Most of the time when I talk about relentless positivity, I mean it in the cheerful, bubbly, this-thing-gives-me-joy sense. But to me it’s an expression with another aspect. The other side of the coin is determination to keep going in the face of darkness. This week I’ve read the most extraordinary essay about reading and writing fiction as a tool for navigating and surviving real-world horror.
I’m sure I’ve already talked about Uncanny Magazine, which is one of my favorite speculative fiction mags. Editors Lynne M Thomas and Damien Michael Thomas have a keen eye for beautiful, poetic, mythic fiction, and the stories they choose are invariably among my favourites of the year.
But Uncanny also has a powerful line in non-fiction essays, both about and at the margins of science fiction and fantasy literature, community and debate. They have always had a particular bent towards progressive politics and various social justice themes; over the last year or two they and their editorial team have not flinched in magnifying voices speaking to those themes.
Which brings me to “The Shape of the Darkness As It Overtakes Us” by Dimas Ilaw.
This is an extraordinary essay by a Filipino writer about the horrors of living through sudden and drastic increases in state-sanctioned violence and the dismantling of institutional governance. It’s long, and it is by no means an easy read (content warning for discussion of numerous real-world murders), but it is, I think, essential reading. (Backup content warning – the essay will probably make you very, very sad). It’s about recognising the darkness but also about looking for ways to escape and find hope and strength.
The story does not change things. But it makes the darkness bearable. It allows us to pretend enough to stand. And keep walking.
It’s not enough to be aware of the darkness – however you perceive it – and to rally against it even as it threatens to destroy you and everything you love. You also need to have a plan to survive it, to keep on going in the face of crushing adversity, to make yourself costly to erase and to be relentless.