Friday, March 27, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/16/2020 & 03/23/2020

March isn't quite over, and I hear tell that Strange Horizons has a big special issue planned for next week. So before that buries me in all the things to read and review, I'm catching up on the last two issues of the publication, featuring a new original story and two new poems. The works look at some rather heavy topics, from climate change and the loss of a(n adult) child to the misfortune that multiverses might imply. For all that they feature some lingering grief, though, they also seem to be about finding new ways forward, new methods of dealing with situations that aren't exactly good or hopeful, and continuing on regardless. It's a beautiful two weeks of content, and I'll get right to the reviews!


“The Touch Pool” by Lisa Nan Joo (3395 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has come to the home of her Nan to perhaps look after the aging relative in her declining years or perhaps to recover from the mysterious loss of her daughter, who went missing and hasn’t been found. Whatever the case, the narrator is witness to the changes that climate change has brought, the waters rising, leaving seaweed in her yard every day. And there’s something she’s started to see in the water, a figure who occasionally comes to the house. The piece is strange and haunting, dominated by a loss and grief and a need for an explanation, for closure, that just won’t come. It’s heavy and it smells of the sea, and it like the sea the relief it offers is not the soft kind.
Keywords: Seas, Family, CW- Loss of a Child, Employment, Grief, Houses, Rising Water Levels
Review: The piece is certainly mysterious, and I like how it builds this almost gothic situation where the narrator is alone in this old house, the world around her in a state of disrepair. She’s lost her daughter and retreated from a life that had suddenly become unbearable. And I like that the story doesn’t really go out of its way to let the reader in on exactly what’s happened. There’s not a lot of direct clues as to what happened to Nan (dead of old age?) or who exactly the being is that she sees come out of the sea. Is it some shade of her daughter? Certainly it seems likely to me that she hopes there’s some connection. But one is never made explicit and whatever the being is, the narrator can’t really connect with her. There’s a distance to the piece, an isolation, and in that isolation the narrator has to contemplate their life, and specifically their life without their daughter. What that might look like, and what they might do. If they’d still be able to be in medical, if they’d still be able to care for people in the same way, having lost and having hurt so much. And the piece seems to bring the narrator to a place where...maybe. Where at the least she might be able to accept that her daughter is gone, and not coming back. That, if she’s gone, she’s probably chosen to be gone, and however much that hurts, however much she doesn’t want to believe that, it’s the case. And in that the story is about...not letting go, exactly, because that’s not really what she’s doing. Her daughter and the being...she never truly had a hand on them. What she has to learn is how to stop reaching, when she wants something to break her own isolation and pain. but ultimately that’s on her, not on anyone else, and she seems to realize that, seems to be more comfortable turning back to her life and beginning to help others again, so that maybe she can help herself, and put herself in a place where others can care for her, as well. It’s a heavy story with some deep shadows and lovely, slightly bleak feel, but it’s also beautiful and very much worth spending some time with!


“Multiverse” by Jenny Thompson

This poem is a bit conversational in nature, the voice that of a narrator sort of musing on something because of an event that shook them. It’s not exactly a confession, at least for me--it seems almost something you’d discuss with someone after a few drinks, when the “regular” conversation topics have fled and the thing you’ve been trying not to talk about, because it’s a bit weird and a bit emotional, finally tumbles free. In this case it’s about multiverses, the narrator wondering if there is a version of themself out there that is the...”worst” version. Or perhaps has the worst luck. The person for whom every decision turns out poorly. And through thinking about that the narrator seems to struggle with their own decisions and moments when they might have been fortunate, or fortunate at least in that they avoided something terrible. The piece begins slowly, with an admission that the narrator doesn’t think about this much, but they are rocked into it, and together with shock it’s lodged in their brain, in their imagination. It’s like they can feel what it might have been like for things to have played out differently and almost feel a guilt about it, thinking that some other version of themself didn’t brake in time to avoid tragedy. It deepens even more from there, though, and I love how the ending is almost a question, ambiguous in that the very last moment is not one with a clear binary, where the wording seems to imply one thing (that the narrator’s mother miraculously pulled through something) while also implying something else (that the thing in question is where the narrator was, not the fact of their mother’s death). Because for me these things are about choices the narrator makes, none of which could have saved the mother. So what’s really being said is that the narrator wasn’t with their mother when she died. And that the larger tragedy would have been to be there? At least for me it puts the question on how far this logic goes, how far the rules might stretch. Fueled by a brush with death, it’s a dark hole the poem circles around, a dangerous question because there is no answer and no way of measuring misfortune. But it’s there, this worm of doubt and grief and curiosity, and the poem really captures that well in my opinion. A wonderful read!

“naked” by Nome Emeka Patrick

This poem speaks to me of a kind of innocence. The title and the refrain of the piece seems to me to be about the breaking down of restrictions, the re-imagining of what it might mean to be a boy, to be free. The action of the piece focuses on two boys, friends, making traps while naked. The traps don’t really seem to work, don’t seem to catch anything, but they do it anyway. Why naked? I’m not entirely sure. It could be that they don’t want to dirty their clothes. It could be that they simply prefer it that way. There’s a certain expectation I had when approaching a story that is titled the way it is, that beings the way it does. But the piece really doesn’t feel sexual to me. Rather, it seems to capture some...not defiance, but freedom. The boys don’t seem to exactly be doing what they are doing in order to rebel, in order to break any rules. More like for me they are doing what they are doing out of a desire to do so. They are refusing to censure themselves, yes, but neither does there seem to be a pressure on them to not do what they are doing. It’s just that they are acting without role models, without being told or shown that what they are doing is right or wrong. And so they are being guided by something else, by something perhaps ore genuine and innocent. And I think that’s a powerful thing, because it shows that there is something almost magical about the ways that they can act and be moved by what feels right, trusting themselves rather than having to be told. And if people were to tell them later that they shouldn’t be doing this, that this was bad or wrong or shameful, maybe they would stop. Maybe they would internalize that. But for the moment they are acting without those kinds of restrictions and there is something great about, something free and joyous. And it’s a strange piece, to be sure, but a lovely poem well worth spending some time with!


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