Friday, September 11, 2020

Quick Sips - Anathema #11 [part 2]

Art by Bex Glendining
And I’m back to finish up my review of the August issue of Anathema Magazine, this time looking at the second half--three short stories and one poem. And there is a sense here of broken connections. Of characters whose ties have been severed in important ways. Ways that leave them seeking things. Revenge, in a few cases. Or closure, at the very least. To break free from cycles of violence. Or to continue them. To push back against silence, but also to express grief and loss and all the messy, complicated emotions that people can feel. It’s a wonderful collection of SFF work, and I’ll get right to my reviews!


“We Have Evacuated, Have a Good Day” by Jendayi Brooks-Flemister (4700 words)

No Spoilers: This story finds a narrator headed back “home” to a place that really isn’t their home any longer. That is now just their grandfather’s home. But with an unprecedented story bearing down on the area, the narrator is still the closest family member to him, and the one tasked with making sure he evacuates. But, of course, he has no intention of evacuating, and through a confluence of stubbornness and concern the narrator remains as well, and the two seek to weather the storm. And in the aftermath they seek to bridge a bit of the distance that has grown between them since the death of the narrator’s grandmother. The direction they do is rather unexpected, and the piece offers a touching kind of look at two very different people, still so far apart, but still family.
Keywords: Family, CW- Cancer, Queer MC, CW- Weather/Hurricanes, Aliens
Review: I really like how the story explores the space between the characters, the space made from the ways that the grandfather has trouble relating to anyone but his wife. The way that he’s never really open, never really vulnerable, because he could never be, because it was never safe to be. Never safe to be excited, or happy, or familiar. And for the narrator it’s made him into a figure that is family but also distant. Defined by stories of his anger, by his sternness and his rather conservative outlook (one informed by need, by the realities of where he lives and how he knows how to be as safe as possible). But he’s lost a lot. Is unmoored without his wife, and he’s bound to lose more thanks to the storms, thanks to the changing times. The rest of his family has moved away, and what he has left is his memories and all the thoughts that have filled in the spaces that have been made empty. For him, that means space. Means the possibility of aliens. Which sounds at least a little...well, not exactly likely? The narrator obviously treats it like he’s broken a bit, though they don’t judge him, don’t try to tell him that he’s wrong. They listen, and there’s a strange kind of connection that happens there. For me what I really love is how the two characters miss each other. How they both kind of try to reach out, but can’t quite cut through all the ways they are different. They’re family, they both connect to this missing point, to the grandmother and her love and support, but neither can really be what the other wants or needs. It’s too late, and they are too different, but that doesn’t mean their effort, their try, is wasted. It offers this final moment of they reaching out, a kind of warm hug where they can understand each other a little better, even if it doesn’t mean they stay together. It’s a recognition of the rich complexity of people. And it’s a great snapshot of a younger person and their grandfather and the messy lines between them, that not even space or death can fully break. A wonderful read!

“In the Name of Our Baroness (the Most Magnificent, the Most Steadfast” by Hadeer Elsbai (2475 words)

No Spoilers: Split into two parts, the story tells a single story of a woman being chosen by the Baron, a vampire who reigns over a city and extorts from it a yearly tithe of a single woman who will be his so long as he leaves everyone else alone. And then one year, a woman goes in wanting to be chosen, for reasons all her own. The two parts of the story take the form of one: a sort of religious origin story about the myth of this woman and the Baron; and two: a first-person narrative of the woman as she goes about her eight-year mission. It builds a picture both intimate and removed, her story one of personal duty and now religious devotion. On the wider level, it’s been simplified, slightly sanitized, while in her story there’s a messier edge, a complexity that comes when hatred fades.
Keywords: Rituals, Bargains, Vampires, CW- Rape, CW- Assault, Religion
Review: I really like the take on vampires here, the way that assault and rape are often sort of obscured behind this myth of consent, of vampires being more refined, “civilized.” Showing the roots of the vampire as the dangerous, sensual outsider and seducer of women and placing it much more into the context of the powerful insider who is allowed to operate more or less in open as a kind of bargain. Where they prey in a more limited way so that their abuse, their violence, seems almost reasonable. Especially for those who don’t have to deal with it, who can offer up the poor, the marginalized, to feed this hunger. It becomes the status quo, it becomes the system. And I like that this woman, the one who becomes the Baroness, decides that she’s going to stop it. Using the only power that will work here. The power she’s given by the powerful Baron. She must earn his trust, which means playing a long game, which means putting herself through violation after violation, pretending to want it while really trying to get to a point where she can learn enough to bring the whole system down. It speaks to the way that the power in these situations is often entirely internal. The Baron is the one with the knowledge of his own undoing. And the tool to bring it out is to play into his fantasies, into the vision he has in his own head that he’s not a rapist. That the narrator wants him. That even when she is completely clear in saying no she means yes. It’s an incredibly toxic thing and it’s the weapon that she uses because of how well it works, despite the fact that for the majoirty of the time it only hurts the one wielding it. She’s the one who hurts and hurts and hurts until it’s finally time to use it. Meaning its a weapon made out of her own pain and blood, and it’s powerful and unstoppable when finally she has what she needs. And it’s a devastating moment, made complex in her telling because in pretending for so long to be one thing, her hate has faded. Her anger has faded. It’s not that she’s fond. It’s that she can sympathize in some ways. It doesn’t stop her, shouldn’t stop her, but she understands, and I like how that exists in her telling but not the myth, because it seems to reflect how we don’t want the messy parts in those stories. We want the simplified reality. But I like that both aspects mix and mingle in the story’s two lines, and it’s a sharp and fantastic read!

