|Art by Kirbi Fagan|
A new Uncanny is out and the July offerings including four short stories and two poems. There’s a lot in the works about communication, about worlds ending, about people reaching out despite that, finding comfort and strength amidst the chaos and destruction. That might mean people kindling a friendship as the rain forests burn half a world away, or parents uniting to fight the monsters that seem legion, or a couple struggling under the shadow of an asteroid bearing down on the planet. Whatever the case, the works feature complex and careful takes on time, destruction, and effort, and before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!
“A Pale Horse” by M Evan MacGriogair (5697 words)
No Spoilers: This story unfolds around a correspondence. One that begins with an anonymous message that the main character answers, an invitation in the shadow of what might be the end of the world. What has become just another day in the series of apocalypses going on all around us. For the main character, it’s not an easy thing to face, and she takes in news in chunks, finds what comfort she can in her friends and her passions--music, language. But it’s not until she starts receiving bits of strange music that she begins to be able to see past the violence and the pain around her, and finds what might be waiting there. The piece is heavy and strange and beautiful.
Keywords: Language, Music, Messages, Climate Change, CW- Shootings, Apocalypses
Review: For me this story says a lot about the weight of the world ending. Of worlds ending. Because even if the world is actually coming to The End, it is for a lot of people, for certain peoples even. For animals and for languages and for so much. And the effort to stand and face the relentless waves of bad news, tragedy, and calls to action can be exhausting, especially when paired with personal issues. Shitty ex partners. Friends who are battling their personal demons. Having to work a job you’re not thrilled about with people who overstep your boundaries. The main character here is dealing with a lot and that sense of tired, of exhaustion, of needing some relief, really shines through for me. The main character has this desire to heal, to save, to help, and seeing that again and again she can’t do enough in the face of all the things going wrong is shattering. Only of course “enough” is a personal thing, because no one person can be responsible for everything. Especially no one person without a lot of power. The main character keeps trying, though, finding the music at the end of the world, an energy and a power that bad news cannot destroy, that loss cannot silence. And she finds a way to share it, to resonate with others, charging them all up so that they can keep working toward a future where they exist. Where their language and their world exists. And they might not get there, in the end. But it won’t be their failure. And it hasn’t happened yet. For the moment, they find ways to push ahead, to inspire, to comfort, to guide. To reassure, which can be a hugely powerful thing. It’s a beautiful story that takes on the ways the world is ending and the powerless pain that comes from watching it happen. And it’s a wonderful read!
“A Love Song for Herkinal as composed by Ashkernas amid the ruins of New Haven” by Chinelo Onwualu (4425 words)
No Spoilers: Herkinal and Ashkernas are sister, used to be con artists before the Accident. Since then, with the the African Diaspora returned to Africa and the rest of the world simply vanished, it’s been an interesting time. But amid it all, New Haven has grown, and created something like a Utopia for those who remain. Plus there’s superpowers. And spirits. Which might sound like A Lot but really rolls into the setting and story well, where Herkinal and Ash have a Sight that allows them to see into the spirit world. They run a small hotel and try to keep out of trouble but trouble, alas, has a way of finding them. Like the man and woman who walk through their doors, looking for a room. What follows isn’t exactly urban fantasy, isn’t exactly a utopia story. It’s about family, and about a world that’s changed, but not in all the ways it might should have. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Keywords: Hotels, Spirits, Superpowers, Transformations, Family
Review: I love the world building of this story, the way that it doesn’t even try to go less than All The Way when it comes to setting up the world. Africa is centered and the situation is...weird. Better for the removal of all the systemic issues imposed on the continent from the outside. Better for the removal of a great many of the lingering colonial wounds. Better for being run by teachers who care about eliminating poverty and ignorance. But not perfect. Not with bratty sisters and annoying ghosts and elements of the world grimmer still. Because what Herkinal faces when this man and woman check in is a reminder that for all taking away the wounds inflicted on Africa from the outside has made the situation so much better, it doesn’t fix everything. Still there are men who feel they can own women, who feel they can impose their wills on woman and if they are refused can respond with violence and force. So it’s not a utopia. But that doesn’t mean it’s not much better, and I love how the story shows this family dealing with their gifts and finding ways to navigate the hurt and the tragedy that still lingers. Easing what they can, trying to prevent what they can, and healing what they can. It’s not perfect, but it is rather wonderful, and I just love the energy that Herkinal brings to it, the tired but also the determination, the grumpy but also the love. The elements with her niece are great, and the piece just has this great, epic feel to it, like there’s a lot more. If so, I’m fully on board, because the mixture of elements, the suspense and tragedy cut with joy and magic, is just wonderful. Definitely go check this one out!
