Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Polar Borealis #22 (2022)

Polar Borealis, ed. R. Graeme Cameron. Issue #22, July 2022. Free online at polarborealis.ca.

Reviewed by Storm Blakely

The 22nd issue of Polar Borealis, a publication I was, until now, unfamiliar with, opens with an editorial, musing on how far this Aurora-award winning publication has come in the six-plus years since its inception. Read all over the world, nominated for and winning awards, a paying market for Canadian writers and artists, while still acknowledging how challenging the industry can be. Overall, it’s cheerful and optimistic; hopeful, with an eye on the future.

Maybe it’s that I’ve been thinking a lot about humanity these days, how we deal with the things we’re facing, how we react in the darkest times, but I found this hope, this looking towards the future and a sense of cautious optimism in varying forms and to varying ends, woven throughout this issue. From the aforementioned editorial steeped strongly in hope, through the sixteen works therein, poems and stories of differing length alternating. Some were bittersweet and others very much not, some lighthearted while others had a more sombre tone, but hope and their siblings, optimism and curiosity, are visible throughout.

Lena Ng’s “The Midnight Library” showed us, with beautifully evocative prose, a driving determination for answers even in the face of madness. Seeking answers is an expression of hope; trying to understand something in hopes that it allows us to change things is about as human as it gets. It won’t always save us, and it’s not always enough, but the very act of trying to change things, to change the future, is hopeful.

In hope, as in all things, there are consequences. At times in this issue, we are reminded that hope can’t always be trusted, as in Neile Graham’s “October Birds,” which begins beautiful and hopeful, before a twist in the middle which took me by surprise. Sometimes hope is an illusion, something we cling to to keep from admitting to ourselves that things have gone awry, that what we fear most has already come to pass.

Exploration and new worlds, the joys of sci-fi, all of that embodies hope, to me. New worlds to explore, pushing past our horizons, learning new things, is the purpose of being, of having sentience. Lisa Timpf’s “What Awaits” made me chuckle with an oddly familiar glimpse of a new world, while Sheryl Normandeau’s “The Herald” contemplated what constitutes life, and our hopes for the future of our species if things continue as they have been.

I can’t forget that there are always dangers in expansion, as we see in Don Miasek’s dark future “Bolt for Brains.” But even there, the small hopes and fears of a young child struggling to understand his world, confused and afraid of what his mother does to try and keep him safe as best she knows how, matter so very much, and it is an injustice that they are too often overlooked or dismissed.

In Frances Skene’s “Paths,” I was reminded that even when things seem dark, we find things to look forward to, to hope for; that stubborn determination in the face of adversity is very human, and those small hopes make life worth living. Losing those small hopes, the curiosity that keeps us looking towards the next day, and the one after that, would be an immense tragedy, as Lisa Cai shows us in “The Inspector of Moons.” If we lose our passion, our curiosity, our hope, our lives become so much less as a result, all joy and meaning washed away into the grey void of apathy.

This last is especially important in the world we face today, when so many of us are feeling ground down by an ongoing pandemic those in power are ignoring, rising rates of inequality, and the looming specter of the climate crisis coming fast. It’s far too easy these days to fall into despair and doom, to lose empathy for others, to give up hope. This issue of Polar Borealis explores that concept well; from solutions to zombies, to the horrifying reality of being frozen in time; from monster-hunting in paradise to doomed spirits reaching out; from witches and wishes to the questions asked at the end of all things.

A handful of typos, the odd overdone trope, and a bit of clunkiness aside, I did enjoy reading this issue, and I think there’s likely at least one piece for everyone behind the cover, even if others might not be to our taste, which was the case with me. Just because something isn’t to my taste doesn’t mean it’s bad, or might not be perfect for someone else. I recommend giving Polar Borealis a try; I’m glad I did, and will certainly be keeping an eye on it going forward.

1 comment:

Steve Fahnestalk said...

As the proofreader, I'd like to see where the typos are that I missed. If you can, send me the info at stevefah@hotmail.com.
Thanks!