No fiction these two weeks from Strange Horizons. But two poems and some nonfiction definitely worth checking out. And charts. Oh the charts! You might not know this about me, but I love spreadsheets. I know, how were you to know? So the SF Count is incredibly interesting to me and everyone should go and read it and look at the data and see how representation is going. Ahem. Before all that, though, some poetry and different column. Onward!
"Endurance Is Not Bravery / Do Not Declare Love by Staring" by Elizabeth R. McClellan
This poem stars children's toys, a paper ballerina being the narrator and a group of tin soldiers being what might be the antagonists. The tin soldiers, beings of war, are made to destroy, are made to see women as things, as spoils of war. And so the ballerina is happy when one is crippled and then thrown into a fire. And yet its a fate that she shares, as she drifts into the flames, is consumed. It's a strange poem, and I'm not entirely sure that I get all of it. Certainly it seems to be approaching how men are raised to treat women, how they are designed to be brutal, to see the woman as prey. To stare. I guess I would draw the poem back to the title to find the meaning, that the soldier that was melted stared at the ballerina and thought it love, but it wasn't. Or, at least, if it was then the act of staring was not a loving act. It was objectifying. Perhaps if he had tried to view the ballerina as a person he would have lived. he would have had a chance to be with her. Instead they both burned. It's a vivid poem, the images moving nicely, the form simple stanzas, ones that get a bit longer as the poem progresses. But I will admit that I'm not entirely sure I got this one. I did, however, enjoy reading it. (Addendum! The author reached out to say that the poem references a story by Hans Christian Andersen [The Steadfast Tin Soldier]. That clears things up for me. It twists the "love" story of the story and shines a light on the problematic aspects of it, giving the ballerina some of her agency back and showing the soldier's love as not noble. And now I like the poem even more!)
"Magpie Wings" by Jaymee Goh
Here is a poem about the celestial love of the two lovers Altair and Vega. In it, the two stars who are also deities, separated and only able to meet on one night of the year, long for the time when their celestial orbits will be closer, for when the Milky Way will be some entwined that they will be able to be together always. I like how it reverses the normal practice of observing something in the stars and making a story about it. Or maybe it just takes it to the logical conclusion. Here the story is continued based on what we know of celestial movements, so that the story can be brought to a happier ending, not stuck in the constant cycle but resolved. And the images of these deities, these people, living out in the stars, that metaphor of more ancient times made real, literal, is neat, is fun and tragic at the same time, because it implies the time that this will take. Billions of years. Who knows how long those stars will even last. Will they make it to that joining? I'm hoping so, because it would be nice for the stars to be released of the grim narrative that humans put on them. There should be a happier ending, and the poem provides one, shows that road where the story doesn't always have to be about loss and longing. So yeah, it's a poem well worth checking out!
"Matrilines: The Woman Who Made Fantasy: Katherine Kurtz" by Kari Sperring
I have to say that I have never actually read any Katherine Kurtz. And yet I liked the look of them enough to pick them up and put them on my shelf. They are "when I get to it" reads that probably inform a bit that I am not untouched by the sexism that has relegated the author to more obscurity than is her due. I have seen her name come up as very influential and important at a formative time in fantasy and I am interested in reading some of those books I have. The article itself is well written and makes the argument that the overlooking of Katherine Kurtz is not because of a lack in her writing. Having read some of the other names in the article, I'm fully willing to believe that she is just as good, and any problematic elements would likely be no less problematic than in the books of her contemporaries. It does make one wonder who else in in the process of being forgotten. Or has been already. So yeah, it makes me want to give those books a go. So well done, column, mission accomplished.
"The 2014 SF Count" by Niall Harrison
Fascinating! I always love counts and things like things. With charts. There are spreadsheets, people. Get all on that! I love spreadsheets. I love data and I love that people are actually paying attention to this and keeping track. Not keeping score, in my mind, though if it was then we'd all probably be losing. But at least keeping track. Which is quite important, because if people weren't looking there would be even more assumptions about the need for change and what shape that should take. But for now it looks like perhaps magazines should look to take on some challenges to review more books by women and POC. Maybe consciously. I know there can be intense backlash against that, but maybe... Obviously these places are not reviewing all the books. So there is room for them to improve. For everyone to improve, probably. I will be fascinated how similar statistics would play out across other venues and levels of reviewing. Also I would be curious to see how many queer authors are reviewed but I guess that would be much more difficult to discover because for many it really isn't safe/advisable to be out. Still, it would be interesting.