So I got behind a bit with Strange Horizons. Normally I've been trying to do every other week but sometimes things slip a little and here is a collection of three weeks worth of stories, poems, and nonfiction. There is a lot to like with everything. The prose is solid, understated a bit and dealing primarily with family. The poetry is linked by its structure, each poem being broken into sections. But they are quite different thematically, and boy do some of them get under the skin and burrow for vital organs. Some of it is very, very dark. I'm not looking at quite all of the nonfiction, as some was either a bit over my head or on topics that I don't feel qualified to critique (or both). It's all interesting, though, and Strange Horizons continues to be a must-read publication.
"Nine Thousand Years" by Iona Sharma (5117 words)
This story takes place in the wake of a magical mishap that has erased all text from the world. Which obviously has huge implications, books suddenly empty, the internet down, the graveyards blank. And Salt, a young woman with some magical powers, had a hand in causing the disaster. I'm not sure it's ever revealed what exactly happened that led to the disaster, what the people were trying to do, but it didn't work. It has, though, provided Salt a reason for introspection. Provided the world a reason to examine just how it relates to text, just how much it needs the words to contextualize itself. And Salt starts to see just how arrogant it was, just how much she's left behind those things that she was taught, those things that she loved. She lost sight of the salt in her veins, the home that she rose out of. It takes this disaster to show her what she had been forgetting and to get her back on track, to remind her about the salt and the responsibility that comes with her gift. The story is mysterious but hitting, the situation difficult to imagine but I liked that it wasn't everyone panicking. That life went on, that people were all waiting. The writing is solid and the character easy to relate to. The central idea is strong, is solid, and the ending is lingering, evokes that sense of relief and guilt and hope that Salt has now. A new appreciation of things. Good stuff.
"The Pieces" by Teresa Milbrodt (2511 words)
And here's a short and sweet story about a woman whose father goes to pieces. Literally. He's getting older and is concerned about his health, but mostly he's an old crank and doesn't really know how to express himself to his wife or daughter. He wants what's best but all he can seem to do is criticize. Which has something to do with his own thoughts on life and his desire that his daughter not waste hers as he feels he has wasted his. His physical falling apart is a symptom of his lack of control, of his lack of focus. The story moves quite well, and I really liked how nonchalant everyone is about the situation. Like the expected this to happen. Like it's not all that weird. And I guess it isn't. People fall to pieces all the time, and for this guy perhaps it's more surprising that it wasn't more violent. He's not the nicest, but there is a core of care there. I'm just not really sure if that is enough. Obviously his family cares for him, but there is the sense that they are being dragged down by him. That his concern with the traditional values and ways of doing things is making them all less happy. I want to say that maybe he catches a glimpse of this at the end, that he wants to change and be happier, but I'm not sure. It's an incredibly relatable story, though, for anyone with a parent like this. It really manages to evoke the family dynamic at work here. It's a nice piece, though one I'm not entirely sure what to make of.
"The Last Scan" by Salik Shah
This is a quite short poem but there is a lot going on in it. Structurally, it is broken into five parts, each part either a single idea or a pair of ideas. Most of the ideas are questions, with the first, second, and fourth sections entirely questions, the third a mix, and the last a single image. Quoting is also used, to represent dialogue I'm guessing or perhaps these are pulled from somewhere else but if so I'm lacking that context, but if I were to hazard a guess I'd say this has something to do with a second text. That title lends itself to the idea that something is being scanned. The section might be books or chapters, but the poem seems to be taking almost at random certain ideas and pushing them to the surface. Only they're not random. They are the images and lines that pop the foreground, that stick out. That mean something special to the reader. Taken apart like this it would be easy to say that they mean nothing. That without the context of the larger work they don't have impact. But they seem to evoke something. A questioning, a focus on something lost, on something being searched fom. It's a striking piece, speaks to something perhaps mentally disconnected, a reader who sees the world in a different way, a way that is both foreign and insightful. That last line captures a delicate beauty, a loneliness, defeat, but also movement, not giving up, echoed in the idea of tying your shoes from earlier. There is difficult, disaster even, but the strength to keep going. A great poem to speculate about.
