|Art by Nora Potwora|
"How High Your Gods Can Count" by Tegan Moore (3380 words)
Well fuck. [SPOILERS] So many monkeys die in this story. Trigger warning maybe? So. Many. Monkeys. Die. It is a brutally effective story that hits with the force of a bullet, that doesn't relent, that shows a cruelty, a darkness, that pervades and sinks into everything. The story stars a group of monkeys around an old temple. Monkeys who fight for food and occasionally attack a tourist. But what's going on behind that, below that, is a deep world building and growing sense of unease and dread that the story pulls off very well. And yes, I was a bit heartbroken to see the monkeys die. I love monkeys. But maybe what I love is the idea of monkeys and by playing with that, by how people view one of their closes genetic relatives, the story plays with the idea of being "chosen." The idea that humanity is the chosen species, that we are perfect in the eyes of the gods. And the story questions that so sharply that it's just so amazing. That ending. That ending and the title just…I rather love this story. It's got monkeys and it's got death and capricious gods and random punishment and it warns against thinking that humanity is somehow special, somehow above the animals. And that there might come a time when we learn that we aren't the highest, the best. When shit starts to go down and the monkeys will give this knowing fucking smile and nod and this story is amazing go read it. GO READ IT!!!
"Agadez Love Stories" by Annette Frost
This poem works as a way of conveying place to me. The title implies a series of images, narratives, and the poem does not disappoint, separating each section by a bullet. Which, yeah, given the subject matter, the looming threat of war about to consume, about to erase, it makes a great amount of sense to me. That these are all views of this city, of the lives that encompass it and that it holds. The lives that are defined by it. And the lives that are about to be lost. Each section is its own snippet, its own moment, here and gone, but it's also a mosaic of a larger work, the smaller pictures giving a sense of the richness of the setting, the many different people and hopes and dreams and dangers. The use of "Love Stories" gives the scenes a certain tragedy to them even as it gives them a searing hope and beauty. That these are scenes of love is undeniable, but there is also a loss and a sadness, an acknowledgement that something is happening and that things will not be the same. Not any time soon. War takes and war erases and war breaks. And the victims here are those who loved and anyone who loved, who breaks at seeing something remarkable destroyed. A poem with a great style and voice and flow!
"Gloves" by Lisa Rosinsky
This is a poem about dreams and endings and colors, about barriers and passing through them. And it's a beautiful piece that manages to capture the loose logic of a dream and the way that it reflects something from the real world, the waking world, how it can show loss and sow fear and show how beauty and barriers can fall apart and form again. I love the way the narrator envisions the end, like a painting coming undone, and in some ways it feels to me like the poem is about art and about painting, so for instance there are layers of a painting, what we see and something that's been covered over, and this moment of the poem, the apocalypse, is one layer being melted away, brushed clean. The glove imagery does a nice job of evoke the need for care with painting, a parallel to the cotton gloves or similar that must be used when handling art, but also sets up this idea of barrier, that there's something we can't touch directly, whether that's the dream world or the true world or any of it. And I quite like the voice of the poem, too, the way the narrator seems to keep remembering that the world is ending, that it's like they want to forget it but can't quite, that it's too present to be denied and then when they have to confront it there's this loss, this feeling that they can't quite reach to where they want, can't capture any of it, just has to deal with making the transition as best they can. There's just a lot of solid images and a feel that mixes dreams and art and reality and the end of things, or at least the end of something. A great read!
"The 2015 SF Count" by E.G. Cosh and Niall Harrison
Ah, data. This year Strange Horizons has upped their chart game a bit with some interactive data and some neat visualizations. So now the fact that SFF and publishing at large still rather suck at being inclusive even in the shallowest of ways can be rendered in a more attractive fashion. Articles like this are important. They are vital, because without actual data the way people perceive the state of publishing can get really, really skewed. There have been studies done about perception of diversity as opposed to actual diversity and so yeah, I can why some people (read: some people I don't want to interact with in any way) think there is a "problem" with publishing (or SFF or whatever the fuck they're going on about) is actually too diverse and too "politically correct" and too...GAH! So yes, articles like this are important because they show in very simple terms that things are not even close to reaching parity when things are examined at the very lowest of bars. Even counting all People of Color as one group and making Women and Non-binary people one group things still don't look even. And the article does a good job of looking at its limitations and where it can't really be the best when it comes to drawing lines because this ultimately comes down to a judgement call about what category someone belongs in. Which yes is shitty but also yes needs to be done to examine these trends and I do believe the authors made an effort to not be terrible wherever possible. I just wish the results were a little cheerier. Not that the article means it's time to despair, but it does mean that readers and reviewers have to remain conscious of their decisions of what to read, what to review. These things matter, and as the article shows it's not something that's free of institutional trends and pressures. So yeah, definitely check this out and have fun with the interactive chart!