Friday, May 18, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/07/2018 & 05/14/2018

Strange Horizons launches into May with two stories and three poems (hey, bonus poem!) that deal with myth and pain and narratives. That trace the ways that people struggle and push back against the weight of inertia and tradition. The way that people need to struggle and push back against the ways in which abuses and harms are accepted and passed down. Because without standing up to them, without fighting to make things better, the world slides into a very dark, very violent place. The stories find characters trying to change things, trying to invent new ways of thinking and acting in order to face the increasingly dire state of things. It’s a strong collection of works, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice” by Octavia Cade (3326 words)

No Spoilers: Climate change can be denied about up to the point where enormous apocalypse bears descend from the trees, from the tundra, and begin laying waste to human civilization. After that, it gets a bit harder to lie in the face of the burning jaws, the starvation, the new reality this hell has made for humanity. After that, the ways people talk about and value the natural world has to change, and survival doesn’t become a matter of who can lie the slickest, because liars are staked out to be devoured by the bears. It’s a bleak story and one that weighs guilt and shame and complicity. It looks at how the truth that might have saved people in the story, that still might save us in the real world, is being suppressed, covered up, and bribed away. It’s a story about apathy and about what humanity might need to actually survive the end times that we seem hellbent on bringing about. Mixing horror, science, and our sins transformed into enormous bears, the piece is wonderfully imaginative and dark and fuck.
Keywords: Bears, Climate Change, Fire, Ice, Starvation, Sacrifice
Review: There’s a part of me that wants to imagine the Four Horsemen reimagined as the Four Bears of the Apocalypse, because this story certainly introduces two of them—a koala of fire who burns through Australia and a polar bear of starvation who stalks down when the ice caps melt and hunting is scarce. And in the face of this armageddon, humanity adapts, because that’s what humans do. Except the normal tricks don’t work when things are so far gone. For humans who have for so long survived by exploiting the most and the hardest, things are in some ways reversed. Instead of rewarding this consumption, this ability to lie in the face of reality, it becomes a liability. It becomes a way to make one a sacrifice, tied out in the blistering sun for the fire bear to devour, hamstrung and left for the starvation bear to claim. The story has a strong violence to it I think in order to draw reader’s attention to the violence that is going on now. To the horror that is our current situation, the climate changing so fast that these animals can’t adapt. And instead of condemning them because they can’t change to suit the ruined world we’ve crafted, the story warns that when things get bad the only way forward will be to embrace the world, and those who have made their lives on exploitation and lies will find that all their lies do little the face of hunger and fire. And those who for so long bought the lies, echoed and strengthened those lies, will have to face the world those lies have made. It’s a dark and horrifying story, but pointedly so, urging people to change how we view survival of the fittest. Warning that if we don’t consider what will help us to survive over the long haul, and what traits will help us get there, we’re going to be staring down the maws of a hunger and loss so terrible it might devour us all. A great read!

“Variations on a Theme from Turandot” by Ada Hoffmann (7264 words)

No Spoilers: Liù is a slave and in love with an exiled prince called the Stranger who has in turn fallen in love with a princess who wants to kill all men who seek to possess her. The story is layered and intricate, framed as a play being performed a different way each night as Liù seeks to change her fate inside the play itself and runs up against not just the other characters and the weight of their roles, but the will of the composer and conductor. It’s a story without names except for Liù, who remains at the heart of everything, a side character who’s supposed to die for the love of the Stranger and Princess to be achieved, and yet who refuses to accept the play as written. Complicating that are the characters roles as actors inside a fictional landscape nested into the smaller fictional landscape of the play, all of which connects back and forth, up and down, the actions in one sending ripples through all. It’s complex but deeply moving, looking at what it takes to change not just a story, but a narrative device—to defy the will of those powerful creators in order to try and create something that isn’t so dominated and bound by hurt, fear, and violation.
Keywords: Theater, CW- Rape, Roles, Acting, Metatextual, Love
Review: I love the way this story tackles some large metatextual issues and does it by having this one character who’s supposed to die...try to live. It’s such a simple moment, but one so very, very loaded, in part because of the roles everyone is expected to play, and how public sentiment and what is considered “art” weaves everything together. The play inside the story only moves forward because the play is popular, because Liù’s attempts to break the mold of the trope really hits with the what the audience didn’t know they wanted. Which to me speaks so much to how tastes change and how texts change and how roles within those texts are open to interpretation, especially in plays that are performed and with each performance are changed anyway. The changes here are just larger, and larger, and larger still until what Liù has to do is challenge the very will of the creator of the works, the author of the play, must reach through her own role and those of the people around her and change things. She kills the author, which I feel is important when the author is 1. dead already and 2. popular enough that using that text to subvert that text is worthwhile. Liù decides that the will of the author must bend before the harm that the narrative is doing, before Liù’s own need to live. Now, she wouldn’t have been able to if the audience wasn’t receptive, but here we have a moment, a sort of perfect storm that leads to this experiment, this pushback, actually being able to be explored. Liù is able to subvert her role, to seek another way, and in so doing to infect the characters around her until a new ending, a new kind of story, is possible. One that does still inhabit the same space as that original story but complicates it and uses it to free people from their roles instead of chaining them in. That works to push back against the historical violations and instead offers the characters a way to embrace trust and hope. And it’s just a wonderfully intricate and beautiful story that is so worth spending time with. Go read it!!!


