Thursday, April 5, 2018

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #95

Two short stories and two novelettes mean a pretty full April for Lightspeed Magazine. And this month is certainly a strange one, looking at relationships and hurt and the prospect of finding happiness in a deeply imperfect world. The stories feature characters who are often witness and victims of corrupt systems—governments or extinctions or quasi-religious-magical-soul-mate timers. They find themselves struggling against the weight of the Way Things Are, whether that means the order of everyone knowing when they’ll meet their soul mate or the chaos of a world where elephants can incinerate themselves in grief. The stories point to a truth that even seemingly-ordered systems often hide a lot of chance, pain, and guesswork, and sometimes it’s important not to reach for what’s being offered and instead reaching for justice. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Elizabeth Leggett

“What Is Eve?” by Will McIntosh (10160 words)

No Spoilers: Ben is a seventh grader being shipped off to a new and mysterious school. The classes are just a bit off but, more importantly, the school is built around Eve, a young person who isn’t…exactly like everyone else. Just what she is (as the title of the piece implies) is the driving mystery behind much of the story. And yet the real heart of the story isn’t in the mystery, but in the bond that’s developed between her and Ben. It’s a story about humanity, and mistakes, and the possibility of healing. It takes a look at friendship and the importance of how people treat others. Things move a bit fast at times, and given the age of the characters the ending might seem like a foregone conclusion, but I think the story does a rather charming job of getting there. Fun, strange, and with a touch of darkness.
Keywords: First Contact, School, Friendship, Aliens, Conspiracy, Defiance
Review: This piece reads a bit YA to me, not just because of the age of the characters (though that goes a long way), but because of its trajectory, tone, and voice. It does a nice job of capturing the feeling of a bunch of kids thrown into an unknown situation and having to figure out what to do. More than that, it looks at a bunch of kids who were picked because they were the kinds who would listen to instructions and not make waves. Which mostly works except that Ben is the kind of kid who hides his rebelliousness pretty well, making sure he maintains the standards of his very exacting parents but also knowing when to cut corners and refuse to comply. That ends up being the main reason why he can make a connection with Eve, who has been hurt and abused her entire life because the government didn’t understand a key part of what they were doing. I love though that the test of friendship between peoples, between humans and these aliens, is to essentially raise the other’s young to see how they are treated. Perhaps surprising no one, humans fuck this up and then scramble to fix it when it turns out failure in this arena might mean invasion or annihilation. Yay. But I do like the way the story builds the bond between Eve and Ben, how he is repelled at first but does quickly come to see her as a person, as a friend. It’s a heartwarming and fun story that’s definitely worth checking out!

“The Elephant’s Crematorium” by Timothy Mudie (3900 words)

No Spoilers: The world has gone to hell in this story that finds Liyana pregnant for the fifth time, hoping to finally bring a child to term after a series of miscarriages that might have something to do with the laws of physics suddenly not meaning much. Or, well, any of the natural laws. Reality itself has largely broken, taking most of humanity with it, and Liyana is studying the disappearance of elephants, whose decline seems more than just due to the sudden inability of anything to procreate. The piece mixes a numb sort of pain that comes from so much going wrong with a desperate hope to believe in something. To believe that humanity will continue. That life will continue. It finds Liyana finding through watching the elephants a new resolve to keep going.
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy, Elephants, Spontaneous Combustion, Hope, CW- Suicide
Review: Okay so personal preference confession—I have reservations about any story that ties reproduction to the future and hope of humanity, but this is largely tied up with personal issues. I do like how the story frames this massive shift in the world, and I love the weirdness of a lot of it, the way that things seem to have come apart. There’s no direct reason given, but it certainly seems to be the result of humanity, of a war or a technology or a something that has made things so very wrong. And not even animals are able to have successful births, so many of them are experiencing a spike in despair. Like the elephants, who seem to be burning themselves rather than face a world where there’s no hope of continuing. For Liyana, it’s a despair that she feels as well, tied to the pain of wanting a child and not being able to have one. The writing is striking and intense, and Liyana’s desire represents…well, a personal reason to keep going. The possible child becomes a symbol more than a person, a sign that life will go on. And it becomes so for more than just Liyana, becomes a sort of bond between her and the elephants, a promise that things can get better. It’s not a message that I’m comfortable with at all, but it’s certain a story I recommend people check out to make up your own minds about.

