Onwards in our revisiting of 2014 stories, to March:
Art © 2014 by Khale McHurst
And on with the reviews; just Tangent and Locus for this month:
Such Lovely Teeth, Such Big Teeth
For Lois Tilton at Locus this didn't quite work:
It’s also a coming-of-age story. The part about Reagan’s transformation linked with her growing sexuality is well-done. Alas, the ending comes on a heavy didactic and moralistic note, too sadly common in YA.
But for Clancy Weeks at Tangent it's recommended:
Carlie St. George’s story, on first glance, appears to be an updated re-telling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” but as the protagonist, Reagan, makes her way through adolescence it begins to look more and more like a coming-of-age tale about a confused and traumatized little girl. Reagan, you see, was once eaten by a wolf and then saved by the Hunter. All the elements are there—the Wolf, the Grandma, the Hunter, and Little Red herself—all much as they were, but placed in the modern world where evil has become more concept than tangible danger. Whether as an updated classic, or a simple coming-of-age with horror overtones, “Such Lovely Teeth, Such Big Teeth” transcends both by the end to become something entirely new.
The Mountain Demon's Ballad
Clancy Weeks mulls it over for Tangent:
"The Mountain Demon's Ballad" is a well-worn tale of the trickery of demons. Never trust a demon, especially one who grants wishes. Ah, but where would it leave the reader if everyone heeded such advice? This is a very short story created as a set of mini-stories told in succession: the blacksmith, the advisor, and the fool are all connected, but do not create together a narrative whole. And yet… there is an arc to this story that requires the presence of each to make a complete lesson.
And Lois Tilton sums it up for Locus:
A very short, neat piece about good intentions, patience, and truth. And the deviousness of demons.
And onwards, too, in our fund drive. If you enjoyed the March stories, please consider donating!
The city appears between the pillars of the cloisters like a dream of an embroidered wall-hanging: more gold thread than is ever available for the Sisters, more precisely tidy stitches than Perrette will ever manage. For a moment she sees it on the edges of her vision, and though she thinks of telling her Sisters, she does not. She assumes it is the fast. She walks on.
Read on here.
Also in this week's issue:
Three weeks left in the fund drive, and we're about a third of the way to our total. If you haven't donated yet, you can do so here. Thanks!
Continuing our look back at stories published so far this year:
Art © 2014 by Cedric Fiumara
Art © 2014 by Tory Hoke
And what has been said about these ones?
21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)
Obviously, a list story. These have become a hard sell for me. This one, though, I like, with its light tones of irony and wit. ... This is also a story about family. Isa’s family has strong characters and weak ones, and one whose staircase only appears at her funeral. I have to wonder what epiphany Isa’s mother would have found at the top of her staircase, and what its unusual construction would have been revealed to mean. Even a totally self-sufficient person might sometimes do with a bit of an epiphany, even if she doesn’t believe it.
Charlotte Ashley discussed it in her Clavis Aurea column:
... a beautiful piece; an honestly, hilariously told meditation on enlightenment, as the title suggests. Here, enlightenment comes at the top of a spiral staircase, a rather mystical place where the literal change in perspective often results in a thoughtful change in perspective. To whom these epiphanies are available, how and when, is the focus of the story. ... By showing Momma is not only her own staircase, but Isa’s, Wanak shows us where opportunity—and enlightenment—really come from. Not spiral staircases or moments of epiphany, but through the ongoing fight for the privileges that allow us to pursue our opportunities.
A.C. Wise included it in her June "women to read" round-up for SF Signal:
it presents the fantastic as mundane, with spiral staircases made of wood and crystal and bone appearing out of nowhere to offer enlightenment. Rather than reacting with shock, the characters simply choose whether or not to climb the staircases. Sometimes enlightenment is something grant, like a glimpse into the future, steering someone away from a bad relationship. Sometimes it’s simple, like the perfect grilled cheese sandwich recipe. There are touches of whimsy in the story, perfectly balanced with more serious fare – issues of race, the gap between parents and children, and the idea of taking responsibility for your own life and happiness. It is a story about growing up literally, but also about coming to have a more grown-up outlook on life regardless of age.
M. Bennardo was impressed:
I love this imagery. It’s the kind of thing that seems obvious in retrospect, but really it takes a smart observer to come up with something so elegant and natural-feeling. And it takes a deft writer to keep it from feeling too “on the nose”. But Wanak keeps changing perspectives on the spiral staircases — offering points and counterpoints through the experiences of various characters — so they never become a magical cure-all. They’re just another tool that only works as well as the person wielding it.
