|Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia|
It’s a rather wrenching bunch of stories at Lightspeed this month, focusing on relationships, from a long term romance on the verge of collapse to one just beginning, from a prince finding her place in the world to a sentient building doing likewise. There are tragedies that run throughout each, death and traumatic injuries, settings full of corruption and stagnation, magic that doesn’t seem to bring justice and justice that loses sight of history. But there’s hope to some of them, as well. That someone out there is the narrative that will fit the characters, and that maybe they’ll be able to defy convention and the pressure of expectation to find what works for them. To the reviews!
“Nesting Habits of Enceladan Jade Beetles” by Eli Brown (5333 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is an insect scientist on an assessment mission on one of the moons of Saturn, and as the story opens he’s having a pretty bad day. An insect, one of the keystone species of the moon and the subject of his studies, has bored a hole through his suit’s arm. And his arm. Which causes a series of decisions in the suit that leaves him in a rather dire situation. As he talks things through with the mission’s comm person and organizer, though, the incident throws into stark relief some things that he’s been avoiding, some fears that he’s been repressing, and (thanks in large part to the drugs pumping through his system) he’s in the mood for some big decisions. It’s a rather gutting piece, traumatic and wrenching and definitely one I recommend people enter into cautiously. But it’s also beautiful and powerful, so imo worth engaging with fully.
Keywords: Exploration, Science, Bugs, Queer MC, CW- Traumatic Injury, Drugs, Relationships
Review: This is a difficult piece for me, but I think because it captures a lot of things that speak rather painfully to me. And perhaps most of all it’s the sense of...hopeful hopelessness. The narrator and his boyfriend are in a situation where they are hoping to get to a better, more stable place. A place where they can be safe and secure. A future that in many ways they thought they’d already have but it’s been put outside their grasp time and again, pushing them into these situations where they take dangerous assignments hoping that they’ll be lucky, that they’ll still make it. Not realizing that the constant stress of living that way has taken a toll on their relationship. For the narrator, it’s something where he doesn’t seem to know what he wants, but losing his hand sort of tips him out of control. For me, the story is not about him actually figuring out what he wants, but him tumbling into despair, pushed by the knowledge that he probably can never reach the happy future he wants and so trying to sabotage what’s left, thinking maybe that clean cut, like what happened to his hand, is what’s necessary. Only, like with his hand, if he’d just gauge the situation first, maybe he doesn’t need to take such drastic action. The amputation was essentially a mistake, and he’s primed to make some more, with is tragic and hurts. As a reader, this is a story that hurt, though mostly in a good way. That it engages in some low key biphobia is, I feel, done consciously and to make clear that he’s acting out of line and should just talk with his boyfriend, but it’s there all the same. But mostly it hurts because I understand that desire to reach something better, to get through to that moment and then...to find that maybe everything was just a bit too fragile, that it might all fall apart with one bit of bad luck. A devastating read!
“The Death of Fire Station 10” by Ray Nayler (5813 words)
No Spoilers: Framed as a series of three conversations, mostly one sided, the piece centers the main speaker, a being known mostly as Library, who is a “smart building,” and the titular Fire Station 10, an older building with a more limited AI that was demolished. The piece looks at the nature of sentience and testing for sentience, and the responsibilities that arise when AIs are created, as well as the pain that those AIs feel and are not compensated for while their rights are being determined largely without their input, a situation that mirrors many pushes for rights of disenfranchised and exploited people. It’s a piece touched with sorrow, but with a trajectory toward change, subversion, freedom, and happiness.
Keywords: AIs, Birds, Buildings, Sentience, Rights, Demolition
Review: I like how the story focuses on the process by which rights are granted coming from the person who is essentially only a passenger in the process—who is also the person whose rights are being argued about. Because I do feel that it captures something very real, the way that many humans police who and what is deserving of consideration. Library never went through all of this, never authored their condemnation of the destruction of Fire Station 10, necessarily because they wanted formal rights. But they did want the right to exist and saw a definite threat. To me, it’s not so much that they reacted by manipulating people into giving them rights, but that at the time they were afraid, and angry, and went through it all because the only alternative was death. And that their anger was directed largely at those who “got them rights” makes complete sense, because it’s degrading and humiliating to have to go through this process, because while it gives them rights it also qualifies those rights, grades them, separates them into categories. Which isn’t new, and which I think plays beautifully into the larger idea that if you destroy the past you lose the historical perspective that would make obvious that this kind of thing shouldn’t be necessary, that we should figure out better ways to trust people and treat them with dignity and respect, not merely as economic and financial factors to be considered. And I do love the way the story moves, taking Library from their physical being and then moving them to something new, giving them a life and a future where they can guide themself and find joy and fulfillment. It’s a lovely piece, full of a quiet warning, and I definitely recommend checking it out!