“The River That Will Drown You” by Joshua Chizoma (4800 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story, Olaocha, is the daughter of a demon chaser, a man capable of exorcising demons from people’s bodies, and even sometimes banishing them for a short while from the world. Of course, it’s something that doesn’t make him popular, especially among demons. And particularly in the case of one demon, Mmiri. When Olaocha sees Mmiri for the first time, it’s a sign that she has the power to become a demon chaser, a sign that at some point a demon will come for her, and she’ll have to be ready. So she’s sent to school to learn how to use her powers. What she learns instead, though, is grief and anger and a singular determination to do something that people say is impossible. It’s a wrenching read, showing this woman trapped in a cycle she didn’t chose, losing everything she cared about and being left with only a driving need for revenge.
Keywords: Demons, Family, School, Friendship, Revenge, Water
Review: This is a rather gutting tragedy and it builds very well, showing the ways the cycle of demons works and maybe, just maybe, providing some sort of clues as to the real nature of demons and the reasons they do what they do. At least for me, the world building here and the mythology used, the way the demons operate and how they target people, seems to speak to a way that they’re trying not just to spite demon chasers, but goad them into freeing the demons from their place as, well, demons. Because what Olaocha learns from her schooling, from her intensive study into the demons, is that there is a way to kill one. Kind of. Sort of. But that it creates a new demon. That a demon can be replaced. It implies that the thirst for revenge, that the need for it, can be this twisting and corrupting influence. That the guilt and the despair that comes from the kinds of loss that Olaocha experiences can make someone into essentially a hungry presence. One that, once the moment of revenge is had, can’t just sink back into peace. Instead, it becomes a new malevolence that, in turn, probably wants to escape from the cycle. Which can only be done, it seems, by turning the cycle on so that they are spit out and someone new takes their place. It’s a fucked up system, but one that makes sense of why Mmiri would go after Olaocha, why there’s such animosity there. Because Mmiri might want Olaocha to come for her. Might want to be destroyed, and knows that the only way someone would make that bargain is if their hate were hot, all-consuming. If their grief and guilt were powerful enough to puch them past the point of concern for their own soul. And it’s a bit of a difficult ready because of that, because of the trajectory that the narrator’s grief and anger take her. She’s on a collision course with a deep shadow, a fate that few would embrace, but she might, if it means getting her revenge. Only the ending pulls back, denies the reader the confrontation, demands they fill in the gap. For me, there seem few ways the story could go. But it does leave room for maybe something other than tragedy, even if that’s the direction I feel it probably falls. And it’s another great read!


“Pinafore” by May Chong

This piece speaks to me of loss, of containment, of the different sides that a person might show. The piece is told by a child in a closet, and exactly what is going on isn’t super clear (because, well, poetry). The child speaks as if their mother is gone, as if their mother is dead, but at the same time the same mother locked them in the closet. In a closet of all the things the mother doesn’t need any more. The clothes, the child, all sort of left over, empty, hanging. Not necessarily dead but then the imagery of hanging in a closet does first bring to mind for me death, and the content warning does sort of give weight to that interpretation, though it’s also possible that the content warning only covers a possible reading and not every reading. But there’s certainly a feeling of shock, of a kind of brokenness as implied by the structure and all its spaces. As if something has fallen apart. And it seems like maybe the narrator has just lost their mother and is dealing with the grief of that, the enormity. But there feels like there’s an edge, too, a complexity to that relationship. The mother, so well regarded, maybe hiding something in how she treated her child. Her child, hanging, preserved. Implying that maybe the image that their mother was so interested in capturing wasn’t the whole story. That maybe it’s just the veneer on something that isn’t as bright as the colors she was so concerned about preserving. In any case the work builds this stark and suffocating moment, the narrator locked away, made to preserve a memory that might not be genuine, that might not be the whole truth. Where their mother is gone, her ghosts given up, but where she’s still capable of keeping the narrator locked away. There’s just something about the poem that seems chilling, cold, yearning--the narrator trying to speak from beneath the surface of a picture, not quite coming through. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!


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