Welcome to the Strange Horizons 2020 special issue on chosen families!
For some of us, the word family can be a difficult and complicated one. It can be used to imply that you should be closest to people you're genetically related to, or people who raised you, no matter what. But the idea of family can be extended to mean the people you choose to be close to: the family to whom you aren’t just assigned by chance, but by choice.
In one of Manly Wade Wellman’s “Silver John” stories, John says:
“[Brothers] that choose [...] one another [...] have a chance to turn out better than [...] brothers born to the same father and mother, [who] have to do the best they can with just their own blood kin.”
Which is not to say that blood kinship is never a good thing, or shouldn’t be important; only that there are other possibilities.
In the science fiction community (as well as in other communities), there have always been people who haven’t felt comfortable with their family of birth or the family who raised them; sometimes, finding your community can feel like finding home and family. Perhaps that’s why chosen family has long been a popular theme in SF. Chosen families in the real world can take many forms, and SF has provided even more reimaginings of what a family can be: Duane’s group marriages, Le Guin’s four-person Morning/Evening marriages, Heinlein’s line marriages, and a vast array of other kinship and kithship concepts in various fictional cultures. Family doesn’t have to involve marriage, of course: shared experiences or shared interests can also forge familial feelings, and SF is full of loyal comrades of all sorts, human and otherwise. (As a common Tumblr trope notes, humans will packbond with anything.) I see these themes on television, too: a team or group or crew that starts out as individuals, sometimes not liking or trusting each other, but gradually growing close, until they form what feels very much like a familial unit.
In Ursula K. Le Guin’s Foreword to The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, she wrote:
“To create difference—to establish strangeness—then to let the fiery arc of human emotion leap and close the gap: this acrobatics of the imagination fascinates and satisfies me as no other.”
That kind of bridging connection is one of my favorite things in fiction. It figures prominently in this week’s fiction: “68:Hazard:Cold,” by Janelle C. Shane, and “Monsters Never Leave You,” by Carlie St. George. Both stories bring together beings who are unlike each other but have commonalities. This week’s poems—“Beasts of New France,” by Millie Ho; “Mercy,” by Robert K. Walters; and “A Mountain on My Back,” by Niloufar-Lily Soltani—show disconnections with blood ties and connections of other sorts. In an article, “The Power of Chosen Family: Kingdom Hearts’ Sea Salt Trio,” Latonya Pennington discusses a chosen family from the video game series Kingdom Hearts. And in reviews, Catherine Rockwood reviews Stormsong, by C. L. Polk, and Bee Gabriel reviews Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
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