Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Quick Sips - Uncanny #34 [June stuff]

Art by Julie Dillon
The June original content at Uncanny Magazine is out and features two short stories, one novelette, and two poems, as well as a wealth of excellent nonfiction that I won’t be covering here. The works showcase a variety of genres and styles, though there is a distinct fantastical lean to these works. There are superheroes and sirens, magical communing over dresses, ghosts and memories that go deeper than the skin, deeper than the consciousness. The works show people reaching for expression, trying to push back against the forces trying to silence and co-opt them. It’s a wonderful collection of SFF this month, and I’ll dive right into the reviews!


“Dresses Like White Elephants” by Meg Elison (2538 words)

No Spoilers: Beni is a drag queen getting ready for what will likely be his last show. So he’s at a dress convention looking for the perfect piece, passing over the standard for something a little weird, something that’s definitely going to be a risk. The act of picking out a dress isn’t just about how it looks, though--there is a magic that acts as an additional price that must be paid, and Beni has to ask himself if he’s willing to pay it. The piece looks at longing and at expression, on the joy and pain that sometimes walk hand in hand with trying to figure out how to be yourself, even when you’re pretending to be someone else. It’s bright and fierce for all that it’s soft as well, and just a nice, fun read.
Keywords: Dresses, CW- Abuse, Drag, Queer MC, Memory
Review: For me a lot of this story is about trying to find ways to exist, ways to balance the fear and the yearning for acceptance and love with a true expression of who a person is. Beni is aging and knows it, is almost out of the drag game but wants to go out with a bang. It’s not that he’s never had acceptance or guidance, not that he’s never been allowed to be himself. But he does feel overlooked and unseen, glossed over, and he wants to be witnessed, wants to be cherished. It’s something that resonates in the dress he finds and the woman who owned it. A woman who has gone through her own journey reaching for acceptance, reaching for someone to cherish her. What she found was pain and abuse and the need to escape. She didn’t have the help that Beni did, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t survive, that she didn’t find her own way to be. And the way they share that, the way that Beni pays for the dress, is interesting and complex and strange, but rather beautiful as well. It allows Beni to understand the history of the dress in order to play his role better, to better express himself on stage. And for the woman, Melissa, it’s a way of stepping away, of starting a new page, of dropping some of the weight of her baggage. And it’s rather lovely. I also like how the story plays with its title and with the reference to the Hemmingway story, how the story doesn’t condemn her for getting an abortion, how it’s nothing to be ashamed of, how indeed it’s what allows her to escape her abuser, to get the freedom she needed to be find herself. And it takes the whole brooding centering of the cishet white dude in Hemmingway’s story and throws it out the window, which is rather nice. Instead of a story about a man trying to coerce a woman, pointedly not empathizing with her, it’s a story about a man choosing to understand what it feels like to face certain kinds of hurts, and both becoming stronger and richer for it. It’s a layered, fun read, and I definitely recommend spending some time with it!

“Burn or The Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super” by A. T. Greenblatt (9668 words)

No Spoilers: Sam Wells found out he was a Super in a rather dramatic fashion--in a bar fight that was caught on camera and went viral. Now he’s applying to the Super Team because he wants to be a hero, wants to make a difference. Only the reason he’s let onto the team isn’t to save people, exactly...it’s because of his accounting skills. But despite the disappointment, being on a team gives Sam something he desperately needs--community. And as he experiences the ups and downs of being a Super, that’s the thing that rises most important in his life. It’s a wonderful and moving story, setting up Supers as a metaphorically marginalized group and placing Sam in an interesting place within that metaphor.
Keywords: Superpowers, Teams, Fire, Queer MC, Prejudice
Review: I’m a fan of superhero stories (and those familiar with me and my work might guess) and I like how this story takes the idea and makes it a lot like Marvel’s mutants (though powers here develop in the mid to late twenties rather than during puberty), where the rest of society isn’t a big fan. People hate what they don’t understand, especially when they view Supers as having some power that they haven’t “earned.” And that part of the piece rings true, placing Sam at an intersection of marginalizations then and struggling with it, because being a Super makes him a target, means that he has to be even more controlled than everyone else. It’s an added burden that some people seem to view as some sort of benefit (a refrain that you hear a lot from people who think that marginalized people get preferential treatment or affirmative action when even if they did the barriers for them never tip the scales into a net positive). Now, metaphorical minority stories are sometimes a bit fraught and I’m super glad that the story including literal minorities there, too (and I admit I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when the bigoted teller wanted Supers deported because I do think that’s the position that a lot of terrible people take for every minority they don’t like). And for me Sam is a complex character, full of insecurities and fears, hopes and fantasies, wanting this thing to Mean Something, even as that’s kind of a privileged position to take. And I like how he’s able to find community, is able to shift his perspective and expectations so that his struggle is less about him as a hero and is more about activist work, more about trying to make it so that people can live and survive in a hostile environment. Not to make himself a hero and seen and widely appreciated but because there is a joy in community, in mutual support, in found family. It’s a sweet story, one that treads carefully even as it builds up a whole alternative world, one that definitely reflects a lot of issues present in our own. A wonderful read!

