Friday, November 15, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/11/2019

Following some technical difficulties, Strange Horizons officially gets into November with a story and two poems that cover difference and roles and danger. In the works, characters are faced with choices. To give into the societal pressures pushing them into their prescribed roles, or to break out of them. Or, perhaps, to bend within them enough to chance them. There are dangers whatever choice is made, though, and the works also explore what happens next, to the people who have to choose, and to the people stuck in impossible situations. To the reviews!


“Whom My Soul Loves” by Rivqa Rafael (2852 words)

No Spoilers: Osnat is a both a doctor and a spiritualist, able to see the demons that hang on people and, if necessary, cast out spirits that have taken up residence in the living. The normal avenues of exorcism, though, are often a bit violent, and tend to put the victim at risk. So she takes a slower approach, and the story is a bit of a mystery as she tries to piece together the identity of the dybbuk, the spirit possessing a mother of a rather large family. The piece lingers on faith and on observance of that faith, on ritual and on intolerance, and how, through work and understanding, negative energy can sublimate to good, and empathy and compassion can win out over pain and greed.
Keywords: Exorcism, Death, Religion, Fasting, Queer Characters
Review: For me this story comes down a lot to faith and healing. To understanding and compassion. Osnat is someone who very much values causing as little harm as possible. That seems to extend not just to the living and human but to the dead and even demons. She’s not out to start a fight, but rather operates striving for a kind of harmony, to bring out the good from even the worst sources. Most people would just try to expel a dybbuk, after all, and cast it forcibly from the host, risking life for the principle of not dealing with such a creature. But Osnat wants to understand what’s happening, especially because this dybbuk isn’t acting normal. So she sets out to find the truth, moving through a community that seems mostly turned away from her, distrusting of her faith and her appearance. People whisper, and children do more than that, and Osnat through it all remains true to herself, not letting that negative energy prevent her from acting according to her faith and her kindness. It’s a story that gets a bit messier as it goes, as the full truth of the dybbuk is revealed, revealing something that Osnat wasn’t really expecting, and something that speaks to her own hurts and situation. And for me, at least how I interpret the half sentences of the spirit and Osnat’s reaction to them, it speaks to a kind of truth that Osnat lives, full invested in her faith and not really in turmoil. Believing that people should be judged by what they do and how they act. It’s refreshing that the story isn’t about her guilt or shame, but rather about the ways she finds community and support and friendship by being who she is and by helping others. It’s a fun piece a heartwarming finish!


“The Mother Searches For Her Own Story” by Mary McMyne

For me this poem speaks of expectation and roles. The gender roles that push women into places that don’t fit and don’t yield. That they have to mold themselves into or else live their lives constantly in pain. And even if they manage to fit themselves into the confines of expectation, there really is no reward for them, no relief. It’s something that produces its own kind of venom, its own toxicity. And it’s one reinforced by the stories we tell. The fairy tales and fables that feature women only in a handful of roles. As either pure maidens or wicked crones. Or dead, I suppose. Those are the only real fates for women in these stories. Either they remain “pure” or they become the wicked stepmothers and evil queens. The purity does not last past marriage, past what they are required to do for their princes. A mother is either dead or evil. And this creates a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, because the more stories reinforce that the harder it becomes to break the cycle, to refuse the roles and do something different. And harder still because the stories aren’t just for the little girls, to teach them their place. They’re also for the little boys, to teach them how to police and maintain the stories where they get to be the princes and triumph over evil and get the princess. The princess who doesn’t really have a choice in all this because she’s just a prize to be won. And so together it built a cage that traps women and drains them. I like how the piece circles that, captures it in the image at the end that might evoke Snow White and the evil queen confronting her mirror. But here the effect is much more lonely, more tired, showing a woman with only two options and unsure how to choose a third. Be a villain, or die. And it shows how the game is rigged against women in these stories, how it creates these impossible situations, and it leaves the reader not with a clear way out but with the lingering feel of that weight. A great read!

“Syndrome” by Ugonna-Ora Owoh

This is a strange piece, short, with lines separated by vertical bars, creating a sort of staccato rhythm, hard pauses that keep each image and idea divided while unifying them in stanza and whole work. The title evokes a kind of condition, like an illness or a deficiency, that the second person “you” of the poem is being...not exactly questioned about, but perhaps interrogated about is the closest I can come to. For me at least you are being told about your failings, the speaker trying to capture them and frame them in a way that makes sense to them without really caring for your input on the matter. To the speaker, you are a problem, a liar, incapable of telling the truth. It might be an inherited thing, too, or at least perceived to be, the you here being judged because of their father, because of some curse. For me though it has the feel of a threat to it, and I like the way that the poem plays with that, that the speaker here is pathologizing the behavior of the you character. That you are being accused of having something, of exhibiting these symptoms that might be ground for what? At the least it seems a threat because the feeling I get is that your father being a magician, that accusation, might have been enough to silence him, to get him killed. And that here the implication is of course that you should shut up because of it. Because if you don’t the same will happen to you. Otherwise you will be branded a magician like your father, or part of something else that still needs to be purged to keep everyone else safe. And the piece focuses on that threat, how it’s there and not there, how you can see it and taste it but what’s not certain is if you’re going to bow to it. Are you going to be silent or will you continue to speak out, and be a carrier for the syndrome the speaker fears, so that maybe if enough people have it, there can be safety in it. Security. Whether that happens or not is uncertain, but I really like the doors the poem opens, and how it leaves the reader staring down the barrel of this speaker, this interrogation, this threat. A wonderful poem!


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