do is give George the freedom to find a place where he can escape the baggage of his past, without exactly realizing that he brings that baggage with him, packed in with the vintage video games and music. They remain, haunting him, haunting them both, as the years pass. For me it speaks to a kind of weight that pulls on them, that neither of them wants to deal with because of the future that they imagine. But they have not fully reconciled with the past, with the things that George did as Vlad, with the trauma that he’s carrying inside him alongside the guilt and shame. And given how the journey goes, George is left with nothing else but that to think about, becoming more and more convinced that he shouldn’t act to save himself, shouldn’t act because he can’t imagine a happy ending for himself. Not really. He was holding onto Eliza’s, and without her there to help him, he bcomes ruled by his doubt and fear. The piece slides into an uncertainty as time passes without reaching a destination, and the story holds a rather shadowed ending, not really saying exactly what happens, but drawing down to a sunset that was already all around them, a decline that speaks of loss, a finality. A moving read!


“behind the self-help section” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

I really like the way that this poem imagines a space that is sort of nebulous behind a section of the bookstore, for because for me then it has the implication that this in all bookstores. That tucked behind a false wall is a section of all the lost books, the ones burned and purged, banned and suppressed. And that people react to those books whether they’re aware of this mysterious and almost magical section of the store or not. That people unaware are still moved by the presence of the books. For me it has a way of saying that those books still have a presence, and that strikes me as rather real and deep, that these are books that still take up space, that can still effect people, even if only by their lack. They hang there, and people who are browsing, who don’t even know that they might have wanted to read those book, experience this tingle, this ache. And for me that means that those books call out, especially to those who don’t exactly know what they want, who are just kind of letting themselves be pulled through a bookstore. The self-help section is a place where people go who are maybe looking for something they can’t quite explain. They want help. And yet these books, these lost books, call out to them. Because maybe those were the books that they needed. Because maybe those were the books that would have made something clear. That would have been perfect. And instead they are remain with that feeling that there’s something close, something so close that only if they knew about it they could change, they could help themselves, but...well, but the book is gone. And that’s the final bit of the poem that makes it so pointed to me, so sharp. That those books are gone and we’ll never find the magic door to take us to them. Never get to read them and know them. And the loss of the piece is what carries through for me, the bittersweet knowledge that those books existed once, and no longer do. The price of hate and intolerance. And it makes for this space of mutual longing that cannot be bridged, forever suspended. A wonderful read!

“Νόστιμον Ήμαρ” by Eva Papasoulioti

This piece seems to find some humans, at least a pair of them, escaping Earth, or fleeing from it, when they couldn’t live there any more. They learn to grow things in space, and then search for a new planet, but there’s something about Earth that still pulls. Something that might be nostalgia, but might also be more than that. The narrator of the piece is speaking toward a second person “you,” the two of them together a “we” that has managed to slip away from Earth in search of a more hospitable planet. And the piece is sensual, with heat and with spice that give it movement and a sense of longing even as the characters are rather satisfied with each other. They have their desires and they have ways of sating them, but as they drift from Earth it doesn’t seem to feel quite the same. Perhaps because humans evolved on Earth, and so share something very deep there, something that can’t easily be recreated elsewhere. And yet the piece is facing outward, facing the unknown and what the characters are willing to do to live. Because more than they are tied to Earth by some force, their attachment to each other is what gives them the strength to keep going, to build a new home. Not one that feels quite the same, but where at least they can be, and they can hold in each other a piece of Earth that was. As they are both from there, they can at least sate some of their longing, some of their nostalgia. For me it’s a poem about taking a chance and moving away, seeking something that wasn’t possible where you were. And finding something both wonderful and conflicting. Because you can’t help but miss where you were. The home you’ve left, even as you’ve claimed citizenship in a relationship, a kind of country and planet of two, a family that becomes enough to sustain you no matter how far you travel, no matter how you can’t go back. And it’s complex and beautifully rendered, sexy and just a great way to close out the issue!


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