Friday, June 2, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/15/2017, 05/22/2017, & 05/29/2017

I'm taking things a bit easy with regards to the last three weeks of content from Strange Horizons. Meaning, I'm not looking at either of the reprints that appeared this week or the nonfiction that came out last week. I still very much to recommend you check them out, though. What remains is a single piece of original fiction and three different amazing poems. The works draw the reader into space, into the inky dark, and reveal glimpses of other worlds and possible fates for humanity. They revel in moments of crisis, in the quiet of important choices and the distance of dreams. Not all the works take the action far away from Earth, but there is a great mix of themes and experiences, flavors and styles. These are works to enjoy in the morning with coffee, surrounded by people but still, somehow, alone. So time to review!


“Light, Like a Candle Flame” by Iona Sharma (3326 words)

This story reveals a human colony a long way from Earth. Where after six generations people have disembarked from their generation ship and are trying to build something to last without making the same mistakes that led them to flee Earth. And in many ways to me the story is about guidance. The main character is Sara, who is newly appointed to a post that gives her influence over making sure the settlement has a future. In this capacity she is brought to advocate for a project to build a waste treatment facility that will allow the settlement to stay clean and expand. It’s a venture that’s not without controversy, as people think that it will lead to more and more—that it will lead to a repeat of what happened on Earth. And all the while this is going on Sara is dealing with an aging and stubborn parent and with Light, the consciousness of the ship the colony traveled in given a humanoid body. Sara and Light are partners, in love, and yet there is a secret looming between them, a reality that neither of them want to face, a future that exists for the colony that might not exist for Sara and Light. It’s a fun piece, too, that does an excellent job of capturing the voice and quirks of the characters, and the strange situation they find themselves in, caught between a legacy of Earth and their time on the ship and now with a new world, a new chance. It’s funny at times and yet it’s not exactly a happy story. There is a fog of melancholy to it and to Sara’s life, the way that she both wants what is best for the colony but doesn’t want to lose what she has, what she has built, what she cares about. And for her it means giving up so much, and it’s rather heartbreaking, even as the story remains focused on hope and growth. It’s a fantastic read!


“How to Breathe on Venus” by Symantha Reagor

This poem is framed as secret knowledge, passed on from mother to daughter, woman to woman, about how to survive on Venus and, by extension, any hostile environment. Which is to say, for women, pretty much every environment. I love the way that the poem unfolds, the way that it is wrapped in these bits of advice, this nuggets of wisdom, which all point to the same conclusions—namely, to be alive is sometimes to be in constant danger, at constant risk, and the way to survive is really only a question of degrees and time. And the use of Venus to make this point is brilliant, because it is this place that has been ruined by catastrophic change and made into someplace incredibly unsuited to human life. Which for women can be just another aspect of their existences, just another thing they are forced to deal with because people refuse to change, refuse to see that change is possible. In the face of gender roles and misogyny the world does become like a Venus, where there is no real safety, and certainly not in these bits of advice that are passed on. Never talk. Make yourself small. These are things that only erase the harm that is done, that is accepted. It makes these women at fault for ways that Venus would poison them, kill them. Just as we make that situation here on Earth. And I like that the poem changes from being advice to survive Venus to a warning about what might happen to Earth. What is happening. Not with its climate, though that is there as well, that small acknowledgement that Earth could tip into this abyss as well. But rather that the warning here is about social devastation and disaster. Because even as we live under the looming shadow of catastrophic climate change, we also live with the reality of social injustice that is no less serious or dangerous. It is here, with us, and unless we stop to track and seek to reverse social injustices, the possibilities for catastrophe disaster exist there as well. It’s a sharp and pointed piece that looks at our planetary neighbor to reveal a warped mirror of our own doom. And it makes for an outstanding read!

“Time to Want” by E. Kristin Anderson

This is a strange poem that is formed as a series of couplets, very light and airy in composition and lending a more ambiguous, mysterious feel to the piece for me. The use of the couplets also highlights the use of contrast in the poem, the way that the quiet that opens the first line is met with the strange violence being done, the fire and conflagration and death that seems to haunt the lines. The title helps to emphasize this while also softening the piece, making the focus on desire but more accurately the moment of desire. Which for me makes the poem feel a bit caught mid-way, caught between things, not wanting but waiting to want, not dying but waiting to know if life and death is next. If the title was “Time to Die,” after all, I feel like I’d have a better idea what was going on but instead there this question of what’s really happening for me. There is the quiet but also the run, the chase perhaps, the whispered prayer that I’m not sure is answered or not. Whether or not it is, the poem still hits with...a sharp softness. The way that it imagines gray as cool and intent and also flushed, the way that it seems to be about dying but maybe only about the desire to live in the face of death. A time to want could then be the time when want is strongest, when extinction seems most immanent. It’s a poem that lingers and leaves a lot of blank space, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps themself. Which has a lovely effect and is definitely worth checking out!

"Hot" by Cislyn Smith

This is an intensely charming poem about a dragon gone out to get some shit done in a place with free wifi. Intensely. Charming. I just love the way that it builds this scene and this situation, the dragon forced into a body that isn't really her own but that fits very nicely with the way that she must act in public. The restraint of the piece is what really sells it for me, that feeling that the narrator, the dragon, has to hold back from exploding at the assholes all around her, at the way that the world is organized to force her to either be small or be absent. There are few things more dangerous to be in public than a loud woman, which only rankles more because there should be no reason not to embrace power and grace and fury when it is needed, when it will serve justice and not some messed up vision of courtly manners. The poem takes this more archaic idea of the dragon to evoke the way that men often see themselves as knights working on behalf of princesses, and yet the reality is that women must suppress themselves in order to maintain that illusion, that story. And often they do because the world can find ways to punish them if they do not, but also they find their ways to rebel, to fight back, and the poem captures that, shows the small moments when the dragon can reclaim a bit of her sanity and her power and do a little good, even if it is also a little bit bad. I love the way the poem moves, too, casual and all-too-familiar and it's just a lovely and captivating piece and you should go read it and maybe smile because it's great!


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