Friday, April 5, 2019

What Cradles Us But Will Not Set Us Free, by Nin Harris

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[Strange Horizons]
★★★☆☆ Average

(Horror) Kamala remembers growing up in this house, but she’s not sure why she’s there now or what happened to the other people she remembers. Or why her new boyfriend sometimes turns into a crocodile. (5,975 words; Time: 19m)

"," by (edited by Vanessa Rose Phin), appeared in issue 04/01/19, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.201 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The point of the story is figuring out what Kamala is, what happened to her, and what’s she’s going to do now. It’s obvious from the very beginning that she’s not entirely human (the text says so in so many words), but it takes a while for the full extent of her problem to become clear.

Once we learn it, it’s pretty horrifying (although, as Jacinta points out, it could be a lot worse). Kamala got rid of her ex-lover (and would-be blackmailer) Winston, but she has paid a very high price for it, losing her children and the life she used to lead.

In Malaysian folklore, a Pontianak is the spirit of a woman who died while pregnant and a Penanggalan (what Kamala has become) is sort of like a vampire, but it's a flying female head with entrails hanging from it.

I got a kick out of the fact a Penanggalan has to clean her entrails regularly or be looked down on by other monsters for her poor hygiene. It was also amusing that Whatsapp works in this corner of the spirit world.

Con: The biggest problem with this story is that it takes too long to get going. Once it does, it doesn’t seem to know when to stop. There’s zero tension once the kids are out of the house, and the paragraphs after that just drag. At the end, the whole thing feels unfinished.

A separate problem is that Kamala has very little agency in the story; other people do almost all the work.

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