Thursday, June 25, 2020

Quick Sips - Lackington's #21 [Cocktails]

There’s a new issue of Lackington’s out and the theme is just my thing--cocktails! There are seven stories that explore the different ways people can mix drinks and mix drugs and mix all kinds of things, up to and including people. The stories are strange and moving, complicated and a wee bit haunting (and okay, sometimes more than a wee bit), so it’s an issue well in keeping with the reputation Lackington’s has earned for itself over the years. These are pieces that delight and confound, that beckon and tease, and that ultimately deliver sever different great takes on the themes. There’s a nice mix of genres, from fantasy to science fiction to horror, and lots of worlds to see and tastes to enjoy. To sit back and let this issue mix you up something memorable. To the reviews!


“A Selection of Drinks from the Courts of the Five Silver Moons and the Seven Red Stars” by Mari Ness (1142 words)

No Spoilers: This piece delivers on the promise of the title, offering up a number of mixed drinks (at cola, I guess) that are popular in the halls of two Courts. The Courts are friends and rivals, enemies and allies it seems, both with their own personages and preferences and histories. The narrative elements of the story, which is short, are thin at times, gossamer as they run along through the various drinks, but amid a sold world building a story does begin to emerge, of a queen and her mortal lover, and jealousy that leads to something deadly. And it’s a great fairy story, full of magic and sharp shadows that will cut the unwary, that will devour the unprepared.
Keywords: Drinks, Fae, Poison, Alcohol, Magic
Review: The piece does a lovely job of building up the world that these two courts inhabit and share. It’s a world of magic, the courts full of those who can distill colors and emotions and then devour them. Mortals are brought in as sport, as amusement, their lives sometimes forfeit to the capricious appetites of the immortal courts. And when that is challenged and undercut, when a queer takes a mortal lover and begins to take mortal beverage preferences and spurns the lusts and games of the immortals...well, things don’t really go well. The piece has a lovely danger to it, a grimness that comes out of the way that the drinks are often poison, are often complicated by other drinks. Two seemingly innocent drinks that produce different effects become fatal if one takes a curative for one of them thinking it’s the other. Given that the two are easy to confuse. And the histories of the drinks reveal that they are weapons as much as they are delicious, made to purpose for when the immortals want to battle on a new and innovative field. The story that emerges from the descriptions of the drinks is subtle but compelling, reinforcing the ways that the courts are not exactly friendly, but rather rivals, close but with that constant promise of immortal violence. Which is magical and compelling and, dare I say it, fun, especially when presented as a drink guide with plenty of flavor. A wonderful way to kick off the issue!

“A Galactic History of the Asmodean Fire Hoof” by Alexandra Seidel (2500 words)

No Spoilers: This story is framed as the tale of the mixed drink known as the Asmodean Fire Hoof, a drink founded by a former religious cult and eventually a force of general good and piece in a galaxy that doesn’t include just humans alone. The piece is framed as an educational piece, but in many ways it’s a mythology, full of titles instead of names, a lineage of bartenders safeguarding a recipe that helps to bring people together. To aid in celebration and peace, so that people can forget about their troubles, their losses, and their prejudices and find a way toward union. There’s a delightful thread of humor that runs through the story, as well, that carries through the wonder and the risk that all of these people are taking gambling on the unknowns of space exploration and settlement, fueled by a drink given by one who might be the god of travel.
Keywords: Diaspora, Space, Drinks, Queer Characters, Aliens
Review: I love that in breaking from being a religious cult, this group ended up forming their own kind of religion, where their historical figures have all been sainted and made into prophets while a new church (er, school) has arisen to train a new generation of priests (er, bartenders). It’s great and rather hilarious but also just works for the story, where this recipe is given by a person named Mercury at an orgy and ends up becoming the fuel that will take humanity out to Mars and beyond. And I love that the piece imbues such religious and mythical significance with these people. The pantheon is set--Adam, Eve, and Mercury, and all three are portrayed as women in pretty much each iteration of the stories, at each step of the journey. So that the piece takes on this wonderful quality not as a mere history, but as the story of fleeing Earth, of settling among more distant starts. Of meeting and joining with a whole other alien people so that they can all share in the bounty of this drink that has saved them all time and again. And I love the little asides, the notes on what VR dramas are popular, and which characters in this history get the most attention. It shows that the creation of this religion has been organic, evolving over time, building on itself. The people had different names but those have either been thrown away by those people or by this organization, preferring the work of the writers that link it all in one coherent narrative, a religious tome that celebrates the glory of the Asmodean Fire Hoof. And it makes for one heck of a read. Great stuff!

