You know, I kinda thought I was done with the year when I didn't see a new Strange Horizons issue out on the 24th. But, of course, the best laid plans of mice and reviewers and all that. So instead of having just one story and one poem to cover for today, it's one story and five poems. Strange Horizons certainly is sending the year out in style with extra poetryrific experience. For my part, I'm already drinking mimosas on New Years Day and I will be damned if I'm going to let that stop me from closing out my reviews of 2018. So let's get to the reviews!
“Sequestration; Vitrification” by Allison Jamieson-Lucy (4413 words)
No Spoilers: Lynn is a scientist researching radiation, and trying to help diatoms survive longer so that they can decontaminate radiation from water and other sources, capturing the dangerous particles in glass. Even as her work is becoming more and more vital in the face of increased nuclear tensions and stockpiling, it’s difficult to connect to through the frustrations of failure and the general sense of futility that pervades, that the world isn’t going to last long enough for anything to fix it or even really slow it down. The piece is quiet and focuses on the human elements in Lynn’s life, the ways that her support network operates and the way that such a model of community might be able to do for people what Lynn is trying to do for diatoms—help them survive a bit longer.
Keywords: Radiation, Science, Art, Activism, Queer MC
Review: I love the way the story captures this quiet hurt and yearning, the way that Lynn feels trapped by circumstance, by the world, by the desires of other people. The world here is believable and raw, seemingly rushing toward destruction despite the science throwing up these clear warnings. But still the poisoning continues, the contamination of the world because people insist on their ignorance. And the frustration at that, the helplessness that people writ large are choosing to ignore science, is captured so powerfully here, understated but because of the exhaustion that comes from trying to work for something, to try and help something that seems determined to be destructive. Lynn’s mission is one of trying to undo, not prevent damage. It’s about survival, because that’s the world she’s inherited. And in that place all there is to do is try and make beauty out of contamination. Is trying to help the people that you care about, the people working to try and fix the damage, to keep going. It’s a beautiful and yet devastation work, because of how it looks at what science does, what art does, when in a better world the pressure to succeed, to inspire, to comfort...wouldn’t be so immediate. But because that’s the case, everyone is tired, everyone is overclocking in their own ways, and people help each other do just that because that’s what is required. And it still might not be enough. But as long as there is hope, there’s a reason to keep trying. A wonderful read!
“Sanctuary” by Mack W. Mani
This is a strange and rather horror-tinged poem about survival and war, trauma and coming dread. The piece finds a group of survivors following a war that humanity has seemingly lost. The winners are a mix of insect and technology, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster come for its creators or else some new upstart that has co-opted human technology. The poem captures this fragile existence that these people have found for themselves, the way that they live waiting for the inevitable coming of the bugs. The piece also explores the weight of what has happened and the way that the people are avoiding thinking about the war, the losses that they have suffered. It’s like they have turned off that part of themselves, and I love how the poem frames that, imagining it as nailing up the war in one place so that it’s always present but kept at a distance, willfully ignored. And I love how the title works into this as well. Sanctuary brings to mind a place that cannot be breached, that has to be respected. A church or a place where the enemy cannot get in. But here it’s a much less sure thing. The sanctuary here is one that only exists so long as they ignore that there is no escape, is no real reprieve from the bugs. They might last a while, but it certainly doesn’t feel to me like there’s any reason to expect they will be allowed to continue. So they live because the only way to live is to believe that the war is controlled, nailed down. Because that way it isn’t stalking them, alive and intent on their destruction. Because if they faced that they would despair. They would be left with nothing. And so this allows them to keep going, and it’s a haunting and rather creepy read definitely worth checking out!
"Breaking" by Marlane Quade Cook
This poem brings to life a narrator who has fought, and fought, and sacrificed, only to come to a place where they are injured, where their support has fled, where all those they have sacrificed for seem to have abandoned them. In the face of an overwhelming adversary, they are left with just their own strength, tempered in adversity and pain, to see them through. Or, if not through, to a point where they can go out in a blaze, taking down as many as they can with their life. The piece is defiant and to me a bit angry--for good reason. The narrator here seems to have fought and fought, expecting that they would be backed up in order to push back the tide. And, in this end at least, they are alone. Whoever it is that they saved, that they protected, that they fought for, is not to be found, and the narrator is dealing with the anger of that, funneling any of that frustration and betrayal outward, against this force that is bearing down on them. And for me at least the title, the idea of breaking, is not in the face of that assault. Rather, they are breaking because they are not finding those to fight with them. They are let down, and all they have left is the shattering stand that they have left to make. This final stand, knowing that it will cost them everything, that even so it might not be enough, but also knowing that this isn't going to break their spirit, though it may their body and their life. Indeed, it's the sense of betrayal that feels to me to fuel their desire for a final confrontation. So that they can spend themself as costly as possible and thus get an escape from their hope that the people they care about will show up for them. They want a release from that pain of expectation, which cuts so much deeper than even the claws of their enemies. And it's a rather thrilling, action-packed, defiant cry of a poem, fun and full of hurt and energy and it's just very good. Definitely give it a read!
