Hey, it's one of my favorite moments this month at Lightspeed—I have made less work for myself by actually selling a story, so instead of the full slate of four pieces I'm only looking at those not written by me. It's not exactly a happy issue. The pieces all deal with a stifling darkness. With an oppressive violence and threat. With a situation that is bad and might just get worse, except for the power of people choosing to change. Or, at least, to change their actions. To change the story. To shift it away from being about war, about corruption, and about victimization. These stories all offer uncomfortable and striking looks into love and hate and the sea in between the two. So yeah, time to review!
|Art by Lovely Creatures Studio|
"The Cyborg, the Tinman, the Merchant of Death" by Rich Larson (4260 words)
This story…is a somewhat difficult read that focuses on war. On soldiers. On weapons. On a man who ends up being…adopted almost by a soldier who is basically a killing machine. Who has been made into a tool of destruction. Time and time he gets sent out and time and time he returns. But the soldiers he is sent with…well, not so much. The killing machine is the Petty Officer and the main character, who becomes his companion, is in many ways the Petty Officer's last connection to humanity. Is an experiment and a pet and the closest thing to a friend that the Petty Officer can muster. To me the story becomes about how violence and warfare can twist someone, and how governments are often all too eager to overlook the damage done as long as they get the results they want. It's not a story that really holds anything sacred or off limits. It's…a story that looks at the violence inherent in war and shows how it traps people. The main character and the Petty Officer both are trapped in this situation, in how there is no quitting the army. They will fight until they die and they know this but it's lost meaning to them, to the Petty Officer at least. It's become a game and one that's stopped really giving satisfaction. He plays because there are moments of joy, or clarity, or something. And the main character chases that as well, though he doesn't have such a clear picture of it. But he affirms the Petty Officer's view of the world and the war as a game. So he can live. It's not really the kind of story that I tend to enjoy, a military science fiction that is incredibly male and violent and rather ugly, but it's an interesting story that's worth spending some time with. Indeed!
"The Venus Effect" by Joseph Allen Hill (9340 words)
Wow. Where to begin with this story, which takes a look at the weight of oppressive systems, violence, and the value of people in the face of fear? This is a story of stories, a metafictional experience that sees the narrator seeking to create a story where the main character can take part in big SFF adventures and not, well…not get shot by police. And I love the way the work slips effortlessly from genre to genre, riffing on some "classic" stories and tropes to show, time and again, that for these characters (and in some ways then for the author and for readers), there is no escape from their blackness. No escape from the constant specter of violence that follows them. The way that these genres and tropes have shown again and again and again the dangerous clichés and racist portrayals that allow for people to see a person standing there and create a story where they're a dangerous killer, a malevolent gang member, an alien invader. That the stories we've told are so entrenched that they are like living things in this piece, a constant presence seeking to thwart the characters, trying to thwart the narrator. Trying to kill the black men and women who just want to fight evil and save the planet from destruction. And the lack of escape, of escapism, reflects a landscape that just isn't safe. Where the question is taken away from the people trying to write their own story, taken away and given to white people who get to choose what life to value. And who enjoy the privilege where their feelings and their fears are more important than other people's lives. The voice of the narrator is frustrated but also humorous, giving the story a flow that keeps it going iteration after iteration. And the work is peppered with references and nods to popular culture that make the meta-ness of the work that much deeper and more interesting. To me it's a critique on escapism, because for some there is no escape for their situation. For some there is no safety and whatever bad happens to them they will still be blamed for it, will always be asked to sympathize and empathize with their abusers and killers. It's a complex piece that grows and grows, and it is a beautiful work that does not flinch from asking difficult questions and demanding an examination of stories and SFF and readers and writers. It's an incredibly read.
"Every Day Is the Full Moon" by Carlie St. George (5470 words)
This is a rather wrenching story about victimization, possession, identity, and lists. It focuses on B, a young woman living in an abusive household, with a werewolf father who is constantly excused and apologized for. Who is physically abusive and emotionally abusive and just, well, as the story describes him, an asshole. B is waiting to Become, which is to say to become something magical. Fairy or centaur, merperson or oracle. She's in high school and the actual action of the story mostly comes at a dance that she goes to with one of her friends. But the story isn't simple. It's not easy. There is not really a satisfying linear draw to what happens because the story, to me, isn't about that. Instead it becomes about seeing the hurt, seeing the harm, and refusing to fall back on the standard narratives. It's about not blaming victims of abuse or violence. It's about love, yes, but not the magic of it. The story is about the power of love. The power it gives people to act. To sometimes make the difficult decisions. It's about recognizing that it's not always about defeating the demon or slaying the dragon. Sometimes it's about something that no one really sees, a struggle within against the guilt and the shame and the weight of expectations. And the story points toward a healing, toward affirmation. For B that means Becoming something that didn't expect, and finding the strength in that to try and help people. Including herself. It's a powerful story with a great world-building and a heavy darkness. Definitely one to check out!