Friday, December 4, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/30/2020

Art by Victor Bizar Gómez
I’m not one hundred percent sure what to do with this issue of Strange Horizons, which originally had a publication date of November 30 on it and now has December 1 (and it actually has both now, depending on where you look). Because I started it when it was November 30, I’m just going to keep that for now and decide later what to do about. It’s not the important thing about the issue, anyway. The important thing is that this is an ENORMOUS issue of Mexican SFF, featuring seven(!!!) short stories and three poems! The works are amazing and amazingly diverse, from intimate sci fi about algae, loss, and life on distant worlds to a person who just really wants to fuck a semi-gelatinous alien, the works are at turns complex, charming, and difficult. They are also always rewarding, and before I get to busy gushing about them here, let’s get to where I can gush about them in the individual reviews!


“Tsintatak” by Ateri Miyawatl, translated by Adam Coon (1220 words)

No Spoilers: This story unfolds in a strange space, stretched between two people, between two countries, between maybe even life and death. The story finds an old woman sorting beans when she’s interrupted by the announcement of pork for sale. What follows is a conversation and a scene between her and her granddaughter, who has spent time in America, in New York. The piece is quiet, domestic, a slice of life only there might be, or must be, something more grim beneath the surface, in the shallow earth. A sadness. A sorrow. A song. The piece might seem lighter, might seem to just show to relatives hanging out, moving around each other, speaking, bonding. But I don’t feel that’s all that’s going on, and it means having to be a little careful not to shatter my feels.
Keywords: Songs, Family, Food, Candles, Illness
Review: I love how the footnotes show how much this is a story between languages, between places, between generations. People talking around the sound of language, as in the song the grandmother is singing, the ways the characters’ titles resemble other words, weaving them into the image of lighting candles, of praying, of hoping for something that will stave off tragedy. Sadly, I’m not sure that’s the case, and for all the dreamlike quality of the piece at times, it’s also a story that feels bridging the living and the dead. The granddaughter coming up from the earth and returning to it, the prayers directed at banishing an illness the granddaughter might have. For me these are pieces to the puzzle of what might be going on, what this meeting might mean. And granddaughter paying a visit to a distant relative? Or a visitation of a more spiritual sort? I lean toward the second and it makes a somewhat harrowing read, the soft, quiet nature of the meeting and conversation full of what they’re not saying, what they’re not talking about. What is left are the jokes they have, the little things that make them smile. But for all this might be something of a comfort to both of them, ending draws and it cannot last. The length of a song, of a daydream, of a visit from the other side. I love the flow of this, the choreography. It’s staged a bit like a play almost, but needs to be read to full get everything that’s there. The language, the feeling of quiet longing and distance, and the weight that ends up settling into the small gestures. A wonderful read!

“Prometheus with a happy face ツ” by and translated by Daniela L. Guzmán (2740 words)

No Spoilers: Armando might be the last jaguar on the planet, and he’s traveling with Tsu, an opossum he spared, across the desert that the rainforest has become. Not exactly a sunny setup, and it’s getting more desolate as the day as the rainforest falls victim to human damage and as Tsu becomes more and more depressed and despondent about the state of things and how his people, the opossums, might have kicked it all off by stealing fire for humans in the mythological past. For Armando, though, it’s his anger that is stoking hotter and higher as time goes on. Anger about what’s happened to him, and to the world. Anger that animals are not only going extinct, they’re being expunged from the world, the mentions of them erased. Deleted. It’s a piece heavy with the weight of so much loss but it maintains a grim humor as well, and a resilience in the face of extinction.
Keywords: Opossums, Jaguars, Extinctions, Myths, Memories
Review: I love the dynamic between Armando and Tsu, the way that Tsu just never stops talking and how, despite Armando never really liking it, it being exactly what he needs to keep going. And yeah, he is a total Tsundere. But I love the give and take there, even as Tsu is such an annoying shit so much of the time. Because he has this way of making Armando’s death, the extinction of his species, all about opossums. About the guilt that he’s feeling. About his desires and punishment while not really seeing that none of that is helpful. Like a disaster tourist, Tsu gets a certain amount of…not satisfaction, but a certain amount of emotional release flagellating himself about how in the myth one of his people gave humans fire, and humans have misused it, have turned it into this thing that is burning the world. That is burning not just the animals but the records of them. That is erasing them because it would be too uncomfortable to really have to confront how many species they have drive extinct. And so it’s easier to just cover that up, to delete it. And Tsu just keeps on acting out his emotional pain, talking about his guilt, becoming more and more melodramatic about it. In some ways, yes, that’s what Armando needs, because it keeps him angry at Tsu so that the depression about what’s happening to him doesn’t just kill him, make him give up. On the other hand, it’s also keeping him from making the decision to do something about it. It’s only after Tsu falls silent that Armando is able to come up with a plan to use Tsu’s guilt to actually maybe make a positive change. To save what can be saved, even if that’s only records. Stories. Myths. At the least it will keep the idea of a jaguar alive. It will preserve something for the future, failing being able to actually touch it. It will remind people of the weight they might carry, the true responsibility for the destruction of the jaguars, which Tsu really doesn’t get to own. It’s a fun and complex ready, one that looks at this relationship amidst the ruin of what was once a rainforest and finds, if not hope, a kind of solace. A great read!