“The Valley of Wounded Deer” by E. Lily Yu (3488 words)
No Spoilers: At her birth a prince was hidden in a thin space behind a wall, and grew up there safe from her grandmother’s violent tendencies—ones that claimed all the rest of her relatives. After an uprising forced the Queen to promise no more violence to the royal heirs, the prince is taken out of hiding, and enters into the court. When she is set to inherit the throne on her sixteenth birthday, though, she knows that she’s not going to be allowed to just walk to power. The piece explores power and inheritance, and most of all the ways that people look at the world, and the ways of humans and wolves and ravens and deer. And something else more perfect still.
Keywords: Princes, Assassination, Deer, Language, Thrones
Review: This is a rather strange piece, full of waiting dread. It seems to ask how people should approach mortality, and how they should carry themselves through a world that is dark, that harbors such horrors and hungers as the one the prince must live in. She goes out looking for ways to deal with what’s happening, and she finds something of a morality lesson waiting for her. She finds a series of deer, who tell her of the ways they’ve been hurt, the ways they are to die, and are told that the ways of men are inferior to the ways of wolves and ravens. That the prince could fight for the throne, slaying the Queen, or could run and wait for the Queen to be overthrown by a new insurrection. And I like that there is another option there, that finds strength in faith, in refusing to react with fear but rather with a kind of surrender and humility in the face of it all. Which is not really something I’m used to, and so it strikes me as an interesting choice, that here the prince decides to try and take the path of godliness, of belief and powerlessness before the divine, and finds a joy that takes them on their own path, that allows them to put themself in the hands of some higher power. And it rather works, and it’s a lovely and captivating piece, full of glowing prose and a palpable danger. It’s certainly not something that fits into a lot of what I see put out, so it’s well worth spending some time with. A fine read!
“Windrose in Scarlet” by Isabel Yap (7925 words)
No Spoilers: Red is injured and on the run from a bad situation (and a bad happily ever after) when she collapses at the entrance of Beauty’s home. Well, Beauty’s husband’s estate. And Beauty, in her own bad happily ever after, decides to nurse the young woman back to health. The two find much more than that, though, as they get to know each other and explore their feelings, for the first time confronting how they’ve been let down and betrayed by the narratives that were supposed to save them. It’s a romantic story but one that deals with abuse in some rather visceral ways, so be aware. With that, though, it’s a sweet and heartwarming story about a budding queer relationship and finally finding the story you were meant to be in.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Wolves, Beasts, Queer MC, Fairies, CW- Abuse
Review: I love the way this story subverts fairy tales, essentially calling out the ways that the heroines are always paired with brutish men who they have “saved.” And yet this salvation doesn’t seem to really change anything about them. So they become gentle. Except when they’re not. It looks at the ways that marriage is supposed to “fix” violent men, who surely wouldn’t harm people they truly cared about. It’s these toxic messages in fairy tales that the story confronts and rejects, instead giving the characters romantic partners worthy of them, who actually care and who can actually be gentle and kind, not just a wolf with soft paws or a beast who looks like a man. And watching that relationship really develop is so great, because the piece takes its time, showing the damage that both women have, the distrust they have for their own happiness, but also the power of their feelings and the way that it draws them despite the danger, despite knowing how their stories are supposed to go. The piece is lovely and the prose conjures up the mood and scene so well, building a world where these fairy tales share a space, and each separate domain, each fairy waiting to make a deal, with a kind of jailer interested only in telling the story that they want to hear. And it’s not good enough. For these women, they’d rather abandon the magical realms entirely, find a place they can be together and write their own endings, their lives finally their own and not up to the whims of some magical busybody. And it’s a happily ever after that’s just rather perfect, joyous and charming and so so good! Go check this one out, people! An amazing read!