"An Inventory of Ghosts" by Natalia Theodoridou
This is a rather unsettling poem, uniquely structured and with a great feel to it. The life of the narrator, of this woman taking stock of the various ghosts in her life, does not seem to be a happy one. Aside from the fact that it is full of ghosts, there seems to be something going on that I can't quite figure out but that speaks of horror and abuse. The Wolf, which might be the Father, or perhaps just a part of the Father that comes and goes, is a violent and dangerous presence, one that is not overtly dealt with or clearly but which comes to dominate the poem. The structure, the idea of the inventory, is striking, in part because it reveals a lot as the narrator goes through keeping track of all of her ghosts. Some seem to be more traditional, but there is also a sense of inevitable death, that she is haunted and also in some ways waiting for her own death, which will reunite her with her mother. It's just creepy and chilling and I'm not even sure that I'm getting it all right, but the narrator is compared to a fox, separated from her mother with the only reunion to come in death. But not just in death. In a violent death. It implies that whatever killed the mother (I'm guessing the Father, personally) is going to end up killing the daughter as well. So yeah, a rather dark and very powerful poem that's worth reading.
"Four Sea Interludes" by Kailee Marie Pedersen
A moody but beautiful piece about two people in a love that breaks across myths. They meet at the water's edge, one of them a creature of the sea. I'm guessing a selkie, maybe? Something that only comes on land once every seven years, that has to return to retain its power and its magic. But these two fall in love anyway, despite knowing how difficult it will be, how doomed it will be. They know that they cannot have what they want. But they try anyway, take it anyway. The poem is structured in what look almost like footnotes, the four interludes alluded to by the title. Each represents in some ways the meetings between the two, spanning the seven year gaps. And then, finally, the breaking of the cycle. These are the footnotes to a bigger story, to something taking place in the present that these interludes are interrupting. The story is how these two managed to get around the seven year curse. How they sacrificed for each other and how their story became a myth, became the exception to the rule. How they overcame the restrictions and broke down the walls. It's a powerful story that really hits, that is dark and moody but ultimately uplifting. The story that is being told continues, with the two characters not needing to be apart any longer, for no reason for further interludes. A great experience.
"Representing Marginalized Voices in Historical Fiction and Fantasy" by Joyce Chng, David Anthony Durham, Kari Sperring, and Vanessa Rose Phin
Wow this is an interesting roundtable discussion about history in fantasy and historical fiction. There's a lot of things that are brought up here, from challenging the accepted centricity of US, white, straight cis-mail reading, writing, and history. About delving deeper and challenging things. About taking the focus to unexpected places. About searching for voices that might not get the same boost that others get. There is a lot of really solid advice in here for writers and a lot of good advice for readers. As a roundtable discussion things do range quite a bit and focus as each participant zeroes in on what they most want to say, but everyone has very good points and it is a very good piece, one that made me a little uncomfortable thinking about how I read fantasy growing up, and even more so how I wrote fantasy growing up. Luckily, no one will ever ever ever read my early fantasy which is just terrible and I am very glad now I'm paying attention enough to get to see conversations like this one that really question how people do things and place some weight and responsibility on writers and readers to be better. Also, I love any article that gives me more book recommendations and there are certainly a great many names mentioned that I am excited to check out. So definitely give this a read.
"Communities: A Theory of the Narrative Multiverse" by Renay
I really enjoy these Communities columns that are going on, this one focusing on the idea of fanwriters and how they can create the stories that they want to see in the fandoms that they are into. I have to say, it makes complete sense to me. I always would go to fanfiction and fanart and things like that find the things that I felt were lacking in the more mainstream things. Especially when it comes to queer content and more mature sexual content. Because shows and comics and things are pretty damned terrible at actually having sexual content that is not godawful. Really, looking at so much of the canon material for sex and romance in shows and you can really see why fans would take it upon themselves to write their own versions and explore the themes and characters of various things without having to deal with the actual shows or series or movies or books or comics doing something to play to the lowest common denominator which is normally very white and cis-male and straight. And I agree that there comes a time when you start just making things up to make them more bearable. Why do I ship O'Brien and Bashir? Because they make so sense. Because they make sense and yet there is no way that even a show as progressive as DS9 would reveal that two of its primary male characters were bi and that their holodeck excursions were more than just "reliving the Wild West." Seriously, there are shows that are made so much better thanks to fan content and they help the show because it keeps people around despite the often shitty treatment that fandom gets from the material it engages. I've written a little about this recently and this column just had me nodding along so much. It's great. So yeah, if you're into fandom at all, go check this out. Go do it!