Images from Uncanny Magazine's Kickstarter campaign

A Decade of Defiance, Delight, and Decadence: Essential Stories From Uncanny Magazine

This is a perfect time to take a look at Uncanny Magazine. We are coming up to a decade since our first issue in November 2014. Since then, we’ve been publishing at a rate of once every two months. We aim to bring stunning cover art, provocative nonfiction, beautiful prose, interesting characters, fascinating science fiction and fantasy ideas, and stories that make you feel in every issue. We’ve published award-nominated and award-winning stories, poems, and nonfiction, and the magazine itself has been nominated and has won awards several times. 

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Uncanny Magazine’s theme for our Year 10 Kickstarter is “A Decade of Delightful Defiance.” So let’s take a look at some Uncanny stories that fit the themes of Defiance, Delight, and Decadence. But this isn’t a comprehensive list! Think of this as a sampler to get you started. Uncanny has published plenty of other incredible stories and you can read them all for free here on our website

We’ll also end this sampler with some nonfiction essays from the first three issues of Uncanny. We can see what the hot topics were back then and if things have changed or stayed the same. (Spoiler: a little bit of both.)

Defiance

Stories can provide an escape and a catharsis. Stories can also be written for the express purpose to incite anger (some may say all of social media is designed to do this). There is a lot to be angry about: the sweep of right-wing judicial actions, anti-trans laws, the trafficking of immigrants as a political stunt, and too much more. A defiant story, at least in the context of this article, isn’t simply to get you riled up, but aims for empathy. There is certainly rage in these stories, but they also highlight the humanity of those who will suffer and are suffering under these injustices.

Samantha Mills’s “Rabbit Test” from Issue 49 (Nov/Dec 2022) has won the Nebula and Locus Awards for Best Short Story and is a Sturgeon Memorial Award and Hugo Award finalist, and it’s easy to see why. It is absolutely a defiant piece, depicting a young teen named Grace facing a pregnancy in a post-Roe v. Wade future. But it does more than just illustrate the impact of a forced birth USA. The story jumps around back in time, mirroring Grace’s path, showcasing that all the women across history have struggled to control their own bodies. Meanwhile, we leap forward in time to see how Grace’s forced pregnancy affects not just her life, but her child’s life, and her child’s child’s life.

Bad Doors” by John Wiswell in Issue 50 (Jan/Feb 2023) turns COVID denialism into a metaphor via a mysterious door that swallows people up (all the while the characters also contend with COVID). As Kosmos struggles to keep this bad door from disappearing him, he finds opposition from the very people he’s trying to protect. This story reflects the frustration of those of us who still see this “post-pandemic” pandemic as a real danger, one that will threaten (and has threatened) to disable people.

Bonus story: “To Put Your Heart Into a White Deer” by Kristiana Willsey in Issue 51 (Mar/Apr 2023) showcases a near-future USA with a super-corporatized university system. Everything in education becomes subsumed into the corporation-industrial complex, from folktales to history. Elaine gets ground down by a system that no longer celebrates the humanities and humanity and instead rewards sabotage, political backstabbing, plagiarism, and careerism.

Delight

Uncanny isn’t made of all dour Cassandras predicting a post-apocalyptic future. We have some fun here too. And make no mistake, storytelling can (and should) be entertaining, but entertaining can encompass many different tones and emotions. One can be delighted by a story with horror and ugliness (hello, goths!) as much as a heartwarming and joyful one. Delight is important. As illustrated by the sludge of AI-generated images and text, if everything is turned into a side gig, if the deep, meaningful emotions of human existence are tossed out to get one more dollar, if we see our own humanness as an obstacle to survival, we shouldn’t fear AI becoming human. We should fear us becoming things.

Tantie Merle and the Farmhand 4200” by R.S.A. Garcia in Issue 53 (Jul/Aug 2023) is just fun and heartwarming. The eponymous character lives on her farm by herself, her children grown and with grandchildren far away across the globe. She has companionship with a temperamental goat, but, well, it’s a goat, and it’s temperamental. Her life gets changed in small but significant ways by the other eponymous character, a nanobot AI. Here we have a positive view of AI, one that asserts its humanity, but in the same way, asserts the humanity of Tantie Merle.

In “I Will Have This Diamond for a Heart” by Carlos Hernandez in Issue 45 (Mar/Apr 2022), an author finds an afterlife where he can contemplate infinity with different iterations of himself. Even in death, Sol learns a bit about himself and sees that his afterlife includes the warmth readers get from his books. Short and sweet. 

Bonus story: “Blessed Are the Healers” by K.S. Walker in Issue 47 (Jul/Aug 2022) invokes a mix of dread, awe, and sadness. A mother surrenders her child into becoming a sanctified living statue. Everything in this story is a delight in its rich imagery, the horror/joy of a child becoming more for others but less for the mother, and the show of love the mother has even in her grief.

