Monday, September 18, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 09/04/2017 & 09/11/2014

Hey! Strange Horizons is running their fund drive! It’s almost over! GO SUPPORT THEM!!! You get things like mugs and shirts and pins and just do it, okay. Strange Horizons is hugely important to SFF, in my opinion, and does amazing work. Case in point, I’m looking at three stories and two poems today that are rather stunning. They look at loneliness and loss, at compassion and patience, truth and love. These are stories that feature characters looking for connection, hoping to save someone, even if that someone is themself. The poetry is moving and haunting and everything weaves together to create a feel of warmth and chill, comfort and grief. It is some fantastic work and I for one want Strange Horizons to continue for a long time to come. So check out the fund drive, give what you can, and get ready for some reviews!


“Twelve Pictures from a Second World War” by Nghi Vo (977 words)

This is an interesting and layered flash fiction that presents scenes from around the world during World War II. In each of the photos there is something supernatural going on, painting a picture of an alternate history filled with complications and magic during what is an almost over-chronicled period of world history. More than that, though, for me, these pictures also explore the nature of the real war, showing aspects and places rarely visited in the popular historical explorations of the battles and conflicts, the personalities and winners and losers. For all that everyone seems to love World War II, there is a lot about it that is shrouded in historical obscurity because of the way it goes against other popular beliefs. The history that people like is one that has been largely sanitized and delivered to an audience who wants to believe in good guys and bad guys, Allies and Axis. And yet the conflict was, by its nature as a world war, complicated, and so dire that many historic prejudices and intolerances were eased while in other areas people stepped up to throw off the shackles of colonial rule. Resistance and fighting came from all sides, and in ways that most people don’t know about. And so, for me, while these pictures do literally show aspects of the war that never happened, they also draw parallels to those arenas of the war that were often overlooked. That it wasn’t just white Americans and Europeans fighting this war—that the beliefs and magics and folklore that enfused the people fighting came from all over. That to see these pictures and dismiss them as false or make-believe would be to erase the very real people who fought and died and lived through a global conflict that had very global consequences. And that for all they’ve been largely erased by those writing about the war, they existed and are waiting to be exhumed, to be added to the story we’ve told about the war. So yeah, it’s a great and moving series of pictures that form a powerful message. A great read!

“The Tears of a Building Surveyor, and Other Stories” by Aliya Whiteley (6547 words)

This is a strange story that blends fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, the long march of life and a memoir detailing what might have been. It’s a story that’s full of metaphor and meaning except where it isn’t, or when it slips up, or when it is purposefully vague, or...something. Part what I like about the story is the confusion of it, that it feels like an exploration for the character, Violet, as she writes this memoir of nonsense, this account of her life that makes things important and large. What it covers over is a life that is much more mundane, though no less troubled, complex, or beautiful. Violet’s life was never easy, and yet writing it down it doesn’t seem right to simply give a “proper accounting” of everything. After all, Violet’s life is a bit of a confusion, thrown for a loop with the news that her husband, Tom, has cancer, and ever since she’s been caring for him when he was supposed to be the one caring for her. It’s made her life something of a farce, a tragedy, and as she rebels against it she also is moved by the love she bears her husband and the inertia that runs her life, that keeps her on the track she’s on. [SPOILERS] Her memoir in fantasy is built around whims, around random things happening to her, orchestrated by God in order to test her, and as the story moves the parallels between this fantasy, this lie, and the truths she slips into the mix become clearer, showing someone who doesn’t feel in control, who feels like a passenger in her own life. Which is a feeling that I think many understand, the sensation of being stuck in a role that has never exactly fit well, but has seemed good enough, that has worked out okay, and now being reminded of mortality Violet doesn’t know what to do. In some ways I love the naming of the character, because there’s this feeling for me that she’s waiting to bloom. Waiting for just the right circumstances to somehow set her free from the boring grind of life and open her to something meaningful and artistic and amazing. And yet that moment might never arrive, and all the waiting might be in vain. And it’s frightening and difficult and the story doesn’t flinch from that. It confronts the specter of obscurity and leaves the ending a sort of open ended question, one that unsettles as well as almost comforts. It’s a great read, though, and I definitely recommend checking it out!

