Monday, July 13, 2020

Quick Sips - Fiyah Literary Magazine #15

Art by Cyan Daly

Fiyah is back with a new issue and four original stories and three new poems! It’s also the third non-themed issue in a row, and gathers up stories that feature science fiction, fantasy, and touches of horror. And there are some things that run throughout the works, most prominent to me the theme of memory. The stories tie into memory and history, showing the weight that the characters carry because of their pasts, because of the systems that have been built over time, that carry with them memories codified into traditions and rituals. Some of the characters are running from those memories, some trying their best to hold onto them. Whatever the case, though, the works explore what it means to remember, what it means to engage with a world that itself can seem alive and not always concerned about the lives of the people living inside it. It’s a wonderful issue, and I’ll get right to my reviews!


“Red Cloth, White Giraffe” by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu (4065 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is dead. Dead of kidney failure and now waiting for her body to be buried so she can enter the Ancestral Realm and become a spirit. That’s not the only outcome possible for her, though, especially if she’s not buried in a timely fashion, something her family is preventing by demanding her husband pays what’s owed on a bride price that he had been doing in installments. The piece looks at ritual and family, at the ways that people and especially women are tied with the threads of tradition and expectation, and how sometimes they can cut that thread, though not without consequence.
Keywords: Funerals, Marriage, Rituals, Ghosts, Vengeance
Review: I love how this story captures the layered rituals and beliefs surrounding death for the narrator, and recognizes the way death and the afterlife is organized isn’t exactly fair, just as the systems that dominated her mortal life hadn’t been fair either. Practices like bride prices that treat women as property, that benefit only men, that can be leverage like here to prevent the narrator from being buried, her family more concerned with money they feel owed than they are about her immortal spirit. And that sets up a situation both where she has time to come to terms with what she’s capable of as a dead person and the motivation to explore that despite the warnings she’s had growing up about avoiding becoming an avenging spirit, a ngozi. But then, she’s been told to accept a lot, that she’s supposed to want a lot of things. Only the afterlife doesn’t seem to offer any escape from the injustices that she’s had to deal with, is still corrupt in ways and hostile in ways, would deny a woman rest just because she wasn’t buried “whole.” Which leaves her without much interest in moving on. It’s just another tradition that will probably let her down, that will just lead to more pain, to more frustration, to having to always depend on others. And the narrator is tired of that, chooses to renounce that in favor of becoming something she was taught to avoid. And I love the power of that, the recognition that she can make her own afterlife, and be empowered in it to actually change things, to punish the wick and try and maybe support the innocent by at least clearing out some roadblocks in their way. She might not be able to fix the system entirely, but she can surely fight back against the ways she was used, avenging herself on those who sought to exploit and profit off her body, her love, and her death. A great way to kick off the issue!

“The Last Testament” by Aurelius Raines II (5049 words)

No Spoilers: Zahir is a robot, a recreation of a person made by Ada, who was Zahir’s sister. Who refused to just accept that her brother, killed by police while in custody, was gone and that there would be no justice for his murder. So she built her brother back, giving him all the tools to learn how to be Zahir, even as it kept open the terrible wounds that his loss had done to her. The piece unfolds from Zahir’s point of view, and mixes a robotic outlook on the world with a singular and brotherly care that drowns out everything else. It’s a heartwarming and beautiful piece, for all that it deals with some very heavy issues, and features a large dose of police violence.
Keywords: Robots, AI, Family, CW- Police, Infiltration, Hacking
Review: This story really captures the family dynamic of the siblings in a way that speaks to love and annoyance, rivalry and care. They read so read, their dedication to each other unquestioning, even if it means bending a world-class mind to a bit of anti-authority violence. Because Zahir is created to be a statement and a weapon. For all that he also seems quite alive, he was designed in order to be what Ada’s voice and presence could not be despite her awards and her intelligence. There is simply no using the system to bring justice to policing. It’s too corrupt, too far gone, that all Ada can do is create what some people would call a monster, and what even she seems to view as a tool, as a weapon. It’s a complicated situation, because Zahir is both more than that and exactly that, unable to separate out the parts of himself that are the brother from the parts that are the tool to make the police pay for what they’ve done. A bit like the last story, the focus here is on avenging, and in the case of Zahir on avenging himself after his murder. Like with the last story, that makes him something of a traditional monster, like the ngozi, but a being of metal and wires capable of standing against the bullets and batons of the police. Able to make them truly afraid. Not just for their safety, but afraid that they might meet something their own violence cannot best, cannot beat back down. The thing the police are afraid of here isn’t that Zahir will kill them all but rather than their power, that’s supposed to be absolute, only extends as far as their weapons are superior (the poster reason for why police militarize, not to stay safe but to avoid the possibility of being held to account). With Zahir, they’ve lost the advantage, and their real reckoning seems about ready to start. It’s a wonderfully imagined piece with a heart that’s warm and vibrant, that really gets family and the ways that they can be shattered and reknit. It’s a wonderful and familiar future that’s revealed, and one that finds a hope of sorts in the brilliance and love of its characters. A fantastic read!

