Thursday, December 24, 2020

Quick Sips - Augur #3.2 [part 2]

Okay, so the latest issue of Augur is...big! Having just covered the first half of it, I would probably have waited to tackle the second half until next month. But as this is my last month doing these kinds of reviews, I’m going for it. Three short stories, four poems, and a graphic story all round out the issue, and it continues to be a complex and at times fairly grim collection. Like the first half, there are themes of loss and cultural destruction, the pressures of capitalism and colonialism. But there’s still some hope, and even a bit of fun, and I appreciate the varied ways the issue treats trauma and the decision to make change, to act in the face of corruption. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to the reviews!


“Electrify the Bones” by Ren Iwamoto (short story)

No Spoilers: The narrator is a pilot, engineer, and in some ways an instructor at a base that trains people to use giant suits that are in part biological, bodies either taken or designed from aliens whose craft crash-landed on Earth. And while what these suits are used for it’s specifically explored, the nature of the suits themselves is at the heart of the story, and how in many ways the suits are in the heart of the narrator. They are her life, and with some heavy feelings of her probably not being neurotypical, I feel the suits become companions who don’t offer the same complications as humans--the same judgments, the same rejections. Her relationships with the suits aren’t simple, don’t lack complexity, but they have a clarity and acceptance that the narrator needs, and it’s a strange and slightly messed up but ultimately beautiful picture the story paints.
Keywords: Mechs, Aliens, Pilots, Training, Queer MC
Review: This story picks up nicely from where the first half of the issue left off, with a different kind of crash and shipwreck. One where the survivors aren’t human, and aren’t awake, and have inspired a new kind of weaponry that the narrator is rather enamored with. That she connects with, on a level that’s deeper than she seems able to with people. In many ways I like that the full setting isn’t really explained. We get bits and pieces but beyond that there is this program, the important thing is that the suits exist at all. What the pilots are expected to do isn’t clear, but here at this training facility, what the narrator is expected to do is. She maintains the suits, gets them ready, and makes it so that each new class has as good a chance as any to become pilots. What she doesn’t do is get involved with the cadets. At least, she’s not supposed to. But one starts coming onto her, and it plays out in this interesting way, in part because it’s not forbidden. But the narrator kind of knows that it probably won’t work out. Because it hasn’t. Because the suits occupy a part of her. A part of her heart. And that turns romantic partners off, because they can sense it, because they are jealous of it, or judged by it, or any of that. And I like how the narrator is shown to...not really be okay with that. That she wants connection, wants people to accept her and they just won’t. Because she seems too weird, because her connection to the suits is...wrong to other people. But to her it’s right, and the way the story captures that is alive and brilliant and beautiful, and despite being a rather short piece, it’s an amazing and powerful read!

“X.O. Tempo” by Frankie Diamond (short story)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is feeling stuck. Like her whole life is laid out before her and it’, not that awesome. Maybe not that terrible, but And she’s not sure really what to do with that. That is, until she come across a comic book that doesn’t seem to have any publishing information. One that is about a character, Tempo, that looks a lot like her. Who has a glamorous life and does the things that she would want to do. It seems almost too catered to her to be true, and the truth about is...well, complicated. But it gives her a new perspective on her life, her potential, and her opportunities. The piece is fun, bouncy with energy and not afraid to take chances. It’s short, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to say.
Keywords: Comic Books, Hair, Art, Music, Alternate Realities
Review: I love the energy of this story, the way that it finds the narrator in this kind of rut and then by seeing themself in art, in this story, they find a way to get back some hope and some excitement, to jump back into their life, basically, and live more openly and freely. And I love that as a commentary on how stories can help people. Not that it’s the case that characters are secretly alternate dimension versions of anyone, but that seeing yourself in fiction is a very powerful thing. And for those who get it all the time, it can be taken for granted how affirming and how powerful that is. But for those who do not get to see themselves at all or very rarely or in some fucked up ways, having a Good mirror can be a transforming thing. For this narrator, seeing herself in Tempo changes how she sees herself, chances how she sees the world. Where it seemed rather hopeless or inevitable before, a foregone conclusion that she had to push herself through with no enthusiasm, now she does get to see that there’s a lot she can do. No, maybe not being a DJ to a bunch of aliens but who knows? There’s a lot that’s possible and through this work of fiction, through being in a way able to write that story into her own life, she’s able to get a fresh lease on life. Is able to climb out of the slump, out of the hole, and take charge again. And that’s such a fun, fist-bump of a story. It’s short but energetic, tightly paced, and just delightful on so many levels. It has that great meta twist take on storytelling while managing to create this compelling narrative of the narrator and Tempo. If you’re looking for a story to smile about, this is it. A brilliant work!

