Two weeks have passed and Strange Horizons has put out both a pair of stories and pair of poems that continue their focus on global and domestic justice. These are stories and poems that look at the harsh realities of injustice. At the way that hatred and misunderstanding and frustration can fuel people to commit horrendous acts against one another. The way that the danger of those acts can push people to hide themselves, to quiet themselves, to censor themselves. These are pieces that remove the censor, that explore what stories are told not to heal wounds but to make them just bearable enough that people won't try to stop those responsible for causing them. It's a rather difficult collection of speculative work, but also moving, beautiful, and important. So yeah, to the reviews!
"The Lights We Carried Home" by Kay Chronister (4977 words)
This is a gripping story about loss and about hauntings, about poverty and blame and hope. The story features a village that is poor in part because it has no power, and yet a power plant sits right nearby and power lines run overhead, out to places deemed more important. For the people of the village it is part of life, just as the ghosts are that haunt them, that fill their nights with lights, that sometimes take people off into the spirit world. For the main character, it also means living with the loss of Sopha, her sister, who was always able to see the ghosts clearly, to see their faces. And because of this she became something of a focus of people's frustrations with the situation. Not just with the ghosts but with all of it, the poverty and the struggle, the anger that everyone has because of what had happened. And that's why a young girl disappeared. The main character thought she went willingly, but when a film crew comes to town to look into the conditions of the village, it churns everything into action and the secrets of the past rise to the surface—the knots that people tied to try and keep the truth from getting free and cut away, and what remains is the ugliness and beauty and horror of the situation. I love how the story shows this very creepy situation where ghosts are about and obviously not friendly, but that there are also rules. Rules that the main character knows but hasn't really known to use. She's spent so much of her life hurt, given this version of events that suited her and protected her from the truth, but when things get riled up she can't avoid it any longer. The piece captures the anger and frustration that can sublimate into violence and hate, shows how these girls just wanted to find a way away and in the end couldn't, were trapped by circumstance and corruption and doomed because no one wanted to really see them. It's a wonderful story!
"Only Calculate the Motion of Heavenly Bodies" by Marcia Richards (2392 words)
Well some trigger warnings first for suicidal ideation. After that, though, this story provides a moving and disturbing story about a woman in the care of a goddess named Alana. The main character, the handmaiden, Halia, is in love with her goddess, and so is worried when all the goddesses begin to want to kill themselves. The setting is one torn by war where Halia and the rest of the handmaidens are responsible for the care of the goddesses, who seem to be the only thing keeping the invaders at bay. According to Halia, which is to say according to what most people believe, the invaders have somehow created a madness to inflict on the goddesses and that's why the handmaidens need to prevent their deaths. The story takes an interesting and sensitive look at how people treat the suicidal, and evokes practices from the past when it was treated solely as a madness caused by bad vapors and requiring the strictest of "care." The horror of this piece comes from seeing how people violate the consent of these women who they are supposed to care about, who are supposed to be important. The emphasis is not on making the goddesses happy but pliant and manageable, which is still something that gets stressed with suicide watches and care. The person's humanity can be stripped away and instead of dealing with the cause of what might be making the person hopeless these handmaidens care only about treating the symptoms. [SPOILERS] It's wrenching and difficult to watch because it's a story that shows just how terribly these woman are treated, how their very minds are blamed for their illness and treated in a way that effectively kills them without killing them, leaving living bodies but none of the personalities. It is a damning indictment on how people struggling are often only pushed further into despair by a system that is concerned first and foremost with its own comfort and access to these bodies, regardless of consent. It's also just an amazing and uncomfortable read that I highly recommend!
"secret identities" by Davian Aw
This is a very short poem that manages to do quite a bit, evoking super powers and, more importantly, the idea of the secret identity. It subverts the tropes surrounding superheroes and their aliases, going much further than glasses and a different posture and bringing into the equation gender and presentation. There have been moments when people have to ask which is the secret identity for heroes. Do people put on masks to become heroes or do heroes adopt disguises to pass for civilians. In this poem the answer is solidly that the hero puts on a disguise while superheroing but that their true identity is their civilian one. And this puts me in the mind of people for whom this is a constant reality, that they are really only able to express their true identities in certain areas, but because of laws and because of the threat of violence and because of a great many other reasons, have to hide who they are while they're out in public, while they're being most visible. And for such a short poem it really cuts to the heart of so much, showing that there are already precedents for heroes having secret identities. Heroes. Not villains or criminals. That it is not something dishonest when it is done for protection, when it is necessary in order to live. It's a great and powerful poem that hits with the power of a locomotive. Definitely give this a read. Hell, give it a number of reads, because it's short and there's a lot here to digest. Do it!
"Jackfruit" by Naru Dames Sundar
his poem does an amazing job of layering, of creating an experience that is at once beautiful and difficult and incisive. The poem is built around both the idea of fruit and imports and the acceptable narratives about immigration and difference. It focuses on people selling foreign food at a street corner, fruits from another place that are paid for and eaten as exotic, just as many people from different countries come to places in the West and are consumed, exoticised and made into caricatures of themselves, of their struggles and journeys. The poem shows what is allowed to be examined in narratives about immigrations. The hope and the hard work. The imagery that is familiar and comfortable to those in the country the narrator and others immigrated to. To create a story that doesn't expose the complicity of this country in the horrors of what has happened. In the corruption and danger and death that these people had to face. The second section revels the realities of travel, not the romantic push toward freedom but an escape from one kind of colonization to another, a prayer of safety that even as it is being spoken is a sort of lie, because some do not survive the trip, and for all people want to believe in narratives of noble immigrants, survival in the face of exploitation, greed, and racism is something else, makes the colonial power uncomfortable, nervous. Especially in today's climate in many Western countries this nervousness seems to be at the heart of a lot of the racism on display. That people know in many ways that refugees and others fleeing bad situations have been wronged by the intervention, manipulation, and exploitation of Western governments and corporations and there's a fear that there will be a retaliation. Which works into the third section of the poem, with immigrant having to silence the voice of criticism, has to swallow down whatever injustice is offered because it is so dangerous to speak out, to reveal the shape of the damage done. It's a difficult poem that reveals the layers of meaning to a scene, to a person taking money for a piece of fruit, and the weight and implications that can have, all the while challenging who should tell what stories, whose stories. It's an amazing piece and you should all go out and read it right now!