Art by Matthew Dow Smith
"And Never Mind the Watching Ones" by Keffy R.M. Kehrli (7997 words)
This is a story about belonging, about not belonging, about trying to find a place that works, that really works. The premise of the story is interesting, a world overrun by small glitter frogs which might be aliens, which might be made by the government. The frogs are part flesh, part circuitry. They are passive, there only to watch, to observe. For some, though, including Aaron, who is sort-of the main character of the story, the frogs represent something more. They are a mark that there is something different out there. Where most people ignore the frogs and the implication of the frogs, Aaron and those he gathers together want to see the frogs, want to go with them to someplace else. They are those that don't belong. The story itself is filled with ambiguity, though, filled with questions that are never answered. It is left to the reader to believe, in the end, if the frogs are more than government spies. The story becomes about pain, about difference and distance and options. Aaron is trapped, trapped by his own lack of direction that seems to draw from a lack of want. A lack of satisfaction. A distance from the world he wants to formalize by taking his leave of it. It's a moving story, one that leaves me strangely emptied, on the brink of hope or despair, not sure which way to turn. It is a great story, but not an easy one. Go read it.
"The Sisters' Line" by Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer (3956 words)
Well, the stories this month sure don't offer up much in the way of closure, but they also prove that closure isn't needed to tell a damn fine story. Here the action centers around a series of letters the main character receives from their sister, letters that come with hidden pieces of a train included. The letters seem inane, but there is something to the entire thing that's unsettled, ripe with deeper meaning. The strangeness of folding in enormous bits of train into letters is complicated by the obvious loss the main character feels at the absence of their sister, and with the help of a young neighbor girl they start to piece things together, start to get through their own hesitation and fear. Things transform, fit, and everything builds to the choice to leave, to pursue the sister to wherever she might be. The story is dominated by a sister-shaped absence, one which is never really explained. It makes it no less powerful, though, no less impacting. There is a sense of need, of briding some unfathomable gap, in the prose here, and the result is beautiful and strong. Indeed.
"Biting Tongues" by Amal El-Mohtar
Ah, perhaps I shouldn't have reviewed this one because I didn't see the faint type saying it's been published before. But it is a beautiful poem, a powerful poem, about the way in which people are pushed toward what is socially acceptable. Wolves or maidens. Victims or whores. The poem does such a great idea laying out the stakes and then showing how they don't work, how it's all skewed, how no one can fit into the dichotomies of it, how it transforms people, transforms women toward silence, silence and pain and hurt. How that is how society prefers things, women abused and silent, but that it's no longer the only option. That there are stories to tell and power to be had in gathering together and refusing the boundaries of myth and fable, refusing to be silent any longer. The poem is actually fairly long, and has sections where it rhymes quite strongly, moving back and forth from almost juvenile forms to much more adult ones, the purpose as I read it to show how these messages are pushed at the youngest ages, to show just how harmful they are, the insidious ways they spread. And to offer an alternative, a hope. Because the poem is about hope, about the breaking down of walls, about the telling of stories. Quite good!
"The Book of Longing" by Jennifer Crow
This is a short poem, a love poem, a poem that captures in some way the feeling of loss or at least loneliness that flows from being separated from the person you care about. The title of the poem tells the tale here, the idea of separation strong, that something has happened that has pushed the narrator away from the person they care about. I'm guessing (or hoping) that it's not as final as death because there is a sense that the longing will be eased, that the separation will the lifted, that these two people will find each other again and what they had started will be full realized. I quite like that the imagery here isn't exactly flowery, aren't exactly traditionally romantic. There is a trauma involved in this separation, a wound that has been created, which is a powerful way to conceptualize longing, here captured in a bleeding heart, a raw part of the narrator that their beloved carries with them, that they might have back again only when they are together again. It's a sweet poem and a dark poem, and one that succeeds, I think, in doing what it sets out to do, which is freeze a moment of loss and longing and hope. Another fine poem!
"Suspended Beliefs: Verisimilitude vs. Accuracy" by Diana M. Pho
This essay takes a rather interesting look at the idea of accuracy in fiction, and especially speculative fiction. It looks at the most common complaints lobbed at works that fail when it come to representation and problematizes them. Which is interesting, but done in a way to more effectively critique the work, to more faithfully approach what is really wrong with them. Not that the work fails because it lacks representation (a complaint that many will wave away as too SJW) but because it fails to accomplish a believable world. That the verisimilitude of the work falls apart when examined, that the system makes assumptions that don't hold up in the light of day, only in the shadowy realm of ignorance. And I do like the idea of becoming a bit more particular in critiquing works, in part because it makes it less about merely having x, y, and z like it's a checklist but rather that it focusing on really building a world, really selling it by not copping out, by not hand waiving away certain things that are difficult, or are uncomfortable. That we shouldn't let writers off the hook, but rather that we should get a better hook. Which makes people better readers and frees people from thinking about what was accurate historically and instead focuses on making a world that people can believe in. So much to think about!
"Masculinity Is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box" by David J. Schwartz
This is a fascinating essay, one that takes aim directly at the ways in which masculinity is constructed and policed. And as a cis-man, I can definitely attest to most of these things. It's normally fairly disturbing to think about those ways in which I am a product of a lot of this posturing/policing, the things that I have done because of it, the asshole that I know I've been to many people. I love the way that the essay prompts hope, though, and that transformative power of breaking down the Box, of escaping the restrictions that mainstream and even non-mainstream masculinity and gender policing place on people. It's also refreshing to see someone grappling with the idea of gender at an older age, which full knowledge of the fucked up nature of masculinity. Because it's not something that's easy to escape, especially in situations where the policing is strongest (in school and while dependent on family). And I think there is an amount of guilt, of shame, of not having figured oneself out earlier. It's said rather explicitly in this essay and it's something that I find myself thinking about fairly often, the guilt for not being a better person sooner, of not just knowing who I was. In my case, it has to do with my bisexuality and not my gender, but I still found myself headnodding throughout this essay, which doesn't flinch away from taking a very critical look at masculine socialization. A very interesting read!