Thursday, January 3, 2019

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #104

Art by Reiko Murakami
A new year brings some familiar faces to Lightspeed Magazine, including two new stories from larger works that have appeared before at the publication. More than that, though, the stories have a certain focus on them, of growth and cycles and family. Of people in situations where they are questioning the givens in their lives—the rules and the goals that they’ve always thought they were working towards. For some of them, this moment of crisis and examination causes their outlooks and their motivations to crack. For others, though, it allows them to remember what they are doing and why they are doing it. The stories look at cycles, at the ways that people fall into patterns of harm and isolation, and how they can seek to break through that and forge into uncharted territory, toward a future made better by their efforts. To the reviews!

Stories:

“With Teeth Unmake the Sun” by A. Merc Rustad (8340 words)

No Spoilers: First Wolf is also the last wolf after the Thousand-Star-Eyed Wolf devoured the shadows of all the others, a crime for which they were banished to an eternity of torment. The Thousand-Star-Eyed Wolf escaped, though, and now wages a war against the Seven Suns, the lords of the Principality. In that war, Wolf is their greatest weapon. And Wolf just wants to be reunited with the rest of his pack, with the rest of the wolves. It’s that which drives her on her destructive quest—the hope of not being alone any more. But their loyalty and their love is tested when the Thousand-Star-Eyed Wolf picks a new target, and things veer from the careful plan Wolf expects. It’s a wrenching read, expanding further the universe that the author has mapped in other works as well. Here we finally see the war that has weakened the Suns, and the figures at the heart of the conflict.
Keywords: Non-binary MC, Space, War, Hunger, Betrayal, Wolves
Review: There is a lot about hunger in this story, and pain. And those two things are linked early and often in the narrative, where again and again Wolf is asked to eat, and eat, and yet never receives anything like satisfaction from it. He’s never full. She’s never finished. It’s what makes her a good weapon, that hunger, and yet it also shields them from looking deeper than the hunger inside of them. The hunger to be whole again, and reunited with their pack. And so he does some terrible things, all the while being strung along, led by his nose and a sense of loyalty born from desperation. And it’s a tragedy that unfolds, in the rather classic sense, where each character is doomed by their loyalties, by their hungers and their deeds. They act, and wage war for what they think are good reasons, but in the end the reasons pale in the face of the harm they do, which takes on a sort of gravity that pulls them all down. That turns their hungers to ash. That leaves them hollow and empty. And I love that Wolf, in the end, has to decide what to do, where to go. How he might fill himself back up, not with the violence and destruction of before but with something else. Something more tender and more fragile and more beautiful. Knowing that the past is not settled, knowing that it all might flare up again, but at that moment at least, sated. It’s a haunting and dark piece, and a great read!

“Midway” by Tony Ballantyne (4840 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a traveler, a human man pushing the boundaries of human exploration. He’s not alone in this, really, but because of how many worlds there are, and how long he’s been doing this, he hasn’t seen another human in over a decade. And now, fifty years old, he’s facing a crisis. Should he keep going, trading the cultural heritage of Earth for credits enough to keep going, or should he turn back, and try to return to Earth in time to die. It’s a question he’s wrestling with when he hears about something he can’t pass up—another human in his part of space. The piece is quiet and examines what it means to commit to something, and how doubt and fear and exhaustion work. It really does seem to look at the place of being halfway through life and not being sure if you’ve made the “right” choice, and how deep and shallow that anxiety can be.
Keywords: Travel, Midlife Crises, Aliens, Space, Sex
Review: I like how this story looks at space, and exploration, and energy. It finds the narrator headed out into the unknown but rather unsure of himself. Because he doesn’t know if he’s made a difference. Because he doesn’t know if he’s happy. Because he’s let the doubt of what he might have done differently get in the way of knowing himself. And I like what the piece does with that, taking him to a place where he can better introspect and ground himself and hear a voice that might not be his own. And I like that the story shows that his choice isn’t really about whether what he’s doing “matters.” It’s about things getting hard, and wanting perhaps to believe that there’s a redo button. To put off the advance of age, to give him that renewed feeling of newness. Except that newness continues to be all around him, forward much more than backwards. And though it’s not exactly an action-packed read, I like the slower pace of it, the way that he circles in on himself and confronts his own doubts before finding the energy, the re-invigoration, to keep going. It’s a fun piece, showing the importance of following through on your dreams and not jumping ship at the first sign of bad weather. A fine read!

