Friday, October 26, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 10/11/2018, 10/15/2018, & 10/22/2018

The Strange Horizons fund drive is in full swing, which means extra fiction and poetry as they reach closer to their goal. Along with two regular issues, that means two novelettes and two poems to look at today, all of them building interesting worlds around hurts, around injustices. That might be the more mundane march of capitalism toward a future defined by its inequality and greed, or it might be a vivid world that has developed in the ocean, where those people who were cast away have built a society for themselves only to find the toxic influences of the very people they hoped they'd escaped lingering and infesting them. It's a dark collection of works but ones with sparks that cannot be completely extinguished, and there's a strong hope to themes on display. So let's get to the reviews!


“The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson” by Margaret Killjoy (7995 words)

No Spoilers: Jae goes by Jeje Cameron when she’s boxtrolling CEOs, a pastime that brings her a lot more emotional satisfaction than her shitty job at Taco Dick’s. And she good at it, hacking systems and harassing the heads of major (terrible) corporations until they quit or retire, hoping to drive their businesses under so that they harm they do can be stopped. There aren’t many rules in boxtrolling, but there are a few, and they are very important. Do not kill is Rule #1—and someone just broke it. Worse, they’ve left Jeje to take the fall for what happened. Which means it’s up to Jae (with a bit of help from her roommate) to figure out what’s really going on and find to avoid the governmental firestorm headed their way. A charming and incredibly fun read that doesn’t hide its darkness, but rather coats it in a layer of cynical energy that makes it irresistible.
Keywords: Hacking, Drones, Activism, AI, Murder, Queer Characters
Review: I love the character work of this story, the voice and the glorious truth that is Jae. Because on the one hand she’s incredibly jaded, borderline homeless with a terrible job at a taco place (I love the name, btw, because I am apparently a child). But I think that’s what speaks to me most about this story, that on the other had she’s still a bit naive, and certainly idealistic, and in our society those pretty much mean that she must be childish. That she’s not growing up. And yet it’s so much more that she can’t. That she can’t get the experience to code as an “adult” because those things are so far outside her reach. So instead she’s an allstar with computers, with hacking, and she brings her idealism there, as well, fighting against corruption, trying to do the right thing. And she has some hard decisions to make when murder gets brought into things, because she’s always believed that there was a line that shouldn’t be crossed. As she examines that, though, she starts to see that murder might be wrong but not for the reasons she thought. And that there are times when she cannot condemn an individual act of murder, which...well, which shows just how broken the system is. That she might not want to become a murderer, but that’s just a construct that can be applied to people like her while those in power can do much worse, can kill so many more, and profit by it. And so she does become an accessory after the fact, and does work to try and make it so that everyone involved doesn’t have to face the injustice of the justice system. It’s a fun ride, too, moving quickly and with an energy and humor. Jae’s situation is depressingly familiar and the world she inhabits, well, same. This does feel like a world that could exist, a situation that could exist, and in this space I’m fully rooting for Jae. Which, then, points to the fact that there’s more to be done here, now, to try and fix the systems of power and justice that exist around us. And that we can’t balk at breaking the rules sometimes, when it’s right. When change needs to happen to avoid complete destruction of the planet. Woo. A wonderful read!

“De Motherjumpers” by Celeste Rita Baker (9146 words)

