Friday, November 13, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/02/2020 & 11/09/2020

November opens with two short stories and two poems at Strange Horizons. For the fiction, the sense of apocalypse is strong, as is the focus on relationships. That even as the world is dying, people still hold to each other, to those who give them comfort, even if that comfort is…complicated. The works mix the heavy approach of destruction with the warmth of people reaching out in that space for love, for understanding, whatever else follows. The poetry is also amazing, and together it provides a fabulous one-two punch of SFF goodness. To the reviews!


“Deceleration” by Allison Mulvihill (2214 words)

No Spoilers: Rita and Constanza work in a pet shelter during the end of the world. Not because of war or disease or...your standard kind of climate change. But because aliens are building a dyson sphere around the sun. Which sucks for humans, especially now that the loss of light/heat is growing exponentially worse. And at the end of it all Rita and Constanza might be starting something. Sexual, sure. But more than that? Is that even a thing at the end of it all? The piece is fun and charming for all that it unfolds in the growing shadow of despair and destruction. It’s about the end of the world but here that’s a quiet thing, or at least mostly. There are still pets to mind. Still people doing adoptions, even. And two people stuck sort of wondering what they should be feeling, given everything.
Keywords: Aliens, The Sun, Pets, Love, Queer MC, Apocalypses
Review: I love the feeling of this story, perhaps especially now, when it seems like things are going off the rails, when the end of the world doesn’t seem like the weirdest thing. Because in many ways it’s too big, too profound. There’s no real way to approach it, to understand it, because we want to think that things will continue, that whatever the case, there is a normal and there is hope and...well, shit. Here that’s not the case, as there doesn’t seem to be any last minute reprieve, no real time to plan on what to do without a sun. There is nothing to do without a sun. So the world sort of keeps turning, and the characters stay doing their jobs because there are still animals to take care of, still lives to be lived for whatever time is left. It seems to me a very measured, very realistic apocalypse, and I’m not sure if I find that sad or beautiful or both or what. It’s just this very wrenching and interesting take on the end, and through Rita we see this intense yearning that is being held back because the end of the world is supposed to be the important part. The death of the sun. But instead the most important things are these intensely personal, “small” concerns. Concerns that “should” pale in comparison to this monumental event. And for me it’s sort of this reminder that it’s always about the small concerns. The intimate, personal moments. It’s always about the food, and the company. About what happens to the pets. It’s not about the gestures, the philosophy, the reasons, any of that. In many ways it doesn’t matter. What matters is how Rita is still alive, and while still alive how she lives. How she loves. How any of that can still be possible with something like the end of the world going on. And it’s just this lovely picture of that, this relationship and it’s messy queer heart. Alive, for however long it lasts. Which might be forever, at least as far as the planet is concerned. To the bitter end. A beautiful read!

“An Egg Before It Is Broken” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard (861 words)

No Spoilers: This story follows Akari, who is living with a robot, Ren, on the edge of a lake, on the Island, though what most of that means is left a bit nebulous. What’s certain is that Akari has gotten out of a rather tumultuous relationship with a woman named Carmen, and that the wounds of that relationship still remain. The piece uses eggs to sort of imagine people, relationships. Worlds even. The piece is very brief, but touches on various kinds of injury, from intimate to global, and does so in a subtle, powerful way.
Keywords: Relationships, Breakups, Robots, Eggs, Queer MC, Wildlife
Review: On one level this story feels like a post-breakup story, where Akari is still not exactly over the messy thing she had with Carmen. Not over the ways she still feels for Carmen, misses what they had, even as she recognizes the many ways that relationship wasn’t exactly healthy or great. The ways that Carmen was a bit abusive. And now she’s living with just a robot that doesn’t seem sentient, more or less alone with the wildlife, and there’s a peace to that, a sense maybe to rest and healing, but also the lingering implication that there’s still something missing, still something that Akari feels is lacking. Perhaps the feeling of being alive that came with the mess, the emotional intensity that Carmen brought. Maybe something else. And they are surrounded by wildlife in this environment that clouds the fact that the world is dying. They see kingfishers and even a lynx! And things seem nice, if not exactly perfect. It seems serene, quiet, healthy. And there’s an edge that feels like Akari hates it. That in this place there is a sense that she can’t feel, that she doesn’t know she’s alive. That it’s a kind of treading water, and worse that it’s a treading water while everything else drowns. While people drop away. While animals go extinct. While everything burns somewhere in the distance, she is eating perfectly cooked eggs and her robot is taking care of her. But there’s still something rotten, something raw, something hurting beneath all that. And running away from Carmen might have been necessary, but it’s not really approached the real issues, just tried to cauterize them. Only there might be infection all the same, and it might be spreading. It’s a short piece but full of this quiet intensity. A kind of explosion that is being suppressed, that is being contained, but that is exploding all the same. And it makes for a fascinating read very much worth spending some time with!


