Friday, April 8, 2016

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #71

It's the first full month of spring and at Lightspeed Magazine it means a mix of superheroes and dragons, half-alien births and knobby giraffes. The issue is filled with new beginnings and happy endings, or at least the hope of happy endings. The stories have a fair amount of darkness but also a rising brightness, a sort of defiant laughter against the lingering feelings of winter. The results are a bit of a mixed bag for me personally, but there's still a lot here to like and certainly a lot of ambition in tackling some big issues and ideas. So get ready for some reviews! 

Art by Sam Schechter


"Origin Story" by Carrie Vaughn (3700 words)

A superhero story is never really a bad way to start out an issue, especially when it's not really a superhero story. Instead this one takes a look at one "normal" person named Mary who gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time (sort of an inevitability in a city dominated by superpowers) at a bank when it's robbed by a villain named Techhunter. Only it turns out they know each other. Knew each other. And what follows is a rather aching portrayal of where time has brought them. It makes sense to me that Techhunter, Jason, is a villain. The dude is rather self absorbed and abusive, convinced the world is out to get him despite how easy things seem to be for him (he does seem to have picked up an entire arsenal of tech). Basically, he's exactly who I'd expect to turn supervillain and I think the story does a good job of not making the story about his pain and his ambition. In most ways it's about Mary and her place, her nostalgia for the relationship with Jason and how he makes her feel. In some ways it reminds me of the messed up Joker/Harley relationship except Jason here is obviously a bit subtler. It's an interesting look at impulse and the way early relationships can take on great importance and weight even when they aren't exactly healthy. And it sets up a space where these two people, now definitely not children any longer, where these character can see how far they've come, how much they've changed and how much they're still stunted because of their experience in high school. It's a cute story with a dollop of darkness and a fun setting with a fun bit of world building. A fine start to the issue!

"The Birth Will Take Place on a Mutually Acceptable Research Vessel" by Matthew Bailey (5360 words)

This is a rather sweet story, ultimately, but also one that's very caught up with the idea of parenthood and specifically motherhood and pregnancy and as such trigger warnings apply. The action of the story revolves around the conception of a child from a human mother and alien father, and the mess that it creates. This is a first, and power quickly is stripped away from the parents as they have to take a back seat to what this might mean on an interplanetary scale. The world building of the story is well done, the abilities and organization of the aliens interesting, compelling, a nice touch with the idea of meritocracy that they use. The main conflict comes from the fact that the main character, unnamed save for the second person "you," does not really control her pregnancy, cannot choose to meet it in her fashion. She is denied body autonomy and deals with bureaucrats telling her what she can and cannot do. And in the end the story is about the strength of parental connections, especially between a mother and child. Which I think is done all right and which probably almost anyone else who is not me would enjoy more. [AND OKAY SPOILERS AND PERSONAL ISSUES] The story excels and also falls by how hard it pushes for parental rights. Not the rights of the child but the rights of the parent to decide how to have a child. Not, mind you, how to not have a child. The story is made pretty easy because the woman, the "you," definitely wants a child, but I was rather uncomfortable how the main character, how "you" was reduced to the role of mother, how her mate was reduced to father. By emphasizing a parent's right over their child it just seemed to erase the child but also the parents, their identities outside their procreation and completely turned the choice to maybe not go ahead with the pregnancy such a…like, obviously that wouldn't have been allowed as well, right? This child "had to" be born? For a story that revolves around pregnancy and diplomacy and rights and such I just…well, as I said (or implied) this story kind of makes me uncomfortable and while I think it's worth checking out I'm probably not the one to be recommending this one. Sorry.

"Dragon Brides" by Nghi Vo (3620 words)

This is a rather strange but very interesting story about memory and about time and about transformation. It features a woman who was taken when she was young by a dragon to a cave, and in that it's a story with a nice sense of mythology, a sort of fairy tale. The dragon is both dangerous and benign, a creature but (as the dragon itself explains) no lesser for being a beast. It takes her and it keeps her in its cave and in that space there is…well, the woman remembers the time distinctly. It glows in her memory. Everything before it is washed out, grey, but with the dragon defines her. And love the way that it builds up the nature of dragons and the nature of gold, the way that memory works and the way that, as an older woman, the main character returns to the cave where she was held and remembers. Finds something there that was missing from her life, some spark and freedom that was always denied her because she was a princess, later a queen. Which is a sort of prison, a different sort than a dragon's cave but still there, still stuck in old cycles of court and intrigue and married life. It's a quiet sort of story, one that focuses on the woman and her memories, her gold. The setting is broadly sketched but detailed enough to be interested, the story ultimately a fable about a woman and a dragon, and it's a very nice read!

"The Knobby Giraffe" by Rudy Rucker (3450 words)

This is a rather odd story about love and loss and physics and…breaking reality? It features a doctoral student seeking to find the cheat code to the universe. Some theory that would give her mind power over matter, over the way things are. And her lover/thesis advisor is pushing her to think up equations and theories, to stop trying to feel her way through and start trying to think her way to a solution. And then something tragic happens, and the story does a good job of having things sort of fracture there. The main character's guilt and her drive and her shame and her desperation to do better and to make things right. And then things get weird. And I'm completely okay with that even if a lot of the terminology was beyond me entirely because I'll forgive a lot of jargon for knobby giraffes. They're adorable! But I think the giraffes and, well, everything do a good job of parsing the jargon and translating what is basically unfathomable into something that people can see and think about and make cooing noises at because they are still super cute, okay. A bit grotesque, but cute. And I think the story does a nice job of giving the main character a way through her grief, just not the way that most stories would go. Because the ending here is one that is unreservedly happy. Which is kinda nice. It's a fun read with some heavy science that might as well be magic to me but it all seems to work nicely and it's an entertaining experience. So hurrah!

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