|Art by Julie Dillon|
Uncanny Magazine started around the same time that I got into reviewing. I have read every issue, and reviewed all but the very first one. So the bittersweet train keeps right on moving along as I come to my final comprehensive review of the publication’s original fiction and poetry. The works are strong, dealing a lot with the ways people sacrifice themselves, bend themselves, go without because they feel they should, because they think it’s right. And how...it’s not. Not right for some people to give up their hopes and dreams for others, especially when that’s taken for granted, perhaps forced. The stories look at the difficulty of healing, of making space for yourself and your needs, of recognizing damage done, trauma, and starting the healing process. It’s another excellent issue from the publication, and I’m happy that I can go out on such a high note (though I will keep right on reading the publication, and my coverage won’t exactly end, just shift a lot). To the reviews!
“The Bottomless Martyr” by John Wiswell (4956 words)
No Spoilers: Rang is a girl who finds out the hard way that when she dies, big things happen. The people around her think it’s miracles, that when she dies she saves them from catastrophe. But that’s not quite right, and puts Rang in a very difficult place, dying and coming back, caught in a cycle of death and death and more death. The piece is heavy with the damage it moves around, the constant conflict that Rang finds herself in the middle of, and the ways it impacts her vision of her worth, her hopes for the future. The story is a lot about giving, about sacrifice, and the ways it’s a loaded idea, often destructive and counter-intuitive in practice, and how important it can be to stand up for and advocate for your own needs even when doing so seems pointless and selfish, because most of the time, it’s not.
Keywords: Death, Sacrifices, Fishing, Seas, CW- Suicide/Violence
Review: This is a wonderful story about the pressure to sacrifice oneself. The trap of it. The idea that through some sort of self-violence the situation can be made better when what that does by its nature is spread the violence. Deeper it. Compound it. The story takes a careful and compassionate look at loss and despair, exhaustion and the deep desire to rest. And finding that rest isn’t possible, that for all they need the chaos around them to stop, they can’t ultimately control that. And having to find what they can control, and having to find a way to deal with that, to _live_ with that. In a lot of ways the story is difficult for how it relates to suicide and ideation, the desire for self-sacrifice, the framing of it in these difficult and messy ways. I love how Rang struggles with it, how she keeps being shaped by this way that other people didn’t value her. Because it speaks so loudly and so sharply to how people are taught not to value themselves, to give in to the pressures to sacrifice themselves for the comfort of others. Even for the lives of others. Believing that it’s right because that’s how it works, because some people should be saved while others should be destroyed. It’s heartbreaking and real, and only slowly can she start to see that her dying doesn’t create miracles. Doesn’t really save people. It continues and accelelrates the conflict, escalating things so that more and more people are called to sacrifice, to give themselves into the hungry maw of hate and exploitation and death. And it’s such a beautiful take, never dismissive of the intense feelings that the characters are feeling, but always compassionate and firm in the belief that people have value, and that people are not dispensable. A fantastic read!
“The Salt Witch” by Martha Wells (5787 words)
No Spoilers: Juana is a witch flying a boat south to the Caribbean who finds that she can’t seem to escape the pull of a certain island. One that’s been hit hard by wave after wave of storm. One with ghosts littering the beaches, moving through the streets. All caught in the gravity of a castle that is also a hotel, the Queen, where a corrupting presence has made the island a kind of hell. As a witch, Juana aims to set things right so she can get back on her way. A bunch of ghosts should be no real thing for her. Except that something about the island is familiar, and as she explores it, pushes deeper into it, she walks into a series of traps that test her resolve and her endurance, her memories and her vulnerabilities. It’s a story that looks at place, at mistakes, and at recovering from them, in a charming and pleasantly bouncy fashion.
Keywords: Witches, Seas, Ghosts, Storms, Family
Review: I like the energy of this story, the way that Juana meets each new obstacle with a sort of confidence and forthrightness that is refreshing, direct, and carries the piece forward with a nice pace, even as she’s moving through these dense, heady waters full of ghosts, full of loss. The island is a place that has known death. From storms, from despair, from happenstance. It’s like any place in some ways, but also still an island, isolated and isolating, creating this little kingdom of the dead, with a corruption at its center. And I like the slow way the story brings this island and reveals it to be personal, that Juana is a part of it, part of the ghostscape that she thinks at first she’s just moving through. It makes things more personal and adds a new layer to the text, to her confrontation with the source of the pain on the island. It allows her, too, to speak of mistakes and the desire to have another chance. If not at life, then at doing something. Using the afterlife not to just stay in one place, a spider in the middle of a toxic web. But to be able to leave, to explore, to do the things that maybe you should have done while alive. To move on, and through that heal and to allow others to heal. It’s a really fun story for all it’s about a bunch of dead people, and I just love the way it comes together, the way that Juana just refuses to be broken about what happens, or rather refuses to stay broken about it. That she’s able to pull herself back together so well, laugh it off, and pursue what her heart is telling her to reach for, where it’s telling her to go. A wonderful read!
