Two more weeks of Strange Horizons have gone up so here they are, reviewed and ready. For the time being I'm going to try and keep it to two weeks per review, because if I let it go much more than that these could get fairly long. But yeah, two stories and two poems and two columns, so there's a bit to get to. Onwards!
"The Salt Mosquito's Bite and the Goddess' Sting" by J Mehentee (4380 words)
This is a rather sweet story about a young monk who is nearly completely naive of the world and a much older, much more wearied woman who, though him, finds her way back to her calling and her faith. Dawa is a sort of perfect child, an innocent, who believes what people tell him without question. It is that innocence that gives him some spiritual power, as those around him try to shield him or abuse him because he believes so easily. When he is led astray by a cruel older boy, he is saved by a woman on a pilgrimage of sorts to return the body of one of her spiritual sisters to her homeland, Thailand, where Dawa lives. And she sees in Dawa something that draws her back, something that makes her believe that it's still worth it to try and help people. And from there she returns to her calling as Guru of her sisters and finds herself rejuvenated. It's a strange story, told with mostly simple language to mimic Dawa's innocent state, his holy ignorance. And in that simple style the story manages to evoke a rich world and got me to smile. Rare are the stories that are just rather nice, but this one manages it with a clever style and an engaging set of characters.
"City of Salt" by Arkady Martine (3522 words)
This story, not nearly so happy as the first. In this, a man returns to the city he had once lived in with his king and the king's illusionist. Together they had been happy but the king seems to have been a bit insane and raised an army of the dead that the man had refused to lead into battle, and then the man just left. The king was defeated and died in the city and only the illusionist remained, becoming something of a ghost of the city, punishing those who trespassed. Now the man returns and the illusionist isn't entirely pleased. She harries the man and forces something of a confrontation. It's well done, the anger and frustration the illusionist feels and how she is reminded of all she's lost with the man's return. There is an unbridgeable gap between them, formed when he walked away, and even though he wants to mend things it's too late for that. The confrontation is dramatic and magical, the two caught in a sort of dance, a sort of contest. It's a rather sad tale, the two caught in their own moralities and unwilling to bend. They are apart, forever apart, but at least this time they get to part on better terms, knowing it is the last time. Another fine story.
"Long Shadow" by R.B. Lemberg
This is a long poem with a story, that of a god set out to right the wrongs of the world. And yet at each turn they are told that there are wrongs that cannot be made right. Some things cannot be healed. And believing that you can set all things right makes you guilty of not understanding the complexity of those wrongs. The god minimizes them and simplifies them in thinking that they can be erased. And yet they push on, feeling that if they can't make things right then what's the point in trying? What's the point in helping anyone? Which is a great way to tackle privilege and responsibility, because the god is privileged. They do have power and can make life better for people. But because they can't get credit for helping everything, for fixing everything, they get frustrated and want to take back their aide. They see the world as somehow stubborn or ungrateful. Only slowly do they realize that the wrongs, while not really something that can be stopped, can at least be eased. Some people can be helped, and if that action might seem futile, it's still something that helps some people. And that stopping, giving up, is only agreeing to step away from the struggle and put yourself outside the struggle, above it. It's a great way to approach these concepts, and the language and form of the poem give it a mythic feel. I quite enjoyed it, even over it's considerable length (for a poem).
"Laying Claim" by Liz Bourke
A much shorter but thematically similar poem to the last, this one dealing with the attempts of the conquerors to validate their actions by writing history, but finding that even as they do that they are not completely successful. That the ghosts of those they pave over do not quit the cities and the valleys. It's similar to the last poem because it deals with war, with the idea that things never end, that even renaming and remaking things does not wipe away the traces of what was before. The pain remains and nothing can make that right. Some things do not heal. So a great followup poem, this one a bit more Earth-bound and drawing the experiences back to the narrator, to the border that exists within them, to the comparison drawn between even a mind or body and a city or country. Ghosts remain, even if the scars are erased. Still there is lingering unease, wounds that go deeper still. A strong and resounding poem, it uses lines that draw quite nicely, a mix of short and not-so-short lines that seem to rush the narrative at times, as if the poem itself is trying to get past the ugly parts but can't, keeps finding itself confronted by ghosts. It's good work.
"Encouraging Diversity: An Editor's Perspective" by R.B. Lemberg
This column is really just some brass tacks advice to people about editing in a way that (a big surprise given the title) encourages diversity. It really does seem like some common sense things that I personally don't have the most experience with. My editing days were back in college but even then I wanted to promote a diverse literary magazine and tried my best as managing editor to make sure the diversity started with the staff (like the co-editing and guest editing points in the article). And I am super proud of the issues our little magazine put out. Of course, it's kinda apples to oranges with more professional publications, but I can see a lot of good points in the article. At the very least, it's a glimpse into the way it works for one publication that seems to be doing things right. Indeed.
"Movements: Taking Stock: Encouragement and the Antidote to Toxicity" by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
Here's a great and heartfelt look at one writer's early career and how their anxiety and what other people were telling them nearly pushed them out of writing. It has a lot of good things to say about the need for encouragement and the dangers of online toxicity that can easily push people, especially the already vulnerable, out of doing what they want to do and what they would be great at. It's a ponderous article, one that looks at how the writer was effected by what people told them and by some of the various episodes in the genre that have spurred some controversy. I like the subtle approach they make, the mindfulness that they advocate for. The love. Because without the love, with the empathy and care, it's easy to get caught up in call-outs and blames and yelling. Lines are drawn. I think that speaking out of care for someone else, though, can do a lot. Obviously, this is rather topical. Even this week there have been a number of small controversies surrounding K. Tempest Bradford's challenge, and I think that the discourse between the person asking (perhaps a bit selfishly) what he could be doing and Bradford herself telling him was one that had compassion. She wasn't "calling him out." She was trying to engage and educate. And as long as that is the point, then maybe people can learn. But yeah, I liked this article and think it has a lot to say. Hurrah!
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