Thursday, April 21, 2016

BOOK TALK: UNCANNY MAGAZINE ISSUE 5: JULY/AUGUST 2015

INTRODUCTION 
As part of the BookTube SFF readalongs, I picked up the July/August issue of UNCANNY MAGAZINE. The group was really only reading "The Midnight Hour," which appears as the first short story in this e-magazine, but I figured I'd just read through it in it's entirety since it's a lesser known publication which actually appears to have gotten it's backing from Kickstarter. I've been in the mood for some good short fiction for a good while now so I was very much looking forward to seeing what this had to offer.

I've departed from my typical review format for two reasons. One is that this is an anthology type work which spans some very different pieces by a host of different writers. Due to this, it would be pretty tough to share my thoughts in the typical Characters, World/Setting, Plot/Tone format since those categories would be different for each story and wouldn't make sense for the poems, interviews, and essays that come at the end of this publication. The second reason is that I just really didn't like it too much and I don't want to spend a whole ton of time tearing apart a small magazine like this one. So for these reasons, I'll use the Book Talk format, but still give this magazine a rating as well as share my thoughts on what I liked and didn't like about this collection.

HOW I RATED IT
2/5 The unfortunate truth about this publication is that there are several pieces which are really pretty good, but there are even more that I just was not at all a fan of.

THOUGHTS
The story I came in here for, "Midnight Hour," by Mary Robinette Kowel, was decent. Because it was up for the best short fiction category in the BookTube SFF Awards, I did expect quite a bit more of it than I got. This kind of isn't fair since it's a fine story and everything, but I guess that's the price that comes with getting a bunch of high-praise press. Ultimately my biggest problem with the dark fairy tale inspired drama was that I wanted more. It felt like I was reading excerpts of a longer work that weren't spliced together as gracefully as they could have been. So as entertaining as I found it, it just left me a little too unfulfilled for me to be as crazy about it as others were.

One that I was fair more fond of is called "The Rainbow Flame," by Shveta Thakrar. It's a lot more focused in that it has a more definitive beginning middle and end. It's also a bit trippy, but in an enchantingly colorful way. There were definitely a couple of things about it that didn't completely resonate with me, such as a forced romance which is felt sort of slapped in at the last second, but overall, it was an enchanting enough tale that I think it will stick with me for a while to come. Other than this, the only other real standout for me was "A Year and a Day In Old Theradane," by Scott Lynch. This I'd say was more of a novellete in that it is far longer than all of the other stories. I don't actually know what the word-count of it is, but I was very happy to have a longer piece of short fiction thrown in, especially since it was such a good one. The characters were charming and the world was as colorful as a comic book. The story takes a little while to build up, but once things get going, the narrative has a nice little pull to it. This was by far my favorite story in the magazine and almost made up for all of the disappointments that I'm about to delve into.

"Ghost Champaign" by Charlie Jane Anders and "Woman at Exhibition" by E. Lily Yu weren't necessarily bad stories in terms of writing style or characters, they're just super weird. Both are far more in the realm of paranormal/horror than they are fantasy. Obviously, there's a big market for that kind of thing, but I'm definitely not a part of it. Both just left me feeling kind of empty and wondering what the "point" was. "Woman at Exhibition" in particular was far too surrealist for me to really appreciate it in the way that the author clearly intended me to. Both stories had some cool ideas going on, they just didn't connect with me in the ways that matter most. There was also "The Half-Life of Angels" by Sarah Monette which I think would be considered either flash fiction or micro-fiction. Whatever the proper naming, it was really just two short paragraphs which were artsy and probably thoughtful, but might have resonated with me more if it was crafted into a poem or something since there wasn't really a story to it.

Then comes "Catcall" by Delilah S. Dawson. Now the part of me that appreciates what it means to put your work out there for all to see really wants to just skip even mentioning this story. But the fact is I just hated it so much because of it's flagrant and baseless sexism. It follows a young woman who's not drop dead gorgeous, but pretty enough for others to notice. Basically every single dude this chick comes across is a rape-y, creepy, grabby, disgusting reptile of a human being. There's business men, dads, and just regular losers hanging around the gas stations. Even her fellow classmates sexually harass her. Obviously not every guy is particularly nice, just like how not every female is what you might call a lady. Just because the misrepresentation is flipped such that it tears men apart doesn't make it not sexism. It's still bad and it doesn't deserve a place in serious fiction. And honestly, even the main character felt like a bit of a caricature to me so I ultimately stopped reading about halfway through this piece. Maybe that discredits my ability to give any type of opinion, but since I can't remember the last time I walked away from a piece of fiction with no intention of coming back, I guess I feel pretty comfortable with putting in my two cents.

Rounding out this magazine's offerings are a bunch of essays, some narrative poems, and a couple interviews. The interviews were with the two authors I disliked the most so I basically skipped those (the one with Delilah S. Dawson made me sick after just the first couple of interviewer prompts). The essays were okay. It's a nice touch to have essays on fiction in a literary magazine, but they weren't so great in execution. They were stiff and seemed a lot more concerned with pandering to political correctness than expressing a unique opinion or perspective that I haven't seen in a hundred other places already. Two were even almost identical in that they both spoke to diversity and inclusion in Marvel and DC's lines of comics, movies, and games. The one called "Ethics or Reviewing" was kind of interesting, but it was more about the business of reviewing professionally rather than aspects of a review that are or are not ethical. Since reviewing is just a hobby for many, it's really not as relevant as it could be. By the time the poems came around, I'd mostly checked out of this publication. I did glance over them quickly and they seemed fun, if a bit lacking in terms of depth or special poetic structure. I'm sure if I'd been more into the other content, I would have given these a fairer shake, but free verse poetry isn't normally my thing anyway.

CONCLUSION
In the end, this magazine has some good things, some bad things, and a lot of stuff that's in between so far as my tastes are concerned. I think it's a well-composed publication and it's quite professionally done for something that appears to be funded through crowd-sourcing. It definitely does offer some things that mainstream magazines do not in terms of diversity, particularly on the feminism and/or LGBT side of things. The more accepting aspects did feel a bit too in-your-face for me and I generally don't enjoy feeling like someone is telling me how I should think about life/the world no matter what the message is - I guess I'm sort of a rebel like that (?). In my opinion, the pro-diversity message only really comes off well in "A Year and a Day In Old Theradane," It's just where it felt the most natural and the least distracting from the story being told (or point being argued). There are many who will probably be a little more enthusiastic about this publication than I was and I do absolutely recommend you check it out if only for those stories which I've praised above. Non-mainstream publications have to find their niche and it's entirely possible that UNCANNY just isn't totally in the vein of what I like.

UNCANNY MAGAZINE ISSUE 5: JULY/AUGUST 2015 can be found as an eBook on Amazon.

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