Jamie Lackey at Tangent had perhaps more mixed feelings:
The spiral staircases in "21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)" by LaShawn M. Wanak appear to people when they need distance and perspective. Throughout the story, Isa climbs three staircases—one as a teen, one that appears to her doubting mother, and one that she troops up with her family at her grandmother’s funeral. Each one gives her new insight on her life. The elements of magic realism work well, and the descriptions are lovely. I found the second person construction to be distancing, but the relationships that the story explores do resonate.
And recently Bogi Takács picked it for eir diverse stories Twitter review:
And it was recommended by Geekfeminism.
Lysistrata of Mars
Three reviews for this one: Nicky Drayden loved it:
Okay, Tory Hoke. Who are you and how did you get into my brain? Seriously, this piece was practically written for me. The aliens are amazing. The writing is charmingly snarky. The depth of the message is spot on. ... This is a great story about personal boundaries–not just setting them, which sometimes can be a feat in and of itself–but also sticking to them, fortifying them as necessary when others try to tear them down. It speaks directly to women, but can be broadened to a human lesson in general.
Jamie Lackey at Tangent liked it:
Kay traveled to the colony of New Plymouth for a fresh start, but she ends up taking a job as an exotic dancer to pay her rent. But when a high-end client demands services that she refuses to perform, the whole colony ends up embroiled in her problems. Kay learns the value of holding her ground, and along the way, she learns her own value as well. “Lysistrata of Mars” by Tory Hoke is a solid story with a strong protagonist, and the ending was satisfying.
And Lois Tilton found it:
A story of self-respect and solidarity. The outcome is awfully optimistic, but the characters are strong.
The Suitcase Aria
Jamie Lackey liked it on balance, particularly the setting:
The protagonist in “The Suitcase Aria” by Marissa Lingen is a soprano maschio in the Berlin opera house who uses his magic to keep the crowds from noticing him. But he has to take action when corpses start turning up in the canals under the opera house, and he finds himself stepping into the spotlight. The opening is a bit exposition-heavy, but the character’s arc is fulfilling, and the setting is neat.
As did Sara Norja:
The setting in this story isn’t something you see in every other specfic: it’s a weird eighteenth-century Berlin opera house. The strangeness in this nix story is nicely subtle.
And Lois Tilton is broadly on the same page as well:
The interest here is in the details of 17th century opera, such as the suitcase aria, which sounds like something well got rid of.
(Tangentially, Kat Goodwin used the story as one example in a discussion of exposition in short fiction.)
Current fund drive total: $4,206. Next bonus content is a new story by Alex Dally MacFarlane, at $4,500. Donate here!
A quiet day today, but a good day yesterday, takes us to just over $3,500 in donations! Our next bonus content is a story by Alex Dally MacFarlane, when we reach $4,500, so why not donate over the weekend?
(And if you're looking for something to read over the weekend, don't forget our book club launches on Monday with a discussion of Patricia McKillip's Ombria in Shadow -- we'd love you to join the discussion.)
One of the things we like to do during the fund drive (well, we did it last year and it seemed like a good thing, so here it is again) is to look back at the stories we've published in 2014. In January, for instance:
Art © 2014 by Paula Arwen Friedlander
The Serial Killer's Astronaut Daughter
Hana Frank is to the point:
Another fantastic story on Strangehorizons. I should make a donation to this wonderful magazine this year.
(Now's your chance, Hana!)
Jamie Lackey for Tangent Online:
Damien Angelica Walters’ "The Serial Killer's Astronaut Daughter" follows an astronaut after a reporter reveals that her absent father is a convicted serial killer. After learning of her existence, her father reaches out to her in a series of emails and offers to tell her (and only her) details about crimes he hasn’t yet confessed. In the media circus that follows, she has to decide if she’ll speak up or remain silent, but neither choice offers much promise for her future. The prose is a bit exposition-heavy for my taste, but Walters captures a strong voice, and the protagonist is a compelling character in an interesting situation. The feminism in the piece is overt, but genuine and thought-provoking.
