Friday, November 16, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/05/2018, 11/12/2018, & more

Good news, everyone—Strange Horizons funded for 2019! The fund drive had been running for a while, complete with bonus fiction and poetry, so it’s a bit of a larger release than usual today, with three stories and five poems to look at. And there’s a lot of damage on display in these works. A lot of characters trapped by circumstance in situations where there really doesn’t seem like a good way out. Where their pain seems inevitable and unavoidable. And, often, pain is unavoidable. But the shape of that pain is often something that can be effected, and here we see how these characters seek to choose the pain they have to experience. And it’s just a wonderful collection of short SFF, really showing what Strange Horizons does as a publication, and I’ll get right to my reviews!


“Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions” by Debbie Urbanski (6334 words)

No Spoilers: This piece follows a woman as she writes about her experiences with a BetterYou, a sort of android who basically functions as a less marginalized version of a person. A person who can be straight and neurotypical and do all the things expected in “normal” society while still being happy. Someone who can help a person struggling, but by erasing them. By pushing them out of their life and letting other people hold to the idea that there is a “normal” and that everyone should strive to be that because it will lead to happiness. And it is a very difficult story to read as it follows this person navigating her very complicated feelings about this. About what having the BetterYou allows her to do, and avoid, and all the hurts she’s suffered for being different. There’s a lot to really dig into, and the piece does ask what gets asks of people with marginalizations with regards to their own outlooks and actions, knowing that real change is not about “thinking yourself happy.”
Keywords: AI, Asexual MC, Marriage, Families, Doppelgangers, Legislation
Review: This is such a complex read for me, because it deals with being marginalized but not being able to be the right kind of proud about it. The right kind of loud about it. And facing, through a number of factors, an impossible situation and pressure toward erasure. And I think it’s expressing a frustration, and a very important one, without being critical of justice movements in general. It’s a careful story, and a heartbreaking one. Because while the aim of most justice movements is to shift the narrative, to shift the culture, to change society itself so that the margins are no longer so dangerous and harmful, the truth is that we’re not there yet. And that for some, what would be required to live as if it were possible, as if it were right around the corner, is too damaging to be able to attempt. Especially for those without a support network, without a great deal of people who are willing and able to help. For those isolated there often isn’t a good answer to dealing with abuse and erasure. Because taking steps to live away from the abuse might bring about just a different kind of abuse. Instead of a husband it might be a job. It might be a government. It might be all of these things, and to have to hear that if you cannot break free, if you can’t wholly embody the future self you want to be, that you are a failure...well, it doesn’t exactly feel great. And I like how the story approaches this, never really condemning the narrator for her actions while, it’s obvious that she wants so much. Wants to be accepted and cared for, wants space and time and resources and empathy. Wants and wants and yet will settle for peace. Because it’s exhausting just living with the level of shit she lives with. Depressed and gaslight and abused at every turn. That some people see the allure of just opting out entirely makes sense and for me is impossible to completely condemn. Rather it’s something to mourn. Because it exposes that there is often precious little individual action can do in the face of societal and institutional harms. Not that it means the fight is bad, or wrong, or misguided. But that it does not fix what it does not fix, and taking a moment to acknowledge that is not a criticism. It’s a sort of seeing. A seeing that hopefully leads to more action, so that that situation doesn’t happen. But, at the moment, still does. A difficult but rewarding read!

“The Names of Women” by Natalia Theodoridou (2513 words)

