REVIEW: June 29, 2018

“Once I imbibed his name, I was a person.”

So It Was Foretold, by Mimi Mondal.

If you are familiar with Fireside Magazine–which you may be, especially if you enjoyed my previous review of Caroline Yoachim’s An Army of Bees–you may already be familiar with this story, as it was released last month. Edited by Julia Rios, Mimi Mondal’s So It Was Foretold can be found here, free for you to read.

This particular piece is about a woman who has been othered, a woman who knows that she is seen as hardly a woman at all, as a blight rather than a blessing. In a country where women like her have been and are persecuted for their existence, she escaped, as she married quickly to a man more privileged than she. And while she is treated with some amount of respect, for a time, this is only the start of the story. In another country, things are different and the same all at once.

I have strong, yet delicate feelings about this story. It’s a sensitive subject to write about, but one that must be written about all the same. The author is Dalit, which I confess I knew very little about before reading this. Still, as someone whose Ojibwe grandfather was forced into Christian schools when he was a child, I found my very spirit aching as I read along. It was all too familiar of a tale. It’s something that shouldn’t be relatable, but is clearly still a major struggle for many, many people. Given Mondal’s background, it’s clearly an issue she feels strongly about, and I’m glad she wrote on it. It made for a powerful story.

The writing itself, the language used, was concise, clear, cohesive, controlled. There’s a lot of emotion behind it–the fiery soul is there, passionate and strong, but just like the protagonist in this tale, it holds back right until the very end.

One aspect I strongly enjoyed was perhaps how little detail the readers are actually given. Because of its ambiguity, it is more identifiable to more people, or so I’d like to believe. Actually, I can’t think of any part of this story that I didn’t enjoy. The ending was, perhaps neither wondrous nor amazing, but it was most certainly fitting. It was good. Like the rest of the story, it was earnest.

Overall, I think this one is a 5 out of 5. Perhaps it’s less fiction and more fact, but that doesn’t stop it from pulling at the heartstrings. It’s less focused on the narrative, but more on the message, which some people mind I’m sure, but I’m not one of them. I think it’s important to write these kinds of stories on occasion, to remind us that not all stories are ones we can escape with. Sometimes, they’re mirrors back into our own reality.

Mimi Mondal and more of her writings can be found on her website here, and she’s also here on twitter.

It there a social issue you feel so strongly about that it impacts what you do? If so, what is it?

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REVIEW: June 27, 2018

“He didn’t say a word when it was 8:01 and her watery green eyes still held life.”

The Clock Misread, by Nazifa Islam.

This story is one I found in the first issue of Liminal Stories, a fairly new fiction magazine known for publishing “the beautiful, heartbreaking and strange”. All their issues thus far are free and available on their website here, and if you’d like a direct link to the story I’m examining today, you can find that here.

This story is about two nameless characters whose relationship is unclear. The woman, knowing she is about to die, has given very specific instructions to the man. He acts as an obedient observer, watching her final moments in silence. Despite following her orders, something is clearly not right, but it’s too late to ask questions.

My first impression of this very short story was mixed. In the first few lines, I was intrigued. Thereafter I was a bit uncomfortable, and a bit bored—was I really just reading an account of someone’s death? It made me lose the interest I had previously garnered.

But then, the end. Oh, the end. My curiosity spiked once more, and I reread it several times, looking for more questions and answers alike.

This tale is just a quick blink into another world, but it was a fascinating one. I want to know how far it goes, but I don’t know if there’s enough to figure it out—a gripe I seem to have with a lot of short stories. Maybe I’m in the wrong business if my main complaint about any short story is that it’s too short. But that besides, it was a very enchanting read. I believe this story perfectly captures Liminal’s desire for the “beautiful, heartbreaking and strange”.

The description was by far the most prominent and successful part of this work. It was not overwhelming, but it was specific enough that I have a very clear image of the scene in my mind’s eye. Not just the visuals, but the entire feel of it, as well. I also enjoyed the timekeeping as a narrative device; I believe it really carried the whole thing, in a sort of thematic sense. Whether he was counting the time or his steps, the man was always doing his best to keep track.

The Clock Misread is a definite 4 out of 5 for me. Again, despite its brevity, the middle was a bit lacking, but I found the rest of the tale rather enthralling. And I do believe, most certainly in this case, that the lack of information on the characters—and the world—was for the best.

If you enjoyed this story and want to read more by the author, well, she’s only published the one story. But she has a book of poetry and does a lot of cool paintings, which you can find on her website here. She also has a twitter here, if you have an interest in that.

Is there anything specific you want someone to have after you’re gone? If so, what, and why?

REVIEW: June 25, 2018

“He fears me, though I have no strength left.”

The Word of Unbinding, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Today’s story is actually quite old, first published in 1964 by Fantastic, but I found it in The Way of the Wizard—edited by John Joseph Adams—just like the first story I reviewed. You can find used copies for great prices on Barnes & Noble’s website here, if you’d like the collection for yourself. You can also get the story on its own, in ebook format, here. This tale is the first in the world of Le Guin’s famous Earthsea, and sets as an introduction to both the universe and Le Guin’s writing.

In The Word of Unbinding, there is a malicious wizard known as Voll the Fell. He travels the islands destroying forests and imprisoning mages that dare to stand against him. The protagonist, Festin, is a wizard who lives among and talks to the trees, and finds himself captured one day without warning. Fearing for the forest he’s come to love, he admittedly knows little of Voll the Fell, but what he does know is that he must save his home.

Le Guin was a mastermind of speculative fiction and, reading her early work, it’s clear that this has been a fact for a long time, and will remain so. The language used is smooth, and ideas flow in a logical manner, from one to the next. I believe her voice carried strongly through the story, and, despite the tension of the narrative, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more at peace while reading. At least, not in a far too long of a time.

The story itself is just as strong. Even nowadays, I don’t think there are many stories that stand out as this one does. It knows where and what it is, and what it needs to do, and then it does it. The main character, Festin, is much the same, which I find refreshing. Sure, he has questions, but he’s clever enough to figure out what’s going on and what action must be taken. Obstacles may wear him down, but they do not stop him. He’s not simply stubborn, or determined; he has a real purpose.

Another thing I really enjoyed, and expect to enjoy in the rest of the Earthsea stories, is how the magic works, especially at the end of this tale when the title comes into play. It enthralled me. It still does. It’s straightforward, but not without complexity, intricacies. There was no overly-detailed explanation shoehorned in, but nor was it all mystery. It simply made sense. It felt like real magic.

This story is a definite 5 out of 5 for me, and I’m eager to get through my reading list and pick up a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea, because I absolutely need to read more with this kind of characterization and magic. I wish I could have appreciated Le Guin’s writing before her passing earlier this year, but life and death can work in strange ways sometimes. I’m glad she’s left a legacy for me to stumble upon, and I hope I can review more of her work in the future.

In this day and age, how connected to nature do you feel? Do you think humanity is moving too far away from the natural world, or is this change for the better?