“A Place Without Portals” by Adam-Troy Castro (2160 words)

No Spoilers: A young girl wakes up from a dream where she was the Chosen One and saves an alternate world from the tyrannical rule of a dark lord. The nature of her experience, and what that might mean on a deeper level, are slowly pulled apart in this piece that closely examines not just the tropes of portal fantasies, but what they offer the people both reading them and the characters experiencing them. The piece moves quickly with a rather conversational tone, the narrator presenting this scenario as a sort of accusation and warning. And there’s a distance to the piece, a sort of pointed refusal to actually allow the reader fully into the story of this girl, because of what else is going on in her world. Because of what else is going on in our own.
Keywords: Portals, Dreams, Reality, Fantasy, Escapism
Review: This story takes the idea of a portal fantasy and frustrates it. It imagines a young girl who has a dream that she is a hero, that she has an adventure, that she steps beyond the world that we live in. And yet it’s just a dream, and one that fades. Because her world has no portals. Because our world has no portals. Because, essentially, the real world is so scary a place that we’d better fucking do something about it because if we don’t we’re essentially condemning young people to an ever-increasing hell there’s really no walking back from. It acts as a sort of accusation—look at what the young have to contend with, bereft of even the fantasies that are supposed to comfort them—that demands that people start actually facing the problems of the world instead of hoping that someone else will step up and fix it all. And I feel that this brushes against a larger conversation about youth and how people expect the young to save the older people. How in some ways it excuses those older people, those adults, from really taking steps to fix their own mess or the messes that they’ve inherited. When really, it’s on adults now to do everything we can to stop the bleeding and maybe get things better if not for us than for the future of humanity and our planet. The story is otherwise rather fun, walking a line where it’s hard to tell what direction it’s going to go until the end when it hits with a palpable weight. It’s a piece that might not be a traditional narrative, but it certainly an interesting piece and a fine read!

“Nitrate Nocturnes” by Ruth Joffre (7620 words)

No Spoilers: Fiona is a young woman waiting for her soul mate. Unlike in our world, though, she knows exactly how long she has to wait thanks to a timer on her wrist, a timer that everyone has. When it counts down to zero, that’s the moment of meeting your soul mate. And Fiona has a long wait ahead of her. Or, she thinks she does. The piece is full of a quiet longing, Fiona’s frustration that she must wait for her soul mate, that in some ways she must wait to begin the “real” part of her life clash with her own desires to reject a structure that would be so unfair and seemingly random. There’s a fear that the system is wrong, but also a fear that the system is right, and the story moves through that space with a fluttering tension.
Keywords: Queer MC, Soul Mates, Timers, Waiting, Cinema
Review: I like how this story takes on the idea of soul mates, the way that it rather tears into how partnering is often viewed in our society. People are supposed to find their soul mates early, but not always too early. They’re supposed to bring out the best in each other, are supposed to be perfect. But as the story reveals, the people often don’t find each other perfect, and even if time and effort make their relationship something affirming and strong, it’s more because of the work they put into it rather than a magical connection. Here things are complicated by the weight of the numbers counting down, the sense that Fiona has that she can’t really start things too much because of how long she has. And then, how much of a change it is to actually experience her counter speeding up. Dealing with her entire world being tipped upside down because in some ways part of her identity was that she had a long wait. And to find that taken away is distressing even as it makes her excited, even as she finds herself in a weird situation that can’t quite be explained. For me, the story is about trying to live in the moment, in peace, while society at large riots and demands that people make big and permanent decisions. To pair up, to find their other half, as if they weren’t complete. And it’s a strange but lovely story full of doubt, hope, and humanity. A great read!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great reviews! I'm especially interested in checking out "What is Eve?"