|Art by Dante Luiz|
The last day of March brings a special treat in the form of a special Climate Crisis issue of Strange Horizons. Three short stories and three poems make for a robust offering, and they show visions of the future that...well, that aren’t very bright and cheery. That are scorched and dry, that are wet with corruption and rot, that are primed to tip into darkness. But they’re not without hope. Though most of them I would consider warnings, some do reveal that even in the darkest of futures, hope and compassion still remain. That for all humans have wrecked the fuck out of the planet, they also have the capacity to do good by it, if they can come together and act responsibly. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!
“Cairns” by Jason P Burnham (5208 words)
No Spoilers: Ana and her wife Pilar try their best to keep their children, Carlos and Eleana, healthy. But with plastic pollution so high and micro-plastics so pervasive, it comes in large part down to how much micro-free food they can afford. Right now it’s just one day a week. Which so far has worked, though that’s mostly down to luck. Luck that might have just run out. The piece shows a world where, despite progress in certain areas, the same old cycles of haves and have nots play out with the health of children. So that many develop cancer before they reach adulthood. And where adults are pushed further and further to try and provide for their children things that should be the right of every person. It’s sharp and it’s wrenching and it’s powerful stuff.
Keywords: CW- Cancer, Plastics, Pollution, Capitalism, Food, Queer MC
Review: For me the story does an excellent job of looking at cycles of corruption and exploitation, how people become trapped in these systems that bleed them dry, that profit off of their sickness and their desperate desire to keep their children healthy. Whatever happens, the businesses win. And though the oil companies have been dismantled, the same greed that led to the micro-plastic pollution still very much exists, because health for yourself and your children has become something that only the rich can afford. For everyone else it’s a constant struggle, and people are kept to worn and weary from just surviving to be able to do much organizing, to really be able to do anything about the ways the system keeps them down. As Ana points out to herself when her son gets sick, the problem is that they’ve let the same things happen over and over again. They’ve bought into the new ways of being exploited. And she does so willingly, will pay any price to try and keep her children alive. All the while believing that if she works hard enough she can help them rise within the corrupt system so that generations forward they will have power maybe to change things. Not realizing that without the context of her own struggles, those future grandchildren would be affluent and probably not care to push for change. Or, almost more likely, they’ll be worse off than she is because the problem isn’t getting better, but worse. But the instinct to protect the children is so strong that it’s being used to essentially blackmail the parents, to hold those children hostage so that the parents won’t rise, won’t act except to reactively trying to protect. It’s a kind of trap that the story reveals very well, one that keeps everyone paying in to the big businesses, to keep those with power in power. Everyone else suffers because this is still a problem that money can insulate. And only by stripping that away, only by putting everyone in the same boat, is real progress more likely. It’s a tense piece that really captures that overwhelming fear and frustration, that exhaustion that comes from having to live with less for so long, always uncertain where the next hit is coming from and how bad it’ll be and always wincing from it no matter the training. A wonderful read!
“Three Days with the Kid” by Tara Calaby (3202 words)
No Spoilers: Edward is a trans man living in a post-disaster and post-rain world where kindness and hope are in short supply. But when he finds Rosie, a nine-year-old girl who has recently lost her parents, it’s like a little bit of hope comes back, and the two start travelling together, destination rather unknown, just trying to survive in a place where that’s not at all easy. What they find is often ugly, often predatory, but together they navigate forward, unsure of what they’ll encounter next but better able to meet it together. It’s a story dominated by loss and stubborn will, made warmer through the found family elements of Edward and Rosie depending on each other despite the rest of the world having either left them or let them down.
