So I'm kind of breaking my own rule this week with Strange Horizons. Normally I'd think I could just skip the week because there's no new fiction, just a reprint. But there is a new poem and new non-fiction and I really wanted to look at that. So...to read the reprint and flesh out this review a bit more or not? Well, I decided to review the reprint, because it's new to me and because I will be reviewing it in context of the new intro from the author. So something is new and that will be my loophole. Hurrah!
"The Truth About Owls" and Introduction by Amal El-Mohtar (4303 words story only)
This is a story that lingers for me. Stories with children I think are always difficult to pull off, but this one does it well, capturing a child's frustration both at being an outcast and being rather powerless as children are. And that powerlessness seems to manifest itself with Anisa as actual power, as the ability to shock people, to make them sick. The way she internalizes all the things that happen around her in an attempt to be powerful, in an attempt to have agency. It's heartbreaking in many ways, because as a child she can't help thinking that way, especially with her situation of having to leave home. She lacks a figure to talk to, to trust. So she lashes out, so she sees herself like an owl, and a difficult one. And Anisa's relationship with the owls is cool, is believable and powerful because it shows where her sympathies are, how she views herself. And only toward the end of the story does she start to lower the walls she built around herself. Only then can she start to see the brighter side of owls. It's very well done and an emotional ride to be sure. The introduction (which is new!) helps a bit to contextualize things by giving some history on the events referenced in the story and how they tie back to the author, and also to translate the bit of text at the end. Owls are complicated. As is the story. And that's a very, very good thing.
"Meatspace" by David C Kopaska-Merkel
A fun and rather light poem on the surface, told with internet shorthand and a lot of style. It's a quite short piece, but that makes sense for the words, where the narrator of the poem is someone who has rented space in their brain out to telecom companies for discounted internet access. It's an interesting idea and one that could come to pass, but the side effects explain in some way the short poem, the truncated style. There is damage that comes along with renting out parts, and that damage effect communication. There might be a bit of a critique that the internet pushes for condensed narratives and forms over longer ones, the idea that it's valuing space or quality, but I don't feel while reading that the criticism is really technology, but rather the commercial exploitation of technology. Or maybe I'm reading too deep. In any event, it's a nice, fun poem.
"Me and Science Fiction: Dystopia, Dark Urban Fantasy, Zombies, and Monsters from the Deep" by Eleanor Arnason
An insightful and hopeful look at the recent trends in SFF, most notably the shift in focus away from near future and far future science fiction and a centering on dark urban fantasy and grimdark fantasy. And I can really see where she's coming from, though there are many examples of optimistic urban fantasy and fantasy out there. But I can definitely see the mentality that people are moving away from science fiction as ways of making statements on the present because the science is advancing so quickly and because it's easier to then make up magic than try to pick a scientific idea or theory that might be out of favor or discarded by the time the author's done writing it. But as To the Resurrection Station was one of my favorite reads last year (it is amazing and funny and everyone should go out and read it), I also know that science fiction doesn't have to be slavish to science to be impacting. I do want to see more science fiction that can posit the human race as not inherently fallen. I always look to Star Trek as a shining example of what science fiction can be, and yet the most recent Star Treks have been so bleak and pessimistic that I might need to find something else. But that does support the idea that people are moving away from hopeful SF. And I think we do need both. We need people with a vision and a faith that humanity can do something good. Because only then are we obligated to try, and we should all be trying to make the world better. So a thought-proviking piece.