Thursday, July 25, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons Fund Drive 2019

Good news! Strange Horizons has successfully funded for 2020! That means more excellent prose, poetry, artwork, and nonfiction! Wooo! As part of that celebration, they’ve released a special fund drive issue, including two short stories, four poems(!), and some special nonfiction as well. It’s all very much worth checking out, but I’m sticking to the fiction and poetry today, which shines with complex relationships, a few tarot complications, and a whole lot of longing and sex and resilience and family. If you want to know the kind of thing Strange Horizons puts out, this is a great taste! As an added aside, this marks a milestone for me, as well, because with these reviews I’m over 4000 here at Quick Sip Reviews since I began a bit over 4.5 years ago! Thank you all to everyone for making that possible (more to come on that tomorrow)! For now, let’s get to the reviews!


“Cassandra Draws the Four of Cups” by Ruthanna Emrys (1815 words)

No Spoilers: SofĂ­a and Cassandra are both oracles, living in a time when climate change is ravaging the world. They meet, and see a bit of their own futures entwined with the other’s. They go out for gelato. Things progress from there. The piece plays very consciously not only with the tarot but with the history of prophecy, with the figure of Cassandra, cursed to tell the truth that no one would believe. It takes that idea and finds where prophecy fails, action might have to step in to fill the gap. It’s a lovely and tender piece, bright and playful and intimate in all the right ways.
Keywords: Prophecy, Oracles, Climate Change, Gelato, Queer MC
Review: I love the way this story links the prophecies of Cassandra to current climate change, casting scientists as oracles who people are refusing to believe, entirely at their own peril. And I like the sense of futility that comes along with that, where Cassandra has to ask what she can do, what they can do in the face of the disbelief. And the first thing is obvious—they can believe each other. Which is a lovely touch here, that even when the characters feel a moment of hesitation, of doubt, they default to trust with each other, pushing back against the tendency to dismiss difficult truths. But the story doesn’t stop at belief, doesn’t stop at that being enough in the face of what’s happening. And truthfully it’s possible that nothing will be “enough” in the face of what’s happening, but I like that the characters don’t let that stop them from trying. They still decide that they want to act, want to get out there and fight for the planet, for humanity, for everything in the face of the exploitation that is threatening to destroy it all. It shows a hope and a tenderness, these two women coming together despite the pressure to give up and despair. Instead they decide to get more active, to try and make the future better rather than merely seeing it as damned. It’s complex read because of that, because it explores the distance between predicting the future and still trying to better. Which is vital, because the sad state of the future can be used as a weapon to maintain the status quo, in order to stop people from trying. But trying is the only way to reach a future worth living for, and the women both seem to see this and push forward with a beautiful defiance. A fantastic read!

“Wrap Me in Oceans Wide” by Marissa Lingen (3292 words)

No Spoilers: Murex is a kind of mer-person, an amphibious human who’s part of an underground city of people who can breath air or water. He’s also a scientist who is enlisted to figure out what’s making people sick, a strange orange pollutant from the surface that has put a number of people in the hospital. When it seems like his boyfriend, a former surface-dweller who fled to the city without even a name, seems to know more about it than he’s letting on, Murex has to navigate some murky waters indeed to try and figure out a way forward for not only himself and his people, but the planet as a whole. The story moves quickly, much of it summarized in bursts, but it works to show the core relationship and how its challenged by these events, and how the two men struggle with the weight of what’s happening.
Keywords: Mer-People, Pollution, Drugs, Queer MC, Family
Review: There’s an interesting sense of time to the story, and flow, where it refuses to really jump forward abruptly, which is rather the norm these days. Instead, it stays with Murex even if not a lot is happening, keeping the sense of time and continuity that remains rather unbroken during the story. And I like how that choice, which at first might seem a bit strange for how it reads compared to most other modern works, meshes with the setting and the characters and the situation. Because it’s a story that in some ways is about the process of science, and Murex as a scientist looking for some solution to this problem. We as readers are not invited to skip over the “boring parts” where he’s just sort of beating his head against a wall waiting for something to work. The work he does is careful and slow, interrupted by his personal issues with his boyfriend, but also relentless as he pushes for answers and eventually gets them. For me, it underlines a pacing that at first might seem frustrating but precisely because the situation is frustrating, and dealing it requires a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of people pestering for answers that aren’t ready yet, and all the while Murex is also dealing with worrying about what his boyfriend’s secrets might be. It’s a tender story, about not just trust but family and community, Murex and his boyfriend having to find a way to protect themselves while doing their best not to further the harm and pollution, seeking to de-escalate rather than just pass along the hurt to someone else, even if those people kinda-sorta brought it on themselves. And it’s an interesting and fun story that’s very much worth spending some time with. A great read!