“Watershed” by Allison Jamieson-Lucy (4393 words)

This is a story about kindness and compassion, about the call of the sea and hope. I stars Koha, who raises hunting eels and who understands the draw of water and the call of the sea. Along the shore they meet Ihiteru, a river-walker who can call to the water, who can walk upon it and use it for various purposes. It gives her power and purpose, but at the same time it comes with a heavy price, that at some point the call of the sea will become to great and she will leave and not return. What happens out there is largely unknown, but it has become shrouded in sorrow and led many people to shun the river-walkers, to avoid touching them, to keep their own children far away in an effort to protect them from that eventual fate. For Koha, though, their goal is to try and keep Ihiteru on the shore, away from the sea. To offer her a genuine alternative that is fulfilling and kind and comforting. To show her that there are still people who will love her, who will want to be with her. The story swirls around these very heavy themes of going and staying, of someone being drawn to some far-away place from where they will not return. And the story takes great pains to be compassionate not only to Kona and her frustration that she cannot make the price of the water less, more fair and manageable, but of Ihiteru as well, never casting her desire for the sea as a weakness or fault or failure. Though Kona is almost desperate to save Ihiteru from her seemingly-inevitable fate, the story never fails to consider Ihiteru’s consent or will. She is conflicted, yes, and even with everything there is still some hope to the story, but the hope mostly springs for me from the place where Kona can respect Ihiteru even while trying to offer her something to stay for. It springs from the idea that Kona might never get what she wants, but can still be full of compassion and treating the river-walkers as people, not broken but feeling this great pull they don’t want to resist any longer. It’s a difficult and wrenching story in places, but it carries a beauty with it as well, for the relationship that these two people share and for the way that their love and regard is more powerful than their having to be together. That there is always a choice, and both characters get to make it. So yeah, it’s an amazing story that you should definitely check out!


“Underwater” by Matt Alexander

This is a strange poem that follows a narrator returning to their father’s home, to Pennsylvania, to a place that seems strange and full of sorrow. It’s a poem that for me evokes a sense of memory and distance, that the narrator is remembering something that is lost, a time that...doesn’t feel all that happy to my reading, and there is a sense to me that the story is about drowning, about the slow march of water over the world. Which might refer to rising ocean levels or might be something more metaphoric, something more magical. That in that state the miracles are all used up but something is still happening. Something is still moving. There’s a sense of darkness, too, that the piece creates by the scene it paints, the moon above, a sign that the narrator comes across. Because of the return, because the feeling of dread that seems to be growing, I get the feeling that the narrator has lost someone, that the trip to Pennsylvania is to settle some old business, and that the visit serves as a reminder to show how far things have come. How different from childhood and yet still similar, things marching down a path toward something ominous, dangerous, and twisted. And that it’s only the beginning. That whatever is happening there reflects some larger change that will be coming, that will be spreading to other states. That it reminds the narrator of that, like looking into a future they don’t want to believe in, that they thought they had gotten away from. But to be pulled back, that feeling of drowning, that everything is going under and there doesn’t seem to be anything to do to stop it. It’s an evocative piece that I admit I might be missing completely. But it sells the feeling of being underwater and looking up and seeing the rippling image of the moon through the water and feeling something like sadness, something like loss, and something like resignation. It’s a difficult poem but I quite like it and definitely recommend people check it out to see what they get out of it!

“Song of the Ghost Hunter” by Andrew Kozma

This poem for me seems to describe the feel and motivation of someone hunting for ghosts. Someone who goes into an old house and tries to dowse for some trace of something that remains. And, beyond that, the piece seems to be about bodies and about use, about occupancy and life. And I love the language of the piece, the way that it flows but also seems to linger with an emptiness, with a sort of dull quiet. The voice of the piece for me is one muted of much emotion, almost numb and yet also full of longing. Which is perfect for a poem about ghosts and hauntings and hunting. The narrator is the hunter, but their pursuit is not an incredibly active one. It doesn’t seem about the canvasing of the space, or the lifting of the floor boards. In many ways it doesn’t seem to be about looking at all. It seems more about the waiting, about the recognizing, about the listening to what’s there. What’s waiting. What’s been left behind in the wake of life, something fragile and small but no less there, no less wanting to be discovered. And the hunter is searching for themself in all of this as well, looking to make a connection that might be transforming, healing. That in this moment of recognition the ghost and the hunter can discover and affirm each other. It’s lovely and it’s quiet, mapping a space where these people, where these presences, can be acknowledged and embraced. There’s a whisper softness to it that I just find incredibly fitting, and in the end I feel it’s joyful story about redemption and space and loneliness. About finding something and being found. And it’s very much worth spending some time with!


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