|Art by Cindy Fan|
No surprises this month from Strange Horizons, as November closes out with one more original story and two poems. And the story is full of teeth and the feel of fairy tales twisted into something new and exciting. The poetry uses a light touch in order to build up moments of devastation and change. Of effort and solidarity and resilience. And all together it’s a literary but also thrilling glimpse of short SFF through some very interesting uses of form and structure, voice and character. Some are a bit more ambiguous, some are a bit more solid, but it’s all really interesting, and very much worth checking out!
“Toothsome Things” by Chimedum Ohaegbu (2408 words)
No Spoilers: This is a strange and lyrical piece about fairy tales and happy endings and what falls from those happy endings, red and bleeding and butchered. Wolves. And women. And how sometimes the only way out of that cycle, that oppressive threat, is to embrace the wolf’s clothing that you’ve been draped in. To devour and to fight. And, perhaps, just maybe, to take control of the narrative that is otherwise dominated by lies and twisted into a weapon against the vulnerable. The piece follows two characters who find themselves in the woods. A younger woman in a red cloak. And what appears to be a wolf, but who really contains multitudes. The language of the piece is beautiful and compelling, even as it draws the reader deep into shadows within shadows, and bids us to not turn back.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Wolves, Queer MC, Violence, Lies, Devouring
Review: This story manages to blend a really creepy and compelling voice with a sharp critique of fairy tales and the patterns they expose. At the beginning, the voice of the narrator is all hunger and monstrosity. They’re a wolf just waiting to gobble up the other character. As the piece progresses, though, that interpretation gets challenged, and the reader is faced with different paths to take through the woods. For me, that idea of taking different paths, being pursued, not being able to move backward, speaks to the ways that people seek to reclaim and reinterpret fairy tales. Because going back would mean playing into the values that they were originally meant to navigate and, ultimately, uphold. It means death for those who would find themselves with unsuitable desires. It would make everyone subject to the idea that there is justice in nobility and everything else, well... And so there is a choice of how to move forward, but not always a clear one. The characters know that regardless of the path, there is no real safety. Safety only comes from moving forward and fighting against those who seek to cage you, who seek to control and erase you. The story chooses its own way forward, twisting the seemingly familiar fairy tale into something else, something that highlights women helping women, that highlights the power of family, and resistance. That subverts the expected tropes and gets to something dark, yes, but also freeing and beautiful and strong. This is a story that refuses to adopt the values that would condemn these characters. Instead, it looks to value their survival, and their voices. It’s a dark and intense but also beautiful read that reveals what lies fairy tales have been without wanting to throw out the whole form. Rather, it wants to reclaim fairy tales, and I think it does a damn fine job of it. A great read!
“Matthew and the Hundreds” by Meg Smith
Okay, so I feel like this might again be a piece that I might be missing some context on, because I will admit I’m struggling a bit to really figure out what the piece might be saying. There’s a feeling for me of numbness, and of expectations. Expectations on people to be satisfied, and in that satisfaction to be quiet. To be content. Only they aren’t. They aren’t and their needs are pushing at them, getting them to break free of the boxes they have been put in, seeking release from the pressure to be happy with a world without nerve endings. To accept that. And the action of the piece seems to strike against this. To rise against the gravity of that pressure. To come alive in ways that maybe aren’t socially acceptable. That are uncomfortable for others. But that here the narrator and their people don’t have to consider that. Because they’re tired of putting those concerns above their own needs. Because they are burning and will be denied no longer. And it seems like so much effort for what is, in the end, just a small change. But that the small shift is something huge, something monumental. That it might mean the shift of culture, of society, of language, of bodies. And it’s an interesting read, one that for me bears very close attention and a few leaps of faith. But there’s definitely a seam of defiance, a rising rebellion, and a will to change and burn away the things that hold people back and keep them imprisoned. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!
“Space In Our Relationship” by A.M. Fals
This piece captures a quiet, rending moment between two people poised at the close of one chapter of their lives and the beginning of a new one. And maybe that’s kind of wrong, because implies the relationship is a progression and I don’t think the poem is exactly saying that. I don’t, for instance, think that this destruction the poem follows is framed as necessary. Rather that it’s something that happened. For reasons, probably, but it doesn’t seem like something that they’re really thrilled about. It’s not about the thrill of turning over a new leaf, but has more the feel of having a new leaf turned over on them, where they must adapt and change, not exactly wanting to, but not shrinking from it either. For me, the title is a neat twist on the question of a couple having or making space in their relationship for something. For a child, typically, but also for change in general. That there are things that must be accommodated, even if it means the dynamics of the relationship change. But here the space seems much more literal. Space has invaded their once-home when it is destroyed, and what is left is touched by the space, that void. For me the piece looks at loss a bit, and does a great job of capturing the tender moment where these two people do nothing but witness the change. They are making space already, are rearranging themselves to adapt to this new situation. To the hope of it but also the danger. The uncertainty. The damage. And through it all the resolve. Of this couple to stay together, and meet the future whatever it brings. And I just love the contrasts in that, the tear over the tight smile. The devouring of the past with the opening up of what comes next. It’s a great read!