|Art by Joey Jordan|
Though the release schedule got a little skewed this month, the latest issue of Diabolical Plots is all out now and includes two new stories that offer up some emotionally powerful situations. In one a lonely house has to try and figure out how to help a grieving family heal. In the other, a dance becomes something much more than that when a robotic ballerina decides to make a statement about how their body and autonomy has been politicized. The works carry some deep shadows, but retain some level of hope, or at least resilience. Before I give too much away, though, let's get to the reviews!
“Open House on Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell (3014 words)
No Spoilers: 133 Poisonwood isn’t a killer house. Only one person has died with its walls, and that from natural causes. It’s not even exactly a haunted house, because how can it be without anyone to haunt. It’s vacant, and looking at the increasingly likely prospect that it won’t be purchased, that it will sit, alone and lonely, until it’s demolished. But a father and daughter show up to its open house, and something about them resonates with the house, even as something about the house might resonate within them. It’s a lovely read, careful and sweet, weighted by grief and longing but made bright with a focus on family and coming together to dispel loneliness, to heal from loss.
Keywords: Houses, Hauntings, Family, Home buying, Loss
Review: I really like the way that the story reimagines what exactly it means to haunt, what it means to be a haunted house. Basically, that a haunted house is partly defined by its longing, by its loneliness. For me at least the most important thing is that the house desires company. It’s a space opened by loss, or by vacancy, or by some other combination of things. But it separates out defining a haunted house by a malevolence or “evil” presence. Because while loneliness _can_ lead a house to becoming violent, to becoming a killer house, that’s not the only outcome. Other houses, like 133 Poisonwood, have no desire to kill, will let itself be destroyed rather than hurt someone else. And I love that twisting on expectations, how haunting doesn’t have to mean torturing or menacing. Indeed, haunting here is a kind of caring, a kind of community, a kind of family. The house and the people who might come to live inside it are both in some ways grieving. And they can help each other through that, can help each other heal and find their way past what they have lost. And it’s cute that the father here is a skeptic, runs what is essentially a “ghost-busting” podcast. But then, the piece isn’t about ghosts. It’s about a house with a presence. A house with desires. Not human at all but still there, still full of warmth and caring. And the piece just has that joy to it, a heartwarming quality that looks beyond the “traditional” depictions of hauntings and haunted houses and finds instead people coming together to make something whole, something beautiful. And it’s a wonderful read!
"The Automatic Ballerina” by Michael Milne (2376 words)
No Spoilers: Cassia is a dancer and has been for a very long time. But even as it’s made it’s life the stage, the dance, constantly learning and improving and breaking itself for its craft, rebuilding itself stronger--even as it continues at the top of its craft, a new anti-automation movement is pushing it off the stage, and toward destruction. But Cassia has no intention of going quietly into that good night, regardless of how political its existence and presence on the stage has become. It is a dancer, an artist, and they want very much to be remembered as that. It’s a piece that unfolds with control and grace, a dance that escalates to something beautiful and terrible.
Keywords: Ballet, Dancing, Explosives, CW- Suicide, Automatons, AIs
Review: This is a rather haunting story, one that revolves around changing politics, and especially with how intolerance feeds injustice. The piece unfolds in a time when automation is being reversed because humans see automatons as threats to their own places as in charge in a wide sense. Automatons are views as intruders, as thieves of jobs and resources, for all that most automatons don’t seem to take up many resources and generally seem to like their work. They’re also definitely seem sentient, for all that Cassia uses “it” pronouns. And “it” pronouns for me are always a delicate thing, because it is often used to deny personhood, to state the object-nature of a thing rather than the person-nature of a being. So that Cassia uses it is interesting and complicated by the way that it’s treated as not a person, as a thing that must be “retired,” that must be destroyed. And Cassia has no real intention of letting that happen, seems resolved to Do Something that will make sure that it’s seen as something other than an object, even if that means being seen as a monster. Which is an unsettling turn, and makes for an incredibly grim read, with Cassia facing the prospect of death and wanting to meet that on it’s own terms. To shatter the way everyone around it seems to think that it’ll be better off “retired.” And meeting that with violence might be the only recourse, especially because everyone expects Cassia to just give in and accept everything because the humans said so. It’s still a complicated moment and turn, because for me at least I’m not sure becoming monstrous in that way will move Cassia in a positive direction. There might be a move to assign Cassia more human motivations and drama, a sense of art, but firmly as a villain, and humans have no problems in dehumanizing even those they know are people. Plus there’s just this feel for me that the move against automation has been going on for a long time. Cassia’s actions are, though politically motivated, only done when Cassia itself becomes a victim, which muddies things a bit for me. Is this helping other automatons? Does Cassia care? But it’s a really interesting and well crafted story, with some gorgeous prose and haunting feel. Definitely one to check out and see what you think about it!