Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/20/2017 & 11/27/2017

It's another two weeks of content from Strange Horizons, featuring a stunning horror novelette and two poems that explore art, voice, and freedom. The pieces weave together quite well, crafting narratives and experiences that deal very strongly with pain, expression, and community. They feature characters often dealing with the disconnect between rich inner lives and an external world that doesn't allow them to be at peace, where abuse is rampant and where true freedom can seem impossible. Instead they focus on the ways they can at least partially escape their oppressions, ways that they can still look for beauty and release and relief. These are some wonderful explorations of SFF and possibility, and I'm going to jump right into reviewing them!

Art by Tihomir Tikulin

“Three May Keep a Secret” by Carlie St. George (7682 words)

Well this is a very tense and gripping story about abuse and about pain and about talking. It features Scarlett, a high school student who’s been living with a secret, a story that a friend told her when they were both young, a little before that friend died. It’s a story with power, because when she tells it during what might be considered a drunken mistake, it wakes not just the ghost of her friend, but something else as well. Something hungry. And the piece captures such a great creepy feel to it, showing the scars left behind when something awful happens, when it gets twisted by the mind of a child, one that is being influenced by an abuser using their power and their age to hurt someone who can’t really fight back, who wouldn’t be believed if they tried to tell or at least can’t be certain they would be believed. And Scarlett has to deal with the fact that she, too, was at the fringes of this abuse, that her friend was going through all of this and trying to reach out and they ended up missing the other, caught in the web of half-truths and stories that couldn’t give name to what was really happening. Only Scarlett is figuring it out, putting the pieces that might always have suspected together to get a glimpse of the picture she wasn’t ready to face. I also love the way the story handles friendships, not just the very complex one between Scarlett and Samantha but the new one between Scarlett and Matt, one that allows them to be close without really having a romantic element. It’s a story that manages an easy tone and almost fun flow for all that it’s incredibly dark and uncomfortable and actually scary on top of it all. This is horror done quite right, made all the better that it sees the first content warnings from the publication, a feature that will be standard going forward. Just fuck, yeah, it’s an amazing story that you should definitely check out!


“One Fabric” by Zella Christensen

This is a rather strange poem composed of six three-line stanzas, which all weave together to create a feeling of unity but also rot, realization but also decay. The poem finds what might be the internal second person narration of a person who seems a bit paralyzed. Alive it would seem but unmoving, being spoken to either from within or without—either from their own mind or from someone with them, watching them. The feeling of decline and devastation contrasted with a sort of joy and whimsy of some of the imagery is interesting and creates a compelling landscape, one where the physical reality of the scene, a person in a run down apartment surrounded by rotting food and feeding cockroaches, meets a richer and more profound mental state, where the character may or may not be experiencing a moment of unity with the world, with the unity. I say may or may not because I get a sense of ambiguity from the poem, from the way I can’t be sure if the voice is that of the person in the room or if it’s coming from someone else, some witness to this scene. If the former, it seems a moment of realization necessitated by the situation, but the way the setting offers no real hope, and so hope finds a way regardless, must take on this joining of all things to allow the character an escape from this harsh reality. And if it’s the voice of some witness, then it speaks to me more of irony and and almost mocking air, this person face with so dire a sight and having to cast this person who might be just a body in a place into a grander role, a more meaningful role. The truth for me, to be honest, is a mix of all of this, conveys a feeling that true unity has to go beyond the quasi-philosophical, beyond a seeing the connections that bind all things together. That while we are one fabric, it’s something that can be used to erase the unfortunate realities and scenes, to glaze over the pain and harm with a veneer of higher language. To tell a starving or dead person that they should rejoice, we are all one people, even if only one of us is deemed worthy of a meal. At least, that’s what I get from this. It’s a strange and almost haunting piece that I very much recommend spending some time with. A great read!

“when she sings…” by Zora Mai Quỳnh

This poem speaks to me (sings to me?) of freedom and suffocation, silence and expression. It features a character who cannot seem to speak what they mean to say, who at the least cannot convey their meaning with just the words. Who find frustration and a crushing stifling when they try to interact in the way that everyone else does. And yet. And yet it changes when they sing, when they let go of the rules of language and grammar and instead rely on something else, rely on rhythm and music and raw emotion to convey their meaning. And then they are clear, they are brilliant, their song searing away the misunderstanding and the hesitation and the confusion. Which is glorious and which is freeing but which in some ways doesn’t quite reach the place where the character wants to be. Because, for all the piece is about when she sings, the other side of that is when she doesn’t. That for all her songs are transforming and transcendent, there is still this limit on them. It represents a moment of clarity before the song fades back down and reality and all the harsh confines of that reality snap back into place. And for all that there can be more songs, the songs cannot last forever and cannot break apart the prison that still settles back into place. But it’s still something strong, something that allows the characters to persist in hostile lands and keep going and keep trying. Which is a lovely message that I read here. An affirming is measured assurance that expression can defy convention, even if convention defines so much of how we must interact with the world. It’s a terrific piece and you should definitely take the time to enjoy the feel of it, the flow of it, and the power of it. Go read it!


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