Strange horizons 05/16/22, 05/23/22, 05/30/22, 06/06/22
hexagon Summer ’22
Diabolical plots 6/22
find a poem by RB Lemberg is always a reason to celebrate, so I applaud when I came across their last one in May Strange horizons. “The broken hill and the breath“is a powerful play about long cycles of hurt and healing, about a grove of fruit trees and a fragile peace that unfolds around disaster and damage. The imbalance, but even without that extra layer of meaning, the poem remains deep and satisfying, showing how peace can be shattered and how it can remain whole all the same. Staying on the poetic side of things, Yee Heng Yeh‘s”FOUND OBJECT” connects the speculative and non-fictional elements by focusing on 17 unclaimed bodies, victims of COVID-19. The verse deals with collective loss, addressing those who might claim these bodies while exploring what it means for the unclaimed whose stories seem cut short. The play reveals a tragedy that seems partly an accusation left to the living, who stumble over what to do in the face of such loss and untold sadness.
May also brought a special visual arts issue from Strange horizons, featuring stories that were commissioned based on visual artwork (rather than the more traditional converse). It also featured a few graphic stories, including “When they sank” by Fernanda Castro & sunmi. It’s a story of first contact, but not the one we normally portray: it’s an encounter (of sorts) between sea-peoples and humans, set in the age of sailing ships. Art paints a murky picture of the encounter, macabre and graphic. The darkness on the screen is a heavy presence, with light and dark contrasting like the beauty and grotesqueness of the scene. The other graphic story, “Which is meat” by Nadia Chammas & Isabelle Burke, plays in the same way with shadow and light, with contrast and similarity. In it, twins are a gift from the world, one that requires sacrifice. The work creates masterful tension, showing just how difficult it really is to even see animals as meat when you live with them every day and watch them grow – and how powerful sacrifice is to give up something. thing that is loved. Shammas and Burke use writing and art to twist a knife into readers’ hearts, blending horror and hope to brutal effect. Coming out of the special, and June brought with him Michelle Kulwicki‘s”bee season», a story of Ash and Min – two young women growing up in a world devastated by climate change. They feel trapped in their city, in their families, in the roles expected of them, and their defiance and their rebellion take the form of a desire to escape to the Garden, the last green place in the planet. Admission, however, is not free, and the story shows the transformations needed to find the way – part body and part mind. Kulwicki shows the tension of hope and disappointment acting as a wedge between the characters, their love for each other strained by their need to escape from a place with no future. The result is something difficult and messy but also vibrant and alive and amazing.
of June hexagon features sci-fi stories primarily exploring the future where current trends have led to rather bleak results, where the focus on maintaining comfort in the face of increasing natural destruction does not do enough to prevent the situation to deteriorate further. However, the focus is also on the animals and their design. It comes first with Mary E. Lowd‘s”Build a pet», where a child wants a pet that he creates, that he shapes in an arcade like a toy. The story includes wanting something and how that childish desire can transcend the frightening implications of technology and focus solely on ownership, filling a perceived void that even the flashiest pets can’t fill. It’s an even more complicated theme in “Working overtime at Kludge’s factory” by Andrew Kozma, which finds Harlow working to try to fill in the gaps left by extinct or soon to be extinct animals. It is a project that the government primarily supports, not because it has much hope of stemming the catastrophes of species loss and ecosystem collapse, but because it is about reactive rather than proactive approach to environmental protection. It does not seek to save species, but rather treats their loss as a kind of inevitability, which makes the cause of these extinctions irrelevant. I deeply appreciate how the story shows the fiction of control in which Harlow lives surrounded, the same that robs climate change of its urgency and humanity of its agency. It’s a dark story, pointed in its observations and unforgiving in its honesty.
Pets return to the forefront in the issue’s final story, Evan Marcoft‘s”Dogor”. In the tale, Marcoft introduces Marisol, also known as influencer TruceHurts, to a future where certain species are brought back from extinction. The goal, however, is not to fulfill key roles in ecosystems. Rather, it is about public relations damage control for companies that have devastated parts of the world. What better way to clear a bloodless reputation than with a previously extinct designer pup? Marisol is only too happy to help, at least at first. But as the nature of the dog she takes in begins to become clear, she begins to understand a little better the system she is a part of, seeing how humanity only keeps species they find useful and quickly or slowly destroys everything else. It’s moving work, and Marcoft does a great job of eschewing banal messages, instead dwelling on the messy way people live messy lives, and how some of that mess is engineered by those who invest in the status quo, and part of this mess is just people being compassionate, imperfect beings.
Diabolical plots released three stories in June instead of their normal two, and overall the issue is a bit wistful and haunting. That is, except for Sarah Paulinis irreverent”Timecop Mojito”, which takes place from the point of view of the roommate of a historian who could have somehow stolen a time cave claimed by a rather protective guild of the military advantage the cave gave them. It’s a complex premise but tempered by an enthusiastic, enthusiastic voice and a casual flippancy that makes even the most extravagant speculative elements seem less interesting than finally scoring a decent date. Pauling manages a loose energy that breathes new life into a rather pulp-soaked, “classic” idea of time that slips away to protect its own status quo rather than let its power fall into the hands of… corny historians. A delicious read.
“The Season of the Bees”, Michelle Kulwicki (Strange horizons 6/22)
“Dogor”, Evan Marcoft (hexagon 6/22)
Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer and critic of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in America’s Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazineand Under endless skiesamong others, and many are included in his first collection, The Burning Day and Other Weird Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the editor of the series We Are Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and multiple Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When we don’t talk drunk Goose bumps, The X-Men comics and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably find him up a beer with his husband, Matt, at their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
This review and others like it in the August 2022 issue of Venue.
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