|Art by Charis Loke
Strange Horizons closes up May with two issues covering one short story and two poems (plus lots of nonfiction that's very much worth checking out). The pieces look at place, and at personhood, at anger and hurt and destruction. The publication very much stays in keeping with its title, with pieces coated in weirdness, in metaphor and darkness and resilience. They find non-human characters dealing with having been made into something to serve humanity, with wanting to reach forward to a time when maybe they can be free again, and can exist without the demands that humans place on them. It's a difficult pair of issues, but very much worth checking out. To the reviews!
“The Road” by Shalini Srinivasan (2980 words)
No Spoilers: Under the weight of countless angry feet and blaring automobiles and relentless heat and pollution, Road awakens. And it doesn’t wake happy. Rather, Road wakes enraged, hating the people crowding its surface, resenting the noise and the negative feelings they pour into the cracked pavement. So sometimes it pushes back, and sometimes it takes drastic steps to stop the pressure. It’s a dark story, exploring a kind of pollution other than just the sewage that makes up Road’s lifeblood. An emotional pollution, which creates a situation where happiness and joy are essentially impossible. In this environment, the story explores what is possible, and what is inevitable, and what it all means for the Road and the humans who use it.
Keywords: Roads, Rivers, Pollution, Noise, Anger, Storms
Review: This is a story that makes excellent use of a non-human main character. Road is born from human hate and anger, but isn’t human. To it, humans are something invasive, something abrasive, something poison. They try to shake them off only to have the humans return. And as this cycle of escalating damage continues, the only thing close to joy that Road experiences, the only thing that fills the emptiness inside it, is eating people. Which is dark as fuck. And I guess not exactly true. Because Road experiences a very brief and very small glimpse of something nice, something compassionate, when some sewer workers get together to play cards under Road. It’s this glimpse of something better, something like the nice roads elsewhere must experience. Children playing. Happy families. Only it’s too brief and too little, and if it does anything it seems to just show Road what it might have had...and does not. The piece is just so harsh, so gritty, showing what happens when there’s so much negative energy concentrated in one place (and yeah, if this were to happen anywhere, it would be a road, because people tend to be angriest when they are travelling, dealing with traffic). And I love the way that Road is built up, this rage and just keeps on coming and comic. Road tries to change, tries to discourage humans from approaching, but nothing works. And the result is tragedy on tragedy, on a final end that Road can achieve, a freedom in finally tearing free of the cycle. It’s grim and gritty and difficult at times, shattering with how it shows how niceness cannot grow out of toxicity. How joy is not born out of hate. How humans poison not just themselves, but the world around them, all with reckless abandon. A strange and wonderfully dark tale!
“Abandon” by Lynette Mejía
For me, this poem speaks of two different abandonments, two different meanings contained in the same word. The most immediate of them is the sense of a house having been abandoned, having been emptied of humans and left to sit and break apart, to becomes ruins of what it was and then, in time, once more a part of the world. Broken down entirely into soil and metal. The title doesn’t use the adjective form of the word, though. Rather, it uses the verb. The action. Which brings up the other meaning, which is not about the house being left, but the house leaving. The house willfully removing itself from the purpose it was shaped for. Because it seems to still remember what it was like before it was a house, when it was trees and earth. And so the title for me becomes a sort of imperative. A call. To abandon what it was made to be by human hands and to embrace what it was and what it will be, something beyond the utility of humans. Which really does a nice job pairing with the story from this issue (“The Road”) because once again it looks at a being who is alive but not human, and finding that it has been defined by human terms even though those aren’t ones that really care about the well being of the house. The value here is all human, and human comfort and security, and here the house is finding freedom in shedding that, in abandoning those values for ones that stretch deeper and older. And it’s a lovely poem, quiet but full of a resounding power. Go check it out!
“You, Robot” by M. F. Morrison
This is a rather strange poem that in its title plays with the old novel I, Robot only to switch things up quite a bit. The poem is framed as a bit of a conversation, though the nature of either the You or I of the piece are a bit mysterious, not helped for me because I’ve never read that Asimov story or the Bester story that is referenced in the last stanza. But for me it’s a story of robots, and perhaps of robots malfunctioning. The conversation is between a first person narrator and a woman. The narrator turns every statement the woman makes into a sort of accusation. A way of calling her a robot. As the piece moves forward, however, the veracity of that statement, and the question of who (if anyone) in the conversation is a robot, is explored. It creates a weird feel for me, because in some ways it feels like a child’s argument, where one person is demanded that they prove that they’re not a robot. Only there’s really no proof to a child’s argument, to the insistence that the person accused is wrong about themself, about their nature, about everything. And I like what the poem does with that, bringing the conversation to the point where it turns, where the annoying narrator is the one who must start answering questions, and where they become the person who has to answer about if they are a robot or not, with the result of...well, I’ll let you decide for yourself on that. But it’s a fun piece, short and playing with a trope that has seen a lot of use and continues to be one that people return to. The line between humans and robots is a blurry one, and this poem certainly seems to put the reader right there in the blur, having to interrogate and be interrogated in turn, and perhaps to leave uncertain of a great many things. A fine read!