Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 10/17/2016 & 10/24/2016

Things have mostly settled back down following the Strange Horizons, though they do have a brand new look that is a huge change from their old layout. Also, I accidentally missed the translated story from earlier in the month, so I have rectified that by including it here. There are two stories, then, and two poems, all of which seem to evoke the idea of travel. For some it is a physical thing, the pursuit of a quest, the arch of a journey. For others the travel happens between possibilities and universes, or between times, showing how the distance we travel away from the past can make it vulnerable, can make us vulnerable by extension. These are works that warn and that inspire, and I'm going to get to reviewing them! 


"Terpsichore" by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverria, translated by Lawrence Schimel (7736 words)

This is a strange story about possibility, about self, about exploration and destruction and service. In it, an engineer named Stephana is part of a project to explore the universe. All while not leaving the skies above St. Petersburg. To do that she is inside a ship with a vast artificial intelligence (well, artificial intelligences, really) that have been wrapped around the dead body of a boy, Piotr. And Piotr manages the experiment that will bring different Stephanas into the ship they share, different versions of Stephana from different realities, different probabilities. All in some way doomed to die because there is only one of them that can return to their reality. The rest are supposed to move on, to venture forth, but even that is complicated by what happens and, well, shit gets real, people. Shit. Gets. Real. [SPOILERS] I love the way the story explores the idea of possibilities, the idea of identity. That all these different people are the same person and are so different. Most female but not all. From the same parents but kinda sorta not. I just love how open the story is about showing how each version of the character is completely valid, that there is no lesser variant. No variant at all, really, because they are all equally so. It's a great moment to realize that this boils down to something much less speculative, that each person is no more variant than another, that everyone just is, is valid and their own person and real. It's a powerful story and one that delves into some dark and complicated waters, bringing Stephana into this strange world where everything is ending, where everything is combining, where it's hard to feel the hard edges of reality. And ultimately it's about dissolution and about seeing beyond the rather arbitrary divides we construct to Other people. It's about those things falling away and self and chance merging into something frightening but beauty. Alive with the truth that it is fear that keeps us apart, that keeps us from understanding each other, from being able to interact as true equals. An incredible read!

"The Witch's Knives" by Margaret Ronald (2864 words)

This is a rather sharp story about love and about curses, about abuse and about magic. And I love the way the story begins to explore the main character, a woman named Leah who has traveled into magical realms to seek a cure for a curse effecting her husband. There's a heavy evocating of fairy tales with this one, Leah a character married to a man who was a beast, who couldn't help but be a beast, or at least so she thought. [SPOILERS] And when her love failed to dispel the curse fully, she left in search of the witch who put the curse on him. And for eight months she traveled the world and beyond before coming to the right door. And yes, I just love that sense of scope and journey, captured here in the fatigue of the main character, the story that she's told herself about her situation. Because to me it's not that she's living in a fairy tale so much that she's wrapped a fairy tale around herself and her marriage to try and make sense of it, to try and make it into something beautiful and magical when it seems more to be rather abusive and draining. That if what she wanted was magic Leah has proven that she can find it all her own, that she can push through to strange and mystifying places and face down dangers her husband knows nothing of. And that, more than trying to save her husband, her travels have been to find herself. To discover what is that she might want, that she might be. And I love the way the witch and Leah interact, the easy conversation and the understanding there. And the ending! Ahh! The way that it reframes the idea of sharpness, the idea of an edge. That it isn't bad to be sharp. That it isn't wicked. That there is a damn good reason to be sharp. I love it! So yes, it's a vividly rendered story with an excellent edge of darkness and an affirming, uplifting feel. Go read it! 


"Their Song" by E. P. Beaumont

This is a short but incredibly strong poem about erasure and the rewriting of history, typically by those who benefit from the retelling, by the corrupting of what happened. To me it's about the way that we mine the past for simple stories when the past is made of nothing of the kind, no neat tales with beginnings, middles, and ends, with recognizable heroes and villains. History can be a source of inspiration, yes, and affirmation, but only by seeking to look at history in a complex and nuanced way. Without that it only becomes a song stripped of its context and presented in black and white terms. And the poem does a lovely and provocative job of reminding people that the "history" they known far too often comes from entertainment. The fairytales that are told now might be done with movies and television but they are no less pervasive and insidious. What is Saving Private Ryan but a sort of fairytale? This poem is a recognition that even when we seek to reach back into history for the truth, what we bring out is too often a comfortable enough version of it. One that might not be incorrect but that ignores so much, erases so much, as to be an act of violence in itself. And yes, this is how we end up swearing over the bones of the dead again and again and again, the same bones but deeper and deeper each time, the graves stacked on top of each other and layered as time. The reason we come back is because the version of history we tell is the one that lets us come back, that lets us choose a new victim and a new scapegoat and a new enemy, that doesn't want to remember what that kind of thinking has led to. It is an amazing poem, short but dense and with a call to resist painting over the past with a more convenient message. Check this one out!

"My Heart Is Set on Wandering" by Lev Mirov

This is an interesting and haunting (and haunted, in some ways) poem that for me speaks to a feeling of wanting to find a place to belong but being caught between places, between states of being. The living and the dead mingle in this poem that draws on a single long and rather dense stanza, but they do not really speak the same language. The narrator is beset by the dead, surrounded by them and possessing a vision that doesn't really allow them to look away. I love the way that the title and the first line can be read a bit like "set phasers on stun" so that it feels to me that the heart has settings and that it has been set to wandering, and that setting pushes the narrator out and on, never really still and always looking for something. Of course, the more common interpretation of that line is probably that the narrator's heart is determined to wandering. That it has made a decision about it and refuses to relent. Either way the wandering takes the shape of travel and discovery, of seeking something that doesn't seem to exist. Fellowship. Belonging. The narrator seems between cultures, their parents from very different backgrounds and them somewhere both between the two and of both, so that there is some measure of belonging in either, in all, but also a lack. Because while there can be an either/or sort of belonging, it doesn't really extend to all of the ways that the narrator identifies, and so as I read it the wandering continues. It's a moving piece that examines the dead and not really having the tools or the language to know what they are saying, so that there is this disconnect from the dead and the past, and yet a desire to be among them, to see them, to try and understand them. I like the way that it all draws together and the feeling the poem evokes. A great read!

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