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

Strange Horizons, January 2007

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"Locked Doors" by Stephanie Burgis
"Before Paphos" by Loretta Casteen
"Godtouched" by Sara Genge

For January, Strange Horizons' crop of stories was larger than usual, with five pieces of fiction instead of the usual four [one per Monday].

First, there's "Locked Doors" by Stephanie Burgis, in which heavy responsibilities weigh on Tyler's shoulders. With his mother having run away and his father in the grip of a strange, enchanted affliction, the little boy is the man of the house. How he deals with such supernatural pressures makes for an affecting story, naturalistic and transparently metaphorical in its simplicity.

The second January contribution, "Before Paphos" by Loretta Casteen, is more accurately a vignette or flash, rather than a short story. It addresses the plight of a servant who watches his melancholy artistic master, the beautiful but vacant lady of the house, and their succession of unnatural children. The allusions to the Greek myth of Pygmalion seemed obvious to me, but they may be too subtle for those who are not mythology nerds, and the vignette's too-slight background deprive it of some emotional resonance.

Moving on to "Godtouched" by Sara Genge, we find a vividly depicted postapocalyptic setting and the disturbed (or "godtouched") country girl, Denise. Mostly a sketch of Denise's raw and virulent world, the story boasts  a small plot in the form of Denise's choice—city sophistication or rural poverty?—but the atmospheric tale, promising enough for a novel's lead, doesn't need high-octane events to draw you in.

The next story brings us to the future, "Somewhere in Central Queensland," in fact, after climate change has flooded parts of Australia. Civil war has wrought changes too, and uni student Keigha faces a challenge much like that of Denise in the previous story. Does she choose the city life (familiar, scholarly, orderly) or the country life (wild, rebellious, unpredictable)? Author Grace Dugan brings an eerie and detailed sense of place to the story and effectively dramatizes, with real feeling, what is essentially a train ride and debarkation.

January's final tale, "Three Days and Nights in Lord Darkdrake's Hall" by Leah Bobet, is a spare and serious story. It follows a swordswoman matching her wits against her menacing captor, the forbiddingly named Lord Darkdrake. Why he has her, how she reacts to him, and how she (of course) escapes are all neat, satisfying twists in this compact, mordant story. Go read it and all its friends. Strange Horizons has lots of yummy archives, and it's all free!