“Once More Unto the Breach (But Don’t Worry, the Inflatable Swords Are Latex-Free)” by Tina Connolly (777 words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, this story finds you in a never ending birthday part, one of countless going on all around you, the parents at each haggard and worn, plagued by guilt and by the world that they’ve brought their children into, their own hopes and fears and exhaustions. The piece is short and sharp, your crisis that of many parents who don’t really know what they’re doing, who are making it up as they go along. But they’ve not giving up, all the same. Even when the party lasts forever and is full of monsters. It’s a strange piece, tired but resolved, and it makes for a compelling experience.
Keywords: Parties, Birthdays, Parenting, Monsters, Games
Review: I do like the way the story frames the strangeness of parenthood, casting it as an endless birthday party, hectic and wild, out of control even as there’s supposed to be a plan, supposed to be order of a sort. Despite that, though, the plans fall through, the party games turn bloody, and somewhere in the mix some monsters arrive and things get really fucked. More than that, though, I like that I feel the story engages with the thorny issues of being a parent and doesn’t sort of fall back on the idea that the children will save us. There is no comfort in the story, really, no reassurance that you or anyone else is really “doing it right.” There is fear and doubt and guilt, and rightly so, because children need a lot, and can be deeply hurt by parents, and worse yet can be deeply hurt by a world that might hate them, that might force them to bend or break. Having brought the children into that world, there’s a certain responsibility on parents to try as much as they can. Which is heavy, because the world is a fucked up place. And really I mean the responsibility stretches farther than parents, extends to all people, because there are plenty of things that parents can’t control. But this story remains contained to the party, to the immediacy of it, the way that for these people being a parent is this crash and chaos, this battle that is never really won so much as survived. Continued each day, each day a party, each party lasting as long as children are children, and longer, in a cycle on and on. And the story again, doesn’t exactly offer a comfort for that, except in the chance for unity that it offers. The voices at the end coming together in the ragged celebration that even in amidst the wreck of time, another year has passed, another milestone met. And they are not alone, as much as it seems not enough at times, as much as it seem impossible at times. Other people have been there, are there, will be there. And while it might not help too much in a material sense, maybe it will help in a mental or emotional sense. To know that it can be survived, that people can push for better for themselves, for their families. It’s a great read!
“The World Ends in Salty Fingers and Sugared Lips” by Jenn Reese (895 words)
No Spoilers: Lauren and Kaia are on a road trip. One that could be their last, for a number of reasons. And it’s hard I guess to say which is the more pressing reason. That Lauren is convinced Kaia is going to break up with them? Or that an asteroid is hurtling toward the Earth and is about to blow it up? You’d think one of those would be the clear favorite, but instead the story does a wonderful of complicating both, with humor and tension and a time looping not-paradox that makes the situation possible (if complicated). It’s a fun story, about how sometimes it’s worry and doubt and fear that are the biggest threats to a person’s happiness (bigger even than a giant asteroid on a collision course with the planet).
