|Art by Patricio Betteo|
"How the God Auzh-Aravik Brought Order to the World Outside the World" by Arkady Martine (2667 words)
This is a strange story of shadow and light, order and chaos, and the roles people take and those that are forced on them. When the god Auzh-Aravik's skin is stolen by her sister who lives outside of order and space, in the world-outside-the-world, she goes to retrieve it. What she doesn't plan on is being trapped there, left alone with only darkness, stripped of her skin and, through that, much of her power and all the rules of the universe. It's a neat tale, one that gets at the nature of gods, yes, but also at the nature of roles. Auzh-Aravik is the Ornament of Heaven, but is not liked for it. She brings order and perfection and the other gods resent her for it. As long as she is the Ornament, she is trapped in a role that brings her no real respect. It is only when her skin and power is taken that she starts to question her role, her nature, and affirms herself. It's a compelling and mythic story but also a sort of family drama, a woman finding out what she is capable of outside the view of others, allowed to be free in her creation, allowed to fill up as much space as she desires, as she can. There is loss, here, yes, but also not exactly. Because she doesn't find anything new in the world-outside-the-world. Just herself. But that revelation is worth a lot, to see her nature and her power, to have a place that is solely hers. To lose the ornamentation in favor of something else, something more personal. And I like the way that everything comes together, the way Auzh-Aravik's journey goes, the path she walks. It's graceful and it's powerful and it's good. A compelling read.
"Apotropaic Magic" by Margaret Wack
This is a poem about attempting to turn aside evil. About trying to avoid bag luck and tragedy. And, in many ways, about the evils done to try and avoid evil. About trying to take control of tragedy and loss by choosing those to die. It's a powerful poem that shows a ritual of killing women by sacrificing them to the sea in hopes of bringing good fortune to the ships. Of using violence to try and prevent violence. Or, more, of spending life that is less valued than the life you hope to save. About making a person, a woman, less important than the luck of a man, a ship. And the poem, told in two chilling stanzas, does an excellent job of throwing that idea back in the faces of those who would do it. Of questioning the old traditions and rituals by making them a part of something different than averting disaster. Of in some ways making the traditions a part of making sure disaster and tragedy recurs, that the injustice of the acts does not save the living but rather creates a darkness that is all the more dangerous for it. Those last lines are creepy and strong and righteous and the poem as a whole is dense and wonderfully dark. Indeed
"uprooted" by Kit Hamada
Well this is a rather disturbing poem about the natural and about being forced into a roll, into a task. The narrator of this poem is trapped, pushed into being basically a plant, forced to be voiceless, defenseless. To be something pretty to be admired. The poem uses mostly short lines and mostly short stanzas to create a sort of clipped feel, something happening in pounding bursts like the beating of a heart. The entrapment of the narrator is told in simple terms and yet the feel of it is chilling, that idea that they're being told they'll like it while it's being forced on them, that they're being made into something that can really only be used and in some rather gruesome ways. Their power becomes something that is invisible, that might be nothing. The last line does a great job of evoking something deep and rumbling, something that doesn't seem to have the power to act directly but that might remember, that might poison the very Earth. I'm not sure then whether the narrator is a sacrifice or just someone that the "they" of the poem didn't like, didn't see as valuable or worthy of consideration, but there is a magic present that is nicely done and rather creepy, and overall the story manages to pack a lot into a fairly small space. A fine read!
"Flying Cars, Dino-Power, and Energy in SF" by Brent Ryan Bellamy
Energy in science fiction and fantasy is a fascinating topic. This article looks a bit more at the depictions in science fiction, and I'm guessing that's because such looks are a bit more obviously predictive of what people think might happen. When people imagine the future where energy is just there, then it makes a huge impact on how people might act in getting there. But I love the way that it complicates fantasy, especially because a lot of fantasy is concerned with magic and magic is energy and how that energy is created and exploited is interesting and also mirrors how people might view energy in the "real world." How telling is it that people fantasize about worlds where energy just leaps from the ether at the snap of a finger? I love the fantasy settings that complicate magic by there being an enterprise of magic, a business of magic (which is sort of where steampunk can come in with its grimy and dirty exterior and yet flying ships). There's just so much in this article that is worth thinking about and examining in how people view energy in context to fiction and visions of both the past and future. It's a call to think more about energy and I think that impulse is a necessary one, a vastly important one. Definitely take the time to read this piece!