After a fund drive and special issue it's back to business as usual for Strange Horizons. Luckily that means providing moving, deep, and insightful fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. I'm looking at two weeks of content today which translates into two stories, two poems, and a single nonfiction work. The stories are full of salt water and loss, hope and recovery. The poems evoke folklore and transformations, discoveries and darkness. And the nonfiction takes a look at SFF publishing that is…well, a bracing read. It's a solid lineup of work that takes an unflinching look at some difficult truths. So let's get to the reviews!
|Art by Susie Oh|
"A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover from the Bottom of the Sea" by Ada Hoffman (2645 words)
This is a wrenching story of love and yearning, of sinking and of trying to save someone. And, perhaps more precisely, it's about not being able to save someone. Because the story takes a nice look at consent and loss, harm and healing. The main character has lost their lover to the sea, and goes down to retrieve him. And yet there is something that ties him there. Something that the main character cannot break, that has to come from the man himself. And I like that, that the story really isn't about fixing someone or saving someone. That it's about being with someone and creating a space where they might want to move. Might want to break free. That the lover's chains are something that will destroy him, will eat him away to nothing, but that he doesn't know anything different. Doesn't remember what the sun is or how to be. And that breaking the chains is painful, and for the main character it means being patient and waiting or deciding to move on. And I love the different futures that the story reveals, the different ways that this can go. Full of grief or full of joy or full of loneliness. The magic of the story is amazing and the atmosphere has this pervasive pressure and darkness that I am feeling really hard after certain recent events. This is a story about trying to do good. Trying to heal and trying to help but knowing that there's only so much to be done and what remains is the hope that there will be change. That there will be healing. That there will be progress. And it's a difficult hope but one that I don't think even the infinite dark and weight of the sea can quite extinguish. A great read!
"The Wreck at Goat's Head" by Alexandra Manglis (6010 words)
This story takes a great look at history and family and the act of diving as opposed to sinking. And it shows Sana, a woman and apnea diver, dealing with the loss of her mother, with the slow drift away the diving way of life and shared history that connected her to her mother and grandmother and beyond to a Primal Diver, a sort of idea or god that watched over those who lived for the minutes under the surface of the waves. I love how the story seems to capture the restlessness of Sana, her grief not just at the death of her mother but that it means she is the last, the final link in a long and unbroken chain that won't go any further. And the story looks at home Sana pushes herself, not sinking into sadness but diving into it, knowing what she's doing but needing to explore the depths of her loss and her emotions to find something valuable there. And she does, both literally and figuratively, discovering an entire shipwreck lost to time but also, and perhaps more importantly, discovering her place in the water, her place in the history of her family. Not just as the end but as the culmination, the peak, being able to capture some spark of magic that no one had been able to previously. It's a story that is comfortable in the darkness of the subject matter, death and fear and the march of time, and I like how it brings something back. How the ship emerges from the past as if by magic and how it is reflected in Sana, something of a relic herself, if only because technology has made what she does unnecessary. But not unimportant, and I think that's what the story ultimately captures, that there is value in the connections to the past, in the traditions and the bonds that link generation to generation, and there is something lost when at last the chain runs out and slips into the inky deep. An excellent read.
"I Will Be Your Grave" by Tlotlo Tsamaase
This poem swirls with bodies and with death, with yearning and with a sort of possession, at least as I read it. The idea of loving someone and in so doing inhabiting them is interesting, a sort of drive to be interred in another person. Not consumed exactly but to rest in them. The poem has a strong feeling to me of seeking, of hurt, of exhaustion. Of living a life that has not been easy and finding a person that gives the hope of taking some of it away. But it also has a strong vein of fatalism, this feeling that the narrator is nearing death. Or nearing something. It's possible that they are dealing with disease or with their body shutting down, with their body no longer being reliable. So that they want a release from it, a way to put themself into another person, into their love. And I really like the way that the story twists this more familiar idea of finding a home in another person by making it a grave. There's also allusions to religion, not really specifically any certain religion but it works into the feel of death and rebirth, sin and forgiveness. Relief. More than anything I read a desire for relief in this piece, in the way the narrator keeping saying that they are ready, that there must be a place beyond genders and beyond pain and beyond sickness where they can rest. And I might be missing a lot about the poem, but I love the feel of it and it's definitely worth checking out!
"Home, as always" by Romalyn Ante
This poem evokes for me a feeling of emotions and conflict arising from being at home. From living with someone who doesn’t really understand you and who you can't quite talk to. There is this feeling for me with the opening of being so full of…frustration, of anger, that there is no way to articulate short of screaming. And this seems a frustration that goes both ways, but in the face of the child's (grown or not isn't exactly certain…this could be an adolescent still living at home or an adult returning home to visit) overwhelming emotion the father retreats back into a superstition that is rooted in teaching children to obey their parents. Don't yell or it will summon the aswang. Don't misbehave or it will summon the aswang. And for me the poem captures this conflict in the child, their regard for their father, their regard for their stories and folklore and traditions, and the urge to grow up, to be independent, to express themself. There's a great sense that this creature, that this threat the aswang poses, comes in the form of having to bend to the will of a parent, comes from having to stifle themself in order to get by at home. In order to keep the peace it always has to be them to give in, and the title seems to maintain that this will ever be the case, that there will always be this conflict coming back, having to struggle with the roles expected and with not living up to them. It's a great poem, short and well worth checking out!
"Me and Science Fiction: Women Writers and the Current State of SF Publishing" by Eleanor Arnason
This is a great and insightful look at publishing. Publishing as it has been and publishing as it continues to be. And I also realize that I have the book with the awful cover that's mentioned in this article and am even more excited to read it now. I will agree that covers can be…interesting. And I feel especially bad because I think I picked up To the Resurrection Station because of it's weird cover thinking that it would be funny. And it was, after a fashion. I didn't expect at all to love that book as much as I did. As much as I do. So I went to WisCon two years ago looking to get the rest of Arnason's work and accomplished that feat (even got them signed!), and I can say that going on covers I don't know that I would have picked them up, necessarily. So yeah, there's a lot about this article that is incredibly solid, that looks at the way publishing lets writers down and treats them…not always the greatest. It's a world that's almost painful to look at, because many if not most short fiction writers (myself included) I think aspire to write novels and this is not very heartening. Because I think that while I aspire to write novels, I don't know that I aspire to break sales records. I want to be popular, sure, but mainly I just want to keep doing it. And seeing things as not working that way, well…it's a bit sad. Sad and speaking to the need for readers to stand up for the authors they like. To buy their work. To try and think of new ways to bring writers out of the shadows. It's a tricky situation that the piece doesn't seek to answer. But it reveals the situation, which is important and powerful, and it does so anecdotally and well, keeping things grounded but hinting at the implications and giving a warning to those who envision the state of SFF publishing as flawless. An essential read.