“The Footrace” by Alice Fanchiang

This poem to me speaks of myth and of challenge, twisting the story of Atalanta slightly to give a vision of this race to decide the narrator’s fate. In the myth, it’s a series of races, each one for Atalanta herself, for her body and her being, to make her the wife of whatever man could best her. If they failed, though, they’d be killed, and under this system a great many men died before one enlisted the aid of a goddess in order to cheat and win. Here, though, the myth has been “fixed” a bit (in my opinion) so that Atalanta’s fate (I kinda assume she’s the narrator) isn’t to be tied in matrimony isn’t to be undone by those who want to own her. Here it’s her who shows not only her speed but her resourcefulness, listing the ways that the men seeking to chain her have made mistakes. That they were so arrogant as to think that she would give them a contest they could win. Not an unfair contest, but acknowledging that she cannot really be defeated in a fair contest. Acknowledging that she is the best, and those she leaves in her wake to die have chosen this, have earned this by making it so that she has to race them, when really they could have left her alone, could have made the game anything but a race for her freedom. Because with that as the goal, of course she wouldn’t hesitate to beat them, even if it means their death. Because while she picked the task and the stakes, they were the ones to forced the underlying issue. They are the ones who made her name a price. And the poem itself is triumphant, showing the narrator embrace the race and let go, becoming speed itself, become free despite all expectations. Burstingfree even from the weight of myth, from the accepted way the story ends. It’s a lovely and invigorating read!

“Young Monsters Watching a Sex-Ed Video” by Todd Dillard

This poem speaks to me of growing up, of bodies and changes and not feeling right. It features, as the title implies, a group of young monsters sitting and watching an educational movie. One that is supposed to teach them about sex, about puberty, about growing up. One that is supposed to tell them that they are normal, that their bodies are normal, that this is all part of a process. And yet for me the poem is also approaching how these videos fail, especially for people who don’t fit in with what the video considers normal. Standard. For these monsters, the video might have some advice to give but so much of it is filtered through how they are different, how the society they are in already judges their bodies and their value. For these people, the answers that the video gives are not necessarily to the questions that they need answered. The dreams that the video addresses are not necessarily those that these young people experience. There is something in the poem about how we teach toward a center that might exist but that certainly doesn’t really serve a large amount of students. For them, these videos and these sorts of educations are actually filled with misinformation and are harmful because of what they leave out, because of how they reduce things to “normal” bodies and “normal” sexualities. What is excluded becomes the chasms of education that kids can fall into and never really climb out of. because it not only lets these kids down but gives the other children better served by this information the feeling that they _are_ normal, that there is a single certain way that people experience growing up and puberty. And yeah, the poem is understated and short, giving these brief glimpses are those who are being failed, who need context and further explaination but aren’t given it because they are considered monstrous. It’s a powerful and complex read and very much worth checking out. Go read it!

“The Mad Queen’s House of Cards” by Jane Yolen

This poem imagines a fall of a house of cards, in a very literal way, but also in a wonderfully figurative way, making the action political and the deck loaded. And I like the way the poem captures the fragility of politics, which speaks to me of the way that things are built on the backs of people and ideas. At least in democracies, there is a great sense that things can go very bad very quickly because of how much responsibility gets diffused among a large population. Every vote counts but also no vote counts, and those at the top can be good or they might be corrupt, and sometimes telling those apart is difficult, and sometimes people don’t even try to avoid the pull of corruption. And when the weight on top of this house of cards grows and grows, because of corruption and things that should not be put off, things that are going to come due very soon...well, things can fall. And when things fall it can begin with something insignificant, something mundane. A disaster in the small—I love that line. And afterward it captures the feeling of it all unravelling, all coming undone. It’s a punchy and short poem, told in rather short lines and somewhat regular stanzas until the final couplet, which is the final nail in the coffin of this house. And it’s somewhat difficult to read, tbh, because of what a mess politics have become, but it does a great job of conveying this feeling and it’s a fine read!


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