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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Strange Horizons -- August 2010, Double Review

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Strange Horizons
August 2010


“Where It Ends” by Swapna Kishore
“Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” by Georgina Bruce
“The Big Splash” by George R. Galuschak
“Five Rules for Commuting to the Underworld” by Merrie Haskell
“Aphrodisia” by Lavie Tidhar

Reviewed by Rhonda Porrett

“Where It Ends” by Swapna Kishore – August 2, 2010

Swapna Kishore tells the story of a family torn apart in “Where It Ends.” Chikka and her brother refuse to follow tradition. They fall in love and marry suitors from outside their community against their mother’s wishes. Because of their rebellion, they do not receive a full blessing from the ritual performed during the wedding ceremony. When Chikka’s marriage ends in divorce and her brother’s ends in tragedy, both blame the ritual for their ruined lives. They return home to their mother to decipher the mystery behind the ritual only to realize a blessing and a curse are two sides of the same coin.

“Where It Ends” will keep the reader guessing. This constant suspense created by withholding key information gets tedious by the conclusion though and robs the reader of experiencing emotions firsthand as Chikka uncovers the various family secrets.

“Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” by Georgina Bruce – August 9, 2010

Zillah owns a book in which the words and pictures are constantly changing. She wants to share this special book with her best friend Joy, but that’s not all she wants to share. Georgina Bruce brings to life the story of love’s first kiss in “Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier.” Zillah represses her burgeoning feelings for Joy. She looks to the special book to find the strength she needs to overcome her fear of rejection but discovers that just when she needs it most, the book disappears.

This story has a sweetness to it as it explores the butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, and growing pains of teenage love. Reading about lesbian superheroes and New Free Lesbiana may not be for everyone though as the romantic plotline overshadows the supernatural aspects of this coming out tale.

“The Big Splash” by George R. Galuschak – August 16, 2010

A young man and his dog. Best friends. Mark brings his old cocker spaniel to Charley, an alien with three eyes that can communicate with crabs and wasps. He hopes Charlie can help the dying dog live longer. While they are relaxing on the beach, Mark assists a man bitten by a shark and gets laid by a girl he just met, but is emotionless. His only concern is his dog. Best friends. Boyhood dying, buried beneath shifting sands as the lifeless waters of the Big Splash rise.

George R. Galuschak gives this story a morose, apathetic tone that successfully mimics the attitude of some teenagers. I found the creative grammar distracting but enjoyed the work involved in interpreting the author’s intent. On a minor note, there was no reason for Charley to be an alien. If Charley’s character was human—perhaps a laid-back stoner with a veterinarian degree and no visible third eye—the story would stay the same.

“Five Rules for Commuting to the Underworld” by Merrie Haskell – August 23, 2010

Merrie Haskell elucidates the rules for entering and exiting the underworld. If you’re still alive and want to undergo the task to say, rescue a loved one, then you had better pay attention because you don’t want to piss Peresephone off! She’s the daughter of Earth and Thunder, the wife of Hades, Queen of the Sunless World, and hardened by her years in hell. Even Peresephone knows from experience that the price of passing through the gates is steep.

Those not well versed in Greek mythology will find this confusing as so many names and places are dropped into the story that the reader is expected to recognize. Zeus, Hercules, and Hades are familiar to me, but Theseus and Pirithous? Cerberus and Orthrus? Eurydice?  I confess to not having studied or read much about such subjects so I find myself resenting the fact that I have to Google Peresephone. What historical reference prompted the discouragement of bringing food into the underworld?  Why is black thread better than another color? If Greek mythology is not your strong point, these rules will leave you with more questions than answers.

“Aphrodisia” by Lavie Tidhar – August 30, 2010

A moon-borne being is transformed into a type of galactic surge protector with sockets bored into his body to interface in the no-gravity of space. He becomes an intersection of datastreams and meets his beloved Aphrodisia. The plug is pulled, and his sockets are capped. Aphrodisia still sings to him in a weak connection that only serves to fuel his desire for her. Drugs are a pale substitute for his former life, his former love. He must have her again, even if it means ripping his flesh to open the capped sockets.

We are a generation connected, perturbed when our internet connection fails or cell phone is out of range. “Aphrodisia” is a cryptic account of technological addiction that reminded me of The Matrix mixed with the opium dens of Sherlock Holmes. I searched hard to find the meaning of this story because so many futuristic details cluttered the characters and setting like too much make-up on an already pretty face.

August 2010

“Where It Ends” by Swapna Kishore
“Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” by Georgina Bruce
“The Big Splash” by George R. Galuschak
“Five Rules for Commuting to the Underworld” by Merrie Haskell
“Aphrodisia” by Lavie Tidhar

Reviewed by Maria Lin

“Where It Ends” by Swapna Kishore – August 2, 2010

"Where it Ends" is a story about a clan of immortal, no, not vampires, Indians. The story goes that a group of desperate people begged the gods Yama and Agni for their blessings, and they were granted to them in the form of eternal life and good health. To carry this blessing down from generation to generation, a secret ritual is performed in the time of a woman's marriage that sometimes leaves her weak and disoriented for moments after. For centuries these people lived in India as a closed, close knit community, but the changes of modern life and children who have rebelled against the old ways are causing problems.

