Recognize Fascism (ed. by Crystal M. Huff)

Recognize Fascism is a short story collection edited by Crystal M. Huff.
Finished on: 17.1.2021
[I won this book in an LibraryThing Early Review Give-Away.]

The title of this collection is well chosen – all the stories revolve around fascism, recognizing it, fighting it, preventing it, getting out of it. In their introduction to this collection, Huff notes they were uncertain if they could edit it – whether they knew enough about fascism to do so. But they point out the problem with fascism in a very clear way:

Fascists foster uncertainty in order to undermine the ground you stand on when you declare, “This is fascist.” It’s akin to developing a political Impostor Syndrome, until you are second-guessing yourself at each turn. Fascism evades and evolves, such that you can’t exactly pinpoint it. It is a moving target. It gaslights. If you are unclear about what it is and can’t put your finger on it, pushing back against it is so much more difficult! Fascists then weaponize this confusion to secure your acquiescence.

So, they need not have worried about that, and it shows in the stories they collected that show a broad range of SciFi and Fantasy settings that all come back to the central theme. It is also an excellent example for feminist practice by using clear and extensive content notes for each story, so props for that as well (I will therefore not use Content Notes in this review, unless I discuss something in detail). Altogether, it’s an anthology that is very consistent in its high quality and I really enjoyed reading it.

The book cover showing the drawing of a young Black woman with a crown made of flames.

[Read more about each of the stories after the jump.]

A Disease of Time and Temporal Distortion (Jennifer Shelby)

Revekah is a fortune teller, aided by the fact that she used to be an extensive time traveler. When she sees that a new politician will bring about a very dark future, she knows that she has to do something about that.

The first story in the collection was an excellent start already, with clear and innovative world-building in just a few short pages and a well-executed plot. It definitely left an impression, and a strong one indeed.

The Scale of Defiance (Nina Niskanen)

Leena lives in Väinölä where people’s mood shows in their size. When Leena witnesses a racist attack in the subway, she notices how she starts to shrink. But she will not give in so easily.

I liked the idea of this story, and I thought the way the central idea was introduced – just wham bam, right in the first sentence – was fun, albeit a little odd. I also liked how it shows that both race and sexual orientation are issues for and with fascists. I may not be my absolute favorite of the stories, but it is up at the top.

May Your Government Be the Center of a Smelly Dung Sandwich (Justin Short)

After getting busted with a small amount of drugs, the protagonist has to spend the night in jail. There they hear of a song, May Your Government Be the Center of a Smelly Dung Sandwich, that is supposed to have a big effect. After their release, they cannot stop thinking about the song and decide to track it down.

The idea of the story was fun, but I have to say that the story didn’t stay with me that much. It’s a quick, nice read, but it didn’t touch me that deeply.

The Company Store (Kiya Nicoll)

Rory works as a waiter in the Company’s restauran and has to swallow a lot of crap from the executives there, especially as they are seen as a woman. But they also hear a lot, and when they hear about the new plans for augmented people, they know things will not end well.
[I’m actually not sure about Rory’s pronouns in this story, so I’m going with the neutral they.]

I really liked this story. Again it shows that fascism targets many different things – whatever suits them and brings power. And it emphasizes how, despite very limited choices, we can still refude to play along.

Scholar Miaka’s Brief Summary of Memories Imbued in Memory Object Exhibit Item 132.NW.1 (Jaymee Goh)

Scholar Miaka examined a skirt that is part of the museum’s collection to try to decode the memories that were stored in it that could shed some light on Old Demia’s history.

The story has an interesting structure – describing an object and the out-of-context memories that are stored within it, so you can try and puzzle out the context from them, but I have to admit that I am not sure I got the context as well as I should have. I don’t think it’s my kind of storytelling.

Just an Old Grouch (Laura Jane Swanson)

Appleville has only happy citizens – and three Old Grouches. But one of the Grouches just passed away and a successor is needed. Norm is one of the people nominated for the position, but he really doesn’t want it.

The story has a sense of humor that I rather liked – the grouch being grouchy because he doesn’t want to be a grouch. I enjoyed it, but I didn’ t love it.

A Brilliant Light, An Unreachable Dawn (Phoebe Barton)

Perseverance spent 4 years on Mirabilis, but coming back home, she finds things changed: Hattie is gone and not waiting for her. She settles back into the unambiguous world and language of Phoenix Halo.

A sweet, romantic story that takes a closer look at how language can be weaponized. But mostly, it’s a lovely queer love story and that’s good.

Octobers/October (Leonardo Espinoza Benavides, translated by Julie Whelan Capell)

Yuri and Moira are part of the regular protests against the Chilean government. Protests that barely make it into the news. But tonight, the president announces that an anti-bandana law would come into effect against the protestors, yet another line of defence that falls for the protestors.

I have to say that this story left me a little confused. I constantly felt like I was missing part of the story and I just couldn’t follow it all. Maybe it was question of the translation or that I’m not familiar with Chilean politics, but it was a little frustrating.

That Time I Got Demon Doxxed While Smuggling Contraband to the Red States (Luna Corbden)

West makes their living as a smuggler, bringing whatever is needed to the antifa resistance. But this time, they made a mistake and find themselves facing demons who threaten the whole operation.
[I’m actually not sure about West’s pronouns in this story, so I’m going with the neutral they.]

