Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Quick Sips - Baffling Magazine December 2020

Two more original stories round out the early access stories from Baffling Magazine for the year. Except, actually, I’m thinking that they’re (as well as those I’ve covered since October) technically going to be 2021 releases. At least, the issue is being released on the first day of the year instead of the last, so despite being up on Patreon, I think that makes them 2021 originals. Probably? Whatever the case, the stories are a wonderful (if rather difficult and complex) way to move into the new year. These are stories about bargains, about grim deals. Marrying the Devil. Embracing the illusions of a necromancer. It’s wrenching work, but also just excellent short SFF. To the reviews!


“Peat Moss and Oil for Burning” by A. B. Young (1180 words)

No Spoilers: Elle is dating the Devil in this story, which finds the prospect...not that great, honestly. Though there seems to be some thrill with doing it, the Devil just...isn’t that great a guy. He has his moments, he says things occasionally that aren’t terrible, but the story details the kind of grind the relationship is, filled with small cruelties, insensitivities, and failures to be decent. In that it’s a rather heavy story looking at relationships and how they form, how they progress despite their issues, despite the way they aren’t really making both people happy. But how sometimes inertia plays a role, and expectation, and the system that makes people think that they can’t end things just yet, not for this or for that, that ending relationships have to be Big, when really they’re often a collection for very small things, and that waiting too long can leave a person desolated, bereft of more than a relationship.
Keywords: The Devil, Dating, Marriage, Divorce, Queer MC
Review: This is such a messy story and I like that the Devil here is a proper noun while at the same time he’s basically just any That Dude. The Devil is unique but he’s also legion, and there’s a certain feeling for me at least that the story is aware of that, plays with that, finds in this Devil a kind of core to what makes Elle’s relationship toxic. Not the outright and aggressive maliciousness of it, but rather the lazy kind of uncaring and inconsiderate attitudes and actions that make up a lot of shitty men. It leans on the mythology (for the Devil, the implied Christian morality) that pressures women into giving more, to accepting less in a partner. To not being too demanding lest they be alone. Elle seems to have a decent handle on herself but she’s also isolated and a victim to the kind of manipulation that the Devil excels at. The gaslighting, the small things. The being just good enough to not raise all the big red flags. And seeming, in that, to almost be a catch, as good as can be expected. At the same time, there’s a bargain, and Elle is selling her soul for....not much of anything she wants. It’s tragic, because it only works because he can prey on her insecurities, her desires to be able to make these kinds of decisions on her own. But without support, without help, there’s no one to warn her away from the full implications of what’s happening. And I just like the way the story captures that, the heavy, constant barrage of mediocrity that grows and grows until it all cracks, shatters, but in a way that still offers nothing in the way of catharsis or closure. Just a numbness. Just an absence. That in the end might be better than having the Devil around, but is still not something you just get over. That ending is sharp and brutal, but tells a truth. Not that there’s no hope, but that it can’t go back to the way it was. That some wounds leave scars. And oof, yeah, it’s a powerful read!

“Vanity Among Worms” by Brent Lambert (1007 words)

No Spoilers: Cletus has come to the big city in the hope that it will help him break out of his shell, embrace who he is, meet people and become a part of the glamorous mythology of the city and its scene. hasn’t really been playing out like that. If anything, his loneliness has gotten worse, and his self-hatred has been amplified by his perceived failures to make good on his hopes. So when he hears about a part that might play a bit fast and loose with the rules, he decides to give it a try. And when it turns out to be kinda sketchy, he doesn’t run because he doesn’t have anything to run to. The story is a grim and wrenching look at loneliness and those who prey upon it, the ways that cities can seem like salvation and instead open up some deep pitfalls.
Keywords: Cities, Parties, Necromancers, Worms, Drugs, Queer MC
Review: I really feel for Cletus, who has all the energy of a small town queer person hearing that the city is some sort of gay utopia. Full of people who will make the loneliness go away, and events and places where you can really Belong. But...well, the city can sometimes also be something of a pressure cooker. Making the weight of living up to that ideal, that myth, crushing. For Cletus, his perceived failure is something that he’s drowning in. He’s desperate for connection, and that unfortunately makes him fairly easy pickings for those who are there only to abuse the system. To victimize those who have come so far, to a wholly new situation, and don’t have the right support yet. It really underlines the issues with cities, with any place that’s going to have so many people. For some, there is an affirming community. Are people who will love you, protect you, make sure that you’re safe as much as possible. But you have to find them. And if a predator finds you first, then it really doesn’t matter that the city does have a lot of resources for you. Because they didn’t reach you in time. And it’s heartbreaking but also real, and the trap that Cletus walks right into. More complicated, though, is the fact that in some ways Cletus chooses to remain in the situation. It’s impossible to call his decision free, as he’s already under the influence of drugs, already in danger, facing a rather daunting prospect of saying no to a necromancer who has already victimized so many people. Still, though, the story does look at the way this situation works on a person, leveraging their fears, their self hate, their loneliness. The necromancer erases the hope of finding community, makes the city itself into one big set of jaws ready to bite and tear. So might as well just give in. And it’s understandable but it’s no less tragic that Cletus does, that he falls victim to this system, this trap. At the same time, it’s familiar, and sharply told. A wonderful read!


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