Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #63

Art by Joey Jordan
May brings two new stories to Diabolical Plots, and they're an interesting mix of feels and genres. The first work is a contemporary fantasy exploring abuse and grief, while the second is, well, a second world fantasy about revolution...and skateboarding. Both works find characters dealing with rather oppressive situations, though, and abuses that are intimate and pervasive. Both deal with the traumas of having to live in those situations, and the violence often required to get out of them, to avoid being destroyed. They aren't overly happy tales, but they are both moving and careful and, in many ways, hopeful. To the reviews!


“Everything Important in One Cardboard Box” by Jason Kimble (2522 words)

No Spoilers: Max has recently entered into a relationship with the confident and superior Roderick, who is crisp and sharp and very concerned with appearances. His own, surely, which makes him seem like a catch, but also Max’s, and he couches his judgments about Max’s life as a kind of improvement, and Max, all too willing at first, finds himself having to hide a lot about his life. Which means the box he finds that seems to have infinite space inside it, that grows to fit whatever he puts into it, is very convenient. From the books that Roderick finds unsightly to all the artifacts of Max’s life that Roderick sees fit to “improve,” the box is used quite heavily. What it’s hiding, though, is a lot darker than just some old paperbacks and remaindered hard covers. It’s a wrenching read, exploring abuse and the complicated mess that is moving on.
Keywords: Boxes, Moving, Books, Queer MC, CW- Abuse
Review: The piece does an amazing job of building up how the relationship between Max and Roderick is rather toxic and abusive from the start, Roderick working on grooming Max so that he has to put more and more of himself into the box, hidden away, fallow. The way that the story treats appearance is echoed more in the way that Max must hide the abuse that he’s facing, the bruises that he has to cover up with make up and layers of clothes--by maintaining the illusion of a happy relationship that Roderick is so expert at creating. And it shows how these kinds of relationships where one person must pack themself away is abusive basically from the start, all part of a pattern where the abusive party is preparing the other for abuse, making sure they are willing to erase themself, to silence themself, so that when the abuse escalates it almost seems natural, the result of the abused not doing enough rather than because of the abusive asshole. And the story complicates that by showing how things fall apart completely, how Max has to pack even more into the box and how the relationship ends, and how Max decides to move. And how in doing that he does have to unpack the box. To dig into and take everything out, or almost everything. And how it reveals a greater darkness than might have been obvious. It gives lie to the idea that the past is unimportant, that moving forward is everything. Because moving forward is impossible without first facing the past, sorting it, and coming to terms with it. Otherwise that baggage does create a weight, even if the box it fits in never seems any heavier. It creates a gravity that can become too much to escape. For Max, it’s something that he’s still very much not over. And for all that he’s trying to move forward, before he fully unpacks the box, I get the feeling he’s not going to be able to full heal from the wounds his past has left him with. And it’s a raw and wrenching read, but also beautifully done and so worth checking out!

“Synner and the Rise of the Rebel Queen” by Phoebe Wagner (2832 words)

No Spoilers: The downunder is full of the poor, those living in the literal lowest tier of the city, where all of the sewage seems to flow rather than the prosperity promised by the upper classes. So the downunder invented a new sport, a way to escape the twisting confines of the downunder and reach into the coffers of the rich to pluck out something nice. It’s a world dominated by gangs of boarders taking on missions and targets, earning reputations based on daring and success. Enough that the royal princess is interested in learning how to board, and the gangs aren’t stupid enough to refuse...not when it means the chance of getting access to the riches they have hardly dreamed of. The piece is fun and fierce, full of characters pushing for change by thumbing the rules, by taking form the rich to give to the poor, by risking death for a chance at life.
Keywords: Skateboarding, Royalty, Theft, Training, Revolution
Review: I love the feel of this story, the brashness of it, these riders, these boarders all going out because they have no prospects, because they were thrown away anyway, and they’ve made lives out of recycling that trash into something beautiful and wild, into the boards that they ride, the breathless raids they make. There’s a great sense here that danger is rather irrelevant, not because they want to die, but because death isn’t something they’re really allowed to avoid. It’s the end they all know they’re being funnelled toward, so they might as well make it their own, flaunt it, doing these things that push and push toward it before careening away, laughing all the while. It’s also rather practical, because through their skills they can get money, can help their families without become soldiers, without becoming complicit. And really that’s most of what they think about, most of what their resistance is, until they realize that they’ve done something that they never intended. Because yeah fame is nice, but they’ve started something that’s bigger than fame, something they start to really see when the princess herself idolizes them, agrees with their politics, wants to change things just as much. And I love the way that in many ways they’ve protected themselves by not being bound so much by their human bodies, which can be killed, which can fail. They are defined by their boards, personas and call-signs that pass from person to person, immortal and powerful, creating an army that really can’t die. That can fight back against all the injustices and pains and corruptions. That can upend the city and break the cycle of trickle down that never trickles down. It’s a fun and roaring story, one with speed and a great voice and flow, and I definitely recommend giving it some time and attention. A wonderful read!


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