Strange Horizons, December 4, 11, & 18, 2017

Thursday, 21 December 2017 16:45 Nicky Majas
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Strange Horizons, December 4, 11, & 18, 2017

"A Day to Remember" by Clelia Farris (Dec. 4th from Samovar)

"Sasabonsam" by Tara Campbell (Dec. 11th from SH)
The Birding: A Fairy Tale” by Natalia Theodoridou (Dec. 18th from SH)

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

Olì is a memory embellisher in "A Day to Remember" by Clelia Farris. Her job on the loosely connected jumble of rocks she calls home, is to enhance, reshape or altogether delete the memories of her neighbours, who then pay her in whatever specialty they have managed to carve out of their respective rocks. And business has never been better, ever since the sea rose to submerge all but the tallest buildings on the highest hills. But lately Olì questions whether or not memories in the pure, raw form don't hold some value to people, even when they evoke sadness. Maybe some things shouldn't be forgotten.

There are many layers of complex contemplation hidden behind simple vignettes of Olì's life in "A Day to Remember." Certainly climate change seems to be a big one, as is the effects of old age on the mind, and our capacity for dealing with traumatic events. The story throws readers very suddenly into a mess of unfamiliar characters and settings, and it takes a bit of time to wade through it. This is not incongruous with the overall message of the story: that memory is messy and confusing and not altogether pleasant at times. But without all of the fragments unaltered it would be impossible to accurately position one's self in the present.

There is something waiting up in the trees in "Sasabonsam" by Tara Campbell. It waits for regret and anguish to wander near. It reaches. It strangles. It consumes. For Sasabonsam, nothing is more delectable than a meal of pure grief. But some emotions are much stronger than the stuff of nightmares. Some inner demons are strong enough to kill the devil himself.

Campbell takes readers into the dark parts of West African folklore with "Sasabonsam." The story is fragmented and simply presented, but Campbell stretches the shadows and the pauses over visceral emotion and produces a story that is both terrifying and touching at the same time. Readers are asked to identify with the monsters of the story, all of them, and it's not hard. For such a short story there is a lot going on, and a lot to digest. Fans of vampire mythology will no doubt find this story pleasing.

The world has gone to the birds, literally, and Maria is all alone, in Natalia Theodoridou's "The Birding: A Fairy Tale." Where the plague came from is as mysterious as its pathology, but the outcome is always the same: those infected get feverish and then slowly transform into birds. It would be beautiful if it wasn't the ending of the world. Holding onto threads of what used to be her family, Maria searches the deserted streets of Greece for something familiar and lost. But with the skies filled with feathers and song, the likelihood that her fairy tale will have a happy ending seems increasingly bleak.

Theodoridou begins her story, like any good fairy tale with a frame that sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The twist, however, is that it's the fairy tale itself that is the frame, and the apocalypse that serves as the bulk of the story. The fairy tale is expositionally woven throughout the narrative, giving the readers some novel insights into Maria and her complicated family life, while at the same time advancing the story itself into the next scenes. The ending is especially tragic, perhaps belying the fairy tale nature of the opening. Conversely, this could be in keeping with the traditional trajectory of fairy tales themselves: happy endings are few and far between, and not without heavy sacrifice.