|Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia|
The last Lightspeed Magazine of the year is a rather challenging one for me, full of settings defined by exclusion, oppression, and conflict. These stories are grim, and unsettling, and for me personally mostly upsetting. Not that they don't have hope, or moments of beauty, or skill in wordcraft. But perhaps because I'm in the start of what already is a rather trying winter, I found it hard with some of the pieces to achieve the distance from some of the stories that would have been required to enjoy them more. Still, there are some definite bright spots in the issue, and I'll cover it all in the review.
“Motherhood” by Pat Murphy (1141 words)
No Spoilers: This story is framed as a phone call between a healthcare or bureaucratic representative and a politician. But the subject of the call isn’t an abstract opinion on policy. Rather, it is to inform the Senator that the laws he helped author and pass have put him in a position he very much did not foresee. On the call, though, the reader is only shown the dialogue of the other party, the person tasked with tracking him down and contacting him about his role in the unfolding situation. The piece is short for the publication, just a flash fiction in length, but it packs a lot in, and manages a rather powerful set of ideas that hit with a staggering impact. It’s a piece I feel needs quite a bit of unpacking, but is worth the effort.
Keywords: Legislation, CW- Pregnancy, Politics, CW- Forced Pregnancy, Healthcare
Review: As a spot of catharsis I think the story certainly engages in something many people find rather satisfying—imagining a situation in which the harm that conservative lawmakers do by pushing moralizing and scientifically bunk legislation over especially pregnancy and embryos/fetuses/zygotes would be reflected back at them. Basically, thinking of a way that these men (as is most often the case and as is the focus of this particular story) would understand the harm they’re doing only if they were treated like they treat the women they so hurt and oppress. Or, failing understanding, that it would be a kind of justice that they would be put through all of that. That they would have to be subject to the horror they want to spread in the name of their brand of morality. And for that, if that’s your jam, then this story is certainly effective. Personally, I dislike stories where children are used as a punishment, and here it’s not just that this Senator would hurt for what he’s done, but he’d also end up with power over a child, who even if they are now a repurposed weapon brought to bear on someone who “deserves it,” is still being used as a weapon. It also provides a rather messy look at biology with regards to motherhood and bodies that I’m not sure worked for me in the limited space of the story. But it’s a short and punchy piece and one that gives plenty to think about and explores a bit the nightmare implications of the kinds of laws some politicians want to pass in the name of life but in truth to further their own power structures and control. Indeed!
“A Bad Day in Utopia” by Matthew Baker (4287 words)
No Spoilers: The main character of this story isn’t having a great day. She’s stressed, her job hasn’t been going all that well, and her personal life is a series of inconveniences and minor headaches that all sort of bleed into a need to relieve some tension. For her, there’s one place that promises to do just that. The Menagerie. What that means, and the full implications of her “bad day,” only start to become clear as the reader learns and understands what makes this world a utopia. It’s another piece that focuses on the abuses that men visit on women, and like the previous story it falls into some things I’m not all that comfortable with.
Keywords: Employment, Sex, Genetics, CW- Eugenics
Review: I don’t fault this story for depicting the society here as somewhat justified, given historical and contemporary abuses and attitudes toward women. Like the last story, I understand the kind of satisfaction that can be achieved imagining what might be if only things were different. And it’s interesting to find a story that imagines all men* confined and controlled so that women can lead lives free from abuse or harassment. However I do fault the story for 1. *apparently forgetting that trans people exist. 2. framing rape, harassment, and abuse like only things that happen to women. 3. treating slavery like anything that can exist in a place that values justice. Now, I think that some of the piece must be sarcastic. Indeed, one can sort of read the title as sarcastic, as this certainly isn’t a utopia for everyone living within it. At the same time, though, the story grows increasingly earnest as the piece progresses, so at the end the implication as I read it is that this is justice. This is only right. Which, and let me repeat this for the people in the back, only lets men off the hook for their horrible actions. Because it asserts that men cannot do better. That men cannot be trusted. That men deserve to be culled from the planet, kept on as curiosities and fail safes and nothing more. And maybe the point is actually to challenge that, to get the reader to really question that. But I’m not sure I can see that. I might be failing as a reader, though. There’s a lot I don’t like about this story. But I don’t pretend to be objective, and it’s certainly possible that I’m not able to give a fair assessment of this story, so I recommend people check it out for themselves.
