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Reading Amal El-Mohtar's "Pockets" sent me rushing back to re-read "The Truth About Owls". I read this odd story when it first appeared online in January, and my strongest memory of that reading is an intense respect for the author's craft but also a deep sense of confusion about the story's publication in Strange Horizons. Calling "The Truth About Owls" an SFF story felt tenuous even to me - a reader who loves to see genre boundaries set aflame.

What a difference new reading circumstances can make. Having excised my thoughts on 'real SFF' in my post about Sophia Samatar's "Walkdog", and having recently read Silvia Morento-Garcia's weirdly normal SFF novel Signal to Noise, I approached my second reading of "The Truth About Owls" with much less genre weight on my back. Before, I was mildly in love with this story. Now, I've reached the shouting-from-the-rooftops-let's analyse-this-in-depth stage. I can tell you're all super excited about that.

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The first strange thing Nadia pulled from her pocket was a piece of fudge. It was a perfectly ordinary piece of fudge. But Nadia hated fudge, and couldn’t imagine how she’d come to be carrying it around. She remembered this in particular because it was a bright, cool autumn day and she’d dug into her jacket pocket instinctively, looking for change to leave in a busker’s open violin case, and had come upon the piece of fudge instead. After staring at it awkwardly for a moment, she dropped it into the violin case and hurried away before she could see whether the busker was scowling at her or not.


After reading Amal El-Mohtar's "Pockets" and "The Truth About Owls" back to back I suspect I'm going to spend June cramming all of her work into my eyes. Although very different in tone, both of these stories appealed to me for similar reasons. Both display a concentration on the pace and flow within individual paragraphs, show off El-Mohtar's sharp eye for detail, and manage to hit my feels by leveraging just the right amount of melancholy optimism. If loving "The Feels" is wrong I don't want to be right (also it's not wrong).

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