Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/17/2020 & 02/24/2020

Art by Rachel Quinlan
February closes at Strange Horizons with two more issues featuring one short story and two poems. The work does not disappoint, though, with a story that really does some innovative things with cosmic horror, including rejecting one of the major tenants of what's supposed to make the genre so terrifying. Add on some poetry that manages to be affirming and strange and haunting, and the issues do a wonderful job of capturing some of that February feeling. Not the romantic vibes, but rather the chill just showing signs that maybe spring isn't too far off. To the reviews!


“The Oldest Solution” by Priya Sridhar (2464 words)

No Spoilers: Nisha counter herself lucky when she’s able to get into see Dr. Olk, a rather popular therapist. He specializes in relationships, and Nisha finds herself conflicted about her own. About her fears and insecurities, her own hesitations and hurts. And the story does an amazing job of contrasting the rather mundane details of what Nisha is doing with world building that establishes the definite presence of the eldritch on earth, with cosmic horrors around every corner, hungry for souls and flesh. And yet, through the weird and the sinister, the biggest danger, the most significant conflict, is the one going on inside of Nisha. It’s an understated but powerful story about the work of mental health and security, and it’s just delightful.
Keywords: Therapy, Cosmic Horror, Relationships, Family, Queer MC
Review: I love how the weird and otherworldly lives right beside everything else in this story. There are eldritch gods in the offing, and scandals where not just people’s personal information but their very souls are leaked online. There are creatures who might take off a finger or two if you’re unwary, and there’s a sense of cosmic terror lingering just outside of view, like the moment it receives an invitation it will Be There. It’s pervasive and it sets certain expectations, I feel, by including all of that. Cosmic horror, after all, is built on human insignificance in the face of unfathomably large and complex creatures. And yet the story is about therapy. Is about the emotional insecurities and fears of Nisha. And it doesn’t waver, doesn’t get drawn out to some “larger” cosmic struggle. Instead, by making the story very much about the “mundane” struggles that Nisha is dealing with (being underemployed, having homophobic parents, worrying about being a good partner for her girlfriend), the story does something that I absolutely love—it rejects the idea of human insignificance. It throws out the idea that these things that Nisha is dealing with are less real, less important, less difficult, than an invasion by squi-aliens or the nightmare rampages of dead gods. And that speaks so real to me, that here in the heart of the story, the real conflict is the emotional work that Nisha is putting in by seeking therapy, by talking through her problems, by wanting to work at improving and feeling better and living up to what she wants and can do. She’s offered short cuts, easy ways out. Possession. A glimpse of the infinite. But they don’t fix anything. They don’t invalidate any of what she’s feeling. And I just love that through all that the therapist is nodding along, seeing that yes, what she’s feeling is real and yes, it’s something they can work at, and it’s not small. Not mundane. It’s epic and it’s powerful and it’s important. And the story is just amazing, and you should go check it out immediately!!!


“Procrastination (A Lullaby)” by E. F. Schraeder

This is a lovely take on something that a lot of people (and especially a lot of writers) probably deal with—procrastination. As the title implies, the piece is about putting off to tomorrow what might have been able to do today but ehhhh. And really I love that it’s framed as a lullaby, because it sort makes this into something of a mantra. Something to tell yourself when it’s the end of the day and maybe you didn’t get to as much as you wanted to. It’s a spell to make it easier to let go of the anxiety, the dread, the guilt and shame. To make it just okay to go to sleep, to rest, because sometimes that’s what’s needed. I think there’s a certain connotation that goes with the word procrastinate, and I think the poem is very conscious of the fact that procrastination is seem as this Very Bad Thing that must be avoided at all costs because Only Bad People do it and we don’t want to be bad, right? Especially in today’s world, there’s the overwhelming pressure to overclock, to push through, to not take days off, to get to things as quickly as possible because phones and everything (sorry Boomers things are more demanding now than ever and that definitely includes the amount of time people are expected to essentially be at work without being paid because you can’t disconnect). And here that negativity, that moral judgement, is taken away. The procrastination here is almost a permission to drop the burden that is living under the crushing weight of needing to always be productive. It’s saying yes to sleep, to pause, to waiting. It recognizes that it’s a temporary situation, one that might change with the morning, but it’s necessary to be able to put something down so that it doesn’t snowball, so it doesn’t kill you. And the poem does a great job of capturing all that in this calming, sleepy way that I recommend people print out so that you can keep it by your bed. Your work for the day is done. Regardless of how much is left to do, you’re best served taking a rest, and getting some fucking sleep. A fantastic poem!

“New York, 2009” by Mayra Paris

This poem seems to me to be a sort of love letter. Between two people, maybe, but mostly between those people and a city. New York. The piece explores how that place, that presence, marks them and changes them. Makes them its own. New York, a city that sprawls and contains, that defines and that shifts. For the narrator, for the pair who make up this collective “we,” the city is more than just the place where they’ve grown up. And it might not even be where they grew up. It’s hard to tell their age, or their background. Even if they came later, New York has taken them in. It’s intimate and it’s strange and it’s short but lovely, building this map of the city through a revealing of bodies, the city linking these people, this couple, their identities becoming twined in the city itself, its blood in their veins and vice versa. For me, the poem also draws a kind of uncertainty onto the scene by setting the piece in the past over a decade. Which for me gives the feeling that the narrators might no longer be living there. There is a focus on memory that I feel might in some ways be nostalgic. A reminder of a time when the narrators were together in their element, in love and loved, at home in a way that maybe they haven’t been since. At least, for me there’s a kind of longing quality about the poem, really captured in that final line, a promise that doesn’t feel like it could be made if, in the space between 2009 and now, the narrators hadn’t spent time somewhere else. And maybe they have returned. And maybe the title is just because the poem was written in 2009. But for me there’s the sense that they wouldn’t need the maps if they were still there. And that what they’re doing is exploring the city through each other and their bodies, remembering because distance has made the physical space unavailable, and they’ll take whatever they can get. It’s a lovely, beautiful poem, and very much worth spending some time with!


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