Chikki, a member of the group now living in California, is summoned by her mother and books a flight home immediately. On the plane she runs into her brother Bhaiyya, who has obviously aged more than he should have. They talk about their lives and their marriages. Both Chikki and Bhaiyya have married outside of the group, and both marriages have failed.

Once in India Chikki's mother shares with her the news that has caused her to call her children back with such immediacy, and the two women work towards their future together as Chikki continues to reminisce about her past and her husband.

Swapna Kishore has written a slow, meandering story that bounces back and forth between Chikki's past and present and reads a bit like a family saga if your family was immortal and you only had a few thousand words with which to write the saga. For me the story was too heavy on feeling and too light on everything else, but for those who enjoy meditations on marriage and family relations, this story might give them just what they want, with an additional touch of immortality.

“Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” by Georgina Bruce – August 9, 2010

Here is a story where the speculative element is minor; it could disappear and there would barely be a noticeable change. There's something about a certain book that is always changing, bindings, title, story and all, and a hotel stunningly rendered by Georgina Bruce's powers of description, but the actual story in “Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” has nothing to do with this. It's a lesbian romance about two young girls growing into themselves and confirming their feelings towards each other.

Zillah and Joy are classmates and friends who share a hero in Ursula Bluethunder, lesbian powerhouse extraordinaire. They daydream about living in New Lesbonia with glances at each other under the notice of oblivious mothers, but Zillah at least can't quite gather the courage to move their relationship to the next level, which anyone who has wanted a friendship to become more can relate to. There's no magic involved. What fantasy does exist in the story serves to confuse more than anything and was the weakest part of “Ghost of a Horse.”

The best part of “Ghost of a Horse” is undoubtedly its prose.  Bruce has a real mastery of descriptive verse. She paints a picture of an imaginary ballroom thusly: “The ballroom of the Grand Hotel by candlelight is amber and sepia, drifting into darkness at the edges like an old postcard. It smells of stale water, tallow, and dust. The ruby carpet is threadbare and shiny, and the plaster has been knocked off the walls, leaving bare brick in places, water-stained and sick.” Her evocation of atmosphere is spot on, and for those who enjoy rolling a good phrase around in their brain this is a story to check out. I only wish there was more fantasy to this tale.

“The Big Splash” by George R. Galuschak – August 16, 2010

“The Big Splash”  by George R. Galuschak is a literary slice of life story with a futuristic SF garnish.  In it Galuschak imagines a world that could be as close as tomorrow, where the sea has risen to eat up the coastal cities and there really is an app for everything, but kids do dumb things, graduate, and scatter off to their adult lives just like they do now.

Mark's dog Roger is dying of old age and due to be put down, so Mark visits his friend Charlie to see if something can't be done. Charlie is an alien, something the people of this future are quite comfortable with, and he lives on the beach, communing with wasps, crabs, and the occasional kid who comes to sit with him. Charlie can't do anything for Roger, but he can provide some companionship for Mark.

There's little plot here. The story wanders along with its protagonist. The no-frills narration may seem a little disinterested for a story involving the death of man's best friend but it matches well with the emotional distance between the characters. All in all this is a well written story, but it's lacking the spark required to get me to really care about the little that's going on.

“Five Rules for Commuting to the Underworld” by Merrie Haskell – August 23, 2010

Persephone is given a modern voice in “Five Rules for Commuting to the Underworld,” by Merrie Haskell. In a few short paragraphs we are given the five rules of the underworld, all familiar to those who know their mythology, and Persephone's musings about each one. Haskell's Persephone is a tough, no nonsense woman who shows little sympathy for those who try to enter and leave her husband's realm. She is a cynic too, who “rolls her eyes” over the “food rule,” knowing full well that “it didn't even exist before her.”

Unfortunately, Haskell has given us an interesting character and nothing else. There is no plot in “Five Rules,” only the list and a little exposition. Despite the strength of the story's only character, there is nothing for her to interact with, and so she remains a passive creature, witty but static.

As pure concept “Five Rules” has potential, but the modernization of ancient deities has become a common project for fantasy authors to explore. To stand out one has to go beyond the tropes and offer something really great, which I don't feel Haskell has done here.

“Aphrodisia” by Lavie Tidhar – August 30, 2010

There are so many interesting ways to be a junkie in science fiction. Fancy new drugs, alien secretions, strange atmospheres, and, of course, the many addictions related to technology and its pressing encroachment into our lives all populate the world of the future. In “Aphrodisia” our protagonist comes down to earth, down into the dirty pleasure allies of a futuristic Thailand-type pleasure pit, and seeks his own particular poison, “hooking up.” His two companions, a tentacled creature and a mech of some sort, seem to have their own vices, and are distracted by them as their friend wanders off in search of something to jam into one of his many stopped up plugs.

“Aphrodisia” is a dirty short about one way in which we might be losing ourselves in the future. The idea of becoming hooked up to electronics directly, or even becoming addicted to the sensation, goes back to some of the earliest science fiction, but Tidhar has managed to make it ultra-depressing and bleak. The idea of mutilating oneself for a fix by cutting through flesh and bone to gain access to a socket is quite the image. As with many stories from Strange Horizons “Aphrodisia” is too short to produce any real plot or development, and is completely dependent on the execution of concept. The execution is not bad at all, but I really feel like there needs to be more for “Aphrodisia” to make any sort of impact.