Three weeks to catch up on with Strange Horizons today. Because of the time restrictions, I am not looking at the reprint from late June, but I do recommend everyone go and read it. The stories this month revolves around grief and tragedy. The first story is more with a legal system that has sprung up to protect people against the criminal consequences of their actions but not the emotional ones and the second story is about the way tragedy is handled by those close to it and farther away. The poetry ranges from short to long and is all interesting and worth checking out, though I will admit that a few gave me a little more trouble with interpretation. And the nonfiction. Excellent nonfiction this go-round that might have provoked the Quick Thoughts that will be up tomorrow. Because I have opinions on canon and on privilege and ahem, definitely don't miss the nonfiction. For now, to the reviews!
"The Lone Star Sin Eaters" by Evan Berkow (5996 words)
This is a very interesting story that is a little scary in how I could see the circumstances actually playing out. I mean, I think it was big news when the one kid out..east(?) got off on the affluenza defense and I think that it's something that happens with so much money involved in everything. The idea that there would be people paid to basically serve jail time for wealthy criminals actually seems like something that isn't so far away. Which is sad. What is also sad is the tapestry that this story weaves where Oscar is in prison for the deaths of three people from drunk driving. He gets beaten in front of the man who is actually responsible, a younger kid who was driving drunk. The kid, Jamie, begins the story disdainful, arrogant, but slowly the events of his life start to catch up with him. His life, though very much more privileged than Oscar's, has tragedies of its own, and it's a strength of the narrative that Jamie never becomes a monster, never becomes someone undeserving of empathy and respect. And that is the line the story really draws, that what separates people, what separates repentance from arrogance is empathy. Is seeing others as human beings. Without that there is no hope, there is no redemption or learning. With empathy, though, wounds heal. Things aren't that bad. The story does an excellent job with the characters, with making them all alive, complex, and realized. It's a slow, rather tragic story, and one to pay attention to. Indeed!
"It Brought Us All Together" by Marissa Lingen (3982 words)
This story is about grief and the grieving, about loss in the general sense and loss in the specific sense. The story follows Andrea, a high schooler who lost her parents to a fungal plague. When someone at her new school dies from the same sort of infection, everyone who knows expect Andrea to break, to finally show the grief and sadness that they feel is required. The story is about expectations of grief, of sadness, running against the real thing. An admission that bystanders want to see the suffering of survivors, want to see the pain of others. That they feel through that visible and confrontable suffering a way to alleviate their own unpleasant feelings. In the story it is a microcosm turned up to eleven, which is to say a high school where everyone wants to make the student's death about them. They demand that people conform to ideas of grief that just aren't universal, especially for people with complicated relationships to the dead. Like the girl's ex-boyfriend, who Andrea sort of saves from an unpleasant situation in a hallway. The contrast of these two characters is strong, the two able to bond to some degree, able to help each other by their shared proximity to loss. It's a neat story, one that gives some nice insight into how not to act around grieving people, things not to say and questions not to ask. It also manages to be fun, Andrea a great voice for the story and the ending, while a little soft, did provide a nice glimpse into the future for the characters. A fine read!
"Post-Apocalyptic Toothbrush" by Betsy Ladyzhets
A nice and rather funny poem about a toothbrush left behind. In some ways, about being left behind, in some ways about finding oneself irrelevant in the face of complete and utter change. The toothbrush is anthropomorphised, made into a sentient thing, into a sort of relic of a past age. It is left behind in part because it isn't needed, because when the apocalypse comes people are not concerned with brushing their teeth. That dentists and toothpaste and any number of other things are now things of the past and probably won't be back any time soon. And so that lonely toothbrush is the past calling forward, wanting to be important and relevant and not making it. The poem is told in three four line stanzas, basically, except that the last stanza breaks off the last line, making a three line and one line stanza, leaving linger that question that the toothbrush asks, or perhaps that the narrator asks of the toothbrush. In a world of collapse suddenly things have to be about surviving. It's part of my own complicated feelings about post apocalyptic settings, but here it's true that a used toothbrush just wouldn't rate high on most people's list of things to take. A nice short poem.