“Barley Wine and Potable Myths” by Marie Vibbert (1400 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a cook and a would-be booze wizard, left Earth and traveling between planets. It’s hard work, making edible food out of garbage and scraps, but they do what they can, and part of that is experimenting with making alcohol. Most of those experiments don’t amount to much, but one project becomes something special, and the story follows them the narrator through space as they move and grow and tinker with their booze. It’s a story for me that speaks of aging, of maturing, and of knowing when to savor something rather than keeping it forever on the shelf. It’s warm and it’s kinda weird but it’s also positively delightful.
Keywords: Cooking, Alcohol, Myths, Travel, Space
Review: I love the way that the narrator approaches alcohol, at the same time very practical and almost religious. She cares about it deeply, and really appreciates the flavors and the varieties. At the same time, she seems to know that part of the enjoyment of it isn’t just the memory, isn’t just protecting it and letting it age. It’s drinking it. There’s this wonder and awe and joy that comes from having saved something and...getting to enjoy it. Opening the incredibly old bottle of booze and tasting it. And perhaps more importantly, sharing it. Because that payoff is just so great, the ability to take something down and spread the joy and enjoyment that it contains. That maybe there is some value in the quasi-religious reverence of keeping an artifact, but in the case of alcohol it’s not just an object, not just beautiful, not just abstract like that. It’s also a beverage, and the narrator gets to the point where those kinds of myths can be renewed, not to diminish the magic but to enhance it, to give people the experience of getting to unseal a bottle that has been waiting for just that moment. Waiting to be consumed, to be enjoyed. That’s the magic, as much as the myth ever was, and the story captures it beautifully. An incredible read!

“When the Hawkweed Blooms” by Randall Hayes (1611 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a recent parent who is raising their child, Glory, by themself following the apparent loss of Glory’s other parent. Their life is a lot of routines, timetables, feedings and thoughts about biochemical levels. And flowers. And now Glory’s great-grandmother is coming to visit, young enough to seem around the narrator’s age despite the years that technically separate them, years that are relative thanks to her time in space. It’s a complex, quiet story about care and about boundaries. About parenting and about flowers. About growth, and family, and it features a slow build and a lovely and glowing feel.
Keywords: Flowers, Parenting, Space, Family, CW- Police, Chemicals
Review: I really like the way the story features this narrator going through the routine of care and compassion in raising a child, and how that is almost immediately undercut by the child’s great-grandmother because of her likely views on gender roles and motherhood. For me, part of the story is about the ways the world has changed while this person has been away. How for her it hasn’t been that long but for Earth it’s been generations, and the roles people were strongly conditioned to inhabit seem to be different now. The narrator cannot breastfeed but it makes them no less the parent and primary caregiver, and it’s rather traumatic for this woman to show up and immediately assume otherwise, assume that she is in some way “saving” this child. And it’s complicated by the ways that she’s been hurt, that her physical autonomy was violated. So that the great-grandmother is also a victim and has been deprived of something important to her. But it doesn’t excuse the way that she reacts to the narrator and to Glory, doesn’t excuse that she doesn’t ask, either, just sort of turns violation into new violations. And I like how the story is structured, giving this time table, this routine, these cycles of biochemicals that fluctuate during the day. And I love that the story leaves room for healing. Not that it undoes the damage but that people really trying to do better and dismantle their own bullshit can get better, and can earn trust. It’s a complicated story and I really like the mood and feel of it, the way it sweeps and bends and comforts. A wonderful read!

“Tempus Vernum” by Michelle Jäger (4240 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is trying to conceive, and at thirty-eight that’s not exactly an easy thing. After all other methods fail, though, the narrator is contacted about an experimental, “unofficial” method that might yet work. The process is strange, though, and the result is not what the narrator was expecting at all. The piece is difficult and complicated, looking at the desire for a child coupled with something of an identity crisis for the narrator. It’s a story that takes on some very complicated and loaded topics, but does so with respect and compassion, weaving a story about fear and hope, family and preparation.
Keywords: CW- Conception/Difficulty Conceiving, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Experiments, Drugs, Parenting, Plants
Review: I like that the story takes such a complicated look at the prospect of being a parent, at the ways a person can want a thing so desperately and still be repulsed by it at times. There is a push and pull, a desire to not have lost something that might be important, that is often framed as vital for women to be whole, to be mothers. And there’s a difference between choosing not to do a thing and not being able to, one further twisted by the fact that the result might indeed be something that’s viscerally unpleasant. And I like that the partner here is supportive through it all, and that indeed is something that the narrator has to contend with, that this is their decision to try this experimental thing but it’s the partner who takes to it easier, perhaps because he didn’t have to go through the most unpleasant parts, perhaps just because he takes to it easier. That doesn’t diminish what the narrator is going through, and it’s nice to see her grapple with that without ultimately casting the partner as a villain, as sinister in some way. He does seem like a decent guy, and one hopes that their partnership is a strong one. But really I do like how the story is so careful about such a difficult and complex topic. It does not tie the narrator’s value to their ability to have a child, but does show how important it is to them, and the wrenching and conflicting feelings both when they can’t and then when they eventually can have a child. There’s that line between rejecting the child and rejecting herself, rejecting the role she’s wanted and the reality that might not line up exactly with what she imagined. And it brings the narrator to a place where they can evaluate what they’ve done, gives them space and time to make up their mind, and is compassionate about their decision. A great read!

