Thursday, April 14, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/28/2016, 04/04/2016, & 04/11/2016

Today I'm catching up a bit with Strange Horizons, with three weeks of excellent fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The fiction seems to be rather...familial in theme, exploring the relationships between mothers and children, especially, and challenging parental expectations and childhood autonomy. It's some complex reading, to be sure, paired with poetry that looks to the stars as well as inward, that speaks of creation and gives a few meta comments on poetry and art. Plus a piece of nonfiction that's very interesting, especially in light of the fiction that's featured here. But before I ruin everything, to the reviews!

Art by Galen Dara


"The Right Sort of Monster" by Kelly Sandoval (3681 words)

Okay, trigger warnings for loss of a child right off the bat. There is a part of me that has no idea how to begin talking about stories that revolve around child birth and procreation, around how people (and especially women) are valued for this single aspect. Their ability to have children. And the story definitely plays with that, challenges that, even as it complicates it by not having the story being about rejecting having children. The story is about a woman who very much wants a child, wants children. Who in many ways wants to be a part of that cycle of grief and oppression, who wants to raise sons and daughters to believe in the religion of the area, to keep passing along the same structures that keep things binary and broken. Viette, the main character, wants desperately to have a child, to prove she belongs, and yet she learns that there's a price for it. A price for maintaining the system. I appreciate that the story does show a character very much wanting to have children but rejecting the price people associate with it. Rejecting the position she could have, the privilege, in favor of doing what is more right. I might question at that point why she felt the need to do what she did at the end, even when she was being told by someone who really knew not to, but then I have lots of weird feelings about parental vs child "rights." The story has some stunning visuals, though, and tells a tale that I rarely see. It does challenge how people have children and how they prop up systems that have so thoroughly failed them. How the urge to take the small value afforded those who conform is strong and how it can be resisted and subverted. It's a difficult story, perhaps more for me and my personal experiences than for others, but it's also beautiful and rather worth spending some time with.

"This Is a Letter to My Son" by KJ Kabza (4984 words)

Wow this story busts out some emotional artillery to tell a story about identity and mortality. And really, yeah, this is a story that plays with some big issues (cancer, gender, parenting, loss) that give the story an incredibly weight. And it's that weight that makes the story both gripping and also a but conflicting for me personally. [SPOILERS!!!] Because the story essentially boils down to a hypothetical question: if there was the technology to "make" a trans person cis, would someone do it to save their life (or greatly decrease their likelihood of dying)? Or perhaps it's more: if a _child_ could be so altered should their parent(s) do that over the objections of the child? Or perhaps: what is the morality of such technology? There's so much going on here about the ability of a child to make decisions about their own body and gender and…well, it's an incredibly delicate set of questions and I think the story does a fair job of treating these issues with the gravity that they're due. But I'm not sure I'm quite comfortable with some of the conclusions I felt the story was drawing concerning gender and identity. And perhaps this is just my issues with parenthood and child ownership and things like that, but to me the story was equating the identity of mom with gender identity when Kellsey was watching the video about the diagnosis, that the language used to describe motherhood (I always knew, etc) was setting up that parallel. And I understand that parenthood can be a huge part of someone's identity that that the inability to conceive or reproduce can be devastating, but while gender is something that is solely a person's identity, parenthood involves a non-consenting participant (the child). Especially since the only time the story brushes against when a person's gender identity conflicts with a parent's identity (when a trans girl is forcefully cis-ed by their parents) it is not exactly lingered on or explored. I like the story, ultimately—the character of Kellsey, the nuance put into not just her relationship with her mother and father but how the story takes care to not set up only one kind of trans-ness. But I also feel that the story doesn't complicate things enough. Because if the technology existed to "make" people adhere to their assigned at birth genders, as in this story, and parents could choose for their children whether or not to use it, as in this story, I don't think the most important moral question would be the one presented. That doesn't make the story uninteresting, but it makes it thorny in a way that I personally had some trouble with. But definitely read it and spend some time with it and come to your own conclusions. 


