Friday, January 18, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/07/2019 & 01/14/2019

The first two Strange Horizons issues of 2019 feature two short stories and two poems, which deal with hauntings and injustice, with generation oppression and with seeking to come to terms with the past. The stories and poetry weave a picture of characters caught in the wake of tragedy, trying to make sense of the world around them, the losses that don't seem necessary, that all seem pointed and corrupt. These are not very easy pieces to open the year on, but given the global nature of the publication and the global issues facing us at the moment, they are perhaps incredibly fitting. They are difficult, about tracing the contours of loss and pain while still leaving a path open toward healing and hope. To the reviews!


"2086" by T.K. Lê (6361 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece is a child in a Vietnamese family (New Vietnamese?) living in America after a Second Vietnam War along with their mother, father, two siblings, and grandmother, Bà Ngoại. The piece opens as a new technology is announced, a kind of teleportation that would allow for people to travel anywhere. The government rolls out these devices to the poorest neighborhoods first, and it's something that draws Bà Ngoại. Because she wants to return to her village. Only the technology isn't well tested, and instead of working as it's supposed to, something goes wrong, leaving the narrator and their family to deal with the repercussions. It's a story in some ways about hauntings, and history, and prejudice. And through all that it's also about war, and immigration, and refugees, and most of all about invisibility.
Keywords: Family, Teleportation, Disappearances, Governments, Prejudice
Review: The story moves around technology and politics—the politics of war and resettlement, of poverty and dangerous testing—but for me the real focus ends up being on invisibility and family. Because for me the piece is a sort of ghost story, where Bà Ngoại ends up becoming a ghost who is not dead. And yet for the world that she finds herself in, the America that is all about progress and fitting in and assimilation, she might as well be. She's not wealthy, and didn't grow up with the language. To this America, she is always a foreigner, an outsider, willfully ignorant and stupid and therefore deserving of whatever bad things happen to her. Which is why, when she disappears into this machine that _seems designed to disappear people_ no one does anything about it. She becomes a living ghost, able only to do small things, present for her family but otherwise defined by her absence, her inability to get people to see her or listen to her. She cannot tell her own story any more, and so it comes to her daughter and grandchildren to tell her story instead. And it's a story that is defined by a strong will but also, for the narrator, a commandment to forget. And it makes for an incredibly difficult and complex read, because so much of what the narrator learned from her grandmother was to forget, to pass, to fit in. She taught them how to hurt less, which is to say they were told to let go of the pain, of the sting of intolerance and prejudice. But that same impulse has erased Bà Ngoại. It's a sort of trap. The government put these devices out where people might use them, and it seems to me they knew that they weren't safe. But they needed test subjects. And so this happened, and through it the narrator learns of the erasure of history, or people, of injustice. And they have to come to terms with it, with their memories and what they have forgotten, and for me the piece doesn't offer an easy answer. Instead it reveals the web of hurt and hope at the core of the narrator's identity, offering what they can of the memory of their grandmother to honor someone who was erased, but who was also compassionate, resilient, intelligent, and incredibly brave. A tender and wonderful read!

"We Are Here to be Held" by Eugenia Triantafyllou (2188 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story begins as a girl who is...not exactly devoured by her mother, but taken into her mother's mouth. Held there, completely protected from the outside world. Who is let go when she has become a woman, presumably to go out and make some life for herself. But who finds that without the experience of growing up outside, that's something of a difficult situation. And who, when the time comes, vows to not repeat the cycle with her own child. The piece explores generational abuses and the desire to protect a child through isolation and a kind of "innocence" which doesn't really help anyone. And it's a quietly wrenching piece about parenting and the desire to protect weighed against the need to foster independence and a knowledge of how the world works, with all of its dangers and complexities.
Keywords: Parenting, Mouths, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Generations, Protection
Review: The story doesn't include names, just titles. And really just the relationship of mother and daughter. Through that, I feel that it begins to interrogate the ways that mothers seek to protect their daughters from the harms of the world and, in so doing, end up allowing that harm to continue. Because they heap all of their fears and all of the responsibility for their daughters' safety on their daughters. Instead of seeking to change the system or working for a larger reform (which is made rather difficult if not impossible by the way they were insulated from the world, so by this same attempt to protect girls from the world), then focus on trying to protect their children. On keeping them out of trouble, out of harm's way. But that ends up allowing the system to keep revolving, generation after generation. And it recognizes the complexity of the situation, the rather natural desire to protect a child. But it also refuses to go along with the idea that the only way to achieve that protection is through isolation and sheltering daughters from the outside. It's a piece that moves with a pervasive darkness, a kind of horror that has been normalized, and it takes the narrator a lot to try and change things, to primarily seek to change herself so that she can give her daughter something that she didn't have. To break that cycle that seems so comforting but really only extends the damage. It's a moving and beautifully rendered story, difficult at times but very much worth spending some time with. A great read!


"Instructions For When You've Endured As Much As You Can" by Cassandra Khaw

This piece speaks to me of grief, and a kind of loss, though the kind of loss that is also the putting down of a burden. For me, there's a feeling that this poem, which is written as instructions, builds up this situation where the you of the piece, the one needing the instructions, is suffering. That they feel grief and loss and sadness at something coming to an end, and yet it's not really something that was good for them. Not really. But that they were convinced that it was something they wanted, maybe even something they needed. Perhaps because they were told that by the man they are no longer with. Because he had made so much of their worth and value about him and his affections, his attentions. When that is not how worth is built or measured. And I like that the piece comes to be about a kind of excising of this influence. The cutting away of something that has grown malignant and dangerous. Damaging to your health. So that the only thing for it is to go in with a knife and cut that influence away. To rid yourself of the kind of emotional tumor that has grown. The piece follows as the instructions detail how it is done, not just the surgical precision of it but the advice to go deep, to make sure that there are no traces left of that influence. Even it if makes the cutting that much more difficult, that much more painful. That, ultimately, it's something that is freeing and necessary. And I like how the poem is presented, then, with lots of space. It's about that freedom, that airy quality that might come afterward, the breath and relief of having done this very difficult thing. A fantastic read!

"Electrical Symbols" by M.C. Childs

This poem is one that seems to be compiled as a sort of collage from an older book on architecture. It features a few symbols and for me really builds up a kind of dark and powerful mood. For me it's about plans, about place. It builds (in some ways literally, as it focuses on building schematics) up this place which in one way seems very real, very grounded and concrete. A house. Somewhere with stairs and a cellar. And yet as the piece kind of descends into this cellar, it gets weirder and almost haunting. Because it feels like borders are being crossed. That there is some sort of transformation taking place. That here is someplace where the strict lines of intent and reality might be a little different, might be able to be altered, bent, or corrected. And it brings with it this feeling of magic for me, which works into the symbols themselves, which might almost be alchemical, and which I admit I have no idea what they mean (and tbh a quick and dirty image search didn't help with either probably because they're from an older source). It ties together into this feeling that there is a way to punch through the walls of reality, that this is a kind of spell, a kind of conjuring, and that the result is wondrous but also just a bit dark. That it's something possible because it's taking place under ground, under the order of things, and as such gives more possibilities. It's a fun and interesting poem and I love how it was compiled to have this very speculative feel to it, though it's from an old (and probably very dry) book on architecture. Definitely a poem to check out!


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