Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Quick Sips - Lackington's #22

Art by Kat Weaver
The latest issue of Lackington’s is out now and the theme for the issue is Archives. Now, like all themes at Lackington’s, things are often straightforward. Yes, some of the stories feature literal archives and collections. Museums and academic centers. Tomes and texts and all the things you might expect to find on dusty shelves preserved in time. But there are archives here that go beyond those, that jump out of the neglected shelves. Archives of people, of languages both living and dead, of refuges from hungry gods, of whole worlds and people finding ways to catalog and preserve themselves through time and space. The works are often deep and heavy, touched by poetry and more than a bit of tragedy. But there is hope to be found as well, and occasionally a spot of fun. The works cover an array of genres and styles, framing devices and voices, and they themselves represent an archive. An archive of archives, in a meta turn as only this publication can give. To the reviews!


Lost and Found: Recollections of Space and Time at the Museum of Thousandfold Worlds” by Xue Xihe (5400 words)

No Spoilers: This story is framed as a collection, as a museum, as a kind of guided tour. The narrator is the museum itself, the descriptions of the various items housed within it, which included art and documents, games and entire spacecraft. The work circles around history and around time, memory and immortality. It finds in the curation of a museum a kind of metaphor for intentional life, for the act of preserving what can be preserved, of remembering what can no longer be experienced directly. The work builds this up through various exhibits and items, occasionally giving further glimpses into the lives of some of those who contributed to the museum but also just celebrating the path that led to this time, this place, this collection of artifacts. It recognizes memory and museums as kinds of vehicles for time travel, achieving, if not immortality, then at least a great sense of time through the appreciation and the examination of what the past has left us.
Keywords: Museums, Exploration, History, Artifacts, Science
Review: I love the framing of the story, which gives such an interesting and robust feel to the future the museum lives in. One marked by tragedy and atrocity, dotted with human suffering and human loss. But also human beauty, and the a moving sense of discovery, exploration, and curiosity. The museum is for the curious, after all, curated through a kind of exploration and discover, maintained to gives those who visit a kind of adventure, a kind of map. Allowing people to revisit, if not the actual time of the past, a glimpse of it through the items preserved. The views are scenic and inspiring, full of the ways people have tried, failed, and succeeded in pushing the boundaries of human understanding and experience. The museum keeps it all so that people can feel for themselves the hands of the past reaching forward. Offering guidance and assistance, entertainment and inspiration. In a strictly narrative sense, the story is light, though it does a lot of heavy building with world building, with back story, touching on certain characters over and again, capturing their zeal and their lust for seeing what there is to see. As far as archives go, the story is a dazzling introduction to the theme, an opening that provides a strange mix of enchanting and haunting. There’s a fresh hope to it, and excitement, caught in this sense of people who believe entirely in what they’re doing, who joy in showing guests the sights and smells and sounds of the past, to see the connecting points, the digressions, the strange and notable things, and to leave ready to see more, and perhaps to add to the body of the museum, to the universe of human potential. A great read!

“Collections” by E. L. Chen (5000 words)

No Spoilers: Jack lives in a museum that travels through time and space, pulled in the wake of the Three-Faced God, a being who devours, who destroyed, who leaves ruins wherever he goes. Jack prefers the solitude and quiet of the archives, lives there with his own personal collection, and tries not to be around when visitors are pressing through. But when a little god comes after hours and needs help, Jack can’t turn them away. Of the act could jeopardize everything that Jack and his mother, the museum’s curator, have built for themselves. But some things must be risked, and some things cannot be destroyed. Not so long as a single person remembers. The story is slow and mostly quiet, about Jack and his world and the intrusions into it.
Keywords: Museums, Gods, Family, Collections, Memories
Review: Jack is a wonderful character, and I love the way he moves through and catalogs the world. His emotions and memories. The good and the bad things that happen in his life. To my reading he’s almost assuredly not neurotypical, and it means that he has a harder time being around the noise of people, the sensory overload of it. But he’s also keenly aware of right and wrong, and knows that he needs to help the little god who comes asking. He needs to try and do something, even if it’s dangerous. And The story just has this wrenching feel to it, the way that Jack wants to just have his space and his work, absent the rest of the world, but it keeps pushing in. Its violence and its injustices. No matter the distance or the barriers he tries to put up, the outside and the Three-Faced God finds a way to break in. to violate his privacy and his autonomy. To mess up his careful structure. But Jack is also a lot stronger than people give him credit for, stronger perhaps than he gives himself creditor for, and when the times to act he does. He works to try and save the little god and does succeed in thwarting in a part of that. Preserving something in the face of the imperial and colonizing march of this totalitarian religion. That there’s something to be said about personal resistance, with individual memory, keeping something from being wholly lost. Capturing it, cataloging it, making sure that it, in some way, will survive. A wonderful read!

