|Art by Rachel Quinlan|
January keeps on going with two new issues from Strange Horizons featuring an original short story and two original poems. The works cover a lot of ground, thematically, dealing with memory and with place, with visions and perspective. The story takes an interesting look at fate and communication, while the poems bring a rather dark mood that flourishes in the sweeping stanzas of their forms. And mostly it shows the publication doing what it does, providing weekly SFF content that challenges and inspires. So let’s get to the reviews!
“The King’s Mirror” by M. K. Hutchins (5966 words)
No Spoilers: Wak-Lamat is the narrator of this tale and a grinder, a maker of mirrors, which is something he might have cause to regret given the king’s recent spat of selling grinders who displease him into slavery. Tasked with making a mirror that will give the king visions to guide him into the future, Wak-Lamat works diligently, but when the mirror he’s making does indeed show him a vision, it’s not to do with the fate of the city—it’s to do with the fate of his sister. And the story follows what he does with that kind of prophecy, and the questions he struggles with, the burden of the things he sees. It’s a story wrapped in a very complicated situation, one where telling the whole truth will only make things worse, so characters must find ways of working in the spirit of the truth toward a future that, while often mired in tragedy and death, is still aimed toward brighter and more peaceful days.
Keywords: Visions, Mirrors, Prophecy, Marriage, Family
Review: I really like how this story explores the ways in which the truth...doesn’t always set you free. It sets up both the narrator and the gods as in a situation where they have information about the future but acting on it might hurt the things they care about. For the gods, it means navigating a rather unpleasant fate for the current king that will ultimately make good but which probably the king himself won’t react well to. For Wak-Lamat, it’s knowing the unpleasant fate of his sister and being unable to tell anyone about it. At least at first. As much as the two situations parallel each other, though, I love how they contrast as well. The gods in some ways seem to be testing the narrator with the knowledge of his sister. He has to prove that he’s canny enough to know the difference between a truth that will help and one that will only make things worse. And it’s wrenching seeing him struggle to find a way to move forward that isn’t betraying anyone. Only when he’s untangled that mess do the gods come to him with their own, and trust that he knows enough from his experience to handle it. And I love how, ultimately, how these things are handled comes down not to the truth itself but to the people involved. That some people are able to hear the truth, and come to grips with a tragedy that is coming for them, and some can’t. And knowing the difference is very hard, especially when the stakes are so high and so personal. But I love that for the narrator the more important situation is the one with his sister and friend. And I deeply appreciate that where he might have decided to keep the truth from her, he does see that particular vision is not his to keep from her. It’s a touching and moving story about the burdens of prophecy, and it’s a great read!
“unknown search terms” by A.D. Harper
This piece has a lovely strangeness to it, with a feel to me of a sort of open house that the narrator is putting on to maybe sell their home. And they’re experiencing people coming and going and one person sticks out from the rest because they...don’t seem to really “get it” when it comes to what they’re supposed to do. Like someone who’s not there to buy a home but just wanted somewhere to be, who wanted to seem like they were interested without really knowing the role. In another way, and from the title it might be more accurate to say that the piece focuses on a person who is acting like a bot. Like someone who is running off of algorythms to try and seem human but whose actions miss things that give them away, that push them into a sort of uncanny valley of social interactions. And it’s this kind of feeling that really captures the subject of the piece, that the narrator is so drawn to. That strangeness that in some ways points out the ridiculousness of the universe, of something like selling a home or having someone over, which is both artificial and intimate. And it’s something that really builds this sense of...not quite violation, but something close to it. That in this moment of relative vulnerability, where the structures of “proper” interaction is rather key, someone or something has come in and trod on that. It exposes the ways that so much of our public selves, or even our semi-public selves is outward facing, not necessarily for us but for who might happen by. And that even though that doesn’t make much sense, there’s a feeling of having been a bit wronged when someone comes in and then doesn’t really acknowledge the work put in. And yeah, it’s just this weird little poem that almost looks like prose, with paragraph-like stanzas that reach across the page. It’s fun and it’s odd but it’s also quite complex and very much worth lingering on and spending some time with!
“Remember” by Mina Florea
This piece speaks to me of conflict and revolution. Of want and loss and need and the way those things can move in cycles, especially when subverted and corrupted by greed and inequality. The piece focuses on a narrator and another person who grew up orphans in Romania, who grew up hungry under a regime that didn’t exactly care for them, and yet for the narrator’s friend, it was something that they chased after. To put themself on the right side of the law. To give themself that in hopes of being protected by even that corrupt system. Only there are movements that can overthrow governments. That can dipose tyrants. Only to me the piece has a feeling of cycles and sadness. Of a hope for the future that is thrown into turmoil, and shifted, and shifted again, the world changing in eunexpected ways and always the hope being the same—for safety, and a chance of happiness, and a family. At least, there’s a line toward the end that speaks to things changing, and things staying the same, and for me it seems to imply that for all that the revolution happened and things Changed, a lot of life was still the same. Still hard. Still lonely. And for the narrator even maybe it’s gotten worse. Because since then they seem to have lost their friend, their companion. Because they had hope that everything would change for the better. That they’d finally be able to have the prosperity that they wanted, the happiness that seemed almost within reach. And it’s a piece that is full of history and power, full of longing and struggle. The narrator seems to meld with all of the oppressed people of Romania. And the title and the refrain of remembering is a call, a plea, a demand. For people to remember the revolution and what it was fought for. And what it was like before. So that the same mistakes aren’t made again. So that the same cycle doesn’t keep on rolling over the poor and those in need. And it’s a poem that really builds up a feeling of time and desperation for hope that feels right now incredibly timely. A wonderful read!