Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/23/2015. 11/30/2015, 12/07/2015, 12/14/2015

It's another rather full four weeks of material from Strange Horizons. Two stories, three poems, and three pieces of nonfiction. Now, there would be a fourth poem, but as it is by me I will not be reviewing it. What remains is a pretty great collection of things to read, including some incredibly interesting nonfiction. I know I don't always review nonfiction, but I do think that it's an often-overlooked medium that more people should check out. The fiction and the poetry are great as always, and really show why Strange Horizons is a must read each and every week. To the reviews!

Art by Jonathan Apilado


Stories:

"Tigerskin" by Kurt Hunt (1237 words)

Okay now I want a stomach tiger of my very own. Like, really, this is a cool idea executed quite well in a short space. So basically the definition of a fine piece of flash fiction. In it a boy is eaten by a tiger only to find out that it's not quite so bad. That being in a tiger has it's benefits. And the tiger learns that having a boy inside it is likewise not so bad. The two find a kind of kinship and decide to help each other, and I love the way they talk to each other, the near-surprise of the tiger at finding the boy inside it, eaten but not dead. And the ending is a great way of resolving everything, a clever twist that sees the boy and tiger denying their roles in many ways, or at least their differences. And they give each other strength and something they cannot otherwise find. An escape from loneliness. A reminder to be fierce. A vein of wildness. The story seems at first like a story of a child becoming victim to the dark, to the things that lurk along the periphery of the civilized world. But it turns into something much different. A story of surviving and thriving. And a fun time. Indeed!

"At Whatever Are Their Moons" by Sunny Moraine (3666 words)

This is a delicately braided story of loneliness and longing, of a woman trying to uncover the secrets of the past in order to create a person to be with, to share the adventure of exploration with. A clerk in a group of colonists overseeing the decline of their expedition, the main character wasn't satisfied to wait in solitude and die. She wanted something more, and so built a ship to sail the skies in, built a ship to be her love, though without the technology lost for so long it can't think, can't love her back. It's a stark world the story builds, but a beautiful one, one not really suited to humanity. And there is the crux of the story, that here is a world that humans don't really fit into. They think to shape it to their needs but they do not think to be shaped by its. Like the main character thinks to make herself a love, only to find that things don't go entirely the way she expected. Through all that, though, it's not a tragedy. Not sad. Transcending the old human arrogance that things should be human-centric is not here viewed as a loss. [SPOILERS?] Indeed, it's through getting outside the purely human that the main character is finally able to commune with someone else. To end the loneliness. To marry herself to a form suited to the world, suited to so much more than her human body. It's a love story in that it shows that love cannot be one sided. That it works both ways, and that these two people change and craft each other, partners, equals. It's a great story with a heart of exploration and progress and it works. Definitely give this one a read!

Poetry:

"Ranra's Unbalancing" by Rose Lemberg

Here we have a new poem exploring a bit of the author's Birdverse setting, a new wrinkle in the ideas of deep names and the balance of the land that was mentioned briefly in the last story from BCS ("Geometries of Belonging") in a different way. Here that idea of a global grid is shown in all its violent glory, in verse that shows a desperate drive to prevent a tragedy and only ends up creating more of them. It's surprising just how much world-building can get done in a poem, the idea that a person can actually split their deepnames, the configurations that lead to power. The way the poem conveys that sense of loss, the way the survivors remember, the vague madness that pervades the narrator of the poem from fracturing their deepname, the power but also the drive to keep something of the past, of that home that has been lost. The poem is told as a one-sided conversation, a confession from the narrator, and it shows a great depth. I love the way their deepnames, the sudden creation of the 1,1,1 is echoed in the I, I, I-- of hesitation, fear, and regret. The poem explores the borders of change, of failure, and also of success, because the narrator does manage impossible things, but only after they have lost their home. The poem seems to speak to the power of loss, or perhaps the willingness to try some things only when there is nothing left to lose. If there are answers to the questions at the end of the poem, perhaps that is it. More likely the answers are not that easy, or are not possible to give. All one can do is save what one can. It's a nice poem, especially for those hungry for more from the setting!

"Upgrade" by Rohinton Daruwala

Well all right then. This is an interesting and very tight poem told in two parts. The first is in rhyming quatrains where the rhymes begin off almost slant before building together. By the third stanza the rhymes dominate the flow and voice, are hard edged thanks to the repeated hard "k" sounds at the end, each one a punctuation. And yet the second part of the poem drops the rhymes in favor of a looser style, but more evocative language, the images really coming together there, that idea of death and rebirth, selling that idea of being upgraded and the repercussions of such a thing. The idea as a whole is interesting, compelling, chilling. That a person could be upgraded, enhanced, made something that is not really human any longer, that is something new and terrifying. But wow some of the lines in that second section are chilling. The "There's an undying you inside me" competes with the final two lines for my favorites of the poem, capturing the horror of the change, the way that upgrading in this way is a release from what binds us, but also what keeps us human. A nicely creepy and layered poem!