Keywords: Post-Disaster, Water Shortage, CW- Rape (attempted), Trans MC, Found Family
Review: This story balances bleakness and hope in a rather beautiful way, finding that even when things are at their worst, even when the world has been decimated, there is still kindness, compassion, and family of all sorts. The piece is heavy with grief and just a feeling of T I R E D, though, and it’s not exactly an easy story to get through. The landscape is blasted, water in short supply, and Edward and Rosie meet some less than excellent people and have to do some less than excellent things to defend themselves and survive. They are two broken characters, too young and too old both at the same time because anyone still alive is both now. The piece doesn’t really offer much in the way of statements about why they keep going. They’re stubborn, as just about everyone in this world is these days. They’re not ready to die. And that’s enough. Their survival isn’t about some larger Survival. Rather, for me at least, it’s about surviving in a personal sense. About keeping alive those things that are important--compassion and caring, empathy and understanding. Not that they won’t resort of violence when provoked, but for Edward and Rosie it feels like they’re alive to prove a point. To themselves and to the world at large. That holding to kindness and trying to live without doing more harm isn’t a weakness. It’s not weak that they aren’t trying to exploit and prey on those weaker than they are. In fact, it’s strength. And if any are going to survive this situation, it’s them, because they will help each other, because they will use their wits and their skills not to continue the cycles of exploitation and greed that caused all these problems, but to try to go their own way, being happy that they can sustain themselves and live, still finding joy despite the ways they are broken. It’s a careful and harrowing read at times, but one that for me doesn’t wallow in despair, but rather reaches for hope. A great read!
“Dirty Wi-Fi” by Porpentine Charity Heartscape (2756 words)
No Spoilers: This is a strange story of two people maintaining a connection over the net in a world where Wi-Fi is water, where the internet is vital and dangerous, quenching and devastating all at once. The language is fluid and bordering on surreal, the narrator much more comfortable in virtual space, liminally blending the physical and digital in a way that feels to me slightly punkish, slightly poetic, and entirely compelling. It’s like staring at art that you can almost make out, and the deeper you look the more you find, though not always linearly or straight-forwardly. It’s a story that to me speaks of distance and the push and pull of the internet, the need for it and the rot of it, all tied together so that it can’t be separated back out.
Keywords: Internets, Water, Relationships, Masturbation, Trans MC(?), Queer MC(?)
Review: I put the question marks above because while to me the story seems to be narrated by a trans woman in a queer relationship, the piece itself seems to push back against being rigidly defined and so never explicitly details the identities of the characters. And the whole piece has a rather fluid feel to it, aided by the way that the internet, that Wi-Fi, has essentially become water. And the world is having a shortage of it, the bandwidth limited so that those who don’t have much money have to scrape by as they can while still wanting to lose themselves in the online, in social media and media, in porn and news and meme and all of it. And I really like how the piece treats Wi-Fi as tied to water, as this resource that is both threatening to drown us via rising global sea levels, and as necessary to life. And for me some of the piece is about how that dichotomy is more complicated than people might think, because for some the internet is literally a lifeline, is about the only place where they can feel comfortable, where they can escape the itching discomfort of their own skin. The Wi-Fi opens a space for them to explore and be, even if it’s not always perfect. But outside of the virtual world there is no place to be sometimes, even as the line between virtual and artificial, between dealing with the world and escaping from it, become less and less distinct. For me this is a great story to spend some time with because it really seems to defy a superficial reading. These characters are messy, not shallow or (for me at least) some sort of addict who has a problem with Wi-Fi. The narrator’s problem seems to be with the world at large, with its pressures and its corruptions, and the virtual gives her the only way to handle that, to manage that. It’s imperfect but necessary, and it really does speak to the way that the internet can be both a tool of exploitation pushing more and more consumption, and a tool of identity without which a lot of people would be suddenly voiceless. A fantastic and fantastically weird read!
“The Wolf” by Kaily Dorfman
This poem (which I can’t for the life of my remember the form of, what it's actually called, because it's formal rather than free verse) is organized as a kind of cycle, three-line stanzas that over lap, the last lines being restructured into the first lines of the next stanza, the whole thing linked from last stanza back to first, all about a plumber and the narrator having a conversation about a wolf. Or perhaps they’re having a conversation about how there can’t possibly be a wolf around, despite all evidence to the contrary. And for me the piece speaks to the kind of willful lies that people live with and around, the lies that maintain a fiction of safety. For me, at least, a part of it gets back to fairy tales, to the prevalence of the lone wolf, the predator that is out looking for people. Only here people are doing the opposite of telling stories of wolves in every forest, lurking in every shadow. Because the point here is different. Because wolves have become a group that is supposed to be protected, hiding in plain sight, using disbelief in wolves to protect them while they hunt. For me then the poem takes on a rather sinister tone, a tension that grows deeper and deeper. Because at first the conversation with the plumber seems rather innocent, just two people passing the time while the one works on a problem. But it shifts as the poem goes for me, so that over time the plumber seems to be the one weaving the narrative that wolves can’t be around because he might indeed be a wolf, and wants to be able to act in a place where people don’t suspect, where no one would believe a woman who said she was attacked by a wolf. And that really resonates with how I read the structure of the poem, the looping nature, the format rigid and difficult to break out of, so that time after time you come back to the same old responses. That it can’t be a wolf. Can’t be. And the hurts, and the attacks, then are allowed to continue. It’s creepy and a bit haunting, and it definitely doesn’t make me think anything good is in store for the narrator. A wonderful read!
