Oops. Turns out I had expected something to come out on the 28th and no such luck, but it's still a pretty full review for the latest from Strange Horizons. Perhaps because everything looks interesting, one story, one poem, and two pieces of nonfiction. Definitely enough to keep me busy for this review as the end of the year draws near. A very eclectic collection of things, but quite good and quite a lot to think on. So let's get to those reviews!
"Telling the Bees" by T. Kingfisher (723 words)
This is a very short and rather poetic story about death and cycles and bees. In it, the main character dies each night, spends some time in the land of the dead, and then returns. And each morning she announces to the bees that she is dead, that she is new. It's an interesting piece, one that shows how burdens often fall. How the weight of actions, of curses, finds those who have nothing to do with it. How wording is important, how it's expected that those with power are sloppy with their words but that those at the bottom cannot afford to be, that they have to make sure they speak with care, that they consider things that others do not have to. Because without that consideration and respect no progress can be made. It's something where she helps the bees and the bees, maybe, can help her at some point. That they become part of each other, that they care for each other and only through that can the curses be overcome, that only through that can those who made the rules be held accountable. The images are strong, very small paragraphs with a nice flow and a great central idea. The story does not linger on anything too long, instead circles back, shows the cycle and how the cycle oppresses but also expresses a hope for something else, for a way out, for some way that this woman and the bees can both find justice. A nice story that's on the short side but dense, heavy, and very good.
"Adarna" by M. Sereno
Well okay then. This is a rather striking poem adapting a Filipino epic where a princess seeks a bird to use its song. It's a poem infused with magic and also with the voice of the bird being sought, a survivor and a figure of history and wisdom, whose voice seems that of traditions lost and voices silenced by conquest and oppression. There's a lot of death and blood and stone to this poem, and the form follows that of an oral story, long blogs of text, prosaic but evoking the idea of song, of melody, of loss and knowledge and power. There is something dark about this bird, something powerful and raw and violent. And the song that unlocks its power is one that existed before the colonizers came, one that is about survival and hope and resistance. The poem slips in and out of English and Filipino and evokes that sense that the song is reaching back and away, that it cannot be translated wholly because there is some essence of it that exists only in that language, that refuses to be made decipherable to those unwilling to learn or accept difference. The power of the bird is not absolute, but it is a power that can stand in the face of death, that can stand against the threat of violence, that can temper itself to be just as ruthless in its pursuit of justice and freedom. The poem does an excellent job of both telling a story and showing the princess faced with the choice of either silencing the bird, taking it to be used by those in power, or standing with it, learning its song to stand in defiance. It's not exactly a happy poem, is filled with images of violence and pain and loss, but there are lessons that can be learned no other way, and the poem refuses to flinch from the hard truths and hard realities, refuses in some ways to make the story a fairy tale where evil is vanquished by virtue and that everything is resolved in the end. The poem closes on a call, on a proposition, a promise of resistance and struggle, not victory but solidarity and tradition and refusing to give in. It's a great poem, the taste of blood and the sound of a song growing somewhere within. Go read it!
"Intertitles: Gods of Egypt: A Three-Act Tragedy" by Genevieve Valentine
Despite the fact that I rarely know much about the projects being discussed in these columns, I really do enjoy the Intertitles style because it normally taps into much larger trends and ideas. And this one has to do with taking a mythology and butchering it in the name of grandfather profit. Hollywood is...well, it doesn't exactly have a reputation for being good at adapting...anything. But especially notorious are efforts to adapt foreign mythology or stories. It's how suddenly the Middle East is made up entirely of white people. How white people suddenly become the protagonists of stories that are set in non-Western locations. How everything just sort of bleeds away until all that's left is something that feels "safely" white-enough to make Hollywood satisfied they'll make money. And the sad thing is that they probably will. The bar for doing good is...well, very very low when it comes to movies. Throw in one actor of color or maybe two and suddenly that's enough for many people. And featuring anyone non-white or non-straight as a main character makes the movie (as the column points out) About Race or About Sexuality. That movies like Gods of Egypt can still get made and will still get made is...depressing as hell, and the column does a very nice job examining that phenomenon. It's a fascinating read, and very worth checking out, even if you have no idea what Gods of Egypt is. Indeed!
"Gender, Sex, and Sexuality in SF: A Conversation" by Polenth Blake and Bogi Takács
Hey, any article that mentions this blog in a positive way is one that I'm sure to like, right? Right! This is a great conversation that ranges pretty widely about not just the three subjects listed in the title but also family and aging and getting at an idea of diversity that is intersectional and alive rather than clinical and separate. And the conversation brings up a lot of things that are bouncing around SFF, giving voice to a lot of dissatisfactions while also pointing people at efforts being done to do better. To create better and to promote better and be critical better and all sorts of things that had me nodding right along. There is a lot that goes into "diversity" that provides some unique...situations. And trying to promote diversely is something that often can be a very tricky thing, especially when people are not always safe to be out about themselves. Especially when people might be facing a whole lot of shit for existing, to say nothing about trying to actually get their writing out there. How much more likely are marginalized writers to be stalked or threatened? How much additional time/energy/emotional well-being must marginalized writers spend just dealing with their own marginalization, and how foreign that must be to non-marginalized writers? So efforts to promote writers who are putting out material that is largely unavailable need to be made. And this conversation does a very good job of showing some of the nuance and complexity required for such efforts. To aim for a culture without oppression should not (probably can not) use oppression to further its goals. It can not be that certain groups have to wait their turn, that more socially acceptable groups jump to the front of the line. In order to be better, we actually need to be better. To try harder, to refuse to throw some under the bus. But this is a great conversation about a problem that's still very much alive in SFF.