“Dark Star” by Vraiux Dorós, translated by Toshiya Kamei (4503 words)

No Spoilers: This story is a bit hard to explain or…give a general summary of. Built as a series of numbered and lettered lists, the piece goes through a kind of labyrinth of ideas that surround fiction, reality, perception, and…rabbits? In some ways the piece more strongly resembles poetry than traditional fiction, but then, it’s possible that it’s true nature is non-traditional fiction, which can sort of be whatever it wants to be, be that metafiction, fictional nonfiction, nonfictional fi—ope and I’ve gone cross-eyed. This story is…an experience. One of non-linear, bordering on nonsensical contradictions, asides, and assertions. But all that said, it’s a fascinating experiment in form and a piece that probably will strike each reader differently, a sort of slap to the face for a literary duel to determine if there is a method to the mess, or not, or if something else entirely.
Keywords: Meta, Rabbits, Fiction, Theory, Lists
Review: For me I’m struck by the space of the piece. Aside from being a whole lot of lists that can be experienced in a number of ways (reading all 1s, then all 2s, etc rather than directly down the page or any number of other ways), it’s…long. Physically (or…electronically). It takes up all this S P A C E. And it’s an interesting choice because it’s discussing the galaxy, the universe, the laws that govern it. It’s discussing the bottom of the ocean. But more than that it’s also taking away, for most people at least, the ability to easily glance back and forth between sections. If it were printed each section might on its own page, and the effect is that each section sort of loses the previous one. Starts again. It’s difficult as a reader to build momentum, to draw connections, because we’re relying on memory or on this dance of back and forth and it becomes something of a trap. A snare. Perhaps not for rabbits but for readers, who wander in and find that it’s something like a maze, like a warren, a series of tunnels, each leading somewhere and the reader having to decide which one to walk down or having to try and walk them all at once, simultaneously, and find that some of them lead somewhere, some lead nowhere, some connect, some don’t…or is that even right? It’s a bit of a surreal experience and a challenging one because it’s playing with and sort of twisting this idea of what a story can be, of what narration is for, of what reality is, of what epiphany is. And if it might be trying to lead the reader away from themself, from the familiar, and bring them to a place where they are more vulnerable to epiphany, then that’s a near choice. For me, the story is this exercise in cycles and twists, at the same time ridiculous and playful and fun and maddening and serious. Always serious, even when it’s not, because a text is so much. And in the flow of the many tunnels it might be possible to lose the author, and the reader, to shed so much and come to something of the vastness of the universe. The confusion and the clarity both. It’s a weird story, mind, and I’m not sure at the end I can say what I think it _means_. But I also think that means fairly little, and that the more important thing to do is engage the work, and follow, to whatever revelations, internal, external, whatever, and see where you end up. Definitely a work to spend some time with!