"Heavenly Bodies / Terra Firma" by Jane Crowley

This pair of poems reveals a builder of universes. Or builders of universes. The first sets the stage for a discovery that during the night a Universe has been destroyed, rent. The rather suburban imagery of the yard, the home, drew my mind to waking up to find the body of a bird in your yard, killed by a neighborhood cat or hawk, not really devoured but torn apart. Messy. The poem links this to the act of creation, the person discovering the corpse its creator, mourning its passing even while recognizing that it will not stop them from starting again. And there's that mystery of how it died, obscured by the darkness, the fragility of such creation, that there is no securing it, that you can't watch it forever, that you need rest and in those moments your universe is vulnerable. What exactly happened is not revealed and not really important. The fragility contrasting the intricacy and drive to create. It's echoed in the second poem, though this shows a view of visiting someone else's creation, their world, seeing the mix of ugliness and beauty that is vital, that is bracing. The poems are all about the contrast of beauty and decay, mortality and complexity. At least to me they revolve around images that lift, that shatter, that push onward. That things are never perfect and can never be perfect and that's not even the point because what people are is complex and flawed and beautiful and what we have to try to do is press on and do good. An excellent pair of poems!

"Minions" by Bryan Thao Worra

This is a great little poem that seems to me to explore the way that history is often framed around "great men." Which is a terrible way of saying around those who are typically most terrible, responsible for the most pain and human misery. The warlords and tyrants and generals. Who, even if they're on "the right side" are all kind of…well, are all responsible for a lot of death. Here the title of the poem evokes the idea of the people around a villain. The ones that are nameless, often relegated to those footnotes mentioned in the text. And in some way it explains why people align themselves with the villain, why minions would chose to work, because in many ways the only victory they can have, the only way they can claim a space, is to hope that though the world erases them the person they follow knows them, and through the victory of the villain the minions might escape their obscurity if only symbolically, if only because the villain remembers. And further, the poem challenges the difference between villain and hero, shows that the most villains are heroes of someone, that most heroes are villains as well, all wrapped up in erasure and culture and place and history. The savior and the fiend are defined only in retrospect, and the one that wins is the one that gets to set the terms. It's an interesting poem and one that takes a challenging look at history and the roles we see in conflict. Definitely one to check out!

"Eating Verse" by Akua Lezli Hope

This poem takes a nice meta twist in looking at the consumption of poetry. In this case, though, the consumption is literal and exquisitely rendered, sensual and full of flavors, smells, textures. The poem evokes all of the senses, makes the poem being devoured in the poem and the poem itself both linked in the way it triggers the mind, salivation, anticipation. The poem links to that being devoured in part but also links to poetry broadly, and great poetry specifically, the way that it fills and the way that it sinks in the gut like a stone. The way that it lifts and transforms. The way that it transubstantiates into the divine is just nicely done, capturing the feel of reading poetry that really gets into your head, that leaves you changed and charged and ready for the universe. And perhaps there is a bit of a conceit of this being a poem about how awesome poems can be, but it works, accomplishes what it sets out to do by showing and telling how poetry can be awesome, how it can transcend. It's clever and it's fun and it's evocative and it's just a nice way to write about poetry using poetry. As I said at the beginning of the review, it's meta. And it's definitely worth checking out! 


"Communities: I Hope You Bring Tissues" by Renay

 This article is doing rather a lot, I feel, broaching not just the tendency of SFF to be, well, bleak, but the desire for happy stories and the gatekeeping that goes on to push happiness out of discussions of true SFF. And this is something that I think about a lot, not least because I do like writing unashamedly happy SFF and rather depressing SFF. The thing is, my happy SFF really doesn't sell like hotcakes to traditional "serious" SFF markets. But slap some sex in it and it does sell like hotcakes to erotic SFF venues. Which, awesome. The thing is, erotic SFF, like YA SFF and romance SFF and most places where you'll find genuinely happy SFF with queer characters centered, isn't considered "real" SFF. And that's a problem. It's a problem that this article goes into, because there are many readers who feel pushed out of genre and there are many writers (especially marginalized writers) who seem to feel pressured to perform their pain in order to get attention and success. That it seems what many "mainstream" SFF publishers want are stories that, yes, stab you in the heart. Which can be some of the most rewarding stories to write. But so can stories that explore happiness, that explore joy and positivity. And sex sometimes. With YA and romance/erotica, there is the promise of the HEA/HFN in the guidelines most of the time, which can be limiting but also freeing. But it definitely makes people view those forms as less valuable, as if "mainstream" SFF isn't just as limiting and freeing, though in different ways, and often not explicitly (though I've been thinking more and more about "acceptable" erotic content in mainstream SFF and how fucked up it can be). Anyway, this is another great article from an always-interesting series and there's a lot to unpack, but it's something I've heard from many places, and perhaps with a bit of a rise in more "happy" SFF and YA SFF, there will be more of an opportunity for readers and writers to explore the joy of SFF. Indeed!

No comments:

Post a Comment