Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/19/2018 & Samovar 03/26/2018

It’s a full two weeks from Strange Horizons and Samovar, which released a new issue full of translated SFF. With three stories and two poems to look at, the overall feeling this week is, once again, strange. Especially with Samovar, I feel like there is a wonderful vagueness to some of the work, a touch of surrealism that makes the pieces pop. They are works that are first viewed through the lens of translation, but further than that they are also pieces that don’t seek to explain themselves, offering up rather literary takes on genre while still definitely retaining a strong speculative weirdness. Plus the pieces from the regular Strange Horizons week mix history, the unknown, and some deep feelings of grief and despair. This is not a light offering of short SFF, but the publications really hit hard with their variety and complexity. To the reviews!


“Princess Mine” by Darby Harn (3257 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a television blogger/reviewer who finds a season of a show that shouldn’t exist because the actress behind the main character (a somewhat autobiographical role) killed herself. The piece is a very meta experience, the narrator and both the actress and character of the show all swirling around each other, caught in a tide of despair and hope, paralysis and desire. They’re all looking for an escape from the cycles they seem stuck in, which gives the story a revolving feel, muddy and dense. For all that the writing creates this very heavy feeling, though, I think it does a good job of ending on hope and the possibility of getting help, and maybe helping others.
Keywords: CW- Suicide, Acting, Television, Reviewing, Fandom
Review: There’s a very interesting line this story walks with regards to fandom and suicidal urges. How sometimes what it takes to keep going is having something to look forward to. A show. A book. Something that might be just enough to get the person to survive the day to day pain that they live with. And how fandom can offer that. For the narrator, fandom becomes a way for them to have something more to do, a new show to watch, a new review to read (or write). Despite that they are in pain and trying hard to cope and still struggling so much and suicide is something that they think about—as an end, as a way out. And here they are confronted with a prominent person who is dead, but who also knew this struggle so well, because she too lived with it, kept pushing against it. What she’s left behind is a legacy of always pushing against the flow, trying to fight for people who do not fit neatly into motivational sayings. And there’s just so much going on in the story that I love the layers of it, how you can’t quite pull any of it apart because it loops back on itself, where the narrator might be the character in this actor’s novel, who is also a character in a show that she writes, who is also, is also, is also. And she’s become this quasi-icon, known primarily for one role and little enough else, but it still puts her into this position to try and reach out to people who, like her, are struggling and find it nearly impossible to ask for help. And taking that step, of reaching out for help, is where the story points to me, recognizing the difficulty of that moment but also the finality of the alternative, and how there is hope, and how there is help, and how maybe things don’t have to be forever stuck in the same cycles. It’s a messy story that I love because of how it handles fandom and reviews and how it reflects how messy life is and can become, and how complex and interconnected everything is. It’s a wonderful piece that you should definitely spend some time with!

“The Photograph Trade” by Abdul Wakil Sulamal, translated by James Caron (4064 words)

No Spoilers: A boy grows up with a conflicted feeling about photographs, told that they are sinful and yet certain that they are not, that they are wonderful and important. Around him, opinions shift as to the place of photographs, but eventually they come into fashion again, when the boy is a man and a driver. And the story takes a strange but powerful look at image and lies. About appearance and truth. About what exactly photographs capture, and what they cannot. It’s a story with a lovely touch of the surreal, and a complex and powerful ending.
Keywords: Photographs, Image, Lies, Family, Politics
Review: I love how this story looks at image and value placed on appearance. There’s a definite sense in the text as the narrator moves through life, he becomes more and more convinced about the value of appearance over substance. He lies without really a thought or compunction, because he recognizes that telling the truth is less important in the world than seeming important. He lies, and he swaps his appearance as the need demands, in order to make more money and in order to make people comfortable with him. And yet as much as code switching is often a thing that people do in order to stay safe from situation to situation, the story details a step beyond that, a sort of willful obfuscation more about money, power, and influence than about safety. The narrator lies in order to better himself, and yet he seems to leave nothing at his core, seeking to change his being as the situation dictates rather than just his outward appearance. And in the end his father tries to remind him that to change your core for other people is to become someone else, someone you might despise, and that it’s not exactly a winning game to flit from being to being in chase of wealth or prestige. How it all becomes a house of cards, of photographs, liable to fall down at the right breeze. The pieces moves quickly and covers a lot of group, following this narrator from a young age and showing how even then he was on the road to where he would end up. A great read!