No Spoilers: Junpee is a young woman living under the sea in a community of people descended from those slaves who had jumped or been thrown into the ocean and survived by transforming, by being able to live in the water. By growing gills. By becoming something different than they had been, but able to survive. And like those first people, Junpee thinks that the time for a new transformation is at hand. Because there are dark shadows in the water, and in the hearts of some of the people in the community. And there’s loss, and there’s grief, and harder things besides to contend with. The piece glows in its world building and character work, setting Junpee as a sort of leader of a group of younger people who know that change has to happen. And yet tragedy hounds them, and it’s an incredibly difficult and harrowing story about hope and change and the need to adapt. Just completely devastating.
Keywords: Underwater, Pollution, Change, Transformation, CW- Rape, Loss, Trauma
Review: I wanted so bad for this to be a happier story, but really when the origin of this community is slaves jumping or being thrown off ships into the ocean, perhaps that’s the first sign that things are not going to be easy. Still, there’s a wonderful voice and drive in the story, that Junpee is growing up and finding her own rhythms and really has so much in front of her. Made all the brighter by her friends and her lover, by the people she wants to build this new world with. And they all seem like they can, like it’s so close. And then. Wow. This story does not pull its punches. When it hits, it keeps hitting, and displays the way that wares at a person, grinds them down, makes them want to give up and not fight as hard. Because loss is difficult. Grief is debilitating. And more than just the people, Junpee has lost the vision she had. She ran out of time, not really through any fault of her own but because the world is changing. Changing faster than she thought it would. Faster than she was told it would. And that’s not on her. What’s left, though, is what makes the story more than just heartbreaking. Because while it is definitely that, I think that the story doesn’t stop there, shows Junpee as she still decides to go forward. Because there is no back, and despite everything she still wants to live. Still wants to bring something positive out of this. It won’t be the same. The wounds that she’s suffered are unlikely to just disappear. Though they might heal, they have also made her a different person. Maybe a person who is better able to reach for change, though. Maybe a person honed by tragedy and grief into someone who can start something new. Who can maybe save what can be saved from an increasingly dangerous and disastrous situation. It’s a story that has left me a bit numb, I’m not going to lie—like my body is trying to protect me from the full sadness of a lot of the work, but also there’s a spot of hope. Of resilience. Of stubborn will. And it all makes for a powerful read!


“Between the Wires” by Vanessa Taylor

This is a rather strange poem to me that I feel speaks to creation and to space. That imagines a place where intelligences come into being, perhaps accidentally or perhaps according to some design. But they come all the same, to a virtual space, to a virtual reality. And yet for me it’s hard to say what exactly that reality is—is it a space within a larger, physical reality? The piece is concerned with bodies. With space. With death and the afterlife. The narrator uses “we” probably not in the royal sense but rather to give the sense that they are more than a single being, are at least a collective and maybe something more complicated still, a population that is created or creates itself and finds in the world where it then exists that things aren’t exactly great. That they aren’t treated well, that humanity or the rest of humanity (depending on how human you read the narrators) attack, seek to take from them. And partly I get the feeling that what’s happening in the poem is a cycle. Is the narrators trying to find their way free of the confinement, the limitations that they come up against in a virtual environment. But as that’s all they have they create, and they create worlds to inhabit again and again, perhaps hoping to unlock something that will bring them someplace new. That will allow them to reach out as in their dreams and connect with something. To perhaps escape between the wires. But I also admit that I have a hard time pinning down what I think the poem is trying to say. It’s a lovely piece, though, organizing mostly in three line stanzas and broken up into four parts. There is a pattern to it that is compelling, and leading to a moment of pulling back, of stepping out. And it’s definitely a poem worth spending some time with!

“SHE” by Heather Averhoff

This poem which consists of three stanzas of (kind of) three lines each (with headers, so also kinda four lines each), to me builds up the image of a woman, the “she” of the title, through a focus on three different aspects—Skin, Hands, and Eyes. The imagery of the piece is rather violent, featuring shorn tapestry and tearing of muscle and bone, as well as shattered glass and the implication that the scene the reader is invited to take in is not without its horrors or complications. For me, though, there’s also a serenity to the piece. It’s like looking at a crime scene, everything still and quiet and yet with all the implications laid bare. The story is there to see, the skin in tatters, the shattered reflection in the eyes, the fingers spread and extended. The piece seems to me to speak of a more medical gaze, one that has to examine these various aspects and come to conclusions. Only the language here is not medical, or not wholly so. Like looking into this scene touches the observer in a strange and powerful way. There’s perhaps an attempt at distance, trying to keep things about the individual parts of the body, trying to avoid thinking of this person as a whole person. To make the work easier. To make it all less upsetting. And yet lurking under that is the growing realization that this _is_ a person. A woman. And that she cannot be erased. That the distance vanishes as the true scope of what’s happened comes into focus. That in the end the woman in the sum of her traumas and hurts, nothing quite able to erase her from the picture. Nothing quite able to make this something detached or objective. Because it shouldn’t be. Because, for all the haunting grace that might be found here, there’s something else as well, raw and alive and bubbling to the surface. For me, at least. And it makes for a great read!


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