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In the fiction writer's bag of tricks there's a surefire technique for garnering sympathy for a character: show them reading something. You may know nothing else about your audience, but you're guaranteed that they, too, are also reading something.

Captain January, main character of The Lucky Strike, is a reader; has been his whole life. This is the source of his trouble. We see early on his sense of empathy, his ability to put himself in the other fella's shoes. This is an important skill necessary for reading comprehension, but Captain January is fighting a war, and empathy is not in high demand, and that's gonna cause trouble.

This is alt-history, and you might expect this clear reader stand-in to be your proxy through a gritty fantasy, a sort of peacenik Lest Darkness Fall. But The Lucky Strike, having grabbed your empathy for a fellow reader, doesn't use it for easy gratification; it uses it to put you through hell.

January spends the middle of the story stuck in his own head, tormenting himself with the reader's toolkit he developed reading the Saturday Evening Post. His skill at tying together stray bits of symbolism, guessing and second-guessing plot twists... he can work rhetorical magic like nobody's business, but it's not actually helping him. In true alt-history fashion, fate has conspired to make January the lever-man at the fulcrum of modern history, but can he change anything? The human mind with its churning and planning and self-justification... it's just another unreliable piece in the machinery of history, which is dominated by accidents and errors.

The story's brilliant final metaphor offers a clue: maybe the best we can do is minimize our own complicity. Robinson suggests this more explicitly in his own essay A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions, which is worth checking out if you liked The Lucky Strike. But another lesson of The Lucky Strike is: all these little, random decisions add up. Anyone who's thought "they'll just get someone else to do it" might take courage from the idea that "they" might have already tried and failed to find someone willing to do it.

Leonard Richardson has a taste for adventure. His first novel, Constellation Games, is published by Candlemark & Gleam. To contact him, send him email at For more about him and his work, see his website.
Sumana Harihareswara is senior technical writer at the Wikimedia Foundation.
Current Issue
30 Jan 2023

In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much.
It is probably impossible to understand how transformative all of this could be unless you have actually been on the receiving end.
Some of our reviewers offer recollections of Maureen Kincaid Speller.
Criticism was equally an extension of Maureen’s generosity. She not only made space for the text, listening and responding to its own otherness, but she also made space for her readers. Each review was an invitation, a gift to inquire further, to think more deeply and more sensitively about what it is we do when we read.
When I first told Maureen Kincaid Speller that A Closed and Common Orbit was among my favourite current works of science fiction she did not agree with me. Five years later, I'm trying to work out how I came to that perspective myself.
Cloud Atlas can be expressed as ABC[P]YZY[P]CBA. The Actual Star , however, would be depicted as A[P]ZA[P]ZA[P]Z (and so on).
In the vast traditions that inspire SF worldbuilding, what will be reclaimed and reinvented, and what will be discarded? How do narratives on the periphery speak to and interact with each other in their local contexts, rather than in opposition to the dominant structures of white Western hegemonic culture? What dynamics and possibilities are revealed in the repositioning of these narratives?
a ghostly airship / sorting and discarding to a pattern that isn’t available to those who are part of it / now attempting to deal with the utterly unknowable
Most likely you’d have questioned the premise, / done it well and kindly then moved on
In this special episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, reviews editors Aisha Subramanian and Dan Hartland introduce audio from a 2018 recording for Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast Cabbages and Kings which included Maureen Kincaid Speller discussing with Aisha and Jonah three books: Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.
Issue 23 Jan 2023
Issue 16 Jan 2023
Issue 9 Jan 2023
Strange Horizons
2 Jan 2023
Welcome, fellow walkers of the jianghu.
Issue 2 Jan 2023
Strange Horizons
Issue 19 Dec 2022
Issue 12 Dec 2022
Issue 5 Dec 2022
Issue 28 Nov 2022
By: RiverFlow
Translated by: Emily Jin
Issue 21 Nov 2022
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