Monday, July 17, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/03/2017 & 07/10/2017

It's another stellar two weeks of content as Strange Horizons moves into July. It's full of weirdness, with two original stories where magic is bleeding through into the more mundane world, where the main characters are looking either for escape through this magic or escape from this magic, and it makes for a wonderful pairing, where people find in the magic around them a pervasive danger and darkness, shattering any illusions that magic might be bright or safe. The poetry is at turns beautiful and rending, about connections and relationships. And there's even some wonderful nonfiction. I'm actually skipping one of the nonfiction pieces because it's more a review and I'm not familiar with the text, but I do very much recommend reading all of it. So yeah, to the reviews!


“A Slumbering Storm” by Rafaela Ferraz (5659 words)

This is a bracingly weird story about Eva, a woman seeking rest. Or maybe that’s not right. Maybe what she wants is an escape from her own thoughts, from her own compulsions and despairs and hurts. Maybe what she wants is a bit of magic to wake her up, to fix her, to quiet the demons inside her. Whatever the case, the story follows Eva as she journeys to a hotel where she hopes to find...what it is she’s looking for. She’s heard things. There are rumors of magic and of healing, and Eva is at the point where she’s about willing to try anything. The story does a good job of revealing Eva as someone struggling with depression, with finding some sort of meaning in life. She has the things that she’s supposed to want—a relationship, a job, things like that—but there’s something just missing about it. She thinks of this hotel like it’s a spa, like it’s a cure, and so goes chasing something that will make her feel better. And yet the story also shows how Eva is a fighter. Is confrontational. Which in itself might not be a bad thing, but she seems to be confrontational with herself, with everyone, and even as she goes seeking help she also holds back a part of herself as superior to all of it, as knowing more and being more deserving of help. Of not needing to be honest with people that she is expecting honesty from. And the result is that the magic that she wants to cure her doesn’t do what she expects it to. The story plays out a bit like poetic justice only the lesson is a bit muddied by the circumstances, and the ending comes across as a gentle caress and a wave goodbye instead of a solid statement. Which I like, because it leaves so much unsaid. The experience for Eva leaves her with new uncertainties, but also does seem to help her. Because it gets her to shift perspective and look at time in a new way, not as some oppressive force exactly but as something to be used and cherished. It’s an interesting and strange story and certainly worth your time. Check it out!

“Owl vs. The Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger (3429 words)

This is a delightful story of hope and fighting back against tragedy. It’s a piece that definitely knows darkness, but that’s rather the whole point of the story to me, that to know the dark, to know danger, is not to embrace it. For Nina, who from the time she was young has been seeing owls that precede tragedies and difficulties, having the advanced warning of danger isn’t something that often helps. Whenever she sees Owl, something bad happens. And Nina survives, and keeps going. But it doesn’t make Owl go away. Still He returns, again and again, taunting Nina with his presence and with his words. Now an adult and living on a sleepy forested road, Nina runs into Owl one night, and knows that she has to act. And I love her energy and her complete willingness to embrace the weirdness of the situation. She does not waste time in denying that Owl is Owl. Indeed, she’s angry that she keeps on having to deal with Him. And yet he does give her something of a warning. A warning that she’s determined not to let go to waste. She prepares, and she distributes educational material, and she waits. It’s a story that’s in many ways about practicing self care and caution when expecting trouble. She does what she can, but she also makes sure to rest and to stay ready. So when the tragedy begins to take shape, she’s fit to fight back. And I love the implication of the story that sometimes the tragedy that Owl represents cannot be avoided, but more often it cannot be avoided alone. So often it was just Nina who saw or acknowledged Owl, and so she knew something would happen, but it always happened to her, and other people weren’t ready to help. When it comes time that the bad thing is happening to someone else, though, Nina is finally successful. And I like that, that the power to prevent disaster in some ways must be cooperative, and I like how that works into the idea of the Neighborhood Watch. It’s a super cute story with a fun and fast pace and the ending is just perfect. Definitely go check it out!


“Ocean Heart” by Maddie Phelps

This is an interesting piece about a person with a hollow heart. With some space inside them for...something. The world around them has plenty of suggestions for what to do with the space, for how to fill it, and I like how the poem handles that, how it shows the different reasons that people give for how the narrator can fill their heart. All of them, though, are supposed to be for others. Most likely, given the way the poem seems to deal with societal expectations, the narrator codes as female, and the person that they’re supposed to be filling their heart full for in their future husband. The poem takes a look at the different roles that people, and especially women, are expected to fit into. Nurturer and provider and weigh-er of merit. The narrator’s mother tells them to fill their heart with saltwater, so that it will keep away those who aren’t a good fit, those who are unsuitable, but the truth is that it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are, all of the people are telling the narrator to fill themself for someone else. It’s the narrator who finds something different when they do fill themself partly up with saltwater. They find that the reason doesn’t have to be for someone else. That they like the saltwater within them, and because of that they become more comfortable with themself. Not because of who might happen along to thrive in their heart, but because the heart suits them, and fits them, and gives them substance they didn’t otherwise have. And in that it’s an affirming and lifting poem that deals with the ways people are pressured to love, and the ways that in spite of that, acceptance and love start within. So yeah, it’s a great read!

“The Slowest Way to Hades” by Jungmin Kim

This is a touching poem about connection and about aging, about family and death. The imagery of the piece focuses on age and life, on the way that time changes us. The way that we are twisted as we grow older, so that in many ways we become like monsters, frightening and invinsible because the fear of everything else is less, or because there’s more bitterness, or just for the hades of it. And I love the way the piece builds up the mythic feel of the relationship at the core of the poem, the one where the narrator is speaking to their sister, whether that bond is blood or something else. There’s a way about the poem that just captures this feeling of being outside of time, ancient and powerful and dangerous. There is this sense that I get from the piece that the poem is pointing toward this scope when it comes to time that is not measured just in mortal lives but goes on after that, strengthens and deepens even as the world changes and the rules of the world change. The opening of the poem evokes a speed and a rashness, but the structure of the poem, one long stanza that stands as a sort of monument, parallels the rest of the piece, the way that it stands against time, even in the face of the changes. It stands, because of the love that these characters share, because they are dedicated to each other, perhaps separated at times but always eventually coming together again, always there for each other. It’s a lovely and moving piece that is strong as stone, as lasting as the sea. It’s amazing and you should read it!


“Wakanda and Zamunda: A Fictional Comparative Analysis” by Mame Bougouma Diene

This is a very interesting essay comparing and weighing the relative merits of two works of fiction that feature American authors imagining African characters for various reasons. And it’s a step-by-step comparison that allows many of the similarities and differences to shine through. Black Panther might offer a more robust exploration of its fictional place, but in many ways it handles the idea of Africa in the same way—as monolithic, exotic, and as a way to shine light on American eccentricities rather than attempting to make anything resembling an authentic Africa. And nestled into this examination the essay also finds time to shift the focus and show that these are the texts that many look to when thinking about African stories, African characters. And that that’s a problem. And a problem that’s being addressed by African and African diaspora writers seeking to create characters and texts that reflect an authentic view not just of Africa, but of all the nations and peoples within Africa. On the one hand, the essay does a nice job judging the two works against each other, and at the same time it steers the conversation toward a place not where it’s content with “which is better” but where it can begin to ask “how can we all do better.” And it’s the kind of message that people need to see, especially when movies like Black Panther threaten to down out voices of marginalized creators in favor of Marvel’s corporate vision of the Black Panther. So yeah, it’s a great article that you should definitely check out!


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