“The Black Menagerie” by Endria Isa Richardson (6956 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is in a relationship with a woman, Victoria, who comes into some money, and who might use it to have something to do with another woman named Alta, who lives in a large house known as the Black Menagerie. And the story folds and unfolds around the three of them, the narrator instantly pulled towards Alta, who is in turn pulled by the narrator. They trace lines of history and desire, power and, most importantly, fear. The piece is kinda weird but more than that it’s formally daring, playing with layers of authorship and fear as the narrator contends with a being who stalks the night, to sheds their skin and goes out bloodless into the nightmares of others.
Keywords: Houses, Teeth, Inheritance, Queer MC, History
Review: This piece is lovely and sensual for all that it’s also about fear and control, about women who experience a kind of intense push and pull between desire and fear. They seem to want to hold fear, to own it, and in doing so they both set people free of their fear and might just take a bit of control over them. It’s strange, and complex, and unfolds for Alta at least over centuries, though I think the story also plays with that, with making the narrator a storyteller who has a tendency of not always telling the truth. They’re the one who gets the perspective, who is telling all of this, who is exerting their own kind of control by giving everything shape and intent. And the story is a strange one and a powerful one, showing what happens when people fear, when their fear is contained, a caged thing. How it leads to violence, and to hate, and to all sorts of terrible things. And how Alta seeks to counter some of that with her magic and her power, not by being mild, not by trying to seem safe. But by embracing the opposite. By leaning into her nature and her powers in order to free people of their fear contained. Not that it makes them less afraid, but that it redirects the fear towards something much more pressing, much more tangible--Alta and her ability to slip into their minds, into their homes, Alta who is no longer asking permission, who is now doing a service rather than operating on ritual and formalities. And how she and the narrator come together is so great, the ways they fit, the ways they work together in conflict and harmony both. I do feel that I probably would need to go back and give this a second reading (and maybe more) to really get everything that’s going on, but what’s here is lovely and steeped in shadows, in night, in the strange promise of blood and skin. It interrogates fear and makes a meta statement about the power of stories to do what Alta does, to touch people in ways that will free people’s fears. It’s complex and wonderfully built, and I definitely recommend checking it out!

“Your Name is Oblivia” by Vincent Tirado (4451 words)

No Spoilers: Revealed in the second person, “you” are Oblivia and you work at a bar. Not just a regular bar, though. This one serves drinks that are laced with memories as well as alcohol. And each patron is given a punch card so that after ten drinks bought with money, they have to pay with memories of their own, memories that they’ll lose when collected by Oblivia. The rules of the bar for Oblivia are about as simple as their own missing memories--no fraternizing, no off-menu drink making, and no avoiding the punch-card extractions. Yet even so, they can’t seem to stop from making a connection with one of the bar’s customers, which leads to some complicated consequences.
Keywords: Bars, Drinks, Memories, Family, Cults, Bargains
Review: I love the premise of the story, that here’s this bar where people go to imbibe memories, but it’s kinda a trap. Exploiting people’s desires to escape their own issues so that their memories can be mined and taken to keep the cycle going strong. Oblivia doesn’t really like the set up, but neither are they too broken up about it. In part, because they have no memory, they just figure that they must be okay with it. Only it seems like maybe they aren’t. Because apparently they keep on making the same “mistakes,” constantly reaching out to those people who really need help and trying to steer them away from trouble. And I love the way the story reveals that, in the things that they won’t throw away, in the rules that are designed specifically to keep this from happening again. And it’s such a nice twist all the same, how Oblivia is related to the bar’s owner, what’s been happening here from the start, the strange bargains that have always been going on. Oblivia’s, in agreeing to be mind-wiped if it means giving people more of a chance to escape having to pay in memories. The people who they try to save, in trading the sensations of the memories for things they can’t get back. The bar owner, betting or hoping that this time the mind wipe will take, because every time Oblivia seems that much closer to actually getting what they want. Which is an exit to the cycle. To the way that things always seem to bend back to the start. I love the names, too, because it plays into that as well, that old saying that those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. Only it’s a lie. Oblivia doesn’t know history. They’re not guided by any sort of precedent. Instead, they are guided by their own sense of right and wrong. By the part of themself that knows that this is not a good system. That taking people’s memories isn’t right. And in the end they win, and there’s such a great joy in that, a satisfaction that the story captures perfectly. A fabulous read!