Keywords: Asteroids, Time Loops, Relationships, Queer MC, Gas Stations, Snacks
Review: I might be something of a sucker for time loop romance stories, especially when they’re queer and short. Which I understand is a very specific niche but it’s also one that I’m happy to inhabit. And this story does such a great job of it, casting these two characters on a road trip, the narrator so afraid that they’re going to lose their partner. Despite the fact that they’re on a road trip together and things seem pretty normal, the fear that it’s going to happen is getting in the way of the narrator actually being able to be close with her. To really use the time to enjoy being with the person they presumably like and maybe love. And not lose to the asteroid, but lose to the more mundane reasons a relationship might end. The asteroid does some great things, adding a layer of fear, showing why it’s important. Because they are out in the world, still going on this trip. Not cowering at home. Not waiting for the asteroid to find them. And that’s what the narrator, what Lauren needs to bring to their relationship, too. Not cowering, not waiting, not hesitating. Not living in fear that it will end. But embracing it and working through it, and if it ends then it ends, but it won’t be because she pulled away to protect herself from something that she then kinda caused. So it’s really no surprise that when Lauren can work through her fear and find ways to have fun and embrace the uncertainty but also their feelings that the world ends up not being destroyed. Because that, too, was made possible by people not waiting, not letting fear and a sense of inevitability stop them from trying. A wonderful read!
“saltwashed” by Jennifer Mace
This is a strange and sensual poem that speaks to me of waters, and time, and bodies moving in the deep. The narrator is a being who can slip out of their skin, who can bring down the moon, who can sink and rise int he vast ocean. They are speaking to someone, a second person You, a beloved who pulls at them like waves to a shore. There is an element of grief, here, and maybe deception. The narrator speaks to you in a soothing kind of way, about wounds and shells. They seem to want to draw you out of your grief while you want to capture someone you’ve lost. And the narrator isn’t that person but also loves you, also doesn’t quite mind the guise, the lie. Because you are worth it for them, worth pretending or at least going through the motions, even if they aren’t right. Even if the form doesn’t quite fit. Of the nature of the narrator it’s hard for me to tell. They feel almost like a water spirit, a being of the vast waters, who has found this person mourning and trying your magic to bring someone back and has taken advantage. The piece is structured in pieces separated by waving lines, creating a progression for me, a deepening in some ways of the narrative. With each section the narrator seems to draw you out, away from sore, into the deep. Only when the narrator has you under their power, without really the ability to escape, do they reveal the truth, that they aren’t who you think, that you might be in more trouble than you knew. And I love the way the piece ends, the implications that for me are both sensual and chilling. That promise a kind of satisfaction but maybe not, ultimately, for you. And it’s a strange piece that I think requires some time and patience, but holds a lovely feel and a shadowed depth that are very worth exploring. A great read!
“lagahoo culture (Part I)” by Brandon O’Brien
This piece speaks to me of anger, of transformation, of violence and a culture of invisibility.The title seems to refer to a shapeshifting monster, and for me the frame of the title makes the poem about not the culture of lagahoos, now the ways they socialize or their habits, really, but the ways that the culture at large creates and enforces the roles and the status of lagahoos. How people fall into that place, transformed, dehumanized, the pain they feel and the injustice they face rendered invisible, For me, at least, the repetition, the way the narrator says over and over what they are, what they are, builds this picture of the narrator as a kind of metaphoric shapeshifter. Able not just to become animals but to become ideas and events, to become the patterns that make up these cultural tendencies, these societal structures that erase things that people don’t want to see. Abuse that is happening all around them. And that, more than anything, I think is how the piece is defining this culture. As ignoring the hurt of so many people. Such that the lagahoo becomes a way of capturing it, a shapeshifter who becomes all the ways that people look away. The evidence of abuse becomes a monster that people are eager not to see, lest they draw its attention. When what it does is keep people vulnerable, keep people in abusive situations. By not believing victims, by demanding their silence. It all builds this world where the violence continues, where the monsters thrive. And I love the implications of the title, that this is just the first part. It speaks to me of the possibility for change. For the second part to be something different. Something that has transformed into something better. Something where victims can be seen. Where monsters can be banished. At least, there is the part of me that hopes the second part twists away from the tragedies of the first. Because it is an uncomfortable read, grim and aching and alive with pain. And it’s an amazing read and definitely a piece to spend some time with!