“Under and Down” by Camille Louise Goering
Given the title, a variation on Down Under (for me, alluding to Australia), and the dedication, this piece speaks to me of loss, and more specifically of the loss of animal life suffered during the recent wild fires that tore across that continent. The piece speaks of loss and devastation, of heat and blight and ash. Mostly for me the piece seems to be about the way that it was all preventable, the way that climate change in general is preventable. Because there is nothing saying that it had to go this way. The evidence has been there for a long time and the call has been there for a long time to avoid global warming and now, after so long, now it is too late to stop these disasters from happening. Because the time to have stopped them was in the past. Now it’s just dealing with the intensity of it, the visceral tragedy that should have been expected and often has been predicted. But in numbers it seems so...theoretical. And I think that really does mean something. People have a hard time imagining what a billion looks like. After a certain point numbers just stop having so much meaning, and that I think is the case when it comes to loss sometimes. The animal loss of the fires was so big that it’s almost inconceivable. And for me the piece has a feeling of being a bit doomsaying, because it does seem to close on this image of being on a sinking ship, of feeling all the weight of the ocean closing in. And I think that the choice to do that makes a lot of sense given the dedication, given the fact that this is in honor of the dead, the animals who had nowhere to run, who found themselves surrounded and engulfed. The hope here isn’t in the moment, isn’t in what is left behind. The hope here is perhaps this moment, this downed ship, can act as a warning to others. The damage has been done, but there is perhaps still time to prevent other future catastrophes. Not all of them at this point, but some. And maybe in the end of it all there will be something left. Unless the world itself is one giant sinking ship. It makes the need to act immediate and the stakes clear. And it’s not wrong. So yeah, another great read!
“Finding His Way into the Dark” by Brian Beatty
This is an incredibly short poem that features a man standing at sunset in a place that used to be something else. And for me the piece captures a feeling of longing, of looking back on a past that has been lost. Because the action of the piece is basically non-existent, but the weight and the context of his standing there sinks deep for me. And it’s about the way the poem sets this moment up. He’s in this place and he’s contextualizing it based on what a map says the land used to be. Used to be and is no longer. And perhaps a part of him is trying to imagine what it might have been like, what the buffalo jump used to be like. But more like he’s looking forward, not back, this moment stretching forward, wondering what else the maps will say. What else will be lost to footnotes and invisible lines. It also ties into death, the buffalo jump a place where the bison would be killed in large numbers, driven to their deaths, driven to killing themselves. And so that looking forward might be toward the invisible jump that humanity is running toward, that humanity is driving itself toward, all of them harrying the rest with money, with corruption, with pollution. All of them unaware that a moment later we might plummet, might fall, and end in a mass of blood and twisted bodies. And it all comes together, the man according to the title of the poem finding his way into darkness, which to me speaks to the way that he’s coming aware of what’s happening but probably too late. The sun is setting, and the feel has more of a witnessing than a trying to do anything to prevent what’s happening. Or what’s happened. It’s another piece that feels more like a warning than anything, an image that represents what’s coming. Perhaps inevitably now, as the sunset is inevitable. But maybe not. Maybe, if we realize the deadly race we’re running, if we see the earth drop away in front of us in time to stop from falling over the edge...well, it’s a piece that doesn’t entirely close that option, though it feels a bit to me like it’s already mourning. Mourning, and stepping into the dark. A lovely read and a nice way to close out the issue!