“The Technicolor Simulations: Test #2020-Z” by Maya C. James

This poem melds words and Morse code to create a strange sense of digitized potential, the feeling that the poem is revealing a simulation but also carries the implication that maybe the world we’re living in, the way the year has gone, is actually a simulation rather than reality. Or at the least that it carries that feeling, like somehow the year is a test for something, a way of working out some bugs, but for those caught in the middle of it the simulation is definitely real enough. And the piece I think goes a bit deeper than that, imagining a situation where the coded seek to take power back from the coders. Where the promise of the technicolor dreams have given way to a sort of frustration, an anger that the promises were never fulfilled, that we never got past the white-black binary, never followed through on the plans to make something better. And so those who were waiting stopped waiting and decided to rise, and to leave. To call the year what it is and refuse to play along the lines the coders planned for. As the poem moves, the morse code sections speak a different language, one that’s suppressed, but one that’s gaining power throughout, working in this subtext, working as this ghost in the machine, working as this wave that is rising, that is pushing away all the hollow wishes and prayers and is finally taking action. And I just really like the way the poem structures, the feeling of this hidden voice getting louder and louder, where what it’s saying is the truth that the technicolor dreams covered up. But those dreams are steeped in nostalgia, in a present that was someone’s better future but that never came to be. So now the anger, the reckoning, the movement to change. One that’s not asking permission and not seeking consensus. It’s a wonderful read!

“Late Moonwalk” by Uche Ogbuji

This piece has a great flow to it, a beat and a rhythm that carries through, that weaves into being this vision of a moonwalk, of a person being able to set foot on the moon. Not just a person, though. A family. And as the narrator seems to take their time, getting the full experience, the one small step nostalgia, their children do not have the same restraint. They jump, they joy, they celebrate the moon in a way that might seem reckless but that is also taking full advantage of the lesser gravity, the sense of weightlessness that can come from it. And for me part of the piece seems to be about appreciating that thrill that those younger people take in immediately testing the limits and jumping around rather than just walking. The way that it might speak to their capacity to explore, to take chances. There seems to me to be a bit about the prospects of that generation being the ones to discover things, find aliens, things like that--how it might leap out from, well, leaping up. How it’s really something to be able to feel free and alive and fun. Which is what a lot of the piece captures for me, this feeling of freedom, this rush of feelings and delight at experiencing something new and interesting. And the ending seems to bring the piece back, the moonwalk perhaps just a simulation, perhaps part of some virtual reality. But the sentiment is still there, the feelings are still there. The wonder and the beauty and the joy most of all. It’s all real, regardless of if the specific images were virtual or not. And it’s a lovely, moving, very lyrical poem with a great sound and impact. Definitely go check it out!

“Libations” by Soonest Nathaniel

This is a rather strange poem that speaks to me of rituals, of time, of history. That’s the refrain, after all, a reassurance that history accepts all things in offering. And in that I mean it’s true, though few would really consider history a god worth making offerings to, and there’s a sense for me that history is a bit more hungry here, that it’s not so much that people are trying to honor history but rather that history is this mouth, this maw, that is constantly taking. That is actively eating the past to get to the present. History accepts because history is what is left, is inevitable, is unstoppable. And I think for me part of what the poem is dealing with is that history is rather apathetic to the whole thing. That history accepts but it doesn’t grant anything. It’s the deity of spills that are then claimed as offerings, history the cleaner, the equalizer. And I guess for me there’s something rather haunting in that, in the way the poem moves, the emphasis on danger and loss, dead gods and split families. It’s not really a happy piece to me, drawing a line under the ways that history accepts but also doesn’t ask. The acceptance of history doesn’t mean comfort, doesn’t mean having a place, or being recognized. So much of history is lost to all but itself, accept in the way that any libation offered is accepted, with the moisture absorbed into the ground and air. They linger for moments only and are then gone. And so I mean I really like that the poem emphasizes that history will accept everything, but also that there’s really no point in pouring one out for history, because for all its reach, for all that it claims and accepts, it’s not at all a god that will listen or respond, not one to offer either protection or luck. Which is a great way to close out the issue!


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