Strange Horizons is back with the second of the two-part "The Animal Women" and so I'm back and ready to review. Also DISCLAIMER: my review for the story is less review and more meandering effort to figure out how I feel about that story. It's a bit long and changes midway a few times and...well, I just kept it as-is because I'm not sure I have my thoughts completely together on it and if I have time maybe I'll be back to re-think this. Also a new poem, which is always nice. So let's go!
"The Animal Women" (part 2) by Alix E. Harrow (4434 words)
Well that was satisfying. I suppose I shouldn't say that when a fictional character gets killed, but Orrin really deserved it. The amount of wanting-that-guy-to-die-ness that went into that character is impressive, and the story not only gets him mauled in the face but then completely destroyed. It's fun and has a great mood to it, but now I'm trying to unpack the story a bit. And I think there is a lot going on in this story, with the little white girl who becomes a part of something...well, both animal and human. For all that these are Animal Women, I think there is a point that they are human, that it might ask the age-old favorite in science fiction and fantasy of "who is the real animal?" Of course, that gets complicated a bit because of the racial issues at work in the story, at the time that it is set, on the day that it came out. The women are all victims who found strength and power in...I guess rejecting the place people wanted for them. They break from the world that is set up to destroy them and find a little bit of power of their own. Wait a second. Maybe I'm thinking about this wrong. The women are probably all dead, aren't they? They all "split" and gained their power at times when they were about to die. One through a mob, one through self-inflicted harm. They all died, and in doing so became something like Furies, spirits of vengeance who are apart from everything, unable to change anything, except perhaps to save Candy. But...huh, does that mean that Candy is dead too at the end? And would that mean that these women only gained some power through their deaths? This just got way more complicated than I thought it would. Re-reading the end...
...and still missing out on something that would help me completely wrap my head around the story. I think I'd draw it back to the Shakespeare quote that Candy cries out when she changes. I think I have to think that the women are dead, that Candy is dead. I have to think that this is basically a story about how hatred creates something dark and twisted, that it doesn't just leave. That those women have become Furies, and that Candy has too. That they have, largely, lost their ability to change the world except through violence, that they have left the world except as vengeful spirits. Which makes this a little less the historical fantasy I thought it was at first and more a horror story. The implication being that what you do comes back in the end, and you should try to do good, to sow peace and understanding, or what you sow you will reap. Hmm. Not exactly what I thought I was going to find in this story. It's a bit less hopeful than I thought at first. Because Candy has effectively lost her voice. She gained it, but it has become something cold and animal. She lost her camera, which was the greater voice, which might have had the greater strength, and instead has become a killer.
Okay, apparently I have thoughts on this story. Many thoughts. I still like it. I mean, it's a fun story, and sometimes what you want is a story where the bad guy gets punished as he should and where the little girl gets the power to punish him. But something about it is...well, sad. Probably that was on purpose. Because sad things do happen. The women in the story went through horrible things and they couldn't stop that. According to them, they got a power in return, a kind of magic. But I'm still not sure what kind of magic that is. They say they were not nothing anymore, but I wonder what they are. They get the power to not conform, but still lack the power to...belong? Unless they're choosing to belong with more of a natural world instead of a human world. They have power, but it seems only the power to protect themselves, the power to kill, and how Candy fits into that is a little confusing because she seems different in the end, free but also changed, no longer the girl she was, and if the implication is that this version of Candy is better then I'm just not sure and look I've gone cross-eyed. I'm just not sure how to approach that just now. Hmm. Gah! I'm probably just over-thinking this and need to stop and delete all this.
SUMMARY OF THE ABOVE: I'm not sure how to feel about liking this story. Because I do like it. But I can't seem to wrap my head around it completely. Help?
"Retirement" by Samantha Renda-Dollman
Now that I'm all confused I probably shouldn't read anything more but I'm charging ahead (sorry this poem). And I like the poem. It seems to be hinting at a relationship that isn't really as stable as it could be. Making a statement about retirement in general, that this old (presumably) married couple has moved to the moon to retire and the woman (it seems feminine to me, but I suppose that could be wrong. The character is never gendered, but I guess I assumed) is completely okay with that. The man, however, doesn't seem to be able to stand it. He lost something on Earth and wants to go back. But she doesn't. She just enjoys herself. Maybe I've just seen this in people after they retire and that's why I gender the narrator (is it still a narrator in poetry?) as female. Because in some ways retirement is getting rid of a lot of expectations placed on you by society. And because for women those expectations are generally crappier than for men, they seem more able to handle retiring, while many retired men I know can't handle being a part of those expectations, because it gave them more power. And who knows, maybe I'm once more reading too much into this, but I like the poem. Quite and with a sense of a long exhale. Nice work.