Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/18/2019 & Samovar 03/25/2019


Late March brings new issues of Strange Horizons and Samovar, as well as editorial changes. There are two new poems, a short story, and a novelette to check out, as well as extra nonfiction and a reprint story that I won’t be covering here but that are always worth checking out. And the stories deal with some very heavy and potentially disturbing subjects. Lies in the face of global destruction. Family abuse and sexual assault. The zombie apocalypse. The works are all careful with their content, though, working hard to paint pictures that challenge and bring the reader to confront some difficult topics in nuanced and compassionate ways. That ask hard questions that need to be asked, and that don’t shy away from the often harsh realities that some people live with. These are stories to provoke and upset, but also uplift and inspire as well. Plus Strange Horizons has announced that editors Kate Dollarhyde and Jane Crowley have stepped down, replaced by new editor Vanessa Rose Phin. I want to just say how much I’ve appreciated the exiting editors’ work in making Strange Horizons my favorite publication in 2018 and just all the incredible SFF they’ve helped to publish. All luck to them and to the new staff! To the reviews!

Stories:

“Truth+” by Jamie Wahls (4959 words)

No Spoilers: Avi is a speech writer, a communicator in the employment of a government. And a giant meteor is going to destroy the Earth. In the face of that, they are tasked with trying to find some way to keep the people of the planet from panicking, and also maybe give them all some reason to hope in the face of global extinction. For the huge stakes of the story, though, the real focus is on a much more intimate level, where Avi and their ex, a scientist named Sara, seek to reconcile to some extent and maybe even work together to do the last work that is left to them—trying to give humanity a moment of peace before the end. It’s a complicated work about pain and lies and the truth and comfort. The prose carries with it a powerful voice with a powerful perspective, all wrapped up in a package that hits with the force to shatter planets.
Keywords: Meteors, Extinction, Lies, Hope, Relationships, Speeches 
Review: This story does a great job of looking at what might happen if a meteor capable of wiping out all human life was on a collision course with the planet and there really wasn’t a way to stop it. People mobilize. People strive. But given the time and difficulty involved, people also fail. Which isn’t unexpected. I love how the story deals with odds, with the way that science says there’s a one percent chance and instead of reporting that Avi is asked to “raise” that projection. To call a less-than-one-percent chance actually more like one in four. Because it makes people grasp harder instead of giving up. Because if it doesn’t matter anyway, then might as well make the attempt. Because it gives people hope. And that’s so much what the story seems to be about, the necessity of hope in the face of...not despair, but disaster. In the face of pain and loss and things that really cannot be changed. The story parallels this with reports of people trying to spend their final moments drunk or high or fucking. It asks if that is a bad thing. And more than that, it asks about the people who are supplying the drugs. The painkillers. Are those people noble, because they’re trying to help other people meet the end on their own terms? And where, in all of this, is the truth? Is there a value in looking at the truth dispassionately, if that dispassion is also a lie? If knowing the truth doesn’t help anyone? I like how the story explores all this while also exploring how people hurt each other, how people hurt themselves. Avi and Sara broke up on bad terms because they didn’t want to face the truth. So does it make a difference if there’s a future? Are Avi and Sara’s actions in fabricating a fake successful ark mission justified because there’s no surviving what’s coming? It’s complicated and told from Avi’s point of view, his perspective that lies are easy and serve a definite purpose. And none of these questions the story really answers, just presents to the reader to make of them what they will. And it’s a deep rabbit hole the story reveals, one that I am still grappling with and tumbling down. But it’s a fascinating piece, full of messy characters and questions that I feel are important to face. A fantastic read!

“Saligia” by and translated by H. Pueyo (10332 words)

