|Art by Em Allen|
Two stories and two poems open up August's Strange Horizons content, and they swirl around isolation, distance, and a spot of magic. Both stories unfold in a mostly-contemporary setting and focus on relationships between women. Romantic or not, generational or not, the relationships bring into focus what each person has been lacking and how they're attempting to find in someone else a cure to that lack. The pieces are lovely but touched with melancholy and sadness, hopeful but still recognizing the burden of societal expectations and values, especially when they don't meet up with how the characters need to live. It's a lot of stunning work, and I'll get right to the reviews!
“The Weather Dancer” by Aisha Phoenix (2044 words)
No Spoilers: Amaya is a resident in a nursing home of some sort, seen as eccentric by the staff and most of the other people there because she rings bells and dances in the rain. It’s a rather lonely life for her, her family living far away, her days full of waiting, and loss, and grief. And then she meets a young woman who comes in to visit one of the other residents. And she finds that she isn’t too old to make a new friend. The piece is quiet and mournful in some ways, heavy with death but also full of a resilience and a life, a will to be joyous even when everyone thinks you should be somber. And there’s a bit about legacy, and magic, and power.
Keywords: Nursing Homes, Visitations, Age, Weather, Dancing, Bells
Review: This is a bit of a lonely piece, capturing the feeling of being isolated by age and by distance. Amaya finds that it’s not her body that’s the largest barrier now that she’s in this home, but rather the judgment from the staff and other residents. She knows in some ways that her time is short, but for her it seems to be a reason to still embrace the magic that she has, to hold to the things that have always meant the most to her. And I love the way that she tries to reach out to the young woman who is visiting someone else, the way she sees her compassion and wants to make this connection. Not in order to feel young but in order to maintain a life worth living. That still has color and vibrance, that doesn’t fear going outside or getting wet. And it shows the value of this friendship that the two women develop, this way that they share stories and secrets. They want that the form this unbroken line, so that even when time finally claims Amaya, there’s still some of her, her power and her song and her energy, that remains, that lives on in Sagal, the woman who accepts her final gift. And the magic of the story itself is fun, lightly speculative because it’s impossible to prove, really. It might just be the delusions of an old woman. But more likely it’s something deeper than that. More likely it truly is a bit of magic, and it’s one that has served Amaya well during her life, maintaining a zest, a music and a dance that even the dour expanse of the nursing home cannot full quell. It’s a fun story featuring one kickass grandma, and it’s very much a piece you should check out immediately. A great read!
“Someday We’ll Embrace This Distance” by Niyah Morris (5559 words)
No Spoilers: Jenny is a twenty-five-year-old freelance graphic designer who is buying groceries for a curry when a woman approaches her and talks to her as if she knows her. And she does, kind of...just not yet. The story takes an interesting twist on time travel, making it much more magical than scientific and finding in the timestream two women who are lonely and reaching out, who are linked, who are waiting for each other for different reasons, both aware that this thing they are reaching for might not be what they need, but still wanting it, still going toward it as much as they can. It’s a piece that walks through these large distances, the relief just visible in the future perhaps a mirage, perhaps getting ever closer.
Keywords: Time Travel, Cooking, Relationships, Queer MC, Distance
Review: I love the way this story builds up the sense of isolation with both Jenny and Ria. For Jenny the exile is mostly voluntary and rewarding, allowing her the distance she needs to function and feel safe. Except that even so, she’s a little bit too alone for her tastes, desiring another person to share life with, so that when Ria arrives with this fantastical story, Jenny really doesn’t question it too hard, because she is happy to have someone to spend some time with. Time without a heap of expectations, where she can just sort of be and decompress. Where Ria is reaching out not because she’s lonely in general but because she misses Jenny specifically. At least, if you believe that she really is traveling through time, then what she seems to be doing is making up for a change in Jenny’s life, where Jenny is too busy for their relationship. And I get the feeling that Ria isn’t exactly telling the whole truth of the matter there, that there’s a possibility that she and Jenny broke up and Ria can’t stand it. Whatever the case, both of them seem to know that what they’re doing in the “past” might not be strictly healthy, because it allows them this very easy out from dealing with either their loneliness or their issues. And it might keep them more isolated, might end up dooming them if Jenny is too busy with future Ria to meet present Ria. It’s a strange story, a little bit haunting but also very lovely and moving, Jenny caught without really knowing what she wants, seeing in Ria a future that seems better, where she has more security and someone to be with (or might, at least) but where even so things might not be entirely happy or satisfied. And it points to how fragile those things are in a world that demands so much from people, demands that they conform and give up so much in order to have some measure of security and stability. It’s full of hope, but a rather guarded kind, and it strikes a chord in me for how it portrays loneliness and distance. A wonderful read!
