Uncanny #11, July/August 2016

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Uncanny #11, July/August 2016

“El Cantar of Rising Sun” by Sabrina Vourvoulias

“A Hundred and Seventy Storms” by Aliette de Bodard
“The Words on My Skin” by Caroline M. Yoachim
“Snow Day” by Catherynne M. Valente
“An Ocean the Color of Bruises” by Isabel Yap

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

In “El Cantar of Rising Sun” by Sabrina Vourvoulias, Alonso and his sister Amor have escaped the kingdom of gang warfare that already killed their father, to the racially mixed streets of Olney. With his skin still a map of enchanted tattoos, Alonso tries to make something of himself as a nursing student. But as the siblings are to find out, just because they have fled the Badlands, doesn’t mean that they are free of the sort of violence that they and their friends desperately try to ward themselves against.

“El Cantar of Rising Sun” is a beautifully written piece of urban fantasy that is both tragic and lyrical. The narrative style changes over the four parts of the story, which the narrator delivers as a sort of theatrical piece. The gritty gangland fantasy tone of the story has an almost Bordertown flavor to it, and skirts on the edges of true fantasy and poetic metaphor. While Vouroulias teases the reader with moments of lightheartedness in the form of interludes and character interactions, readers are never fully fooled into believing that this is a story that will end in anything but tears.

Snow Like a Dancer is dying in “A Hundred and Seventy Storms” by Aliette de Bodard. Everyone knows it, but no one is willing to admit it. At least not to her face. As a mindship mining ore for White Tiger Orbital, Snow Like a Dancer has been battered by her fair share of storms. She was never intended to last forever, and she’s already weathered more than her sister ships. Nightmares of her impending death haunt her as much as the possible departure of Cousin Lua, but some things are inevitable, and it’s best to discard attachment before it becomes too painful to let go.

“A Hundred and Seventy Storms” is a story about relationships more than it is about events. The ending is more or less given to readers in the beginning, but the way the interconnectivity of the people and the mindships unfolds throughout is the real focal point of the story. At times it feels difficult to get footing in the story—whether or not Snow Like a Dancer is a self aware AI or a human consciousness separated from her corporeal body is unclear, but not strictly necessary to understand the story. The gender subversive nature of the characters is also starkly apparent when the only male in the story is introduced offhandedly as the love interest of Cousin Lua.

Skinwriting is a big responsibility in “The Words on My Skin” by Caroline M. Yoachim. What’s inked on people through the magic of the pen becomes who they are, even if it’s written on the author herself. But care must be taken in just what words skinwriters choose to give themselves and to others. What might be a source of pride at one time can be a cause for regret later in life. What’s more, it is sometimes better to look beyond the labels people have been given, and love them for who they are.

Yoachim writes a powerful piece about self-loving and acceptance in this relatively short story. While the reader never gets to know the narrator’s name we are undoubtedly drawn into a connection with her through the very human desire to wear our best traits openly. Our life decisions shape who we are less tangibly than they do for the protagonist of Yoachim’s story, however they create the same lasting changes that we all must live with in one way or another.

Gudrun has lived a sheltered life in Catherynne M. Valente‘s “Snow Day.” The daughter of a Capitol Hill courtesan and a politician known to her only as Minnesota, Gudrun’s whole life, education, and goals for the future have been shaped by her mother, an aging pornographic novel collection, and the small Hawaiian island that she calls home. When her mother dies and takes all of her toxin-fearing rules away with her, Gudrun is finally free to taste life (and ketchup) on her own terms. But she’d better do all she wants to quickly, because if there is one thing her mother was right about, it’s the coming of the end of the world.

Valente starts her story near the end, which contributes at first to the confusion about the specific timeline of the story. “Snow Day” however, is the sort of story that isn’t meant to be fully understood until the end. None of the necessary information is hidden from the reader, but like any good puzzle, it takes having all the pieces to finally see the picture as a whole. Valente is very good at concealing those pieces in ways that, when first read, appear to have little value to the story other than the conspicuousness of their existence. Valente uses the titles of the books that Gudrun reads to amazing effect in this way. “Snow Day” begins as a plausibly normal fiction, with the plot taking a decidedly bizarre turn into fantasy only near the end. It doesn’t ever make complete sense, but nothing in Gudrun’s life leads the reader to believe that it is supposed to make sense, and Gudrun’s confusion about the world is easily mirrored by those who read it.

Six college grads take a trip together to Punta Silenyo in “An Ocean the Color of Bruises” by Isabel Yap, despite the island’s chilling history. Best friends by design or accident or maybe both, the group has chosen this dingy hotel on this almost forgotten stretch of beach as a brief, mutual refuge against the crumpled disappointments of their lives. But underneath the sand and the surf and the love songs are the chilling, mournful faces of lives lost too early to know what true love and loss really is.

“An Ocean the Color of Bruises” is a half-horror story about growing up young in the modern world. Although the narrative tells the readers that each of the characters has had a bad run of things since their school days, it is hard to find proof of this in the story itself. Playing out like a 90s teenage horror film, the cast of characters obliviously live it up on the beach that claimed the lives of dozens of other teenagers years before, all while enjoying the succulent pleasures of their youth. Told via collective narration that treats the characters like a hive mind of thought and experience, the reader gets little deeper understanding of the group other than a rudimentary sketch of their stereotypical placement in school society. The message of love in the climax of the story is muddied in the chaos that follows the arrival of the drowned people, and is difficult to connect to the rest of the story.