Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/17/2020 & 08/24/2020

Today I’m looking at two recent issues of Strange Horizons, which have put out one story and two poems (and a bunch of reviews and nonfiction that I won’t be looking at here but that I recommend people check out). The story looks at extinction and profession, secrets and power. It finds a scientist kind of trying to fit in, and then finding that she doesn’t really have to. The issues also feature poems that wrap around powerlessness and transformation, dominated by settings that define the work and growth that they contain. That shape the paths people can take, limiting them in some profound and unsettling ways. It’s a great two issues, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“Alone” by Emma Törzs (3374 words)

No Spoilers: Alia studies feathers. Or at least that’s what she tells people. As a scientist with the British Ornithological Society, she works trying to figure out where a certain kind of bird is from by studying some feathers that have been preserved. An extremely rare bird, it’s though that by examining the isoscapes in the feathers, molecular footprints that will allow her to place the origins of the feathers to a specific geographic area. And she succeeds in finding it, though it’s nothing like what she thought it would be. And the piece is about belief and change, and about what beliefs mean to people, and how knowledge can sometimes change a person’s world entirely. It’s a somewhat dense, moving look at a woman taking control of her own life, empowered by a secret that fills her with fire and purpose.
Keywords: Birds, Feathers, Space, Beliefs, Secrets
Review: I love the quiet way the story unfolds, the way that it handles the power of secrets. Alia is from an abuse background, a family that was toxic, and so she’s learned that what she can control is her mind and her silence, and she exercises those controls a lot. And, indeed, it’s from that control that she is able to sort of free herself, to make changes to her life. Through the revelation and power that comes from discovering that the bird species she’s chasing might actually be from another world. It seems ridiculous, and she’s the only one to really look into this enough to figure it out, and she’s faced with whether to reveal what she’s found out or...just not. And in some ways it seems like such a waste, selfish, for her to just keep it to herself.’s also her work. Her effort. Something that does belong to her and it is up to her what to do with that knowledge. Does she have an obligation to share? It’s not like she hides it. The clues are there for other people to follow. But what it does for her is to sort of open her to the idea that she can be a bit selfish. That she shouldn’t always be hiding herself away to protect herself from other people. But that she also should be making her life what she can revel in. That she can believe in. And I love that question, that framing that she does with the question of “do you believe in ____?” Because just the fact of belief is okay but what seems to be more important is how you live. And if you would change your life because you knew a belief was true or not, if you’re waiting to know, then maybe you should just make the change without the knowledge. Because you’ll be happier. Because you’ll be able to engage fully, and find passion and joy that you’re holding back from. That Alia was holding back from, and once she thinks about it, she makes big changes in her life, but ones that affirm who she is and what she wants. And it makes for a wonderful read!


“Dragon in the E.R.” by Liz Adair

This piece speaks to me of change, of bodies, of powerlessness. The narrator seems to be a dragon growing up in a hospital. Changing, and wanting some sort of control of it. Wanting to be able to stop what’s happening to them, through them. The piece seems to take place over a long time, at least seven years, all the while the narrator begs and yearns for a release. As their body changes, as they become different. The pain is raw and depicted in such a wrenching way, each change taking them further and further from the vision of themself that they want. At every step they are frustrated, prevented, refused. They don’t get to have control of their body, don’t get to become what they want. And there is a sense I get that there is a reason they are so prevented, that they are being explicitly used. It’s not for their health or safety that they are prevented from escaping this fate. It’s because the men in white, with their magic and their hospital, want something from them. Hope to use them. And in that it’s a grim poem, one that doesn’t find the narrator getting to a better place, though there is perhaps some...not hope I guess but there’s the possibility that they’ll be able to use this destructive power to break out from the control that they’ve been subjected to. But it’s not a guarantee. But there is a sense that they will maybe be able to defy the people saying no. That they’ll be able to catch their blooms, embrace their beauty. It’s a complex and hurting piece, one that for me shows a character yearning for something they are being denied as they are twisted into something sharp, dangerous, hungry. It’s a great read well worth spending some time with!

“In the Valley of Midas” by Leslie J. Anderson

This story deals with wealthy and with the corrupting influence of that wealth. The way that it transforms, the way that it poisons. The way that it makes things that would otherwise be sustaining, be nourishing, and turns them into gold. Pretty, but toxic. Unable to really give a person life. The piece sort of sets up this place where that’s the rule, that’s the law, where everyone is surrounded by a gold that is suffocating them, starving them, but they remain rather enamored by it, unable to see to outside of that. They are driven by gold, and value gold, and I really like that it gets into everything. Because really it’s true that in these systems where money is everything, where it’s all about profits and exploitation. Even art with good messages, even work that means to do good, is pulled into the orbit of capitalism, is twisted from intent and deposited in money form in the banks of the wealthy, while the system that the art of messages or work was probably kind of going against are only strengthened. In some ways to me the piece feels like it’s commenting on the way that, inside this system, it’s virtually impossible to really attack it. To really bring it down. Because most everything is just consumed, subsumed, redirected. It’s crushing and it’s all-encompassing. And yet the piece also imagines that this is only true as long as a person is within the walls. Walls erected to keep that from spreading. Which to me does imply that there are still ways to fight, still ways to subvert and de-toxicify. Just not from inside the valley. And it makes a statement for me for a need for distance from the valley. A need to be able to build something separate, apart from the corrupting influence of the touch, of the gold. And it’s a sharp and rather short poem that invites a deep reading. A wonderful poem!


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