“The Bananas(TM) Barcode” by Barton Aikman (short story)

No Spoilers: William works picking Bananas(TM) on a plantation where armed guards and mercenaries patrol looking for climate refugees who might have slipped in. Not that slipping in will do them much, as you can’t eat Bananas(TM) without a Mouth(TM), a device implanted into the neck that allows the body to process the special foods and drinks like Bananas(TM), which would otherwise be poisonous. Which might be all well and good for William, except that he’s less loyal to the company than he’s expected to be, and a few refugees making it into the trees where he works provokes a crisis that might destroy everything he’s been working toward. It’s a grim story and a bit of a terrifying one, for where it brings capitalism, and how much it doesn’t seem like a stretch.
Keywords: Food, Mouths, Implants, Climate Refugees, Employment
Review: I do love the world building here, where companies have founds ways to hit consumers twice. By making foods that can’t be eaten without a different device, so that people need it, but also can’t eat without it. It makes for this incredibly fucked up system that keeps people in debt, essentially enslaved. And William has carried that with him for a long time. Works in hopes of succeeding through the system, with a Mouth(TM) and maybe a plan of promotion, of getting money, of buying further in because that seems the only way to survive, to thrive. But when he comes across the body of a boy, when he knows that there’s a girl among the trees...he knows that he can’t just go along with the system. A system that has never worked for him, that has always required him to whitewash himself, to erase parts of himself, to sell them in order to seem more acceptable. It’s a familiar kind of pressure, one that we all engage in to some extent every day, having to trade parts of ourselves for money, needing to rely on corporations who are engaged in terrible actions all over the planet. All under the guise of necessity, when that necessity has been created by the corporations. William is forced to work, and he goes along with it until he can’t. And that’s a powerful moment, because despite the dystopia, the corruption, the power wielded against him, William does stand up. Does make his choice. And that offers a bit of hope at least in what is a very grim world, a very grim situation. And it’s something where we must sort of ask what the line should be, to recognize how we’re being pushed down this path, and where it leads. It’s a difficult and complex piece, but I think it does a great job with the material and with the grim elements, and it’s a wonderful way to close out the issue!


“When I Could Draw a Sun in the Sky” by Manahil Bandukwala

This story speaks to me a world with a kind of video game logic. The narrator moves through a world of pots that can be broken to get items, monsters that the narrator tries best to avoid. It’s a piece that reminds me of Zelda, honestly, in the mechanics, and a bit in the feel of it, the way that combat can often be avoided, the way that there is a large exploration element to it. There’s magic, too, in the way the narrator can draw the sun, pushing back the night, bringing the day, another video game element that here seems to go deeper than that, further, the act one of taking a kind of control, and that it is echoed in the title gives it an added importance. For me, the story sort of looks at the ways the narrator plays the game different, the way they avoid fighting the monsters, and how that ends up giving them a currency that no one else has, a way of getting through this setting, this world, this game, on their own terms that don’t necessarily bend as much to the demands for violence and competition. The piece wanders and I like that about it, the sort of adventurous spirit of it, wanting to see what there is to be seen, wanting to brush the sun into the sky, to bring light, to feed the birds, to stumble sometimes into trouble. There’s just something serene about it, quiet but in a lovely way. The ending brings this idea of bargains again, and once more the narrator seems to be into trade, into getting to know the people around them. Fleshing out the world that is more than just a battleground. It’s strange, slightly haunting because of how everything seems to linger, how the game might be an escape from the heavier and more grim things the narrator has to deal with. But it’s pleasant, and interesting, and a great read!

“Creation Myth” by M. Darusha Wehm

This piece kind of draws from the themes of the last poem, working in ideas of video games, of design, of creation. The piece doesn’t seem to have much of a narrator, the action a description of a collaborative effort. And perhaps the most interesting part of the piece for me is the idea that there is no deletion. There is revision but only through adding content, adding elements and context. Which does deeply change the system, but does so in this...almost limited way. But one that might explain the haphazard nature of the world at times, the different things all thrown together, added to and added to until it becomes slightly unwieldy, inelegant, but still works. As far as creation myths go it’s an interesting one, taking this very modern phenomenon of basically rushing toward a launch and having the gods be these probably tired and overworked programmers or creators just trying to figure out what to include, leaving it all in there, even their hearts. For me, the piece is fun, a bit ridiculous but really no more so than any other creation story. It’s one that moves around this idea of what it means to create, and how creation is often paired with destruction, with these hard resets, but how that’s not really the only way of things. It’s a game of sorts, each person putting down their card, taking turns until the moment happens when someone wins. Does that happen when the world is created and launched? Or is the game something that carries within it life itself, and each new flipped card is a new addition to the universe, a new technology, a new inspiration. Have the gods simply designed the universe and fucked off, or are they still playing, and the game is one that anyone can join in on, that everyone does join in on just by living? Whatever the case, the poem opens up this idea and lets the reader walk around in it, experience it, participate in it, and that’s rather wonderful. A fantastic read!

