Strange Horizons, May 2011

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Strange Horizons, May 2011

“The Thick Night” by Sunny Moraine (5/2/11)
“Young Love on the Run from the Federal Alien Administration New Mexico Division (1984)” by Grant Stone (5/9/11)
“The Holder’s Black-Haired Daughter” by Kelly Jennings (5/16/11)

Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

In addition to a very good reprint short story titled “After All” by Carol Emshwiller, the May issue of Strange Horizons contains three new stories. All three stories use classic themes common to science fiction with vastly differing results.

Mkali “is a proud woman” who saved her small siblings Buqisi and Kani one night and repeatedly since then. “The Thick Night” by Sunny Moraine tells what happened during and after that night. Mkali does not think of herself as a proud woman but rather a woman who did what she had to do when she had to do it no matter the cost. In so doing, she steered what was left of her family through a number of hardships including two wars and the current drought. The drought is her latest enemy and she will continue to do whatever it takes to survive.

In so doing she has gone to the city of Gulu because she has heard that foreign men wearing blue hats have food and medicines for those willing to wait in the hot sun to receive them. She is not alone in her desperation. There are many in the same desperate straits and Mkali fights the overwhelming crowds for a handout. She gets more than she bargained for as she also gets a robot.

The robot is a life-changing event for her, her family, and ultimately the village she lives in, in this complex tale that explores what it is to be human, the meaning of God, familial sacrifice and other issues. Lots of interesting philosophy and deep questions with no easy answers power this story. Some readers may feel the author took the easy way out with the ending that abruptly shifts to a much happier situation than foreshadowed. However, the ending does fit the overall story and worked for this reader.

“Young Love on the Run from the Federal Alien Administration New Mexico Division (1984)” by Grant Stone is short on philosophy until the final twist at the end and heavy on enjoyable action and adventure. Roland hadn’t planned to get married anytime soon and there certainly was nobody in his life. Then, she appeared in the heat haze along the side of the road. She was so pretty and nothing like any other person on Earth.  She is going to be hard to explain to the folks back home. That is, assuming they can get there for her to meet his parents, as they are on the run–for good reason.

Lots of action here as the story moves forward at a fast pace before slowing for a philosophical-type ending. While it does fit the story, it shifts the mood and flow markedly with an attempt to be clever.  I found it unnecessary though it did tie off the story neatly for those who need every question or thought answered and explained.

The final new story titled “The Holder’s Black-Haired Daughter” by Kelly Jennings features long stretches of descriptive narration and very little dialogue between characters. Readers are told three brothers went to work in the Drift leaving their Mom behind in Dresden. The miners went broke and eventually went to work in a brickworks on an unnamed planet. They live in a company shack and barely eke out an existence. The brickworks and a number of other properties and various things are owned by a wealthy landowner. He, of course, has a beautiful dark haired daughter.

You can probably guess where this is going. While sitting in a local tavern/bar one evening the youngest brother sees the beautiful dark haired daughter looking his way. He thinks she is signaling her interest in him. He dreams of her while she dreams of far different things.

Again, told primarily through descriptive narration and little dialogue, this flat story held little interest for me. The characters never came alive or mattered at all. The setup had little to do with the actual story. It was very predictable, bordering on the clichéd, and the science fiction component was meaningless. It could have been set anywhere with the two seeing each other across a crowded sports bar, college campus, library, community pool, etc. and it would not have changed anything meaningful in the story.

Despite the weakness of the final story, overall this is an enjoyable issue. Both the reprint and “The Thick Night” pose intriguing questions in stories where concepts of science fiction matter. In those two stories as well as the more action oriented story “Young Love on the Run from the Federal Alien Administration New Mexico Division (1984)” if the science fiction component is removed the stories collapse. Those stories make the issue worth reading.