Friday, March 16, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/05/2018 & 03/12/2018

Strange is indeed part of the name of Strange Horizons, so it should be no surprise that early March brings a bounty of weird stories and poems to the publication. From people living split lives between night and day, between genders, between husbands and wives, to a collector of moons, to a poem that’s also a game, to the boredom of immortals, the SFF on display in these two issues all take the familiar and give it a healthy twist. And yet in these strange takes on the world as we know it there’s a sort of carnival funhouse glimpse at humanity seen through new and interesting angles. Angles that might give us better insights into what it means to love and to yearn for. What it means to be alive, and be human, and struggle against all the ways we might fail, and dissolve. It’s a lovely collection of pieces that I’m going to get right to reviewing!

Art by Youheum Son

“Of Warps and Wefts” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo (5451 words)

No Spoilers: Dime/Chime is a person living in a world where to be married is to live a split life. Here Dime is a man married to Felicity, and Chime is a woman married to Ding. But Felicity has a second life and so does Ding, and it’s Ding’s new second marriage that’s putting some strain on his relationship with Chime. Really this is a strange piece about splitting time and about relationships, about the rush of new love and the solidity of love that has lasted for sixteen years. It’s about raising children and about talking and about finding a way to understand and be understood, to have healthy marriages that will work for everyone involved. And really it takes a deep and wonderful set of fantasy elements and makes them work to highlight a story that hits much closer to home, that is very much about how people treat their partners and maintain their families. Heartfelt, fun, kinda weird, but very rewarding.
Keywords: Marriage, Split Lives, Transformation, Children, Communication
Review: This is a story that strikes me with how easily it mixes fantasy elements into its world, with mentions of dragons and mermaids and a magic that allows people to transform when going from day to night. And yet for me, the heart of the story is much more...well, I hesitate to say mundane. But perhaps much more domestic, about the ways to promoting a different kind of magic, that of a happy household. A prosperous marriage. Even in the face of sixteen years, where maybe some of the intensity has bled away, and maybe some of the magic has been lost. The story shows that it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to just embrace the end, ignore the issues. It’s about communication and about the harmony that really talking with your partner can help to foster. Dime/Chime is in this situation where they feel like their hold on their relationship is deteriorating, like they’re losing Ding, and they allow that to then effect how they treat the other people around them. Their children. Their other partner. Things begin to reach the point where it could all blow up in their face. And then they are reminded that sometimes you need to talk things out. Not in the non-verbal way of cats (though I thought the cats was absolutely delightful in the story), but as adults, as people who have responsibilities to each other, to be respectful and to be open and honest. It’s a lovely and lively story that bounces through the rough patches of marriage but also shows the strength of people committed to each other. It’s fun and hopeful and strange and just a wonderful read!

“A Very Large Number of Moons” by Kai Stewart (1368 words)

No Spoilers: A collector explains their drive and passion to an unseen audience, the second person “you” of the story. And their collection is of moons, which can be captured and catalogued and passed down, which remain as they were first perceived. The narrator gives a tour of some of their more impressive pieces, all the while building up the magic of this world and a specific instance of this moon collecting in action, where the narrator and the audience engage in an exchange. It’s a strange story but also a lovely one, and I love the focus on collections, on the care that the narrator shows to their...well, hobby seems almost too casual. They are a keeper of things, and it gives them an almost sinister aspect at times, though I feel that mellows into something more...balanced and passionate, a sort of guardian of moons, even as they hunger for them.
Keywords: Moons, Collecting, Memory, Trade, Crash
Review: For me, the story is all about collecting, about the drive and the obsession and the joy and the darkness that can creep into the occupation. Because collecting can often be about the hunting for a thing, the obtaining of a thing. It’s about holding onto it, possessing it, even as most collectors want their collections to be seen and appreciated by others. Collecting is something that people find value in for itself, for the satisfaction of just having the things, but also for the value of the things. Here, there is a certain value to having these moons—they have been used by the government to gather information, and some are quite beautiful and fragile. But the main value is personal and lives in the care that’s been taken to preserve the moons, to catalog and present them. For the narrator, their collection is not solely about how much it’s worth or how much they’ve spent to obtain all the pieces. Instead the collection is valuable because of the journey it has taken them on, and because of the satisfaction that it gives to the narrator. They revel in the way people seek them out in order to see the collection, and they revel perhaps even more the stories behind each piece. It’s about trading and finding and compiling. And I just love how the story brings the the narrator from a more general conversation with “you” who could be anyone to one particular “you,” a character who has survived a harrowing experience and who has sought out the narrator and their moons. It’s an almost creepy moment when the narrator uses this as a time to trade, to wheel and deal, and yet there’s something wonderful about it, too, that captures the joy of collecting, when circumstances seem to align that allow the narrator not to possess, but to facilitate a trade. It’s a fun and strange piece that you should definitely check out. A great read!


