|Art by Vlada Monakhova|
While the Strange Horizons 2020 fund drive is going on right now (and aiming for stretch goals!), it's also business as usual, with two new issues covering one new short story and two new poems. The work continues the long and proud tradition of the publication being, well, strange. Haunting. Kinda creepy. Oddly heartwarming. And amazing. There's perhaps a bit of a focus on death in some of these pieces, which is just fine, because there's also the focus on journeying into the unknown, in defiance and resilience, and there's a lot to be said about that. But first, let's get to the reviews!
“Regret, Return, Reignite” by Audrey R. Hollis (4068 words)
No Spoilers: Lyra and Justine worked at the same college, partners drawn together in part because of their interest in the afterlife, the music of it and the stories of bringing back loved ones from the realms of the dead. Like Orpheus. So when Justine is dying of cancer, the two decide to push back. Only retrieving someone from the underworld isn’t an easy thing, and there are bargains to be made, prices to be paid. But Lyra and Justine remain resilient, and the piece explores the changed dynamic of their relationship and their lives. It’s tender and a mix of poetic and mundane, Greek tragedy with modern academia.
Keywords: Death, Music, Bargains, Queer MC, Resurrection, CW- Cancer
Review: I like how this story takes on the idea of retrieving someone from the underworld, where the process is a mix of red-tape, ritual, and corruption. And though they know that going in, I love that Lyra and Justine move forward despite it and in spite of it, seeking to steal their own happiness because there’s no way in fuck anyone is going to give it to them. And it’s that mentality that really speaks to me, that builds up this dynamic between the characters where they don’t care what other people want for them or think is best. They want what they want and they’re not going to compromise. Or, well, they will. But they’ll do so knowing that the other side isn’t operating in good faith. Knowing that it’s a bit of a cheat, a con, never really meant to get them what they want. So they seek to cheat back, to sneak one past the gods, because that’s what they’ve always had to do. To get through their lives, and to get into their positions at their college, and to navigate death and rebirth and more still, always dealing with a deck that is stacked against them. There is no perfect solution. No fairness to be seen. But that doesn’t mean that they have to give up on what they want. That doesn’t mean they have to cave to the pressure always pushing down on them. It means they have to find ways to fight just as dirty as those they face, seeking every technicality, every trick, every way that they can subvert and resist and reach of a place where they can be together, alive and with the knowledge and the abilities they always wanted. It’s a touching, wrenching read, in part because it seems aimed at tragedy, at the two women drifting apart. The story refuses to be that tragedy, though, instead leaning on the hope that they can fight the system, aimed with all their skill and knowledge, and win. It’s a wonderful story!
“Fune-RL” by Emma J. Gibbon
This piece speaks to me of choice, of care, and of pets. The narrator wants a dog, but their mother doesn’t want one, insists instead that the narrator gets a robotic one. One that will not only be easier to take care of, but that will show...I guess some class. And that’s where I feel the narrator and their mother differ the most, that the narrator wants a pet to have an emotional attachment to. To love and to care for. Where the mother doesn’t really value that. She wants the pet that will give her child the larger social status. That will seem cutting edge, trendy, etc. And I like how the story explores that, how the narrator accepts what they can get and does come to love their robo-dog, and cares for it, and becomes very attached to it. And how the mother doesn’t like that. For me, her disapproval comes with her own opinions on The Way Things Work, and perhaps even more on wanting to prepare her child to “succeed.” And to do that, compassion and care are things that are liabilities. It’s almost like those trials where someone is given a puppy and then at some point ordered to kill the dog. That what the mother is teaching is a kind of ruthlessness she thinks is necessary to living in the world, to thriving in a place that she has helped make heartless and cruel. And the child rejects that, rejects that it should be like that, and instead reminds her that she can’t be strong forever, and there will come a time when she, too, is obsolete, old tech, and might be destined for the junk heap unless she bothers to care enough now to make that less likely to happen. All with a rather charming style and a lovely idea and image of this robo-dog mimicking love and live and still being too much a threat to the powers that be. Plus I love the pub in the title, that edge of death and mourning and that promise that everyone has but one destination. A fantastic read!
“All Muddle” by Sionnain Buckley
This piece, told in a prose-like paragraph, unfolds from the perspective of a narrator of unknown scope and nature. To me it evokes the feeling of space and time, of someone who is massive traveling through the inky dark of space. The piece seems to encourage this, using words like ancient and immensity, building up the feeling of something, of someone so large that they leave a wake in space itself. In that, the narrator could be a world, a planet, could be a god, could be a generation ship. But for me I think despite the way the poem creates this sense of scope and space, my reading actually becomes most meaningful to me when brought into a tight focus. On a person. A storyteller. Someone who is ancient in their own way but not in terms of stars or cosmos. Rather someone who is a part of a larger tradition, just a human who is carrying with them all the memories of their life, all the people they have known. Who can interrogate them as characters, as ideas, and who tries to leave them as stories to the universe, trailing these fictions in the hopes that they will strike someone in passing and stay with them, inspire them, entertain them. Of course I might be biased toward reading the piece as meta, as commenting on storytelling and a smaller take on humanity rather than as introducing a vast and alien intelligence. But I like the feel, rather lonely, a person with their who in some ways is looking for purpose, who is moving into the future because it is there but who also looks back and in all directions, who see themself as something of an explorer at heart, leaving a map to follow, though not necessarily one that leads where people expect. I like the sensation of being surrounded by people, of in many ways containing people, but still feeling separate and apart from it all. Still feeling that there is something to travel for, not a destination necessarily but a beauty and joy in the travel, in the movement that might reveal sights and experiences unexpected and wonderful. And it’s a fun read, abstract and compelling, very much worth spending some time with. Go check it out!