Monday, November 13, 2023

Seize the Press #8 (2023)

Seize the Press #8, ed. Jonny Pickering and Karlo Yeager Rodríguez. Issue 8 (September 2023). Online at

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

’Tis autumn, the season of death and endings and remembering things you swore you’d get around to sooner, and that makes three good reasons for me to review the new Seize the Press. You know, the maggot sex one. But is the maggot sex any good, one must ask, or is it merely in there as a selling point for the sort of people for whom such a thing is a selling point (myself, I freely acknowledge, among them)? Let’s find out.

Seize the Press is part of the counterculture side of the short SFF ecosphere, along with Blood Knife and a few others, which define themselves through rejection of what they see as the toxic culture of mainstream SFF promags. Their main complaints include cliquey in-group chumminess (like Clarion authors getting matching tattoos), relentlessly enforced positivity in both content and criticism (such as denouncing people for disliking the new season of Our Flag Means Death), and feckless pro-corporatism (remember when Raytheon sponsored the Hugo Awards?). Their reader base includes a lot of leftists and anarcho-communists, and they have a reputation for prickly bluntness—which is not, to be clear, a bad thing.

Editorially, Seize the Press has two hallmarks. One is a greater focus on nonfiction and criticism, and the other is the requirement that the stories not have happy endings. I find the latter rule rather knee-jerk, but given that it can sometimes feel easier to find a jar of high-quality hen’s teeth than a sad ending in an SFF promag, I can’t fault them, either.

This issue opens with “The Dream with No Dreamer” by Evan Forman, a story in one of sci-fi’s oldest, yet rarest, subgenres: Melancholic sci-fi. Inspired by evolving theories about the death of the sun, these stories draw on extreme far-future settings to inspire a sense of existential sadness at the knowledge that, someday, all of this will be gone, including Earth itself. As Forman describes it:

After the cities had been put down and the planet flayed of life, the pyramids and pharaoh’s tombs were melted down to slag beneath the light of an expanding star. Then the buried dead were cremated in liquifying soil, the mountains tucked away into its volcanic folds.

The moon rejoined the sun. The red giant devoured Mars. Flowers bloomed unwitnessed for a time around Jupiter and Saturn, then dried in Autumn and found no cycle waiting to consume them. Just a Winter without a Spring. Just a black hole at the centre of the Solar System where Atum had swallowed himself.

Though our understanding of cosmology has changed, you can see how much DNA this story shares with something like The House on the Borderlands by William Hope Hodgson (1908):

All at once, during one of these periods of life, a sudden flame cut across the night—a quick glare that lit up the dead earth, shortly; giving me a glimpse of its flat lonesomeness. The light appeared to come from the sun—shooting out from somewhere near its center, diagonally. A moment, I gazed, startled. Then the leaping flame sank, and the gloom fell again. But now it was not so dark; and the sun was belted by a thin line of vivid, white light… one of the inner planets had fallen into the sun—becoming incandescent, under that impact…

“Caravanserai” by Gabriella Officer-Narvasa is a richly atmospheric story saturated deeply with the feeling of loss. While the first half of the story has the trappings of a heroic tale, anyone familiar with Seize the Press knows that when this hero encounters this monster, the outcome will be very different.

W.A. Hamilton’s “The Glass” is another work drawing from the themes and emotional tone of an earlier era, this time the nuclear anxieties of the late 20th century. A man wanders, lost, through a vitreous wasteland so reminiscent of the White Sands Proving Ground. Hungry, tired, and injured, he initially appears to be a victim of whatever cataclysm destroyed this place—and in a way, he is—but unlike the death of the sun, this sort of cataclysm is not externally wrought. It is something we bring upon ourselves.

“Her Cute Little Hellspawn” by Arvee Fantilagan has a title that may leave you bracing for something twee and spoopy, but fear not. Drawing from the many creatures of Philippine folklore and written in a voice like a storyteller recounting a traditional tale, it weaves the story of a mixed race girl who struggles just to exist in a world that considers her monstrous because of the circumstances of her birth. Birthing something monstrous or something you fear to be monstrous—this theme runs throughout this issue of Seize the Press.

Which brings us to Samir Sirk Morató’s “Bluebell Ovipositor”—the maggot story. The grotesquerie here is top-notch, but I was expecting grotesquerie. What I wasn’t expecting was a scathing condemnation of the sacrifices women are still, in the Year of Our Lord 2023, expected to make in order to have a family. Having watched my college peers swear up and down that we weren’t going to give up our careers and become stay-at-home moms the way our mothers did—and then watching one after another succumb to the pressure to do exactly that—this hits home. (And the rest of us? Simple. We didn’t have kids.)

“You don’t lose what matters,” read the story’s haunting final lines. “You don’t lose anything at all.”

Of course we’re happy. Of course we wouldn’t change a thing.

Rounding out the issue, we have an interview with the great squickmaster Paula D. Ashe, who has been quite deservedly cleaning up at the horror awards circuit. If you haven’t checked out her work, you are in for an extremely gross and uncomfortable treat. There are several book reviews that take interesting analytical angles on the works profiled (although I do think the reviews veer a little into “This book is good, unlike those other fantasy books” territory), and finally, a provocative essay by Jay Hawking on the ways that American immigration policy, especially the border wall, place boundaries around our creative imaginations as well as physical boundaries through our space. Like many smart theses, it’s an idea that might never have occurred to someone without Hawking’s personal experience, and yet it’s perfectly obvious when you think about it.

Overall, this issue of Seize the Press presents a strong and compelling vision, divergent and yet thematically unified, and featuring voices who might not have gotten a hearing in a mainstream promag. I hope this valuable voice will challenge the SFF world towards more daring things.

No comments: