Monday, January 4, 2021

Quick Sips - Speculative City #10

Art by Jacqueline C.J. Barnes
And now for something new! Yes yes I know, right before I’m set to step away from doing these kind of full reviews isn’t precisely the time to be starting a whole new publication, but I assure you that’s not what I’m doing. Indeed, this is something of a one-off, as I was told about this issue of Speculative City and just couldn’t resist. Plus, I had a sudden hole in my schedule and boom! It’s a wonderful issue, though, focused on an Afrofuturism theme and featuring four short stories and two poems. The works are vibrant, dealing with some decidedly grim subjects but bringing a fresh and vibrant voice that cuts through the oppressions facing the characters and brings them new hope. It’s a fantastic collection of works, and I’ll dive right into my reviews!


“Open 27 Hours” by LP Kindred (4433 words)

No Spoilers: Yanese is a food writer looking for a long cherished but mysterious dish--nobavgo casserole. Or, that’s what she thinks it is, half-remembered and haunting like a dream. The reality is much stranger, and more magical, as Nobavgo Kaissaaro is something that’s out of time, out of space (literally). When Yanese tells two of her friends about her quest, one of them just laughs her off. The other, though, seems to recognize what she’s talking about, and might just be able to re-introduce her to Miss Birdie’s Cafe, for a taste of soul food. The piece is warm and fun, full of food and friendship and memories, and connecting all times (or, well, most of them) through food and possibilities.
Keywords: Food, Food Writing, Friends, Space Whales, Soul Food, Restaurants, Time Displacement
Review: People who follow my reviews know I love me some foodie SFF and this is a wonderful example, finding in food a kind of recovery and magic, an affirmation and a promise. A way of looking to the future, to a time when people can find compressed space whale caught in black holes and turn it into something delciously transcendent. The action finds the narrator haunted by this dish, by this memory of having been taken to Miss Birdie’s as a child, though she doesn’t remember the cafe until later. Like her memories of her mother, whom she seems to have lost young, there is just something about that dish that makes her feel whole and safe. That connects her to her mother, to her own history. And it’s something that has been absent in her life, just as she misses what her mother might have taught her, feels that loss keenly because probably that’s who would have more formally introduced her to Miss Birdie’s. Instead she’s lost this time, and the story explores how she gets that back, and how repairing that relationship to the cafe ends up doing a lot more than just giving her a new place to eat. It gives her a part of herself back, and one that she only hazily feels the loss of. The return to Miss Birdie’s is about more than food, then. Is about reclamation, healing, and the opening of a door into someplace that allows her to rejuvenate her spirit, her soul. And it shows her the possibilities open before, that the future is not all grim, that there are wonders that she can connect to, a Black history that stretches into a Black future reaching into the stars themselves. As an opening to an issue on Afrofuturism, the story does a wonderful job of guiding readers from the contemporary and giving them a taste of something to come, vibrant and alive and joyous. The character work is wonderful, the voices in the story strong, and I just love the story. An excellent read!

“Territorial” by Fleur Lyamuya (2798 words)

No Spoilers: Zoë used to be an investigative journalist but after trying to find more out about “shamart” she became a target of a mysterious and seemingly-omnipresent Bureau that watches everything, tracking individuals who might become threats and moving agents around in a giant game powered by threats of violence, drugs, and mind control. Zoë has mostly given up on fighting it, having been brought into the Bureau as a pawn, as an agent, as one of their many eyes. She tries not to think about what she does but when she meets her latest target, an artist named Themba, things change. The piece is tense and sensual with Zoë against the enormous power and influence of an organization she barely knows. She knows enough that this time, though, she’s not going to give in easily. And it finds a certain kind of hope even in a rather grim situation.
Keywords: Spying, Queer MC, Art, Birds, CW- Mind Control, CW- Abuse/Torture, CW- Slavery
Review: This story deals a lot with coercion, examining the ways that Zoë wants to live, and what that means. What she’s made to do by those who manipulated her into this situation, into this kind of slavery. And it’s hard, because she doesn’t often have control even of her body, and to stay sane she has to buy into the company line about a lot. But not about everything. And it’s so wrenching and messed up what she goes through, meeting this woman and spying on her, lying to her, all for a Bureau that she hates. All because she has no privacy, no real freedom. Themba’s art, though, does cut through that to some extent. Allows her to see and to experience something she hasn’t been able to in a long time--hope. Hope that the Bureau isn’t as powerful as it tries so hard to convince everyone it is. It can monitor a lot, yes, and it can make oë’s life particularly hellish, yes, but at the same time there are limits to it. And part of how it hides that is through hiding. Through being unseen, so no one knows how much is really there, and how much is smoke and mirrors. And so this strange, messy thing she has with Themba becomes something worth fighting for. At least as much as she can. And there comes a kind of freedom from knowing that she still can. That, ultimately, the Bureau might try to corrupt her, to coerce her, but she has something that they can’t take. And she is able to help Themba get away. To keep that bit of magic out there in the world, that art still potent enough to cut through the illusions that are binding people. And it changes how Zoë approaches her work, unbreaking her in many ways, or revealing that she was never broken to begin with, and that her resistance can now begin, knowing that there’s a chance of success. A great read!

