Monday, August 1, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/18/2016 & 07/25/2016

I think Strange Horizons is trying to kill my feels with Our Queer Planet, which keeps right on rolling along with double the poetry, double the nonfiction, and some excellent, amazing fiction. Seriously, I'm pretty sure these works have reduced me to a small puddle of feels that has sunk into the earth, become one with the stone, and then risen as some sort of Geodude of resolve. AND GEODUDES DON'T CRY! <breaks down weeping> Okay, I might not have recovered so well as I implied. But keep a box of tissues nearby and prepare for some reviews!
 
Art by Slimm Fabert


Stories:

"Her Sacred Spirit Soars" by S. Qiouyi Lu (5388 words)

This is a beautiful story about loss and about pairing, about mental health and about healing. The story features Meisun, a patient in an experimental program in 1949 California. Who is also, actually, a bird. Or was a bird. Nameless and without need of a name, one of a pair, one half of a mythical bird where two birds share a body, share everything. The birds are used as part of this experiment to wake a patient from a coma. To wake Meisun. Only when it works it also transfers the bird's memories into the human body so that it all blends together, indelibly. It's a moving premise and handled incredibly well, showing just where ethics were in 1949 medical research, especially when it came to people of color, and how Meisun is in many ways patient and victim. They are taught that the bird memories are wrong, that they are fully human, that they have to get rid of that other self in order to be healthy. And I love how that works in to how Meisun forms a relationship with another patient, Yaulan. [SPOILERS] Because to me the story becomes about the dual lives the characters struggle with, the parts of themselves that feel foreign but are also in some ways what make them…them. Yaulan's relationship with her illness is devastating but handled with grace and compassion, and I love the way that Meisun sees it not exactly as something that needs to be fixed but as something that needs to be helped. That, like the memories she has of her life as a bird, as traumatic as they are, erasing them would be a loss of sorts. That there is nothing wrong with struggling with things that you can't control. And that even after loss and trauma there can be recovery and healing. And that healing can take on a lot of forms, and isn't really about a magic cure so much as it's about a process and finding compassion and love. Yaulan and Meisun help to heal each other, depending on each other in a way that is not weak or shameful but strong, lifting, and beautiful. It's an amazing and emotionally resonant and strange story in the best of ways. Read this one, people. As soon as possible. Go!

"Bull of Heaven" by Gabriel Murray (5976 words)

This story speaks to me of faith and humanity, of what it means to believe, what it means to have free will, what it means to love. It's a touching and tender story about an android named Francis, a monk in a Christian order, who grows close not only to a human, his patron, Lord Masashige, but with an older, almost ancient android that is discovered, of golden countenance and no name. The relationships that Francis forms are captivating and complex. With Masashige it is one of patron but also something more, affection and perhaps love but of a sort that the two men don't really meet well on, because Francis isn't himself an overly romantic person and because Masashige doesn't seem to see him as fully human. And Francis' relationship with the golden android is no less nuanced and difficult, him a man of faith and the golden android an affront to that, an annoyance. They surround Francis and tempt him, vex him, frustrate him. [SPOILERS] And I love how Francis manifests his faith, how he believes and how in turn he treats others, how he treats himself. He is a creature built and without a real choice was committed to the Church and everything that he experiences points him to look inward, where he finally begins to hear something. I love that voice that begins to speak, that begins to find its way out into expression. The story makes a rather abrupt shift towards the end and things are left largely unexplained. I found it a tiny bit jarring but quite appropriate, Francis rocked to t he foundations of his faith and yet still sure of himself, sure of everything. Not afraid. It's a moving story and a delicate look at humanity and belief and choice. Another excellent read! 

Poetry:

"The Sparrows in Her Hair" by Hester J. Rook

*Blushes* Oh my. This is an incredible and incredibly sensual poem about waiting, about meeting on the beech at night. And to me it's a poem about difference and about freedom to express. The main character, the main focus of the story, is a woman on the beech, fingers in the sand. Waiting and feasting. Who seems at the same time strange and mundane. Who seems at first out of place on the beech, though there is this difference about her. The scaled tongue. The actions. I have a feeling that anyone seeing this woman would think her odd and perhaps disturbed. And the story plays with that, with someone who obviously doesn't really fit in among the people of dry land. Who is in some ways outcast. But who is not alone. Who has something on the edge of night, on the edge of the sea, that is magical and sensual and amazing. That her lover is a storm and a force and that together they can share something that is strong and fierce and undeniable. That both are, with each other, able to fully express themselves and to revel in their power and uniqueness without having to hold back or censure themselves from the benefit of others. It is a fun and a sexy and a great poem about love and power and expression. Another great read!

