April is nearly over and before May rears it's head I wanted to look at the latest offerings from Strange Horizons, which includes a story, two poems, and a piece of nonfiction. As always, there's more to explore in terms of nonfiction that I recommend everyone check out, but time being what it is I'm just looking at the one piece this time. It's a nicely balanced bunch of content, a story that is equal parts funny and poignant, poems that complicate and hit and refuse to go down quietly, and a nonfiction work that does what I always appreciate--points me in the direction of some great books. So let's get to those reviews!
"We Have a Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You?" by Rebecca Ann Jordan (3617 words)
This is a rather strange story about difference and about culture and about consent and sensation. The story focuses on Filo/Gee, the sole remaining member of a species wiped out by human sickness. It's a species that experiences the world through sound waves and taste, and it leads to a number of…not misunderstandings exactly, but instances where understanding through shared context just isn't that possible. And the story shows how Filo/Gee is expected to be the one to fit in despite being a member of a race wiped out by humanity, if inadvertently. Because they are the outsider they are the one who is expected to learn, while no one really cares to learn about them, about what they might like, about what actions might be pleasant or reassuring to them. And it's a rather complex story because much of what Filo/Gee does feels like violation. Is violation. And yet there is the sense that while that violation is easy to see, easy for us as humans to prioritize, what does unseen are the ways in which Filo/Gee is violated, the ways in which they don't get to say how they want to be treated or touched because everything, not wanting to touch them, prioritizes that distance over Filo/Gee. I love the relationship that's established between Filo/Gee and Nina, that they're both dealing with intersectional prejudice and fear and anger. That they find a way forward, trying to understand each other, trying to no be quite so alone. It's an interesting story and one that has a nice humor to it even as that humor softened me up for a rather emotionally devastating story. A very good read!
"Propagation" by Layla Al-Bedawi
This poem has a smell of wet earth and something strange to it, a picture of two people that might also be something not quite animal, something plant of fungi, able to sprout new limbs from old wounds and graft pieces from one onto the other. It's a generational poem in many ways to me, the feeling of teaching, of passing something on. The stanzas are delivered in four line groups except for the third stanza, the center stanza, which acts as a pivot and a way of balancing what came before (infancy for the "you" of the poem") and what comes next (that "you" growing up, learning, getting ready for a transformation of sorts). The passage of knowledge and self is interesting, the narrator literally giving a piece of themself to their…offspring, I guess I'd say, especially given the title of the piece. And yet it's not a simple replication, or doesn't feel that way to me. The new entity (the "you") evokes the reader as well as any child, which is shaped by the prime influences in its life (normally parents) but ultimately has to make its own way, decide on its own how to grow. It's a poem ripe with language of things green and growing, not the bright colors of flowers but the dark hues, greens and browns, that nurture and shield until the flowers are ready. The form is solid and the ending hits nicely with implication, with the suspense wanting to know what comes next but not actually being able to tell. A great poem!
"Neither/Nor" by Alleliah Nuguid
This is a neat poem about being between featuring a bat and a war between the birds and the beasts. It brings up ideas of body and identity and the isolation that comes from not wanting to fit in entirely, or at least not wanting to conform to a binary system. The bat is caught not wanting to join with either the birds or the beasts, and in rejecting fighting on either side she is rejected by both. It sets the stakes for not falling into the divisive categories of binary thinking. And I love the voice of the bat, the way that she refuses to conform and does so using the language of the binary. [SPOILERS] The way she claims at being the opposite group in order to avoid the battle, the pointless fighting. The way that she knows in some fundamental way that the fighting would never benefit her because it acts with a neither/nor divide and she cannot fit to it, so her only option really is to abstain, but in doing so she is despised, is mistrusted and left out. And the poem does a great job of showing that her perspective, unique among the birds and beasts, gives her a unique ability to see the world, to see a way out of the binary, one that neither side respects. It's an imaginative premise and uses repetition and inversion to great effect, the form of the poem like a fable, the moral of which isn't spelled out but present all the same, that binaries are insufficient to explaining or encompassing the richness of the world. Indeed!
"Me and Science Fiction: Space Operas by Women" by Eleanor Arnason
I kind of love how this piece flat-out says "I can’t say if space opera written by men is similar or different, since I don’t read it." Because in many ways the column is about taking the space opera center away from men and showing that it's still space opera, still compelling, and still robust populated. One can go their entire space-opera-reading lifetime never picking up a book by a man. And maybe more people should. It does a similar job of questioning why a writer would choose to write a straight protagonist. By calling attention to the fact that so many do not think when they center the straight white cis-man as the standard, as the universal, it creates a little bit of room to maybe get people to consciously decide where the center should be, which might, if people are thinking and not just reacting with a panicked "BUT THE CLASSICS!!!" would be a much richer view of genre and a better sampling of available works. Plus here the column also acts as a resource and list of space operas by women and featuring in some ways looks at how gender and misogyny is often ignored among the trapping of the space opera. Which means that this column is also a great place to look for people who like space operas but maybe not quite so much the masculine gaze that works itself into a lot of male-penned space operas. And I'm always a fan of columns that are also lists of book recommendations. I'm always looking for things to read (even when I have a TBR pile that's threatening to take up an entire room), and this column gives me some ideas on where I might want to start to begin examining the space opera subgenre and see its depth. So yeah, a fun little column with a refreshing look at space opera and gender.