"The Art of Constellations" by Stephanie Wytovich
This is a lovely and very short poem about...well, to me it's about astrological signs, about the idea of fate when it comes to horoscopes and things of that nature. That here are two people, two lovers who are drawn hotly to each other but who are not necessarily good for each other. Now, I'm not entirely up on my star signs and all that, so I'm not entirely sure of the significance of the particular pairing, but the poem does a nice job of giving it enough context that you don't really need to know specifically. Needless to say it's something that will be rather intense. And the idea of fate is complicated here, enriched by the life that these to are living, by their love. That they are in the pattern of the stars but that they make it new by their ferocity, by their intensity. That they will burn themselves into the stars themselves, that they will leave their mark. That, basically, being fated or being predicted by the stars doesn't diminish their power, nor can it fully map their trajectory. Instead, their path is one they have to walk, and even upon looking back if it looks familiar they have done something with that no one else has. That astrology only goes so far, that it is the human element that ultimately decides, that fate is not a cage, not even all that often a good prediction of what will come. It's a very nice poem, short and strong and punchy. It works and takes its bow and I applaud it for that, for not going too far, for stating just enough. A fun and powerful poem.
"Season of the Ginzakura" by Ryu Ando
Well this is a very complicated poem and one that I'm probably less well able to examine because I feel I'm missing a lot of the references. Like the math, which is interesting next to the language of the poem, the flowing verse which is powerful and evocative but also surreal, ethereal, not quite solid enough for me to be sure what's being described. There is a sense of light, of explosions, of fire and change and perhaps death. The poem itself moves around on the page, almost wisp-like, short lines that sometimes slip all the way down to single words, that break ideas and even words across lines, leaving a feeling of disjointedness but not the sound of it. The sound is smooth, elegant, evoking celestial bodies, celestial decay and rebirth, placing humanity scale with the beyond, our hopes and aspirations such that we hope to fly, we hope to rise, but in the end are bound, at the end are fleeting. Those last times, the idea of a growth that sees futures without us, implies that for all the grand ideals, for all the thoughts of sungods and unlocking all the secrets, that we do not last, that we do not manage to keep going despite it all. Now probably a poem like this really needs to be unpacked slowly, and I don't feel I've done it justice, but there is my initial reaction, my quick sip of it, with the hope that I'll return and understand this better in time. Another very nice poem.
"Me and Science Fiction: Guardians and Puppies" by Eleanor Arnason
Ah, an interesting examination of some hypocrisy on the part of the Puppies slates in pushing Guardians of the Galaxy to the fore. Now, I liked the movie, but I suppose I can personally see why the Puppies would like the movie, because they see Starlord as the asshole hero much like Iron Man and therefore the guy who is always right despite being most of the time wrong and surrounded by people who are more awesome than him. Despite his douchery, the story is written so that he gets to be the leader, and he gets to be right, and although it's shown to be somewhat accidental, he's still the one at the end of the day who wins, him more than anyone else. Now, there's also a lot to like about the movie, and it's perhaps not the most flattering reading of Starlord, but I do see that as a reason the Puppies like the movie, because while most of them are "okay" with diversity, they still want to be the most important, the one who gets the most screen time, the most lines, the most attention. But I do like this rundown on why the movies does end up saying that the whole goal of the Puppy slate is hypocritical because they are the ones with the most power, the ones who by and large hold the keys to the gates, and are freaking out that some of the gates they don't control are letting people in. It's a nice article with plenty to think about.
"Communities: Weight of History" by Renay
Ah, another subject that's rather near and dear to my heart, and that's the idea of canon and gatekeeping. Oh the times I've heard that "kids these days" don't read enough works from the past. For novels, yes, but also for short fiction. That somehow readers and writers today don't understand some of the rich complexity of the stories that have already been told. Which, okay, fine, that might be true and all, but the fact is that writing continues to improve, by and large. I've heard it argued and I tend to agree, that the quality of writing has only really gotten better since the early days of genre, that now art and technique and style are more complex, characters more alive, plot not the be-all and end-all. People might bemoan that things are less "fun" but I hold that it's not from lack of ability to appreciate great stories that some (most?) modern readers skip older stories. It's because (gasp!) their standards are higher. They have so much available to them right now that will speak more to them, that won't hurt them for reading. Because that's what people are asking of modern readers. Go back and read these things as if they don't hurt. As if when you get to a point when there is some rampant shit it doesn't remind you of all the ways the gatekeepers of the genre are trying to either keep you out or make you acknowledge their favorite things as best. And I'm all for celebrating stories and books of the past. I'm slowly making my way through The Weird (ed Ann and Jeff VanderMeer) which is a huge repository of stories working from the past forward. And I gotta say, I'm hoping they get better as they get more recent. Not that the old stories are bad, but there's typically a lot more than has to be just taken in order to try and enjoy them. So yes, this is a nice article about struggling with older books. Struggling with people making you feel like crap for not being "well read." I think the only real way around it is to slowly rebuild canon so that the past isn't quite so filled with crap. But hey, that's me. A nice article!