Monday, November 20, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/06/2017 & 11/13/2017

Strange Horizons brings a pair of stories and a pair of poems to its early November offerings—pieces that swirl around growing up, danger, and being trapped. These stories feature women trying to navigate waters where they're not really protected from abuse or damage, where they are expected to act as lifeguards of their own bodies but are also essentially stripped of any ability or power to act when bad things happen. A lifeguard without the ability to swim or a floatation device isn't so much a lifeguard any more so much as a witness to drowning. The pieces show how abuse and vulnerability is passed down while keeping a taste of magic alive, in all its beauty and darkness, in all its complexity and tension. It's a lovely two weeks of content, and it's time to get to the reviews!


“Them Boys” by Nora Anthony (6477 words)

This is a beautiful story about growing up, about desire, about boundaries and about crashing through them, about time and stories and so many things. It features a main character who is staying with her mother at her grandmother’s place, where her mother grew up, but a place that carries a certain cloud of magic and memory and time. That the main character doesn’t exactly understand, because it’s not something that her mom has talked to her about, because it’s something that so many people wanted to keep secret. Not that there are merboys on the beach, in a cove where all the teenagers go. Not that there are parties there, and alcohol, and flirtations and the first brushes of pleasure and passion. That’s not the secret. Everyone seems to know that, and it’s something the main character gets drawn into, something that she wants, because it offers an outlet on all her feelings, because it’s fun and because the boys are alluring and kind in their own way. Because it’s something she wants, to be desired, to be pursued. And yet the story wraps all of this together, showing the main character finding out what happened to her mother and what might happen to her and going in a very different direction than I’m use to. Because it’s not about violation, really. It’s about expectation and education, about the way that young people are taught to act, to be, in order to fit into the expected roles waiting for them in the “real world.” And how there is something magical about breaking that expectations, about finding a place where they can be free. And how it’s allowed, but only so long as it carries with it a danger, not only a physical one but a societal one, that the expectations go deep, deeper than many are willing to go. It’s a sort of rite of passage into adulthood, and the main character sees the cruelty of it, the scars that it can inflict, that it has inflicted on her mother, and she finds a way to make her own path, to reject the rite and try to find something different. It’s a strange piece packed with lovely prose and a great feeling of magic and intimacy, of the main character finding herself in this cove, in this space where she can embrace her desires. And she pushes forward in interesting and complex ways, away from the system that has failed so many and, perhaps, toward a system that can be better. It’s a fantastic story that you should definitely check out!

“El Cóndor del Machángara” by Ana Hurtado (4704 words)

This is a difficult and rather disturbing story about darkness and about hunger and about being trapped. It features Ana, a young woman who is trying to grow up in a household where she is not viewed as a full person, where women in general are subject to the whims and demands of men to use women in order to make themselves feel big. It’s a story that, for me, is very much about power and frustration and being trapped. The story is framed by toxicity the way that the setting of the story is framed by a river heavily polluted, one that brings with it a sort of corruption that ends up defining the landscape, dominating it. The people of the town learn to live with this, to accept it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not a danger. It just means that the danger is not something they choose to look at, to validate. Instead, they blame anyone hurt by the river on those people, for being reckless or because they should have known somehow. For Ana, the toxicity inside her home comes from Nicolás, a friend of her father and a threat, a man who believes that women have their place and who encourages in Ana’s father the pride and misogyny that make Ana vulnerable. So that even knowing what a danger this man is, even knowing what he wants, she cannot avoid or escape him. She is trapped, her boundaries defined by men, by her father and brothers and this man, and without the power to define her own boundaries, what happens almost seems inevitable. Which is how the story challenges and provokes, with the hopeless momentum with which Ana is pulled toward ruin, the knowledge that it only happens because it’s accepted, because no one is willing to deal with the toxic presence. It reveals the darkness and the magic of it, the monsters lurking at the heart of this, fed by the poison of the river and encouraged by the silence of the town to perpetuate further evil. It’s difficult and haunting and drenched in a mixture of myth, reality, and tragedy, and is an excellent read!


“Ossuary for Fallen Plaits” by Lyrik Courtney

This is a rather strange poem about hair and about inheritance and about time. At least for me, who is a mostly-bald person, the piece seems to speak to the sense of loss and slippage that happens, the decline that wants to be denied, that wants to be fought against, but which cannot always be prevented. Genetics and time really are difficult things to fight against, and I like how the piece evokes betrayal and family, a sort of melancholy diminishing that lingers and deepens as the poem progresses. And okay, I will admit, I might be completely misreading this because of my own experiences. But I do like the imagery of the falling hair, the desire to reimagine it as something else, a flower or a science experiment—something beautiful or meaningful and not just this...thing. Not just this loss. It’s trying to find something to say about the loss, something to make it more intense and more vibrant and more alive. But instead its a bit of dead hair, a bit more gone every day, and the feeling that it’s some great tide taking something with it every day, every cycle, leaving less and less. It’s a strange poem and I’m afraid my reading latched on too much to one thing, but fuck if I don’t love this poem for my reading of it. The form of the poem itself is rather dense, a long stanza broken only once, unbalanced and with a feeling for me of teetering, of not quite knowing what to do. There’s that ending, with all its tactlessness, the blunt declaration of what has happened, and it leave me feeling just a bit hollow, a bit saddened, but also with a deep recognition. It’s complex and interesting and quiet and almost drowning in its effect and it’s a fantastic read!

“After ‘Moon Fishing’” by Alina Sichevaya

This is a nicely subversive poem that puts me in the mind of people to insist that hetero-normative attraction is a matter of “waiting for the right person.” Which...ew, but here we find a narrator who has been told to stay waiting for the man in the moon, and I get the feeling from the piece, from the magical feel of the poem, that it’s not exactly a man who they’re being told to wait for. Instead, they’re being told to fix themself, to find some idea of a man, some ideal that they can convince themself is attractive. To say nothing for the reality of the men who are probably around them, they are being asked to take that step, and failing that, they are being punished with a sort of isolation. With this reality of having to essentially wait in a corner waiting to be visited by the hetero-normative fairy. Instead, what enters into this space where they are supposed to be preparing themself for the man in the moon, is an entirely different but just as real kind of affection. Given the time and isolation, the narrator is able to make up their mind, to find themself and figure themself out a bit. But it’s not a man they find there, is instead a woman in the moon, and it’s a reality, a presence in this darkness, that perhaps they always suspected. Even if not, though, it’s a presence that they accept, that they embrace. But it’s also one that they conceal, no doubt because if they were made to sit in isolation waiting for the man in the moon just because of a perceived lack, a confirmation of something more...deviant would be met with a harsher punishment. And the narrator realizes that this is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to reject, but that it’s not safe. It carries with it a magic and a beauty and a liminal transcendence, but it’s something for the night, for the hidden times of day. Which is a bit bittersweet but it might last only so long as it takes the narrator to escape from those making them wait, to reach a point where they can fully embrace this feeling, this love. It’s a wonderful read that packs a lot of feeling into a short space, and I love the sentiment and love the effect and you should definitely check this out!


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