Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 12/19/2016

Well, I really thought that there was going to be an issue of Strange Horizons this week, but it makes sense what with the holiday weekends to take the time off. It means, however, that I'm only looking at one story, one poem, and one nonfiction work to close out Strange Horizons' 2016 content. Luckily these are some very provocative and innovative pieces that speak to how stories are told, whether directly (in the case of the nonfiction), by showing the possibilities of storytelling (as the poem does), or by challenging conventional storytelling techniques (like the fiction). All told, these are SFF works that really push the boundaries of storytelling, crafting tales that shift as you move them in the light, each new angle a new layer to be explored, a new world to be discovered. Strange Horizons always does a great job of making me think, and these pieces certainly keep that tradition going strong. To the reviews! 

"The Three Nights of the Half-Gent" by Mário de Seabra Coelho (2490 words)

This is a rather strange and haunting story about death and fear and being whole. It features Half-Gent, a person living in a land of the dead, in he first night which seems to be a sort of holding zone. After it comes second night, a sort of nightmare that all of those in first night want to avoid. And lurking even further beyond but coming ever closer is third night, which seems to be the end of all things. And this is the surreal landscape that defines the story, that gives weight to Half-Gent's struggle to connect and do something and change himself despite being dead. The specifics of the piece are rather vague to me, just the outlines of events that happened, that led up to the death of so many people, but there's this strong tragedy that permeates the atmosphere and setting, that shows Half-Gent as not quite whole, as having been cut short in his life and uncertain because of it, still chasing the same dreams, the same vision of the dancing ballerina. It's a beautifully written story that reveals this loneliness and fear that Half-Gent has, but also his resolve and his bravery, the way that he finds himself even in the face of the end of the world. It's a story that's probably due more than one reading, and it's short enough where that's not a huge commitment. The whole thing reads as a bit macabre but also ethereal and with a ghostly beauty. And the ending is just light enough, just happy enough, to be complex and deep and satisfying. It's an interesting story, certainly, with a great feel and lingering impact. 


"ICE/SHADOW" By Mari Ness 

This is an excellent poem about the cold and about decisions and about safety. And it's a nicely innovative poem that uses a but of html to create a layered experience that gets deeper as you read. At first there is just the one longer stanza, seventeen lines that evoke this deep cold, where the reader becomes a character in the piece, and are being spoken to by some unknown person. It's a rather creepy premise, actually, that the reader is seeking safety and the narrator seems to be seeking to take advantage of them, of us, by taking that request too far. The sense of cold is palpable and complicated by the second stanza, which can (in my opinion) either be read as a continuation of the first, a sequel as it were, or as a missing half of the first stanza. So, in other words, I can read it either top to bottom on the left and then top to bottom on the right or bridging the gap between the two sections to create one mega-stanza. Each reading leads to a slightly different reading to me, but all are also very closely linked, creating this no-win situation between the ice and the shadow. The safety being sought is in every situation something revealed to be rather false in the end, requiring transformations or freezing, trapping the reader in any case in a safety that lacks freedom. And all the readings seem to reach away from this binary option, away from the voice that is laying things out so calmly but poisonously. There has to be a way beyond, to refuse either the ice or the shadows, to refuse the easy promises of safety by living with risk and still fighting of something good and just. It's an amazing piece that you should definitely spend some time with, so go read it! 


"Metagames: Conflict and Consensus" by Andrea Phillips

This is a nice article about how art influences the way we see the world and the way that imagine approaching conflicts and resolutions. Because most games design themselves to play into a lot of the ways that humans compete and are motivated through conflict (giving a very rigid good vs evil, using violence the primary tool of change, showing great victories coming because of the actions of a heroic few, etc.), they tend to play up the rhetoric of simplicity, violence, and Otherness. Especially when games needed to be simple because of hardware limitations, the traditions have become to rely on very simple mechanics and very simple storylines that glory violence and insular thinking. And the article shows that in some ways this is a failure not in the technology of video games or their potential but in the imagination of creators and perhaps the industry as a whole to step outside the comforts of those traditions. What video games need is in many ways what every kind of art needs, which is a complexity of ways of solving problems. Movies, television, and written stories share in this problem and tendency, though I think that stories have a bit more easy a time imagining a way outside of violence to effect change (but then, I imagine that shorter stories are like the non-AAA video games—they innovate, but not as many people are paying attention). I can only hope, as the article seems to, that people will start to realize the power and responsibility of games and art and try to make messages that don't promote violence or "heroism" as the sole ways to solve a problem. That look at cooperation and empathy to win the day. It's something I want to see in video games and the rest of the entertainment industry as a whole. So yeah, it's a nice article that's well worth checking out!


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