Friday, August 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/17/2017, 07/24/2017, 07/31/2017

It’s a nicely balanced three weeks of content from Strange Horizons. For my part I’m looking at a story and three poems, though there was also a bit of nonfiction that is certainly worth checking out. All the pieces do a nice job of mixing the strange and the mundane, the exotic and the familiar. The story shows the magic of desperation and family, and also the ache of growing up and growing apart. And the poems look at fairy tales and out space, food and freedom. All the pieces digs a bit at something that seems like it might be ordinary and finds something fantastical to hold on to, even as they reveal very intimate, personal truths. So without further delays, the reviews!

Art by Sebastian Gomez

“The Dead Father Cookbook” by Ashley Blooms (6038 words)

This story to me is very much about family, about growing up alone and isolated without real support. For Addie, most of her life has been about trying to be what her younger brother, Ben, needed. With a dead mother and a deadbeat father, the two of them shared a world that wasn’t exactly enough but that had to be anyway. Ben has moved away to college, though, and without him, Addie is struggling, without him to anchor her and define her. And then their father dies, and things come to sort of a crisis, and Addie comes up with a plan to spend some more time with Ben—by tricking him into helping her eat their father’s remains. Which, fuck. But I love how the story looks at the messed-up nature of the sibling’s relationship, how they’ve been so close and yet how it’s not exactly the healthiest of things. Addie copes by dabbling in magic, by creating golems and animating strange items and this has been in large part a way for her to seem magic to Ben, to be what she hoped he needed. And that desire to be needed has driven Addie for so long that she seems to me unsure of what to do next. Things are slipping away, threatening to tear her apart, and she wants to hold to something. It’s not really a nice thing she does to her brother but it’s something that they have to do together, to help them both. The interaction between the characters is great, and the way the story builds their story is brilliant and a bit heartbreaking. Addie is alive and scared and Ben is damaged and wanting to move on. Forces are moving the siblings away from each other and Addie doesn’t want to lose her brother, but it seems to me that they both need to grow apart, that they need to find ways to be complete in themselves and not just as a pair, and it’s a story made heavy by the scars they both carry from their childhoods. It’s moving and it’s difficult but it’s also a great portrayal of people surviving and finding their own ways forward. And it’s a magical, amazing read that you should definitely check out!


“Beast” by Jenny Blackford

This poem seems to take a trope in fairy tales and flips it, perhaps giving it a more modern lens and maybe not. Part of what works with the piece, after all, is that it’s difficult to pin down in time. People don’t call them ritual bouquets, really, but the meaning of the poem is clear and works whether the piece is unfolding now or in a fairy tale from medieval Europe. The title and indeed much of the rest of the piece reads to me as a reference to Beauty and the Beast, after all. Except that while in that story the woman meets this beast and manages to transform him into a full human, the poem images something a bit different. Here I get the feeling that the situation is that the narrator thought they were marrying this perfect man (well, the poem literally says this, so...), but are unaware that there might be more to this person than they thought. Instead of perfect, there is this slumbering violence to him. A danger. Something that seems to be resting and was probably hiding throughout whatever courtship these people shared, but that is going to come out now that they’re married. There’s certainly this idea out there that marriage can be a time when men stop trying to impress, stop trying to be charming or attentive, and slide into the roles that society has prepared them for—to be abusive assholes, essentially. And I like how the poem approaches that, with short couplets, which do evoke something of the idea of the relationship between the narrator and their husband. That they are together and linked now but there is a lot that hasn’t been explored, and I love the lurking feel of the dread going on. The title really sets everything up and for a short poem is does a great job of capturing this feeling of hope and the prospect and growing reality that this is not the perfect man. Or if it is, he’s perfect in the way that society has determined is perfect and not in the way that would make him compassionate and a good partner. So yea, a great read!

“Seasick” by Jeana Jorgensen

This is an interesting poem about love as a net, as an anchor holding the narrator to dry land and away from the sea. The piece evokes selkies, implying that the narrator was once a seal swimming free through the waters but that a man stole their skin and so they’re stuck. In the mean time, they work. There’s a lot of cooking and dish-washing imagery in the piece, for me conveying the sense that it’s what this selkie does--washes dishes. It’s enough like a fate of washing potatoes to remind my of fairy tales, of these women who are toiling away for the chance to be noticed. Only here that situation is strikingly different. Instead of waiting for that right time to suddenly become a noble or princess and forgetting how much it sucks to be poor, the narrator has gone through the transformation the story promised, seal into woman, and has found no comfort in it. The story of the selkie wife being happy and obedient are not told for the benefit of the selkies, who never wanted to be chained. The poem for me becomes about this great push away from confinement and imprisonment and abuse. The love in the poem seems to be entirely one sided, not sickening because the narrator feels some deep love for what’s happened but because the narrator is repulsed by the selfish, one-sided love of someone who seeks to own them. And I like how the poem remains aware of the danger the narrator is in, and how she is active in her refusal to just go along with that’s happening. It’s a lull between freedoms for the main character, but there’s a strong sense that they’ll make it make to somewhere they can belong again.

“How to Eat Alien Kebabs” by Rohinton Daruwala

This poem does a great job of capturing something fun and affirming about the push into the great unknown of space. Cuisine. Those who follow me probably know that SFF and food is one of my favorite things and I love what this poem does with that, imagining this universe where yes, the food is going to be strange. It might be dangerous. But it’s also something that unites people. It’s something that provides a bridge across vast distances, for people to understand each other, or to start to. The poem is about not just that the food is strange and that people need to take care, but that there’s this great beauty to be discovered by paying attention and not being swayed by instant resistance or revulsion from the idea of eating alien food. And it encourages people to see their own food as extensions of this same possibility, that it’s not enough to just go out and consume. There is a trade that goes on, of experience and love and flavor. To go out and only be a tourist isn’t really what space is about, isn’t what is going to open the doors. There has to be an exchange, and I love that the poem addresses that. It’s a lovely poem that manages to capture the wild wonder of space and space travel through the use of a gustatory how-to. The piece is fun and slyly funny, evoking the best and worst of the culinary guides to different places on Earth while refocusing away from colonialism. And it works, leaving space for hope and community and exploration and understanding. It’s a great read and you should go check it out!


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