Strange Horizons

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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.