“Avenging the Daughter of God” by Gary Earl Ross (4292 words)

No Spoilers: Dr. John Nkiru has lost his daughter in the worst way, to a truck of white supremacists in an incident echoing the real-life violence in Charlottesville. Bringing her remains back to London for interment, Dr Nkiru has time to think of what his next moves will be, and it’s justice that keeps bringing him back to the names of the men who killed his daughter. The how of that, though, ties into his research in theoretical physics, and a network that is apparently quite eager to help make sure there are less racists in the world. Or at this time. The piece is grim and looks at justice and revenge, where one begins and the other begins, and how they often blur together. It’s heavy with loss, but also rightly pissed off, and indulgent in the sense that it never apologizes for providing a fantasy wrapped in science, a balm for the grim and frustrating reality that perverts justice on a perpetual basis.
Keywords: Time Travel, Teleportation, Justice, CW- Slurs, CW- Loss of a Child
Review: In some ways this story could be called a revenge fantasy, this father making sure to make those responsible for his daughter’s death pay for what they’ve done. But the story really does complicate that a bit, bringing in racism and sort of asking where the line is, where “justice” through the police, through the system, is basically impossible because of corruption and racism and white supremacy. Yes, Dr. Nkiru does basically become a vigilante, sending racists to time periods not only where they’re likely to die but where their deaths will probably go unnoticed. But is that something as simple as revenge? He’s not Batman and while he has resources and is a genius, this isn’t about dressing up or being a superhero. In fact, I love that this unfolds next to him meeting someone and starting dating and beginning to heal, because it underlines that without the wound of his daughter’s death being closed, he’d never be able to do that. It would be an open wound and it would rot and it would kill him. It’s only through being able to find some form of justice that he can start to heal. And it does speak to this kind of proactive approach that is necessary for him to feel safe, for him to feel like he can move on, move forward. There has to be some hope, some way of having accountability. Without that, there’s really nothing, and that frustration, that perversion of justice, becomes a weight that crushes joy, that prevents people from being able to live. Here Dr. Nkiru yes, is basically murdering people, and he’s probably not the best judge about who deserves it most. But something does need to be done, and failing a just system it’s hard enough to fault one that at the very least gets rid of people who are racist assholes. Less of those in the world isn’t something I’d lose sleep over. And yeah, it’s hard to call it a fun story, given everything about it. But it would also be hard to call it unsatisfying, because for me at least it is, because only through this kind of justice, the kind that makes the corrupt afraid, can any real change begin, because it levels the playing field in a way that strikes against systemic oppression. And really more power to that. A fine read!

“Those Who Remembered” by Lush Horizon (5477 words)