“Old Fashioned” by Steve Toase (3515 words)

No Spoilers: Medford is on a quest, even though at every turn he seems to be warned against it. He’s after the Silver King, and from there...well, that much isn’t exactly clear. First, though, he has to gather three parts of a sigil, and needs to go through a complex ritual to get where he wants to go. The piece is deeply strange and broken up by drink recipes that seem to reflect certain aspects of the magic and mystery of the setting. Mixed drinks seem to carry actual magic here, as protections and in more aggressive ways, and the piece does an interesting job of world building while crafting this strange tale of a man on a mission that eventually consumes him.
Keywords: Drinks, Portals, Transformations, Moths, Eggs
Review: This might represent the weirdest the issue has gone so far, taking the idea of cocktails and giving them magical force, Medford a kind of booze wizard who wants to summon a powerful and almost mythic figure--the Silver King. The why of the obsession is never really revealed--the motivation here is just that Medford wants this, has wanted it for a long time. Failing anything else, the reason can only really be arrogance, pride, that Medford thinks he should be able to do something that others cannot. This despite the fact that his quest almost ends in ruin, and that it’s only thanks to the charity/curiosity of another that he can even attempt it. And for me the story really roles out a nice horror feel, this man going through the steps needed to do something huge, something that’s not supposed to be done. But he’s confident in his own skills and not about to back down. What he hopes to gain I’m not sure, but what he gets is a nightmare. And I do love the feel of the piece, the way that the booze is magic, that it’s a kind of alchemy, a kind of spell that comes about with each recipe. It’s fun even as it’s creepy, and when it goes grim it goes grim, with some nicely chilling physical horror that doesn’t bother to conceal what’s going on because the visual horror is so effectively rendered. The ending is a relentless push, Medford pushed back and back, the story no longer bothering to really focus on his thoughts or actions beyond his flight, his fall. It’s a gruesome but compelling read, and one that I certainly recommend spending some time with. A great read!

“Whiskey and Bones” by A.Z. Louise (2130 words)

No Spoilers: Linnie’s father is a monster hunter, tasked with tracking down and taking care of the creatures that occasionally plague the forests where they live. But he’s starting to get older and more worn out from his journeys, and Linnie expects that they’ll be taught the craft sooner rather than later. But when more and more lumberjacks go missing while their father still needs time to recover from his last hunt, Linnie decides to take matters into their own hands. Armed with a bottle of whiskey and a rifle, they go out into the woods alone. The piece confronts this particular generational situation, finding in Linnie someone eager to get started by unaware of what the complexities might be in monster hunting. It’s tense and strange, the landscape Linnie moves through not just the woods but the secrets that have been kept from them.
Keywords: Monsters, Hunting, Whiskey, Family, Forests
Review: I like how this story builds up the familiar nature of the job of monster hunter, and how there seems to be more going on here than it seems. Linnie is still a child, just twelve and wanting to join their father on his trips without maybe seeing that there seems to be a lot more to them than there seems. The piece does a great job of building up a complex picture of the situation through the limited observations of Linnie, who doesn’t have the full context of everything. To them, the booze their father brings is a necessary part of the hunt, and maybe it is, but given all the things they learn while out in the woods, I feel the story is working around some rather grim things, some secrets that Linnie is stumbling into, and not about to let alone. In many ways the story feels like the start of something, or perhaps like an end of something else. There’s a lot of wonderful world building and I love the sequence in the woods with the owl. And there’s just this very real sense that Things Are Not Right that culminates in Linnie’s discovery and decision to do something about it. Something that seems like it will change a lot of things, and destroy a lot of things, Linnie’s childhood maybe along with it. And while the story doesn’t really follow that through, the implications speak loudly, and maybe this is just the first in a larger story that will feature the character/setting. And it’s a great read!


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