“We Chased the Sirens” by Suzanne Walker (826 words)

No Spoilers: This story follows the crew of a ship that shifts depending on who is at the helm, the people who sail it united in their pursuit of the sirens. The reasons for why, though, is something that the story is giving voice to setting straight. Or, well, I mean straight might not be the right word, because the piece seems queer af, but still. The piece paints a picture of a group who seem to have been miscategorized. Who intentions have been guessed...wrongly. Who are not out for revenge but for something more powerful and more freeing. It’s a bright, brisk, flowing piece, full of the taste of the sea, of blood, and of truths finally embraced.
Keywords: Seas, Sailing, Ships, Names, Sirens, Queer MC
Review: For me this story speaks of a group, of a community of people (mostly if not all women) who have known hurt. The use of Siren’s evokes myths about men being lured to their deaths, and from the way the crew chases the sirens, the first thought might be that these are the women left behind from those men drowned and broken. But the truth seems more complex than that, and the piece makes a clear distinction between hunting the sirens and chasing them. The crew is doing the later, which means they don’t seem to be interested in just revenging themselves on the sirens, for all the ship is named a revenge when the narrator is at the helm. But for me that revenge is not about punishing the sirens, but rather pushing back against the narratives that would make the narrator a victim, that would make any of these people a victim. Their revenge is reaching for this impossible horizon and grasping it. Chasing the sirens and catching up, despite the difficulties, despite the pain and the loss that they’ve all suffered. Not to fight, not to take, but because they could. To prove to themselves and to the rest of the world that they can do this thing. That they have. For me at least it speaks to power, to this community coming together to do something powerful and magical, stepping outside of the oppressive atmosphere that they’ve had to live with, that they’ve almost been destroyed by, and instead defining their own journey, their own desires, and their own future. A fantastic read!


“ask them who is doing the haunting (a vietnamese american underwater fairytale)” by T.K. Lê

This piece speaks to me of violence and history, of ghosts, of the living and the dead and the debts between them. The first thing that strikes me about the piece is the layout, the space it takes up on the page/screen. there is a space to it, a sense almost of winding, a liquidity or gaseousness maybe that breaks from rigid borders and lines. Here I feel the piece is speaking in a voice that is behind a veil, that is coming through but with a kind of halting flow, not rushed and leaving space between the words for a sort of hidden structure and undercurrent to be felt. The white space might be silences, a recognition of those who have been lost, who are constantly being called back, constantly evoked. The poem seems to explore that space, the silence and the voices, the words and the space. The narrator of the piece, or narrators (as they tend to use the plural “we”), speaks of the ways the living haunt the dead, refuse them rest, call them back again and again. And there is such strong voice that comes through that, a rebuke, an anger that seems to me to cut through as the dead but accept the narrative put upon them by the living who might use them to reinforce and glorify the same things that led these people being dead. That led to them losing their loved ones, being pushed across the line of mortality. And in that rebuke is a call to examine the lies that get told, the narratives that will only lead to more and more dead, more and more silent people haunted by the living, used and used and never listened to, even when the dead can find a voice and try and speak out against this haunting. It’s a moving piece, complex and very much spending some time with. A great read!

“deep sleep” by Roshani Chokshi

This is a beautiful piece that speaks to me of movement, of immigration and migration, of monarchs and people and the things lost across large distances. The piece links immigrants to butterflies, and for me it makes that connection by instincts and a kind...well, it’s not exactly magic. It’s identity, the way that someone born so far from where their familial roots are but still aware of who they are, still aware of a home that’s been left, still aware and marked in many ways by what they have lost, what they might not be fully conscious of. The poem looks at the ways that travel breeds loss, the little things that are always misplaced, that go missing and never turn up, that must have been left in an airport, a bus station, a diner or rest stop. Like the ways the butterflies lose things, though here the implications become deeper, more complicated. Because the butterflies lose...other butterflies, the migration one that some just never make, that is generational and vital but that comes with a kind of attrition. For the narrator the things that are lost are languages that their parents might have known--the memory of what their parents’ home looked like. The people who were left behind, or the ones who didn’t make it the whole way. And I like that the piece seems to me to imagine this kind of imprinting that happens on people, that informs their identity, something marrow-deep that writes onto them things that they might not be fully aware of, that they might only discover with time, and with the way that they are pulled toward certain directions, the way their heart leans toward a home that they might never have seen, but they can still feel. It’s a wonderful exploration and imagining of the power of migration, of immigration, full of a grace and beauty but aware always of the loss, the cost, and the knowledge of what has been left behind. An amazing way to close out the issue!


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