Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/14/2016 & 03/21/2016

It's March and spring is upon us! At Strange Horizons that means stories of water melting and things awakening. Of fairy tales and danger and loneliness. Of the resolve to do something. From a far future where the world has been irrevocably changed to a time much closer to our own when the weight of living might open doors best left closed, the stories are dark and layered, about human interconnections and separation, responsibility and the will to life and death. The poetry takes on almost mythic overtones, setting a few creepy and unsettling scenes, and I apparently have a lot to say on the piece of nonfiction. So yeah, lots to review. Let's get to it!
Art by Luke Spooner


"Meltwater" by Benjamin C. Kinney (2195 words)

This is an interesting story that to me speaks of loneliness and isolation and certain irreconcilable differences. It's also about time, and two people who are kind of immortal losing and finding each other over the many forks of their lives. The forks here aren't just figurative, either, but literal as well, different iterations of the same person, with small changes that allow them to adapt. Unfortunately those deviations also concentrate issues from fork to fork, and as the story opens Percel has lost the last fork of Emlune and has traveled to an ancient church to hopefully win a new one. It's a strange story with a history that is alluded to but never fully explored. But it works for the story, this immense sense of loss and two people going about very different tasks in the aftermath, one content to wait and introspect while the other goes out and tries to fix things. And it is that urge to fix and fiddle that pushes Percel forward and kind of dooms her in many ways, because it keeps her in the same patterns, in the same inevitable outcomes. And t he story builds this well, the same way ice builds up over time, creeping slowly but quite different when looking in long terms. The story is soft and delicate but also a very interesting look at a very complex relationship that features forks and divisions. And it's not really a happy story, though it leaves room for hope, for a breaking of old patterns, and for a seeking of something new, something that might actually work. Definitely a story to spend some time with. 

"The Name of the Forest" by Margaret Killjoy (4983 words)

Well this is a rather creepy story about a drifter named Jimmy and a woman who picks him up, a potter who has a bit of a secret and a plan. The voice of the story is one of its greatest achievements, and it pulled me in effortlessly, getting into Jimmy's head and Jimmy's world, his aimlessness and his depression, the things he had to do to survive. Suzie, the woman who picks him up, is similarly compelling, homed and relatively stable-seeming but just as lost. I like the story for its pacing, for the slow way it builds the characters and their mentality, for the way that Jimmy just sort of accepts wherever he's going, opts out of his own life a bit, wants a release but also wants purpose. And I love the creepiness of it and the horror aspects (ticks are gross oh my glob so gross and this is all sorts of triggering for people with bug phobias so maybe be warned with that but glob if you've ever had even one tick in you or many crawling on you at once it is just creepy as fuck so yeah). It all builds and the internal logic is solid, the way that Jimmy and Suzie work off each other, but also the way that they eventually find in each other something they weren't expecting. That under the exhaustion there's also something stubborn and unwilling to give up. The story is dark and challenging and it presents a great complex picture of a person in Jimmy's situation, who doesn't hold most societal values. And it's unsettling but hopeful, not really offering up answers but recognizing the problem as needing more thought and attention. A great read! 


"Little Red Cap" by Christina Im

This is a nice and creepy poem told in three stanzas that swirls around the images of the classic Little Red Riding Hood story. In it, though, there seem to be things worse than wolves to fear, larger and more dangerous. And there is a willing choice that puts the narrator of the poem, the titular Little Red Cap, into danger. There is a sense for me both that the narrator is in danger from the outside, the natural, as well as something darker still, something that they are running from, something that they are so desperate to avoid that they would turn to the outside for freedom. In some ways it seems to me to hinge on the quiet hope of escape and release, that superstition in some ways hides monsters closer to home and more terrifying. The language of the poem is amazing and the images startling, vague and terrifying in their vagueness, the idea of things that no longer need to hide, that are not bothering to anymore, wearing their evil openly and proudly. That the narrator is trapped and quiet, unheard but also ignored, raised up almost in sacrifice and trying to find a better way, to at least find an end of her own choosing, knowing the dark has nothing really for her to fear. It's an unsettling poem and a great one, though I will admit the meaning I pull from it is more because of the feelings it evokes in me rather than strict context clues. Still, I very much like it, enjoy the effect it has on me, and can enthusiastically recommend it!

"The Elder" by Matthew Porto

 As I read it, this is a neat poem about trespass, about invasion, and about fear. The poem is told in short lines, the story behind it obscure, vague. All that is told is that there are people who cut down a true, who hunt a fox. Who know in some way that there will be a price for this but hope to get away without paying. Who know that there are powers not to be tempted but do so anyway out of an anger or arrogance. I guess what I mean to say is that I get a good sense of the action of the poem but only a taste of the motivations and implications behind it. But it's quite well done, that taste giving enough to the poem that the ending has some definition weight for me, that feeling of dread, of reprisal, of something About To Happen. And pulling away right before, now giving too much away but letting it linger. The poem is painted with natural tones, the characters mostly animal though those that cut down the tree are perhaps human or at least anthropomorphized. It has the feeling of a fairy tale, a myth. Something old and powerful. And I rather like it, like the way it leaves so much space to be filled in, the way that it builds just enough to convey the feel of the situation. It's a fine read and I quite recommend checking it out!


"Metagames: Video Games Are the Best Art" by Andrea Phillips

Much of this article is just solid arguments on why video games should be considered art. And I agree. Video games are no doubt art. Art is just something that must have a loose definition because gatekeeping otherwise will limit it to the particular grindhouse of whoever is speaking. Writing is art and programming is art and sport is art and architecture is art and so much more. I definitely found myself nodding along throughout most of the piece because yes, anyone trying to deny video games a place at the art table are in some serious denial. The article is also controversial, though, to take it a step further and say that video games are the ultimate art. Which, well, the argument runs from a premise that the purpose of art is to make another human feel a certain way. Which…well, even if true I would reject that video games do this better than, say, stories. To say that stories are secondhand because the stories are told from third person is…well, just not quite right. Brain scanning has shown that people reading an account of someone running will experience running. That it trips the same areas of the brain. Accounts of smells, or tastes, can essentially make a reader experience those sensations. Just because the video game is aimed at being more immersive doesn't mean that it is. Just because you can physically hear and feel and see something happen on screen doesn't mean that other forms of art can't be as sensually rich. Now I'm more "team written word" when it comes to art as what I prefer the most. But I think that the argument that video games are THE BEST just sort of triggers my little subjectivist's soul. I do not believe there is a THE BEST. Essentially, all art is equal, is art. Video games can certainly art different than written texts or paintings or film, but I personally would never claim any of those was objectively better or of higher potential as art than any other. That's me. So I like a lot of what the article says about video games as art, but I disagree with the idea that video games are the "ultimate art form." Still, a great article with a lot to think about.

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