Size / / /

There is a tree. This tree emits a constant buzzan unwavering electric hum that goes on and on like an aluminum bar. From ten, five, three feet away, you can see nothing unusual about the tree. Nothing that could be making that particular sound. You reach the trunk and stand beneath the tree, peering up through the branches. Nothing. But still the sound. You shift your head half an inch to the left, to see between the leaves. There are no leaves. There are only flies. And they notice you, noticing them. They descend on you. All is black.

When you awake, the tree is gone. The flies are gone. But the buzzing remains.


There is an apple. It may hang over a neighbor's fence, or peek out from behind the other apples in the outdoor display of a produce market. It would not be the apple that it is if you did not encounter it at a moment of acute hunger. It fits perfectly in your hand, and your hand fits perfectly in the pocket of your jacket. When you are safely away from the scene of the crime, you take a bite. It is crisp. Inside the apple there is a hook. A fishhook, which pierces your lip. The hook is attached to a fine cord, which disappears into the earth. At the other end of the cord is an iron wheel, which turns slowly, dragging you with it. When the wheel is at its lowest, you shovel dirt with your bleeding lip. When the wheel is at its highest point, you can almost stand.

It is possible that you will one day manage to remove the hook, but you will need to split your lip in two. For those who know how to read it, a hieroglyph.


There is a book. It does not matter how deeply it is hidden. You find it because you know what you are looking for, and exactly where to look for it. Behind a row of peeling yellow paperbacks on a shelf accessible only by standing on tip-toe at the top of a teetering ladder, you lay your hands on it: the book that contains every answer. The book is lovingly bound in plush leather, the spine is well-worn and the paper soft as grandmother-flesh. You flip to the first page. It is unintelligible. Before the first page there is another page, which contains instructions on the interpretation of the language in which the first page is written. On the pages before that, more instructions. And before that, notes on the culture that created the book, the context you must know if you are to speak the language you have learned, and then the ingenious system which governs the book's index. Nine years pass, and you have mastered the language of the book. You pose your questions, and find the answers lucid and concise. It is your duty, of course, to create a translation, an annotated version of this miraculous text.

And of course, in these nine years you have forgotten any other language you might have known.


There is a man. He stinks of vodka and bad vegetables. You ignore him on the train, even as his watery gaze soaks through your scalp. When you go out to catch the bus he is hanging from the signpost, whistling rusty nails across your ears. You study the tops of your shoes, and try not to inhale. Next he is behind you in line at the grocery store, then he is crouched on a bucket outside the coffee shop. He peers at you from the mouths of alleyways, and the tops of fire escapes. Asked to describe him, you would not be able to; you decided some time ago that ignoring him was the only thing that would make him go away. But you know him by his smell, and the feeling of his gaze. In a crowded movie theater one night you feel it. Instead of ducking, you turn to look him in the face. You are prepared to scream, to charge, to grab him and shake.

But he is not there. He has not been there for a long time.

Cory O'Brien is a writer, primarily of words, but also computer code and faces. He has an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the author of Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology. He retells mythology and his life story at
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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