Wednesday, October 7, 2020

SciFi/Fantasy Anthology Review: Recognize Fascism edited by Crystal M Huff

Full Disclosure:  This book was read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy) obtained via Netgalley from the publisher in advance of the book's release on October 13, 2020 in exchange for a potential review.  I give my word that this did not affect my review in any way - if I felt conflicted in any way, I would simply have declined to review the book.

"Recognize Fascism" is a short fiction anthology edited by Crystal M Huff, featuring 22 short stories by 22 different SciFi/Fantasy authors, including Nebula Award winning writer Sam J Miller (The Art of Starving).  It's a collection of stories that focus on exactly what you'd think from the title: showcasing different forms of fascism through scifi and fantasy stories, some that feel very realistic, and some a bit more outlandish or symbolic, and of people gaining the nerve to fight back.

It's not a long anthology, as each of the 22 stories are only a few pages long - there are no stories here that come close really to "novelette" length, as I've seen in many previously read anthologies for example.  And as usual, the stories can be hit or miss - although reading it all in one sitting can be rough given the rough subject matter.  Still, the trigger warnings at the top of each story should help readers mitigate that, and there's enough really strong stuff here to make this worth your attention, even if the length of the stories prevents most from really making as much impact as I'd have liked.

As with my usual policy for anthologies featuring more than like 8-10 stories, I'm not going to summarize the stories contained within - especially here where half the power from stories so short comes from not really knowing the premises of those stories coming in.  Instead, I'm going to talk about the anthology in general, and highlight a few of its most and least interesting stories.  As you might expect from an anthology like this, this anthology features stories written by a very diverse group of authors, in race, gender, sexuality, and national origin, with at least one story translated from its original language.

Obviously there's a common theme of fascist governments in this anthology (oh duh - that's the point) but there are some other commonalities between stories.  So for example, we see a number of stories featuring fascism enforced by corporation governments, the ultimate expression of capitalism (The Company Store, May Your Government be the Center of a Smelly Dung Sandwich, among others), and a number of stories focus on control of both language/ideas as a central way for fascists to maintain control.  While a few of the stories do end up with the fascist entities seemingly toppled (Just an Old Grouch, A Disease of Time and Temporal Distortion, Go Dancing to your Gods, May Your Government be the Center of a Smelly Dung Sandwich), many do not, with the stories instead focusing upon people just taking the first steps towards fighting their fascist oppressors.  All of the stories make it clear however that the fight against Fascism is far from easy....but that it's necessary.

The short length of each of these stories - and I mean short, limits the amount of time each story has to make an impact and some do better than others.  For me, the stories that felt the most blatant talking about fascism or parts of the American experience right now directly (A Disease of Time and Temporal Distortion, Brooklyn) seemed the weakest in the anthology - they were mainly fine, but just didn't seem to leave any memorable mark - Brooklyn is perhaps the most notable miss in the anthology, because it seems unsure whether it wants to tell a gender-subversive story in which young men are discriminated against by a fascist regime for fear they'll violently cause problems or of a fascist regime that failed to win a war against aliens - and tries to do both but doesn't really work?

But even with the short lengths, a number of stories stood out as being particularly memorable and pointed:

Just an Old Grouch by Laura Jane Swanson uses a simple premise of a town controlled by a seemingly immortal mayor in which everyone is joyfully happy and oblivious to any problems except for three designated grouches to show how claims that we should be happily ignorant are just wrong, and serve no one but those in power doing cruelty.

The Three Magi by Lucie Lukacovicova is a story based upon Czech culture/history by a Czech author showcasing how easily the politics of fear and war can turn even a people and country that fought against a fascist invader into its own fascist horror - with the story focusing upon a trio of magic-wielders in such a country noting the common people being whipped up for such a change over their very existences.

The Body Politic by Octavia Cade is a body horror story that consists of a single metaphor of a healthy body being turned into a horror by fascism - literally so.  It's one of the rare stories that absolutely could not be lengthened, as it just manages to use its page length to make a damn memorable point about the infection of fascism that has to be read to be believed.

Chicken Time by Hal Y. Zhang might be my favorite story of all - and maybe the only actual comedy in the anthology....but one that's incredibly funny.  A fascist American government tries to take away everyone's clocks so that they cannot tell time except by the crowing of tons of chickens, and the protagonist fights back in increasingly clever ways until the government is forced to revert back to the old long as everyone pretends the chicken time experiment didn't happen....except the protagonist isn't willing to let the fascists get away with that erasure of history either.  A great use of comedy to both ridicule fascism as ridiculous while still not losing sight of the seriousness of it and the ways it tries to control people.

I'd actually highlighted about 4-5 other notable stories I wanted to highlight, but honestly this is getting too long already as a review so seriously, you should get the point.  This isn't quite the strongest anthology I've read this year, but it speaks on a point growing more and more important not just in America, but around the world, and so it is absolutely worth a look.

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