Quite the short week from Strange Horizons, with only one flash fiction and one poem. And again I wonder if I should just do one massive Strange Horizons review at the end of the month. I don't think I will yet, because 1.) I'm at about my limit of what I can review a month and having more days to fill would mean less time I get for everything else (like writing, because I do that, too), 2.) I like balancing longer reviews like Clarkesworld or Apex with short ones like these, and 3.) the end of the month would be way too crowded if I tried to save everything until then (with Terraform, the second Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, etc.). So still doing Strange Horizons every week for now. Onward!
"Traveling Mercies" by Rachael K. Jones (1030 words)
Short but very sweet, this story follows an old vampire as they travel around the world seeking places to stay out of the sunlight. It's an interesting story, and a hopeful one, as the vampire has never been let down, has always been invited in some place to wait out the day. It's a message that people are always willing to help, that there is home and comfort in fraternity and good will, and that those forces can redeem, can make a friend from a monster. It's a very cool idea, too, using the lore of vampires, that they always have to be invited in, and this way the thirst is slaked not with blood but with friendship. Perhaps that sounds a little saccharine, but it works. It's optimistic, yes, and sweet, but I didn't find the story sappy. Instead, there is a darkness and a danger there, because the narrator will die if they can't find a shelter from the sun, and because they are something of a monster, defined by rules, by the curse of what they are. And yet for all those who believe that hospitality is dead, it's affirming to see a story that still believes in the generosity of the host, of the bonds that can be formed between friends, and on the power of those things. It's a great story, powerfully told.
"Once the Dream Lionesses" by Alexandra Seidel
I will admit that I don't know if there is a word for this kind of poem, for one that uses the first lines of its stanzas in echoes in the last stanza. It's a good effect, though, the thoughts echoing back with the voices of the lionesses. To me, the story is of loss, of age. The riddle of the Sphinx is mentioned, the four legs to two to three, which evokes the idea of aging, echoed in the words of the lionesses, that they are tired, that they are diminished. The hunter has taken their bones, their voices, and where the hunter walks now they are silent but also gathering themselves. Beneath the hunter there is no drum, or the drum is silenced, but I got the feeling that it was waiting, that it was building to something, holding itself back when the hunter stepped. Still, the story screams loss to me. The loss of the natural, mostly, taken for profit, taken for sport, just taken. And there is a weariness in dealing with it, the lionesses feeling their age, but also calling on forces deeper, deeper. I enjoyed the poem, though I'm still trying to decide what I think of the stillness at the end. I'm leaning toward it being that waiting, that when the hunter steps the lionesses pause, waiting, knowing that they have to wait for the right moment. That, rather than the hunter stilling their drum, because I want to believe that the beat goes on. But maybe that's just what I want to read. Either way, it's a nice poem, with a strong form and interesting imagery.