“Son of Water and Fire” by Ashok K. Banker (9090 words)

No Spoilers: Dipping back into the setting of gods and mortals, this piece continues the story of Sha’ant, who last time had been separated from his wife, the river Beel, and their child, the only one to survive the first year of life. Except that as the story opens the focus of the narrative has shifted, from father to son—to Vrath, who is a young boy on the cusp of change, having spent his early years as prince of the river, going where he pleased and making friends of fish and other river dwellers. The story follows his progress, his transition from carefree boy into a new stage of his life, under the care and tutelage of Coldheart Mountain. It’s a rather quick tale, for all that it’s a novelette, because it covers a lot of ground, bringing Vrath to where he needs to be in order to enter a whole new world.
Keywords: Rivers, Growing Up, Family, Knowledge, Gods
Reviews: This piece does a nice job of introducing Vrath, with his youth and his enthusiasm. He’s not exactly naive, but he has been sheltered in fairly profound ways his entire life. He’s a child, and yet he’s powerful, and so he’s not really used to dealing with that. I like the energy of the story, and the wonder of it, even as I’m not sure I would have understood as much if I hadn’t read the first part. But I do like what the series is doing, building up this fantastic realm full of gods and family, a mythological tale that sets Vrath up as a future hero, one who will do great deeds and help to shape the world. Even so, there’s an element of darkness as well, stemming from the power being used here, by the cold regard with which Vrath is taken in hand to educate, and the powers he seems almost mindless of, that his father is baffled by. It marks something of a turn, too, for while Sha’ant is in the story, and gets to finally meet his son and usher him into the mortal human world, the focus is not on him any longer. The series feels generational, and now that Vrath has arrived it seems like it will be more about him, his journeys and adventures, his victories and mistakes. This part feels a bit more transitional, moving Vrath to where he needs to be, and in that it works well. I’m excited to see where the series will go next. Indeed!

“Endor House” by Meg Elison (2140 words)

No Spoilers: Framed as a profile for a popular magazine about magic, this story follows the life of Hermes Maleficarum, the heir and now head of Endor House, the multiverse’s biggest publishing house of magical books. It’s a story that skips in time as the interviewer, Cassandra, follows Hermes from early adulthood onward, stopping in with him in the stages of his life. As much as it’s a profile of Hermes, though, it’s also a look at generational change and cycles, Hermes’ reactions to his own father and, in turn, the direction that his son seems to take. The piece captures a great feeling of difference, of what’s progressive slowly becoming its own kind of conservative, and what it takes to stay innovative and forward looking. It’s a fun, quick read with a wonderful style and charming voice.
Keywords: Magic, Publishing, Multiple Universes, Family, Generations
Review: I love the way this story meshes styles, building up a profile of a publisher and magic-person and showing...not the ways that people become their parents, but rather the ways that innovation can become cyclic, where people pushing hardest for change can become those resisting it most when their vision has been realized and it becomes obvious that for all they got right, they also have room to improve. And I like how the piece skips in time, blending magic and time travel and fathers and sons. Showing how Hermes is so certain of his father’s mistakes that he throws himself at expanding, at changing what his business does and how it does it. And how in many ways he’s right. But he’s right in the sense that getting lost in what works, what increasing his own power and prestige, is a narrow way to move forward. And the more he gets invested in his theories, in that narrower path, the more he becomes exactly like those he pushed so hard against when he was young. His own father, namely. And how what he’s doing, how he’s recreating these same old structures and cycles, becomes clear when looked at over time. When the details of his theories aren’t the focus, but rather how those theories manifest, and how they shape his business and his relationship with his son. It’s a process that doesn’t really circle back to the start, but rather cycles forward, a wheel of progress built on missed connections and familial frustration. That in some ways is a tragedy, because of how what these men often want is recognition and love, and instead alienate themselves, and their children, on and on. A fun and complex read that you should definitely check out!

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