Size / / /

1.
The monster has no heart.

Mary has two.
There is the one she keeps in her bureau 
wrapped up in silk and parchment,
burnt about the edges and stinking of salt.
 
It is the heart of the man who was her lover
 
and it is less damaged than the heart inside her chest.
That is a mangled and un-pretty thing,
but she takes it out of her chest
sits it beside the other:
 
two hearts on a writing desk.
The vibrations send the papers flying.
 
The hearts are both shrivelled and blackening but hers
is about to bite and his just slumps there,
as though all its work was done in drowning.
There is no question which is the stronger.
 
Mary takes her own strong heart and puts it back
into the cavity behind her ribs.
The monster has to be loved, and with that leaking scrap
sitting in a silver box inside the monster’s chest
she will be able to love it.
 
(If she gave it her own heart it would rip her to pieces.)
 
(If she took his heart for her own,
grief would catch at her like undertow,
yank her down into deep water.)

2.
The monster has no foresight.
 
Mary doesn’t have much either
but the monster is one of her creations
and she would like to do better for it than herself.
 
She smashes a glass and collects the fragments,
picks shards out of her palms
until they’re wet with blood and then she shapes the little pieces,
paints them with red and silver on one side only
and she has her mirrors.
 
These she pastes to the monster’s fingers for nails
so that it can see its face
(when it has a face)
in everything as it creates.
But the monster is a baby still and sucks its fists
buries its thumbs in the blank crevasse of mouth
and all the nails come off.
 
Mary breaks more glasses, paints more mirrors
and this time before she pastes them
she doesn’t round off the edges.
 
When the monster sucks its thumbs its blood runs black as engine oil.
It learns not to suck anymore.
 
Mary’s face is reflected ten times, and harshly. 
 
3.
The monster has no history.
 
Mary papers the inside of its skull with dreams of her mother,
with vindications of a life that she herself cut short.
She impregnates it with rights
and the monster comes to believe that it has them.
 
"Of course you do," says Mary 
but when it comes time to take the monster out
(to display it)
she pretends it has been made by somebody else,
lets it stumble about blindly
searching for the mother that abandoned it
until everyone has gone home and she is left with
the reminders of her imperfections.
 
"You are just a copy," she says, mocking.
"Poor copy."

4.
The monster has no will.
 
Mary fills it with mice.
She can hear the squeaks
and the monster vibrates with their movement,
with the scampering under skin and the appearance of vitality.
 
The little bodies run through hollow bones
and get lost there.
 
They die one by one.
Nothing Mary does can keep them alive.
 
(The monster scratches at itself with mirrored fingers
until it finds mouse tails and pulls the bodies free,
buries them quietly in unmarked graves.)
 
5.
The monster has no children.
 
Mary has had four children, and her life ends with theirs.
She takes pieces of them
(locks of hair and teeth and little balls)
sews them up nicely and makes the monster watch
as she scrapes away its genitals,
leaves it smooth and mute below the waist
 
because if there are no grandchildren for her
there will be none for it either.
 
She gouges out its abdomen
and leaves the little sewed sack there,
packs it in with clay and surrounds it with batteries
so that the whole will light up with interference
and with absence.
 
6.
The monster has no face.
 
It is bald as eggs.
When Mary sings to it there is no ripple of response
and no expression in it.
 
The face she would like best for it
has been eaten off by fishes and burnt in iron.
She could recreate it, she thinks, in parts
but she has already used those parts,
and for others.
 
She did not think ahead, and all her mirrors are broken. 
 
Mary writes a face upon the monster instead,
substitutes words for flesh.
She puts Arctic in the eye-sockets
and Alps along the cheekbones.
She writes Geneva on its forehead,
and the lips are made from electricity and the death of young women.
 
The pressure of the quill leaves scars
that ink and imagination will not cover up,
and when the monster opens cold white eyes
to see the poor reflection of its face
it finds little comfort there.
 
The comfort is in Mary’s face:
the face of vanished bloodlines
and children who murder their mothers at birth.
 
These are things that will be familiar, thinks the monster.
In its chest, the little salt heart remembers
what it was like to love.
 
(The monster sees Mary’s face, and covets.)
 
7.
The monster takes Mary’s face and wears it.
 
The monster takes Mary’s womb and bears it.
 
The monster takes Mary’s will and buries it.
 
The monster takes Mary’s past and carries it.
 
The monster takes Mary’s future and meets it.
 
The monster takes Mary’s heart and eats it.
Welcome home, heart, it says.
You should not have locked yourself so far away.
 
When it goes out into the world, no one can tell the difference.




Octavia Cade is a New Zealand writer. She’s sold close to fifty short stories to various markets, and several novellas, two poetry collections, an essay collection, and a climate fiction novel are also available. She attended Clarion West 2016 and was the Massey University writer-in-residence for 2020.
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.
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By: RiverFlow
Translated by: Emily Jin
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