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Words cannot end occupations, stop bombs, or liberate a people. But words can, sometimes, create a space for freedom, if only for a moment. As 2023 draws to a close, we at Strange Horizons cast a look back at some of the words from this year that specially resonated with you, and with us.

In poetry, Sarah Gray's Biophilia, Deborah L. Davitt's Blå Jungfrun, Nwuguru Chidiebere Sullivan's Gosh, It's Too Beautiful To Exist Briefly In A Parallel Planet, and Dyani Sabin's Mother Wicked received nominations for the Rhysling Award for short poetry. In the long poem category, Tristan Beiter's The Birds Singing in the Rocks, Deborah L. Davitt's Drowning in this Sunken City, Max Pasakorn's Fields Notes from an Investigation into the Self, G.E. Woods's How to Skin Your Wolf, and Elisheva Fox's Tzedek: The Wild Hunt were nominated.

Omodero David Oghenekaro's Questions For The Fallen received a Dwarf Star award nomination, while Alyssa Lo's Excerpt from a Proposal for a New City was a runner-up for the same award.

Our poetry editorial team has also curated some of their own favourites from 2023, in their own words:

No Stones by Bob Hicok: Without exaggeration, Bob Hicok is a titan of American poetry, and this stands out as an example of how he can use something concrete and everyday and spin it into a delicate philosophical tissue, the world floating around you. You read this poem and immediately want to share it with someone else in physical space, not just on a screen.

The Thing (1982) As A Silent Film by Connor Yeck: Poems and movies are natural companions, the way both montage images and fleeting moments to build a sense of space or disorientation. The simultaneous absorption and analysis built into this piece is wonderful.

Idemili by Somto Ihezue: This poem about the slaying of an Igbo goddess who is a river and a snake captures the mix of grief, guilt, loss, confusion, pride, and power that I see in a lot of reactions to the climate crisis.

The Witches Are Without Work by Angela Liu: This has kind of been the year of Angela Liu for the Strange Horizons poetry department. All of her poems have been so good it's hard to pick a favorite. This one is perfect urban fantasy.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is your Father by Brandon O'Brien: I'd put this poem on the level of Dostoyevsky. Instead of retelling a familiar story from the point of view of the antagonist, it delves profoundly into the psychology and history of a narrator who feels he might sometimes be monstrous and have the potential to be more monstrous - but who knows that he has unfairly judged himself (and been judged) in the past.

Steve Irwin and the Unicorn by Theo Nicole Lorenz: It's a kind, funny poem, and it also makes me tremble inside. I appreciate the invitation to pause and appreciate innocence and gentleness, see how special they are, how worthwhile to stop and notice.

From our Articles Department, Emma Johanna Puranen's The Ethics of Extractivism in Science Fiction (from our Extractivism in SF special issue) and Sarena Ulibarri's Horror and Hope in Climate Fiction were nominated for the Utopia Awards. "Horror and Hope in Climate Fiction" won in the Utopian non-fiction category.

Our Articles Department recommends Feminising Culture in the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation by Harley Wu, A Not-So Tilting Planet by Ng Yi-Sheng, and The Conundrum of Indigenous Writing by Golda Mowe; and from the Wuxia Special Issue: Jin Yong's Protagonist That Wasn't: Dongfang Bubai by Johnny Liu and Reimagining The Syonan Jianghu: Reflections on Wuxia in Da Xia by Tan Shao Han. Our co-ordinating editor also recommends Shinjini Dey's Making, Breaking, and Extraction: An Exploration of Bodies and Time in SFF, a continuation of our extractivism series into 2023.

From our fiction archives, our editors have the following recommendations for you, in their own words:

Cassia de Claire's Revolving Cabinet Cards by Sarah McGill: We really liked this story's dark-fairytale take on queer embodiment.

A Name is a Plea and a Prophecy by Gabrielle Emem Harry: We loved this story's taut fabulistic prose and its sly flashes of wit.

