Strange Horizons, April 4-May 30, 2011 by Carole Moleti

In “Pataki,” by Nisi Shawl, published in two parts on 4 and 11 April 2011, Rianne is starting over in a new place, but still hasn’t recovered from the disproved allegations that caused her to flee Ann Arbor, Michigan for Oakland, California. And it’s affecting her magic. She meditates in front of her altars, but it isn’t until she dreams of a king with whom she has a shared experience that the mojo begins to flow.

“Patakis were parables, legends of the orisha; often they elaborated on truths revealed in divination. [. . .] A priestess of Oya held the King Shango a prisoner. She raised the dead to guard him, so he was unable to escape into the welcoming arms of Oshun. To free him to love her, Oshun seduced the dead.”

This engaging story features an interesting thematic link to Michael Jackson. The stream of consciousness style, third person, captures the vagaries of Rianne’s thought process as she works magic tinged with hoodoo.

The disjointed tale “Items Found in a Box Belonging to Jonas Connolly,” by Laura E. Price, published 18 April 2011, moves forward, backwards, and sideways. I got a pencil and paper to parse out this tale, which has some elements of steampunk (in the form of a dirigible filled with female sailors who hunt hydras) as well as serious and allegorical thematic elements about women’s power and dedication of to their children and families.

“. . . I peered over the rail to watch my mother fight a hydra. Her figure was small, as they all were, swooping over the monster and between its tentacles. [. . .] There was one spot–its blind spot [. . .] where a large piece of the ship had lodged. My mother maneuvered over there, followed by Mrs. Martin and Carmella Guntersdottir, the noise of Carmella’s flare gun and the explosion of ribbons in the air told us to prepare for survivors. [. . .]  That was your rescue, Mr. Connolly. Yours and your mother’s.”

Like trying to figure out the significance of odd mementos stuffed in a box, deconstruction ruins an otherwise enjoyable read. I suggest allowing it to carry you along on the journey although you’re not sure where you’re going.

“The Thick Night,” by Sunny Moraine, from 2 May 2011, is a compelling science fictional take on genocide and strife in present day Africa. The personification of a robotic aide worker provides insight into the thoughts of one female survivor, as well as a novel idea about ministering to both her physical and psychological needs.

“. . . The foreign men are pointing into the crowd, speaking to each other in a language Mkali can’t understand. More of the things are climbing smoothly down from the back of the truck now, moving with an unearthly grace . . . as the crowd churns in confusion around her, as the things start to move in among them, she sees that flash of chrome, so clean, diamond eyes again meeting hers, and she feels a cool hand at her back, pushing her gently away and out of the crowd, guiding her toward the lane and the trees, carrying a bag of cornmeal easily on its metal-jointed shoulder.”

“Young Love on the Run from the Federal Alien Administration New Mexico Division (1984),” leaves no doubt as to what this story is about, but Grant Stone manages to put a imaginative twist into this Roswell alien yarn with a satisfying ending.

Flashbacks interspersed throughout the otherwise chronological story, in the unusual second person point of view, present tense, that slips in and out of omniscient present, adds a bit of mystery and suspense to what would otherwise be rote and predictable. It also serves well to convey the sense of “the shared mind” and “the dynamic transfer of consciousness.”

“You pull over, push your sunglasses up into your hair, trying to play it cool. . .

‘Hey,’  you say, and she smiles. Looking at her is like looking at the moon. Suddenly your mouth speaks.

‘So where are you going?’ she says. ‘West. Um,’ you swallow. ‘California.’ Your hands are slick on the steering wheel . . .

His hand tingles a little. It’s not an unpleasant sensation. ‘How do you—’

She shrugs and hands over the beer. ‘We all can. It’s just what we do.’

“The Holder’s Black Haired Daughter” by Kelly Jenninngs begins with a storyteller’s musing about three miners who “left their widowed mother back on Dresden and went way out there by the Drift to one of those raw planets, hoping to get rich as Creezus mining lithium or iron in the asteroids . . .”

The Lord Holder’s daughter, central to the youngest miner’s plans to get rich, has some of her own. As do any colonists who travel far from their homes and young women held at the heel of their fathers, their paths are about to converge.

“She is thinking of her friends who left last year, and the year before; she is thinking of her mother, gone so many years now she cannot remember her voice. Forty-six jumps from here to the Core, far too expensive for casual posts. [. . .] Sometimes she thinks she is the only one her age left on the entire planet.”

The storyteller stopped short of a real ending, and I would have liked a bit more than a hint of what was to come.

Also short but packing a wallop is “After All” by Carol Emshwiller, originally in Report to the Men’s Club and Other Stories published in 2002. Featured as one of the monthly reprint stories, with only a whisper of the speculative, “After All” showcases the author’s use of the first person that immerses the reader inside the characters, who are often as older and as wiser as Ms. Emshwiller herself.

This story, like the very similar “A Safe Place to Be” recently reprinted in Tails of Wonder and Imagination, feels almost autobiographical, so real, it’s painful to read.

“You see, this evening I was sitting in the window of my cottage looking out at my piece of desert with squawking quail in it. (Tobacco! Tobacco!) I was thinking to write a story about somebody who needs to change (the best sort of character to write about), and all of a sudden I knew it was me who had to change. Always had been, and I didn’t realize it until that very minute. So I have to be the one to go on a journey, either of discovery or in order to avoid myself.

I won’t pack a lunch. I won’t bring a bottle of water. I know I don’t look my best but I don’t even want to. My hair . . . I don’t want to think about it.”

I suggest you read the story before the introduction by  Gavin Grant for the full impact. The retrospective on Ms. Emshwiller’s works by Niall Harrison, Ursula K. Le Guin, Helen Merrick, Pat Murphy, and Gary K. Wolfe and a summary of her writing style by Karen Joy Fowler explain her influence, great breadth, and depth of her writing better than I ever could.

“After All,” and the tributes paid to Ms. Emshwiller for her vast contribution to the body of science fiction and fantasy writing, are a fitting end to this group of stories in an ezine that provides a forum for writers who use experimental and innovative techniques to bring their imaginations to the page.


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