Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #65

Art by Joey Jordan

July brings two new stories to Diabolical Plots, and they’re both about abilities that make people different. And the responsibilities of those who have such abilities. To work proactively for good. To save those who can be saved. To put their own safety, their own lives, on the line, because even if they didn’t cause what’s happening, they have to be involved with trying to fix it. Otherwise they become part of the systems that failed them, part of the cycle of difference and exploitation and fear and violence they claim to want to end. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!


“Minutes Past Midnight” by Mark Rivett (2976 words)

No Spoilers: Ruth is a superhero gifted with both super speed and super strength, both of which she’s using with as much precision as she can to prevent the nuclear onset of a new world war. She’s doing it guided by a telepath to help her destroy the world’s nuclear weapons before they’re fired. Not that she can stop all of them. Not when she’s conflicted about presumably betraying her employers, her government, and maybe even her wife. The piece is intense and deals with trying to wield power responsibly even when power has been wielded incredibly irresponsibly and shit is hitting the fan. It’s about the frantic want to protect, and save, as many people as possible, and how one person, even a superpowered one, isn’t really enough for that.
Keywords: War, Nuclear Weapons, Superpowers, Telepathy, Queer MC
Review: I’m a fan of superhero stories, and I like that this story works into the ideas of power and responsibility, loyalty and governments. It finds Ruth defying her own government, destroying not only the nuclear weapons of her “enemies” but also her “allies.” This doesn’t exactly make her popular with her team, nor exactly her wife, who gets pulled in to try and talk her out of it. The piece weighs power and need quite well, showing Ruth moving through government installations as fast as she can to destroy missiles, trying to kill anyone in the process but not always succeeding in that regard. She’s considering her larger responsibility to act, to try and remove the weapons of war that, unlike her, can’t disobey when they receive the order to do something unconscionable. And I like the way the story handles that tension, that conflict that Ruth has, where she’s a superhero, perhaps a bit used to thinking of things in rather black and white terms. When your job is punching other superpowered people in the face, subtlety probably isn’t high on the skills that you practice all t time, but Ruth is trying, trying in the face of the missiles firing, of death being visited on city after city. But she doesn’t give up, even when it means putting herself very much on the line to try and stop one of the bombs she couldn’t stop from launching. A bomb that is set to hit an American city. And the piece doesn’t really pull its punches, either, showing that despite being a superhero, not all stories have a happy ending. Because while there’s often the urge to examine the ethics of superpowers, too few people anymore examine the ethics of the military. Superheroes in general, which used to be metaphors for all the regular people of the world stepping up and fighting for good, have become other people. Have become deus ex who release people from having to stand by the own convictions rather than examples people can bring home to their own lives. Ruth fails not because she’s not powerful or talented. Not because her heart’s in the wrong place. But because you can’t save people by fighting their battles for them. And the problems that led to this conflict Ruth is trying to quell is about more than bombs. It’s something that not even super speed and super strength can touch. It doesn’t make the ending any less tragic, but for me it puts it in a light where I can still read a critique of our system rather than just a really brutally sad ending. It’s a great read!

“Bring the Bones That Sing” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (3496 words)

No Spoilers: Muriel is a young (almost certainly autistic) girl who is spending the summer with her grandma. Her grandma who receives bird skeletons on her porch every day and gives Muriel instructions not to touch them. Muriel is curious, though, and when that overrides her caution she learns what the bones are, and what her grandma’s role with them is. And she also might inadvertently do something that requires her to go into a place of her worst fears to retrieve part of a song in order to keep a promise to a new friend. The piece looks closely at Muriel’s sensory experience, the ways the world can be hostile at times, but also the ways that people show that they see and want to try and help Muriel live as comfortably as possible, because she has so much to offer as long as she’s not being forced into an environment that’s actively hurting her.
Keywords: Bones, Friends, Songs, Death, Family, Autistic MC
Review: I love the way the story gets into Muriel’s experience, showing a sensory experience that many readers, like me, might find quite different from the allistic experience. And it’s presented without the judgment that normally comes along with that, that might label Muriel as “difficult” because she has meltdowns, because she needs to be better able to control the sounds and textures around her than most. And I love that she gets this adventure that arises from her reaching out and touching this bone, this skeleton, and almost immediately making a friend. It’s an act of disobedience but more just being a kid and occasionally making some mistakes. And I like how the grandma handles it, seeing that her grandchild has taken this step and knowing that she has to follow through on it. Secretly I suspect the grandma was kind of waiting for this, because you don’t put that kind of temptation in front of a kid without kinda expecting that they’re going to do the thing. She’s not angry, and indeed she might want this, want someone to share her secrets with. But she’s also not going to force the matter. And so it becomes up to Muriel, and it remains up to Muriel how much she wants to get involved. It’s not a small thing, having to confront her fears, and the story renders that viscerally, showing the cost for Muriel of essentially having to go through ordeals that allistic people just don’t fully grasp. But doing that for a reason, doing that in order to help a friend rather than because the system isn’t designed for her, is what helps her cope and find what she needs to. And it gives her strength, too, to deal with how she’ll have to go back to the systems that hurt her, but armed with the knowledge that there’s a place for her that makes sense. Where she can fit. And that can give her in song and support ways to cope and get through even her worst nightmares. A wonderful read!


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