Friday, April 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 04/01/2019 & 04/08/2019

Two short stories and two poems open up Strange Horizons’ April content, and it’s an incredibly strong bunch of short SFF. The fiction looks closely at homes and at monsters, at people who are trying to escape in some ways the burdens of their histories and who instead find they are trapped by the need to return. Forced into systems that they don’t necessarily want to be in. And it pushes them then to confront the monsters without and within in order to try and work toward healing and hope. It’s a bracing and beautiful batch of fiction and poetry, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“What Cradles Us But Will Not Set Us Free” by Nin Harris (5975 words)

No Spoilers: Kamala comes to a house she thinks is an AirBnB to try and work on an architecture project while spending time with her children and her lover, Winston. Only it’s a house she already knows, one she lived in for years when she was small, before her parents divorced and her own life was thrown into a tailspin. All grown, the house is calling to her, pulling at her, and it seals her tragedy even as it threatens to take much, much more from her as well. The piece is full of monsters, but not quite like you might expect. The house is a hungry one, but the monsters it collects are also people, and the story explores that line, their fierce hope and their care and their despair and their hurt. It’s a story of being a part of something monstrous but still working for a future where the cycle is broken and they can all rest in peace.
Keywords: Monsters, Houses, Murder, Family, Protection, Transformation
Review: I love how this story brings together a mash’s worth of monsters and has them populate this house, this place that essentially made them, that is always hungry for them, that refuses to let them go. To the point that it becomes rather difficult to tell who the real monsters are. Is it Kamala? Is it the house? I really like that the story basically says that it’s both. That just because these people have been transformed against their wills, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t monsters. Which for me speaks to what happens when people do get trapped by corrupt systems that require those who simply exist inside of them to be complicit in the evil that’s being perpetuated on the larger scale. The individuals who are inside are still victims, but they also benefit from the system in some ways as well, in this case living on and being served a constant stream of food (and OH GLOB THE FOOD in this story sounds so good I think I had to stop myself from drooling like a half dozen times because wow, the food. This story is worth it for the food alone and there’s SO MUCH MORE than just the food), and getting a pool, and a number of other things. So they have to face how they’ve been turned into monsters and fight back not only against the house and the hunger of it, the malevolence of it, but they must also seek to keep each other in check. To come together as monsters to try and shape the nature of the house. The truth of the house. In a way that might allow them to change things and prevent the house from continuing to do to others what was done to them. It’s a found family narrative that is just superbly done, because it shows that by caring for each other, by stepping in when someone is out of control, they can mitigate damage and try to save other people, even as they can’t really save themselves. But there’s the chance that, if they can truly change the truth of the house, it will stop being a prison. That it will just be their home, where they are not monsters, but family. It’s so good, people. GO READ THIS ONE!!!

“Tessellations, in a Greater Hand” by Artyv K (3134 words)

No Spoilers: This story focuses on returns, on age, on family. It features a young narrator and their grandmother who comes to live with them. The story explores not just language and the ways that it shapes people’s realities and cultures, but also monsters. Because there is a monster that also lives at the narrator’s home. Smaran lurks in the shadows, wanting to feed on brains, and the narrator’s relationship to their grandmother Amme is linked in some ways to their relationship with this monster. They are all of them linked into a world where going is always linked to returning, to coming home. Yet there are some journeys that people don’t come back from. Some distances that cannot be crossed back. It’s a moving, complex look at family and growing up and language and care.
Keywords: Family, Grandparents, Memories, Monsters, CW- Dementia, Language, Art
Review: I love how this story handles language and going and returning, and the taboo in this place against speaking about going. Because it brings to mind the journeys that are final, that a person can’t come back from, and it’s more...comfortable to ignore those journeys. To not speak of them so as not to make them real. And yet even without the language for going, the idea ends up getting caught up in other things. For the narrator it seems to be a monster, one that’s preying on Amme, stealing her thoughts, her memories. Making her forget things more and more as she ages. And the monster Smaran is this reality that the narrator has made horrifying so that they can avoid it, so that they can have something to blame for the reality that they are facing, that is uncomfortable and at odds with the linguistic and culture constraints against talking about going. Life is supposed to be about return. About coming home. Which is beautifully rendered here, except that (as the story details), age isn’t exactly a journey that comes full circle. And in the distance treating it like everyone always comes back means that it’s easier to put off dealing with things. For the narrator, it means that they avoided confronting the nature of Amme’s condition, and only very late are they able to come back and deal with it, and try their best to cherish what remains of their grandmother. It’s a tender and moving moment, full of darkness and fear but also bravery and care and love, and it’s absolutely beautifully done. A great read!


