Friday, August 14, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/03/2015 and 08/10/2015

Two new weeks of Strange Horizons means two new short stories and two new poems. In a rare show of restraint (more because work is kicking my ass) I will be skipping over reviewing the nonfiction. I still recommend everyone go and check it out, but as both of the columns dealt with texts that I'm not familiar with, I'm not the best of judges on how well they succeed. They're interesting reads and make me want to do more, but as it is I did look at the fiction and poetry and it's a great collection of interesting characters and ideas, strong images and haunting messages (sometimes literally). So before I go on too long about it all, to the reviews!

Art by Geneva Benton


"Probably Definitely" by Heather Morris (3883 words)

You know, sometimes it is incredibly refreshing to read a story that is so open about kind of being about the main character being non-binary, neither male nor female. Because, though the story features the ghost of a dead celebrity coming to visit a die-hard fan, the story focuses on how that fan, Tommie, deals with life, is unsure of how to fit into the world. To this point Tommie had largely used music as an escape to make life a bit more bearable, used Savannah Sullivan (the dead celebrity) as a way to make the world seem understanding and accepted when in reality Tommie had not really found anywhere to belong, any person who was really accepting. The story does a nice job of building Tommie's character and conflict, and does an excellent job of sidestepping pronouns altogether (though in truth I'm not sure all what to think of that, because pronouns are not something that can really just be ignored, and yet challenging them by omitting them entirely is an interesting choice, that refusal to be contained by the labels which is then mirrored in the character). The story provides something of a challenge to review because it calls into question the urge to assign some sort of label to Tommie, even a gender-neutral one. Already I used a label above, and I want to hasten to say that I do so mainly because it's how the story spoke to me. But the story, rather sad and with some great voices, seems to capture the feel of being a young adult struggling to figure themself out and dealing with loss and with having to maybe get outside comfort zones but being a little gunshy because the world can really suck for young people and even for older people who don't conform to gender binaries. Still, the story is fun and funny and features a non-binary character defying labels. Good times.

"Beyond Sapphire Glass" by Margaret Killjoy (991 words)

This is...not a happy story about two women who shared love for less than a year, shared love and then let each other go, leaving the main character damaged  but very alive. The story takes place on a mountain where people who want technology go to upload themselves into a sort of electronic heaven, or perhaps just an electronic limbo. The main character works as a guardian to the electronic copies of people's consciousnesses and she meets a woman, a pilgrim, who she connects. Quickly, deeply, she is in love, and yet the two women remain locked in their trajectories, the main character believing the electronic preservation death, the pilgrim believing it eternal life. (MAYBE SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT?) They remain mysteries to each other, both wanting to be with the other but unable to lose their ideas of how the world works, unable to drop their religions enough to stay together. It's a touching story, sad and moving and examining what it is to love, what it is to lose. The main character moves on, or tries to, and yet she cannot forget her lover, her love, cannot bury the memory because she can still visit her in the electronic form that remains. It's not the same, and yet that part of her love will never die even as she is already dead. It's an  interesting and layered look at love and loss and moving on, how the people who we're with and we love stay with us as echoes, even after the body is ash they remain in our memories, not as they were but as this version of them, alive and dead. It's a very short story but also a touching one, full of longing and love. Indeed!


"Kanchenjunga" by Ajapa Sharma

A poem about mountains, this also has the feel of one about more than that. Or, I suppose, of exploring how mountains are often more than just mountains. It's about the people who live in the shadow of the mountain, the way of life that it creates with people who are in some ways enmeshed fully with the idea of that expanse of earth, the way it reaches up and takes over everything, the way it implies the impossible, the infinite. The poem is short, but I think captures well how the mountain can shape those around it, and how the people living near the titular mountain, in danger because of the draw of the mountain to tourists, live in fear and also acceptance. It's a strong contrast, the uncertainty of perhaps being forced from their land because it is valuable to the government that claims ownership of the mountain, or one of them at least. But also the way the mountain prepares them for such uncertainty, for new possibility, that as long as they have the mountains overhead they can meet anything. There is just a sense of scale with the poem, the mountains pushing up and into the beyond, the people moving along them but drawings, nearly erased by the size of magnitude of the mountains. Instead of being insecure about that scale, though, it seems to instill in the people of the mountain a strength and humility. A nice poem.

"Using Only These" by Merav Hoffman

I love the simplicity of this poem, told as seven sentences, only the last one being more than a single line. They do resemble more sentences than anything, but the picture they pain is all poetry, is subtle but evocative, two people creating something from nothing, from discarded items. Creating a ship that will help them escape, that will take them far away. There is a sense, in this poem as I read it, that these characters are not in the best of situations. They don't seem well off, and their home lives, if they aren't orphans, probably isn't the best. They are in a world to themselves, living for the escape that they offer each other, slowly discovering that their escape can be permanent, that they can find in each other a way out, a key to unlocking doors, to starting ships. Literally the poem seems about two people building a ship, finding their courage and their freedom. More figuratively, it seems to be about building a life, building a relationship that will allow these people to survive and move on. That idea of building something from nothing resonates in both ways, because they do build their relationship from nothing, from a pair of strangers, and yet it is more transformative than many would think, is enough to fuel their escape from the oppressive situation they found themselves in. Concise and very uplifting (sorry for the pun), this poem has a lot to think about and a great voice. Go read it!

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