“The Devil You Know” by Ali Trotta

This piece speaks to me of relationship, the narrator speaking to a “you” who they have been courted by, or been with. That is the hazy part of the piece for me, the question of if the narrator has been with this you and, if so, for how long. Because the narrator sees through the intentions and gestures of the second person, knows you in the very intimate ways you operate. Are they victim of the second person, speaking from a wisdom learned from error, from pain and loss? If so, then the narrator is intent to twisting the narrative away from the expected, away from them falling victim to you in the ultimate sense, being consumed by you, being erased by you. They’ve found your number and are instead planning against you. Making it so that it’s not them but you who are standing there, you body cracked, your secrets spilled for the narrator to poke through. And I like that the title sort of evokes this idea of picking the familiar evil. The person who you know how to interact with, but who is still not good at all. Only here...the devil you know doesn’t seem to mean that the narrator is going to be keeping the devil around. This isn’t about the utility of devils, not about excusing them or accepting them. Rather, the narrator seems to be taking aim at the devil they know, getting ready to put it in the ground. Rejecting the necessity of having a devil around, perhaps, or else asserting that in this situation, forced to choose, the narrator themself will become a more powerful devil in order to not have to bend to you. And so the story is a twisting, a taking of control. A decision and a promise that you won’t destroy the narrator. Won’t hurt them any longer. They have the power now, have crafting the poem like a trap, like a labyrinth, like a grave. Have dug it and are now going to leave you there, in the grave, without an exit. It’s an eerie, strange, fine read!

"I Wondered If God Saw Me Through My Father" by Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto

This poem does some interesting things with orders, with perspectives. It finds a narrator who is recalling the prayers of their father when they were young. The authorship of the prayers being muddied by the imagination and questions of childhood. Is the man praying to God or are the prayers somehow praying themselves, the man a sort of vessel, without the same kinds of agency that are normally prescribed to people? The question sort of skips through time, finding the narrator in the now and in that past and in the time between, with a cousin, dying or dead, with a song written in reverse. For me it gives this sense that something’s odd but also that something might be right, that in faith and religion, in the divine, we might run across those instances where authorship and agency are on shaky grounds. Where a person might be an agent and instrument. And that I think is at the heart of how I read this poem, that question of where God resides. The narrator doesn’t seem to feel God in a meaningful way, doesn’t experience the kind of connection that maybe they were expecting, that they were hoping for. So the divine becomes this thing that’s at a distance, God’s touch perhaps happening vicariously, through another. And through the strange sleeping prayers of their father. And it seems to come home when they are with their cousin, by her grave, holding her hand either figuratively or literally. Inhabiting that moment and being surrounded by memories, by the continued hope to maybe feel the touch of the divine, to be comforted, and instead just to have that linger, the touch of stars instead, the feeling of a song written in reverse. And I like the quiet ways the poem seems to question. It’s a short poem, something that could almost act as a prayer itself, a kind of questioning, a yearning that doesn’t feel satisfied. That remains, after the dawn comes, after the loss is over. And it’s a lovely read!


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