|Art by Julie Dillon|
Two short stories and two novelettes make for a rather full month at Lightspeed Magazine. The thematic threads are at times hard to connect, but I do read a concern with conflict and a deep desire for peace and compassion. That looks different for different people, and the stories reveal how often the ability to have peace is determined by how corrupt the world is where the characters live. For those who are in a place where heroism is very real and the Bad Guys are expected to lose, it seems fairly easy to take on small concerns. When the system is built around colonization, war, and domination, though, trying to just skate by isn't enough, and more decisive resistance is required. It's an interesting mix of work on display, and I'll get right to the reviews!
“This Way to Paradise” by Rati Mehrotra (7767 words)
No Spoilers: Tara and Tamar are travelling with their Aunt Anju through an India torn apart not only by a war with Pakistan and China, but with an event where the country’s leaders and a great many other people suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again. With the situation deteriorating and food and security scarce, Anju is taking them north, towards the war zone, rather than away from it, because she heard there is a paradise waiting where they will be safe. What they find, though, isn’t anything like they were expecting, and they’ll have to make some difficult decisions once they know what’s really going on. It’s a strange piece, full of absence and hurt and hunger, but also a fragile and beautiful hope that not all sacrifices are either fatal or futile.
Keywords: Wars, Aliens, Paradise, Post-Disaster, Hunger, Sacrifice
Review: I like how the story goes about exploring reactions to trauma, and I love the feeling that here is this setting where Tara at least can recognize that things are so damaged that things might never be “fine” for the people who have lived through it. That there is no reset button, to magic wand that can heal the damage done, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope of healing. Just that it takes time, and effort, and a bit of being the person to volunteer for something in the hopes of working toward the truth, toward the future, toward reconciliation. Because really it takes people willing to reach out even if it means their death. More willing to die than to kill. And it’s a call that Tara makes despite the way that no one wants her to. Tamar is too bitter, and Anju to haunted, and all of them hurt in all of these intense ways. But still Tara decides to try, not for the people she’d be leaving behind, but for herself. Because she wants to know, and because she wants to have tried, wants to do something for herself for once. And it does allow her to reach across a distance of incredible proportions and make contact in a way that no one else was able it. Because she’s a child of this conflict, and has adapted to it, and can see a way forward in a way that people blinded by the past cannot. It’s a gripping and careful story, full of the heaviness of devastation but also the beauty of human integrity and hope. A great read!
“Truth Is Like the Sun” by Matthew Kressel (4494 words)
No Spoilers: Told as a series of articles, comments, and interviews, this piece centers a performance by pop-sensation Jaim Janan, a non-binary musician who decided to perform in space. The piece explores this event and this moment through the reactions to it, from the impact of it, rather than by actually revealing the event itself. We are introduced to this world, this future, through how it relates to this performance, through how it is inspired and repulsed, through how it frames the moment and the person and the other reactions. Which makes it rather familiar but also hopeful, a vision of a future where a trans person can find global acceptance and push real change, from inspiring others to push forward into space to spurring new ideas and norms surrounding gender and sexuality.
Keywords: Music, Space, Social Media, Non-binary MC, Performances, Earth
Review: This is a rather ambitious piece, hinging everything on a character who doesn’t get a voice in the story until the very end, and even then their words are reflecting another’s. In some ways I feel it comments on how performers are like texts themselves, their very lives (but certainly their performances) becoming open to the interpretation of their audience. And if Jaim’s life is art, the message of it seems to be to reach for the stars and to care about the Earth and the people on it. At least, that’s what most people seem to get out of it, this feeling of affirmation and hope even as other aspects of the world are difficult and broken. And the story does a good job of building Jaim up as an artist and performer, showing their impact through the way other people react, to the extremes people go to both to celebrate their music and condemn their sinfullness. Which I feel gives a great feeling of a world so very hungry for hope, for some hero to stand up against the corruption and the harm and believe in something like space travel, like expanding into space. That it’s a shot of optimism in a sea of cynicism, and that their work helps to create the world they want to see. Of course, I do find myself wishing there was a bit more of Jaim here. That they got a voice for themself rather than just everyone else commenting on it. Not because I think that art needs authorial intent in order to be powerful, but rather because neither do I think that art can be really understood through reactions to it. There is a part of me that wants the direct text, the performance itself, and lacking the actual art that provoked these reactions, I’m left with a sense of uncertainty and frustration, because I want to make up my own mind. It’s a fascinating story, though, and one that plays with form and expectations so well, reaching for hope that I, too, want to believe in. It’s definitely a story to spend some time with!
