Friday, September 28, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 09/17/2018 & Samovar 09/24/2018

It’s a bit of a surprise to close out the month as Strange Horizons and Samovar both have new issues to look at, highlight short SFF both in translation and not. It’s perhaps extra appropriate, though, that even the non-translated work is about translation. Is about trying to be understood across the barriers of ability and culture and language. Is about trying to find a place to be safe and secure and finding that it doesn’t always exist, that sometimes people intrude, and trespass, and violate. And it’s a beautiful if dark collection of works, moving as they do around various kinds of violence and damage. Through systems that are decidedly not just, where people are trying to get by any way they can. But it’s a deep and rich bunch of short SFF that I’ll get right to reviewing!

Art by Kali Gregan

“Tamales in Space, and Other Phrases for the Beginning Speaker” by Gabriela Santiago (2351 words)

No Spoilers: Carmela came the space station to tell stories. Stories for an alien race known as the lengua, whose language isn’t really like everyone else’s, which combines scent and taste and motion instead of just sound. The story revolves around Carmela’s yearly tradition of cooking tamales for her family and friends. It is an occasion that requires a lot of bargaining and ingenuity, but brings them all together for as long as the food lasts, a warmth to cover over the darkness of space pushing in from all around. But this year, things don’t go quite to plan.
Keywords: Cooking, Space, Aliens, Food, Stories
Review: This story has such a great awareness of language and sense, of smell and taste and memory. I love that Carmela is a storyteller, a writer who has come to this station and is getting by, though it seems at times that it’s just barely. And she’s found this place that allows her to do what she loves, to live with some measure of freedom, but it’s completely cut off from the heritage that held some of her identity. In space, away from Earth entirely, it becomes even more important to share in the traditions of home, in the home that is far away but never truly gone. Not as long as even a grain of the spice remains. And I love just how precious this moment and this food is that she creates every year, that she has this whole little community all working to bond and to remember and to share in something that some of them might not even remember very well. And at the same time there is this aching feel to the prose, to the disjointed and often strange way that it’s put together, that builds up to a moment that is just shattering. Abrupt and devastating. And wow, I think in some ways it speaks to the power of creation, of stories and experiences. But also the pain involved with that as a creator. As a writer, Carmela has provided stories to an alien, who devours them and wants always more. It’s that audience that then intrudes on Carmela’s peace, her moment, and lays it bare. It’s a moment of violation and it represents this visceral failure of language. That it helps the alien to understand Carmela does little to reduce the numb shock and...sorrow of what’s happened. But it does make for a complex situation, because this might be a moment of true empathy where audience really feels and sees author, and yet it comes at such a cost. And yeah, it’s a bit of a weird story, but also beautiful and moving and so worth spending some time with. Go check it out!

“Children of the Endless Sea” by and translated by Suvi Kauppila (2477 words)

No Spoilers: Arnau is a young adult living in a community of people mutated by a polluted world and living on the sea, above the shadow of a great leviathan. The community survives by protecting itself from pirates, from whalers, from everyone what would hurt them, and that means at times going on the offensive, hunting those that would cause them harm. It’s something that Arnau isn’t exactly comfortable with, and there’s a part of them that wants to travel, that wants to see the world. The more they experience, though, the more they see, the uglier it all seems. The piece looks at a world fallen and what it does to people, and what they end up doing in order to survive. Often unsettling, it’s a dark read limned with a sleek beauty, powerful and devastating and impossible to look away from.
Keywords: Mutation, Post-Disaster, Water, Sea Monsters, Pirates, Hunting
Review: For my reading of the story, a lot comes down to the idea of change. Or Change, as it is presented here, the mutations that allow the people at sea to better survive, that might someday take them deeper, away from the surface entirely. And Arnau is told that Change happens, that it is linked to loss. More than that, I feel like the story really circles the reality that change is not always good. That it’s not always better. The idea of change and the inevitability of change is one that might be seen as comforting, except as Arnau learns change brings loss, and isn’t always as ascent toward something glowing and peaceful and happy. Change can mean descent, can mean decomposition, destruction. Arnau themself comes to embody this vision of change, all of the hardship that they’ve faced pushing them into a role they had denied. Into being a hunter. A killer. Because however they might have avoided that is taken away. Their dreams of travel. Their home to return to. Their family. It’s all lost, and leaves them with basically nowhere to go but down. Morally, spiritually, into an abyss that they don’t really climb out of. It’s a bleak but moving story about decay and damage, and how sometimes those forces are powerful indeed. And that’s captured in the framing, too, where Arnau is telling this story to some nameless audience, part warning and part confession, drunk and wanting to be drunker. It’s not perhaps a happy story, but it’s certainly one that recognizes the power of trauma and the way that toxic elements continue to poison an environment even when they’ve been cut off through their original context. And in the end for me it’s a complex read that’s definitely worth spending some time with!


