ChiZine #33

Posted by Unknown

Sidenote: I am planning to move this blog over to a new domain with proper hosting at some point, and I came across this Bluehost coupon 2013. If any readers who have used Bluehost in the past could give me their input it would be appreciated! 

The vine that ate the south - Bill K'tepi:

Those strange little confessions we make to people waiting for the same bus. Those little pieces of ourselves we casually and freely give away because they're worth so little on their own, never thinking of how they could be stitched together.

Adamae, as a young girl, meets an older man who has the knack for striking all the right chords, saying all the right things and eventually seduces her. In the years to follow, she keeps running into men who seem to know her with disturbing intimacy - whether as rapist, or as husband. A tale of strange, timeless obsession.

I really am not sure what to make of this story. Puzzled, is perhaps the best word I can use.

There are two reasons why I'll re-read a story - one, if I enjoyed it enough that I want to re-enjoy it; two, when the story is intriguing enough for me to follow all the way through, but I don't understand what happened exactly.
I'm afraid this one falls into the latter category.

On the re-read, I have to admit that I admire the job K'tepi does with foreshadowing, and the lines and phrases that only click in retrospect (or re-examination), and certainly the events of the story itself makes a lot more sense (the physical how and what). I would have preferred those lines to be stronger on their own, on the first read, not simply tools for re-examination.

Some of the ideas contained here, and materializing in maddeningly small glimmers, were extremely interesting. But I'm still puzzled and have no clear idea of what I'm supposed to take away from this or what the overall thought was.

The whole is cohesive and yet is not - everything is neatly connected and tied, and still it feels like it's not, as if its quicksand trickling through the net and making an interpretation impossible, at least for me.

The tone of the story is very passive, and I'm not sure that was such a good idea. I'm not overly fanatical about the "show, don't tell" mantra (tell worked terrifically well for me with Larry Tritten's "Raft" in a recent issue of Darker Matter), but here it may have been a better idea to show rather than tell.
That's a minor nit, and more personal preference; ultimately this was too puzzling a story for me to make a call one way or the other.

The mayor will make a brief statement and then take questions – David Nickle:

"Nicholas speaks to us from the dark corners, the cold spaces—but they are shadows amid light, a chill draft by a glowing hearth.

What starts off as an almost rote public speech by the mayor of a city turns very personal and very, very chilling.
Too short a tale to say anymore except one simply has to read that final paragraph. Gave me the shivers.

Waiting period – Sunil Sadanand:

"You don't go to hell," she says shaking her head. "Hell comes to you."

In a story of drug abuse, and regrets, and the weight of the things we didn't do measured against what we did do - I can think of no more apt line.

Louis is looking for his daughter, in a building teeming with the dead, every one singularly obsessed with a last regret. As Louis is obsessed with finding his daughter.

Bleak, with a haunting beauty that chills at times, the prose here is some of the finest and most measured I've seen this year -it has to be read to be savoured, the way Sadanand's sentences can suddenly run breathlessly while still retaining pace and strength and the rhythm never loses its intensity, never hiccups or stutters.

A fine, fine piece of writing.

Ladders – David Sakmyster:

These climbers, wet in the driving rain, embrace their ladders, and it's as if they're caught in an infinite moment of rapture. Nothing can shake them loose or even make them blink. Nothing, of course, except for Lang coming to retrieve them.

Charles Lang is a Retriever -a self-invented job where people pay him to go up the ladders and fetch those relatives whose desire to escape a world that is only city finally drives them the only way they can go: up.

A rather bizarre story, quick-paced and highly engaging with an initial tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted humor feel that gradually saddens as the story progresses, perhaps echoing the empty feeling that drives the city dwellers to seek fulfilment and freedom from the soul-deadening, enclosed monotony of their lives.

Although written from a distant perspective, I enjoyed this story. Sakmyster delivers a few beautiful turns of phrase, and subtly and quietly pops the underpinning tragedy - that very likely gives Lang his relentless drive to retrieve people from the ladders - near the end, rounding him off as sympathetic and understandable.

It's possible to view this as a modern update of the Tower of Babel, in a sense, or just a plain good old-fashioned critique of what we lose by wrapping ourselves within city, and to what extent the construct has become the master of the people it was meant to serve. There are certainly suspicions here of metaphors waiting to be extrapolated, or attempted at.

Whatever; none of those elements stood out strongly enough for me and I simply enjoyed at face value what is one of the most off-kilter, wildly inventive tales of the year. Fun to read, and a wonder to wonder at. Don't think I'll be reading another one of its kind soon.

Liked it.

Favorites - Sadanand and Sakmyster.

With the exception of Sadanand - and I may also be biased here since I had a story in the previous ChiZine issue - it still feels to me as if the previous two issues were stronger, and as if this one had more of an experimental nature to the tales. I'd be curious to know if it's just me who feels that the tone overall was somewhat different than the previous two issues of this year.

Shipp, Tremblay, Sanborn Smith and Walker were some powerful -and hard to follow - writing.

Having said that - this is still a good, worthwhile issue to read. Inventive, strong and some of the most genuine unique storytelling around, not likely to be seen in many other places.

I love this zine.

Strange Horizons

Posted by Unknown

Standard disclaimer:
All opinions expressed here are wholly my own and to be taken as such. At no time is any offense meant nor implied. This commentary is meant and aimed solely on the writing, and should in no circumstance be taken as a criticism on the personality or character of the author in question. Discussions and comments welcome.

Private Detective Molly - A.B. Goelman:

I'm a sucker for a crying girl. You can call it programming if you want, but I think it's Molly-Doll nature. Just like human nature, but a whole lot more decent.

