Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #17 [July stuff]

July finds Uncanny Magazine full once again, this time with three original stories, two poems, and two nonfiction pieces. And may of the pieces examine the idea of home. Of community. Of something encroaching, and how people react to that. In some of the pieces, how is a physical building, a place of healing and haunting. In some it is a neighborhood, or a country, or a place among the stars. Many of these works show people reaching for a home that is different, that is better, where change is possible, where injustice and corruption can be put aside at last. These are stories, poems, and nonfiction pieces that reveal stunning compassion and blistering resistance. They are sometimes tender, sometimes shocking, sometimes funny, and all in all an incredibly collection of SFF. So let’s get to the reviews!

Oh, and if you didn't know, Uncanny is also running a Kickstarter RIGHT NOW for a special Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! special issue that you should definitely get out and support!

Art by Kirbi Fagan

"The Ache of Home" by Maurice Broaddus (4572 words)

This story speaks of hunger and deserts, though not those of sand and cacti. This is a story about Celeste, a woman who lives in a food desert, trying to stand against the forces of gentrification and systemic corruption and racism. She has some magic to help her out, a connection to a Green Space that allows her a measure of power and control when the world outside seems hostile and dangerous. And to me the story speaks a lot of armor and protection, defense and offense. As the story opens, Celeste is one who spends a lot of her time on defense. She needs to be, because of the dangers around her, because of the men harassing her and the wealthier people condescending to her. There are forces pushing into her world, her neighborhood, and what they want is total displacement. So Celeste uses earbuds to drown out the noise of these forces, and spends a lot of her time avoiding, which keeps her in some ways isolated, even from others in her neighborhood. When a man shows up at her door as a representative of the upscale grocery store that Celeste’s been trying to stop, things take a much more directly confrontational tone. Celeste realizes that she’s not going to be allowed to avoid the fight, and that the fight was never going to be fair. That it was always something she would lose. Or, at least, that seems the case as long as she only plays defense. When she finds that, with the help of her friends and community, she can do more than just try to endure, there’s a decision to make—keep her same tactics or shift, and instead of staying on defense moving to offense. It’s a moment that shines in the story and I love how Celeste chooses to move forward, how she moves to protect her home and her people by doing the unexpected and fighting back. It’s a fun and inspiring story about place and about magic and about hunger. Celeste’s voice is calm and courageous and competent and the larger cast is interesting, Ghost and Limos and it’s just great. Do yourself a favor and give this one a thorough read!

"A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds" by Kat Howard (4545 words)

This story speaks to me about ghosts and wings, age and forgiveness and rest. For Luna, the story begins like something for a cheesy horror movie—she has inherited her grandmother’s house twenty years after her grandmother died, only to take ownership of it she has to live in it for a year. Now this could have moved into some dark territory, and it’s not like the story is completely light and fluffy, dealing with death and all, but the direction the story goes with that opening was wholly unexpected and rather gosh darn heartwarming. So be warned, because when Luna arrives at the house, she finds that it’s already birds. And not just any birds. Because as she stays in the house she begins to figure out what’s going on, from the notes her grandmother leaves behind and her own intuition. It’s a stirring piece that looks rather closely at death and rest and the tensions between generations. I love how the story dives into now just the relationship between Luna and her mother, but between her mother and grandmother, everyone dealing with the strain of the house they have all at one point lived in. It’s a story for Luna about finding connection with her past and a purpose that goes beyond what she does for work. Living in the house feels important because it’s about giving people a chance to seek rest and forgiveness. It’s about being open and listening, something that Luna is able to do perhaps because she’s coming to it when she’s already an adult. She’s also helping her grandmother and her mother find some measure of closure and healing, and it’s a beautiful and touching look at how these people all find their answers and the wings necessary to lift above the doubts and hurts and fears of the terrestrial world. So yeah, a great read!

"How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea" by Seanan McGuire (2451 words)

Aww. This is a completely adorable story about the nature of stories. And maybe the nature of cats. And certainly the nature of the sea. It follows a group of Angora cats being transported by ship, a ship that just so happens to be a bit doomed. The cats are contacted by some friendly (well, friendly-ish) seagulls, who the cats beseech for help. And the framing of the story is interesting, a tale (not a pun!) being told orally to some younger listener. The nature of the narrator and the listener, though, aren’t quite disclosed. It’s a mystery that makes one wonder a little what’s going on at that level of the piece, but what’s happening deeper in takes a more immediate concern. And I like how the story structures this story as a sort of stand-in for all stories, how the narrator pauses at the moments when the story branches, where the piece could become distracted or lost. For a kind-of silly piece about cats, there is something about narrative structure being discussed and revealed, the way the story is just a part of something larger, something with branches in roots in every other story, so that it’s all part of the same tree however far removed from the center it might be. And the story of the cats is magical and perfectly fitted to the subject—cats. Because in many ways I read the story as being about the nature of cats, just a bit lazy but also not wanting to die. Capable of tremendous feats yet mostly content to just hang out. This rings true to me for most cats, who want mostly just the comforts of easy food and someplace to be warm. There’s a mythic feeling to the story as well, and a lingering unease for me as I wonder why the listener will need to know the words exactly. To pass along this vital information, or for some other, darker purpose. But yeah, it’s cute and fast and you should definitely check it out!


