Monday, June 19, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 06/05/2017 & 06/12/2017

Strange Horizons kicks off their first two weeks of June with a pair of stories and a pair of poems. I have to say, the stories probably couldn't be more tonally different if they tried, but both broach on some heavy themes of loss, hope, and movement. The first, however, does so with a frenetic, almost saccharine cheeriness, and the second with a stark bluntness that drips with grief and pain. Both are beautiful in their own ways, but be prepared for perhaps some fictional whiplash. The poems resonate as well with feelings of having power wrested away, of being subject to another's whims only to perhaps take back some measure of control. Or at least expose the damage done. It's a challenging two weeks of content but, as always from Strange Horizons, very rewarding. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Rachel Khan

“Utopia, LOL?” by Jamie Wahls (5025 words)

This is a delightfully fun and irreverent story about a cryogenically frozen person named Charlie waking up in a distant future where their tour guide, Kit, shows them around and gets them acclimated to the new status quo under the watchful gaze of the Allocator, the AI that basically runs everything. At least, it’s fun and irreverent until it’s not, until it’s heavy and deep and surprisingly emotionally striking. And I think a lot why the story turns so well from fluffy pillow to sock full of pennies is that it begins with such a ridiculous rush of happy enthusiasm on the part of Kit, who is drawn as a product of a future where waiting just isn’t very necessary, where people live in virtual worlds that can change in nearly-infinite permutations. Kit can be a bird for a year or an elf in Middle Earth for hundreds (though that one is really boring) and the great freedom of having these things available at any time has sort of ruined Kit’s attention span, so that she is constantly bouncing around, constantly on the move. It’s a whiplash feeling for Charlie, who isn’t used to this at all and doesn’t quite understand, but who is slowly brought into the swing of things thanks largely to Kit and her exuberance and her real care for him. And that’s something that I love about this story, that so much of it hinges on this care that Kit has for Charlie, this instant connection that she’s able to form. And I love how the story takes that and twists it some, brings it into this larger puzzle and plan that the Allocator has, because there’s a lot more going on than I originally thought. There’s this depth that only opens up at the end, when we catch a glimpse of what Kit has truly been doing, and what her role is in this larger pattern and hope. It’s an intricate and moving story that manages to also be unabashedly fun. It’s amazing and you should definitely check it out!

“The Fox Head Barks Facing Seaward” by Natalia Antonova (5003 words)

This is a haunting story about a woman living in a country that is never named, but one that is familiar all the same, wearing shades of all countries, all corruptions, all places where women and children are not safe, where they are prey, where warnings always come to late and the things and people who are supposed to protect you often don’t. And where, in turn, you can’t always protect those things and people who want to. The woman is going to school for interior design when the story opens, and this seemingly-trivial fact is actually something that I feel ties much of the story together. The narrator is one very concerned with design, with fate, with construction. She moves things around and gives them the air of dignity and grace even in a place where those things are largely illusory, impossible next to the naked brutality that occurs daily. I will say there’s definitely a content warning for sexual assault here, but I admire the way it is handled in the story, not softened or erased. Again, design is something the story plays with, and I love this conflict within the character who knows that the ways she has been hurt has shaped her into a someone better able to help others but still hates the world because of it, hates that she would ever be expected to see her own victimization as a sort of gift. The language of the story is stark but elegant, not really given to long dialogue or conversation but rather revealing this world and this situation and the life of the narrator. Things happen, often dramatically, but there’s almost a numbness to it, the narrator arranging her life as neatly and efficiently as she can while things constantly threaten to teeter into chaos and ruin. Violence follows her, and its a violence that the story confronts, over and over again, showing how pervasive it is and how it is largely allowed to continue, how it harries the narrator and how even in the end she never really seems free of it. The story does center hope, though, and movement, the design of the narrator’s life of repetition but also learning, so that in the end she is wiser, and perhaps stronger, and at the very least ready for what comes next, ready to release the past and embrace a future that might be different, that might be better. A fantastic read!


“The Monster-Maker’s Bride” by Meera Jhala

This poem looks at the act of creation and at the act of being created as a monster and the weight and power that comes along with that. The narrator of the piece is the bride of the title, and is being created as the poem progresses. It’s a bit unsettling of a read because of the obvious desire behind this creation. She is supposed to be a bride, crafted to serve and to give and to be this object that he can control, that the Monster-maker can own and use. And yet the poem looks at the pitfalls of creation and especially of creating a monster which is in many ways by definition dangerous and needing to be taken seriously. The poem reminds me in some ways of Frankenstein because it looks how a man can create a monster for his own reasons without really thinking about what the monster will want. Without thinking of the monster as a person. In some ways he seeks to put into the monster what he wants it to be, but instead he ends up putting in some of the same poison that already infects him. It’s difficult, I suppose, to create something wholly apart from yourself. The creator ends up contaminating the creation, no matter the intent, and because the creator here is rather toxic, the creation is not the vessel that he intended but a bride more than willing and able to take what she wants, to undo the harm that he has done in creating her. It’s a rather shocking and layered piece that explores what it means to be created and reiterates that a creation owes nothing to its creator, should be subject only to their heart and mind. And the bride of the poem does just that in powerful and glorious fashion, and it’s a dark and great and rewarding read!

"Hullabaloo in Thambapani” by Rushda Rafeek

This poem does some very interesting things with language, the title highlighting the aural base of the piece, the way that the piece seems more unified to me on sound and flow, on the slowly resolving picture of a place of conflict and perhaps war. The poem to me is a bit of a puzzle, the Hullabaloo sounding almost comical or harmless until the pieces start clicking into place, a hull, a bruise, a shadow. There is imagery of both fierceness and violence, predators abounding and heat and chariots all present and pointing toward something that feels dangerous, that feels large and looming and deadly. Something that is not going to stop for the narrator of the poem or for anyone. The structure of the poem is mostly couples with one four-line stanza and the way the lines move is both lyrical and strange. There is a sort of vagueness to a lot of what happens, an uncertainty, because of the distance between some of the language (the before-mentioned hullabaloo, and some like feisty vs. heavier words like rasps, mangled, and corpse). It feels to me like here we’re dealing with the distance between how some people will minimize conflict and tragedy and how other people have to live it. The title reads like a headline about some place far away, and in the distance from that it becomes almost humorous to the reader of the newspaper, the atrocities committed made into the joke of “doesn’t that name sound funny.” And what it covers up, and what it allows, is this pervasive darkness to spread, is this violence to flourish. It’s a difficult poem for me, and perhaps I am reaching, but it seems to be spoken by someone who has been erased, who has been lost under a cutesy headline in a far off newspaper while their situation is dire, and perhaps already so far past dire that all that’s left is death. And even if I’m completely off in my reading, I still find it a fascinating poem very much worth spending some time with!


No comments:

Post a Comment