No Spoilers: This story follows a woman who might be Philomela, who in mythology was raped by her sister’s husband and after a string of revenges and tragedies ended up being transformed into a bird. In this story the setting is still Greek, but it’s one a bit lost in time, working in speakers and other touches that make it definitely not ancient, and yet the weight of that original story remains, the bloody aftermath in Thebes and the casual certainty that Tereus, her sister’s husband, has about her. It’s a tense and suspenseful read, building as it does around this myth in a way that makes those events seem inevitable. That these people, however far removed from the myth, will fall into those patterns and recreate the same hurts and violations. Only the piece manages a few surprises, and keeps its eyes on a hope that maybe stories can change, even those that have moved into myth.
Keywords: Mythology, War, CW- Rape, Ruins, Theater
Review: So much of this story for me is dominated by the building fear of Tereus. That, in some ways, even in the beginning of the story, where his lusts seem to be only a promise of coming violence, the rape has already happened. Philomela already remembers it, though in the timeline here it hasn’t happened. And it reveals how people in these situations do have to experience the violation sometimes multiple times. How they experience it ahead of time because they can see the shape of the narrative they are in and there doesn’t seem to be an alternative. Because no one is really concerned in crafting one. The story is the story is the only story of how things can go, and that absolves Tereus in some ways while always condemning Philomela. She must bear the cyclic history of abuse that assures her of what comes next, and next, so that there is no escaping, because Greek myth also says the worst thing to do is to fight against the story that’s been written for you. And it builds this atmosphere of violence so well, so effortlessly, that it’s claustrophobic, looming in. And I love that the story doesn’t then give into that weight of history and mythology. That it imagines a different ending to her story. One where her voice isn’t always a lament. Or at least where she escaped the one wrong that was promised her. Whatever happens next, she escaped the story, and maybe from that point on she can write her own. It’s a lovely, kinda devastating, but ultimately beautifully freeing story about agency and violence. Go read it!

“Missed Connections” by Alena Flick (3756 words)

No Spoilers: Lindsey is caught a bit between worlds. Between lives. The life that her parents wanted for her, safe and secure and married and reproducing and whatever else that looked like. The life where she is personally satisfied doing...something. The life where she has enough, and isn’t stressed or anxious. The life of her fantasies, where there is magic and wonder. The life she’s living and constantly trying to avoid. Amid the uncertainty and lack of clear direction, she takes solace in writing fake posts on a forum about missed opportunities, imagining herself in her messages someone on the cusp of another world. The piece is full of longing and a familiar kind of hurt—a damage from growing up and finding that the world you’re inheriting is nothing like the one you were told to expect.
Keywords: Personal Ads, Ghosts, Clubs, Messages, Queer MC, Therapy
Review: I love the idea of posting fake entries on a forum of missed connections, because it blends fantasy, bitterness, and a kind of call for help. Lindsey is looking for something, but isn’t really sure what that something is. So she sort of wanders, feeling its lack but without a clear map toward it, without any sort of clue how to achieve it. And it leaves her bitter and wounded, more so because most of the people around her don’t get her problem. Only for me at least it makes a lot of sense, that she was always told that when she grew up she’d know what she’d want and could get it. And finding out that the sentiment is not just a lie, but something adults say to placate children and get them to accept realities that they don’t want and that don’t fit them...well, that’s really hard to deal with. Expressing dissatisfaction as a child is always met with entreaties to wait until you’re older. That somehow being an adult will smooth over all of a person’s rough edges. Only it doesn’t. And now an adult, Lindsey seems to be finding that all of her rough edges prevent her from fitting into the world she’s told to accept. When really what she wants is something different. Something with a touch of magic. And it’s such a beautifully rendered story, lightly speculative and achingly relatable. I love the character work, and the piece edges along a rather dark place without falling in, navigating around to someplace brighter and more accepting. It’s at turns funny and kinda heartbreaking, and it’s very much worth checking out. Go read it!


“Advice for Time Travelers” & “How to Betray Sagittarius A*” by Mary Soon Lee

The first of the poems, “Advice for Time Travelers”, to me speaks of action and longing, nostalgia and regret. And for me it comes from this place of knowing that some people who choose to travel in time will have cause to regret it. That there’s not enough planning, or enough plotting, that will really allow the person to return home again. And for me it breaks it down like that because the advice is of the cautionary variety, knowing that going back in time might be a decision that people don’t tend to make clearly. That they’re influenced by the shadow of a memory, something that they want to recapture that can’t be. Because time is a one-way street. Neither can these people who are skipping back in time going to be able to return to exactly as it was, nor can people living their lives every day, changing in so many minute and huge ways, ever go back to the past as it was. It always comes filtered, and if a person goes back without thinking about that, they might end up more miserable. Though I don’t think ultimately the poem is only condemning, because it’s also saying that for some it’s like that, but there are still people travelling through time. Not that all time travel is regret, but that you need to be as prepare as possible for it, and then maybe do it anyway. An interesting read!

