Thursday, June 7, 2018

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #97

June brings four original stories to Lightspeed Magazine (one novelette and three short stories), many of which deal with oppression and voice. With characters who have survived something, or who are trying to survive something systemic and violent and difficult. Who don’t know how they can keep going, or what their struggles matter in the face of larger tyrannies. And yet each of these stories is hopeful in their own ways, where characters are able to find some way to move forward, to keep going, to stay alive even when everything around them seems to be hungry for their deaths. It’s a fairly difficult and dark set of stories this month, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t very good. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Reiko Murakami
Stories:

“I Sing Against the Silent Sun” by A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffmann (8890 words)

No Spoilers: Li Sin is a poetry and a revolutionary pushing back against the tyranny of the rule of the Sun Lords, and the Gray Sun in particular, who specializes in silence, in making it so that dissent cannot be voiced. Li Sin has suffered much in their struggles, and since being captured and tortured by the Gray Sun Lord five years ago, they have been mostly in hiding, their poetry and song lost to them. The story is violent and often bleak, about the trauma let behind in the wake of brutal suppression of thought and act. The Gray Sun’s terror and true threat comes from silence, from the way that things cannot be voiced, cannot be expressed, and through that how it becomes so difficult even to think about resistance and rebellion. At the same time, it’s a story about hope and the power of words over violence, over injustice. The power of art and song and poetry to give people inspiration to break through the darkness that threatens to overwhelm them.
Keywords: Sentient Ships, Space, Suns, CW- Torture, Poetry, Found Family, Nonbinary MC
Review: This setting isn’t new to me, having read a number of stories set in it before (including I believe the first meeting of Li Sin and Vector which is alluded to in the text). And it’s not exactly a cheery place, a galaxy dominated by these Sun Lords who are cruel and absolute and who rule based on the power of destruction at their command and their willingness to be utterly brutal. At their command is a host of terrifying beings and technology, including angels that live in a space between universes that show up in this story and are absolutely Fuck No. Mostly, though, for me, the story is about voice and about expression in the face of totalitarian, authoritarian regimes. The Gray Sun Lord wants Li Sin silent because they have defied the Sun Lords, has worked tirelessly to spread the words of resistance and defiance. They are a threat, and one that just refuses to be silenced. Though really it’s the Gray Sun Lord that sets this all in motion when Li Sin’s exile isn’t enough to keep them safe anymore. They decide that instead of running, they will face the threat head on, and it’s a tense and wincing read because of how dark and violent things get. Li Sin is a survivor of torture, of abuse, and is put right back in that place, and it’s a difficult and squirmy experience, but also an inspiring one because of how they refuse to give in to their fear, their pain For how they still speak, and speak, in poetry and song, and in so doing they are able to inspire others and find something of a happy ending in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s a read that doesn’t seek to minimize just how difficult it can be to speak, just how harshly it can be met, and yet sees the need to keep on speaking regardless, no matter hopeless it seems. A powerful and fantastic read!

“A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Lighthouse of Quvenle the Seer” by Lina Rather (1560 words)

No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are a 35-year-old woman who has given up a lot to reach a lighthouse on a far off world where Quvenle, a prophetess, waits for supplicants. The story is told in part through a guide to this process. The guide, like the story, is short, and deals mostly with the certainty of uncertainty that surrounds seeking a prophecy, and especially this one. Because Quvenle only sees disasters. Catastrophes. Illnesses and deaths. And the story then takes on a feeling of waiting for bad news. And the conflict within the main character, within you, waiting for that hammer to fall. Having to feel both drawn to and repelled by what it would mean for the prophecy to be something dire. For me, the piece focuses sharply on the weight of grief and loss, and the push and pull of hope and despair, the need for certainty when every plan has fallen apart and a life still young suddenly feels incomplete and without direction.
Keywords: Prophecy, Queer MC, Grief, Catastrophes, Loss
Review: So much of this story comes down to how you, how the main character, is handling a huge loss in their life. They’ve come to this place where people typically get bad news, in part because you want there to be something wrong, something to spare you having to make the decision of what to do next. And I do love that the story really doesn’t offer you that answer. The prophecy, when it comes, is one of happiness, and I love it because in many ways you’re late in coming here. Late because the catastrophe is already done. The loss is already suffered. And having to learn that there’s not more, that for all this huge and painful thing happened, it wasn’t enough to kill you. And so you have to live. And there’s something very real and raw about that, that facing something like that prompts you to want some certainty, to want to know something because this loss has been so huge and came as so much a surprise that it’s broken reality for you. And surviving seems impossible, seems a betrayal, seems empty and lonely. And yet it’s what remains, and after this confirmation there is also a weight lifted. Not of grief. Not of loss. But something has been confirmed. That you will live. That life goes on. That healing is possible, however distant it might seem. And it’s a poignant and moving story and a great read!

