Friday, March 8, 2019

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #106

Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia
March often means spring and new beginnings but a lot of the stories in this month’s Lightspeed Magazine are a bit more about grief and yearning. Which hey, might be very appropriate for some, like me, who are so desperate for spring we’d burn our favorite Garak trading card if only it would make the winter stop. The stories often linger on distance, and on parting. On loneliness and fear and all the negative emotions that we try to vanquish in order to be happy. More than that, though, they also reach for hope and joy, and reveal some characters who manage to grab something precious and affirming and some characters who…don’t. To the reviews!


“On the Shores of Ligeia” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (7220 words)

No Spoilers: Seth is the assistant to a big-time professor in Stockholm, where his department is finally going to get some time in “control” of a rover on the surface of Titan. Really none of them will truly be in control, the rover’s movements being driven by a complex AI model, but Seth’s boss is supposed to help to guide it. Only she broke her leg, and so it falls to Seth to step up to the plate. The piece for me is very much about family, and about learning. About risk and about freedom and about stepping away from the expected when it comes to space travel. Reimagining how humanity should step out among the stars, and who should be among those to do that, and in what ways. It’s a piece that looks at curiosity and wonder, at disaster and recovery, and it’s a lot of fun.
Keywords: Space, Exploration, Drones, Games, Family
Review: I love how the story shows Seth stuck between the desire to play by the rules when it comes to space and his frustration that the rules are written to be so conservative. To be risk-averse. Which makes complete sense when dealing with human lives, and human exploration. But when dealing with rovers and tech, with money rather than people, it’s something that seems to get in the way a bit. And I love that the story shows these very different takes on the issue of space exploration. Where in the story the American strategy is one of putting people into space, of going out and conquering, essentially. And the EU instead is working for allowing humans to experience space, to immerse in that environment. And China, meanwhile, has gone one further, and made the process open to most everyone. So that even children get to play a “game” of exploration, and in doing so get help in shaping what it is to explore and to be out in the solar system. It’s a piece that has this wonderful sense of excitement to it, that curiosity that goes along with exploration, the desire not to conquer but to know and understand. And it settles on the knowledge that there are things that have to be risked for that, because without the risk a great deal can be missed. And yes, the rover is worth a lot of money, a lot of labor, but it’s labor for a reason, a dream made real and if it stops short of reaching out and grabbing that dream, it’s not exactly money well spent either. So yeah, it’s a fun and sweet story and a fine read!

“My Children’s Home” by Woody Dismukes (4460 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a father, a person who seems to oversee the raising of children in a rather sterile, school-like atmosphere, each child being prepared for a future that they know nothing about. That even the narrator knows nothing about. Only that they won’t see each other again. It makes this like intimacy a difficult thing to build. And yet it might also make it the more beautiful and fragile when it is formed, more defining and deep. The piece is wrenching and often difficult, the setting not exactly defined but rather concealed by a veil. By the strangeness of what’s revealed and the bleakness and loneliness of everything. It’s a moving story about longing and deprivation.
Keywords: Parenting, School, Queer MC, Correspondence, Roles, CW- Slavery
Review: This is a beautifully emotional story that for me centers a cycle of hurt and longing. Where people are raised in isolation and longing only to help others be raised in the same way. When what they want is something to break through the distance and sterile coldness of their environment and bring a taste of something sweet and wonderful. It’s something the narrator has almost forgotten, but not quite, because he remembers his own childhood and the intimacy he shared with another boy before their Auction, before they were separated forever. And he sees in the young people of his care a similar connection. One that he doesn’t want to break, because he can feel so keenly the joy of it, the hope of it. But one that he cannot save, either, because he could not even save himself. Because in the end there seems nothing he can do about it. The setting here is deeply oppressive, a sort of assembly line where people don’t have personal identity. But where some can have some help forming one with someone else. Where they can connect and build something that helps them feel and escape the narrow confines of their world. It’s a difficult read I say in part because for all that it’s beautiful it’s also absolute. There is no real sense of rebellion of fighting back. There is no urge to even really rebel. There’s a broken kind of sorrow to it that is moving and real, if not entirely happy. But I do very much appreciate how the piece takes on intimacy and oppression, loneliness and control. It’s a tender and heartbreaking read and definitely deserves some time and attention!

