Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/11/2015 and 5/18/2015

Just two weeks of Strange Horizons on the horizon for today. With WisCon about to start and still a good deal left to review I thought it best to just do two weeks this time so that I can be done with the monthly fiction at least before the month is over (assuming that the last week of the month will have no fiction). But the fiction is quite strong and deals a bit with loss and with grief but also the strength to keep going after change. And the poetry is, as always, interesting and subtle and worth some careful examination. Plus there's some new nonfiction that's quite good and a piece of art. So let's begin!

Art by Milan Jaram


"Cloth Mother" by Sarah Pauling (4957 words)

This story is about a desperate plan to save the population of the Earth. Facing some sort of catastrophic disaster on the planet, colony satellites were launched with egg banks and programmed to protect their cargo. One satellite, the Revitalization, carried out its directives, and in so doing woke up one of the eggs to prepare as a guardian of the others for when they landed. Along with the satellite, the child, Mazie, has a Mother, an artificial intelligence that is supposed to provide emotional support. The story circles around a lot of things, a lot of ideas and there is the sense that the world that the characters are living in is fragile, with power being a precious resource that Vita, the satellite's persona, has to allocate to best see to Mazie's mental and physical health. Luckily Vita was designed to be flexible, because Mazie is rather a challenge, outgoing and in need of more human contact. So while it's not programmed to happen, while it's not supposed to be important, Vita sees that it is necessary to help Mazie reach out to the other satellites to find other actual human beings. Of course, the power required to do that leaves Vita with some tough choices. The Mother offers to be shut down, but Vita knows that the Mother is the Cloth Mother while Vita is the Wire Mother, terms used in old experiments about socialization with monkeys. So Vita starts shutting down parts of herself, sinking into the background. The story is touching and moving, really capturing the relationship between Vita and Mazie and showing how they love each other despite their differences, and how Vita manages to fulfill her function, to care for Mazie, which includes being there as a friend, sister, and second parent. A story very much worth checking out.

"By Degrees and Dilatory Time" by S.L. Huang (4089 words)

A story about loss and sickness and change but also about the strength of moving on, this one features Marcus, a young man who is diagnosed with cancer in his eyes that require they be removed and replaced by robotic eyes. It's not the first time that he's had something replaced, having had to stop ice skating because of a bad injury to his knee that required it, too, be replaced. Each time it happens, though, there is a sense that he has to learn to redefine himself. By his injury. By his new difference. He doesn't feel he has a choice, though. He doesn't have options besides the ones he takes, can't really decide not to get new eyes. And he has to deal with people treating him different, with seeing differently. In many ways this story seems a spiritual and thematic companion to Sunny Moraine's "Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained" that came out at Uncanny earlier this year. Both deal with losing a part of oneself, having to adapt to no longer being what the characters once were. The main difference being that Marcus "chooses" to go through with this. He would not really have been able to live without the surgery, and being blind is a bit different than losing an arm. As with the other story, though, this one still focuses on the need for acceptance, about the need to acknowledge change without passing judgement on it. It happened, but the eyes Marcus gets are not better than his old eyes. They are, however, his eyes now. They are a part of him, and it is no betrayal to think so. It's a necessary step to moving on, to adapting to the new situation. The story is hopeful, uplifting, a testament to the power of people to recover and redefine themselves. Quite good.


"Not With Flowers" by Deepthi Gopal

This is not exactly the happiest of poems but it does carry a power and a truth that spoke to me. That people, basically, will always fail at permanence. The narrator of the poem is speaking to a person who has died or who will die (and who will not, really?) about how the natural world that they rejected, that they abused, will erase them from the world. Will foil their attempts at immortality. That this person who so turned their back on the natural will see their stones crumble, will eventually be taken in all the same by the green and growing world. While the narrator will make no attempt at permanence, that they will let go into the sweep of the natural world and try to heal those things that the person being addressed did to harm nature. It speaks to a sort of futility and human arrogance in assuming that the natural world can be subjugated or brought to heal. Sort of a Death Be Not Proud feeling but not to Death. To "progress" that takes us as a people away from the planet, away from caring about nature. A sort of your time will come and you will have nothing to show for this. At least, that's what I got from it. It's a short piece and a bit packed with long lines, reminiscent perhaps of the brevity and chaos or human life, the way we pack so much in without much rhyme or reason and how, what is left is the blankness at the end of the page. A fine read.

"Ghost Irises" by Jenny Blackford

Another very short poem, this one is told using seven couplets. The lines are short and rather match the central idea of the poem, the mystery of a ghost boy seen only briefly in a house the narrator used to live in. The short lines give weight to the blank space on the screen, to the mystery and uncertainty surrounding the ghost, while the couplets give the poem a thin, almost delicate feeling, tying into the image of ghostly flowers. I'm a little unsure if this glimpse of the boy is had while the narrator is asleep or awake. I'm guessing the former but it could be more of a waking thing. Either way I assume that the ghost boy is actually the narrator, a past version of the narrator, implying some hidden truth lurking at the edge of their mind, some mystery from their past that might be coming forward, some mystery that the narrator doesn't really want solved. I like the idea that what the narrator is afraid of is a ghost of themself, that they're worried that their old self will find them, an old self that perhaps the narrator wishes to stay firmly entrenched in the past. It makes sense to me, though I may be reading this poem way off. It's got a nice feel to it, though, and an interesting style. So definitely check it out.


"Movements: Use of Anger" by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

A very nuanced and complex look at anger in regards to systemic oppression and marginalization in this piece. Which is very important because I think that most people's reactions to adversity is often tinged with anger. It's one of the stages of grief and it is the way that many people are expected to deal with their issues. There are whole intersections of masculinity here that the article broaches but doesn't get into because anger is such a large topic. The piece does deal with a lot, though, including anger in reaction to racism, in reaction to frustration, in reaction to other anger. Anger is one of those things that we can't really help but feel. And it can be a useful tool, especially to keep people going, for those who have had most every other tool stripped away. But the article makes the point that anger without thought is dangerous and largely counterproductive. It doesn't build. It doesn't offer alternatives. It does think of new ways to build after the source of the anger is knocked away. And that is a very good and important point, that anger is not necessarily bad but shouldn't be about perpetuating the cycle of anger and abuse. That anger should motivate us to try better, to be better, because we do share many things, especially the ability to be angry. So a very fine article that I cannot give full justice to. Go read it.

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