“The Feather Stitch” by Mike Allen (3500 words)

No Spoilers: Audra is looking for her grandson, Russell. A boy with his share of problems and traumas. A boy who has fallen into some bad habits, and has fallen afoul some very bad people. Former friends who got involved with a strange web of corruption and drugs spreading out from an old school house turned craft store. It’s there that Audra goes looking for answers about Russell’s disappearance. It’s that where she finds much more than she was expecting. Finds something horrifying, something that might just make her reveal an aspect of herself she’s kept carefully hidden her entire life. The piece is interesting, the world building compelling, and the emotional position that Audra is placed in wrenching, the monsters around her trying to exploit her fears about her relationship with her grandson to catch her off guard. Which turns out to be quite an effective tactic.
Keywords: Family, Spirits, Birds, CW- Drugs/Drug Use, CW- Murder-Suicide, Transformations
Review: I like the way the story blends a visceral, physical (and magical) horror with the more emotional and creepy elements of this woman worrying that her son has come to a bad end. The later is intense enough, after all, and I love how the piece sort of preys on the ways that Audra blames herself for not being able to save her daughter, how she blames herself at least a bit for not being able to really help her grandson, either. So that all she has of the family she had such hopes for is the prospect of blood and ash. Worse, she’s let that lead her right into a trap. Which brings back the physical horror aspect of the piece, the monster that she faces and the hell that’s unfolding unseen around her until she opens her spiritual eyes and beholds it. And the effects are unsettling, the grotesque elements doing a great job to play with the way that these boys have been corrupted, made into monstrous appendages of this larger evil, doing his will while their vitality is drained away, leaving nothing of the boys they were. Leaving only these toxic men who have been consumed by the very thing they sought to profit and benefit by. It’s a grim and unpleasant end for them, and one that Audra can’t or won’t do much about. The monster she finds is unlike anything she’s know, and she’s not a hunter, not a warrior. Perhaps that will come with time but for now what she’s trying to do is keep her grandson alive long enough for him to have a future. To have choices still on what comes next. And I like where the story brings that, to this very fragile place but one that isn’t hopeless, for her or for him. A great read!

“Tatreez” by Sonia Sulaiman (1500 words)

No Spoilers: Miri begins the story lamenting the way that Palestinians have been erased from archives, their works replaced by translations which perform a kind of violence against the originals. Which colonize it. Miri is left cut off from the tomes that might offer her portals into worlds that she can be at peace, where she can see herself. But there are more than books that provide portals, that contain stories and memories. And what Miri does have is a dress, a thobe. Which carries within it stories all its own, and which transports Miri to another world, a dream world where she experiences wonder and the strange touch of a time and place that is gone, captured and preserved now not in worlds but in textile, in embroidery, in art. And Miri’s journey becomes a way to walking down pathways, of finding portals, for to provide others a map to these strange and fantastic worlds through words. And it’s a wonderful and slightly haunting look at the need to rebuild the written record when one has been lost due to colonization, intolerance, and prejudice.
Keywords: Dresses, Embroidery, Stories, Dreams, Memories
Review: I love how the story builds up the nature of texts, of books, casting each as a portal to another world. But also showing that the worlds they connect to are informed by the realities they were created in. For Miri, the lack of works that really speak to her identity and experience is this open wound, one salted by the popular adaptations of Palestinian work by outside authors and translators. Instead of being stuck mourning that, though, she goes in search of other portals, and I love that the story reveals how really any piece of art is a portal and has a story to tell, and shows Miri going through, and finding this vibrant dream world waiting for her, a paradise of imagery and feel, a place where she can be safe and whole. One that contains the texts that have been lost. And though she doesn’t want to leave that place, I like how she does, in order to come back and write down something...not a literal translation. But rather a kind of map back to that place. One that can exist with words instead of the stitching of the embroidery. One that might then act as a way for others to find that paradise waiting for them. The one that has been denied through the erasure of Palestinian texts. For me it’s a rather magical story built on the grim foundations of cultural violence. it’s bright, though, and reaching out to a place that has sadly few roads to it these days. But that’s not to say that new roads can’t be built, new paths blazed, so that even what has been lost has not fully been lost. A fantastic story!

“What the Marsh Remembers” by B. Pladek (1700 words)

No Spoilers: Randy and John survived the Great War together, though not without scars. Randy’s legs. John’s jaw. But Randy learned to walk again. they both learned to sign. And they both went to school, enrolled in the BEC, a bureau that specializes in restoring natural habitats. To a point, at least. And the story looks at the power of the characters against the dangers of the world against the crass and skin-deep caring of their employers, their governments, and the ways these destructions and wars and losses run in cycles, powered by greed, broken only by the sincere and profound love of people for other people. Of people for the world itself. The animals and the trees. It’s a slow and touching piece, heavy and emotionally resonating.
Keywords: World War I, Nature, Birds, Restoration, Queer MC
Review: I love the way the story builds around a war it barely reveals, around a relationship that might be platonic but also might not be. Between these two soldiers who come from two very different places. Who are both changed by the war they survive. Who come back hoping to heal, and to help heal a world torn apart by war, only to find that the ideals they’ve been reaching for are just words in a game for those with power. Of PR and just-good-enough. Never really engaged or aiming for real healing. For true restoration. The piece looks at how that attitude, how that approach--to nature, to people--becomes this toxic feedback loop, swinging away from war only to, nearly inevitably, swing back toward it. At least, for me, setting the story between the World Wars gives it that feeling to it. That sense that this is part of what leads from the first to the second. And these men who think they are done with war, who think that they will have a chance to do something, to heal, find instead that those around them have no real interest in that. That for them it’s about appearances. About making a good story. Glossing over the ugly parts and focusing instead on the nobility of the projects. Meanwhile the men themselves learn that their own power to heal, which they have been made to twist into this vanity project, can maybe be better served on each other. With each other. Finding solace and healing in one another and the relationship they’ve built. It’s a tender, wrenching, lovely story about damage to the world, and the attempts to restore balance. A wonderful read!