“Seven Truths and the In-Between” by Alexandra Seidel
This is a strange poem about time and memory, about a person circling magic and death. It’s not entirely certain how old the narrator is, but at the same time the piece does seem to be concerned with growing older, with losing teeth, with dealing with regrets about things from growing up. There’s a reference to something that might be a pregnancy tests, and a photo collection, and a bunch of other things. The truths as mentioned in the title are little confessions, things that the narrator seems to be revealing about themself. What it reveals is something of...what? A somewhat messy person? Someone afraid of aging, filled with various dissatisfactions and fears? Someone who grapples with the implications of their life, who has a desire to make something meaningful and beautiful and “real” but might not know either what that means or how to go about trying. There’s something a bit sad about it, too, as if this introspection comes from loneliness, or loss, or a creeping sense of mortality. I really like the greater implication of the title, though, when looking at these truths, these confessions. And it comes in that last bit, the in-between. Because what emerges out of the in-between, out of the space between the confessions, around them, is the sense of the whole person. That they don’t live in those confessions. These things that they might consider secrets aren’t what really define them. But the last stanza links to this idea that through the snapshots, through the bits of themself that are revealed through the confessions, they are seeking to capture enough to make a statement. That if they strategically place them, maybe the in-between can be conveyed in a way that it’s really impossible to in so small a space. Because the in-between is so large, so profound, that it seems always to defy be captured neatly. And it represents that final failure the last lines detail, the work coming apart, the effect not quite hitting. And yet in that image, too, that confession, more of the narrator is revealed, and it makes a rather meta point about art and artists, about truth and fiction. And it’s a wonderful piece that’s very much worth spending time with!
“Advice on Love from an Astronaut with a Failing Memory” by Rasha Abdulhadi
This piece pairs very well with the story in the same issue (“Someday We’ll Embrace This Distance”) because of how it plays with love and longing, distance and memory. The poem sets up the main character of the piece (the third person “she,” I believe) as an astronaut giving advice (to presumably the narrator and reader both) on Love. That she has a failing memory seems to me to give the piece a bit of added perspective, complexity, and urgency. Because for me the sense of having a failing memory gives things a bit more importance, that his astronaut is in some ways trying to prevent herself from forgetting what’s really important. Or maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe she’s made peace with the fact that she’s going to miss this love. Maybe what she’s trying to do instead is being able to inhabit that love even if she can’t remember. The first stanza finds her spreading her love wide, wondering after what might be a “healthy” love, as if love is primarily concerned about what is healthy. As if healthy is something you can pick out and quantify. The love that she seems to strive for, the feeling, doesn’t seem to be one that everyone would consider healthy, or safe. It comes with a hurt, and an openness and vulnerability. It comes with the possibility of being hurt. Especially, it seems, with memory being unreliable, with faces blurring, balance difficult to maintain. What makes it easier seems to be for the possibility of hurt to be there, a kind of constant reminder, inhabiting the blade thin space she describes, the edge might be what keeps the love fresh enough to hold onto even as memory goes. It’s a bit of a sad read, to me, tinged with loss and a second layer of loss, the second even more difficult to take, because it stands poised to eradicate the entirety of love down to its roots, which are memories. It’s a rather short but very complex read, and a poem that you should definitely spend some time with. A great poem!