“Crane Husband” by Mary Alexandra Agner

This poem speaks to me of love and harm, of trust and betrayal. The main character of the piece is a woman who at the beginning is cutting apart her old life, one that no longer fits her, and that has hurt her. For me, it seems to paint the picture of this woman recovering from a breakup, and probably the dissolution of her marriage. It gives me the feeling that she’s dealing with the rebuilding of her life after having been in this relationship that was supposed to last forever, that was supposed to be her happily ever after, but obviously wasn’t. The second stanza moves the character into a new relationship, what I assume is a second marriage. And it’s a tender and lovely portrait of a person who knows better than to trust without caution falling for someone doing just that for them. This man that they are with seems to trust her without question, without hesitation. Which is not something she seems used to, nor something that she was really prepared for. And it disarms her in some ways and doesn’t in others. Because she is wiser from her last marriage, so that she might still hold to her hesitations. She might not fully trust this man who trusts her, but she certainly seems to love him, and it’s just a lovely sentiment, that she is wiser but not jaded, not unwilling to take a chance again. If anything her previous tribulations in love may have given her a better perspective, so that she can enjoy what she has with this new relationship, this new marriage, knowing that it might all explode, but enjoying it fully all the same. Knowing that the risk of harm is part of the journey, and that she’s not going to fully insulate herself from it, because it would to give up on the beauty and joy that can happen when she finds someone who gets past her defenses. And it’s a wonderful read!

“The Danger of Self Love” by Deborah Wong

This is a sensual and rather sexual poem that sounds at first like it’s going to be a warning. And maybe it is, featuring a narrator who seems to have just lost their father, and in the wake of that hooked up with their best friend. Which is perhaps never the best time to be making decisions about adding sex to an established platonic relationship. Especially if this perhaps-grief-inspired hookup leads to some things that the character might not have expected. I’m interested in the title of the piece, though, beyond that it might read as a warning against emotionally-compromised and perhaps unprotected sex that might lead to a pregnancy. Because the idea of self love here takes on an interesting light for me. Is the self love giving into the pleasure that the narrator’s best friend affords? Certainly that’s what I feel meshes best with the meat of the poem. I feel like it could be read differently, though, warning instead of relying solely on self care (self love is something of another term for masturbation, after all) rather than reaching out to another person. In that way, the poem might be about the danger of not acting, of not changing the relationship that led them to hooking up with their Best Friend. It’s hard for me to tell if the mood of the poem is remorseful or joyous, because of this. Because I get from the ending that the piece is playful and more joyous than devastated. What the narrator has done seems to have resulted in something they want, they like, that gives them something they need. And though we are not treated to how it plays out in the long term, not told exactly what the danger is (getting pregnant, or missing out on hooking up with the Best Friend?), I want to read the poem as ultimately happy, triumphant. Playful and sexy and earnest, featuring a narrator not about to be shamed into seeking pleasure in the face of loss. It’s certainly a piece to spend some time with, in any event, and it’s a great read!

“Pineapple Bedposts” by Sarah Gittens

This is a rather strange poem that speaks of the past and artifacts from it. Antiques and family heirlooms, museums and conservation. The narrator here is never really identified, but speaks directly of being tired, of seeing their work as being in some ways undervalued and futile. That there might be too much, that the artifacts that they are trying to save is being preserved but that the memories associated with them are being lost. That, I feel, is the biggest point the poem is getting at, the biggest virtue of this gentleman and his antique store as opposed to what feels to me like a more organized museum effort. Not necessarily one from a big city, but even if it’s something as small as a historical society and a regional museum. that there is both too much to properly display and there aren’t the people who know the actual stories of each piece, who can’t see or know the ghosts that they carry. While in this antique store the owner knows exactly what happened with each piece. At least presumably he keeps the stories as well as the itmes, and even if they don’t really often find new homes, he’s preserving something better than the narrator in their museum. And it’s an interesting point, that currating a museum much of the time can be overseeing a kind of extinction. Not of items, though they do break down, rust, decay, etc., especially where the funds aren’t there to really preserve things. But of memory. Of ghosts. It’s a lovely and powerful way of imagining what happens to items taken completely out of their context, without their stories, without someone to really care about them and carry their value. Another strong poem!

“When My Father Reprograms My Mother {“ by Caroline Mao

This poem speaks of family and changing roles, of faith and love. The piece is told by a narrator about their mother, who here is imagined as a kind of robot, able to be programmed and reprogrammed. For me it imagines how aging can be framed, how it can be felt, especially for women, especially for mothers who after a certain age are treated a bit like robots. De-sexed, they are viewed as servants and guardians, replacing all of their softness with a hard steel that will allow them to protect their children, that will save them from the harsh world but also prepare them for it by pulling back their own kindness, their own outward compassion. Not that it’s not there, but that they are told that they cannot be so kind. That they must be stricter, harder, harsher, for the good of the child. Or for the supposed good of the child, out of this fear that without that hardness the mother will somehow allow the child to die. It’s a piece that is caught in the gravity of the societal roles people build for each other, that expectation and pressure that is put on the mother because of who she is and what she’s supposed to do. For me, it’s a piece tinged in sadness and distance, the mother here robotic in some ways, emotionally reserved because it’s what’s required of her. And yet the narrator remembers, and loves regardless of the metal and the hardness. For me, so much is contained in those brackets, and yet at the end, the poem closes on a statement of faith. That the narrator still trusts wholly this mother who endures so much, who is relentless and solid and resilient. And it’s a tender and complex read, one very much worth spending some time with and feeling fully. A great way to close out this fundraiser issue!


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