Thursday, November 12, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #66

This month's Lightspeed Magazine is all about subverting tropes. From a time travel story about love and determination to a sentient ship bursting with faith in greater powers to dragons literally erasing diversity in Medieval Europe, the stories take some common ideas and twist them just so. Everything old is new again and the stories manage to range from subtle to more blatant, but all of them are subversive, all of them worth sinking your teeth into. Which I should get started on!

Art by John Brosio


"Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All" by Rahul Kanakia (2501 words)

This is a rather interesting example of a story about a sentient spaceship, born in the heart of the planet, in the molten core, and on a mission from beings immense and powerful and far, far away. I say interesting because while sentient ships are rather popular at the moment, this ship definitely bucks tradition in making the ship…well, kind of religious. Filled with purpose, at the very least, compelled by its creators (though not forced) to carry out a mission that will kill it. And the voice is one of a quiet condescension, a pride but also a wanting to explain things. It's almost human in its need to explain, because while it is certainly alien in some ways there is a bond it shares with humanity, having grown on the same planet, and there is something in it that recognizes in humanity an aspect of its creators grace. The ability to create truth, to change reality. It's something that the ship doesn't quite comprehend but is drawn to. The ship is rather coldly charming, awkward at times but also very forthright and very much not a part of humanity, separated by its divine purpose into a different class. It's an interesting story and also a sad one, a slow one, a melancholy one, lingering on ideas of time and distance and loss and death, of choice in a sort of rigged way, where we are brought up alone and wanting, somewhere out there, for there to be a way to make it all better. For humanity it takes the form of religion and for the ship it does as well, though in worship of beings that the ship will never know. And the ending builds nicely, that recognition and admiration of human passion even as the ship turns inward, like it wants to believe in itself but finds it too painful and so holds to its belief in the creators. Which isn't really all that alien after all. A fine story!

"Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death" by Caroline M. Yoachim (5723 words)

This is another story that takes something rather popular in science fiction (time travel in this case) and breathes something new into it. I very much enjoy the use of the rock, paper, scissors motif here, the way it circles around this game being played with chance, with death. Andrew and Nicole are playing each other in many ways but also playing against time, against destruction. This is a deeply romantic story, one that sees a love mature and grow despite the rather extreme lengths it is pushed to by the tragedy that brings them together, that keeps threatening to pull them apart. It's a very thoughtfully constructed story, as most good time travel stories need to be, to work without some central gap in logic, and the story takes the track of [SPOILERS] basically saying this is a series of closed loops that were basically destined to happen, that they were always going to make it through because only then all of the discrepancies would be harmonized away. This might throw up a little bit in the way of destroying a bit of the tension (their victory was always going to happen) except that the story remains deliciously vague throughout, a puzzle whose final piece was actually being held by the author to reveal and slide into place at the right moment, and it's a very well done flourish. It all works, and is tender and sweet and I like the way that the story complicates itself, how it shows these people interfering in their own lives, hurting themselves in the past with full consent because they lived through it, because they decided it was worth it. It's sort of head trippy at times for that, but it all comes through in the end, and is deeply satisfying. Indeed!

"When We Were Giants" by Helena Bell (3243 words)

This story does a very good job of capturing a feeling. Of being young, of being in a regimented world, of yearning for freedom. I suppose I can speak little for specific restrictions placed on young girls, but the story excels at capturing the spirit of youth, the way that children rebel and bicker and snipe and stand by. The small wars that are waged and the ways in which all kids are joined by being children, by being oppressed and wanting freedom. In the story the girls can all transform into giants in the woods at recess, can be big and powerful and resent having to return to being small and meek, taught in a Catholic school how to be proper. The story moves well, setting up a sort of trinity of the main character, Samantha, and Abbey. Abbey and Samantha who fight, the main character between them, sometimes siding with one, sometimes the other. All three are similar, rebel in their own ways, but it's Samantha who takes on a sort of mythic quality, at once the best of them and, because of it, the outcast, unable to fit in because she runs to fast, transforms too perfectly. And there is a feeling of loss in the story, as well, as if this is being told much after, looking back, with a sort of wistful nostalgia. And though the ending comes as a sort of matter of fact statement, I thought there was a subtle regret as well, that this was an ending of something, a growing but also a molting, a shedding of something transforming and powerful but, ultimately, at odds with the world outside. Another good one!

"The Plausibility of Dragons" by Kenneth Schneyer (6494 words)

This story is, or rather seems to me, to be all about the critique of "realistic" fantasy that includes dragons but not women warriors or people of color. That casts women as witches as non-whites as demons. Despite the fact that both were, if not the most common thing in Medieval Europe, not uncommon. Especially depending on where in Europe people went, the visions of the "historical" Europe kind of falls apart. But as much as the story is basically a way of critiquing a whitewashed past, it's also the story of a woman looking for her sister, a teacher looking for employment, and a friendship that blossoms between the two. It's a fun story, as much entertaining fantasy romp as it is a way of flipping a lot of tropes in dire need of subverting. There is a spot of social commentary and even philosophy here that make up the magic of the tale, these dragons which represent in some ways incursions from the present into the past, acts of erasure that the characters have to fight physically against lest they be unmade. The action of the story is cleverly pulled off, but it's the characters that shine, the easy way they move around the world, assured of their own existence and horrified that people would seek to erase them. It's an interesting tale dealing with history and invention and casting back racism and misogyny of the present back into a time that didn't have them in the same way. Not that they weren't present, and perhaps the story is slightly guilty of simplifying things as well, but it does at least complicate the idea that the past is some white canvas to paint dragons onto. A fun story and an entertainingly happy way to close out the issue.

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