This story was a fun mix of SciFi and Fantasy elements and generally a really entertaining read. I’m here for anitfa mages, absolutely.

Go Dancing to Your Gods (Blake Jessop)

Khloé Kasahara has a hologram shrine. Or rather, she is a hologram shrine and she gets a visit from th man who created the system she defeated and got the shrine for, as well as from a Hunter-Killer drone who she is very familiar with.

This was one of my favorites from the collection, because Khloé is such a wonderfully vibrant character. And I liked how she deals with the technology she is up against here. Very lovely.

Brooklyn (Jonathan Shipley)

Venda walks through Brooklyn Bridge Park when a young man, Brooklyn, asks her for help. Even though it is illegal to panhandle, Venda helps and the two get to talking.

This story is cute and has a nice sense of humor, giving a lightness to the harsh topics it discusses. I liked it a lot.

Sacred Chords (Alexei Collier)

Hank went to prison for playing deviant chords. Now he has to produce pipes for organ guns. But even there he finds a way to resist – and he is not alone.

The world here is a bit complicated, especially considering that the story is rather short, but I liked its absurd nature – it reminded me a little of Jasper Fforde, and that is definitely a good thing.

The Three Magi (Lucie Lukačovičová)

Vilma is one of the magi working in Prague and she just finished a big project by restoring the Kanalka park. Julián, another magus, is supposed to take her out tonight but they are attacked by an anti-magic group – the war between Bohemia and Moravia finding its way into the city. They take refuge with a third magus, Jan.

The story throws a lot at the reader and I felt that it may have been a little too much. There was also the odd moment on a language level here and there, probably due to the fact that Lukačovičová is not a native speaker (I assume). But then again, I’m not a native speaker either, so I might be off about this. Altogether, I didn’t love this one.

The Body Politic (Octavia Cade)

Fascism is a bodily thing.

This feels less like a short story and more like a poem in prose form. It’s definitely interesting and very creepy.

In Her Eye’s Mind (Selene dePackh)

Rusalka was caught by two police men, Lynch and Cross, working the streets. They arrest her and bring her to the old courthouse, long out of use because the AI that controls the house has been acting up.

This story shares some similarities in its approach to technology withGo Dancing to Your Gods, and I enjoyed this here too. I also liked Rusalka a lot, but I will have to admit that the story was a rather upsetting read, too, in a good way – it’s very violent. That the violence mostly goes against an underage, trans sex worker means that it gives us the usual story about being trans, which is the only drawback here. Still, this one was also one of my favorites.

What Eyes Can See (Lauren Ring)

Gail is a gardener, specializing in flowers with natural eyes. When a man comes to install a new solar panel on her roof, she is suspicious. Her friend Neve tells her, she is overreacting, but Gail isn’t sure about that.

I really liked the blend between botany and technology here, and I especially liked the ending of the story. Another favorite of the collection.

We All Know the Melody (Brandon O’Brien)

Ornella is one of the many street children trained by Tawny Owl in cooing – finding the melody to sway people’s opinions. But they aren’t the only ones employing that technique, and some melodies are dangerous indeed.

I liked this story that speaks of the power of music and that we all have the courage we need in ourselves and that we are stronger together. All not the most novel of insights, but it is always good to be reminded of this.

Chicken Time (Hal Y. Zhang)

In a world where clocks are illegal and everyone lives on chicken time. But this is not a rule everyone is willing to accept.

I did not get this story. Not at all. I mean, okay, chicken time is a nonsensical principle of governance and I understand that it is just an absurdist version of other nonsensical principles, but given how much of neoliberalism hinges on precise measurements of everything, including time, and how intertwined neoliberalism and fascism are, the entire concept didn’t work for me from the get-go and also didn’t win me over in the course of the story, despite the raucous sense of humor that I found pretty enjoyable.

Notes on the Supply of Raw Material in the Bodies Market (Rodrigo Juri)

Bayron is in the business of renting out his body to the people from Luna who otherwise couldn’t stand being on earth. He didn’t have much of a choice in profession and now he has even less of a choice of what is being done with and through his body.

This is not the first story I read about body renting or similar concepts, but it is still super-creepy and mostly well-executed here. It may lean a little heavily on Bayron’s past and I would have liked a little more focus on his present, but that is just a minor complaint in an otherwise very good story.

The Sisterhood of the Eagle Lion (Sam J. Miller)

Tiff rules the classroom, declaring who is part of the inner circle and who isn’t by handing out stickers. But Susan isn’t willing to play along.

I felt that this story leaned a little hard on the Hollywood version of little girls. It didn’t really ring true to me, the way these girls behaved – or rather, the characterization of them seemed a little too simple for me.

The Turnip Golem (Dianne M. Williams)

An old woman makes a turnip golem, and the golem in turn is there to protect her.

This story is very short, but really good – a little creepy, a little sweet, and I just loved the idea of the turnip golem. A favorite overall.

Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life (Meridel Newton)

Casey, Liam and Noemi all have to attend the evaluation that will decide whether they will be conscripted or not. Neither of them wants to, but they don’t have a say in the matter. But hopefully they can make themselves unsuitable.

The last story of the collection and another really romantic queer one that I found just supersweet. Resistance and acitivism sure are matters of the heart – a lovely ending to a really strong collection.

Summarizing: excellent collection.

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