Overt feminism! Lois Tilton also had thoughts about that at Locus Online:
A feminist work – about which I have misgivings. The workers on the station are constantly referencing female space heroes like Ripley as role models for the nameless daughter. And between the daughter and the female commander, there is a consensus that males get away with this kind of negative publicity when women don’t. I’m not sure that applies in this case. What if the serial killer’s secret child has been a man? I suspect he would be the subject of even more distrust than a woman. After all, serial killers are almost always men. A son would probably resemble his father more closely than a daughter, and the media would be likely to press such a resemblance. On the other hand, it does seem that the killer is victimizing his daughter as a way of harming one final woman, who are his preferred victims. I think the strength of this piece lies more in seeing how this person deals with a devastating personal crisis than generalizing it into an ideological issue.
On the other hand, there's this long review by Janet Nicolson:
She is going out on her terms, whatever it means. She is more than the serial killer’s astronaut daughter. She is a call to society to look at itself and realize that by judging the narrator and those like her, they are finding her guiltier than her father, who has committed murder. Her crime is being born and becoming the person she is in present, and no more. The narrator’s story concludes before she speaks to the camera, because nothing more needs be said. The act of speaking, alone, ties together the frame and sees her transition from being the vulnerable Ripley to the immune Vasquez.
It was a pick for the Science is Magic podcast:
You would think our astronaut would have an easier time of it, being in space and all, but no – the author does a nice job conveying just how vexing low-res video feeds and an email account can be. There were a lot of great ideas about identity floating around in this story and I am glad they came together into such a solid piece of literature.
Finally, Nicky Drayden:
This piece uses a unique situation to point out some of the double standards that threaten to follow us into the future if they aren’t addressed head on. There are a ton of references to the Alien movie franchise, in which Sigourney Weaver is the supposed measuring stick for all badass women astronauts, and a ton of f-bombs are dropped, so if either of those things don’t appeal to you, you might give this one a pass, but if twentieth century pop culture and sailor-mouthed astronauts are you thing, take half an orbit with this story. I think you’ll enjoy it.
The Innocence of a Place
Just the regular review 'zines for this one, so far as I can tell. Rich Horton in the February Locus:
Strange Horizons in January has a nice atmospheric horror story by Margaret Ronald, "The Innocence of a Place". It's told at a distance, by a historian studying the disappearances of the 15 girls at the Braxton Academy for Young Girls during a flood in 1911, along with a few older people, such as the lawyer who had opened his house to them when the Academy threatened to be submerged. We can see from the start what sort of thing is going on ... What works is the distancing, the historian telling the story decades later, mainly using the diary of an adolescent who witnessed ... some things ... from their window. Of course, maintaining their distance will prove problematic for both chroniclers.
Lois Tilton mostly liked it:
A well-done work that is, at the end, psychological, as revealed through the narrator’s voice, which we increasingly recognize as unreliable. As she tells us herself, people make up stories to justify what has happened, to justify their own reactions to what has happened, to what still may be happening. I only wish the author had omitted the metaphorical parallel storyline about the narrator’s partner and their estrangement. I really weary of that device.
And Jamie Lackey was positive for Tangent:
The speculative element in "The Innocence of a Place" by Margaret Ronald is subtle, like the sense of dread that grows as the story progresses. The epistolary form, which can often be distancing and distracting, works perfectly in this story. The main character spends her time researching a tragedy that claimed the lives of fifteen girls and their caretakers, and as she submerges herself in history, her grip on the world around her grows more tenuous. Overall a beautiful, haunting story that is well worth your time.
Lois Tilton wasn't so keen on this one:
There’s a lack of focus here. The author spends too much time on the very standard-issue future dystopian setting, the privileged center of which, we may suppose, Nim entered as an experimental “volunteer”. I’m also not buying the idea of obtaining large numbers of bodies from the “wild” for mind transplant; feral humans would be likely to have diseases, deformities, and other physical flaws, making them unsuitable hosts for members of this society, who cringe at body hair. Another problem is that Nim succeeds in his quest far too easily, as if guided by the provident hand of the author.
Jamie Lackey also had mixed feelings:
In “Palimpsest” by Anders Åslund, the wealthy live in a floating dome far above the crumbling city below. When their bodies wear out, they take people from the lands outside the city, wipe their minds, and move into their bodies. The main character helped with that process, but decides to leave to chase mysterious flashes of memory. The prose is lovely and evocative, but the setting and the character both felt distant and vague. The main character’s main motivation is curiosity – there’s no sense of guilt or implication that how the wealthy live is wrong, and though there was some worry that the people from the crumbling city would resent him (or her), that never felt like a real danger. The ending worked beautifully, but it felt hollow, and I was left wishing that I cared more.
