Thursday, February 14, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/04/2019 & 02/11/2019

Two short stories and two poems open up February’s Strange Horizons offerings. The fiction at least focuses on history and fairy tales. On the injustices that people layer onto those who don’t have power. On the children and peasants of the world. But how the truth and the dark realities that the powerful author and ignore have a way of coming back, of being felt in strange and haunting ways. The poetry mixes the wonders and chaos of creation and universe-exploding potential with…the wonders and chaos of day to day life and partnering and cohabitating. And it keeps in perfect harmony with my own feelings about the publication—often lyrical, often heartbreaking, always Strange. To the reviews!


“The Magician’s Clown” by ML Kejera (3181 words)

No Spoilers: In a town where winter must sometimes be banished with a dark magic, the ritual for bringing the spring involves a magician, a clown, and the laughter of children. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. The last time the ritual was performed, though, something different happened. There was a trick. And instead of getting a child to laugh, which would have allowed the spring to return, the magician and clown stole the laughter they needed, leaving the girl, since grown into womanhood, bereft. The piece is strange and magical, showing the power of laughter but also the determination the woman has for making sure what happened to her doesn’t happen again, and pulling all she can back from the men who stole her laughter.
Keywords: Clowns, Magic, Rituals, Winter, Spring, Laughter
Review: First off, this is a timely piece, at least where I am, because I am 100% certain I would be lining up to sacrifice some children for the chance of bringing about an end to this winter. And I like that a big part of this story is also about generational change, and a sort of betrayal of some rules that no one really thought about before. Because for the current magician, the ritual is something that he can twist to his own purposes. If he needs to cheat a bit in order to “win,” then so be it. Despite the fact that it’s not supposed to be that way. For the woman of the story, though, betrayed by this magician and his clown, she sees what they’ve done to the ritual and demands that she be made a part of the act. Demands that she take the spot of the older clown. Not, however, to profit by it. Not in the way they expect. What I love about it is that for the magician and clown, they are corrupt and believe everyone else to be similarly corrupt. So when they “lose,” they expect that the woman is going to act as they acted, seeking to profit by the theft of something precious from a child. And instead she just tears it all down, which is a great moment of defiance and refusal to play along with a broken system. And though she leaves in her wake the destruction of this ritual, it’s with the knowledge that the ritual was never just or fair. That it always had to do with child sacrifice. And it’s a great moment where it’s obvious that the magician knows that as well but simply set himself up to be the one to thrive, whereas the woman prefers to strike out in hopes of finding a better place, a better way. It’s a great read!

“The Imaginary Palace of the Winter King” by Sarah Tolmie (4412 words)

No Spoilers: Blending history and fantasy, this piece finds the Winter King (a very briefly reigning king of that Palatine at what would be the start of the Thirty Years’ War) in exile in the Hague, in talks with the artist and architect Van Bassen to design a palatial summer estate. The piece flits from person to person, mostly staying with Frederick but getting into Van Bassen, Frederick’s wife Elizabeth, and another person as well. And it builds up a mystery of what is happening, and where Frederick is, as he lounges in his estate, looking at all the fine details of the palace. This is a strange piece, almost surreal and definitely haunting, that plays with themes of royalty and war, comfort and death.
Keywords: History, Royalty, War, Architecture, Art
Review: I really like how the story comes together, from the way it blends history and fiction to the way that it finds Frederick transfixed, stuck in a single pose in his grand estate, unable really to enjoy himself. At the same time, by focusing so strongly on him and his viewpoint, his discomfort and annoyance, his observations and woes at his situation, it builds to a different point entirely, one that has much more to do with the horrors of war and the realities that underpin the lush and fanciful architectures Frederick moves through. For me, at least, the story calls attention to the way that history is set around these nobles, these kings for whom the ups and downs of their lives are personal but also staggering in terms of human cost. They make decisions and people die in large numbers. The story focuses on a man who was at the front of one of the deadliest conflicts of the time, one that sprawled long after his little part in it was over, and yet for him he gets to live in the safety and security of the Hague, gets to build a palace with other people’s money and all the while the war is raging, raging, never really on his mind. And the ending brings it all viscerally back, showing that the piece has been linked in a sort of dream logic to the very horror that it was pointedly ignoring. And it’s a powerful moment when that curtain is finally pulled back and the magic is revealed, the speculative element obvious in the way it draws together dreams and reality, history and the fanciful stories that are told about history that cover up the grim truths. It’s a beautifully haunting read!


“Majorana, Back Again” by Hal. Y. Zhang

This is a lovely poem that works forward and reverse, each iteration telling a story of regret and longing, of creation and decision, of fate in the heart of the universe. And for me the piece seems to speak to the beginning of things, and the ending of things, the Big Band in all its power and release a part of some larger design and picture. And really I love the way the story builds and counts down at the same time, where the first time I read the piece it was from the beginning, only the explosion happens at 9. instead of at 0., which for me seems a little strange. Aren’t explosions things that happen at the end of countdowns? But the poem goes beyond that idea into something else, to make the bottom of the countdown a sort of new beginning, a waiting, and then the reader (or at least I did) can reach that 0. and turn around, ascend back through the piece as it builds up, and then it’s not about reaching nothing but creating something, moving to that moment when the universe opens up and life springs forth in all directions. It’s a poem that really seems to me to want to be read multiple times, to be experienced in different ways and from different angles. i love the energy of it and the almost mythic quality that it has, casting this role of creator, of woman wanting to break a cycle, or maybe realizing that the cycle cannot be broken, but wanting to still go forth again and again in hope and expression and light. And yeah, it’s a wonderful read!

“Another Tuesday Afternoon” by Lincoln Michel

This is a lovely poem about the mundanity of a rather magical relationship. That of two magic users (witches or warlocks or something else entirely) who are just sort of trying to make it work, trying to find a piece of the dream that is comfort and security and meaning. They are in that part of their relationship where there are plenty of things they take for granted about each other, but not without reason and not necessarily in a bad way. Just that they know what to expect for the most part, and though it might be a little annoying at times those are the things they have basically agreed to, that they know about and accept. And I just really like how the piece uses these magical and fantastical elements to make a statement about partnering and about the rather normal ways that people hold to each other, helping each other forward and on toward a future that they both hope to share. One where they are happy and have time for one another, though even if they don’t get there, even if it’s all just this same thing on and on, then that’s okay too. And that maybe is what I like most about the poem, that for all it reveals two people who seem to me a little dissatisfied (or at least low key stressed) with where they are and who want to get somewhere better, they are also two people who are committed to each other and seem to know that the journey is at least as important as the destination. And while I don’t want to romanticize or say that the struggle is the point, I do like how for these people it’s enough. It’s enough and wonderful for what it is, tender and beautiful even as it’s sometimes contentious and hurting. And yeah, it just does such a good job of making these magical and strange elements seem so normal, so worn in, which fits perfectly with the title. A great read!


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