Rarely do I find an issue of Lightspeed Magazine as thematically linked as I do with this month's original fiction. The stories are mostly about cycles, about progress, about comfort and change and perspective. The stories are also about stories, about the narratives we use to change the world and the narratives we tell about the world that keep us stuck in destructive patterns. There are AI and science summer camps and gods and stones. The issue shows a hunger for change, and many different ways that it can be achieved. It's a compelling collection of stories that I'm going to get to reviewing!
|Art by Galen Dara|
"The One Who Isn't" by Ted Kosmatka (4460 words)
This story is to me about betrayals and cycles and regret. Being stuck not necessarily because of rage or hate but because of love and loneliness. It's about stories to me, too, and shaping a story that makes sense of the world. The action follows a boy and a woman in a strange room. The woman tells stories and the boy listens and tries to remember. And the stories inform on his development and on his mind. He grows and changes. But there is a sense of slow decay and being trapped. Cycles of death recur here, over and over, and with the boy and the woman there is the feeling to me of the inevitable. But I like that it's also a story about hope and about regret. That the characters are stuck because of death and betrayals, because of loneliness and the inability to handle that, to move on from that. And it costs everything. This is not a happy story, even with the glimmer of hope, the chance that maybe, some day, there will be a perfect story to tell that will allow the characters to move on, to escape the labyrinth they've built around themselves. [SPOILERS] And I think it's very interesting that the story shows them to be AI, to be essentially immortal, and to show that because they are AI they are trapped, trapped by the inability to adapt to new thoughts, to new ideas and narratives. There's something human about this, the way that they get caught in a pattern, in this abusive cycle. With the characters being AI, though, the story to me implies that there is more hope for people, for humans, that we have to take hold of the idea that we can adapt, that we can change, and then try to avoid passing along the trauma, try to break the cycle of abuse. It's an interesting and touching story and certainly worth spending some time with!
"5x5" by Jilly Dreadful (3850 words)
Aww. Well this is a rather sweet story about science and about budding romance, about difference and how it's okay to be different, even within a relationship. The two main characters, Fox and (thanks to a nickname) Scully, find each other while at science summer camp and become friends. And perhaps something more than that, too, as they help each other with their science projects, as they spend time with each other, escaping their comfort zones. I like the somewhat frank discussion on Scully's part about what works for her and what doesn't, how she's not going to change for a relationship and how she's likely never going to be as effusive as Fox. Asexuality or demisexuality is never really brought up, but I read a somewhat strong vein of that in the story, that we have here a relationship that's strong and intimate but that is obviously slightly different for the two people. And I think that it's a kind of relationship that can and does often work, which isn't often talked about too much, that people can have very different drives and goals and still enter into successful relationships with each other. Successful to mean meaningful and rewarding. And it's just a rather fun story that involves psychic ice cream and is told as a series of letters, which is a fun framing technique and a good way to build a relationship between people who begin as strangers. It creates a vibrant picture of the people and their feelings. Another great story!
"Magnifica Angelica Superable" by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (2740 words)
This is a strange story about change and empowerment and happiness, about making a better world and not being content with incremental progress. It's a story that revolves around a god, the titular Magnifica Angelica, as she sets about changing things. Refusing to believe that she can't do a thing or shouldn't do a thing that could help people. That would make the world a better place to live in. She visits just one woman at first, caught in a relationship that doesn't suit her, that has buried a formerly bright soul beneath the shadow of a man's name. She is awakened, and in that state she decides to stop holding herself back. She takes hold of a dream and doesn't let go. It's a moment of power and excitement and I love that, despite the fear and the entitlement about it, her husband finds that he likes it more. The story comes to be about progress, and especially about progress in marriage and in women's right. A move toward equality that the story admits isn't over, still requires a lot more work, but is worth doing and, more, is possible. That there is no boundary that people can't defy for making things better. That all it takes is a refusal to be complacent, a refusal to remain asleep. It's a story with a nice sense of humor but a powerful feel to it. A fine read!
"Some Pebbles in the Palm" by Kenneth Schneyer (2790 words)
I'm not entirely sure what to think about this story. In some ways I don't trust my reading of it yet, but as I'm sort of crunched for time, I must push on. To me, this story is about stories, about change, and about cycles. It feels in some ways rather pessimistic in that things are positioned so that things don't really change, that a man gets reborn over and over again, each time a sort of privileged liberal, and doesn't really do much with his life. Doesn't have an impact. And so in some ways the story is about trying, and about the value of trying to make the world a better place. By showing that change isn't achieved through this sort of privileged patronage of change but rather requires more drastic effort and action. By reminding the reader that they only have one life and shouldn't squander it, shouldn't look back in regret. It pairs nicely with "The One Who Isn't" because it brings up cycles and stories. The man, reborn again and again, feels bad and does something about it, but not so much as to jeopardize himself. Which happens all the time. But the story also somewhat imagines history as a null game. That any progress made fizzles out. That things are not really any better now than in the past. And in some ways maybe that's true. We've certainly fucked up the environment. But I hesitate to say that we as people have not progressed. And I hesitate to agree with the idea that "Only you are real." But maybe that has more to do with my weird objective vs. subjective reality ideas. Still, it's an interesting story that offers another angle on the themes the issue as a whole seems to be playing with. About cycles and change and progress. About worth. It's a nice way to round out the issue.