"Sawa" by Karolina Fedyk

This poem pairs incredibly well with the previous, offering up two different looks at lovers from two very different worlds. Two worlds that don't really accept them, that wouldn't really accept them together. And so it is to me a story of stolen moments and a secret love. And the nature of why the love is kept hidden is what I find most compelling in this story. This shared desire for safety and the knowledge that neither of them would be truly safe if the nature of their love were revealed. Not because it is unnatural or wrong but because it fits them so well, that it would make outsiders of them because it would strip away their ability to pass, the safety of the illusion that they are like everyone else. Because the truth is that they are different. That they exist in their own world, beautiful and free only there, and that people cannot handle that difference, that freedom. That they live by their hatred of the other, of the different. And so the couple tries to keep each other safe by hiding their relationship, and it's a touching and powerful examination of that, people who can't really live in a world of their own, who need in some ways the tolerance of their peoples and can't expect it. Which is how many must live, without the resources and support to live completely independent and so forced to hide themselves and seek to pass. It's an amazing poem with a tender heart and moving love. This issue is destroying my feels!!

"Stone Heart" by Omar Sakr

Wow. This is a poem about love and about stone and about curses. A story about family. It's about a young son of Medusa growing up, a retold myth where this boy is surrounded by the stone statues of his sisters, trapped because their mother didn't want to risk them suffering as she suffers. To turn all those she cares about to stone. To destroy her affection as soon as she asserts. It's a lesson that her son learns early, with his own relationship with a young Perseus. It's another sensual poem, one with sex and with metaphor and with power. Where the narrator is so full of longing and companionship, that he yearns to be with another without really thinking about his curse or his family. He is betrayed in some ways by never being warned, by living as a hope of his mother to avoid something that he does not. That he cannot. And it's a poem that explores the tragedy of that, the loss. The sadness of all the daughters caught in stone. Of the son unable to participate fully in his love without fear of destroying what he cares for. And I love the retelling of the myth, the emotion of the piece, of the narrator, how he goes from fully alone to fully not and how that range completes that tragedy that began with the imprisonment of his sisters. But for all that it does feature a strong tragedy, the poem is also about hope, about barriers being lowered, about the yearning to connect and the yearning to keep trying. That maybe between them all they will find a way. It's a poem full of magic and need and love and it's very, very good. Go check it out.

"eve (and adam)" by Safiya Correia

This is another sensual poem and one that reads both hopeful and slightly mournful as two people come together to rise, to lift above burdens and toil, and to touch that moment of promise from so long ago. It's a story of hope to me, or a poem of hope more accurately, but one that aims toward an idea of love and existence without burden. Without hiding. Without danger. Before there was anything other than these people and their love. And the poem manages to be very joyous while also skirting around something large and dark. Something oppressive. Something in some ways fallen. There is a recognition here that something has been lost, that the two people do not necessarily live in a place where they are safe or free. But that when they are together, when they are lost in each other, it lifts them out of that place and puts them somewhere else. They fly. And there is the feeling that they can stay there awhile, away and above whatever they left behind. That it might be waiting there for them but that the tastes of this are enough to make it manageable. It's a great evocation of that feeling. Of that joy and release that comes from physical contact and something deeper. It's sensually rich and with a complexity brought on by the use of religious ideas of creation and sin. And it's a great read and wonderful way to close out the poetry! 

