|Art by Reiko Murakami|
Lightspeed Magazine brings four new stories out this April (three short stories & one novelette) that space from near-past science fiction to mythological fantasy, moving from a Mars where humanity has suffered a great loss to a village where the injustices are a bit more nuanced. The issue also includes a conclusion to the Banker cycle that’s been recurring in recent months, though I dare say it’s probably not the last readers will see of the characters or setting. And all told there are a lot of characters bound by their promises, having to navigate situations where what they said they were going to do might be more ruinous than breaking their word. So yeah, to the reviews!
“The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim (8931 words)
No Spoilers: Saki is an archronologist, a sort of archaeologist of time capable of entering into a record of time called the Chronicle that was built by aliens and left behind on Mars. She’s on a trip there, but not simply to study time or the other alien artifacts recovered on the planet—she’s investigating what went wrong on the human colony of Mars, where everyone has died including her lifelove, her partner. With the mystery of the colony’s failure, the crushing grief of her loss, and the promise of alien technology that might be the answer to all of it, Saki has to navigate a very loaded situation that might allow her to find healing or shatter her into a million piece. Or both. It’s an emotionally heavy story with a pervasive grief even as it focuses on moving forward, on crafting a narrative that might be imperfect, but is beautiful and rewarding all the same.
Keywords: Mars, Time, Colonies, Loss, Queer Characters, Aliens
Review: I love how the story looks at time and memory and art in a rather meta way, Saki engaged in trying to record a story that somehow encapsulates what has happened even as it always comes through the lens of her perspective, becoming distorted through time and intent and space. It’s something of the allure of the Chronicle, that it gives this access to the past and future, presumably without distortion. Except that even by going back to observe it distorts the past that is being observed. There is no way of going back without damaging the record, and that’s a great point to make here, that where the past is a destination, any foray into it is a violence against it. Does damage. And sometimes that might be worth it, and the knowledge that Saki and her group are reaching for is certainly important. But she’s having to struggle with the nature of time and narrative, the way that all stories are in some ways collaborations between the author and the reader, the final impact varying widely based on how each approaches the work. And I just love where the story brings Saki, to this place where she can seek to tell the story as well as she can, not casting off her bias but embracing it, being aware of it and going forward anyway, knowing that seeking objectivity often just causes more damage to the actual events. So she seeks to stay true in her heart to what happened, and that kind of earnest effort is something that comes through, that makes the piece seem more real and valuable because it accounts for that collaboration between text and person. It’s a beautiful story that touches on a lot, on loss and memory, and family and hope and first contact and communication. And it’s a wonderful read!
“Gundark Island, or; Tars Tarkas Needs Your Help” by Matthew Corradi (7219 words)
No Spoilers: The main character of this story grows up and gets into SFF because of a friend, Tommy Burke, and an alien nicknamed Sarlacc. The piece follows the narrator as he grows up and grows in love with SFF, finding through it a door to the wondrous and the infinite. It’s a piece that is laced with nostalgia, looking at how Growing Up tends to drive the wonder and hope from a person and replace it with worry and responsibility. But it also looks at how nostalgia and SFF can spark a bit of the old hope and push people to change and try to find more joy in their lives. It’s a quiet and bittersweet piece about the power of stories and childhood.
Keywords: Aliens, Nostalgia, Growing Up, Media, Books, Parenting
Review: I have a rather complicated relationship with nostalgia and specifically with growing up with an active imagination and loving SFF. I think the story does a great job of showing the wonder and joy that SFF can foster, and it certainly carries with it a certain reverence for the Good Old Days of SFF, where the work as a whole feels a bit like a love letter to SFF. And I feel like there are probably many who will feel this story like a warm blanket, looking back on a time that feels innocent and alive with imagination and possibility and hope that contrasts the often difficult realities of living. Putting childhood into a sort of magical rose-tint and making adulthood about responsibility and passing that nostalgia on to the next generation above everything else. I think that the emotion of the piece is well captured, though I fear I just can not connect with the piece for a number of probably personal reasons, not least of which because it maps traditions and developments in SFF that look at why many of the older works aren’t welcoming or inspiring or affirming for many as being...ways of stripping SFF of its wonder and innocence. Which I don’t agree with at all. And I don’t think that complexity means that people can’t find joy in SFF that doesn’t always spring from the same (I guess alien) font of magic that produced the works of Burroughs and Asimov and Lucas. And I don’t think nostalgia is something that’s better to just let stand. But that’s me, and I got issues. So many issues. I certainly recommend that people check out the story for themselves and see what they think. It’s definitely a rather cute and fun piece, for all that I couldn’t really enjoy it.
