Friday, July 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/01/2019 & 07/08/2019

The Strange Horizons fund drive is going on now, but that doesn't mean the regularly scheduled fiction and poetry isn't charging ahead full steam. I'll be looking at the special bonus fiction and poetry at the end of the month instead of breaking it into the normal releases (an extra Monday helped make that decision, because I don't know what the end of July will bring for the publication). And these issues are, well, these stories are difficult, full of death and loss and grief and guilt. They examine what it means to survive, and what happens with that survival is threatened, and it looks at complicity and systems. And really it's a grim pair of issues, but ones still very much worth lingering on for their innovation, beauty, and power. To the reviews!


“Notes on a Resurrection” by Natalia Theodoridou (4569 words)

No Spoilers: Following an accident at a factory that killed pretty much all the workers there that day, something happens at the wake that...well, that no one expected. One of the workers, little more than a boy...stands up. Told across a number of perspectives, the story follows how the community reacts to his resurrection, and what they do. It’s a wrenching piece built around loss, built around a tragedy that infuses the prose with weight and sorrow. That leaves this boy at the center of something that no one really understand, that has stirred up in everyone a hornet’s nest of anxiety, grief, hope, and anger. And it makes for a complex but rending read, full of violence and heartbreak.
Keywords: Accidents, Resurrection, Family, Factories, Miracles
Review: It’s fascinating how this story comes together, how it weaves together the various perspectives to give a look at this strange miracle. A boy comes back to life. And yet it’s not the overwhelmingly positive thing one might expect, coming as it does in the aftermath of tragedy, where these people have all lost so much and seem poised to lose more as the company responsible for the accident denies them any sort of compensation. The piece works by focusing in and out, by seeing the situation through the eyes of the boy’s family and neighbors, showing people terrified of what he represents, angry that he is risen but no one else, expecting something from him when he doesn’t even know what’s going on, doesn’t really experience the world the same way any more. And I love how it slowly explores the fears and the hurts and bubbling energy that eventually boil up into the continued tragedy of the story, the way that the people are prevented from striking against the true source of their misery and so are poisoned against each other. So that instead of destroying the factory, or trying to hit back at the business responsible for not only so many deaths but also trying to deny the families any compensation for doing it. It looks at the weight of poverty compounded by exploitation and how the expression of that is often unpredictable and violent, seeking only satisfaction in the face of the frustration and hurt that comes with being powerless in the face of death, in the face of corrupt employment, in the face of everything but the decision to strike out at those vulnerable enough to be fair game. It’s an unsettling piece, quiet and full to me of a feeling of slow breaking, of slipping under the water and maybe never rising again. A difficult but wonderful piece that’s definitely worth spending some time with!

“Cavity” by Theresa DeLucci (2729 words)

No Spoilers: You are the main character of this story, a woman who has met the average number of killers in your life, though you weren’t always aware that they were killers when you met them. The piece is done as a list, progressing through your life and marking it by these encounters. Some of the choices of what to included here are a bit controversial, so definitely do pay attention to the content warnings. Certainly the piece presents a wide range of killings and killers, some achingly sympathetic and some...not. And throughout it all a kind of pattern emerges, a narrative that shapes how people think of killers, and victims, and the distance between the two. It’s a very difficult read because of the content and because it embraces the dark in some ways, turning into visceral realities of killing rather than away from it.
Keywords: Killers, Encounters, CW- Suicide, CW- Rape, CW- Cannibalism, Sugar
Review: The story certainly doesn’t pull its punches, labeling each encounter here as with a murderer, even where the “victim” dies of suicide or accident. I think killer might be a more accurate description, but I don’t think the story chose the word murderer without reasons—it’s very much dealing with labels, and who gets to be considered a murderer and who doesn’t, who gets to be considered a victim and who doesn’t. And that’s something I feel the story does very well, showing how you end up internalizing so much of how people treat you from that moment when you were almost killed, where your absence from the scene of the crime is both a relief and burden, that you are seen as both somehow more virtuous and less. That idea of double standards is one that runs throughout, that really defines a lot of how you interact with the world, how you face the killers and the others who are there to judge and to excuse. It’s seen how killers escape justice through privilege, how so many people protect certain killers, insulating them and essentially helping them, because that’s how the world works, where as long as they are targeting women or girls, they are seen as just acting on their natural desires. Which is toxic and gets into you in some ways so that you can’t quite shake the idea that victims deserve what you get, as long as they’re women. But it also leads into the ending as I read it, which looks at those double standards and then imagines what it might be like to correct them. Forcefully. Because in becoming a killer in defending yourself, a very visceral and difficult scene on its own, you also get the taste of that kind of justice. A vigilante kind. And it’s that aftertaste that pushes you to consider maybe seeking out those who prey on fear and making them afraid. It’s a neat and very dark twist, and it gives a lot to think about. A fine read!


“Negotiation Ticket (Closed)” by Honor Vincent

This is a strange piece that seems to me to unfold from the perspective of an AI, from a machine that has to answer to the whims of humans. Or, mostly has to answer, because the piece seems to be a negotiation of sorts, though we only really ever get the one side of it. The narrator speaks to a second person, to a You, in terms that really show that the narrator thinks of you, how the narrator prioritizes the universe. It’s about costs and profits for them, about requests being worth the time, about knowing what you can afford and what you can’t. And it’s a bit chilling int hat regard because it puts everything into those terms, into that way of thinking where you are only worth what you can pay for the time it takes to run the processors. And it makes complete sense that an AI or other machine intelligence would think of things that way, would have been programmed to, because our world is one where you only matter to the extent that you can buy importance. And there’s something heartbreaking about that, about what this “negotiation” must have been like. The beginning of the poem seems to me to bring up this idea that a request was made, where you wanted to smell home again. Where you wanted something nostalgic and comforting. And the AI considered it and rejected it, not because it was impossible but because your request ranks a very low priority. So it’s denied and the ticket is closed, and you seem isolated and unhappy, and the narrator is isolated and unhappy, and instead of being able to reach out to one another and help one another, all that happens is the cycle repeats, and the hurts continue. It’s a rather difficult piece for me, bleak and painful, but it’s neatly constructed with a voice that’s human and not human at the same time. A great read!

“balikbayan to show I’m Filipino” by Dugie Tahat

This piece deals with a person sending items home to the Philippines from abroad, from America if I had to guess—packing the items with pages of printed journals discussing American ideals and problems. And I love that idea, that the items are wrapped in these texts discussing the origins of American individualism, the same kind of mentality that drives exploitation and the way that the country engages in victim-blaming, so that anyone who is not successful isn’t trying hard enough. It’s the lie that keeps people thinking that success is equal and available and waiting for those who are able to reach out and take it. And I like how, despite that rich well, the narrator rather rejects that as the poem’s focus. No, they say, the metaphor isn’t really about America, and for me that turn brings the poem more focused at the narrator and their home. The Philippines and the people there, the desire to go and to send back these things to prove something but also to give comfort and support. It does bring it back to individualism, to the drive the narrator has to do this even if they don’t really value the items they’re sending, even if it leaves them more or less alone. But they’re also refusing to allow this to be something defined by American values. The act is what they make it, what they decide it is, and they seem to reject what other people would label their actions. It’s a neat twist, a defiant assertion that challenges the reader who might otherwise want to read into other things, so might want to apply their own lens. Which is, ultimately, all we have, our lenses, but it’s interesting to find a poem that seems to challenge that, and I really like the way it does so, brazenly and wrapped in metaphor. Definitely a poem to spend some time with!


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