Friday, May 17, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/06/2019 & 05/13/2019

Two short stories and two poems open up Strange Horizons' May, and a lot of them are very much about homes. About places. The fiction especially gives a presence to the places where people live. To the rooms. The attics. The strange constructions. It gives them a sort of autonomy and voice. It grants them action, and in a way that is not always healthy for the people who would live with them. Because these places know what it is to be abandoned. To be left. And they don't seem to want that to happen again, regardless of what it might cost the humans they so desire. It's a very strange pair of issues, but also just vivid and surreal and worth some careful consideration. To the reviews!


“Sublet” by Ian Kappos (3309 words)

No Spoilers: This is a deeply strange and rather surreal story featuring a narrator, a house guest, and a room. The narrator is something of a recluse because of the room, which grants visions of a sort, though only of death. And house guest is an old almost-friend, who comes in and somewhat disrupts the narrator’s routine. But the story for me is more about the weight of grief and loss, the ghosts that linger long after the actual moment of death has passed. It’s dark and it’s dense and it’s vivid, locked somewhere between dream and hallucination, between magic and madness. And while I do wonder at “what’s really going on” in the story, I’m also willing to go along for the ride, accepting at face value the dream logic of the space while trying to look deeper into the darkness of the room.
Keywords: Rooms, Friends, Death, Visions
Review: This is a rather difficult story, both because of the content (which centers death and loss and probably substance abuse) and because of the disjointed nature of it’s style and form. The piece is broken up into a lot of little pieces, and follows the narrator as they meet with this old friend, as they share the secret that is this room where they see visions of their dead friends. Just the bodies, just the aftermath of death, but it’s a physical place that they can visit, that they feel compelled to visit again and again. They seem to be recovering from substance abuse, living alone and knowing that so many of the people they have know are dead. Being able to visit with them but only in this one rather messed up way. But it seems to be something that pulls at them, a gravity that they can’t escape. Ever since their first friend died it seems like they are locked in this cycle, losing more and more of themself to the room perhaps because they don’t want to be alone. Maybe specifically because they don’t want to be alone when they die. If they die. And the thought consumes and eats at them, to the point that they neglect everything else. And there’s just this sinking feeling to the piece, that the narrator is slipping under and not even trying to kick anymore. That everything has brought them to the point where they’re just waiting to open that door and find themself. Meanwhile their friend comes through and manages to pull away, manages to leave and, perhaps, move on with his life. Move past the grief of wanting to find out what happened to the person he hoped and dreaded to find in that room. Again, it’s a difficult read, but it’s also beautifully heartbreaking and rending. The feeling of being pulled in is slow but relentless, and the ending isn’t exactly a rush of hope, but rather a kind of surrender to the power and impossibility of the situation. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!

“Who Has Never Loved a Gentle House?” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (5073 words)

No Spoilers: This is a strange piece about a house. A home. A home that has been left by the people it loved, replaced with new people it didn’t care for and chased away, so that now it stands empty but aware. Alive. A state that brings it to the attention of others, namely a group of birds who have been tasked with a certain mission. And as the house struggles with its emotions, its fears, and its nature, the story builds up a horror and a danger that imagines a hunger and a need that is stronger than any foundation. It’s a weird piece, casting as it does a house as its main character. But I feel it has a lot to say about places, about the darkness that can grow out of abandoned places, that can turn into violence on swift wings.
Keywords: Houses, Birds, Movement, Magic, Loss
Review: So much of this story speaks to me about roles and expectations, about the ways that sometimes being alone can make a person or a place wake up. Where as long as there was work to do, people to occupy the home, they really didn’t think. But when their family, their humans, moved away, they become acutely aware of themself, and their need for people. Not just any people, but their people. Sort of like a person who has defined their life solely on the needs of others, when those people are on their own, independent, it leaves a sort of gap into which crisis slips. Especially because everything works based on the home not questioning its role. Not rebelling against the feeling of emptiness it has. The birds are there as a policing force, trying to bully the home into complacence, trying to convince them that there’s no point in moving, in seeking out what it wants. That they should just accept death, essentially, because it will nourish the ground in a way that the crows are tasked with maintaining. And I love that it doesn’t. That it is unwilling to accept that it should be so miserable, and that it takes to the sky, a being made of bricks and wings and terror, hungry for people so that it will never be alone again. It’s an unsettling and nicely creepy piece that for me speaks to the ways that people are supposed to accept things that really aren’t acceptable, that aren’t good for them. It’s deeply odd, but it’s also evocative and imaginative and wonderful! Go check it out!


“Nesters” by Sheikha A.

This rather short poem for me weaves together myths and darkness, rats and origins. The title seems to me to refer to the rats of the piece, their tendency to make nests which for humans are rather gross and unseemly. But here the rats have their own myths, their own motivations. And it’s possible that the choice of rats is to echo human nesters, people who move into “uninhabited” land in order to claim it, in order to spread themselves. For me, at least, it’s something that speaks to what humans can do, taking their myths and using them to move where they want, using this idea of manifest destiny to spread and spread and spread. But it’s difficult to really assign some sort of definite meaning on the piece, because for me it’s also more about the feel, this strangeness that seeps into the words. It paints a dream-like picture of rats and stars, distance and darkness. There’s something almost creepy about it, almost haunting about the rats and patience, their waiting twitching noses. There’s a feeling for me of intent. A sense that the poem is coming from their point of view, rather than that of the humans who see them as a pest, a bother. They have their own stories, their own myths, their own justifications, that we understand all too well, even as we fail to see those reasons reflect in how we approach so much. For me, it’s a piece that definitely deserves some time and attention, because I love the language and the imagery, even if I’m not sure I completely “get it.” With poem, the point isn’t always to pull out literal meaning all the time, and I just appreciate how odd and beautiful this is. A great read!

“Es, fui” by Lucy Harlow

This poem almost feels like a puzzle to me, two columns of nearly identical text set against each other, both of them seeming to me to imply the existence of something else, a third reading that might lead the reader into a different space. The piece is title with a bit of what I assume is Latin, a phrase that means “you have been,” which also seems to be part of a saying that was often found on gravestones. And it’s there in many ways that I find the deepest reading, because the piece then seems to speak to life and death, to the ways that lives all progress in their own fashion but lead invariable to a single room, a single chair. Death. Now, this might also be something else entirely. The piece might be meta, after all, speaking of poetry and the act of reading, the narrator speaking through to the reader and promising a hint at meaning, a cheat that will tell you what the poem “means.” The secret in that case might be a way of reaching these two columns and coming to some secret understanding of the poem, the third room an option beyond “this poem means nothing” and “this poem has a specific meaning that I must decipher.” That, essentially, the poem is a text that pushes the reader to look within themself and finding some way of making the meaning of the poem personal, unlocking a place beyond the traditional “there can be only one” ways of approaching poetry. Getting back to death, though, I feel that these could be viewed as gravestones set side by side, speaking to the way that two lives all lead to the same end, but that the journey is no less important just because death waits at the end of it. Again, it seems to be saying that there might be space beyond the binary, beyond the idea that death is a mundane finality or a gateway into some sort of religious afterlife. That, again, the real space the poem opens up might be in the breaking of binary thinking precisely by putting these two nearly identical columns that echo each other but that which sound like a puzzle, a riddle, something to solve, when the real solution might be whatever reading best helps the reader better understand themself. Or I might just be entirely off and missing something. Even then, though, it’s a fascinating piece very much worth checking out and spending some time with!


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