Tuesday, August 24, 2021

GigaNotoSaurus (spring/summer 2021)

GigaNotoSaurus, ed. LaShawn Wanak. Spring/summer 2021 content. Online at giganotosaurus.org.

Reviewed by Shellie Horst

There’s a certain amount of irony in the comparative name sake of this zine. GigaNotoSaurus, like the theropod of the same name, is a not-quite short story zine with stories that leave a ginormous footprint in your memory. Sure, those who know the industry will recognise familiar names who have and continue to work with the site curating an excellent library of tales that go beyond the usual fare of white, cis, and western influenced stories. I’m not in favour of name dropping to impress, but you are in safe hands with LaShawn Wanak. Wanak had already had work published in plenty of SFF staples inlcuding Uncanny and Lightspeed Magazine before the previous editor Annie Leckie handed her the reins. The combined expertise of the staff is paid forward to upcoming authors.

There’s no easy access mess of Goodreads reviews to put you off, or fan bases championing their favourite stories to hook you because the authors are (not so) quietly building their own reputations. GigaNotoSaurus itself has regularly appeared on award ballots and nominations. Like many digital only magazines, it’s overlooked, mostly likely because it’s not in print format, but it can’t exactly be described as ‘not established’.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of furor about the ‘short’ story, more so in our virus-twisted way of life. Aside from launching careers for authors, shorter fiction enables us to escape into something that you can finish in an hour or two. Yet, the intensity of a flash piece may come at the cost of depth. Answering the possibilities left by a 2000 word story is part and parcel of what readers seek and some would argue is a defining part of the SFF experience, but there are times I want to explore the curiosities of a tantalising new world, or spend more time with persuasive characters. In a world which has sucked our ability to focus for more than a matter of minutes, the novelette fiction GigaNotoSaurus offers has been priceless for me.

GigaNotoSaurus is about the words. That much is obvious. A clean, clear, no fuss layout offers a miraculous simplicity. Like the title? Cool. Click! Go explore the familiar but unknown. There’s very little art to mislead, savour, or distract. Don’t get me wrong, I love the effort zines put into finding the right piece of art to champion a tale, but GigaNotoSaurus gets straight to the point. The whole site insists you READ. Collated stories can be read via the website, or you can download Mobi and ePUB versions to read on your preferred device. If award nominations are how you decide what to read, you can scroll the bottom and pick out one from the offerings there.

The site is welcoming, unassuming, yet it whispers a challenge to the comfort read. A bait and switch that you don’t resent. Since agreeing to review this title back in April, GigaNotoSaurus’s digital library has kept me sated with complex, well thought out narratives. I am a stickler for stories in print. For various reasons, I like to think I connect better to tales on the page, but there’s absolutely no reason for GigaNotoSaurus’s overlooked status. The stories I’ve encountered are rich with adventure and exciting with their newness. Despite the impressive catalogue of stories spanning over a decade, what stands out most GigaNotoSaurus is how subtle it is. Not just with the layout. Without being crushed by themes and social politics, the topics and perspectives to expand or explore your understanding are there. On top of that, there is a warmth to the tone of the tales, the authors’ enjoyment in creating their worlds is tangible. Each story offers personalities that you’d happily chat to or frantically run from.

This is very evident in April’s story, “Kuemo of the Masks” written by Naomi Libicki. We follow a family travelling troupe from the daughter, Garuz’s point of view. However, it’s presented in a storyteller fashion. We are her audience, and this narrative within a narative weaves the reader in with carefully placed questions and asking what form of tale the reader wants to hear. When they are attacked, Garuz finds herself leading her troupe and agrees to perform for their capturers as a trade. She resorts to using the dangerous masks of deities left to her by her mother, and they present a tale her captors are likely to know. Nothing is what it seems as the story shifts into the afterlife, where we meet those who died in the attack and learn the power behind the troupe’s talent. It’s a beautiful tale, worthy of awards, and encapsulates everything the site represents well.

Another stand out tale from the recent publications is one that connected me to the historical fishing industry of my home town. Jharice Siharah Blake’s “Songs of the Leviathans.” The tale explores the ever present flaw our society has in chasing energy sources, no matter the cost. We meet an enchanting, space dwelling species that has become a vital part of the economic and cultural way of life. Instead of harpooning whales, we have blackmarketeers attempting to snaffle a Leviathan in Titan class ships. Space battles ensue when the Stinger ships defend the first pregnant Leviathan in a century. As events unfold, we learn the need to preserve history as opposed to remove it.

It doesn’t matter which story you pick from the site, each comes with a precious cadence. P.H. Lee’s “Just Enough Rain” is a humorous romantic story that pulls on a familiar-to-me mother and daughter relationship. If you prefer something more raw and dystopic, consider “A Remembered Kind of Dream” by Rei Rosenquist. While this story contrasts against the lighter tones of others, finding friends in the dark will always shine from the hopeless futures I’m presented with, so this hit a soft spot for me.

Like many other quality magazines making outstanding short stories accessible, is free, with an optional donation based support. We as a society need to get past the idea that if something is free, is it therefore offering lesser quality, just as we as readers need to move beyond the established ideal that an ISBN is a marker of purity. When you’re fumbling about looking for an intense and rewarding read, you’ll find something to suit here. GigaNotoSaurus is sort of… bigger on the inside, so indulge in the temptation to reach for a novella or novelette published there.

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