“The Path of Pins, the Path of Needles” by KT Bryski (2297 words)
No Spoilers: The main character of this story starts as a girl who feels a pull toward the woods, toward the wolves. But who knows how that story ends. With the wolf’s head on a pike outside the church and the girl either hastily wed or else quietly dealt with. But the girl doesn’t really want to go on the path of pins or the path of needles, knowing that at the end of both is the same sad conclusion. The story, like the rest of the issue so far, deals a lot with toxic gender roles and trying to find a way through them or around them, always feeling the pull in the voice of wolves. It’s a somewhat grim piece, fitting for the way it weaves fairy tale and reality, but it never quite manages to successfully repress the wild, the yearning to be free and full of teeth.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Wolves, Forests, CW- Rape(?), Teeth
Review: This is a strange story, revolving as it does around an unnamed woman pushed into burying her true desires, her true self, in order to try to be what people expect. Because it’s supposed to be safe, supposed to be The Way of Things. And I like that no matter how she tries, the wolves remain, and the wolves return. And personally, I’m also a big fan of the way the story takes on winter, and how that feeling of not remembering spring, or maybe not even believing in it past a certain point of endless winter, is really intense. It manifests in the way the village is, the way the villagers are, the way it all seems to follow these paths that can’t be deviated from. No one seems to escape, and the stories reinforce it all, and it’s chilling. Where there is a way that the cold and the lack of color makes everything seem impossible, harsh, and oppressive. So that everything seems impossible, and after a while it sort of washes even hope away. It’s wrenching to watch the main character go through with that, deal with trying to fit into a box not because she wants it but because she feels there’s no other choice. Except that, like spring, hope isn’t completely gone, either. And it might take a very long time for her to embrace herself and her desires, but it’s never too late. As long as she is alive, it’s never too late, and the story ends on that note of defiance and hope and sharp teeth finally freed. A great read!
“End of the Sleeping Girls” by Molly Gutman (6322 words)
No Spoilers: Ingrid and Yasmin are sister, beings of the forest who sleep inside fruit and who socialize with the other denizens of the woods. Yasmin is the smaller of the two, something that Ingrid is constantly and intimately aware of. It’s a small wedge between the two, and yet all the same they are sisters, and have mostly each other, and are still very close. Each seems to chafe a bit with their role, though, and with the ways they can’t quite fit into the larger world, which is made so much more dangerous and dark when the national executive deems the forest to wild and carries out a plan to tame it. The piece mixes a kind of whimsy with some deep shadows, telling a story that feels very real despite the fantastical elements.
Keywords: Deforestation, Cities, Fruit, Family, Death, Body Image
Review: I love the relationship between Ingrid and Yasmin, the way that they chafe while still being close, best friends almost by necessity but also wanting their own private lives, and hurt all the while that one would go off and do things without the other. For Ingrid especially she struggles with taking up space, with being the larger sister, while Yasmin always seems so small, treated almost like a child despite the two being close in age. And the world the story conjures up is at the same time magical and grim. The sisters are a part of the forest, a part of the wild, but the more technological, the more mundane, and the more violent is finding ways in and is seeking to wipe them all out. Not that the sisters are safe, necessarily, in the forest. They are constantly aware of themselves and their situation, always aware of the dangers they are in, even when they might not always be able to do much about some of them. But going to the city, having to flee their home, puts them in a different situation entirely, and one that is more dangerous, more fraught, where they not only have to worry about their safety but navigate the unfamiliar and the ways that everything around them isn’t designed for them. All this as their friends are dying and the national executive might have bitten off more than they can chew. War and disaster loom large around the characters, and still it remains an intimately grounded story about sisters and the ways they can hurt each other, the ways they can help each other, the love they share in all its messy confines. It’s a beautiful piece, strange and haunting, and it’s very much worth spending some time with. A great read!