Monday, October 23, 2023

Regular Sip - Understudies by Priya Sridhar (Hireath Publishing)

Understudies by Priya Sridhar (Hireath Publishing)

In this follow-up to Offstage Offerings, The Haunted Basilio Theater is back, and this time it’s (fraternal) twin sisters and playwrights Stella and Evangeline, the Stardust Sisters, who are leasing it to put on a show and make a name for themselves. Part Faustian bargain, part late stage capitalism, the story follows the pair as they make a deal with the strange beings who own the theater and deal with the fallout from their bargain. 

Part of what I appreciate most about the story is just how nakedly it lays out the ways the world is already full of predators waiting to exploit creativity and passion. For the sisters, getting a sketchy offer isn’t all that unusual, and that it requires some...unusual provisions really doesn’t throw up more red flags than normal. Both are used to people taking ruthless advantage of people wanting to turn their dreams into reality. But Stella, at least, isn’t quite willing to cross the line and become one of the exploiters. Eve, however...

“We would have prepared better for real demon curses”

What’s particularly heartbreaking about the story is just how preventable it all is. Indeed, after the events of the previous story, closing the theater seems like it would be a good idea. But while it’s discussed, it’s also almost immediately abandoned. Because it would be the loss of an opportunity, and a loss of jobs. Because, for real, people value that over stopping an obviously evil location. And the thing is it rings so true. What is becoming increasingly obviously from places like the-social-media-site-formerly-known-as-Twitter and Facebook and more is that despite them being used for clearly evil purposes, and despite that mostly being upheld by the law and their own terms of use, people can’t always afford to walk away from them. Not if they want their chance to make it.

And beneath all the clearly damning social critique, it’s also a very fun read about sisters and the mistakes they make. The ways they hurt each other. The secrets they keep. And the ways they try to do right by each other. The ways they try to help each other survive and make something good. And this story works for that, showing how people stumble, and how that sometimes means Very Bad Things. Because the path to Hell is lined with good intentions and creative aspirations. But if all paths lead to Hell, then suddenly the particulars start mattering a bit more. It’s weird and it’s fun and it’s very much worth checking out!

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