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I've been indulging in a guilty pleasure this month—rereading. I always feel like I ought to be reading something new. There are a lot of books out there and if I keep reading the same ones over again, how will I ever have time to finish them all? But I love rereading. First, I reread The Sparrow and Children of God by Maria Dora Russell. Next I moved on to Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead. It only occurred to me halfway through the Card that these were all novels about first contact, the struggle to understand and communicate with the other.

This led me to track down H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy chronicles. I hadn't read Piper since the fourth grade. I had chicken pox that year and my dad brought home a pile of paperback books to keep me company. One had an intriguing cover—a dark forest and a delicate creature that looked like a cross between a monkey and a teddy bear. It was that book which hooked me on science fiction, eventually leading me to authors like Sheri Tepper, Nicola Griffith, Karen Joy Fowler, and more. I'm on page fifty and have already come across countless scenes which read like distant memories, as if I actually lived the book twenty-one years ago. Other things have surprised me—all those cocktails and all that pipe smoking! Also, I'm remembering how frustrated I was, even at age ten, by how dopey and passive all the female fuzzies and humans are. No wonder I eventually gravitated to feminist science fiction.

I have the luxury of the whole summer off this year. My days are not filling up with other human beings. I read. I write. I pull weeds in the backyard. I nurture along my disorganized vegetable garden and I observe its ecology of vegetables, flowers, weeds, beneficial insects, and scary poisonous spiders. I play with my two dogs. I spend time training the younger dog, who is having trouble understanding how to live with tall two-legged aliens. She gives vent to her confusion with snarls and carpet-knife teeth, so her training has taken on a certain urgency. We are slowly learning how to communicate with each other and how to be less afraid. So, if I'm not reading about aliens, I'm making contact with strange life forms in my own home—making friendships with some, treaties with others, and full-out wars with a few.

Last week, I took my lunch and book out on the patio. White butterflies flitted from dandelions to mustard weeds. A sparrow flew in and out of a hole in the roof, feeding an invisible hoard of peeping chicks. The dogs alternated lying in the sun with lying in the shade, regulating their temperatures like lizards. A hummingbird dive-bombed my head, then perched at the nectar feeder.

In Russell's book, Jesuits upset a delicate balance by teaching an alien species how to garden. I looked at my own garden, always on the edge of an upset itself (cosmos really do reseed everywhere, you know, and let's not mention the reproductive habits of bindweed), and thought about its alien species. First of all are the predators. Every summer at least one praying mantis takes up residence. They stick around long enough to make friends with, turning their classically alien-shaped heads to greet me when I enter their hunting grounds. I like to watch one pulse its body up and down in the sun, then walk gracefully to a new vantage point. The black widows move in for an entire summer, too, but I have yet to make friends with one. They build their formless webs in corners, crevices, and leafy caverns, their carapaces glinting like Darth Vader's mask. Last year one made a nest in the middle of my Sweet 100. It marched towards me whenever I reached my hand inside; my appetite for cherry tomatoes disappeared entirely.

Some of the plants—indeterminate tomatoes, bindweed, green beans—seem more animal than vegetable to me. The tomatoes fling out branches like tentacles, sprout two new ones for every one I cut off (I am trying to train them against the fence to avoid creating appealing Death Star-like habitats for Darth Vader spiders). The bindweed tries to strangle all living things with its death grip. If I listen, I swear I can hear it hiss and chuckle. The beans keep their death grips confined politely to the fence but they grow so fast they almost slither. I speak to them all with great respect, in case they can hear me. I'd hate to offend, then disappear in the strange wilderness of my own backyard.

This is what drew me to science fiction twenty-one years ago. I liked the alien landscapes, the alternate histories and futures. What kept me reading science fiction was the way it made my immediate surroundings alien, too. Everywhere I looked, something familiar turned new and strange. Eventually, I found other kinds of literature which made the world new—poetry most of all—but science fiction did it first. I was a bookworm long before I became a science fiction reader, but science fiction made me into an explorer. These days I make my own wordy explorations by writing poetry and essays, but nothing beats the pleasure of exploring another author's alien landscape. So far, my summer vacation has taken me to some fabulous places.




Christina Socorro Yovovich lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She can be contacted at yovovich@gmail.com. See more of her work in our archives.
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.
Wednesday: HellSans by Ever Dundas 
Thursday: Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052-2072 by M. E. O'Brien and Eman Abdelhadi 
Friday: House of the Dragon Season One 
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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