Friday, June 26, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 06/15/2020 & 06/22/2020

So in case you missed it, the Strange Horizons fund drive is still going on! I’ll be covering the special fund drive issue later, but for now there’s still regular issues to read and enjoy. And the latest are a mix of elements and themes, all with the signature strangeness of the publication, all heavy at times and hopeful at times and beautiful and haunting. The story and poems weave through themes of identity and presence and, perhaps above all that, a keen sense of setting. These are works that are acutely aware of place, and isolation, and that complicate feelings of home and belonging in interesting ways. To the reviews!


“Glass Frog” by Remy Reed Pincumbe (3733 words)

No Spoilers: Told slightly unstuck in time, the piece follows Molly as she circles around her neighbor, Davey, and in the main action of the piece, follows him and some of his friends into a local haunted house. The piece is strange and full of longing, Molly used to watching other people, especially Davey, as she lives mostly isolated, mostly lonely. The time in the haunted house is strange and chilling, the story building this horror all about being seen and being invisible, about strange predators and the ways they camouflage themselves. It’s a haunted house story, kind of, but not your standard kind, and the result is something chilling and yearning and quite good.
Keywords: Haunted Houses, Growing Up, Friends, Frogs, Copies/Doppelgangers
Review: I love the need Molly has to be seen here and the way that she just...isn’t. The way that everyone seems to ignore her, how no one seems to make some sort of conscious choice to exclude her, to hate her. Rather, they just kind of forget about her, overlook her. Even when she’s standing right in front of them, even when she wants so much to be seen, to be wanted. And there’s a sense sometimes that maybe she’s the ghost haunting the story, and that the reason that she’s never noticed is because she’s literally invisible, a ghost who no one thinks to question inside the haunted house because of the strange magic of her presence that makes the arrival of doppelgangers normal. I prefer to think of her as fully alive, though, as someone who is just always overlooked, who finds herself always wanting to have a group, to be accepted, but who can’t really ask for that, who can’t really bring herself to ask, to reach out. She keeps putting herself in situations where she wants to be seen, but again and again finds that people, purposefully or not, are leaving her out. And in the haunted house that takes on a much more chilling level, because everyone finds a new version of themself there, and the implication is that these doppelgangers are dangerous, predatory. Waiting to each their counterparts to drop their guard so they can eat them. Only Molly doesn’t seem to have a double. Because no one sees her, either. Which means that there is something that gets out that night. A presence that for Molly is someone finally able to see them, to be with them. Which is kinda a nice ending, because it finds her with a companion, which is what she’s always wanted even as she’s always been chasing after a guy who doesn’t see her. But it’s also a bit of a tragedy and certainly a bit of a horror, the question always what this shadow, this copy will do. What are it’s hungers? Whatever the case, the piece is a great exploration of desire and frustration, the lonely space that Molly inhabits, and the way she is finally able to pull free of it. It’s a wonderful read!


“The Doors of a Drowned City” by Preston Grassmann

The first thing that strikes me about this poem is the structure, the shape it takes on the screen. The piece is separated into two columns of roughly the same length, but fractured, so that they exist both independently and able to be read from left to right, but only around this fracture, this widening rift. At the top it’s easier to make that jump, to read right across and slightly up, but as the piece continues the questions grow for me if that’s how it’s “supposed” to be read. And part of this might be to build the feeling of something that’s almost ruined, that’s old, that’s drowned. But another part of this might be to evoke the idea of two doors. Text on one supposed to flow to the next. Lined up properly normally, but skewed as long as one of the doors is opened. And the doors do appear to be opening, mirroring the text of the poem, of which I haven’t commented on much. But it does build up a scene of doors and keys and a person who seems to have been sleeping or otherwise still and away coming awake, coming alive again. The doors are opening, and despite the city being drowned, there are parts that are still safe, parts that are still vital. There is a feeling of ruins but ruins stirring with activity, revealing something at their core that hasn’t been erased by time. For me it’s a piece about coming out of something, about feeling something unlock, and finding that despite fearing that everything has been lose, that the flood has destroyed everything, there is still hope. Still warmth, still love, still something opening and possible. It’s a beautiful piece, wonderful in its construction, evocative in its language, and very much worth checking out immediately!

“Things I Do to Remember Home” by Neha Maqsood

This piece speaks to me...not of nostalgia exactly, though that might be part of it, or close to it. The piece unfolds as a narrator relates how they connect to their home, to their family, to their identity. From the start I feel the poem celebrates the memories and the upbringing of the narrator, for all that they seem to have a mixed relationship to it all. But it finds joy and love in the people who raised them, in the ways they’ve felt comfort and warmth. For me there’s an element of sorrow, of danger, that exists in the memories and descriptions. The narrator recognizes that their own childhood was safe, painless in that it was not punctuated by the violent loss of family members, was not lived under the shadow of possible destruction. And that in some ways it’s motivated them to try their hardest, to push probably more than is healthy for them. Something they ware probably judged for, along with that childhood, along with everything, by the white people and foreign people who they might be surrounded by now. And they push back against that, as well, by not hiding away their home, their family, by not denouncing their own childhood and the people of it. By not foregoing their religion, by not disavowing their parents. By still feeling a sense of home from a place they are not in any longer. And it’s a wonderfully defiant piece, the narrator seeming to shrug off any who would seek to devalue what they have. They know its value, feel what it means to them, and that is more than enough. So they remember home when they can, because their home is something that can’t be stripped from them unless they do it to themself. As long as they feel that connect, as long as it gives them strength, even if it’s complicated by generational pain and insecurity, it’s worth holding close. Remembering. Revisiting and honoring. It paints a lovely and moving picture of distance and home, and it’s a great read!


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