The second piece, “How to Betray Sagittarius A*”, is also one framed as advice. But where the previous poem seemed to be at least in part earnestly trying to help, the advice offered here comes with a heaping helping of complication. Because getting advice on how to betray someone, even if that someone is a star, doesn’t really seem like advice people would want to follow. And indeed for me the piece is about what not to do. How not to betray the legacy of this call, this sound, this star. It’s a haunting look at a presence that most would probably want to ignore or make go away. That they would want to silence. But that is a betrayal, because of the need and importance of hearing that voice, that mourning. To really take stock of what it is that she’s saying, even if it’s more of an inarticulate wailing. And there’s a lonely and lovely feel I get from the piece as well, imagining settling in and really listening. It, like the last piece, is sparsely built, a poem of couplets, but the impact is tangible and powerful. It’s a poem that for me speaks of loss and the memorializing of it. The remembering of it, so that it’s never truly lost. Another wonderful read!

“3D-Printed Brother” by Millie Ho

This poem for me speaks of grief and loss, as the narrator remembers their brother, who is no longer with them. In the piece, the brother was printed, was made of ink, something that neither he nor the narrator really addressed. They were just siblings, and things went easy enough between them, their lives close and shared even if the printed brother was different in that way. And the last summer they shared was idyllic, was amazing, everything a childhood summer could be. They played and they spent time outside and they misbehaved but not in super dangerous ways. They had fun, and they were close, sharing a language of their own. Until, well, until things changed, and the printed brother got sick, and...yeah... Dammit this is a sad poem, one full of nostalgia and grief and yet also a joy and celebration. Because to the narrator it wasn’t the most important thing that their brother was printed, but rather that he was their brother. And it’s beautiful just as it’s heartbreaking, because the loss then is something that hurts more, because of how real it was, because of how much the siblings obviously meant to each other and the unfairness that they would be parted this way. There’s just this senselessness to it, that the brother should perish because of a recall, because of something that should have been caught. And that he leaves in his wake this absence that only memory does anything to ease, though it cannot erase it or fill it. But they can remember their brother, in all his mischief and his stubbornness and his love. And yeah, it’s just a wonderfully heartfelt poem that you should go check out immediately!

“The Service Agreement Does Not Cover What Happens During Sleep” by R. Mac Jones

This is a rather intimate poem for me, about a person who is also people. About a person whose past and present seem fractured in some ways. Where there is a collecitveness that the piece is playing with, circling around. Where the narrator is speaking to another person that to me feels like a different version of themself. A past version of themself as opposed to who they are and maybe who they’ve always been. It’s such a strange and moving poem, exploring language and identity, the narrator seeking with how to categorize themself, with how to life with themself and all the ways they are divorced from their past self. How they still cohabitate, live together, and how that’s not always a great experience, or at the very least it requires a new way of conceptualizing themself. Which isn’t at all easy, and I do feel the narrator sort of stumbling through because there’s no guide for this, no literature from that explains this all in neat words and ideas. So it’s a complex read, because it moves around this rare feeling of being okay, of waking and feeling perhaps in harmony with oneself. But that some of it comes from having gone through a procedure. A surgery. One that offers something that the narrator wants and has saved for and now that they have it they are experiencing the world differently, struck by how this changes their relationship to themself and their past. And the ending is a stream, a question, a call. A way as I read it for the narrator to fully embody themself and all of who they are and who they’ve been. It’s strange and it’s just a little haunting but it’s very much worth checking out.

“Basal Ganglia” by Lynne Sargent

I love the space of this poem, the airy feeling that it evokes for me. Because that’s so fitting for a piece that’s about ghosts, about a haunted world. It stretches out, leaving room between each line, between the short stanzas. For me it gives the feel of moving through a sort of haze of ghosts, of the past hanging all around, unavoidable but largely intangible. And I love the way the story explores that, lightly but with this great depth as well, where the piece is told in the second person, the reader witness as the piece reveals a perhaps unnoticed facet of the world. It’s like having something pointed out that you can’t unsee. something that you never really paid attention to but, now that you see it, it’s definitely There all the time. For me it speaks to the ways that knowledge can change how we interact with the world. That for those who go and really examine the ghosts of the world, the history of the world, the marks of the past are all around us. The injustices and mistakes of the world are all around us. And if we are to judge ourselves based on how we handle those injustices, those ghosts, there is this weight to live up to. And even though that can be ignored, once you see the ghosts it must be a willful ignorance. And for me there’s just a lovely feel to that, a cost but also a beauty and a power. And it leaves me feeling a bit haunted, but not necessarily in the worst of ways. A great read!


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