“To Current Occupant” by Marie Vibbert

This poem looks at repetition and patterns wrapped inside a game. It’s interactive, giving the reader a number of things to choose, a number of different ways to shape the poem. There’s a great feel of sound to the way the poem functions, the reader constructing their preferred experience based on the sound of the letters involved, the consonance or assonance, the sound of the words together, trilling, flowing, building into something more personal even as it seems to me to be an exercise in fun as well. Because the poem is a game, emphasized by the thank you for playing at the end of each time, by the reference to playing in the mud. And the game structure does a few things for me and my reading of the poem. First, it gives it a less formal or conventional feel. In one sense it can be seen as a critique of poetry, some of the steps in the game almost ridiculous and certainly tongue-in-cheek. And yet I resist the urge to say that the poem is ultimately criticizing poetry or any particular kind of poetry. Instead, what I see it commenting on is the idea that poetry must be rigid and that playing in the mud has no meaning. Really, the power of poetry at times is that it can be fun, as much about the sound and the rhythm as about the words and metaphor. The final product of each round of the poem//game might seem nonsensical, and yet as the piece points to itself, the meaning can emerge through repetition, by the reader engaging more and more with the text. It’s a poem that promotes and even requires multiple readings, multiple play-throughs, in order to really dig into what’s going on. Which is a beautiful and innovative way to get people thinking about poetry without even perhaps realizing that’s what they’re doing. The piece grows more and more the more the reader returns to it, explores it, which is how all poetry works, rewarding rereading and personal interpretations, even as literal meaning can sometimes be elusive. And it’s a wonderful way to explore poetry, fun and stylish and funny and just an amazing read you should definitely check out!

“Evolution for Immortals” by Soren James

This poem is framed as a one-sided conversation, where the narrator is talking to some peer. They’re trying to explain something, though it’s a discussion that doesn’t seem to get them much engagement, and ultimately devolves into insults. But the majority of the poem is this narrator trying to explain the ccyle that has caught on among people, where in order to avoid boredom they have been destroying themselves in order to be born again—rather literally. It’s an interesting idea that touches on the mythological in that it explores what immortals might do in order to avoid the limitlessness of immortality. The answer, as the poem explores, is to basically to become mortal. To place limits on themselves so that they destroy themselves and begin again in such a rapid succession that they don’t have a chance to really remember their true nature. They move on and on and yet the implication of the poem is that it’s just a different way of expressing immortality, and an expression that the narrator at least isn’t really a fan of. And I like how the poem in some ways implies that the lives that we are currently living are indistinguishable from the lives these immortals are living. That we can’t know, essentially, whether or not we are immortals who are engaged in a sort of self-mutilation. Which is a thought strange and striking and rather dark. That our current state is the result of boredom, and seems to be pushing us toward greater and greater mutilations in order to avoid having to face the implications of immortality. That, in some ways, if we actually faced this kind of immortality we would have to get along better, and take better care of the world around us, because we’d have to live with them forever instead of living with this illusion of mortality. It’s a complex piece, but one that’s well worth spending some time with. A fine read!


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