Thursday, April 27, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 04/17/2017 & 04/24/2017

There's another two weeks of content from Strange Horizons and it's...actually rather manageable. One new story (and a flash fiction at that) and two new poems make for a fairly quick read, but the content is still in keeping with the high quality expected from the publication. The fiction is heavy with the weight of tragedy and hope and scarcity and hunger, and the poetry is reaching toward different worlds, toward things that seem and perhaps are out of reach. These are pieces about the distance between pain and numbness, between hope and despair, and the pieces all explore how people can keep going despite bitter circumstances. So let's get to the reviews!


"Seeds" by Margaret Wack (894 words)

This is a nice (probably weird to call it nice but eh, still) story about the end of the world. More specifically, it’s about young woman named Snow and the scarcity of the world post-disaster. Post apocalypse. The end of the world is a fairly tried-and-true concept in SFF and here the whys and hows are swept away in favor of what remains, which is humanity and desperation. The people around Snow all tell stories and like most stories told during difficult times the stories are of better times. Of hope. And so the story itself takes on the shape of one of these tales, chasing after what scant hope remains in the world after the end of things. And it’s a wrenching read, short but with a good rhythm and a sinking feel to it. This world that the story reveals is not a nice place and most of the technology of now has been stripped away. Most of the names, too, have been stripped away. But some remain. I like how the story focuses on maps and need, how people make maps because the maps do more than just represent here and there. The maps are guides for getting things, and in this scarcity-rich land that’s very important. Snow is someone aimed for beyond, aimed at the stories she’s been told her entire life. Aimed at humanity’s last hope, which works in nicely with the title and also with things as they stand now, the ideas that people now are having to try and preserve something should something catastrophic happen. [OKAY SPOILERS] I’m talking seed banks and it’s interesting to see a story take that idea and turn it into this myth that would give people hope. That humanity can be regrown. That maybe something will survive and people will learn. Whether or not it’s still there isn’t really touched on—what’s more important is the hope it represents and the story does an excellent job of showcasing that. A great read!


"Explorers" by Ethan Chua

This poem for me captures the sense of wonder looking up at the stars finding itself somewhat dulled by the reality of those stars, by the truth that we are growing more and more isolated as time passes, as space becomes, well, more space and less full of lights and mass. The piece looks in some ways at how the universe is spreading out, how the romance of space exploration is something that must face these realities, the truth that the stars are not just islands waiting for us to find them but constantly moving targets, all of us hurtling through space away from each other. It’s not exactly the happiest of realizations but I think the poem does a lovely job of showing how the narrator, who dreamed of exploration since childhood, must face that sometimes you can be so fixed on doing a thing that you don’t realize that you’ve drifted away on your own, cut off and alone. But that there’s something to learned there, as well as something beautiful. And formally the poem does a nice job of putting its more denser and longer stanzas in the beginning, when things more full of hope and potential, and making the end a bit more sparse, with more space and blank page than words. It shows the way that people reach out, are compelled to explore and seek out new places. And finding that sometimes that isn’t exactly possible, and with that realization the poem lets in some of the cold of space, of distance, of reality, breaking the romance of the earlier poem and leaving the reader to ponder the weight of everything. It’s almost melancholy, and I like that it doesn’t offer anything to take away from the impact of the end, to offer any false light or message. It lets itself reach out into the abyss, and there’s something deeply understandable about that. A fine poem!

"The Sign of the King" by Mary Soon Lee

This poem captures a feeling of grief and directionless, of the shock of losing not only a person close to you but your purpose. And it continues to explore a great poetic setting that I’ve visited before many times. Here is the story of Li, formerly Captain of the King’s guard, in a self-imposed exile following the king’s death. The relationship between Li and the king isn’t necessarily romantic but it is close, the grief Li feels palpable and stirring, his whole world a field without end, without companionship, without much of anything at all. He moves through this unchanging sea as a way of escaping his failure and his feelings, trying to gain some sort of release from the sadness and shame and guilt and loss that he feels, and yet all he finds is an empty space where his duty and his love used to be. It’s a beautiful look at this character who is so consumed by grief that it becomes his whole world, this waiting for some sign that he will heal or, perhaps more accurately, his pain will be undone. And the ending of the poem gives a hint of that, not exactly explaining what has happened while Li was away but giving him hope again and flavor so that not everything is bland and cold. The language is evocative and full of suppressed emotion and the structure is such that I felt the time and the vastness that this grief created, and the hope for joy that returns at the very end. And the title sets things up so well, showing Li’s longing for a sign, for a call to return to service, but afraid that his story is over, that he can’t move on. What he might find after the poem closes is unsure, but what’s certain is that there is a great change here, captured so elegantly in that two line coda. It’s a great poem that you should give spend some time with!


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