Thursday, March 9, 2017

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #82

The March issue of Lightspeed Magazine certainly isn’t the cheeriest of reads. Though spring is showing signs of wanting to arrive these are stories still heavy with the chill touch of winter. Death and loss pervade, revealing a universe that is often cruel, that is often unfair. Characters move through situations made more and more unbearable because of intolerance, fear, apathy, and despair. And yet for all that these stories feature some heavy themes and sinking situations, they are also very much about hope and about taking something from the jaws of grief. Of finding the strength that can only really be honed by strife and stress. Of perhaps escaping the pain and the isolation and finding some peace, community, and freedom. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Reiko Murakami
"The Worldless" by Indrapramit Das (5130 words)

This is a lovely and complex story that unfolds in a port, in a place between places, where gravity isn’t quite high enough and Dunyshar, those without a world, live and work and die and dream of something more. The story focuses on two people, NuTay and their offspring Satlyt, as they scrape a life together. And I love the way that the story evokes place and the feeling of being detached from place. Orphaned in some important way. Without a culture because culture is associated with planets and not with ports, the place that ships are only ever moving through. It’s obvious from the story that some not-great-shit is happening and I like that this is revealed slowly, revealed with all the terrible weight of it, that this situation has been created and designed this way. And that for NuTay there is such a yearning to get to some world, to escape through the nothing that surrounds them all and be somewhere. It’s a difficult story, though, with something of a learning curve with regards to the language and the concepts. They come together beautifully, though, showing the power of family and the power of hope. There’s so much going on in the story that is only glimpsed, playing into the recurring image and motif of brief glances. Small pictures that dance and then disappear. The story is structured that way, in these small scenes that act like the floating images that NuTay is entranced by. showing another world. Revealing want and the ache of being designed to suffer and die. For me this structure gives the story a feeling of living time, a feeling of fairy tale but also something a bit more immediate. It’s a great structure for the piece and the language is haunting and dense. And it’s just a wonderful story about people finding strength in each other and hope in a future and world that might be out there, waiting for them. An amazing read!

"Death Every Seventy-Two Minutes" by Adam-Troy Castro (2460 words)

This story does a great job of mixing humor with crushing despair. It features Negelein, a man who is plagued by visions of his own death. And if that weren’t bad enough, but these instants of vision are about fairly outlandish qays to go. Coincidences that pile up into a cocktail of fatal circumstance. And each time, as he expereinces them, he believes them. Only after coming back down, blinking away the nightmare, does he realize that it’s not real. And these happen every seventy-two minutes. It’s an interesting premise and the structure of the piece drives home the strangeness of the situation, the way that it twists Negelein’s perception of reality, makes him think that he’s going insane. Only none of the doctors can tell him what’s wrong. Instead, science seems to be the answer. And I just like the framing, that the story moves between the vision scenes and then to Negelein’s attempts to figure it out. And how the two sort of swirl around each other, his life constantly interrupted by some random and awful death. For me, it shows the sometimes-random nature of the world, how sometimes things just conspire to really screw a person over. And for Negelein it’s made somewhat worse because he has to experience it over and over again. The humor for me arrises in the sort of bored way that he runs through these scenarios, the situations that border the zany. But there’s also something raw and angry here, at the nature of the universe, and it gives the story that bit of extra depth, especially with how the piece chooses to end. It’s a charming and fun read that still maintains a healhty darkness and bizarre violence, and it makes for quite the fascinating read!

"The Stone Lover"' by Marta Randall (1510 words)

This is a rather strange and rather erotic story about a rather short reign of a Queen of ancient Greece. The story, for me, functions a bit like a parable, like a fairy tale. It’s short and it begins with a focus on a sculptor tasked to complete a very special kind of statue for the new queen, who is not exactly the most popular of rulers. I say that to me this feels like a parable because to me it’s all about the moral lessons to be learned from this. It feels mythological, not just because of the trappings of Greece mythology but because it features a cautionary tale on sex and rulership and creation. At least, as I see it, the cautionary tale is as much about the sculptor as it is about the queen. Both don’t concern themselves with the population at large, preferring to operate where as long as they are fed they are blind to the suffering of others. The sculptor is guilty of creating art to appease a ruler who is bad for everyone, and so rather seals his fate. And that is an interesting point, because it shows that artists are not free from their situations, are judged not just on their art but the circumstance that it rises out of. And the queen...well, she’s a bit compicated as well. Because we get to see fairly little of her life outside the sexually insatiable and selfish creature that the story presents. In good moralist fashion it’s easy to find her faults, and yet for all that the story might seem simple I like how it depicts her as unshamed by her desires and her actions. She’s an awful ruler but it’s a bit more difficult to tell what exactly her crimes are. Being sexual? Well, perhaps. Ignoring the gods? This seems to strike close to it, though I feel like the Greek gods weren’t exactly any better, requiring sacrifice and worship or else very satisfied to let people starve. What seems a simple moral story becomes complicated by the manner of her life and death, by the fact that she achieves a certain kind of power only to be punished for it. I think the real lesson is about seeking to being _too much_ like the gods, acting as too clear a mirror through which to view themselves. She makes them uncomfortable, shocked, and outraged, and instead of dealing wtih that they seek to remove her. It’s a rather interesting and sensual tale that I’m not sure I’ve completely made my mind up about, but it’s certainly worth checking out!

"Soccer Fields and Frozen Lakes" by Greg Kurzawa (6790 words)

Well this story certainly doesn’t pull any of its emotional punches. And for being labelled as fantasy it could also easily be science fiction. It inolves a man who finds out that he’s being classified as not human. As some sort of hyrbid, through hybrid of what and what is never really revealed in the story. In some ways that makes it a bit of a mystery but even so it’s a tragedy first, as this news directly causes the disolution of his marraige and indirectly causes the loss of his sons. The story jumps a bit early on, and is told in a series of letters from the man to various people. Mostly his sister, but also to a Super 8 and the city of Chicago and the story is bookended by letters to his (ex-)wife. It’s a difficult story with a pervasive feeling of loss and despair, hopelessness and grief. The man must deal with being classified as hybrid, detained at state borders and relocated again and again. Being the subject for debate in national politics and made into a rather reviled fictional minority. In the treatment of this group, of the hybrids, the story leans on the politics of today, the fear and distrust and the evangelicism that allows people to be classified as less than human. Just what this “hybrid-ness” implies (is it racial? magical? alien? something else entirely?) is left mostly up in the air, though the story reveals that hybrid people don’t necessarily look any different from anyone else. But the story really explores the ideas of loss and identity and souls. There’s a heavy religious feeling that I got from much of the piece, that revolves around the question of souls. Of humanity. And it’s heartbreaking to watch the main character struggle with this, with his self-loathing because of what has happened and also his hope that grows within him. The story is haunted, or not, or hopes to be haunted, and the myseteries that it introduces are ones that linger long after the piece is over. It’s a story that maps out a place of loss and insecurity, intolerance and spirituality. It’s devastating at times and beautiful at others and is a great way to close out the original fiction of the issue. Indeed!


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