Decadence

Decadence has been used and is used to describe a “devolution” of culture, but in reality, it is weaponized to describe the marginalized in order to further marginalize them. Right now it is being used to denigrate LGBTQIA+ people. So like the artists of the Decadent movement of the 19th century, our category has a defiant edge to it. We celebrate decadence because it means a challenge to redefine culture, to open it up and make the broader. These stories are unabashedly queer and shows the often-messy humanity that all people share, but that anti-trans laws in particular and anti-LGBTQIA+ laws in general want to deny.

Want Itself Is a Treasure of Heaven” by Theodora Ward in Issue 52 (May/June 2023) is a raw story of a trans woman struggling through a drug addiction, a break up, self-loathing, and the terrible power of knowing someone. The story interlaces several timelines and the points of view of the narrator, as she relives a procedure that allows her and her partner to inhabit the bodies of each other. While it increases their understanding of each other, it also unveils the narrator’s achingly human unhappiness with herself. We see and feel this honest self-exposure, become mixed up in her emotions, just as she did with the procedure with her partner.

In “Ribbons” by Natalia Theodoridou in Issue 44 (Jan/Feb 2022), Jans, a sex worker in a war-torn nation more full of curses than magic, navigates being born with a fairy-tale neck ribbon that all women are born with. The same ribbon that if removed, chops your head off. As he watches people go to war, get conscripted, get wounded, stay wounded, or simply vanish, Jans wonders what it means to take the ribbon off, and what it means to be left behind.

Bonus: the novella “Radcliffe Hall” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard in Issue 48 (Sept/Oct 2022) has all the markers of gothic decadence, a haunting, a 1908 New England all woman’s college, a darkness preying on the students, an oppressive society. Tomoé is a Japanese woman in an all-white student body and in love with a woman, so she’s pushed under by another set of marginalizations. This story is perfect for a fireplace, a plush couch, and your most decadent drink (even if it’s tea).

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Decade

And since this is our decennial Kickstarter, it felt appropriate to take a look back at the nonfiction in Uncanny’s first few issues in late 2014 and early 2015. We can see how things change and how things have stayed the same. 

Afrofuturism Rising” by Ytasha L. Womack in Issue 3 (Mar/Apr 2015) discusses the rise of Afrofuturism and Black creators. We have examples of spec fic embracing Afrofuturism since the writing of that article, with Black creators and Black characters front-and-center and not in the sidelines. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy winning the Hugo three times in a row, John Boyega in the Star Wars sequels, Lovecraft Country television series (specifically episode 7, “I Am”), the Black Panther movies, Janelle Monáe’s work, Nnedi Okorafor’s recent sale of her novel, The Africanfuturist are just a few examples. But at the same time, we have had many more instances of the rejection of Black excellence in this past decade, from the poor treatment of Nicole Beharie in Sleepy Hollow, the poor treatment of John Boyega and his character Finn in those same Star Wars sequels, the cancellation of Black created shows, and the moral panic of critical race theory leading to the banning of books, which is the literal removal of any discussion or understanding of race. As proven by companies giving lip service toward hiring and retaining Black employees in the wake of the BLM protests as well as the current wave of people let go from DEI programs, we can’t just be idle. We have to actively support Black creators and Black people and continuously.

Age of the Geek, Baby” by Michi Trota in Issue 2 (Jan/Feb 2015) talks about the explosion of geek and nerd culture, and that hasn’t slowed in the past decade. We have finally gotten a Sandman adaptation. And a Good Omens adaptation. And an American Gods adaptation. (Maybe this is the Age of Gaiman, actually.) A Nimona adaptation. Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts adaptation. A She-Ra adaptation. (Ok, maybe this is the Age of Adaptations.) The Marvel Cinematic Universe may be stumbling but it hasn’t slowed. The DCU has… well, let’s move on!

Trota’s essay, however, also addresses how geekdom can still marginalize women, people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQIA+ people. It is still an issue now. We still have harassment campaigns across the spec fic, video game, comic book, and movie industries targeting marginalized people. And we still have conversations on whether marginalized people “belong” in those industries, either as members of the industry or the fanbase.

Bonus: “Does Sex Make Science Fiction ‘Soft’” by Tansy Rayner Roberts in Issue 1 (Nov/Dec 2014) talks about romance in science fiction, or the lack thereof, and its partner, sex. Some think that spec fic has become a bit puritanical. No erotica it says in a lot of submission guidelines. But rather than have us use up words to talk about this, we’d rather link to Meg Elison’s editorial “The Horny Body Problem” in Issue 49 (Nov/Dec 2022).

What are the things currently on the mind of spec fic writers? AI, evident with three articles about it in Issue 52, the importance of representation on screen still (“Weirdos” by Suzanne Walker, out in August in this issue), and book bans, among other things.

We hope this gives a good cross-section of what Uncanny Magazine offers. (And we haven’t even touched the poetry in every issue. Sorry poets!) Our Kickstarter wraps up on August 4. Go take a look! We have regular updates of mini-interviews with our authors, poets, and essayists. And if you miss out on that, we have a Patreon. More importantly, check out our new stories, nonfiction, and poetry every 1st Tuesday of each month. 

(images: Uncanny Magazine)


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