Locavore by Kim Harbridge: We liked how sleek and little this story is, and how it accomplishes so much in so few words.

Speak No Evil by Edidiong Essien: We wanted to highlight this as a piece of small fantasy writing that touches on the powerlessness and weight of being a child.

In the Reviews Department, we continued to aim for a breadth and depth of critical work that we consider important – even fundamental - to the health of the genre. From the year’s earliest reviews - such as William Shaw’s forensic, careful reading of Nisi Shawl – to the year’s final months – in which Stephanie Burt showed how the work of another critic, John Plotz, illuminated not just Ursula Le Guin but Burt’s own life – we reviewed as wide a selection of SFF as we could, in an engaged away as possible. Christina Ladd dived deep on vampires; Archita Mittra got into the thick weeds of House of the Dragon, a show from which no one had expected very much at all; Shinjini Dey queried the hyped reception of R. F. Kuang’s Babel; Mikko Toivanen brought us Japanese cinema, and Kit Eginton utopian anti-capitalism. We had new reviewers – Nick Gloaming debuted with an excellent meditation on Jen Calleja’s Vehicle – and trusted voices – M. L. Clark, for instance, offered us a case study in when criticism goes wrong. And from Tristan Beiter on poetry to Dean Leetal on YA,  we cast our net as wide as we could, while in pieces such as our roundtable on Goliath, or Phoenix Scholz’s mammoth tour through HellSans, we tried not to scrimp on detail, either.

We were particularly honoured this year that Maureen Kincaid Speller’s last essay for us before her death, The Critic and the Clue, was nominated for a BSFA Non-fiction award. It appeared in our very first Criticism Special, a project Maureen spearheaded. Next year we’ll deliver our third such special. The work continues.

We also want to take a moment to showcase our special issues from the year gone by. Our special issues—which we run on the fifth Monday of the months that have them—reflect our ongoing commitment to geographic and thematic diversity. Special issues that spotlight a specific geographic region are guest-edited by editors who belong to that region, while thematic special issues are edited in-house.

In 2023, we had two geographic and two thematic special issues. In January, we ran our usual annual special issue on criticism in SFF. This issue was particularly poignant for us, as it was a tribute to our beloved reviews editor, Maureen Kincaid Speller, who passed in 2022. The special issue showcased the kind of critical practice that Maureen perfected over the years, and loved more than anything else.

In May, we devoted a special issue to Wuxia and Xianxia, edited by Yilin Wang, Mia Tsai, and our own Joyce Chng. Wuxia has been a cultural phenomenon in the West ever since the success of The Untamed, and we felt that a special issue approaching the genre from a critical lens, as well as celebrating it through short fiction and poetry was long overdue. We hope you enjoy the offerings in this issue.

In July we had a special issue focused on Childbearing in SFF, a topic picked by our editorial collective. As our editor, Romie Stott, noted in her introduction to the special issue, this one is about "agency, luck, vegetables, gods, bodies, and aliens." You'll find all that, and more, when you begin exploring it.

We rounded off our specials with an issue dedicated to Caribbean SFF, edited by Suzan Palumbo and Marika Bailey. We loved being able to showcase the breathtaking richness and diversity of SFF from the Caribbean, bringing to you five stories, four poems, and an essay. We're sure you'll love them too.

Our special issues for 2024 are already in the works: look out, in particular, for our Japanese SFF special, scheduled for mid-2024!

We wish all our readers a 2024 that brings justice and peace a little bit closer, and look forward to our shared task of finding the words that are meet for that task.

With inputs from the Strange Horizons editorial collective 



Gautam Bhatia is an Indian speculative fiction writer, and the co-ordinating editor of Strange Horizons. He is the author of the science fiction duology, The Wall (HarperCollins India, 2020) and The Horizon (HarperCollins India, 2021). Both novels featured on Locus Magazine's year-end recommended reading list, and The Wall was shortlisted for the Valley of Words Award for English-language fiction. His short stories have appeared in The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction and LiveMint magazine. He is based in New Delhi, India.
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