Friday, June 24, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 06/06/2016, 06/13/2016, & 06/20/2016

Today I'm looking at three weeks of content from Strange Horizons, and there is certainly a lot to see. Three original stories, three poems, and two nonfiction pieces anchor what has been a very strong, and very wide-ranging array of pieces. The fiction, though, is pretty heavily contemporary fantasy, stories that mix magic with very different life experiences. Characters of different classes, races, genders, and sexualities all confront magic in their own ways, from ghosts to art to traditions. The poems take readers to far off worlds and plunge into the heart of myths. And the nonfiction looks at history and awards and place. There's a lot to enjoy, so I'm just going to get to the reviews! 

Art by Sandro Castelli


"The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R." by Benjamin C. Kinney (3428 words)

This is an interesting story about death and about the ruts that we get into. About being stuck but also being committed. The main character of the story is a ghost, dead in part because of her absent-minded husband and a tornado and a cat. Dead, she can only act out the same patterns, can only say words she said in life, which in the story mostly takes the form of arguments she had with her husband. Slowly the nature of her haunting and her situation start to come clearer, but she remains trapped in some ways. Stuck. It isn't until she meets a young girl that she begins to see that there's more to it, that there's a chance for her to try something else. I love the way the story examines cycles and regrets. The main character is stuck in her anger and love towards her husband, yearns for him even as she blames him for what happened. But what's more she shows that just because she can't form new words doesn't mean she can't come up with new ideas. There's a great feeling of struggle here, of futility, of wondering if one can ever break out of the patterns life imposes. And then breaking out of those patterns. The story doesn't flinch from how hard it is, how difficult it is to fight against something when you don't even have the language to try, but I feel the story definitely keeps its hope. That even death can't stop people from trying to change, from trying to grow. It's a sweet, melancholy story with an uplifting surge at the end. A fine read!

"Life in Stone, Glass, and Plastic" by José Pablo Iriarte (4361 words)

What? No, there's just something in my eye. Honest. This…this story is about life, about loss, about difficulty. Struggle. Grief. To me it's about doing what you need to in order to survive, and maybe sometimes finding that it's not enough. The story follows Sergio, an older man who works maintenance around the city, who is tasked with cleaning up a mural from the side of a building. Only when he goes to touch it the mural gives him a vision. Gets into his head and makes him live a moment of loss. Of death. It's something that should be repellent and yet Sergio finds something compelling about. Something that draws him out, that infects him with an urge to track down the artist, to ask something, to ask for something. And it is a beautiful piece, full of longing and love and loss. Sergio's situation is oppressive, not just because of his work, because he's short of money and needs to somehow care for a wife who needs special care. Not just because there is no safety net for him, that he must be more vigilant because of how people see him. But because he has been discarded in many ways. Because of his race and his age. Society wants to effectively throw him away. Which is where the idea of murals comes in, made up of discarded things, all these bits of junk like people, forming a picture not just of life but of place. Of humanity. A reminder of loss but also of strength and beauty and it's just good. So good. Go read this one. And cry. And read it again.

"Bride Price" by S. E. Jones (4472 words)

This story feels to me to be about tradition and magic and misogyny and how all of that shapes family and family structures and roles that are harmful to those marginalized by them. The story centers Kyria, a woman from a mage family who has made her life fighting against the male-dominant traditions of mage culture, who finds herself the victim of one when her fathers offers her up for sale, essentially. The story looks at the intersection between gender and culture, religion and ability. The mages here are mostly wealthy, privileged in what they can do, and yet their family structure makes victims out of many of them, especially the women. For Kyria it means that there is little she can do to fight against the traditions and keep her family. And yet she does, trying to convince her father that what he's doing is wrong, that it has nothing to do with keeping her safe but rather with keeping his own power. The story is moving and rather fun, the magic used interesting and fresh and intriguing. It left me wanting to know where the story goes from there, because while I like the arch the story describes it feels like the first part of something bigger. The world building, at least, is very well done and sets the stage nicely, and the characters are interesting, alive, and vibrant. I just…wanted more, which means that this story does its job well. Another fine read! 


"Jupiter by Jupiter" by Lora Gray

This is one of those poems where I'm certain there's levels that I'm missing. Context that's just not clicking for me. I do most of my reviewing beyond the reach of the internet, too, so there's no way for me to really look it up. That doesn't mean that this isn't a beautiful poem, though. It is. To me it speaks of space and of distance, travel and the human and the mechanical. The title is evocative of layers, a beyond of the beyond, a step out, that might refer to this "you" of the poem as being a Jupiter, being a sort of god of the planet, watching it and calculating but not quite realizing that the narrator is there as well, wholly human or at least more human, with passion and with language and with something deep and dangerous. I love the moment of Quiver and Sever, the way it seems to play with travel and with distance. The distance between the narrator and the you of the poem. The distance between planets, between heavenly bodies. The distance that is bridged but not fully, not wholly, that there is some sort of physical closeness but not an emotional one, not an intellectual one. That there remains this scale that the narrator cannot overcome, though it does not stop them. A fine read!

