Friday, February 16, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/05/2018 & 02/12/2018

February brings a touch of the weird and rather literary to Strange Horizons, and the first two issues each feature a story and a poem that explore violation, bodies, and exposure. For me, the stories have a dense, rather poetic quality to them, the sense of reality bent around metaphor and pain. There's a heavy weirdness to them as well, with people becoming bears, bodies becoming art, and an all around just kind of uncomfortable/icky feel to things (I know icky is like the most literary of terms, right?). But there's a sharpness to the discomfort, an edge to the disturbing that these pieces reveal. And the poems are as always deep and layered and interesting and let's just get to the reviews!

Art by Dan Rempel

“Her Beautiful Body” by Adrienne Celt (2759 words)

No Spoilers: Join the tour for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to see and touch and experience her beautiful body. This story is to me an uncomfortable and fascinating look at beauty, at objectification in its purest state, in its most seductive and logical of voices, making the piece about part and aesthetics and bodies, but also about people’s right to those bodies, to that beauty. It’s a story that leads the reader onward, through exercise and thought experiment, seeking not just to reveal but to persuade, and it does a disturbingly good job of building up this tour, this experience. Probably don’t plan on having a great feeling after reading this one, though I think it’s very much worth spending time with.
Keywords: Bodies, Display, Beauty, Touch, Tours
Review: For me, this story feels like sticking your hand into crystal water and finding that it had a film of oil on top of it—a kind of unclean shiver of a story. Because, really, it does such a great job of capturing this voice of a person completely committed to the beauty of the human body. Or, more specifically, a woman’s body. And while there’s definitely something to be said about bodies, about grace, about power, and even about beauty, the way this story constructs its arguments, its tour, is unnerving and for me just so unsettling. Because it seeks to assert a right people have over bodies, and specifically over women’s bodies. The right to see and appreciate even when that appreciation means unwanted touching, unwanted imaginings. Even when it means these constant violations that the person didn’t ask for or consent to. And the narrator here brushes that aside for the value that her body can have for others, for the public, for those who want to touch her and move her, pose her and play with her. Or with her body, because the story explains that it’s really the body that’s important. It’s a wonderful examination of objectification, of treating people as only what others can get out of them. They stop being people and start being things, and the voice here embraces that, encourages that. The effect for me is one of skin-crawling apprehension, but one that comes with having been challenged about where the line is between appreciation of form and bodies and exploitation and violation of the same. A great read!

“On the Occasion of a Burial of Ernest Zach Ulrich” by Mary Kuryla (4585 words)

No Spoilers: Okay, so not going to lie, this one is a hard one for me to review, full of a strange flow, a mixing of consciousnesses, of bodies, of crimes. It features a funeral of sorts, a confession, an accounting, and a very weird series of events. The events are related by someone possessed or who was possessed by a spirit (I think) about time that was spent by that same spirit as a bear. But what really happened, and what it all means, depends a great deal on how you read the events, and how well the picture of everything comes together for you. For me, what coalesces is a deeply uncomfortable confession, full of metaphor and hurt and abuse, and it leaves me feeling unsettled, uncertain if I truly understand but rather certain that, whatever happened, it wasn’t pleasant.
Keywords: Bears, Winter, Torpor, Medium, Possession
Review: This is a rather surreal piece for me, one that gives me pause as a reviewer in the same way that poetry can, because it’s a rather poetic piece, and it’s hard to tell what’s transpiring logically and what’s...well, what’s more dreamlike. The story follows a retelling of a series of events that took place when E.Z. Ulrich was in the body of a bear awoken in the winter, one that kills a fawn and finds a girl alone at home. It’s a story of predation, it seems, but it’s a bit difficult to parse (for me) what’s really happening, because it’s like the bear-narrative and the human-narrative don’t always meet up. And, well, the bear-narrative is strange, is unsettling, might all be a dream or a vision. It might be a way of saying something about being a beast, being a monster. It might be about finding out that this person that everyone seems to have known enough to show up to a funeral for is not the man people thought. That he had this hidden side to him. Or perhaps an entire hidden existence, where he removed himself from his body and became something else, an animal that killed and hurt and didn’t know its own strength. The effect of the story for me is conflicted, at one time strangely forthright, a confession in the true sense where the speaker is trying to come clean, broken only by a few excuses and justifications. But it also seems like when you try to tell someone a dream, where the real meaning is lost somewhere, and what’s left are impressions, half-truths, metaphors. I’m not sure I entirely _liked_ reading the story, but it definitely left an impression. It’s probably a piece that wants to be revisited, to be more carefully pulled apart, and if you have the time and inclination, I’d very much like to know what you come back with. A fascinating read.


“Akron” by O Mayeux

This is a strange, fractured poem that swirls around a tragedy, a crash. It’s structure is immediately catching, three columns of text that seem like they could flow all together or...not. That work together nevertheless to weave a scene of destruction, of something going Very Wrong where the poem itself seems to have crashed, come apart, shattered. It seems to point to the 1933 destruction of the USS Akron, an airship that was struck down in a thunderstorm—an accident that killed over 70 people. What I like about the piece is the way that it seems to emboy the crash itself, the left column maintaining some semblance of order, telling the story of what happened, the middle section handling the immediacy of the situation, the explosion, the fire, and the right column exploring the aftermath, the explanations, the ways that people tried to make sense of what happened. Together, it creates a picture of what happened, a mess of life and death and people scrambling to want to find some way that it makes sense. And for me the poem seems to point in a different direction, to reject the idea that this is something that can be fully contained in a dry narrative, or in any one thing. It’s something that seems captured only in the mix of everything, the past and present and future rushing together in the vacuum left by the airship’s destruction. It’s a captivating piece, a puzzle that can’t be put back together because there are pieces missing. And those missing pieces tell their own story, of terror and loss. It’s a bit of a weird poem, but I do love how it comes together, and I think the chances it takes pay off well. A fantastic poem!

“The Maenad to Her Artist Friend” by Amal El-Mohtar

This is a delightful poem about care and about friendship, about the impulse to comfort and soothe others, while at the same time soothing oneself. At least, for me, the poem is about the ways that friendship works, the flows of energy and hurts, the way that to see a friend in pain means you feel that pain as well, and in trying to understand it and work through it, to get past it, friends often share pain, spread it around like wine from a bottle, exorcising their hurt even as they fill glass after glass. And really I love the flow of the poem, constructed in three line stanzas with a regular rhyming pattern (not sure if this construction has a specific name or not, tbh), with a single line coda at the end. For me the construction gives the piece a feeling of cycles, of constancy, implies that the friendship is built on these action, on this trust. That through the flow of time, the ups and downs, there is a presence and a comfort to be had here, one to battle the doubt and the fear and the voices external and internal that might be causing pain. Here is the counterweight, the chorus of positivity, the desire to see those voices silent and find a return to feeling better, able to move forward again. And it’s one with an edge of magic and blood and a hint of something dark and deep. That this is not just placation, not just empty words and an attempt to numb the pain away. That there is more to the wine that’s being offered than the alcoholic content. That it’s a sort of promise. That idea of “I could not offer any less” is one that I return to (and that the poem returns to), and I read it not as “it’s no trouble” or “I’m obliged to do this” but rather they are moved by their friend’s distress to offer everything, every bit of themself, in hopes that it might be enough. Not necessarily to erase the pain. Not to magically fix everything. But to help. And even if they can’t, still they offer to break every lesser rule, because friendship is a higher one. Because they want to. Because they care. And it’s a lovely poem, short but long enough, and I love the quote at the beginning. Definitely go and read this poem—it’s fantastic!


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