"The Alien Epistles, Letters 1-3” by Amie Whittemore

This is a strange and rather haunting poem that to me reveals a woman who has been visited by aliens. Or met them, but probably been taken by them to their ship where they could interrogate her, study her, and then let her go. And there’s something so messed up about that, about the enormity of that, which the poem for me captures in this rather simple way, through the frame of letters which aren’t exactly letters, but maybe some form of coping mechanism, the narrator speaking out to the aliens in a sort of therapeutic way so that she might be able to get on with her life. And it takes through three parts that look at different aspects of the experience. In the first she looks at the ways alien-human meetings are portrayed, the expectations that go along with them, the ways that she’s expected to be powerless, them sinister. And between the three parts something different begins to form as a picture of these aliens. Of beings who have come from far away and who have opened the narrator up to this universe that is out there, only to deny her entry into it. And that more than anything is the part of the story that sticks me, that sort of smoldering anger that she’s left with that they talked to her, that she knew how much she wanted to be away from where she was, to go with them, and yet they refuse. They don’t entertain it. And I love that she takes that and does something different with it, realizes her own power in situations much nearer to home and sees that she can act to help someone else out. That just because she was denied, just because she is left with this quasi-obsession, it doesn’t mean she has to turn around and deny others. To pass it on. Even if a part of her very much wants to, to express her own frustrations and sense of being wronged. And yet she is still prompted to help, to give a person money who needs it. Even as she still hurts, because she knows what’s right. It’s a complicated and messy piece that finds the narrator speaking up at the sky at a subject who probably isn’t listening. Who probably isn’t even receiving the letters. But she keeps on sending them, knowing that they mean something to her. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!

“Toledo” by D. A. Xiaolin Spires

This poem speaks to me of time and space, of change and history. It’s separated into two stanzas that take up different places on the screen, which for me builds this layered feel to the poem, one that takes on a layered feeling of a city, where time has led to there being so much contained in the the streets and monuments built on top of each other, on top of the ruins of the past and the promise of the future. The first stanza looks at the way that people flock to these “historical” places in order to experience it, their tires throwing up the dust of colonization, of war, of atrocities and celebrations alike. That the people come looking for history while the people who live there just want to live, want to exist in this moment, in their own present, rather than looking forever backward. Or at least they appreciate it all in a different, breathing way that allows there to still be growth and change. And the shirt to the second stanza crushes that to some extent, showing how preservation is often not about the cities themselves. Not when it gets out of control, at least, the entire city being encased in glass, held so that it can be admired by tourists in their self driving cars. And in that future there are still people living in the city but it’s more and more sterile. At least, to me, the future as described shows people who have drones instead of dogs, who are more and more inconvenienced by these tourist incursions on their lives, to the point that their city has been transformed to suit these visitors, echoing different kinds of conquests, a clean and neat monument itself but one that might be nearly dead. That it’s stopped growing, stopped changing, stopped breathing with the life of people and hope and chaos. It’s a poem that for me is something of a lament for the ways that people try and capture history in a large sense, caring more about visiting these artifacts of history rather than seeing history in people, in the living who are still very much there and carry with them the stories, the loves, the complexities of history into the present and future. And it’s an interesting and formally neat piece, one that is definitely worth spending some time with! A fine read!


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