Following a very tightly knit July issue, I hesitate to say that Lightspeed's August stories lack such a driving theme. There is the sense that many of the stories deal with reconciliation and reconnecting. But the thematic connections are a bit fainter than last month. The worlds revealed are no less fantastic, though. From an Earth on the verge of alien contact to a fantasy world nearly ripped apart by war, the stories take stock of setting and mix in some rather large philosophical ideas. And at the core of each is the beating heart of humanity. Afraid, yearning, hurt, healing…these are stories that reveal something deep about how people interact and how they dream. And they're lots of fun. So to the reviews!
|Art by Elizabeth Leggett|
"Those Brighter Stars" by Mercurio D. Rivera (6030 words)
This is a story about contact and abandoned children. About being left and about the hope and fear that happens after being left. The desperation and the resolve. It's a story that features a woman gifted with empathy, who can read the emotions in others and as such is recruited to be a part of a team looking to welcome some extraterrestrial visitors who are on their way. It's a project, though, that takes her away from her daughter, an act that is reminiscent of how her own mother left her because of her developmental problems, because her empathy was misdiagnosed as something else. And I love how the story treats the idea of contact. It's framed as a story told by the main character to her absent mother, the last promise to her father, that she would tell this story. And to me it becomes about expectation. About hope. About wanting so badly for someone paternal or maternal to help you. To lift you up. The way the main character wants from the aliens. The way she never was helped by her mother. It's about that desire to be nurtured but also the strength that comes from fighting, from taking control of your life. Even when it's not what you want. Even when it's unfair and painful. Not that being abandoned is a good thing, but that it doesn't mean the person abandoned needs to live the rest of their life waiting. Waiting for a return. Waiting for help that will never come. Love that will never come. It's about having to put in the work regardless and stand by it. To make priorities and see and feel what other people feel. It's a touching story and a hopeful piece, I would say, even when it refuses reconciliation. Because sometimes that's not the goal and not even a desirable thing. Sometimes the victory is in living and keeping on regardless. An excellent read!
"Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus" by Jeremiah Tolbert (8590 words)
This is a story about food. Glorious, glorious food. It's also a story about friendship and a bout passion and about dreams and about talent. The setting is subtle woven but vivid, an America dealing with rising sea levels and increased scarcity and refugees from the coasts. And the main character, Nico, is working as accountant but passionate about food, having to stifle that passion in the hopes of raising enough money to start out on his own out from under the thumb of a rather oppressive job. Food keeps calling him away, though, and when he bumps into an old friend who introduces him to the food underground…well, things get kinda weird. I love the imagination of the piece. Cooking stories are some of my favorite and this story definitely captures a lot of fun ideas when it comes to food, when it comes to the limits of food and science. Basically I want to eat all the things here, and it's a fun and wild ride of a story as Nico, always rather straight-laced, lets himself be brought into this more illicit realm of food and cooking. And it's a story that's about being involved with what you love, finding yourself stepping up and taking chances instead of doing the safe thing. I will admit that the food and the weird definitely overshadow the actual plot of the piece, the external conflict of Nico helping his friend, which is wrapped up fairly effortlessly. But it is a fun story and one that kept me smiling throughout. So definitely check it out!
"The Assassin's Secret" by Adam-Troy Castro (5020 words)
This is a story about, well, about murder. About killing and the power of killing and the idea of some sort of super-assassin living on an island with the power to kill anyone anywhere at any time. It plays with the ideas of assassins, the romance of it, the idea that there is someone with that power to end life. And it plays with the idea of who would seek this person out, and who this person would seek out to ask who they ant killed. It's something of a philosophical piece in part because the assassin is something so magical and knowing as to basically be a god. [SPOILERS] In some ways then it's about praying to a god to kill someone. Knowing that if the wish is granted it will mean a life is ended. And that the god has its own methods for listening or not. For granting a wish or not. It's obviously not really a fair system, for all that the assassin can refuse whoever and can even slay the person petitioning to have someone killed. Because the system brings in mostly the powerful. Those who can pay to play. And while there is an effort made to bring other people in, it's sort of random, and where a powerful person might be back many times, there's the sense that regular petitioners are there only the one time. It's an interesting way of thinking about prayer, about the desire to have someone killed, and I like how it circles around itself, how it shows the futility of it, the argument of it, and how it falls to its own logic. It's a strange story but a compelling one that provides quite a bit to think about. Indeed!
"The Siren Son" by Tristina Wright (6750 words)
Aww. This is a moving and rather sweet story of war and history and sacrifice, even as it's also a rather dark tale of quasi-doomed queer love. The story features Neal, a young man whose father was descended from dragons and mother was a mermaid. And he, somewhere between, more human than anything, who meets the son of the dragon king, Killian, who also had a human mother. The two boys find each other and are instantly drawn to one another, feeling a kindred flame and sensual pull. They fall in love. And in that love they find something to fight against the mistrust and anger of their people. The betrayals and the violence. [SPOILERS!!!] And even when it means they cannot be together, still it is that love, the spark that is ignited between them, that redeems everything. This is a great and magical story with a fast and loose worldbuilding that nonetheless comes together brilliantly. The dragons in earth. The sirens in the water. And between the two something else, something of both of them. Neal and Killian. The chance for peace. I love how the story moves so quickly, condensing down their story into this series of moments. Their first meeting and the way that it imprints on them and then, when all the world is on the verge of devastation, how they find each other again and keep finding each other. The prose is beautiful and moving and the story fun and uplifting, a breath of fresh air. Go read it!