"To the High School Sweetheart, in Snatches" by Roshani Chokshi

This poem seems to be about the magic of young...well, perhaps not love. Romance? Of people finding each other and finding a power of escape there. A power and freedom in each other to make life more bearable, to make it more magical. The pair in this poem find themselves transformed into characters from myth, find their lives so much bigger and grander than high school, than the mundane and dreary monotony of it. They are alive because of their young regard, their near-love, their desire for each other. They are alive and yet not quite alive because they are still young, untested. Their time together is one of learning, of finding the scope and limits of how far they can take each other, neither quite sure because they are young, because their heads are full of stories of what love might be, what love must be. It's a poem that allows itself to stretch, lines running across the screen at times, most of the stanzas three lines long but some more, some left as the pair discover that love does not always follow the structures of stories, as they become more comfortable, more confident, as they settle in and find the magic under the magic. I like the feeling of mutual need in the poem, the way these two people find each other, the way they help each other, their relationship in some ways doomed because of the stories they draw from, but powerful all the same. Another fine poem!

Nonfiction:

"The Uses and Limitations of the Folklorist's Toolkit for Fiction" by Rose Lemberg

Well cool. I was aware of some of the controversy surrounding this as it was happening, but obviously this article isn't about controversy but about preventing future controversy by complicating the idea of a universal Folklorist Toolkit for editors looking to compile special issues or anthologies around its use. Namely, the article looks at a number of biases and the general history behind the ATU classification system. And, probably more specifically, is aimed and taking away the "well it's a used and respected system so we can't be wrong" excuse that people might give for why folklore and calls for "diverse" folklore stories might be a bit...upsetting for a lot of people. Because, like many things in academia and things dealing with canon (here folklorist canon, essentially), is that any system gives legitimacy to those tales it includes while discrediting (if only inadvertently, though most of the time probably at least in part consciously) those tales overlooked or left out. The article does a fine job showing that the system is not objective and is not without its own detractors and issues. Pointing at it as a way of passing the buck is...well, not exactly cool. I will admit I'm not really familiar with any of this, but it makes a lot of sense, and it's an interesting article on the history and uses of the toolkit. So yeah, give it a read!

"Me and Science Fiction: Whiteness Rules the Planet?" by Eleanor Arnason

This is an interesting article that takes aim both at the idea that there are no works of merit that come out of popular/dominant culture and that popular necessarily propping up the dominant culture. Which are some good points to make, because popular culture, while obviously rather influenced by some often crappy trends and prejudices, can subvert popular culture as well, and just because it comes out of a profit-driven industry doesn't mean it can't be genuine. Obviously there is a certain level of hypocrisy that is involved in using popular culture (or the machine of popular culture) to try and be subversive. Because those who are given most access to the machine are those who are benefitting from it most. Looking at popular movies and television (and to some extent music), the industries are dominated by straight white cis men. And it is very true that straight white cis men get way more points for being subversive than basically anyone else both because their message is generally easier to swallow and because they are given the most attention and help getting their message out. Not that there are not non straight white cis men in popular culture, but because most popular culture is financed by wealth straight white cis men, most things that get the most financial backing are things that don't actually threaten those in power. Or are those things that are co-opted to make money off of subversion. And this article does get into some heady waters with all of that. But at the end of the day it seems to say that popular culture is a constantly evolving thing, and even if dominated by those in power to keep those in power in power, it also ends up funding works that are genuine and of great value. That subvert and inspire and prompt change. Which doesn't mean don't be mindful and even skeptical of popular media, but it does mean also be mindful and even skeptical of those who would claim that popular culture cannot create genuine and valuable art. Indeed!

"Communities: Check It Twice" by Renay

Ah, recommendation lists. As a supporter of spreadsheets everywhere, I enjoy me some recommendation lists just as much as the next person. Even, gasp, I run a recommendation list for short fiction every month. Every damn month. And I must say, I do see that I have trends in my reading, in my recommendations. Some authors stand a very good chance of making my lists because I tend to like their stuff. Obviously there is the feeling with recommendation lists that the only pieces considered are the things that are consumed. Read, watched, etc. If I only read based on authors whose work I already enjoyed, my pool would be pretty small. I would be working with blinders on, essentially. But fuck if it isn't really, really hard to not do that. I do it more with novels, obviously, because they take longer to read. I just can't read all the novel offerings every year. My recommendation lists are just what I really, really liked, but that comes with the caveat that I'm much more likely to pick up certain kinds of books. With my story recommendation list, I try to be "fair" by reading as much as I possibly can. And reading whole issues, not picking and choosing. And reading and reading and reading. I still have bias, obviously, as this article talks about. But the article also talks about not getting stuck in ruts, not putting on blinders. About being mindful of what you're consuming when it comes to entertainment and art. And in that the article is incredibly insightful for me and hopefully for anyone looking to make a rec list this year. I am. And I'm going to try to be conscious as fuck about how I go about compiling it. Basically, the work never stops. One should never stop caring about how you're compiling a rec list. Because they are important. Because they do impact the field. So yeah, another article that I apparently have opinions on. Go read it!

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