“We sell skin on sale:” by Rachel Lachmansingh

This piece speaks of skin, of commodity. I love the framing of it, the voice that comes through from the seller, from the barker, trying to convince you to take the deal, that this isn’t exactly limited time only but that you want it all the same. And for me it sort of gets at ideas about identity and skin, the thought that some people want to slip, to switch, to pull on other skin for a variety of reasons. Some maybe not even malicious. But that there is a certain amount of...discomfort all the same. That it feels Sharp. Treacherous. Deceitful. The voice of the poem does not sound like anyone to trust, basically, because they are all promises and honey, all these very slick words and phrases, designed to make it seem like this will solve something, that this will make things better when really, beneath that, I just can’t believe it. That for all the work promises, the voice beckons, there’s a grim element here. That these skins are coming from somewhere, perhaps, though the voice assures us there are ethically sourced varieties. Soy based. Guilt free. Except that it’s the practice that can’t really be ethically sourced. That the way people put on skin, take it off, builds this system where skin was never neutral. Was never free from the prejudices, from the hatreds, from the perceptions. And instead of working to tear that down, to make it more just, this voice is seeking only to profit off it. Which, in turn, supports the ways that skin becomes weaponized, fetishized, and monetized. So that even when it seems innocent, even when it seems like there’s no victim, there kind of is. And it’s such a complicate piece in that, sort of showing this voice and how a lot of people buy into it and the promise of it, but there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to skin, and slipping it on and off. There’s still damage, despite the claims, and I really like the way the story captures that pressure and feel and language that’s used to sell it. The double layering of the title, selling skin on sale, that makes for a challenging but sharp and rewarding read!

“My Body the Nest: Angular, Windblown, Homegrown Humming Tales of Flight” by Sienna Tristen

Though to this point most of the works were alternating between fiction and poetry (with the graphic story being treated like fiction in that), this piece comes directly after the last, and offers up a take on a relationship that doesn’t fit neatly within the confines of conventional language. That is trying for a way of capturing what the pair in the poem have concisely and accurately. Because what is available--lover, boy/girlfriend--isn’t right. Isn’t right for gender reasons and for asexual reasons and so the narrator and their partner seek out something that will honor what they have in language, that isn’t clinical, that isn’t merely a twist on how relationships have been defined by the dominant groups. And the language the poem finds is bird and nest, something personal to the characters and how they interact, how they relate to one another, and what ultimately they mean to one another. They are a set, completing the other in some profound ways, but there so implied sexual relationship here, nor a binary of really any sort. The characters get to embody how they see themselves in a language that fits them. Which is a rather revolutionary act and one that carries with it a lot of power. And I really just like the framing here, the way the poem is structured, and the overall impact of it. This is a poem that takes a look at language and finds ways to create a lexicon that can properly define the reality that the characters are living in. Something that gives them freedom and flight, the room to feel seen and safe. And it's a lovely read, lifting and inspiring and definitely worth checking out. A wonderful way to close out the poetry in the issue!

Graphic Story:

“Moon Gazing” by Michelle Theodore

The lone comic of the issue features a father and child talking in their yard. Remarking on the moon. And sharing something about their past and their future. The child speaks with hope, of going to the moon, while the father speaks with some nostalgia about the idea, but also with a rather firm conviction that he doesn’t want to go. That he wouldn’t. That he’s grounded now in ways that make it just...not something he’d do. And I love the sort of quiet world building that’s going on here, the hints that there are elements that aren’t exactly normal. Like, the dad looks young and remembers the moon landing, and yet there are references to zones that at the very least I don’t recognize. Either it’s a system that I’m just not familiar with (which is entirely possible) or there’s a bit more to the situation here than is revealed. I mean, as it is it’s a completely heartwarming little piece, this moment between these two, the father’s hope for his child, the child’s dreams revolving around the moon. Deeper than that, though, there’s all sorts of possibilities, reasons why the father might not want to go to the moon that have little to do with his life just being more grounded than before. So it does a great job of both telling a story that works in a rather short span of time, in this single scene and conversation, and of providing enough that I definitely want to read more, to know more about this situation, these characters, and the world that seems like it might be set in our past, or might be playing out in a way that I can’t even imagine. I like the muted colors, too, that for me both give the feeling of age, as if it’s maybe set in the past, but also just go with the softness of the exchange, the peaceful feeling of watercolor and dreams. It’s a great little comic, and I definitely recommend checking it out!


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