"The Poem Gardens of the Ascari" by Rohinton Daruwala

There's such an amazing feel to this poem, such a subtle world building that creates a sort of sci fantasy universe where there are a people who plant poems. Whose poetry is alive in ways parallel to the ways that our poems are alive. There's a great journey in this piece, an amazing setting and breathtaking imagery. I just love how it sets itself up, these poems that grow wild or are carefully cultivated, that are legacy and prophecy and destiny. That are cages and keys to cages all at the same time. It captures to me the power and the frustration that circles poetry. The personal nature of it, the way that the meaning changes and doesn't, that there is meaning in each poem that the poet puts into it but there's also so much that can't be predicted, that is only ever interpreted and reinterpreted. I love the way the children resent and the way they resist and they way they are intrigued by the poems, the way they want to tear it all down but don't, because there is so much beauty there. It's a story that's full of science fiction and magic and different worlds. That lifts the reader, that lifted me as a reader, up to see a whole forest, a whole world of forests, a whole galaxy of worlds of forests, and each tree a poem, and each one waiting. It's an amazing poem and you should read it right now. Go!

"A Gathering of Baba Yagas" by Laura Madeline Wiseman & Andrea Blythe

This poem feels to me about the way life and the world mirrors stories at times. How myth shapes how we face the world and then reflects how we live. Here, as the title implies, there are many Baga Yagas, but more in that there are many women who fall into that roll. Who are pushed into that archetype, that trope. Who find themselves without a lot of options but to grow fangs and cast spells and learn to live in a world that isn't really that open, that free. These women have to face the world somehow and Baba Yaga gives them an example of how, though it's not ultimately a very pleasant one. The poem is dark and moving, touching on the myth and on the grim realities of life. The pressures that exist, especially for women. I like the pacing of it, the visceral moments of teeth and flesh. I love the way that it moves, the way that it grows the ranks of the Baba Yagas, the way that it pulls everything to that ending of power. Of taking something, of having a place and having sisters. It's a complex poem but one well worth spending some time with. 


"Communities: Written by the Victors" by Renay

This is a very interesting and thoughtful look at the ongoing battle for SFF awards. It's a heartening look in some ways, because there are positive takeaways from this year's Hugos and much more positive takeaways from this year's Nebulas and beyond. I fully agree with a lot of what the article says about history and about the importance of awards. And about erasure. It's also a rather wrenching read because between the lines here is an acknowledgement of what has been erased. What has successfully been erased by the campaigns of the last few years. I look at the Campbell Award and what that might have been, and the writers whose work has not been recognized, the stories that have been pushed out. And yes, the stories that are also on those awards lists. The people who have gleefully attacked and harassed and abused so many people who are indelible placed onto the award list. Perhaps I shouldn't fixate on that. I should be more invested in fixing the system, in fighting for what is an important award. An important tradition. I do try as I am able to look at stories, to talk about stories, to think and breathe and live SFF. And progress is essential. No more Lovecraft bust. Hopefully more Hugo awards that don't end up No Awards (though given the lists I hope No Award does make an appearance). Lists that are more closely representative of the field. And the stories…there are so many good stories being written now. So I will try to hold to progress. But my mopeyness aside, this is an article well worth reading. Go check it out!

"Reading Science Fiction and Fantasy for (South) Asia by Salik Shah

Have I mentioned that I love articles that have lists of stories to check out? Because I do, and this one has a great list in it of short SFF to check out. More than that, though, this article is also about publishing outside the US and about expanding markets and about the need for more voices in SFF. The need to keep pushing forward the borders of where SFF can go and knocking down gatekeeping that seeks to prescribe which inroads to SFF are valid and which are not. SFF traditions are not the sole property of Europe or North America. SFF has always existed just about anywhere, and to deny that is to deny so much possibility when it comes to SFF stories and storytelling. I personally love how many amazing stories are being told all over the world, and this articles speaks to that, speaks to the hope of widening the discussion within and around SFF when it comes to (South) Asia specifically. It also talks a bit about Mithila Review, a rather new publication to come out. I like that this article talks a bit about what Clarke and others have said about publications are markets. About being sustainable. Which…you know, I'm not entirely sure sustainability is always the point. SFF has always been a place of unsustainable markets, and markets that have come and gone have put out some amazing, amazing work and have given a lot of very talented writers their starts. My first SFF sale was to a place that was around for all of three months. I made ten dollars. But without that I'm not sure I would have made my next sale. And my next. I'm sad Crossed Genres is no longer putting out a magazine but I'm not sad they did. So many writers got their start there. Writers who were able to go on from there to sell to markets like Clarkesworld and F&SF and others. So…while I understand the caution of putting gout a new publication, of waiting and testing markets and all that, I might be more in the camp of jump in and if you fail at least you will do so putting out stories that might never have been sold otherwise. So I really respect and admire publications like Mithila Review who are starting when there are voices saying maybe wait. And this article is an important one, one to pay attention to, because it further illustrates how global SFF is and how that trend is going to continue. Definitely check it out.

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