Friday, December 15, 2017

Quick Sips - Samovar 12/04/2017 & Strange Horizons 12/11/2017

Strange Horizons actually starts the month off with a new issue of it's sibling publication, Samovar, which focuses on translated SFF. Now, because the issue contains two reprints, and because I'm short on time with the holidays approaching, I'm giving those a pass for reviewing but I very much recommend people check them out. As it is I'm looking at an original translated novelette, as well as a short story and poem original and originally in English. The content speaks of strangeness and dread, destruction and hope. The stories are both dark and feature people trapped in a situation, finding that their imprisonment isn't quite what they thought it was, though they take two very different roads from there. And the poem is just a delight, fun and full of a nostalgic joy. Before I give too much away, though, let's get to the reviews!

Art by Jabari Weathers

“A Day to Remember” by Clelia Farris, translated by Rachel Cordasco (9753 words)

This is a pervasively strange story that speaks to me of art and destruction, of endings and beginnings. It features Olì, a woman who was formerly an artist who, in the wake of flood and heat, specializes in erasing or embellishing unpleasant memories, to take the bite of them away. It’s a weird landscape she travels through, a great sea broken up by islands that are the unsubmerged parts of buildings, that house the survivors of this climate nightmare. And yet for all that it’s a weird situation, and the world is a much fallen place, it’s not really a difficult place to get by in. Everyone has a role and everyone more or less does what they feel like—there is plenty, of a source, of most things but people, so there’s a laid-back feel to the story for much of it that seems to work into the themes of the work, how this heat and flooding are met with mostly boredom. There is no immediacy to these people because they are mostly happy, drugged and with the ability to manicure their memories so that nothing much bothers them, so that they can go through the world forgetting what would make them upset. In that, though, they have forgotten why they should be working to prepare for worse times, which do have a tendency to arrive when they’re most devastating. And the story does get much more immediate, much more dire, as Olì has to figure out how to navigate something that she wasn’t expecting—change. In the midst of that is a discussion about the role of art and the role of Olì as an artist. She brings that to how she manipulates memory, but she learns that there are more important uses for her talent, more pressing and useful ways to use art. Not to make people comfortable and complacent, but to inspire them. To make them remember what has happened and what needs to be done, so that things won’t deteriorate further, so that maybe something worth salvaging can be rebuilt. It’s an odd read but it’s compelling, tying together all these characters and revealing a bit of hope at the end of the world, at what could be a new beginning. A great read!

“Sasabonsam” by Tara Campbell (1794 words)

This is a rather complex little horror story that focuses on monsters and people, emotions and their weight of grief, love, and rage. The story begins its life from the perspective of the Sasabonsam, a monster who lives in trees, to can reach down with wine-like arms to snatch unsuspecting (or suspecting, it doesn’t really matter) people to devour. Only one of the people it has made a meal of is proving to be a bit more difficult than anticipated, and while at first the Sasabonsam seems to like that, the way it extends the flavor, there’s something else going on here that’s subtle and sinister. I do like the way the story moves, the way it twists back on itself. In some ways the story seems to be about the poison that is jealousy and the desire for revenge. [SPOILERS] Opoku Adofo, the monster’s first victim, is also a man with a lot of emotions roiling inside him, and in some ways is something of a monster himself. The story plays with the ways that the Sasabonsam doesn’t know the stories of the people it devours, doesn’t really care except with Adofo things start to change. It’s as if by devouring someone who was already full of hate and violence, the Sasabonsam tripped something in itself, a different stage of its life cycle. And the result is disturbing and pulled off well, I think, with a very definite turn toward the end leading to a lingering darkness and a growing realization about what’s happened. At the same time, the plot of the story itself is one that I normally shy away from as a reader. The voice of the story is that of a monster, and by centering that voice and that of Adofo, another sort of monster, it builds up this picture of their power. Or, perhaps, because it is so focused on Adofo and his punishment and fate and revenge, it’s somewhat uncomfortable for me because it shows how any pretense of "justice" is lost in the hunger for violence and need to find outlet for the hate burning within. For me, it's a way to focus on the ways these things happen, the ways in which men become or are monsters, but it doesn’t make for the most pleasant of reads. Not that it needs to be, and I think the power of it comes from the way it doesn't shy away from showing this progression, monster to monster. For a piece of speculative horror, it’s very effective and I recommend you check it out!


“A House is Not a Home!” by Adam Ford

This is a rather fun poem that takes the form of a text adventure game from the early days of computer gaming. Sort of like King’s Quest, but listed as Rom Spaceknight. Whether this means the poem is a take on a comic book through the lens of a text or text & graphics game, I’m not sure, though that would be an interested nested narrative to unpack. But the language and the feel immediately bring to mind the older games where you as a player had a limited number of actions you could do to provoke the game to change and a story to appear. This particular sequence follows you and your friends as you enter a house and discover that it’s haunted. The title works as the title of the comic book, a sort of over-the-top and on-the-nose device that I think comics use despite most people only remembering the series title and number (kind of like television episodes, and I love how the poem uses that, to make a bit of a joke and set the mood for the piece, complete with exclamation point). The action is interesting and immediate, leaning on the tropes of comic books and the ways that heroes might have a vast array of weapons that only really get brought out when times are tough and have a tendency to act as the deus ex machina. But then, making it a text adventure complicates this some and makes it more fun, because it implies either a back-story where the player had to retrieve these items, or that this particular player was aware of these items as a sort of cheat or Easter Egg. To me, though, the poem works as a part of a larger narrative, fun and rather beautiful in its own right but also building up this rather intricate structure around it, pulling from comic books and video games and old sci fi to produce an effect that is part nostalgic, part generally kickass. The condensed version of this review is: it’s a lot of fun and you should read the hell out of this poem because yes! So yeah, go do that!


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