“Galaxy’s Best” by Luz Rosales (2952 words)

No Spoilers: Iris is in love with Manx, the host of the titular television show, Galaxy’s Best. He’s a giant blob who first insults and emotionally destroys the eliminated contestants and then physically consumes them. And Iris has been obsessed with him ever since they were a child. It’s an obsession both romantic and sexual, and it’s something of a mess because, well, he’s a giant blob who eats people. But that’s part of it, and the story is a strange, and strangely compelling, piece that looks at desire and obsession, consumption and love. And it leaves it to the reader in many ways if it’s a story about a misguided person running directly for an obvious cliff, or a person pursuing their love, whatever shape it might take.
Keywords: Cooking, Contest, Television Shows, Love, Aliens
Review: Okay so this is such a wonderfully weird story and I love the way that it draws this compulsion Iris has about the show, about Manx. How they get off on him insulting and then eating people. I mean, in some ways it’s someone telling you that they get off to Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay (more likely) just eviscerating people with their insults. Which, hey, I’m not here to judge. The humiliation matched here with the blob-ness and the consumption hits about a dozen kinks and that’s okay with me. And really I feel that’s, like, part of what the story is about. Kink, and people’s reactions to it. Is this a story about someone going out and falling victim to the toxic nature of their own desire? Is Iris’ being devoured something that makes the story a tragedy because, regardless of how they feel about it, they die? Does it make that relationship somehow A Bad? For me, the answer a rather definitive nope, as the story takes the character’s desires and yes, plays them for laughs a bit, but is also rather serious about them as well. Meaning, the story seems completely aware that it is, well, a story. Not one about toxic relationships but one of a person sort of pursuing the kind of relationship they want, going all out for their kink, and finding it exactly as rewarding and fulfilling as they expected. As they wanted. There’s no regret in the end, no last minute chance for them to repent it all and see the error of their ways. This person wanted to sexually be torn about and eaten by a giant blob and dammit that’s exactly what happens. Applause! And seriously I do like that decision, to not…kink-shame the character, to have fun with it, realizing that in fiction is really the only place that can exist, and reveling in that. A stellar work!

“Biography of Algae” by Martha Riva Palacio Obón, translated by Will Morningstar (2108 words)

No Spoilers: This story follows parallels. Looks at the ways that earth’s known species all developed from a single genetic ancestor, while a possible second ancestor has led to a whole separate evolution of dark matter, life we’re not aware of. Looks the ways that the narrator’s life, punctuated by touches with water, with algae, with cancer, with fear, parallel the journey of a spacecraft from Earth to Europa in search of what life might be waiting beneath the ice. In some ways, the parallels don’t really have that much to do with one another. But in others the matter and the dark matter do meet without exploding, forming a whole of seen and unseen, parallels that complicate, that strengthen, that are interesting to explore.
Keywords: Algae, Space, Seas, Drowning, CW- Cancer, Parallels
Review: I like how the story sort of throws a lot together, the narrator in many ways being drawn down these asides, these parallels, as a coping mechanism, a way to avoid the difficult things in their own life—their mother’s cancer, their own fear of the oceans/seas thanks to a traumatic event when they were younger. Instead of approaching these things directly, they seem to jump to parallel tracks. From their own life to this exploration of Europa. From their own past to the past of algae on Earth. And I like the ways that it gives them a distance enough to then keep moving forward. They see the change and the progress, they connect the dots between the arc toward Europa, and their own life seems to be drawn as well, correlating in the same way, bringing them to a point past the pain of the moment and to a place where maybe they can feel something positive again. Where they can return to the painful moments in their life and realize that they’ve grown, that they’re different, that what might have swept them away before is somewhere they can now stand. They can look the future and see instead of a terrible unknown that they’re not ready for something with hope. A place where there are these Big Things happening. Where life has been discovered on another world, or at least a moon, and it links in some ways to us, to our world. And all at the same time there is presence that can’t be detected. Dark matter. Things we can’t know, or don’t know, that are still around us, that fill up the space our lives and our dramas do not. All the things that go along in parallel to us, the lives of everyone we don’t know, and there so much meaning and so much wild diversity and possibility. It all might come out of the dark, into a light that changes you, that changes the world. And it’s an interesting and wonderfully drawn story, layered and careful and patient, and it’s very worth checking out!

