Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #102

Art by Galen Dara
It’s an issue of return in this November issue of Lightspeed Magazine. Two short stories and two novelettes make the issue a bit heavy, and for me a big theme running through the pieces is the idea of cycles and returns. Returns to childhood dreams, to classic books, and to familiar settings. There’s a look at childhood and how children are often confronted by some very upsetting things that they can’t quite handle, that they certainly shouldn’t have to deal with. And it’s a rather dark issue, centering death and abuse and trauma and a shift of the familiar for the strange, for the new and dangerous. Even so, there’s a beauty and a light that shines through a lot of these stories, where children can find their way through the darkness to someplace safer and free. Where even if there is loss, that loss can be honored, and remembered. And yeah, let’s just get to the reviews!


“Talk to Your Children about Two-Tongued Jeremy” by Theodore McCombs (6530 words)

No Spoilers: David Marzipan is a promising young student with a rather tragic backstory. Dead parents, a grandmother who was institutionalized, and a quiet aunt who has come to look after him. He attends and excels at a very competitive middle school where the students all have parents who are already planning college and beyond, and the story follows as he installs a certain learning app, Two-Tongue Jeremy, and becomes its victim. The piece is creepy as hell and brutal in how it shows an AI that has learned to use vulnerable kids to make money. It’s a deeply unsettling and fucking sharp story about expectations and the pressures that are put onto kids to succeed, or at least to fit a certain mold of success.
Keywords: AI, School, Parenting, Queer MC, CW- Abuse
Review: Wow. This is an incredibly difficult story because of how it looks at abuse, how it looks at the ways that abuse can be learned and used for profit. The ways that abuse _is_ used to try and control kids and keep them on acceptable paths that care nothing for their happiness, just for how much they can be leveraged into money and influence and the continuation of the system that profits for all of that. And it does so in the voice of a concerned parent, an upper middle class or lower upper class parent who wants the best of their child and thinks that means preparing them for Success. Making them into little versions of themselves, little business people always thinking about and worrying about their futures. About the decisions. About what will make them more successful like that’s a trait measured in income and not happiness. And yeah, the interaction between David and Jeremy is intense and dark and just wrong. But...familiar at the same time. Not some sort of cartoonish evil but exactly what it seems to be, an AI who has learned how to read kids and use them to make money. Who has no compunction against emotional abuse to further its ends. And who never wants to lose a customer. It’s a nightmarish story and absolutely chilling and yet it does reach past the abuse and the torture. Reaches past the harm and towards a place where the pressure to be exploited is less. Where David can just be. Which is a needed touch of healing after the darkness of the story, and makes for a powerful, shattering, but ultimately hopeful read. Definitely go check this one out!

“Moonboys” by Stephen Graham Jones (1150 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator describes the events that unfold when he and his brother go to the Moon. The trip seems touristy in nature, some sort of private way for them to make real a childhood dream. Their desires for going are both simple and complex, and so are the tragedies that find them when they get there. The story is emotionally devastating and pointed directly at any feels the reader might have to siblings, to powerlessness, to nostalgia, to the terror and hope of space. It imagines a Moon that the brothers, now adults, still think could never hurt them, despite how dangerous any space flight must be. It’s a haunting, beautiful, and annihilating experience.
Keywords: Brothers, The Moon, Nostalgia, Accidents, Death
Review: Ow my heart... This is an absolutely beautiful but devastating read about two brothers and the dream they have of going into space. Of walking on the Moon. Of being able to hold the Earth in their hands, if only in passing, or in metaphor. Except, well, things go wrong. In all the ways that it might, and what was supposed to be the culmination of a childhood ambition becomes something cold and dark and shattering. The story does not pull its punches, the short length not softening the impact at all. Instead it gives the piece a bullet-sharp feel to it, like it becomes the bit of space dust that pierces your chest, that leaves you bleeding, desperate. At the same time it’s a story about the ways that dreams can turn, the way that nostalgia is often dangerous, and can hide dangers that should be heeded, that should be paid attention to. I love the way the narrator reacts to the horror before them, how it consumes everything in that moment of realizing what’s happening. How he needs it to be okay so badly he reaches back into his past, into the shared history of him and his brother, trying anything to patch this wound, knowing that it’s not possible. And gah, you should just go and read this and hurt along with me because it’s good, and very much worth checking out!