“Self-Storage Starts with the Heart” by Maria Romasco Moore (5990 words)

No Spoilers: James lives a life mostly to himself but mostly centered around his best friend, Christopher, who now has a wife and child and no time to spend playing the miniature war game that sustained them through college. James is left with his loneliness, something that he’s seen it advertised that places can take away. For a price. Not able to afford the bottom line, James seeks to get creative in fixing his problem, and in doing so might stumble into some new ones. The piece is draining and rather dark, about the suffocating fog that James finds himself in and his desperation to find relief from it. And for me it’s a piece with some interesting things to say about relief and emotions, and friendship and desire as well.
Keywords: Emotions, Friendship, Loneliness, Business, Queer MC(?)
Review: I really like the idea of being able to store “negative” emotions. Because in many ways that seems like such a needed thing, especially when they can lead to spiraling Bad Brain and make doing anything to feel better impossible. And here I like that James is in this abusive friendship relationship and how storing his emotions really helps him to see and deal with that. That said, I’m not sure I like personally that James might be queer and in love with Christopher, not because I don’t want to read that but because the story never really brings James to a place where that queerness can be accepted or separated from the negative emotions that he feels. That and I just have complicated fears about desire and sexuality within male friendships (and it’s possible that I’m misreading the reveal about the relationship towards the end, and James doesn’t mean romantic or sexual love, and then again I might be too close in some ways to this idea, because of my own complicated feelings about friendships, queerness, and masculinity). I’m actually really interested in the ideas that story brings up about the stigma around getting help for things that most people assume require only mental discipline or some such. James is essentially anxious and depressed and treatment for that costs money that he doesn’t have. Despite the fact that storing his loneliness actually does help him to feel better, it’s not really framed as bad of him to do it for most of the story. There was a sense for me at least that though the commercial aspect of it is a bit morally suspect, the idea that some people could benefit from having their loneliness and rage taken away is a compelling one. Because why not? I feel that often it gets framed that it’s somehow morally righteous to “just deal with” negative emotions or else “work through them” with some sort of professional but the focus is rarely on how capitalism makes it impossible for those without means to really get help. And it doesn’t face that without the help, there’s often no way for the people who need help to get to a place they could afford it. In some ways this seemed like a genuinely good thing that James was doing, though I do see how locking these things away might lead to avoiding some things that it’s best not to avoid. However, given our system, our world, I cannot fault anyone for doing what James did. That it all sort of falls apart, to me, is almost disappointing because it puts him back in a place where he’s pushed to just deal with his issues without help or relief, when it was the relief of them being gone that allowed him to break what was a rather addictive and abusive relationship he had with Christopher. So I’m a little conflicted about my reading of the ending, even as I think the story does a great job of exploring its premise. For me, it might be one to revisit, because I definitely think it merits some careful consideration. So do go check it out and see what you think!

“A Hundred Thousand Arrows” by Ashok K. Banker (11890 words)

No Spoilers: Picking up where the last story left off, Vrath has vowed to remain celibate in order to honor his father’s new marriage and the heirs he would produce. Which, in turn, are produced, and Vrath gains two half-brothers. Their stories aren’t perhaps as storied as his, though, and as the piece progresses the main focus is on Vrath’s adventure in trying to procure for one of them a wife (well, wives in this case). It’s an installment that dives into the rituals of marriage and exposes much of their barbarity. For that, it’s also a rather thrilling chase and action sequence that carries a strange but awe-inspiring cinematic flare. And it’s drawing on traditions outside of the dominant Western narrative, which means playing with gender roles and systems that are rather...archaic, but in ways that I think still leave room for fun.
Keywords: Marriage, Competition, Archery, Treachery, Combat
Review: The story of Vrath continues, and a part of me is curious to see how many people might seek to put a label on the character like Gary Stu, because Vrath is essentially perfect, more than mortal, and shows it off to good effect here. In some ways it’s to the point where there’s not exactly a sense of danger for him, because he seems able to survive so much. But I like what this series has done and continues to do with that, making so many of his challenges not about his physical prowess, but rather about his ability to make judgments and calls that speak more to his wisdom than his brawn. And here I see a lot woven not into how awesome he is with a bow (while driving a chariot, sometimes with his eyes closed), but also how much he’s layering, building this trust between himself and the women he has indeed kidnapped. Not because he’s happy about the tradition that allows him to “capture a bride” but because he knows he can use that in order to show them that he can be trusted. And there is just that edge of hurt at some of this, the echoes of his terrible vow from the last part. At the same time, the piece also rushes over some areas that I might have wanted to see more of, striking through a great number of years of loss and perhaps grief in order to linger here on this admittedly action-packed romp. Part of me guesses it’s because of the way it leaves things still focused on the oath, and if Vrath is really going to honor it, while the other part wonders what’s in store next for this demigod and his trials. A fine read!


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