“Bromelia” by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez (4172 words)

No Spoilers: The titular narrator, Bromelia, is in need of a new apartment after a rather dramatic falling out with her former roommate in a drunken outburst ended with a broken glass door and broken lamp. Her girlfriend, Dahlia, suggest an old family friend who has a spare room, a healer named Señora Rafaela. At first, things seem maybe a little weird, but workable. Especially with a constant buzz going. But wailing in the middle of the night keeps waking Bromelia up, and she’s seen a strange woman in glowing white. It’s a story of confronting your demons, of drawing out the hurt parts of yourself so that you can care for them. It’s a story about healing, basically, but not in the normal way. This healing is more profound, more about treating the roots of what the matter. And the result is a rather haunting story that deals with trauma and abuse but isn’t buried by them.
Keywords: Healing, Dreams, CW- Abuse, CW- Drug/Alcohol Abuse, Queer MC
Review: I love the queer messiness of this story and I know I perhaps shouldn’t because I shouldn’t like a story because the narrator has an alcohol problem, swears a lot, and has a fractured relationship with her family that she’s not exactly coping well with because it’s layered with her own trauma and the way that she has to move through a world that is kinda hostile toward her. But I do and here we are. And I love that she comes into this new home and doesn’t really know the rules. Doesn’t know how it works. Is just looking to sort of get outside herself. But Rafaela is a healer, sees almost immediately what the score is, and gets to work. Not invasively really. Waiting for Bromelia to be ready to face what she’s been avoiding. To reach into herself and pull out the hurt child that she’s carrying, that’s rotting inside her. I love that, love the hard reality of it, that this isn’t something that you just pull out and are done with. That it’s really just the beginning of a long process, but once it’s being done, once the child is out, it’s possible to maybe start to heal. To get down to what’s really going on and have a chance at stopping the toxic cycles that are running, that are playing over and over again. For Bromelia, it has to do with the abuse she was witness to and suffered, the way she never got to help it, the way all she could do was distance herself from it. But it still wakes her crying, makes her seek the oblivion of drink to deal with that and the stress of being a student, of still having to perform in that way. And I like that she gets to start to untangle that, and on her terms. Not by just going back to her mother but by working on herself. Everything else might follow after that. Or not. But it leaves that open to her and I think that’s a powerful and hopeful thing. A fabulous read!

“Uroboros” by Emiliano González, translated by Emma Törzs (751 words)

No Spoilers: This story is presented as a brick of text, a single paragraph that moves through images, that sets a scene only to shift away. That describes in turns perhaps a photograph, perhaps a portrait, perhaps another kind of art, a text, a conversation, an exchange. The piece is told in first person to a second person, a “you,” who might be dead, who certainly seems to have passed. And yet there are parts of you are still. Art, maybe. Memories, certainly. You’ve left something behind and the narrator is dealing with that. But the relationship between the two (child and parent, student and mentor, lovers, etc) is never spelled out. Little is in this piece, which might require a bit more from the reader to dive for meaning or else let the prose wash over, join, and become something new.
Keywords: Pictures, Memories, Transformations, Combinations
Review: This story presents an interesting challenge for me as a reviewer. Because the narrative structure is difficult for me to sort of pick out. The narrator is speaking to someone who seems gone but also not, and in that the idea of the Uroboros, the snake eating its own tail, comes back to me, though here it might be the story eating its own…tale (okay I’ll stop). But seriously there is a thread of consumption that runs throughout, or maybe more accurately, a joining, as if in some ways the “I” and the “you” might indeed be the same person, and if they don’t start that way, they do seem to end that way, everything feeding back into itself, compact, concise, playing out in this very poetic way, the imagery dense and slow but also with a kind of languid grace, the descriptions bordering on sensual but not really at all romantic. For me at least, the piece seems to describe this strange relationship between you and I, partly close and intimate, partly adversarial, all of it messy and weird and distorted through the voice, the lens of time. The piece builds to this moment where the speaker seems to pull way back, not losing the images of the earlier paragraph but encompassing all of them, drawing them into a single thing, into the narrator’s own body, their breath. To hold, and to become something new. Perhaps terrible. Perhaps infinite. But loaded with potential to either continue on the cycles or shatter them.


