This month's offerings from Uncanny Magazine bring a bit of everything. Two original fiction pieces, two poems, and two works of nonfiction covering fairy tales and AI insurrections and ghosts and desires and distorted realities and lineages of SFF. The fiction is gripping and challenging, difficult and unflinching. The poetry is moving and all about desire and nostalgia and looking back. And the nonfiction is about perception and how it can be changed, either in the brain or by those around you, and how that can effect the inroads to SFF. It's a full month and a nice balance of the strange, the heartbreaking, and the affirming. So yeah, time to review!
|Art by Kirbi Fagan|
"The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight" by E. Lily Yu (5868 words)
This story takes an interesting look at fairy tale tropes and humanizes them in interesting ways, casting a goose girl as a witch and a cursed boy as a knight and weaving a complex tale of hope and disappointment and longing. The story does an excellent job capturing the feel of the witch, who is blown across her own life, going where inclination leads. She is inquisitive and never truly satisfied and when given the opportunity to be a witch she jumps on it, only to find that not all things are what she expects. She ends up following a knight on his quest, hoping to keep him safe and also stay with him, but the way that power and curses work in this story is strange and interesting. It twists things. And that's part of what I love about it. [SPOILERS] Because the curses all seem to come from within. Not from the magic of some witch but from the particular hopes and dreams and insecurities of the people of the story. The knight is cursed in my opinion not because someone laid the curse on it but because of his own need to excel and be masculine. Or, at the least, the curse that has been placed on him has been how he was raised. The abuse that society inflicts from toxic masculinity and misogyny. The same applies to the witch and the same applies to the woman that they "save" from the tower. Each is trapped and tragic but most of them are also assholes who are destructive. I love that the witch can mourn for them but also leave them behind, can decide that her life is what she can control, her curse is what she can break. There is a vein of selfcare that I read and I like, that the witch is shaken by what she sees but that she can get away, that she can do something else, that she can learn to dance. It's a fun story and certainly worth checking out!
"Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex" by Ferrett Steinmetz (6616 words)
This is a strange story about eroticism and objectification, about bodies and desire, about betrayal and vulnerability. In it, Lydia is a phone sex worker who meets Ross, the first person she really connects with from her job. They build things. Scenes. Buildings. They imagine the facets of the world and find the erotic in the small sensations and details. It's something that they both seem drawn to, that draws them together, but it's rather complicated when they meet and Lydia finds out that Ross is a brain in a jar. That part of his fascination to detail is that he is completely without sensation and it allows him to feel again. And Lydia and Ross enter into a relationship that…well, that sort of works for them. Where they can build something. And I love how the story treats desire and touch, how it shows how even the most seemingly-mundane of things can be erotic. And I love how the story navigates the tricky waters of sexual desire, the freedom but also the dangers, the way that Lydia is able to own her desire but also the guilt she feels with how everything happens. It's one of the few Uncanny stories I've seen with a content warning and it's pretty much all sexy-times related, so if eroticism isn't what you're into…well, tough. It's a beautiful story with a really complex situation [SPOILERS] made more complicated by Ross' infidelity and lying and how the two characters hurt each other while also releasing each other, bringing each other up but never quite able to bridge the distance between them. What they are able to do is give comfort. A conflicted comfort, but there it is, and in the end the story manages a quiet power and a strong finish. A fascinating read!
"The Ghost Marriage" by Sonya Taaffe
This poem speaks to me of age and looking back. Of a life lived trying for something, working for something, fighting for something. There's a strong sense of nostalgia about the poem, for me. Things taken out of a past that might seem simple. That might seem romantic, but that might also have been hiding something darker, more intense. There is a past that is being evoked by this ghost, a past that seems almost glamorous. When there were roles to follow and a certain comfort in that but there is something missing as well. Something hollow. The title worked for me to show what sort of a relationship this is, something that is dead, something that is haunting the people, the narrator and the man on the couch. That this is something that once was vibrant and alive but has been contained by the walls of kitchen and the confines of the inequality. I read at least a pull in different directions, a sort of romantic haze over a time that was rather problematic and a knowledge that there is no going back. And it's that balance of comfort and pain, sorrow and hope, that keeps the poem going forward for me. It's a poem that captures a style and an era, the taste of dust and booze and a marriage that was dead well before it came a ghost. An interesting and complex read with a soft feel and a great rhythm.
"Million-Year Elegies: Tyrannosaurus" by Ada Hoffmann
This poem speaks to me of desire and sharp edges and a safety that is only really only possible close to danger. The image is captivating and immediate—someone looking at the skeleton of a dinosaur and feeling…well, in some ways feeling awe, but not in the normal sense. To me it reads like the narrator is seeing something that solidifies something in their mind. A desire. A want. For security. To be swallowed and consumed. But also to inhabit. And that idea, of this person held by the tyrannosaurus, held but not destroyed, is captivating to me. That it's something so…so huge and unmistakably predatory but that it can offer something else as well. A feeling of pressure and a promise that inside this there is safety and security and heat and relief. I love how the poem plays with the desire, which seems almost destructive but which feels, ultimately, like something different. That the narrator is only seeking a strength which is the only thing that excites them, which is the only thing that can contain them. That they want the challenge and the danger, the safety and the pressure. It's a poem that to me captures a very complex set of emotions and wants and presents them from a child's eyes, acknowledging that what will happen later in life has been there all along, the fascination and the drive and the desire. And it gets at something shared by most people, that first moment seeing a dinosaur (or close to) and reacting. It's an amazing read!
"Growing Up in Wonderland" by Dominik Parisien
Wow. I was completely unaware of the condition described in this article before reading about it here. And it sounds…well, it sounds terrifying. I'm something of a relativist, personally, which means that I'm someone who believes in the power of perception. That, ultimately, we cannot escape from our own perspective. In a writing sense, this means always being stuck in the first person, never being able to sort of poke out and see what's "really going on." But with this condition it sounds to me a bit like some part of that first person narrative is…well, unreliable. Not in the sense that the narrator is lying, but in the sense that the perceived reality of the narrator can't wholly be depended on. And yet, for the narrator, it is what is, is the reality that they have to work with. And the piece does an excellent job of conveying that feeling, a sort of tired recognition that for them there is no certainty when it comes to the world at large. That at any moment it might distort, and logic be damned it feels real. As a reader it was an exercise in empathy building for me, trying to imagine what it might be like to live with that. And probably failing. But it's a great examination of the sensation, of the idea, of the experience that the writer goes through. And it's a moving, thoughtful piece that I quite recommend checking out!
"Blood Matters: Growing Up in an SF/F House" by Aidan Moher
This is a piece about family and about how parents and children relate to each other through SFF. Through writing and through fandom. It's a bit of a strange piece for me to look at, because for me personally my parents weren't incredibly involved with my movements inside fandom and SFF. Like with many things, I hid a lot of my interests in that domain, at least beyond a superficial level. I was encouraged to read, and there was nothing expressly wrong with reading or writing SFF, but it's definitely something where I'm sure they thought of SFF in a certain, safer way than I really did and I had no intention of opening up about it. Similarly, I'm not having children and so that aspect of the piece, while quite interesting, was something that I couldn't really connect with. For those who are more interested in that, though, it is a fascinating look into how different writers treat writing and how their writing has changed as they've grown and as they've had kids of their own. There's a lot of interesting info here, lots of insights from genre professionals. It's always difficult with people who grow up gravitating toward SFF in some ways either because it was passed down to them or because they chose it instead of what was being passed down. Because the generational tale is that someone's key to freedom can be someone else's chain. But it's an interesting piece and well worth a read. Indeed!