“My Safety Net” by Holly Day

This poem examines a bit of what it feels like to be anxious out in public. Perhaps more than that, it to me is expressing what it’s like to be different, possibly autistic, and dealing with having to move through a world not really designed for your comfort or mental health. It’s an overwhelming place with a lot of expectations and stresses that make simply going out and doing things that are new, like going to a new store, so much more difficult and fraught. For the narrator, the trick to this is to pretend to be a machine. Something unthinking and unfeeling because people don’t really have the same kinds of expectations of machines. With machines the question is only if it’s running or not. And so the narrator has their way of coping, of dealing with the stress and the anxiety that it brings on. They can move through the world, successful if you take them at their word. And for me a lot of the piece comes down to that idea, of believing the narrator when they say that they are content with the company of machines, that they are whole and complete as they are. Because in some ways the poem plays into the ways that people like the narrator are often seen as broken. As sick in some way and needing to be healed. And a reader might get to the end and think that the narrator saying that machines are enough for them is lying, is covering up how painful it is to live with their anxiety and their difficulties. However, I think I prefer to read the story as honest, as true for this narrator. That what they’re saying is that no, it’s not pleasant, but that they aren’t just waiting for someone to make them into someone they aren’t. That they have their safety and their life and it’s still good, still meaningful, still valuable. To me, the poem seems to challenge the reader with the quesiton of “what more does the narrator need.” And if the answer requires the reader to push their own values onto the narrator, then what is that saying about stigma and about autonomy. And yeah, it’s a great and rather short read!

“Amsterdam 94” by Cadão Volpato, translated by Yessica Klein

This is a rather strange and sparse poem, told in short lines, that to me speaks of time and space. Of hope and memory and stagnation. As the title suggests, the poem unfolds in Amsterdam, in the past, though why there, why then, I’m not sure. It’s quite possible that I’m missing a bit of context that would help me understand better. There definitely seems to be something dark about the poem, which features glimpses of women being harvested, being returned to the water. For me there’s this implication of violence, and one being wrapped in a somewhat nostalgic, pastoral tone. Which has a strange, yearning effect on my reading, making the poem seemed aimed at capturing something in that past, something that has been lost. Something that the narrator perhaps thought would continue. Because as they move through the city, as they speak of apartments and canals, I get the feeling that they are engaged in looking back at these memories and realizing that they were seeing a future in the stilled windmills, in the events swirling around them. That things have looped back around and are happening again, so that what happened in 1994 is recurring. I’m not sure what exactly it is but I do get the feeling that there’s a sense of loss about it, a feeling that things were supposed to be different. That they were supposed to have moved forward, gotten easier. And instead the narrator finds that there has been no progress. No advancement. That things seem to have stagnated and grown stale. And it’s a poem that works with a light touch, subtle and haunting and mysterious. For me, I’m almost certain there’s a layer that I’m missing, but even without it there’s a great feel to the piece and it makes for a fine read!


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