“Tequila Mockingbird” by Raúl Gallardo Flores

This piece captures what might be a rather embarrassing moment for the narrator who, in an attempt to impress their brother’s friends, goes on about their familiarity with the titular Tequila Mockingbird, a drink that they have battled on numerous occasions. Only…to learn that they’re actually talking about the book, and they misheard. Oops. And it’s such an understated, understandable moment, that place where all you want is to seem important, to seem knowledgeable and cool. And…you fuck it up. And I love how the piece compounds that fuck up, how it then sort of follows the narrator’s thinking, why they thought that Tequila Mockingbird might be a real thing, because Tequila Cuervo is a thing and IT’S A PUN!!!! I lasted as long as I could but I love the kind of clueless but amazing resolve the narrator has in kinda being clueless like not only do they step in it by thinking that these people were talking about tequila instead of, ya know, a book, but they then dig in by thinking that Cuervo is named after the bird (Spanish for raven) rather than…the person. I guess despite the Jose being sorta right there. And I just that compounding of mistakes, the way that it speaks to someone who either is very prone to just sort of assuming based on the names of things that they fall into line with the first connotation they have for the words or else capturing a kind of optimism that is strangely charming. That maybe it would be more fun to just sort of roll with things in this way, not exactly ignorant but imagining different and perhaps more natural connections between things and names than is backed by the truth. It’s still a fun poem and one that I very much recommend checking out!

“The Harrowing” by Gabriel Ascencio Morales

This piece speaks to me of hell, of distance, of blasted rock and heat. The piece for me evokes some heavy religious motifs, the way that the narrator seems linked to Jesus and, if so linked, to his time between death and rebirth. A time that he might have spent in hell, in the apocryphal harrowing where he gathered people who had been condemned and raised them out of their punishment. For me and my not-really-religious-upbringing self, the Harrowing is an idea used to sort of explain away what happened to the popular figures of the Bible before the time of Jesus, before Christianity was...Christianity. And the piece sort of finds this vision of hell that is already...rather empty. A barren country. Hot and melting but not full of the kinds of tortured souls that one might imagine. For me at least the peace speaks to a hopelessness that pervades the landscape, that the narrator feels to their core, but that they also reject. That the whispers that the dead don’t come back are just doubts and fears, the preying agonies of the place and not the reality that the narrator is living by. because, after all, they resurrect. They do come back, and they do more besides, sort of proving themself over the whispers, over the barren lands and the face-melting head. For me at least there’s a certain amount of satisfaction the narrator takes in the fact that here is this vast desert, and it’s not empty. Devoid. And it won’t claim them, either. Will remain at least for a time empty, the implication for me either that hell is sort of forever closed here or, at least, less relevant not that resurrection is possible, forgiveness something much easier to come by. And perhaps I’m missing a lot, being outside the faith the poem seems to be moving around, but I still like the feel of it, short and just a bit triumphant, and it’s definitely worth checking out!

“Jícara” by Ruperta Bautista Vásquez, translated by Morgan L. Ventura

This is a very short poem that has the feeling to me of falling, or maybe sinking. Beginning with the rain falling through the sky, being soaked up into the earth, being taken in to someplace almost magical, where life reposes and springs from. Going from the title, which I think is a reference to a kind of tree whose fruits get made into bowls/cups, the piece seems to me to draw the connection between these fruits and the Earth itself, the entire planet holding in this kind of soup of life. I like the way the story descends, too, biggest stanza first and then smaller, smaller, nearly gone. Like a puddle being absorbed into the ground. That breath, like the earth is inhaling, getting ready to exhale in the growth of trees, the filtering of the water through the dirt and into the underground sources, the freshness of it. And there is just that feeling of wetness to the whole thing for me, centering water, centering containers, sustenance and a kind of simple grace. And again, it’s a short poem, so I don’t want to read too much into it, but I just like the way it holds together, the quick effective imagery, the focus on water, on the natural world, and ending on a sense of refreshment, rebirth, being washed clean. So that after the rains, after the waters have come and sunk into the ground, it’s like the world is ready to start fresh. It’s a lovely, lifting poem, and one that closes out the issue with something like a contented sigh, soothing after the challenges and the hurts of some of the pieces and ready at last to start again, to keep going. A wonderful read!


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