The September issue of Lightspeed Magazine is all about crime and punishment. About people running from their pasts, running from authority, running from justice or injustice alike. In each of the stories there is a looming threat of some sanction. Police officers trying to maintain a status quo or a corrupt government trying to quash transparency or some nebulous force urging surrender or an actual crocodile waiting for the right moment to… These are stories that complicate crime and resistance, activism and revolution. And though they are unified by their focus on characters running from pursuit, from punishment, they show very different motivations and outcomes. So, without further dithering, to the reviews!
|Art by Reiko Murakami|
"The Lives of Riley" by Sean Willaims (1720 words)
This rather short and tense story chronicles the, well, the lives of Riley, as the title indicates, a man living in multiplicity, as seventeen different people. Using technology that seems designed to allow instantaneous travel, Riley has copied himself, something that apparently runs afoul of the Peace Keepers, who are intent on shutting down his operation. Showing Riley on the run, the story moves at a nice clip and delves into his motivations, his vision of his own specialness. The voice of the story is crisp and to me walks a fine line between idealistic and unpleasantly arrogant, the story showing a person who is completely okay with multiples of himself, who prefers that to interacting with others, who resents the government for trying to prevent his infractions. He's a man with a plan that doesn't seem on the up and up, and the voice keeps the story flowing while also not really apologizing for the character's attitudes. And I rather like how the story complicates the narrative, how [SPOILERS] Riley is betrayed and not betrayed, how he views an act of sacrifice and care as some failure in his copies. As I read it, at least, they die for him, loyal to him, and yet as he views them they are corrupted, different. They stand apart from him, urging him to escape, and that difference he finds repellent, even as it saves him. That he would not die for them, that he still views himself as different and superior, becomes clear, and as such he doesn't learn his lesson, will just start over again and, more like than not, will make the same mistakes. It's an interesting read and rather fun story!
"Unauthorized Access" by An Owomoyela (10,700 words)
This is a rather fun story about activism and bureaucracy and corruption, all wrapped in a warm cyberpunk blanket and served in such a way that despite being the longest original story of the issue it reads fast and easy. It focuses on Aedo Liang, recently released from a relatively short stint in prison following some hacking/whistleblowing she did on the Energy Department. The world is a vibrant and rather different New York, filled with solar collectors and data and big government but also a grittier side, an Undercity that Aedo fears to tread and a whole lot in between. And I love Aedo as a character, trying to do the right thing while continually finding herself in the right place at the right time to do something. To take action. It's almost accidental, her activism, as she is much more interested in just being, just living and not being harassed. And yet because she found some government documents she spent time in prison and because of that she's pulled into something much larger. Something that doesn't even get completely unraveled in this story. And truth be told this has the feeling of being a part of a larger narrative. Aedo might uncover one piece of the puzzle here, and definitely sets herself on a dangerous path, but there isn't much progress along it. What's here, though, is great, is fun, is dense with layered critiques of government accountability and transparency, of how governments try to bully their way through things and how cultures treat technology. It's a tense and rather thrilling ride at times, and I would be excited to see if there's more to come from this world and these character. A great story!
"See the Unseeable, Know the Unknowable" by Maria Dahvana Headley (4995 words)
This is a strange story about running away, about circuses or carnivals, about a woman with a new name living on the edge of the woods with her cat, looking up at the sky with a hatred of the Earth. And it's a story that's heavy on style and a little light on answers, drawing mystery atop mystery, show atop show. The imagery is strong and strange, weird and wondrous, a mix of classic carnival and more modern trappings. The woman, Wren (though she has had a different name until recently), has run from something violent and catastrophic, something for which she is wanted. A murder most likely but the details are lost in the haze of this strange situation, the feel that the circus is coming to a town that doesn't want it, that wants things neat and tidy and in such a place Wren doesn't fit. [SPOILERS] And to me the story evolves into something about escape, about rising, about the narrator of the story revealing that their magic is perhaps technology, or their technology is perhaps magic, that they are interested in stories and escape. That they are in some ways like the audience, like the reader, watching Wren from above and waiting, seeing what will happen, imbuing her with significance and weight. And, ultimately, reaching down and lifting her out of that town, that torment, reimagining her as something else. The story is something of a cipher, a mystery, a darkness onto which the reader must project something, must find some meaning that might be as nebulous as the mist but might be something deeper, darker, and more luminous. It's an interesting piece and while I'm not completely sure I entirely get it, it's definitely worth sitting down with and reading closely. A fascinating story!
"Crocodile Tears" by Jaymee Goh (1910 words)
This is a story about sin and about punishment and about family and class and love. The story follows a crocodile as it seeks out a man, Si Tenggang, for to tell him a story. Si Tenggang is a powerful man, successful and comfortable, and yet his origins are much more modest, from a small village and a small home and a mother who only had him in all the world. And I love how this story uses stories, how the crocodile reveals itself though Si Tenggang doesn't seem to recognize what's going on until it's too late. This is a parable of sorts, a moral tale, and a nested story too, where the crocodile is telling a story within the story that turns out to be true and ominous. And like a good parable it unfolds around a central sin and an examination of what that sin entails. Here it is turning your back on family, is arrogance and forgetting where you come from. It's about rejecting the small acts of kindness that make the world a better place and instead caring only for the large, for the flashy. Si Tenggang is faithless, governed by his greed and his need for attention and advancement, and in that pursuit he forgets those who cared for him, and in forgetting earned a visit from his own past that he tried to bury. It's an elegant story with a fine sense of magic, a fairy tale about a crocodile who turned out to be more human than the human, and who becomes the looming justice that has been denied. It's an interesting story and definitely worth checking out. A great way to close out the issue!