Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/20/2018 & 08/27/2018

The second half of August brings two poems and a novelettes to Strange Horizons, as well as other nonfiction content that is well worth checking out but that I’m not looking specifically at. The fiction is intense, a noir mystery that’s really a revenge story, but circles around justice and guilt, denial and tragedy. The poetry is actually very nicely linked, as both pieces are framed as advice, as instructions. For very different things, it turns out, but still very important things. And the issues as a whole have a rather bleak feel to them. Of harm that cannot be erased or ignored. Of the slow approach of death, and fragile beauty of voices raised against the tide of time, holding on to what they can. To the reviews!


“What Man Knoweth” by Russell Nichols (7843 words)

No Spoilers: John Raven has a cross to bear in the form of an investigation into the legitimacy of a so-called evangelepath who has been arrested as an accessory to murder following a violent altercation inside his church. This is personal for John, whose father fell in with this charlatan and who died because of it. Who died for many reasons, not all of which John is ready to confront. Instead he throws himself into his crusade, hoping to prove this preacher innocent by also proving him a fraud. As he digs deeper into the mystery surrounding this murder, though, he finds his own blinders preventing him from really seeing what’s going on, from really hearing what truths are being said. It’s a gripping mystery, full of strong characters and twists and turns. It examines religion, guilt, and punishment all in nuanced ways, and the result is a story that delivers a tightly-paced, lightly speculative experience that pays off so well.
Keywords: Telepathy, Evangelism, Investigations, Family, CW- Sexual Abuse
Review: Guilt and avoidance dominate this story, linking John to the harms he’s avoiding and also to the new crimes that have been committed. The story works as a classic noirish mystery, with John seeking to vindicate himself more than he’s really interested in justice or healing. He wants revenge, and yet even as he pursues it, even as he’s certain of who is guilty and why, he ends up having to travel back into his own past, into his own crimes, in order to really figure everything out and seek out a way where everyone can get what they deserve. And really, I love how that ends up working with the religion of the piece, with the image of crosses and the idea that dying for one’s sins isn’t necessarily confronting them. Rather, it’s about leaving them behind, and the harm done by them, in order to pursue and kind of absolution that’s all about the sinner rather than their victims. For John, he’s running from the fact that he didn’t help his father more at a time when he needed to. At a time when his father was desperate and in pain. And instead of really deal with this guilt about that, John has picked up a cross instead, certain that this fake telepath is to blame for poisoning his father’s mind. Only the preacher has something of his own that he’s running from, that’s making him not want to fight the law that’s come down on him, even if it costs him his freedom. And I just love the layering of the piece, the way that John comes to truly open his eyes and move in a way that yes, does get him a manner of revenge, but mostly in making himself and the preacher confront their failures and have to live with them. Which is a kind of justice, even if it’s not the kind the law has any care for. And really I just love the mystery aspect of the story and the speculative touches, the telepathy that allows for the final walls to come down, laying the truth open for John to fully take in. A fantastic read!


“Survival in Six Easy Steps” by Marina Berlin

This poem speaks to me of the weight of harm done, of the weight of knowledge and poverty and powerlessness. The piece is organized as advice given in bullet points, in six steps that point toward survival. It unfolds in second person, and the You that it describes is a person haunted. By the dead perhaps but more specifically by women. And for me that gives the piece a feeling of walking through a world that is laced with the ghosts of dead women who have died violently, who have been silenced and abused. The You here seems to be seeking an escape from this, passage to a wilderness where these ghosts cannot follow. A place that doesn’t carry the constant reminder of violence and death. And yet access to that realm is limited to those with means. With wealth. With power. Those who only contribute to the pain being created, but opt out of having to witness it. You, as someone unable to afford that luxury, are left with the question of how to live with the pressure, with the ghosts crowding around. At least as I read it, the poem then takes this moment and gives the only advice that it can. You just do. Despite the ghosts and the pains and the desire to escape, you keep going because there isn’t much of another choice. You live because otherwise you die, and you want to live. And though you can’t fix it, and can’t avoid it, you can still live and try to do that as well as possible, contributing as little as possible to the ghosts but also not hating them. Not blaming them. Allowing them in and having compassion for them, however much it would be nicer if they were unseen, unheard. And it’s a lovely and touching poem that speaks to me of sailing the often turbulent seas of life, navigating when there is no safe direction. And it’s definitely a piece to spend some time with!

“First Aid” by David Ishaya Osu

This poem is told in short lines and with imagery that to me evokes bodies and the natural world. The poem begins with a request, or an instruction, to remember. And along with the title it makes me feel like this is advice, or a sort of guide to something. And for me I’m not sure what exactly it is a guide to, because for me the piece has a feeling of harm and death to it, of bodies buried behind the garden, of purples that could be a twilight sky but could also be a bruise. There is a repitition of covering a body with a song, which feels to me again like death, like a body being shrouded, like voices uniting in this moment of loss and grief, celebration and mourning. And there is a hint that all people follow the same path, that they all come to this end, the only end. For me, it places the emphasis for the first aid not on the injured person, not on the dead, for they are beyond aid. But rather, the advice seems for the living. For those who are left behind, and this kind of first aid is not for pains of the body precisely, not for bruises or broken bones, but rather for the pains of the heart and the soul. The pains of grief, and loss, so that what the poem for me is doing is seeking to soothe that hurt with memory, not just of the person who has gone but of the reality that we all die, and will all be united in that way, all coming down the same road and, perhaps, ending up in the same place again. More than that, the living all find themselves united as well, in this moment when they put another into the ground, when they raise their voices together to sing of and remember the passed. The past. Where they can help each other through the hardship, and the heartache, and help administer to each other the first aid they all need. It’s a lovely and moving poem that’s alive with color and breeze, and it’s very much worth checking out. Go read it!


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