“The Seeds of War” by Ashok K. Banker (6754 words)
No Spoilers: With two wives for the king secured, things look like they might be shaping up for the Krushan Empire. But even as the young king enjoys the company of his wives and becomes a great patron of the arts, events conspire to twist the Empire back toward crisis and possible ruin. And this time it’s not an enemy that can be killed or puzzle that can be solved. Indeed, Vrath plays only a small role in the work, and the focus shifts more to his stepmother, Jilana, and her secret history. The piece continues to build up the myth of the situation, moving quickly through time to get closer and closer to a mysterious event that the series a whole might be kind of back story for. The editorial this month calls this the final Vrath piece, but if that’s the case it leaves the world in a rather precarious spot without a great deal of resolution.
Keywords: Kings, CW- Pregnancy, Bargains, Vows, Family
Review: Good things have a way of souring with bad luck for Vrath, and even with his success in securing wives for his brother he still doesn’t get what he wants because this brother also dies without producing an heir. The Empire in danger of descending into chaos, most of the story is actually about the lengths that Jilana will go to in order to try and secure the future of the dynasty. Which pushes the narrative into some strange directions, namely into the power that priests have to lay down curses on their own offspring if they find something that the woman they’re with does unpleasant. Which is...huh. I do have some serious hesitations about that part of the story, because of the way that it is framed as the women needing to be okay sleeping with this stranger or else they get cursed through magic babies. But it’s in keeping with the way the stories have flowed around law, how the importance here is not really acting toward some personal morality but in keeping with the wisdom and teachings of the gods. In that sense there is only one correct way to act, and even if these men don’t want to condemn the empire to war, hey feel they can’t stop themselves. And in some ways it feels like it’s always to set up the next tragedy, the next lesson. That here the stories are coming out of a tradition of showing people they must accept the laws of the gods because they are right and there is ultimately no going against them. And again, I’m not sure if this is really the end of the series. it seems like there must be another part that deals with how the heirs to the empire are going to go to war with one another, but perhaps that will be appearing in another format. In any event, it’s an interesting way to push the series forward, and one I again suggest people check out on their own to see how it strikes them.
“A Conch-Shell’s Notes” by Shweta Adhyam (2572 words)
No Spoilers: This story is told in three cycles, each featuring a different character whose life has been shaped by a magical conch who whispers into people’s ears about choices they have and what the outcomes will be. For the first two characters, the choices they are given effect how they might succeed. They take risks, because the rewards are sweet, and the prices aren’t that high. As long as they trust in the conch, they get what they want, and enjoy success. For the third character, though, that’s not so much the case. And the reasons why, and what the characters do with that, is what drives the piece to its shattering conclusion. The piece reads a bit like a fable, a story recurring and deepening with each cycle, as the truth behind the truth begins to sink in and expose the lies that were concealed.
Keywords: Prophecy, Choice, Marriage, Sacrifice, Inequality
Review: This story does an amazing job of showing how choice is often framed and thought about. How for the men of the story, the conch gives them options to weigh, but whatever the case they are still basically moving forward. They must take chances to get their bigger rewards, but each time they are also guaranteed that the cost won’t be that great. And the conch tells everyone how great these men are, which then gives them more options, more ways to succeed further. For the woman of the story, though, there is no such set of options. The choices she is given are not real choices. She doesn’t get to do what she wants and still get ahead. Instead, she must always been the to concede something. to give something up so that she won’t be abused or die. That is always the second choice for her, so that in effect the conch is just telling her what to do, and praising none of it like it praises the men. She toils and she sacrifices and it’s all invisible, and still she can’t avoid further punishment, further cost heaped onto her while the men around her benefit from her labor and her love. And I like how that gets exposed, how because the conch speaks to every person individually it is able to hide what it’s doing, the differences between what it tells women and men. And as long as it whispers, and as long as no one brings that out in the open, it continues. So she does something about it, to break the cycle, and it’s dangerous and probably will lead to her death, but finally that’s not enough of a reason to not do it, and that’s a powerful moment. A wonderful story!