Monday, May 15, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/01/2017 & 05/08/2017

May opens with a pair of stories and a pair of poems from Strange Horizons, all of them interested in the lines between achievement and destruction, success and oblivion. The stories look at two strikingly different situations stitched together with a thread of oppression and the looming threat of violence. These pieces are about struggle, whether through art or through organized action, and show characters moving according to their inner drives and needs. The poetry is interesting because both pieces take on an almost archaic feel in order reveal very modern concerns and warnings. There's a lot to see and experience with all this content, so I'll just jump right into the reviews!

Art by Matthew Filipkowski

“They Will Take You From You” by Brandon O’Brien (6283 words)

This is a story that speaks heavily about art and ownership, about death and loss and remembrance. The piece is also a strange one, imagining a world where humans have been visited by beings, by Benefactors from another world, and these Benefactors give out bits of genius. Make people into geniuses that can then give back to society, that can make culture richer and art more meaningful. And yet there’s also something else going on. For Akeem, who is witnessing not only the reaping of a great many artists and geniuses in 2016 (a year that did indeed seem intent on taking so many talented artists, musicians, and people), this is something much more pointed than just the fulfillment of terms of a contract. To the Benefactors the geniuses are their property. And however important they were, their death gives them, body and soul, to the Benefactors, who can then do what they want. And what’s going on is that for black geniuses pictures are going around the internet of their bodies being bleached and mutilated, their eyes replaced with diamonds. And the story seems to me to be trying to give shape and name to the injustice that death often brings, especially to people of color, who cannot stop the white powers that be from appropriating their art, their message. Cannot stop their words being used to push shoes or to encourage people to step back instead of stand up. This erasure goes on all the time, this whitewashing of events, of art, of history. People are forgotten and those that aren’t are claimed to be the product not of their own creativity but of the benevolence of some other, more powerful and intelligent, being. And the story throws question onto how we use the word genius and who gets to own it, and who can in turn be owned by it. It’s a story about money and family and art and it doesn’t look away from the image of death and what comes next, what is done to the dead. For Akeem, it’s a very personal story of loss and pain, and I love how the story reveals and complicates his relationship to his family, to his sister and parents and grandmother. And the ending is powerful and wrenching and inspiring and you should definitely give this one a read as soon as possible. A great story!

“Le Lundi de la Matraque (Nightstick Monday)” by Claire Humphrey (4828 words)

This story speaks to me of the weight of violence and action, the hunger for change and voice and the way that it can be twisted. The story follows Gus in a historical Quebec torn by violence as people fight for independence, as a group of people tread the line between freedom fights and terrorists. For Gus it hardly matters, as they are drawn to the conflict and to the violence of the situation. It’s part of what makes the story so interesting, because it never quite reveals Gus’ nature, just that she is older than she appears and that she is both drawn to and repulsed by the violence she participates in. The story really examines the idea and trope of the warrior with a code. Gus fights and lives for the fight and yet doesn’t want to hurt people, to hurt innocents. But that idea of innocence is a loaded concept that the story twists. The idea of honor likewise. Because Gus knows what is going on at every step, takes action and makes decisions anyway. Perhaps she wants to push off the responsibility onto others, but perhaps too she wants to be used in this way, and all the talk of honor is to mask the truth that she fights on many sides, for what many would call justice and for what many would call tyranny. The only common thing is violence, and it’s violence that feeds itself, that nurtures itself. The story here focuses on this moment in time, in this series of bombings, and also on the relationship between Gus and another of the fighters, both women feeding off each other, pushing each other onward. Gus seems to be a catalyst in many ways, an agent of conflict, and she acts and she drifts away as if resistance is decided in those moments. What I like about the story is that it does go deeper than that. It does look to see how resistance can continue even when it seems like violence has faded or been put down. It’s a story that looks at action in the streets, looks at the fight and the blood and the ugliness of it, but also the hope and the beauty. It’s not a story that feels to me that it either condemns or rejoices in the actions it depicts. It simply reveals them, and lets their implications linger. At least to me, that’s a very powerful statement and makes for a fine story!


“Cradle the Seed” by Robin Eames

This is a poem that unfolds in a rush of breath and force, that entreats whatever can be entreated in a frenzy to perhaps escape from some looming shadow or dangling blade. It’s a story about the desire to live and the desire to feel, the want to have some certainty in the sea of danger, in the face of uncertain times. And at the moment the poem takes on a rather pressing and present fear, that we might all be snuffed out too soon, that we won’t be able to avoid the pitfalls that are opening all around us. That we will get sick and not be able to afford treatment. That ware will break out. That those who we have elected to govern us would prefer us to be gone and if that means dead they will lose no sleep over it. The poem is addressed to old gods, and it is aptly aimed then, because so much depends on that, for the young to be overseen by those older and entrenched in their power. The idea of old gods means that there are new ones, and it’s possible that the entreaty might be to reach back to some older time before a decline, but more it seems to me an entreaty toward gods who have lost their place in the world but not their power. Who have lost their joy in humanity and have become old and cruel in their ways. And here is this pleading voice to try and live, to try and have a chance and not be ended before they have a chance. The poem is like an open wound, a raw fear, and it grips at the heart and won’t let go. It’s not an incredibly long piece but I love how it is structured, as one long stanza where the sentences jump between lines, building momentum toward an ending that is difficult and shattering. It’s a poem that it’s exactly hopeful. It’s asking the old gods to see them as a person worthy of a life, and how the gods respond is not revealed. If it’s like how things have been going recently, though, it’s not a very cheery piece, but a very good one all the same!

“I Fight Monsters” by Richard Ford Burley

I love the rhythm of this poem, the way that it sounds. It’s a piece that to me begs to be read aloud, because of all the alliteration, rhyming, and consonance. It creates this pace to the piece that is rather fast, that makes it seem both slightly archaic (with word choices like thee) but also more modern. And oh yeah, it’s about a man destroying a monster. And in that it’s about what that means, what that takes. The fighting of monsters is not something that one does lightly, or without being changed. The actual text in the poem is a sort of confession by the monster fighter, by this man who has come to be defined by it, consumed by it. This is not just about protecting people or avenging people. The reasons that he gives for fighting are clear and show the way that the profession has changed him, made him into something of a monster. And the quick pace and almost song-like style is an interesting contrast to the rather graphic and gripping content of the poem. Because what it describes is a killing, cold and not really efficient. The narrator is not interesting in ending the fight quickly. Instead it becomes about the howl, something of a tried-and-true tradition in poetry, and in that howl the line between the narrator and the beast is blurred and broken. There is only the pain of the struggle and the bloodlust that is satisfied only with the rending and the breaking and the killing. And I like how the poem is so fun to read and also so uncomfortable, how that content makes the flow of the poem into something dangerous, the slippery slope of this man falling into his monstrosity. It’s an effective way of building the piece and it’s served by the use of a single large stanza with fairly short lines and a lot of conjunctions, so that it’s all breathless, all immediate, without a chance to stop or pause before the deed is done. A great read!


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