“Sokal” by Joseph Tamaras (5162 words)

No Spoilers: Joshua and Natalie are on their way to see Joshua’s great grandmother about her past, after Joshua has read some historical accounts coming out of the small village in ~Poland where she lived as a girl. The story follows the conversation between Joshua and Shirley, his grandmother. But there’s also something else going on, as well. A kind of interruption, or a reframing of the story in the middle, pulling the focus away from the story of a young man connecting to his family history and placing it in a much different context. One that becomes increasingly strange, increasingly grim. The history that Joshua is looking into with enthusiasm and the safety of being distant from it in time and space is...complicated, we’ll say, and the result is a weird story that bends expectations, that still delivers something of a family tragedy, something of a lingering question, and request, from a rather unexpected source.
Keywords: War, Family, Elevators, Communism, History
Review: I love how the frame just gets pulled aside midway through the story, like a rug being pulled out from under the feet of the reader. Where suddenly the cute story about this visit of great grandson and girlfriend becomes something a bit more strange and a lot less cute. The atmosphere is pulled out, the food, the ways that the characters talk around each other, avoid answering questions, deflect. The story becomes like an interrogation, and the story it reveals isn’t really a happy one. War and sickness, a place caught between religions, between nations, between everything it seems. Full of bullets and dead horses. And Joshua interested in that kind of removed, academic sense. Not really understanding the visceral realness of it, not until tragedy knocks on his door and, when he’s slow to answer, kicks it in. The story in some ways is a reminder of the complicated and violent history that exists all around us, that seeds out pasts, that is slowly erased. The interruption into the story comes with a kind of frustrated insistence, with the feel to me like someone who can see a larger picture and knows the connections that are missed. And if only we knew, if only we remembered and didn’t keep forgetting the cycles over and over again, maybe we’d avoid the same mistakes. The violence, the wars, the death. For me, the people watching this all play out, the people asking the reader to please, do something. Not something huge. Just...connect the dots. Allow the connections to be made so that someone can see the pattern, can read the words, can realize the significance of what has happened. Because violence and tragedy can be arbitrary at times, the matter of stepping on the wrong elevator, the matter of a piece of paper being misfiled, lost in a bin somewhere, waiting for eyes that might never come to see it and understand. A strange piece but also a wonderful story very much worth spending some time with!

“Learning Tihluhan in the Fourteenth Century” by A.J. Hammer (4381 words)

No Spoilers: Temos is a student of language. More specifically, she’s a student of a nearly-dead language, or...kind of. The language of Tihluhan was no one’s native language, was learned and used for matters of court, and art, and history. So it being dead is a question of if it can die, if it was ever alive to begin with. What’s certain is that it’s incredibly complicated. And that the one other person in the world who spoke it as a language and not just as an avenue of study, is dying. And Temos makes the long trip to see her, to speak with her in a language they kind of share, but that mean very different things to the two very different people. It’s a quiet story very aware of language, of case, of structure, and very aware of what it means to study a language, the distance between academic inquiry and some sort of...”natural” learning and development of a spoken language.
Keywords: Language, Schools, Universities, Studies, Dead Languages, Travel, History
Review: I love how the story builds this very complicated language that in part was made to be very articulate in the ways of falsehood, lies, and the truth. In part because it seems that the language captured a certain understanding of the relative nature of reality. The messiness of truth and untruth. And as Temos studies the language, as she goes and listens to it, speaks in it, things...stop being so simple for her. Not that they ever were, exactly, but it’s like she gets the language necessary to articulate not just what she might wany, but why she is dissatisfied with what she is being offered. There’s a certain stubbornness that carries her through university, but in some ways it’s a trap, something she’s caught in, this very narrow way of seeing the world. Shown in how the university chooses to recognize her, seeing her studies as essentially “pure academia” because the language is dead. Because they see its only value in an academic environment. Where Temos sees it very different, is mourning its lost in part because she’s mourning where she is, when she was born, is mourning the loss of opportunity, of the kind of expression that would allow her to more fully express what she’s feeling, what she thinks, and what she wants. As it is there is just this gnawing lack that she can’t quite describe, that she keeps circling around. That finally she confronts as she understands the language more. As she sees what secret it unlocks, and what it conceals. It’s a moving and rich story and a fantastic way to close out this issue!


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