Recent Fiction at Strange Horizons

I realized last year that I don't have a love/hate relationship with the fiction at Strange Horizons so much as a like/indifference relationship with it. A number of stories there last year interested me in some way or another, but only one or two fully captured my imagination and attention (particularly Douglas Lain's "A Coffee Cup/Alien Invasion Story"), while many others were not stories I thought were particularly bad, they just weren't anything I remembered more than five minutes after reading them.

This is a very different relationship from the one I have with magazines like F&SF or (the now defunct) SciFiction, where usually a few stories each year blow me away, and a bunch of others make me wonder what the editor was smoking when they accepted them.

All of which is preamble for what I want to say, which is: After what seemed to me a particularly dull start to the year, Strange Horizons has published a number of good-to-excellent stories in the past few weeks, especially "The Desires of Houses" by Haddayr Copley-Woods, "Ignis Fatuus" by Eliani Torres, and "The Flying Woman" by Meghan McCarron. (Joanne Merriam's "The Purple Hippopotamus Wading Pool" is affecting and well written, but it seemed to me to be a story about how women who cheat on their husbands will, or should, be punished and degraded horribly, a position I find troubling, though certainly not every reader will see the story this way, or mind.)

"The Desires of Houses" is a light and clever story that stands just fine on its own; saying anything other than "it works" would be to say too much, but it's rare that a one-joke story like this one works quite so well -- such a story is so much harder to write than it seems, because every word and phrase has to be pitched just right.

I read "Ignis Fatuus" once, then immediately read it again, because there's so much going on in it, and the opening is so deceptive, that one reading just doesn't do it justice. What begins as a seemingly mundane bit of domestic erotica becomes a science fiction story, yet it never loses sight of where and how it began. A tremendous amount of backstory is hinted at and revealed with deft skill, both the backstory of the future world itself and of the main characters. The writing is stylish but not ostentatious, there's a strong voice to the narration, but the events move forward swiftly -- swiftly enough that a second reading reveals how much can be missed in the first reading. This is easily one of the best stories I've read from 2006 so far.

"The Flying Woman" made me laugh a few times, which I always appreciate, but the emotions at the end are complex, a mix of sadness and nostalgia and wistfulness. The fragmentary, collage-like structure of the story reinforces the idea of it all being both memory and myth, half dream and half reality, a grab-bag full of yearnings. Many of the stories Strange Horizons publishes reach for this kind of bittersweet emotional territory, and most of them end up seeming not quite on the mark, a bit anemic or mannered, but "The Flying Woman" has enough layers and enough substance that it captures a lot within a relatively short space. It's a story that relies quite a bit on the quirkiness of its narrative voice, but it doesn't only rely on that -- the voice is buttressed by a thoughtful structure, substantive events, and about as much complexity of character as can be hoped for in a story of this length.

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