No Spoilers: Serenity doesn’t really feel like they live up to their name. For them at times it is a burden as much as it is also a gift and a tool. Especially with the world basically ending, drowning in a flood of climate change. But they’re also armed with something else. The stories of their Mamas. The stories of how the world ended before, and how they survived through cooperation, through the building of seven giant arks that allowed them to live through the flood and resettle the land, though many of their descendants would eventually forgot the lessons, the stories, and fall back into the same toxic patterns. The story looks a warnings, at the need for action and change. It finds Serenity and their family as those reaching out, trying to save people, and running into a lot of people who would rather be helpless and hopeless, would rather not just not doing anything to save themselves, but prevent others from doing anything either, just because they find some sort of comfort in mutual destruction. The piece is complex, quiet, and yearning, the narrator speaking to a Mama they have lost, but who has not really left them.
Keywords: Climate Change, Floods, Arks, Queer MC, Family, Power
Review: I love the way this story looks at the ways people approach something like the end of the world. How here’s this group of people with a plan and the power to carry it through. Who are offering...not exactly salvation. But survival. That will take work. That will require people to change how they live. But that will mean not dying. And how for a lot of people it’s something they can accept...until it either becomes too much, or they find some other, easier comfort. Like believing that death is ordained, religiously just, and that they will gain something through their deaths. It’s a trap that so many in this setting fall into, thinking that not acting is the righteous thing to do, because everything else seems too daunting, would require too much cooperation, and tearing down the systems of injustice that have stood for so long. If help is offered from the “wrong kind of people,” then how many would accept it? And it’s so wrenching watching the people deal with that, the narrator having to see their neighbors, their lovers, join into a kind of evangelical religion that will try to kill those wanting to survive the flood rather than coming together so that everyone can live. The scarcity, the competition, it’s all manufactured by these people and their fear. Their fear that everyone is as corruptible as they are. When, really, there are many who genuinely want to help. Not who are selfless but who have skills and gifts and can come together to find a just way to live. For me at least the story really explores how communities face difficulty, and imagine a future, and reach of it or shrink away from it. It’s a powerful piece that finds a character stepping into their power, and that’s a beautiful thing, even as the details of the situation and the setting are grim indeed. A fantastic read!


“Transmission 33 (AKA Replikant)” by Jamika Ajalon

Framed as a kind of rallying call, a kind of subversive, underground transmission to...everyone, this piece speaks to a music that is, that always was. That has been and will be suppressed, censored, outlawed, but cannot be stopped. Is part of the fabric of reality, part of history, part of the collective unconscious or soul, at least for those with a connection to it. For those who are oppressed, who are trampled, who are controlled and abused. The music that comes out of that is a revolution and a resistance that no amount of erasure can truly remove from the world. At least for me the piece speaks of this power to basically move laterally, through time and space, through dimensions, so that this music is always parallel, always there to bridge the gaps between people when they need it. When language fails when there is an emotion that needs expressing, a person can essentially tap into themself, into the music that is and has always been inside them. That comes out in different ways but is recognizable still as a part of a singular voice, a collective voice, a we that includes those who feel the music inside them, who react to it through their inspiration and through their action. Through standing up against injustice, through surviving as much as possible, to reaching out in community and love. The piece is framed, then, at the end, as part of a larger speculative work. Not just exploring the power and history of music, but placing it within a future where that music is being horded by an elite few who are trying to control it, trying to keep it from everyone else as a way of maybe both isolating its value by making it rare and preventing its message from reaching those who would use it to press and believe in change. Because the music is dangerous, difficult to coopt, difficult to control because of how it speaks to power, speaks to pain and to love. Speaks to resistance, revolution, and restitution. And so the framing makes the transmission a way of starting to get the music out there, not just through the songs and lyrics themselves but through teaching people how to tap into it without a radio. Without a music player. To bend physics to resound, to remember. And it’s a lively, flowing, wonderful read!

“Journey to Afrofuturism” by Donald “C-Note” Hooker

This piece speaks to me of tradition, of tracing the ideas and influences of Afrofuturism from Africa and to California, finding there a sort of forgotten, parallel history to draw off of, to complicate, and to reclaim. The piece reveals the bounty of the area, touched by a queen, the verdant and lush landscape, the way the earth seems to be so nourishing there. For me, there’s a sense that the piece could almost be saying something about the “true” path of afrofuturism and how it exists in the West, how it’s future is in California. But I feel instead that the poem is rather tracing not _the_ path of the movement, of afrofuturism as a whole, but rather showing how it leads not only forward, but also into the past. It’s a catalyst, a way of reclaiming a history that has been largely ignored and erased. The poem to me feels like a celebration of scholarship and of art to reach back and make connections, to find afrofuturism waiting in all times, in all places. Like with the last poem, there’s a feeling to me of connecting this work to a kind of collective past, one that recognizes Black excellence and endeavor, that shows that the West has never been only white. And for me the piece finds a lot of hope in that, of finding these buried roots that can still find their way to the surface and become new growth. That can connect movements across oceans and continents. Not to claim the center of the movement, of all of afrofuturism, is in California, but rather to show that the same spirit and soul of Afrofuturism existed and exists everywhere, a source of strength and power for those who look for it and who find the stories that have largely been denied to them. So that the future is not pulling out of the whitewashed version of history so many cling to, but from a past reclaimed and made whole. It’s a wonderful piece, and connects directly and explicitly with the theme of the issue, and it’s just a great way to finish things up. Definitely go check it out!


Support Quick Sip Reviews on Patreon

No comments:

Post a Comment