“Walking” by Der Nister, translated by Joseph Tomaras (2362 words)

No Spoilers: A person walks, first as winter approaches, then through winter, then through the cycle of seasons, meeting a certain man as he goes, always asking for things and never quite getting an answer. The piece is strange and vauge, the landscape scenic and yet the person walking through it seems restless, unable to settle. There is a sense that they are waiting for something, for some sign or for the man they meet to tell them something, and yet the piece feels cyclical to me, looping back on its self in an endless fashion. For me, it’s a slightly more opaque story than I’m used, a map without labels so that I felt that I was either missing some context to how to orient myself in the piece, or else that it was part of the meaning, the feeling of having to navigate never knowing what the geography or destination are.
Keywords: Walking, Nature, Loneliness, Cycles, Desire
Review: Like I said above, a lot of the meaning of the story for me came from the ways that I struggled to really orient myself to what was happening. The man in the piece could be a religious figure (God, for instance) or could be a more secular figure (an authority, or the promise of gainful employment, or even a sort of omnipresent Landowner who the walker keeps meeting in the hope of connecting with but who is never interested and who always turns the walker out, making them move on and on). Whatever the case, the story follows the main character as they continue to move, as they continue to want something that’s just out of reach. And every time they come close to feeling okay, to feeling content, they are kicked a bit, told to move along, told to get going. Whether this is a good thing or really just a way to keep them forever groundless is something that I’m not entirely sure of. There’s a feeling for me like the main character is okay with this arrangement, that they are goaded on by the promise of human companionship, of community, and yet I read a darker edge to the piece, a promise that is always kept far enough to strive toward but never really reached. The main character is made to feel ashamed of their own joys, their games, their idleness, and then pushed to keep going, despite the hardships, toward an end that is not forthcoming. It’s a difficult and rather nebulous piece for me, but I like the language of it and the strangeness and the way that it sort of sets the reader into the same situation the main character is in, not really knowing where to go and unsure of what to want and yet determined to get somewhere. It’s possible, I suppose, that it’s an enormous trap for people who are more concerned with pulling out Meaning from a work rather than just enjoying what it is and accepting that (in which case fuck I guess I’m falling for it), but whatever the case I do think it’s a fine piece that worth spending some time with. Go check it out!


“Concerning President Carter and the UFO Sighting” by August Huerta

This is a rather strange poem that centers a rather strange event in American history—when then-President Carter saw a UFO. Or...might have seen a UFO? Part of what I love about the piece is that it takes this weirdness and wraps it in beauty and a sort of uncertain presence. That here is something witnessed that still defies being explained, that defies being recalled. That it works on some part of the brain that goes beyond the analytical and resides where doubt flourishes. And that, perhaps, that is the nature of these things, that because being confronted by something alien might indeed be wholly alien, the effect is a bit like a mirage, like a dream. Everyone is quick to dismiss it once it’s over, because there’s no real way to hold onto it as real. The shape is lost, the exact image is lost, and there’s only this fuzzy but vivid memory to look to. What remains is a whole lot of people scratching their heads and declaring that it could not have happened. And yet the President claims that he saw something, which gives it weight. And I love how the poem moves, a sort of pulsing or hovering construction that does bring to mind a craft hesitating, trying to say something, there and moving until suddenly gone, and the reader is left with this impression of an overall shape but can’t quite recall the image of it. For me, the poem ultimately gets down to contact and difference. How there could well be situations where we can’t quite grasp what’s right in front of us, but that doesn’t mean we should deny what we can’t understand. And it’s a rather fun poem that takes a look at a weird anecdote from our not-so-distant national past. A great read! 

“Feral” by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, translated by Kristine Ong Muslim

This poem completes the feeling of vague strangeness to the issue. It finds what feels to me like two people standing in a field or on a road. They watch animals, and there’s this feeling that in this exchange much more is going on than a peasant commenting on animals. There’s a...well, for me it feels like there’s a buried danger here, probably stemming from the title. The idea of being feral creeps its way into a poem that otherwise could be fairly innocent, that could otherwise be rather wild. And yet this idea of being feral is one that goes past the animals that the people are seeing and gets into the humans themselves. As if this narrator is poised and waiting, an edge ready to slice. And in that I love that the piece is told in couplets, the effect for me of a beating heart, or even breaths. That feeling that there is something just under the surface here, a violence or a hunger that will not be contained. The opening line for me speaks of the way that this feralness can come at any moment, how it comes over the narrator and gets inside them, how it pushes for expression, this force within the narrator that cannot be denied. At least, that’s how it seems to me, where this idea of being feral is more than being wild. It’s about something that could or even should be domesticated being anything but. A person who should know how to act, who should know how to interact, instead leaning on instincts that seem a bit out of place even in the natural world. That possess a seeming brutality or randomness, and that cannot always be completely trained away, once they set in. It’s a weird read for me, and I’m not exactly confident that I’ve spend enough time with the piece to really make up my mind about it, but I feel like there’s a lot here and it’s definitely worth checking out. A fascinating read!


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