Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/20/2015 and 7/27/2015

Two more weeks of Strange Horizons means one story, two poems, and one article that I'm looking at today. As always, there are things that I'm not getting to review for various reasons but definitely go check out all the offerings. For what's here, there's a nice mix of science fictional pieces with poems that evoke much more a natural fantasy, a sense of nurture and humanity. These two aspects of the weeks' offering makes for a nice balance, a serious examination of life and wonder but also an optimism about the future, about the universe. So I should just get to it!

Art by Sishir Bommakanti


"The Visitor" by Karen Myers (2535 words)

A story about first contact, this one had me smiling, had me thinking that this is the adventuring kind of story that reminds of that feel of first contact science fiction, the wonder and the meeting of different people and a learning on both sides (have I ever mentioned I love Star Trek). This is my kind of story, told from the point of a view of a rooted tentacle alien on a world entirely or almost entirely covered in water. The alien lives a rather lonely existence, rooted in one spot, remembering the days when it roved and waiting for things to fall into its sphere of reach. When a craft crashes on the surfaces and a human (or humanoid) drifts down, the alien, Felockati, catches it and the two begin to figure each other out. And I love that the story is not about violence, is not about threats or fear. The two don't really fear each other, recognize that they are both sentient and intelligent. And while Felockati might not know quite the science of the human, none of it comes as a huge shock. He accepts with a great sense of curiosity what is said, understands and is able to communicate back. It's a way of showing these two people, on the surface so different, having much to offer each other. If nothing else, they have the cure for the loneliness that Felockati feels and that is part of the reason that humanity looks to the stars, not all out of a sense of adventure or knowledge but in that hope of finding others, making contact, making connections. The story is fun and deep, these two explorers meeting and finding a common language and deciding to work together. That their relationship, begun not with fear but compassion, is sure to enrich both peoples. Perhaps there will be complications, but for the moment it is a touching moment of contact and understanding. A very nice story.


"Lola" by Nicasio Andres Reed

Wow, but this very short poem manages to get an incredibly amount of feeling into it. On the one hand, it seems to me to be about age, about senility and about the way the old can seem to lose their minds. In this case it's about a grandmother who climbed a tree and disappeared to a world where everything exists, everything is real. Those moments of being unsure of reality were solved by exiting reality. Which doesn't read to me as dying, but rather the mind leaving the body behind, which is how senility can seem to those close to it, to those who have to see what their loved ones are like after the disease has truly set in. On the other hand, it's also a poem about fear, about seeing a reflection of yourself in that illness, about the creeping doubts (especially with blood relatives because it can be hereditary). About not being sure of the world, not really being able to trust yourself. And understanding in some way how it must have been for the person cared about, for that grandmother, to have to live with the constant questioning, and understanding what they might have gone through. In that way it does make sense that person would want to retreat consciously, and in many ways that's a much more comforting way of looking at them, that they escaped the doubt and fear and entered into another place. That they aren't indeed what is left behind at the end. At least, to me that's how I read it, as a bit of a heartbreaking poem of someone imagining their grandmother escaping from a disease that took their mind, and afraid at the same time that the same will happen to them. It's a powerful poem, short and prosaic but with implications and images that linger long after reading, bruises that come to the surface only with time. An excellent read!

"this sacred garden" by Andrew Watson

This is a naturalistic surreal piece about growing a garden, or perhaps about becoming a garden in a place of death and decay. Rather Romantic in its approach of nature, it complicates that idea nicely by the addition of imagery of death and creeping growth, the narrator merging with the natural world in some ways as a way of healing the wounds of old, growing not a beauty exactly but a release, a relief. I also read it as a call to help those that need the most help, to help those that need to grow the most. That those perhaps more able to care and protect should do exactly that not just to help their fellows but because, in the end, it provides for a stronger whole, a more bountiful world. That in some ways to heal old wounds we must make sure we all act as gardeners, doing what we can to nurture understanding, to practice empathy. That the garden we grow today will benefit everyone, and if it means some need to work a bit harder, that's only right. At least that's how it reads to me. It does evoke the natural affinity of poems that I personally was drawn to as a child, seeing nature as a place to find healing, to find relief, in this case only under the care of gardeners willing to let and help it grow without screwing it up. Structurally it remains fairly contained, four stanzas of seven lines, with line length beginning fairly consistent and then growing wilder toward the end, reflecting the thriving growth of the garden. Quite a nice read.


"Farewell, Fantastic Pluto" by Paul McAuley

Ah Pluto. I will admit that I felt a small pang when Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet recently, because for whatever reason I have nostalgia about Pluto and it felt like science were butting into my childhood. Which is silly, really, because it doesn't really change what Pluto has always been, but it does highlight a point that I feel this article is getting at. Namely, that we shouldn't let our preconceptions about the solar system,  of seeing planets teeming with alien life and strange, nearly human habitats, prevent us from seeing the beauty and wonder and opportunity that is in front of us. Yes, there are likely no aliens on Pluto plotting to overthrow Earth out of jealousy of our proximity to the sun. No, Venus is not a jungle, and Mars is no the seat of an ancient empire of being so advanced they can propel us to the stars. But that doesn't mean the solar system is without life, and certainly not that humans have nothing to discover. The planets and their moons are still largely mysterious, just with some of lines filled in. In some ways I see this as a call to get on with the business of science fiction, not with holding onto a fantastic ideal of the solar system but with moving forward into what we can do now with what is here. It's interesting to see some voices calling for more stories that capture the feel of "classic" science fiction, because those stories are now pure fantasy. But the article does a nice job of balancing the wonder at the possibilities with the newer wonder at just what is out there and what we have yet to discover. So yes, check this one out.

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