Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Fireside #103 (Summer 2022)

Fireside Magazine, ed. Brian White. Issue 103 (Summer 2022). Online at firesidefiction.com.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

Fireside Magazine was—and, yes, I must sadly say was—a online publisher of short stories, poems, and novels. Founded in 2012, it’s had a respectable 10-year run, at first based on crowdfunding, then on subscriptions. But now Fireside’s operations are now winding down. Issue 103 (Summer 2022) represents the magazine’s final offering of stories to the world.

Although this will probably soon cease to be the case, Fireside Magazine is currently still posting a new story to their website every week. As of this writing, there are eight stories up in the final issue. The stories are all solid efforts, well written. As with many collections of stories, if you squint at them hard enough in just the right light, you can see the theme, unintended, that unites the stories into, not just a collection of the best of what came in during that round of submissions, but a population that has something to explore collectively. In this case, that something falls along the lines of the struggle to either overcome or accept the role that other people insist that you play in society. That’s the need at the heart of many of these stories.

For instance, in “Matrimonial Quest at Luna Prime and Other Existential Dread” by Deka Omar, a woman on the brink of spinsterhood goes speed dating in a last-ditched attempt to shoehorn herself into that small, cramped space of inoffensive subservience that is woman’s lot in more patriarchal cultures. But it turns out to be one of those days where you accidentally end up joining the rebellion aiming to free humanity from its corporate overlords instead. The main character is less than impressed by this turn of events, but, hello! Main character? This, for once, is promising match.

A woman breaking through the barriers of being told how to be by a culture that privileges men also features in J. L. Royce’s story “The Czar of Smiles.” In this story, a young woman wakes up to discover that in the enhanced reality that she lives in, almost all of the form she presents to the world is in infringement of copyright. Her day in court boils it down to two choices: she can sign her image 100% over to the Czar of Smiles for advertising and other purposes or she can relinquish the 92% of her appearance that the Czar owns and go about bearing the social burden of her own totally unenhanced looks. Dare she risk it?

Sometimes the roles that confine you come not from your own people, but from the people who have enslaved you, literally or otherwise. And sometimes the fight for justice, power, dignity, or freedom involves only bittersweet victories. Such is the case in “Six Goats” by Isabel Cañas, wherein two enslaved women reclaim, if only for a moment, the heritage and power taken from them by violent invaders. Likewise, in “Papa Legba Has Entered the Chat” by DaVaun Sanders (accompanied by an illustration by Manuel J. Iniesta), a Black man ashamed of himself for turning a blind eye to the racist misdeeds of his fellow police officers reembraces his own Vodou heritage to extract retribution for their murder of his young cousin.

Sometimes what it takes to break through the rules that hold us all back are children. Somto Ihezue’s “Like Stars Daring to Shine” tells the story of two kids privileged to live in Nigeria, which, by dint of its location and deployment of technology, is one of the last inhabitable areas on Earth following a massive volcanic eruption. They break the rules, go exploring, and see what the adults have not yet seen: that the Earth is slowly healing herself and someday everyone will be free to leave their restricted areas. This story gets ten extra points for telling a climate change tale that looks out at the world from eyes located somewhere other than the global north. After all, everyone on Earth has their own thoughts, feelings, experiences, losses, and ideas for surviving climate change. In “All the Boys in the Sea” by Marie Croke, it is also a child—in this case a boy—who is brave enough to change the world of his people for the better. Bravely standing up against the love and care of his brother, he sacrifices himself, not for the people who betrayed him, but to stop them from continuing their annual sacrifice of one of their children.

The final two stories in the issue—which are also my favorite two stories in the issue—deal with an alien invader refusing to do what’s expected of it. In Em Liu’s “The Tourist,” this takes the form of a pop culture guzzling alien who fell in love—entirely to the puzzlement of his peers—with sitcoms, sci-fi, and K-pop and decided to come to Earth, dreaming, not of conquest, but of the conversations it could have with us about old TV shows. But in “Taming the Land” by Aaron Emmel, we’re the alien invaders. In this story, uploaded copies of settler’s minds have been terraforming a planet while their originals sleep in suspended animation. All’s well and idyllic until the meat wakes up to find that the copies of their minds have gone native.

There are probably some soothing closing words to be found about how Fireside Magazine broke through the expectations confining magazines, helping to pioneer online publications and paying generous rates to its writers. But we’ll dodge that obviousness and say simply farewell to Fireside Magazine and thanks for all the stories and poems.

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