Petey -that's short for Private Detective, as in PD - is a Molly Doll. At least, she's one of several available personas of the Molly Doll. Problem is - why would a little girl who just lost her mother and is now living with her uncle, and is sick to boot, program her Molly Doll for the PD persona when she could have Debutante Debbie? Something stinks, and Molly has a case on her hands.

This may be the first humor piece I've read at Strange Horizons, and judging by this story, they really should do it more often.
Crisp, easy language that compliments a very cheeky first person heroine and with subtle, dry touches of humor made this a delightful read.

Gift of flight - Nghi Vo:

She would never let me try it on, no matter how hard I begged, or how my young arms ached to stretch into strong beating wings.
"It doesn't belong to me," she told me over and over again, and I instinctively knew never to ask the skin's owner, my father, if I could try it on

Initially, my reaction to this was "Oh, no, not another one", as the story seemed to start off as yet another modern spin on a classic faery tale - the swan maiden here - wherein, instead of meeting prince Charming and living happily ever after, the girl finds herself trapped and at the mercy of a brutal, abusive man. And, in this case, we have the narrator as Ava, their daughter who has to grow up with the sounds and pressure of her fighting parents.

Yes, a topical and important subject, but there's only so much of the same theme treated in the same way one can take in a year. Thankfully, Vo does not adopt such a simplistic view:

My father stood in the doorway, and I was shocked to see that he was scared. Once I had seen that, I saw other things as well. I saw how gaunt he was, how worn, more like a crabbed male crone than a monster.

As much victim as victimiser, the story presents three people trapped in a bond that festers abuse, unhappiness and an increasing jaded sourness in the people, until Ava takes steps to release them all from the tie that binds them and, in essence, to set herself, her mother and her father free of one another. Or, at the least, to free her parents from each other.

There's a very bleak thought trapped right there - damage caused to a child by incompatible parents choosing to stay together for, we presume, the sake of the child.

I ended up enjoying this story although it wobbled a bit at the end, and suffered some inconsistencies - such as the instance where Sabrina almost tells her daughter why they cannot return to Dresden and Germany where Ava's father and mother met. The set-up at that moment is in such a way that it gives the impression that that is an important, even crucial thought, but it's never touched on again.

Quite inventive in some ways and while I have my doubts as to how memorable it will turn out to be, it's a solid read. I wouldn't mind reading more of Vo's work in future.

29 Union leaders can't be wrong - Genevieve Valentine:

When he meets her eyes, she's looking at him the way she always has, like nothing is different, like he's still himself.
He wishes he knew her secret, because he's lost himself.

An intriguing world, where cops and firemen who die in the line of duty are given emergency full body transplants - transplanted into the bodies of people who died naturally or via suicide and who donated their bodies to the cause.

The very pertinent question raised in this tale - if such an event were possible, would it be a good idea?

Stephen wakes up in hospital, having completed the transplant and for the rest of the tale he struggles to come to terms with his new body. Most of all he tries to solve the puzzle of how he died and why no one wants to tell him the truth about it?

When people are in love, it's often said that they love the person inside, that looks don't matter. And now - when the exact same person you loved is in a different body? How much does that change things? Is it truly the same person or someone wholly new?

It's a rare gift to treasure someone as they are, no matter what they look like or how much their situation changes; and it's often such people we come to value when it's far too late.

A story full of ideas and questions asking for reflection. Subtle and slow, with well rendered characters and an easy to read narrative.
I liked it.

The leaving sweater - Ruth Nestvold:

She wore the red sweater when she boarded the plane to take her to Anchorage and from there to Seattle. She wore the red sweater when she boarded the plane in Seattle to bring her back to Rolynka for her mother's funeral. She wore the red sweater when she left the University of Washington—and the first young man who had begged her to marry him.
The leaving sweater helped her get away again. When she left, she had collected four more engagement rings but no graduate degree.
She turned her back on the University of Texas at Austin anyway; Vicky had become accustomed to leaving—and to things unfinished

Like many a small town person, Vicky is frightened at the thought of finishing high school and leaving for the big, bad world. But the alternative is to stay in town, be a waitress for the rest of her life and settle down with whatever boy happens to be handy. Luckily, mom just finished making her a sweater, a special sweater that empowers Vicky to pack up and go when things get too confining. Off into the world she goes, drifting everywhere and settling nowhere, doing everything and accomplishing nothing. As irony has it, it's in a small town that she finally puts the sweater aside.

And that's not where the story ends either, as an affirmation of conservative middle-class mom, home and apple pie values.

There's a breezy tone to the story, making it an infectious and at times light-hearted read that dominates, but does not belittle, the sombre notes struck at times.

It's mind-boggling that Fantasy, the genre of the limitless boundary and playground of the imagination, so often is content to regurgitate the same old, same old. The creation of genuine new myths, new images, new ideas, faerie tales uniquely of our times, is surprisingly rare. Fantasy seems mostly content to draw on the existing imagery and tales and re-tell, rather than create.

Nestvold has, in my opinion, created a uniquely modern faery tale here. The tug of war pull and draw between the settled life and the world, between staying on our own little patch of turf or facing the wonders and horrors of the world, are touched upon here. It's ironic that an object which says "mom" and "home" and "contented, settled comfort" is subverted to become the image of freedom and metaphor of empowerment.

Most of all, this is a story which is simply enjoyable to read, with clear, unaffected prose that sweeps you along for the ride.

If I have a nit, it's that the criticism levelled at Vicky - that she never finishes anything - is still valid at the end.
That aside, my favorite for the month.

A very enjoyable month, possibly my favorite month so far, from Strange Horizons, with Goelman and Nestvold delivering the strongest stories.