Skinchanger: Review of “The Pull of the Herd” by Suzan Palumbo

roe-deer-1367182_1280

 

The great thing about Palumbo’s story (well, one of the many great things) is the complexity of the relationships in it. “The Pull of the Herd” appears in issue 5 of Anathema, the title of which should already give you a hint about their editorial focus: to provide a home for the “exceptional work of queer people of colour (POC)/Indigenous/Aboriginal creators.” And, as a publication which describes art as a bruise, Anathema strikes true with Palumbo’s tale, which is both delicate and painful. The latter description also describes the unique beauty of the doefolk, the people to whom our narrator belongs.

The story is a fascinating spin on the skin-changer motif, one Palumbo uses to effect as a metaphor for her narrator’s liminality. The narrator, Agni, is a self-declared “outsider,” not only to humans but to her own kind despite her deep and binding ties to individuals of both worlds. These ties have been created by a lifetime of kind and unkind deeds that Agni must struggle against in the face of even bigger threats, hunters who smell of metal and blood.

A compelling and gut-wrenching story. And the expert use of names (Vashti as Agni’s sister) to echo the theme is a nice touch.

 

 

 

 

Contamination: Review of “The Singing Wind and the Golden Hour” by Nicole Feldringer

mars-2051748_640

Feldringer’s protagonist, Kala, is a photographer–and evocative images are strewn throughout this fascinating story. “The Singing Wind and the Golden Hour” is July’s story on GigaNotoSaurus, a webzine that caters to stories with high wordcounts. The story tracks the attempts of Kala, and her friend Abe, to expose the truth behind an illness that suddenly assaults the Warrens, a first-gen district of their Martian town.

Throughout the story, vivid description reminds us of the wild beauty of Mars even as the societal structure is all too familiar to Earth’s class politics. Kala photographs a landscape encroached upon by the Martian settlements: “The antenna mast’s shadow corrugated across the yardangs, destroying the illusion of wilderness.” Talented but fearful, Kala finds a way to use her photography to highlight the abuses of the first-gen district in the face of the increasing demand for housing due to settler influx.

The story is successful in mingling the familiar and the unfamiliar, so that the well-established Martian civilization reflects very current and Earthly concerns. It also emphasizes the role of art, and its potential partnership with the sciences, to combat injustice. A good read!

Revolutions: Review of “Seven Turns Around the Sacred Fire” by Meera Jhala

fire

“Seven Turns Around the Sacred Fire,” by Meera Jhala, appears in the Summer 2018 issue of Kaleidotrope. It is a story about a married couple who endures many lifetimes together (seven in accordance with their marriage ritual to take seven turns around a sacred flame). And it is beautiful. It won me over.

The contextualization is sparse, but this contributes to the story’s delicate balance between detail (“The moon hung over the sand dunes”) and mystery (“I don’t know why we didn’t make the cut”). Similarly, the choice to use a first-person narrator who directly addresses the lover (rather than the reader) puts the reader in the position of an eavesdropper, listening in on an intimate conversation that spans centuries. Subtle descriptions of time and place allow the reader to find their bearing and follow the characters through their seven lives.

This is a good story to read over a quick lunch break, since it is short–but it will stick with you throughout the day.

Words as Tools: Review of “The Bridge” by Yukyan Lam

ribblehead-viaduct-2443085_1920

Sometimes you read a story that just makes you revel in the words themselves–words like obsidian, amaranth, and tenebrous. The words are sensuous, jewel-like and complementary to the plot. In this case, the words primarily speak to sight, but sight and emotion are very closely linked in Lam’s “The Bridge.” This story appears in Issue V of Bracken, a relatively new speculative fiction magazine that describes itself as “inspired by old world storytelling with roots in the wood’s shadows.” Lam’s story fits neatly within this mission statement. The world of her tale seems old, but it is threatened by shadows of resource-hoarding and prejudice.

The titular bridge is the central image of the story–a bridge that extends from the narrator’s country, which exports minerals (mined at great cost) via the narrator’s father, to the lands that have “harnessed the power of the sun, the winds, the waters.” The story follows the narrator’s apprenticeship in his father’s work as resources shrink and are met with less demand. In trying to understand the dynamics of trade, the narrator uncovers more and more questions, including those regarding secrets of his own family.

The story is mournful, but its allegorical notes strike true. Check it out for yourself.

The Terror of Being Human: A Review of AMC’s The Terror

 

Wreck, Capsize, Ship, Leave, Lost

I just finished watching AMC’s ten-episode series The Terror, thanks to the kind invitation of a friend who had already watched it and was eager for fellow viewers. (Btw, the memes this show has generated are amazing. Watch the show. Then appreciate the memes.) The television series is based off of the novel by Dan Simmons which, in turn, is based off a nineteenth-century historical expedition to discover the Northwest Passage.

The novel and TV series introduce supernatural elements into an already-terrifying landscape and situation (imagine poisoned food, stranded ships, and dead bodies, and you’re only partially on your way to understanding the reality of the situation). However, the real horror of the show lies not in the terror that stalks these trapped British explorers–but in the souls of the sailors themselves. It is a show expansive and claustrophobic in turn, full of brilliant and disturbing images. The intensity of the show builds as one episode bleeds into the next until you are begging for a cathartic release, much like the men themselves.

Part of the horror of humanity that this show explores is the danger and trauma of expedition fueled by Western colonialism, as the sailors endanger not only their own lives but those of the native Inuits. The show is not perfect in its representation of these marginalized voices (as it does not avoid the stereotype of indigenous peoples as mystic), but it heads in the right direction by casting Inuit actors to represent the Arctic inhabitants who encounter and interact with the white explorers.

The show is worth a watch, if you enjoy the interplay of supernatural and all-too-natural horror.