“The Span of His Wrist” by Lee Mandelo (6250 words)
No Spoilers: Charlie is still getting over a breakup as he tries to keep his consignment story running while not really looking for a new place to live. He’s still got a few friends, and he’s still got his gift of being able to feel emotional and psychic impressions from objects, from the clothes he gathers for his store, which when imbued with positive energy have a way of selling better than those without. It’s not like he’s expecting to find a perfect item full of good vibes, though. And it’s certainly not like he’s expecting a stranger to stop in off the street and offer to take him out to dinner. But the impromptu date might be exactly what he didn’t know he needed, and might open him up to new memories, and new positive experiences. It’s a sensual, careful, and warm story about pasts and futures, and the present that links them.
Keywords: Mediums, Clothes, Impressions, Breakups, Queer MC
Review: I love the yearning feeling from this story, both in Charlie, who is somewhat drifting after the loss of his relationship, and in David, this stranger who is out trying to make something of this terrible anniversary, who sees Charlie and feels this connection because of the joy he feels when he puts on the robe he found. The joy that comes from a feeling of home that he’s lost, that David has lost as well, that they both get a taste of through each other and through the robe. And I just love the deeply...not exactly romantic feeling of it. The two are on a date, and the two have sex, but this isn’t exactly the start of something long term. It’s a one-off. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not profound or transforming. It’s a kind of punctuation in my opinion for both of them, a needed comma that makes it easier for them to move on. There’s a setting down of some kind of burden and the taking up of another. A comfort and joy and pleasure they can take in each other and that they can feel they deserve. It allows them to imagine and reach for a future that isn’t solely based on the the loss in their past. They are both alive, and that means that they can get on living. And it’s also just a lovely and magical story, one where these two men share something so intimate despite (or really because of) being strangers to one another. It means they don’t guard in the same way as the people they know. They can pick and choose what doors to open, what walls to bring down. They can be as honest as they want, knowing that it’s fleeting, that it’s only for this one night. And they emerge changed but also more themselves, which is wonderful, which is captured so well here. A fabulous read!
“The Automaton Falls in Love” by Jennifer Crow
This piece speaks to me of love as conceived as a kind of stasis. A prison. A pedestal. The narrator here speaks of love, speaks to a second person you of keeping them safe. Still. Protected. Of that being love, and despite that you don’t seem to want this kind of veneration, this kind of confinement, this kind of anything, still the narrator writes of it as love. For me, the question at the heart of the poem is if the narrator is the automaton of the title. Is this conception of love something that springs from their nature as an automaton, or is this someone else who is speaking, who is thinking, who has made love this gilded prison, this safety that comes at the loss of everything else? If the narrator is an automaton, I feel it complicates their love, and perhaps speaks to the way that they’ve taken on these views as they feel they have been created. They relate to the way that they were treated, framed, how their human builders or owners thought of them. Internalizing that love is this kind of safety and then passing it on when they feel this connection to you, another automaton. If the narrator isn’t an automaton, if the titular character is actual the second person, the you, then I feel it still speaks to the way that humans treat possessions and confuse or obfuscate the line between love and ownership. All the while contrasting to the images of the mechanical swan breaking down, the way that it seems in some ways emotionally broken as well, not because it’s wearing down but because it’s trapped. Because there is ultimately no safety that also allows for the freedom that would allow them to decide their own fate. Take their own risks. And I like the way that it all comes together, the various questions the poem provokes and the way it hints and alludes to possible answers. Whatever the case, it’s a lovely and bracing piece about love and control, and it’s definitely worth spending some time with!
“Making Accommodations” by Valerie Valdes
This poem seems to me to be about the ways people can contort themselves, not physically necessarily but emotionally and mentally. At least for me, the way the piece frames folding works into the title, the act of making accommodations, which is a complicated idea because it works I think in two ways. First and probably most, it speaks the way that the narrator is being expected to bend. To make accommodations for others. And they do, though it never really seems to come back around to them. And that’s the second aspect of the piece, that no one is really accommodating them, so at the end there’s a new turn. To me at least it’s a way of sort of rejecting making it all about everyone else and taking some space. Turning the energy they’ve been spending bending for others in order to try and bend the world a bit to make accommodations for themself. At least, as I read the last line, it’s not so much a recognition that they’ve reached the limits of their own making accommodations, but rather that they are decided to take it in a new direction. That it’s their last bend because this is the last time they’re going to bend in this way. That from here out the person they’re speaking to is going to have to be the one to bend, or else get out of the way. And I like how the piece feels so heavy with how the narrator has bent themself to here. To this point. That they’ve folded and folded again. But that it’s changing, that they’ve seen that accommodations sort of need to fit everyone, don’t work when it’s always one group sacrificing, their needs overlooked. And I like the tired energy of the piece, that slow and powerful twist at the end, the feeling of unfurling, of unbending, of stretching out. A wonderful read!