|Art by Nina Satie|
May opens Strange Horizons with two new issues including (among a bunch of nonfiction I definitely recommend you check out) two new short stories and two new poems. The work, as might be obvious, is full of strangeness, with eateries serving magical fare, children on Mars making their own entertainment, and poetry that challenges and delights. The pieces are often heavy but carry a certain whimsy as well, that weaves into the hardships and injustices and tastes a bit like hope, a bit like heartbreak. To the reviews!
“Have Your #Hugot Harvested at This Diwata-Owned Café” by Vida Cruz (2812 words)
No Spoilers: Framed as a write up for a newspaper, this story focuses on a café run by a mythic, a magical being who has taken an interest in human affairs. Taking place in the Philippines, the piece takes on history and memory, violence and change. The café’s menu isn’t exactly ordinary, for all that is focuses on hearty and traditional fare--the difference is that the meals are all prepared with heartbreak taken from the bereaved and experienced through the magic of the food. It’s a dangerous decision, one that brings support and opposition from a lot of different groups, and one that is all about being involved in the world and pushing for change in a place where people are very divided, and food might be best way to try and close that distance.
Keywords: Food, Heartbreak, Politics, History, Magic, Myths
Review: I love stories that incorporate food and SFF, and this one has a very interesting take on that, where the act of serving this food is doing double duty, is offering some relief for those who have lost people from the corruption and violence of the government while also giving people who haven’t maybe known that intense a grief and allowing them some extra perspective, which might give them a new perspective on their own issues and those around them. And I like how the piece imagines the magical realm, the mythics, getting involved in human politics, because the two aren’t as separate as either side might way. But humans can’t act, can’t ruin the environment, without hurting the mythics, and so there’s an active movement, perhaps led by the magical proprietor of this café, for the mythics to try and guide humans, or at the very least to punish some of their mistakes. And the piece captures the voice of a newspaper write up well, mixing informative prose with an underlying voice that seems very much to be behind what the café is trying to do. It’s not entirely advertising, but it’s a kind of journalism that isn’t afraid to be a bit snarky, that isn’t afraid to thumb its nose a bit at the powers that be, at the newspaper editorial and the government that has likely heavily influenced that editorial policy. The piece takes aim at the corruption that seems to run in cycles, old villains forgotten or recast as heroes as people forget the abuses and the fights and the deaths. The food allows them to remember, and to feel the hurt of those who have been adversely effected by the violence that is condoned at the highest levels of the country. It makes for a careful piece that isn’t afraid to take on corruption and intolerance, that recognizes the messy realities of what’s going on but seems to me to value action, and striving to heal old wounds while recognizing the new ones that are being inflicted every day. A wonderful read!
“Martian Cinema” by Gabriela Santiago (5094 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is the middle of three sisters growing up in a human settlement on Mars, deep underground. And, in the way of children, all three of them are bored. At least until they access a bit of cave connecting to the base, and come across a painting of something resembling a unicorn. This unexpected discovery soon becomes the center of their world, though, as they craft more and more elaborate ways of telling stories about the unicorn, eventually bringing in their cousins to create epics with special effects and larger and larger stories. And the piece looks at the magic of storytelling, the ways that children can capture wonder and possibility, and the ways that children remain children, even on Mars. It takes a lovely look at imagination and expression, and the indomitable nature of young minds.
Keywords: Mars, Stories, Unicorns, Special Effects, Family
Review: I love the way the story captures the strange politics of children, so much based around age and personality, but never so simple as any one thing. The piece features this extended family and captures so well the way that tasks get assigned, the ways that it’s not exactly a democracy but rather an organic thing, directed by a leader maybe but much more mercurial than that. Because they’re all guided by their desire to express, to have something to do, to slip free of supervision and the constraints placed on them by their parents, which on Mars comes with an even more Draconian feeling because the margins for error out there are so small. And this seems less than worthless to the adults, who see only a waste of resources, a childish farce. When really there’s a lot of important stuff that’s going on here, including team-building and skills building that are very important to ventures like humans being on Mars. It might seem like it’s dangerous and it’s pointless, but it’s also these kids doing something for themselves, being inventive in order to solve their problems, and bringing to life this sense of wonder and awe at Mars, at what might have been. It’s educational, surely, and probably more so than what they were doing in their studies because this has such a clear goal. it’s a project, but it takes into consideration art and history, chemistry and so much more. And even when things are stopped, when adult practicality wins out against the more childish whimsy, there’s still a magic to what they did, and the possibility that they stumbled onto something that could be the biggest discover of humanity’s time on Mars. A promise, waiting for a return, waiting for a fulfillment. It’s lovely and it’s strange and I just love the character work and feel of it, the way that it all comes together. A great read!
“OCTOBER 2026: THE END OF THE PICNIC” by Raimo Kangasniemi
This is a rather weird poem that finds people on a world that has known visitation, where beings of a blue star have come and now largely gone. The last ship has arrived, and so the connection to that blue star has been cut, and as if that was the requirement or trigger, a different population emerges as if from stasis, from hiding. The narrator is one of these, a Mr K, who carries a yellow gun that shoots bees, and who approaches where the survivors from the blue star have gathered. For me the piece speaks to the rather colonialist nature of settling on alien worlds, even out of necessity, even if Earth were facing complete destruction. And in many ways the ending feels to me about identity, and finds who feel like natives pushing back against colonizers claiming to be Martians. And for me it looks at the violence of that exchange, the reactive violence of the narrator, yes, in attacking the aliens who have decided to call Mars their home, but also the violence of naming, the implications that go along with the people from the blue star claiming to be “the” Martians. Not just Martians but the Martians, as if the absence of the narrator and the rest of their people means that the land is unclaimed, that they can make it their own without having to think more about it. Further, it cuts those people off from whatever it is that they’re leaving from. Which seems to be the destruction of their planet, which might have been because of their own actions. So the act of trying to take Mars when their track record is one of devastation and loss is not neutral. Not just about being refugees and wanting a home. And I might be missing a lot of context about this one, I admit. The dedication might mean that the poem is in more direct conversation with texts that I might not have read, so people who know more about that might get more out of this, too. But for me, it’s still a rather grim piece, about this narrator deciding to fight back, to push back against the people who seem to have arrived to claim their home. It’s strange and a little haunting, and very much worth spending some time with!
“secrets from a telepath” by Ashley Bao
This piece looks at the costs of being a telepath, the weight of secrets learned through that ability. The piece details the possessiveness of the narrator, the way that she holds onto her secrets, keeping them behind glass for herself alone. Because once she shared some of it. Let another eat from the tinted honey sweetness of the secrets, and was hurt by it. And perhaps more than hurt. For me, the piece speaks to the ways that this might have revealed a bit of rot inside everyone, inside even the person that the telepath wants most to believe, to believe in. And without the ability to really have faith in people, because she knows what they think, how they are in a place even they can’t fully control...it pushes to put up these walls, this glass, that protects the secrets, and by extension that protects them, while also keeping them isolated, separate. Maybe not physically. She still seems to have this hunger for secrets, that might lead her to meet people, to even get involved with people. The last short stanza seems to me to speak to this push and pull, knowing that things are toxic but also being drawn to them. Knowing that relationships are full of secrets, full of lies, but going out and getting into them again and again. Because the secrets are intoxicating, the relationships a vector for those without being satisfying themselves, without being safe. But still something that she does, maybe some part of her hoping to find a relationship without secrets but fairly certain at this point it won’t happen, and perhaps even hoping that it won’t, because at that point the hit wouldn’t be there, the way to expand her collection. And it’s an interesting take on mind reading, on relationships, and on secrets in general. A great read!