"Spare Parts" by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers
Evoking for me a feeling of the organic and inorganic meeting and melding, this one opens with a question. With a sort of secret handshake, I would say, challenging the reader with the idea that their original lungs are their best lungs. Because I feel that is an idea that is out there, that the more people have their "original" organs and other body parts, it makes them somehow more human, more "whole." When really, that idea can be flipped, as it seems to me to be here, and instead what might be valued might be how far and how fast you get away from that original state. Here the narrator runs down the reasons or at least the allure of having a metal body. One that doesn't have the same limitations of organic flesh. In a way that speaks to me of longing, of want, of hoping to be closer to how they feel. The narrator seems to me to be in the early stages of this journey, this transformation. They are on their original lungs. But that's going to be changing, and for me that is something the narrator speaks of joyously. That they can't wait to be different, to be changed. For me, at least, it speaks to a frustration that those first lungs, which might a lot of problems, should be viewed as better, as more "true" to their body. It's a piece that creates this compelling look at how to view bodies and augmentation or replacements. Not looking at it as a loss, but as something gained. Not necessarily to cast everyone who is on their first lungs as worse, but certainly not to accept that being on your second or third or more is anything lesser. A great read!
"La Belle est la Bête" by Milouchkna
I love how the way this poem takes the idea of the story of Beauty and the Beast and adapts it to fit a relationship a bit different than the one of the original fairy tale. Here we have a narrator who is telling a story, what could be a bit one-sidedly or what could be in conversation with another. For me it's a bit difficult to tell, though I think I lean to the idea that there is just one speaker for the poem, just one voice, speaking to another. Reminding them of the story of them, of how they met and the relationship they have carved out since then. Of all the fragile hope and possibility that existed then, on the cusp of what would become their relationship, and how close it was to falling apart, for them to miss each other, for them to pass by without having forged the connection that they did. The poem carries a sort of sadness to it for me, in part because of how it feels like there is just the one voice present, and that they are saying what they are saying in a way that shouldn't have to be said unless something has happened. Unless the person they are speaking to has forgotten. Or can't speak. Or is on the edge of death. It sounds almost like a way of remembering, at the end, the beauty of the journey. To make this moment they have arrived at somehow less painful because their lives have been so full, because they have found each other. I mean, it's not necessarily the case, and might just be that the narrator is speaking out of an outpouring of emotion, an eruption of loving feeling. But for me it's a piece tinged with a sort of looming shadow that the narrator is trying to beat back with their words. To create some sort of sanctuary. To pick up the rose and cradle it, protect it against this thing that is happening. That might not be able to be stopped. A wonderful read!
"in the Cult of Nearly-Lost Dreams" by Tamara Jerée
This is a very strange and rather unsettling poem that creates a place that is a layer of places. A cult and a kind of school where the new initiates learn how to dream and the more advanced become the dreams that will guide those newer souls deeper and deeper into this world. It's not entirely a pleasant place, this location that the poem conquers, filled with a sinking nebulousness, a kind of labyrinth that the initiates become lost inside of, cutting ties to the people that they were and, by the time the can navigate, bound instead to the dreams, to the ghosts of dreams, to a sort of living haunting that is strange and dark. There is a sense for me of trauma in the work, as well, that these initiates are led here because of what they feel and what they have been through, and that they don't entirely know what they are getting into. Hence calling a cult. Hence the way that it seems to devour them, to drag them down. What they find when they get in isn't entirely revealed, though, at least I didn't feel so. Instead, the poem conveys a sense of layers of illusion, layers of becoming. Where it's a cycle that doesn't seem to have a ready point. The initiates go in and become dreams to fuel initiates to become more dreams, each time for me a sense of dissolution and loss springing from the revolving movement. It's possible that I'm just not seeing the positive elements of the cult, but the fact that it's a cult and the drowning sense of dreams makes me feel that the piece is about the way that people can be led astray by systems, by beliefs that are based on illusions, that only layer trauma and inveigle the initiates in a strange landscape of dream imagery and false promises. It's a difficult read for me, and one that I'm not quite sure I have the measure of, but I definitely recommend sitting with and seeing how it strikes you. An interesting reading experience!