No Spoilers: Cesária is a girl when she is married off to a wealthy man who lives far away. A man who only wants a couple of children, and doesn’t seem to care about much else. But immediately Cesária rebels against this arrangement that was never her choice, and finds passion and perhaps a chance at escape with a boy her own age. Until he disappears, and all her dreams become sharp. The piece follows her and her family—the children she bears as well as the siblings of her husband. It’s a web of abuses and harms, all building to something as messy and devastating as a train wreck. For all the ugliness on display, though, there is also something fragile and beautiful, a hope amidst all that pain that maybe cycles can be broken, and the weight of inheritance doesn’t always have to be a stone dragging a person into the depths of sin.
Keywords: CW- Rape, CW- Forced Marriage, Family, Transformations, Siblings, CW-Abuse 
Review: Okay so it’s almost strange for a story with so many content warnings to be as...nearly kind of uplifting and tender and kind. And yet for all the cruelty and messed-up-ness that I read in this story of generational abuse, there’s also this resolve to break the cycle. To burn the house down rather than try to benefit by it or fit into it. And really for me a whole lot of it comes down to Cesária and the way that she is prevented from escaping. It was her dream, her desire, and yet she was thwarted and lied to and some part of that poisoned her. There’s talk of curses here where her son Calisto transforms into a wolf but it’s also true that they share that curse, that he suffers from the way she’s been twisted but she does as well. That it’s the heart of so much more grief, because her love is used against her, becomes leverage by which she is forced not to take action against her husband or against his brothers. Where she tries to fight to keep her daughter free but already has decided that her son is just a man, toxic and sinful by nature. And yet that’s something she really tries to create in abusing her son, in not seeing the way that he abused and victimized and raped by his aunt. In punishing him further and treating him like a curse. Treating him as no different from his uncle the child rapist. And yet despite all of that, despite all the ways that he’s basically encouraged to be a toxic shit, he still reaches for freedom, tries to do right, and does in the end decide that if must be a beast then he’ll use that against those who deserve it. It’s a story about breaking free from the cage of family, from the weight of all the wrong that has been done over the years, generation after generation. Calisto and his sister Violante refuse their heritage and reject any family besides each other, deciding that they will building something new rather than try to built on the corrupt foundations they are encouraged to cultivate. It’s a stunning work, intimate and sweeping and careful. It’s a devastating read about the dangers of just accepting always what is given. It’s about change through willful action, about shrugging off the stagnation of wealth and power used to conceal rot and pain. A wonderful read!

Poetry:

“in which my grandma kicks ass and takes names during the zombie apocalypse” by Emory Noakes

This is a dark poem about, well, pretty much what it says in the title. And a lot of what I like about the poem is how the title and the body of the poem are so different and yet linked by a voice and a feel. There is a looseness to it, a casual sort of reporting going on that speaks to me of the narrator and what she’s going through. Because the speaker here seems to me to be the titular grandma, relating to her grandchild the particulars of what happened. But doing it in a way that somehow both downplays the danger and terror of the situation and yet by understating it builds up a picture of what happened that is epic and rather horrific. And I love the way the poem moves and pauses, the stanzas broken up to give a lot of space and for me lend a feeling of speaking cadence to it, this older woman knowing how to spin a tale, how to captivate and entertain and yes, make herself seem pretty kickass. I especially appreciate the way that she reports what’s been happening like messing up her flowerbed was this zombie’s greatest sin. That maybe she would have forgiven him everything else, but once he messed up those begonias shit was on and she wasn’t taking prisoners. And there’s the mix of awesome and horror that happens when that happens, like I as a reader became that grandchild listening, my mouth hanging open, the whole scene rendered in vivid and gory detail and the fact that this was her husband, a man she presumably cared for, but she wasn’t going to let that get in the way of what needed to be done. It’s a fun piece, one that plays with the tropes of zombie horror and gives them a twist, injecting a bit of humor and a lot of not-fucking-around grandma into the mix to delightful effect. Definitely worth checking out!

“The City of Belkouja” by Adam Fethi, translated by Hager Ben Driss

This poem speaks to me of the power of art to change perspective. In that, for me, it’s a rather meta piece, because it’s taking on visual art through poetry, layering the ways that art can work both with language and without to transform itself and other people. The ways that any artist becomes infused into their work so that for someone experiencing the piece, they are both experiencing what the work might represent, but also something deeper than that, in essence experiencing what the artist saw when they created their work. It’s a strange piece in that way, the line between artist and subject, between audience and author, between audience and subject all blurring together, creating a weird map of intent and representation and observation. Or to put it another way, I feel that the poem gets into the way that artists become mirrors, become lenses through which the world can be experienced. That they provide people a way of getting into a place that might or might not exist, but that is a reflection all the same of the world around us. The world that we can never truly know because it exists for us in language, in the range of our perceptions. And through that subjective nature of existence, art has the power to do this profound thing where it can feel as real as “reality,” can impact even more than “reality” in some ways. Because a person seeing what inspired a work, or what the artist saw, might not be as moved as what the artist creates from their inspiration and imagination. The final city here, rendered through the art, might capture something about the city, about the artist, about the audience, that might not have been able to be truly felt “in real life.” And for me it speaks to the way that art can convey meaning and feeling in a genuine and intimate way. Bringing not just the audience into the artist, but in this case the city as well, breaking down the structures of reality and reordering them in a way that is real, regardless of whether or not it’s also fantasy. And it’s a gorgeous piece that’s very much worth spending some time with!

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