Thursday, April 30, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #59

All right, so now that the stories are out I can review the latest issue of Lightspeed. As always, two science fiction and two fantasy stories. Unlike some months, this issue is a bit lopsided. The sci fi stories are quite short, and the fantasy stories quite long. Which is all right, but a little jarring, especially when the longest fantasy story, the one released latest in the month, is so dark. Still, though, there's a lot to enjoy here, and while two of the stories seem to center on human failings, on loss and perhaps futility, there is some hope here as well, and some great humor. So yeah, let's get to it!

"The Universe, Sung in Stars" by Kat Howard (2024 words)

A story about making universes. Or perhaps that's not quite right. The story is about being guardian to universe. Small universes that a person wears around them, that they are supposed to nurture until it is stable enough to move on, to be free on its own. The main character here makes music boxes but on a scale that is a bit larger than normal. Which is perfect because these new universes need music. It is the structure that holds them together, and when they find their own song they are finally strong enough to be free. It's a lovely story, musical and flowing, understated as the main character gains a universe and begins to influence it. Most people believe that it's not supposed to work that way, that the guardian isn't supposed to influence the music consciously, or isn't supposed to "contaminate" the universe, but the main character can see that introducing different elements, like an outcast star from another universe, can enrich everything. That the universe can find its own way and that it will make its own song if given the opportunity. Partly the story feels like a story about raising children, but more I think the story is about creativity. That no one can tell you how to be creative. That you have to find your own way, your own song, and when the project is complete, when it's ready, it's time to let it out and let it stand on its own and start with something new. A touching story, and one with a lot of great images and a softer style. A good read.

"Quiet Town" by Jason Gurley (2474 words)

A story about rising water levels and a small group of people who took too long in leaving their homes, this story is full of muted stubbornness and tragedy. The group, made up of Bev, her son Benjamin, and their neighbor Ezze, is most of what remains of their town, which lies on the shore. There is a sea wall, but the water level is getting higher and higher and most people flee inland. Bev, however, doesn't want to believe. Having lost so much already, she wants to hold on to her old beliefs, her old ignorance. It's not that she stupid, or evil, but that she's a bit stubborn and lazy. She's nostalgic, unwilling to adjust to the new status quo. And in holding on to the past, to the possibility that she won't have move, that she won't have to deal with it, she does end up dooming herself and her son. I think that is the more telling thing about it, that she is well-meaning, that she thinks she is fine, but that she still ends up dooming her child. That he seems more able to accept what is happening and want to do something but that she seems to find more comfort in mutual destruction. Rather bleak, really, but a story well told, with plenty to unpack. Another good one.

"We'll Be Together Forever" by Violet Allen (5831 words)

Apparently I really enjoy stories that focus on food and eating and this story hits some of that and throws in some dark magic and a messed-up relationship and human failings and is strong and good and had me laughing even as it's rather heartbreaking. A couple, Anthony and Audrey, are a bit stalled in their relationship, wanting different things, still caring for each other but definitely in a rut and drifting apart. So they decide to try a love potion. The whole voice and tone of the story is rather light and funny, wry and taking this magic as matter-of-fact even as it's rather crazy. And the potion works. Far too well. The two become obsessed with each other, and Anthony begins to crave Audrey in a new way. He wants to devour her. He wants to devour those things that represent things that rival him for her affection. A favorite shirt is consumed first. When he goes after her guitar, though, Audrey turns the tables. She splits herself, again and again, growing smaller and smaller but legion, and climbs inside him. It's a strange moment, the magic powerful and real and driving her. He devours her but she's also forcing it. The reversal of power is interesting, and when they wake from their love trance they find that they're together. That she's inside him and can't get out. And they've lost, lost parts of themselves. It lays open their problems and probably these two, if they manage to escape this, shouldn't stay together. But through it all the characters feel real, their relationship flawed but what you'd expect from people in their situation. And the writing is charming and slick, just the right mix of humor and sarcasm and emotion. An excellent tale.

"The Ministry of the Eye" by Dale Bailey (12797 words)

The longest story of the month comes out two days before the end of the month and while that makes me a little grumpy the story itself is quite good, moody and dark and about a man stuck in a sort of Hell and aching for just a little bit of beauty. The setting is striking, the city of Acheron which seems to be in Hell and where beauty is outlawed and people are forced to toil and where malcontents are sent to be tortured and tortured. It's a dark story, and the main character, Gerst, is not really clean, having sold his brother to the Pit for a secure position in the bureaucracy that tortures and kills. He doesn't feel dirty doing what he does, but he starts being haunted by beauty, by the forbidden, and slowly he is drawn into things that are way beyond him. When he is seen taking an object of beauty, he is forced to find more for the black market, and he can't help himself despite the danger he puts his wife and son in. I felt perhaps that set up, husband unsatisfied with home life and drudgery of wife and son and work, was perhaps a little typical, but the writing is nicely done, bringing the setting alive. It's well crafted and intense and rather depressing as his drive for beauty ends up costing not only him everything, but his family everything as well. And, really, it's not a chipper story. It ends in loss and bitterness and pain and suffering. And I'm not sure exactly what that's supposed to say. That it was still right to search for beauty? That message would be kind of making Gerst's guilt and dissatisfaction more important than his family's suffering. Perhaps what it's saying is that Gerst made his choices and sometimes there is no going back, there is no escaping the sins of the past. It's not a happy message, but I can't feel bad for Gerst. He's the one who risked everything without asking his wife. She and his son are the victims here, not just of a corrupt government but of Gerst. So yeah, it's an interesting story that's worth a look.

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