The World is Broken, I’m Not: Review of Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World that Wouldn’t Die, ed. dave ring
Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World that Wouldn’t Die. dave ring, editor. Neon Hemlock, 2020.
Neon Hemlock’s Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Didn’t Die is an anthology best read backwards. This collection of short stories and poems, exploring queer joy and persistence in apocalyptic settings, closes with “Dream Askew,” a collaborative storytelling game which sees a group of players work together to build out a postapocalyptic world and a “queer enclave” surviving or thriving within it. The game acts as a set of blueprints, outlining the narrative bones of every story in the collection. Those already familiar with Avery Alder’s work, particularly 2013’s apocalyptic mapmaking experience The Quiet Year, will recognize Alder’s light but precise hand in writing rules, encouraging players to consult first and foremost their feelings and instincts on when to structure play and when to let it flow. For anyone not already familiar with shared storytelling games, “Dream Askew” offers an excellent introduction to the best practices of the genre, touching on everything from mechanics encouraging players to lean into their characters’ flaws and conflicts, to the intuitive and flexible “pause” safety tool, to reminders to make proper food arrangements before the game begins. In every aspect, “Dream Askew” is above all a game about thinking and caring deeply about others, marking their hopes and needs and factoring them in to every move you make. It’s about negotiating together to produce an experience everyone can enjoy, both within and beyond the bounds of the story.
Likewise, Glitter + Ashes is about queer joy—ways to find it for yourself, ways to preserve it for and gift it to others, and the darknesses it manages to shine through. The collection not only fills in the empty spaces where queerness and other diversities simply aren’t in so many apocalypse narratives, but argues compellingly why these absences are so galling and self-defeating. In the uncertain end times of Glitter + Ashes, marginality is an asset in that it represents a lifetime of experience struggling for survival and certainty—experience that makes apocalyptic struggles manageable and familiar. Apocalypse, as N.K. Jemisin so famously said, is a relative thing—as Alder writes, “The collapse of civilization didn’t happen everywhere at the same time. Instead, it’s happening in waves.” These are the voyages of small, intimate casts of lovingly detailed queer characters—their roles defined by what they do to help others survive, their genders so fluid as to include terms not yet invented or defined, their unique desires and flaws colliding in everything from quiet conversations to knock-down, drag-out confrontations—doing their best to care for and empathize with one another, despite all odds and incentives to the contrary. Whether intentionally or by happy accident, Glitter + Ashes puts into action the core tenets of one of the most important trends in contemporary speculative fiction—“hopepunk,” whose manifesto calls for radical empathy, fighting the eternal good fight, and persistent belief that things can be better, all powered by the strength of communities united by mutual support rather than exclusion.
The result is a collection of queer futures to suit every affect imaginable. Need catharsis for the wrongs of the world Before? Anthony Moll’s “Wrath of a Queer God” opens the collection with the lyrical, righteous fury of anyone with a good reason not to mourn the world that apocalypse destroyed, and L.D. Lewis’s “The Currant Dumas” offers the smug satisfaction of queer magic quite literally sending white supremacists to Hell. Want the simple joy of watching two or more well-realized queer people find love and fulfillment despite the utter brokenness of the world around them? Blake Jessop’s “When She Nothing Shines Upon” has you covered, with a sullen mech pilot and a chipper mechanic whose aggressively adorable flirtations help them process the world’s end. Looking for reconciliation and solidarity in the wake of trauma and loss? Look to Michael Milne’s “The Bone Gifts,” which sees a Bonekeeper wrestle with the symbolic import of bequeathing final remains to the deceased’s queer partner rather than a parent, or to C.L. Clarke’s “When the Last of the Birds and the Bees Are Gone,” the bluntly pragmatic survival mantra of a winged community that nonetheless culminates in a call to “lift up” the Wingless even though “all of this is their fault.” In the mood to see a queer community unmake unjust systems through collective action and mutual support? Watch the spark between two apocalyptic gladiators ignite a delightfully WWE-inspired revolution in my personal favorite, Elly Bangs’ “Champions of Water War.”
Their uniting factor? Queer resilience in the face of it all—what one character’s mantra renders as “The world is broken. You’re broken. I get it. I’m not. Okay?”
Glitter + Ashes is not a collection that pulls punches—as Alder writes, “apocalypse didn’t come for us first, but it did come for us.” Its tales feature their fair share of queer death, failure, and loss, but avoid harmful tropes. Closing with Alder’s “Dream Askew,” the reader is left with perhaps the most profoundly empowering gesture a text about futurity can make: a uniquely concrete gesture of “here, now you try.” From its unparalleled representative power to its insistence on queer love and joy as indispensable means of survival, Glitter + Ashes does powerful work imagining queer futures, at a time when doing so has never been more necessary.
Ceci Mancuso (they/them) is a PhD candidate in English at Harvard University. Their research focuses on hope and futurity in contemporary speculative fiction. Their work has previously appeared in Public Books and The Guardian.
This review was commissioned by editor Laura Collier in November 2020 following a hard pitch. The author and editor were not previously acquainted. A review copy was arranged by ARB.