This month, I have two stories that will give you heavy, negative feels (but in a good way, I promise!), and one story that can probably cheer you up afterward. In “One Day, My Dear, I’ll Shower You with Rubies” by Langley Hyde, which appears in Podcastle Episode 520 (May 1, 2018), a genocidal wizard is put on trial years after the war, and his daughter is called to testify against him. She won’t forgive him, and he won’t apologize. This story is challenging, unique, surprisingly real. Want a story about a succubus in the age of social media? Check out “Sucks (to Be You)” by Katharine Duckett, which appears in Uncanny Magazine Issue 22 (May/June 2018). It’s thoughtful and deeply unsettling in the very best way. Finally, I loved “Our Side of the Door” by Kodiak Julian, which appears in Lightspeed Magazine Issue 96 (May 2018). It’s a warm, beautiful portal fantasy that left me thinking about ethics and gender.
“One Day, My Dear, I’ll Shower You with Rubies” by Langley Hyde
Versus Bloodrain thought he could rule the world better than anyone else, and therefore believed that he deserved to. Bloodrain murdered hundreds (thousands?), extracting their blood and their souls to create tiktok soldiers who didn’t feel pain or need sleep. At Fort Beatitude, he amassed his clockwork army and prepared to take over the world. Eventually, at the end of the war, the Allegiance stormed Fort Beatitude, captured Bloodrain, and destroyed his army of tiktok soldiers. Now, years later, he’s on trial, and his daughter, Elusia, has been called as a witness to testify against him.
The first thing I loved about this story was the setup. So many fantasy stories are concerned with wars, warriors, nobility, and magicians, which can be tons of fun, but I really appreciated reading a story set after the war, dealing with fallout and repercussions of it. I loved getting to experience a fantasy world from the perspective of a court of law. This setup posed some challenging questions: how do you get justice after all that? Is justice any different than retribution?
However, despite these big questions, the story stays firmly grounded in Elusia’s disorienting experience, and this was really my favorite part of the story. Despite the horrible atrocities he committed, Versus seems to have been, in many ways, a good father. When the defender asks Elusia to describe her childhood, she replies, “Happy.” She describes playing checkers with her father, ice skating with him, even attending church every week. The fact that they went to church every Sunday—and that Elusia described it as a pleasant experience—really struck me. How could someone perpetuating a genocide go to church every week? But it’s just that sort of paradoxical detail that makes the story so real and powerful. Despite the tragedies he caused, there’s ultimately nothing motivating Bloodrain other than his belief that he’s making the world a better place and providing what’s best for his daughter. This is a fantasy story, so I was prepared for some form of dark magic to be possessing him, but no. His motivations were purely human. That honestly made the story more haunting. It made me think about members of the current administration who have liberal relatives (or, you know, relatives who are just fundamentally decent people), and how strange and trying it must be for those relatives. Hyde’s story is disturbing and painful, but also powerful and unique. If you think you can stomach it, you really should check it out.
“Sucks (to Be You)” by Katharine Duckett
This story is narrated by a succubus who has lived through centuries of human history. They prey off jealous, lust, and obsession, and in the age of social media and data mining, their job has never been easier. The story is driven forward by the narrator’s strong voice rather than the plot, and that’s perfectly fine. The narrator is creepy and clever, and despite the misogynistic origins of the myth, neither the succubus nor the story itself come across as misogynistic. There’s a slight twist as the narrative progresses in which the narrator themself becomes vulnerable to the obsessions and frustrations of the digital age. This story is about connection and belonging, illusions and fantasies, loneliness and longing. It seriously creeped me out and it also left me thinking.
I quit Facebook a while ago, and this story reminded me why. It wasn’t because of privacy or Free Software concerns (which have become very salient, especially post-Cambridge Analytica), although I was sensitive to those. Mostly, I quit Facebook because every time I used it, I walked away with negation emotions that I’d have to process. Part FOMO, part jealousy, part depression. This story brought out all those feels, and then some more: loneliness, lust, even anger and spite. Duckett’s story isn’t exactly a horror story, but it really unsettled me, more so than most horror fiction I read. If you have complicated feelings about social media, this one’s for you.
“Our Side of the Door” by Kodiak Julian
Recently, I’ve been falling in love with portal fantasies. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children novellas, or maybe it’s because practically every portal fantasy story can coexist within a shared universe, which is kind of fantastic. “Our Side of the Door” is a portal fantasy told from an intriguing perspective: a parent’s. The unnamed narrator has been obsessed with finding a Door since he was a child, and now he’s a professional writer of fantasy stories. He’s married to his hyper-competent wife Alyssa, and he has a son named Cruz. The family’s just moved out to the country, and the narrator is looking for a Door, and also thinking of encouraging his son to step through it. The story features beautiful descriptions of nature as well as warm and loving interactions between the characters. It also left me thinking about the ethics of choosing to step through a Door. Finally, the ending was delightful. It made me feel I was living in a world of magic.
The gender dynamics are a fascinating part of this story. The traditional gender roles are strongly flipped. The narrator is sensitive, introspective, and unsure of himself, whereas Alyssa is confident, intelligent, and tough. Reading the story the first time, I really enjoyed this dynamic. Then I read the accompanying author interview, in which Julian says, “In the first draft of the story, the protagonist was a woman. Readers found her to be unsympathetic. Our society is so grateful to see fathers making an effort that fathers are celebrated for even small acts of parenting. Conversely, mothers receive constant judgement, regardless of their actions. I switched the gender of my protagonist so that readers would have greater empathy for the character.”
After reading that, I felt really conflicted about my own biases. In this story, the narrator debates whether to encourage Cruz to step through a Door. On one hand, it would be an amazing adventure! On the other hand, what if it’s a bad world? What if Cruz doesn’t return? I myself was torn on this question. Part of me wanted to reprimand the narrator for even considering it, and part of me wanted to push Cruz through the Door myself. After reading Julian’s interview, I was even more conflicted! If the narrator had been Cruz’s mother instead of his father, I think I would have leaned more toward reprimanding her than understanding her. I see how making the husband the narrator makes the story work better (giving readers more empathy with the narrator and challenging gender roles), but I also wish that Julian didn’t have to make that change. I wish that a mother who pushes her son through a Door could be just as sympathetic as a father who does the same.