“The Ocean That Fades Into Sky” by Kathleen Kayembe (12261 words)
No Spoilers: The natural deities of the planet that acts as stage for this story have had a rough awakening since humans arrived with their own gods to colonize, destroy, and attempt to shape nature to suit their own ends. The old triad of Sky, Land, and Ocean, have been scattered, shattered, and bent to the will of the colonizing triad of Cities, Homes, and Ships. And every year a summit is called so that the conquered gods must account for their actions and the ways they’ve helped the humans. If they don’t measure up, they are killed, and must spend the next twenty years reforming. Only things aren’t exactly what they seem, and the Ocean everyone has known since the colonization took place is actually her daughter, Coasts, maintaining a careful illusion in the hope sthat Ocean can gain enough strength to finally push back the colonizing humans and erase the power of Cities, Homes, and Ships. Except Coasts is young, and in love, and puts everything in jeopardy when she reveals the truth of the matter to her lover, Obsequies, the daughter of the colonizing triad. The piece is intricately imagined and beautifully rendered, the tension that Coasts live with sharp and intense and consuming. Her position is an impossible one, and yet she works toward a future where she doesn’t have to hide, where resistance doesn’t only mean death.
Keywords: Gods, Colonization, Hiding, Summits, Queer MC, Transformations
Review: Okay this story. Is. AMAZING! There is so much going on here that is handled so carefully and so well, all while building up this poly romance and exploring the grief and danger that Coasts must live with constantly, always expected to be someone else, to be seen as someone else, never really being able to live her own life even as she makes connections and tries to live and love openly. It’s a stunning look at just how fucked up colonization makes situations, where everyone is in danger, everyone bent toward this goal that is (for the natural deities) self destructive and toxic. The colonizing gods have already tried to ruin one world, have fled in the face of what their own greed wrought. And they are recreating the same situations, trying to subjugate rather than coexist with. They use their power and their weapons to enforce order, and yet even so it is a fragile thing, standing only so long as their children don’t fully understand what’s going on. And oh glob the situation where Coasts tells Obsequies who is still deep in her parents’ abuse is just so wrenching, so tense, so wonderfully captured. I want more of this story, more of this world, more of these characters, for all that this does feel like a complete story. I’m just greedy. And really, it has such a power to it, a promise, that this new generation of deities can work together to create something new and beautiful and transforming, that they can work to subvert this colonization while still moving forward, trying to bring out of this tragedy and this loss something new and wondrous. A kind of trust that can only grow out of the toxic soil colonization has left, stronger because it has had to hide and survive in this harshest of circumstances. There’s so much damage to the world the story reveals, but not so much that hope is lost, that resistance and love are impossible. And glob just read this story. Stop what you are doing and buy the issue and read this story. It is amazing!!!
“The Minor Superhero, at Home after His Series Ends” by Adam-Troy Castro (2525 words)
No Spoilers: A minor superhero goes through his life of rather quiet heroics in this story which seems to extol the merits of being minor. It shines a light on those kinds of heroes who might have had a brief moment in the spotlight, who had a series but one that didn’t last, so that after his limited run he’s been mostly retired, showing up briefly during big events but otherwise just sort of doing his own thing. The piece is full of a sort of contentedness that makes for an interesting foil to many heroes who desire to be the center of attention, who feel called to take the weight of the world onto their shoulders. This hero, by contrast, embraces a much more grounded approach to life and hero-ing...which is rather impressive for a person who can fly.
Keywords: Superheroes, Powers, Domesticity, Villains, Apartments
Review: The story for me is both quasi-send up to the kinds of superheroes that seem to be popular, the mix of incredibly powerful or obsessively driven, and a kind of celebration of just...I guess being happy where you’re at. Which, for those who have superpowers and a place to live for free, does seem to be a pretty good life. That the main character here can see that and sort of content himself to a life where the stakes aren’t often so high as the destruction of the city but rather the comfort and safety of the people of his apartment building, is refreshing and nicely handled. As far as critiques of superheroes go it’s got a few valid points, focusing on how people are often driven by the need of popularity, the desire to exist on the highest level of whatever it is they’re doing. In some ways this is a critique of culture in general that pushes people to desperately chase a dream that is, in practice, incredibly stressful and often fraught with danger. That the superhero advocates for a quieter kind of living fits with the thinking that some people would be better served to stop chasing the heights they see in others and focus instead on what makes them happy and on doing what good they can. Which, again, for people with a choice might work. The superhero is fortunate that threats don’t come after him, and his nemesis is more annoying than dangerous, and that people generally like and support the hero. And, I mean, the story doesn’t really touch the other fate for minor superheroes, to be ignobly killed off to introduce some new villain or inspire some new hero. As it is, though, it’s a mostly sweet story about heroism and the happiness that can come from being minor. A fine read!