“Raindogs and Dustpuppets” by Chris Gauthier
“The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” by Paula R. Stiles
“Harvest” by Joanne Merriam
“Raindogs and Dustpuppets” by Chris Gauthier wants to be a melancholy exploration of the exploitative relationship that humans can have with the things they try to time, in this case “raindogs,” invisible dogs that appear when it’s raining, and “dustpuppets,” humanoid things made of dust that take on the form that a person wishes. Dale brings one of his raindogs to a race, where he meets a dustpuppet who chafes against her servitude. Dale must decide whether to stand up for insubstantial creatures everywhere. The crystal prose created an appropriately wistful mood, but the lack of background and purpose provided for raindogs and dustpuppets ultimately gave the tale no more effect than that of a brief summer shower.
“The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” by Paula R. Stiles follows, spanning two installments. Tam, a tough guy who runs the interplanetary equivalent of a lighthouse, finds an abandoned young girl. As he tries to protect her from the law, which he is almost on the wrong side of anyway, the girl brings redemption to Tam and his possibly pedophilic friend, Kip. Usually I like stories in which loners form families and find love under their gruff exteriors before turning to face cold, uncaring governments. It’s an instantly heartwarming, satisfying trope…if there’s enough at stake. Yet, while Tam’s flashback revelation provided a concentrated, affecting moment, the rest of the story seemed to ramble with lots of running around and little character development.
The month’s stories wrap up with “Harvest” by Joanne Merriam. Here Strange Horizons returns to what it does best: stories of powerful love and powerful weirdness. A woman and her partner, Brenda, look on as aliens appear around the world, abducting some people and transforming dissenters into potted plants. Such hilarious havoc [“Kim Jong-Il retires and North Korea peacefully elects a female Prime Minister, and we can’t decide if it’s the aliens or just, you know, independently weird”] becomes sad, but fitting, when it strikes closer to home. Merriam’s deft, detailed prose finds its way as easily around the love between the narrator and Brenda as around the world’s reaction to the aliens—first denial and then weaponization. It’s finally a love story, though, a flashing vignette about what it’s like to lose someone.