“The Quiltbag” by Ashok K. Banker (5120 words)

No Spoilers: Octavia is a traveler, moving from world to world, reality to reality, along with a special bag. Genderfluid, they spend of the story using she pronouns, subject to the scrutiny and tyrannies of the world she’s visiting. In this one, she has been detained for essentially having brown skin, and taken to be interrogated. It’s not a very happy world, where people deemed deviant or “other” are denied basic rights and often killed outright. As an alternate world, it shares a lot of language and history with our own, and this world feels in some ways like a mirror, a look at what Earth could be if it embraced its more unjust elements even a little more. The situation is complicated by how Octavia can communicate with fabric, which is a detail wonderfully drawn and maintained. Octavia travels with her bag, and the two are on a very special mission. A mission that doesn’t come clear until the end of the piece, when things get...interesting. And it offers something of a warning to our own reality, wondering what might happen if we were to be judged based on how we treat the more vulnerable.
Keywords: Nonbinary MC, Fabric, Alternate Dimensions, Judgement, Time Travel
Review: This story deals with a lot of themes of race, gender, and sexuality, and in rather blunt terms. Which is refreshing to see, given how a lot of these kinds of stories are couched through metaphor and allegory. Now, because of that there are some moments where I feel maybe the language wasn’t as careful as it could have been and struck me as a little too general and prescriptive. And the action and themes of the story seemed just a bit extreme to me, a bit absolute, in a discussion that often requires a lot of nuance and complexity. Because Octavia is a reaper of worlds, one who visits and, if finding them too far gone, destroys worlds and realities. Which is a very interesting idea and premise, but one I’m not entirely comfortable with. Because she reaps worlds rather than tries to do anything about “fixing” them. Now, perhaps there’s a discussion to be had about how bad is “too far gone” to be reformed or redeemed. But my personal tastes draw me toward being very hesitant about narratives that make mass murder the answer to any problem. Especially when it’s the murder of “bad guy” and “innocent” alike. The story shows Octavia locked in this cycle of travel and judgement, where not all worlds are taken, but where some are. And it’s interesting because it might make people wonder how we might be judged by an outsider (part of the reason that hospitality customs used to be super important and have gotten...less so in the face of xenophobia, racism, and hate). But to me this story steps into some territory that I’m not comfortable with. The ideas introduced are interesting, though, and Octavia and the bag themselves are pretty great. So I recommend people check this one out for themselves and see how it strikes you.

“From the Root” by Emma Törzs (6670 words)

No Spoilers: Following an (as far as I can tell) unnamed narrator, a regenetrix who is part of a hidden population that can heal from any wound, but that also suffer from a 100% death rate when giving birth, and who are apparently always women. The narrator begins the story selling her teeth to a doctor with a growing reputation. He’s interested in the science of medicine, and part of what allows him to push forward is the tissue of regenetrices, who can grow new organs and myriad other things that make research easier. He also keeps her secret, never revealing her true nature. It’s an arrangement that mostly benefits him, but it also gives her reason to trust him, at least a little bit. Enough to try one of her own theories when the opportunity arises, one that would deprive the doctor of something he wanted while maybe opening up whole new worlds of possibilities for regenetrices everywhere. Steeped in the birth of modern medicine and the deeply ingrained misogyny that surrounded it, the story paints a bleak portrait of what life is like for these women, how much they fear because of what they have to lose. But it’s also something of a triumphant piece, looking at the ways that science and observation can expand human knowledge and truly help people.
Keywords: CW- Rape, CW- Pregnancy, Medicine, Regeneration, Promises, Science!
Review: This story does a lot to expose a lot of the promise and problems of medical science. How it can and has been used to advance knowledge and make many things safer (child birth, for one), but how a lot of that science if caught up in misogyny and gatekeeping. I like here how the narrator is unnamed, not because she’s unimportant but because that’s literally part of the story here, that her name is being kept out of her own discovery. In a nice twist, though, the story also removes the name of the doctor, who was the one so concerned about his fame and reputation. So where he got to claim the narrator’s discovery, the only character named inside the story is Marya, the woman whose labor and child birth led to the breakthrough, proved the theory. Unlike in history where the credit and recognition goes to the doctors, here it went to the person whose life was on the line. And larger than that, the story manages to be rather fun even as it’s dealing with some deep issues inside the society that are leaving this whole population vulnerable. The narrator is clever and quick, though, and her conversations with Marya are interesting and revealing. Here we find that often those who are most effected by medicine are those that should be steering the science of that medicine. Because when it falls to those who care more for their own esteem than for the lives for those involved, things don’t tend to get better very quickly. And it makes for a difficult but very rewarding read, so definitely go and check it out!

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