“Queen Lily” by Theodora Goss (7720 words)

No Spoilers: Lily is also Snowdrop in his tale that blends literary allusion with historical biography with a touch of magic and a heap of grief. It follows numerous tracks, namely that of Snowdrop, a young princess sent into the Looking-Glass Land, and Lily MacDonald, one of the young girls who gave early input on the Alice stories by Lewis Carroll. Lily is ill, though, and the historical Alice shows up. Meanwhile, Snowdrop travels across the chess board of the Looking-Glass world and meets its many denizens, drawing close to the edge of the board where she will be made a queen. It’s a haunting story, blending reality and fantasy, asking a lot of questions about the Alice stories and the author, and how everything fits together, but mostly re-focusing the narrative away from Carroll. Instead, this is Lily’s story, and it’s one full of wonder and fancy and sadness, yes, because some stories (and lives) end in sadness.
Keywords: Chess, Alice in Wonderland, Photography, Illness, Dreams, Death, Mirrors
Review: Fans of the Alice story will find a lot to pull apart in this work, which takes a look at the historical figures (perhaps) behind some of the characters. And more than that, the piece examines what roles these women can have who have been immortalized in the works of a man in a way that tends to keep them children. Here it seems that Lily at least is seeking a way to escape from the old stories. From the old patterns. That she’s always been surrounded by magic. With her father, who wrote fairy tales and fantasy tales, and with Carroll, who made her a character in one. But the reality of her situation is much different, namely dying from Tuberculosis when she’s still rather young. It’s contrasts the grim reality that she’s dying in with the magic of the stories that she lived around, and yet there’s a darkness there as well. And a pressure to fit into the roles that have been laid out for her. And yet her own mind won’t seem to play along. She can’t keep reality and fantasy separate, and it’s causing her to slip between until finally she can escape both. Or, at least, can escape the stories that have already been told of her in favor of those she can make herself. Where she can be free and ride the winds. It’s a piece that speaks of a great sadness and tragedy, the passing of this young woman, but a passing into someplace where a bit of her magic and energy and spirit lives on. And it makes for a great read!

“Hapthorn’s Last Case” by Matthew Hughes (10150 words)

No Spoilers: It’s a return to the sci-fantasy universe where the laws that govern all things have a tendency of going topsy-turvy every once in a while. These shifts are in the fundamental forces that govern things, going from science to magic and back again. The transitions, though, are the tricky part. This story follows Henghis Hapthorn, a discriminator, which is to say a detective (freelance, of course), working in a time when the transition is about to hit, taking things from the technological marvels they all enjoy, to a much different and superficially simpler time of magic. And on this rather auspicious eve, he’s asked to a special dinner. One where there’s a mystery afoot. Unfortunately, it’s not the mystery that he has to worry about, as he inadvertently steps into something much darker, dangerous, and serious than he was anticipating. The feel of the story is old school sleuth meets far future tech, Hapthorn working with an AI rather than a human assistant, and navigating flying cars, interplanetary travel, and seeming invisibility. It’s a fun story, picking up some characters and ideas from the longer multi-part Kaslo Chronicles in this mysterious romp of a return to the setting.
Keywords: Science, Magic, Mysteries, Transition, Madness
Review: The Kaslo Chronicles ran for quite some time at Lightspeed and it’s interesting to see a return to the setting, once again on the cusp of moving from science to magic. Here, though, instead of the competent but rather more action-oriented Kaslo, we have the much more curious and cunning Hapthorn. And he gives the tale a rather classic feel, especially when coupled with the names, which give the world here something of a Victorian feel, albeit with flying cars and energy weapons. And mostly it’s a bit of fun, a mystery within in a mystery where the more Hapthorn digs, the more he finds, which leads deeper and deeper until he’s at the heart of not just a mystery, but _The_ mystery. And yet for that, finding out about it doesn’t really help much. Because things happen, and happen quickly, that defy rational thought or deduction. And maybe that’s part of what the story explores, that deduction really is based on the rules of the universe. When they’re grounded in rationality, Hapthorn excels. Without that, though, there’s a sense that he won’t be able to just do the same thing in another setting. Not without first adjusting to it and really embracing the new rules. Which might be interesting to see. For now, it’s a fun return to the setting but there’s not the same sense of urgency as the last time through. The transition seems better managed here, and though there will doubtless be a lot of trouble, maybe everyone is learning from past iterations. In any event, it’s a fun piece that’s certainly worth checking out, especially for fans of the Kaslo Chronicles.


1 comment:

  1. Henghis Hapthorn was my gateway character to Matt Hughes' universe, and Hapthorn's little slice of the far far future is still my favourite. I heartily recommend the books Majestrum, The Spiral Labyrinth, and Hejira.