"Qi Xi" by Joyce Chng

This is a rather delicate poem that carries with it a sense of loss, yearning, and hope. And I hope I can be excused for using a work like delicate, because to me it fits with the tone and the structure of the poem, which is thin and just a bit airy, short lines and short stanzas. This is not a dense brick of words but a thread, like the poem mentions, touching generation after generation. Which is part of where the poem gets a lot of its tragedy for me, because as I try to piece together who is speaking and who they are addressing, it feels to me like something said in parting. The one being addressed by the poem is trapped in a fragile body. Perhaps that is only the fragility of all humans, our skin and our frames no match for the intensity and power of stars. But it feels different than that, to me. If feels like the one being addressed is rather young, and is either not long for this world or else the narrator isn’t, and either way there will be a parting and the narrator, who feels to me like they’ve been the one to care for the person being addressed, is worried for them on their own. Worried, and yet also hopeful, aware that though the bones might be fragile, the heart and the soul is strong, can cross galaxies. It’s a lifting, reaching poem, but for all its delicacy there’s also a weight to it, a pleading hope that kicks me right in the feels. A beautiful poem!

"Starskin, Sealskin" by Shveta Thakrar & Sara Cleto

This poem seems to me to be about stories and about griefs, about trying to make old wrongs right. It focuses mostly on a woman who has travelled through stories, who has crossed through fairy tales and brought out of them bits of cloth and tapestry that have chronicled her time. And yet all of this seems to have come out of a single betrayal in the past, where she took the skin of her friend, her sister, in order to have the freedom to go. Because her own skin at the time didn’t offer her freedom enough. At least, that’s what I get from the piece, this situation where the main character has done wrong but from that wrong has experienced so much, and now after a long, long time, she’s returning to make amends for what she did. Not with regrets, exactly, because of all that she has done, but with a way she hopes will act as apology. Not to erase what she’s done, but maybe to make up for it. To give the person she wronged not only her skin back but also something that might be as valuable as what the main character stole. It’s an interesting piece and one that moves with a strong evocative style and flow. There are bits and pieces of various stories here, a tapestry waiting to be woven, and the ending puts the emphasis on the sharing of stories. That the main character has gone out and collected all these tales, but they aren’t really worth anything until she can share them, until she can give them to someone who can see and experience the value in them. And how, despite the wrongs done, the stories can lead to healing, and reunion, and value, and peace. It’s a lovely poem that explores stories and travels and making amends, and you should definitely give it a read!


"Why Millennials Yearn for Magical School" by Sarah Gailey

I’ve written a bit about what I call Millennial fiction in the past and a lot of that reminds me of this essay, which examines the yearning that a lot of Millennials feel for some magical gateway to a different place. Not necessarily a better place, but a place where change is possible through hard work, love, and community. Because eff, very often it feels that the world we live in now is so corrupt and so aimed against us and those we care about, that change is impossible. That despite the passion and effort and care we put into things, in the end it doesn’t get us to a better place. And I love how the article examines that, showing how people are raised to always be looking for this next big change, something that’s going to fix everything, that’s going to make it right. And fuck, the more I think about it the more it seems that the reason that Millennials struggle so much with this is because that idea was used so mercilessly against us. It was always a game of waiting for that Next Big Milestone that might suddenly punch our ticket into someplace better. For what reason? To get us to be complicit in the corruption that we were living through then. To get us to not care enough about what was going on right then, all around us. I feel so cheated so often because it feels like this idea of a better place was weaponized to deny me any chance of happiness when it might have mattered more. We were always just told by parents, teachers, doctors, everyone, that if we waited it would get better. That there would be some sort of magic moment and then HAHA, all better. What they didn’t tell us was that the magic moment they imaged for us was actually us just endorsing the corruption of the system. It was us saying “yeah, this is good.” And they fucking blame us for growing up and saying “no, this is not good. The queer didn’t go away just because I didn’t act on it for years and years and fuck you I WANT THOSE YEARS BACK.” Ahem. Okay, so this essay might have made me a bit more emotional than I thought. It is very very good and will give you all the feels and thoughts and seriously, go read it while I do some breathing exercises.

"After a Revolution" by Dimas Ilaw

Well shit. This essay is about revolution and resistance and the illusion of safety that we so often wrap around us like a blindfold, to ignore what’s happening and what could happen. It’s a piece that looks specifically at multiple uprisings that took place in the Philippines, but also draws out from that to speak about the way that people resist, the way that people try to stay safe, and how that idea of safety is often reframed. Not stay safe, but take care. Which is a huge distinction, really. Stay safe is all about avoiding conflict. It’s about believing in safety, that there is some combination of things that will keep the wolves away, that will make it so that tragedy will not visit. And in some ways it moralizes tragedy and lack of tragedy, making people who are hurt at fault for their own failure to not “stay safe.” Meanwhile, the idea of taking care, of being careful, isn’t really about safety. Not really. Really, it’s about taking risk, because without that risk then true resistance, true revolution, is not possible. There’s this profound idea that the essay explores that in order to take the steps necessary to resist and revolt and make real change, safety is something that has to be left behind. Which is awful and difficult and always on the verge of being torn away. We want safety not just for ourselves but for those we care about and for other people, regardless of who they are. The piece mentions how children make good hostages, even to strangers. And not being safe means that everyone isn’t safe. But then, they aren’t. That safety is just an illusion, and it’s only by facing that and working through that and rooting out corruption and injustice that we can maybe, someday, build something where everyone can be safe. But that it’s not here, not now, and so we have to take care. Take care we don’t slip into old patterns and mistakes. Take care that we don’t blind ourselves to the truths around us. It’s an amazing article about taking care and it’s a fantastic way to close out the content this month!


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