Fund drive update: $3,411. Donate here!
We actually hit this milestone yesterday, but I'm only getting a chance to blog it now: we've passed $3,000 and unlocked our next bonus content, Arkady Martine's wonderful poem "Cloud Wall"! Here's how it starts:
The city does not love you as you wanted to be loved.
Read the whole poem here.
Next up in our fund drive issue is a new story by Alex Dally MacFarlane (plus podcast), "Because I Prayed This Word." We're at $3,263 now, and the story will be unlocked at $4,500. Thanks to everyone who's donated so far, and if you've been meaning to get round to it, here's the link to donate.
The new issue is up, and what do we have for you this week?
Of course, because this is a fund drive week we also have a new batch of prizes to tempt you to donate -- books by Mitchell, Ramirez and Gladstone! Book boxes selected by Justin Landon, Liz Bourke and Ana Grilo! A scarf knitted by former SH editor-in-chief Susan Marie Groppi! The current fund drive total is just under $2,700, and we'd really like to hit $3k and publish Arkady Martine's poem "Cloud Wall" ... so have you donated yet?
Time for another fund drive update, and as the subject line above states, we've just reached $2,400. This is the highest total at this stage of the fund drive since I took over the magazine, and by a healthy margin -- our previous-quickest fund drive was $1,582 at this stage in 2012. So it's going brilliantly, and thank you to everyone who's donated so far; it's so much less stressful when we get off to a good start.
But there's still a long way to go. For the last few years we've made our stretch goals as well as our primary goals, which always means that last year's stretch is this year's primary. So we're aiming for $13,500, and that's our highest-ever target, and it means we still have $11,000 to raise from here. If you haven't yet donated, in other words, now would be a good time.
What do you get for your donation? You get another year of Strange Horizons, for starters, ad-free and open to all: thirty-six weeks of original fiction (all with podcasts, twelve of them with original art), five curated reprint stories, fifty poems, one hundred and fifty reviews, twelve articles and interviews, and thirty regular columns. You get entry into our donors prize draw, which already includes books by Adam Roberts, Sarah Tolmie, Lavie Tidhar and Elizabeth Bear that you need to read. And you get to help unlock the content in our special fund drive issue -- next up is a poem by Arkady Martine, and then later in the drive we'll be publishing stories by Alex Dally MacFarlane and Ann Leckie, an interview with Iain Banks, more reviews, and more poetry.
Everyone here at SH is a volunteer, so all of your donations go to our contributors or to the running of the magazine. Your $30 donation covers a review or poem, $40 covers a column, $50 covers an article, and $300 (ish) covers a story. And we like getting better each year, so we've set another stretch goal, at $15,000. If we hit that, we'll be bringing you more fiction -- longer stories, throughout the year. We'd really like to be able to do that.
So, it's been a good start, but we're not there yet. Help us keep up the momentum?
Trying to think what one word best describes Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. I could go with "masterpiece," since it is so clearly a major achievement in SF/Fantasy/Weird writing—since it accomplishes so many of the things it sets out to do, since it is so beautifully imagined and written, since it will clearly scoop all the awards next year and remain a touchstone text in the genre for a long time. But that's an evaluative word, and I'm interested (for reasons that will become more apparent) in the descriptive space outside evaluation.
Twelve hours into this year's fund drive, and we've raised our first $1,000 - thanks to everyone who's donated so far! Our first bonus content this year will be at $1,500, and will be Adam Roberts' review of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. Here's a teaser:
The trilogy is science fiction on the haunted, fantastic side of the genre; often brilliantly spooky and uncanny. And VanderMeer has, I suppose, a reputation as Purveyor of High Quality Weird to the Refined Reader. But I remain unconvinced as to the coherency of "weird" as an aesthetic descriptor; and certainly weird-for-the-sake-of-weird (a coinage along the lines of l'art pour l'art—l'étrange pour l'étrange, I suppose) is really not what Southern Reach is about. One of the things that makes these novels so readable is the air of absorbing mystery that VanderMeer flawless evokes; but what makes them so satisfying as a whole is that they are not content simply to evoke that mystery, to make the tiny hairs at the back of the reader's neck stand up. They are not just mood pieces. Indeed, after I had finished I found myself wondering if what these books are doing is reconfiguring pastoral for a new century. So that's the one word I'm going with. Southern Reach are strange pastoral.
To read the whole thing, donate!