Nonfiction:

"The Tourist" by Nicasio Andres Reed

Fuck. This…this piece is one that I, personally, have a lot of odd reactions to. Reactions because in some ways this is the opposite of my life, a piece about leaving and having to leave, of never being still. Of being to different countries and different cities and all these different place. And me…well, I lived in one place from the time that I could remember until I graduated high school. My past is made up…well, not exactly stability, but the closest thing that can be managed. It's a lot of the same places, the same streets. The same bed. And so the way that I come to this piece is as someone who doesn't exactly understand, and yet I also read this as incredibly personal. Because place is something that lives for people, for writers. It lives for me, and despite having lived in the same place for most of my life I still struggle to capture it. The places and my feelings about them. The yearning and the hope and the fear and the everything. Place is incredibly important, especially for spec writers, because so many of the places we write about don't "factually" exist. We write places not bothering to pretend that they exist in the real sense. And yet they do exist. Just as much (or more, because I've read a number of Nicasio's stories and they live and breathe) as those places we can touch. Settings are characters and settings are cages and settings are the only freedom we can imagine. And this piece is just so vivid, so full of feeling and evocative energy that I can't help but think of home. About homes. About how they are different and how they are the same. About the feeling of a view, the taste of air among the trees, of being confronted by a big, shocking deer (because that is something I definitely understand). And it's a piece that helps me think of place, of setting, of how those things shape me and how I, in turn, shape them as a writer. It's a story about feeling and about craft and is just beautifully rendered. It's powerful and it's amazing and read it!

"Some Advice From a Gay Publisher on Writing Gay" by Steve Berman

This piece captures a lot of things that feel and face rather personally as a writer of queer fiction. And yes, mostly m/m speculative fiction, which I write fairly frequently. It speaks of the divide between speculative m/m romance and what is considered speculative fiction. SFF takes great, great pains to divorce itself from romance and erotica. The misogyny that states that romance must be kept separate and lesser than SFF is still fairly strong, and is often used to justify why there isn't a lot of cross pollination between SFF and romance or erotica of any sort. There are some narrow corridors between, of course. Like Lethe and like Circlet and a few other places. But it is incredibly true that trying to get the word out there about your book from a small, queer press is…rather difficult if you're hoping to get coverage from traditionally SFF venues. Not that you can't do both. I've been fortunate to sell both pro SFF with queer characters and quite a bit of m/m speculative romance and erotica short stories. But trying to get people who like my SFF to read my romance/erotica is not as easy as it could be, given that in some ways there's just as much sex and violence and speculative elements. So I love that this article speaks to that and tells people that, essentially, it's okay to take what road you feel comfortable on. Like writing queer romance? There is a market for it. Maybe not as big a market as with mainstream SFF, but if it's what you love, you can make money at it. There are small presses that we should be looking at that put out some great stories, and there are small presses that we should be supporting because of the amazing and vital work they do. So yes, another great piece!

"black gay ordinary: scenes" by Keguro Macharia

This is a difficult piece for me to write about, not least because I'm not familiar with all of the texts mentioned. It's also a formally daring work of nonfiction and one that uses its main ideas—truncation and speculation, interruption and imagination, to craft an experience that I feel aims to imagine what has not, or has only barely begun, to be imagined. That progress as we are fed it tends to fall along the same lines of race and privilege that dominate everything. That just because gay stories are being told doesn't mean that gayness is being fully explored. Just because certain gay stories can rise to prominence doesn't mean that those stories embody everyone's gay experience. That there is still a strong tendency to turn away from those deemed unimportant and negligible. Through the examination of texts, the piece crafts an idea of what it is to look away, to refuse to see. It seeks to hold people to the weight of that, to the knowledge that they are placing a fantasy above the lives of people. That it is a fantasy indeed to imagine that gay life, that queer life, is somehow fixed because of what progress has been managed. It's something that so many don't want to think about or see. People want a neat story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. They want the familiar straight white cis-male story. Things start out hard and they get harder, but the main characters wins the day and fixes everything. Justice is restored. It's that fantasy that people want to hold to instead of facing the injustice that they perpetuate. And this piece pulls no punches. For me it's a difficult and uncomfortable read because it seems to me to confront readers with that dissatisfaction, with the failure of the traditional and mainstream narrative to suffice. That here things are interrupted. Stories end before justice arrives, forever reenacting a failure not of the marginalized to imagine a better world but of those who are in the mainstream to see and to learn from what is being imagined. It's a fascinating piece and definitely worth spending some time with.

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