There might or might not be one more week of Strange Horizons in August, but I'll catch that in September and focus instead on these two weeks, which include a piece of fiction, two poems, and a piece of nonfiction. There's more nonfiction, as well, and highly recommend you go out and give it a read, but for now I can say that the story is fascinating, the poems at terms chilling and solemn, and the nonfiction a great look at a figure that doesn't get as much attention as they could. A very strong collection of work that I'm going to go ahead and review...
"20/20" by Arie Coleman (4005 words)
This is a medical story about a group capable of traveling back through time to fix medical mistakes. Things that just happen in a hospital that result, unfortunately, in someone dying. They have the technology to go back and, using only the technology available at the time, fix things that could have been fixed. And Loren, a specialist in this form of temporal medicine, is going back to fix a mistake that she feels she made in the past, on a case that has been deemed unsalvageable. It's a neat premise and I loved how Loren was willing to sacrifice herself to see this through, that she took the risk of basically breaking her own mind in order to do what she could. And [SPOILERS] that it didn't work. That, more than anything, was very well done in my mind, that she went back but the patient still died. Because it's true that sometimes no additional test will help, that sometimes there is no saving someone, now that it stops Loren from wanting to try again, to try and find out what happened. Doctors are detectives in many ways and Loren shows that need to know and examine and find out. It's quite well done and I was rooting along, wanting her to erase not just the death but the guilt. Because that has to weigh, the fact that in the profession there is no real way to avoid killing someone. And that Loren takes her vows so seriously that she is willing to risk herself to do no harm, to try and save someone. It's gripping and a bit disorienting but the scope of what she's trying to do is brought how by the style, the way things are there and not there. It's a beautifully constructed setting and compelling story. Go read it!
"Loss Prelude" by Arlene Ang
This is a poem short and focusing on a lake, on people in a boat on a lake. The lake seems...empty. Alone perhaps but definitely empty, that these people on it can see that nothing really remains inside. It is death and it is, as the title predicts, a prelude to some greater loss. The final line is deliciously ambiguous, either pointing toward the idea that the lake is waiting to rest or that the lake is waiting to be killed, to be put down. There is a sense, then, that the lake has been slowly dying, that it would welcome a final release and that it wants to go, that these people on it are having one last ride through its waters, one last throw of the net which they know will come back empty and they know has little to do with the holes in the net. There is certainly a few very nice images here, though the poem is a little difficult to place because it is short and because it uses such a light touch in making the point. There is loss, but the poem doesn't really describe why the lake has died or what is to become of it. Is a dam being released? Has pollution stripped the contents away? The questions tug at me but here I'm content to enjoy the poem as that prelude with actually arriving at the reasons, as a feeling of impending loss and as a final, melancholy look at a body of water in which these people see themselves, in which perhaps we can all see ourselves. A fine poem.
"Stars" by Snigdha Chaya Saikia
This is a poem with a lot of story to it, with a great supernatural feeling that in this place a host of...things fell. Angels, perhaps, or gods. Creatures that look human but are not, are different and dangerous and once the people get over their initial infatuation with these creatures they find that they cannot stand against them. The exact nature of their threat is not revealed, just that there were so many, and that the humans that helped them began to fall, and that a man and a woman came forward to hunt these things that fell. And the people believed then, and let them take over, and didn't really do much as the man stood against the things for a while before being pulled down, leaving them all. And then the woman, who seems to have fallen before, seems to not be entirely like everyone else, decides to take up the call. Like I said, the poem has a lot of story, a good sense of pacing and a sort of inevitable feel to it, a power as she takes up the sword, as she washes the summer from her skin. There are echoes throughout, cycles, kindness failing, everything failing, until she takes up the war that was dropped by the man she was with. There is a sense that everyone in the poem is running, trusting others, letting other people fight what is essentially their fight. They move aside, they watch, but it takes someone to stand for there to be a chance of success, there has to be someone who will wash away the summer. But there's a tragedy to it all the same, the loss of the kindness, the loss of summer, the focus on surviving. It's an interesting poem, one that makes me want to know more and more about the setting, about what's happening. It offers enough to entice, to snare, and there is a power at the end that had me nodding, that had me sad and invigorated and knowing that her story would not end without blood. Good times.
"Dear Dr Sheldon" by Gwyneth Jones
I will admit to never reading any Tiptree. It's a failing in myself that I'm looking to change this year, but I do understand the idea of Tiptree, and what makes them such a fascinating writer from a cultural perspective because of what they chose to write about and how they gendered themself in the public eye. And that, really, isn't all that new. There have been many writers who have chosen to go by the masculine when they thought it would be easier for their work (hint: because it was easier for their work, and without that we might never have known many of them, which would be a shame indeed). Especially when writing science fiction, though, and at a time when they would have had to lose ground to "admit" their gender, their story is one that is both uplifting and vaguely conflicting. Not because it casts any doubt on their skill or legacy but because it draws such a sharp contrast what people say is important and what is treated as important. I was not aware of Tiptree until somewhat recently. That speaks to my upbringing and entry into the genres but also speaks to how they are treated, as non-essential for male writers. Not a big enough name. Should I really be reading Ben Bova and Robert Silverberg before Tiptree? Or even Asimov and Clarke? Because those names are ones that get mentioned as "the best" and I wonder, had Tiptree never been revealed to be anything other than "male," if they would be up there as well. In any event, it's a neat piece of nonfiction done as a letter and it's well worth a read. Some interesting thoughts on an interesting writer.