|Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia|
The stories in the August issue of Lightspeed for me deal with sudden and huge changes. Moments when characters are confronted with things that force them to either suppress what they've seen or completely alter their way of seeing the world. Even so, their reactions are quite different. Some are left rather broken by the experience, while others just sort of shrug and get on with it. Some are pushed past a wall of trauma so that they can't seem to feel at all, while others find their lives changed and wonder at how it all went pear shaped. Whatever the case, the pieces look at ways that lives can change, at what is powerful enough to really impact a person. Maybe AI are more advanced you thought and your employer is lying to you. Maybe a woman shows up claiming to be your husband's daughter...but not yours. Maybe your whole village is destroyed by raiders. Or maybe you see something you shouldn't have. The stories bring a nice breadth of styles and stories, and I'll get right to the reviews!
“One Thousand Beetles in a Jumpsuit” by Dominica Phetteplace (9808 words)
No Spoilers: Isla is coming off of a bad breakup and being fired from her job as a restaurant’s drone minder. Wanting a change, she takes a job with a large and mysterious company to be a minder in a sort of trial run for terraforming/colonization efforts on Mars. This takes place in a special area of the American Southwest dubbed Robot Country, and surprise surprise it turns out that the corporation doesn’t really tell her everything before sending her in to what turns out to be a delicate situation. The piece takes place in a world where climate change has devastated so much, and yet the world is still locked in corruption by powerful corporations who want to use their technological advances only for profit. The piece looks at loyalty and integrity in interesting ways, asking in part what employees owe employers, especially in corrupt systems. It’s fun, kinda sexy, and quite charming.
Keywords: Corporations, Employment, Breakups, Robots, AI, Espionage, Climate Change
Review: I love the voice and outlook of this story, the way that it captures this sort of numb hopelessness in the face of a very corrupt system. Isla is a young person trying to get by, angry at the abuses she has to deal with but also used to it, having had to struggle her way through everything, with the ridiculous control that employers demand from their employees. It means that she is willing to do a lot for her job, but it also gives her a very acute sense of owing her employers just about nothing. Because they treat her only as a resource to exploit, when the opportunity comes along to sell out to a different source, it’s not something she really agonizes over. And that strikes me as very real, that she’s pragmatic in a way that the system encourages even as the individuals in the system are supposed to pretend it’s not the case. She’s supposed to be loyal to her boss, to humanity, because...because she’s supposed to believe the obvious lies, or because she’s so desperate that she can’t do anything else. But when she gets the chance to escape that, which is easily accomplished through just a little bit of money and maybe the chance of doing something good...she jumps at the chance. Not entirely enthusiastically, but with the same feeling that carries her through most things. She’s a survivor in this world, and more than that she wants to make a difference, wants to help people because the technology to do so already exists. And if she can stick it to the man while helping herself a little, more power to it. It’s a fun piece, and I love the way the robots co-opted the human models for encouragement, emphasizing points and levels but still operating more openly and honestly than the human corporations. It’s a nice mix of critique on corruption, sci fi adventure, and young woman dealing with her emotions, and it’s very much worth checking out. A great read!
“No Matter” by Kendra Fortmeyer (4556 words)
No Spoilers: A woman and her husband are walking one day when they are confronted by a strange claiming to be his daughter. His, but not hers. The daughter gives him a time and place to be somewhere, and that simple act serves to do something to the marriage between the man and woman. It introduces a kind of doubt, and the story explores where that doubt leads, and how it changes the relationship between these two people. It’s a story heavy with memories, with two people who mean a lot to each other, and how sometimes that’s not enough to keep people together. It’s full of a kind of doomed sadness made tender and bittersweet by the love that exists between these two people.
Keywords: Time Travel, Relationships, Memories, Obsession, Paradoxes
Review: I like how this story plays with the idea of paradoxes and relationships. Memories. How the narrator builds up this vision of her relationship and really makes it into something that’s so important to her at the time. Important to them both. And yet this one small event acts as an injection of something toxic. It infects their relationship because it makes them both doubt it. They were in this place that was beautiful and that seemed so strong because they were in love, because they were blissfully happy. But in reality their happiness turns out to be rather fragile. In part, I think, because it was always easy. As a couple they don’t seem to have really had many trials. Not many arguments or crises or problems. They are married and happy because they are living inside this bubble (and I love how the story layers that idea) and this future daughter is the pin that summarily pops it. That makes the narrator doubt things (is she dead in the future? Has their marriage failed? What does it all mean?) and that doubt creeps into her husband as well, so that they are both wondering if they are truly “meant to be” and if this daughter really is from the future, does that mean that it _is_ a foregone conclusion? I like how the story plays with all that without really offering an answer, lightly speculative but certainly involved in conversation with time travel, intimacy, and memory. It makes for an interesting read that is worth mulling over!
“The Final Blow” by Scott Sigler (4241 words)
No Spoilers: This gritty story follows Manil as his town dies. As it burns and is butchered by invaders. As his uncle, a traveler who has seen a lot of the world, tries to prepare him for what he’ll have to do in order to survive. The piece is full of violence and gore and for Manil, a shattering of everything that he’s known. It’s a story that I struggle with, to be perfectly honest. It’s possible that it’s using violence to make a subtle point about trauma. But if so I’m missing it. It’s hard to say much without spoilers, though, so just beware the content warnings and proceed with caution.
Keywords: Family, Bargains, Disasters, CW- Torture, CW- Rape
Review: This really isn’t the kind of fantasy that I’m particular to. The world building is interesting, the island and town of the piece have been in a decline for some time before these events finish things off. And Manil is a child who has to suddenly...well, that’s part of hesitation about the story, that it frames needing to kill to survive as “growing up.” Which...is pretty fucked up. The piece is dark and violent, stepping around just being descriptions of murder and rape by leaving some of it obscured and implied. That Manil will be taken in by the people responsible for the destruction in the story doesn’t exactly seem like a good thing, even with his survival, but maybe I’m a bit picky about stories that frame survival as more important than anything else. Nor do I particularly enjoy narratives that lean on the necessity of murder and violation because of the situation or setting. That’s a narrative choice and one that I tend to find...a bit disappointing. That Manil has to kill his best friend is torture and one I just don’t really care to see played out, especially without a greater payoff. To me, this reads like the beginning to a novel, and while it might lead to an interesting exploration not only of the world of the story but also Manil’s trauma, as it is there’s only the trauma. The trauma and a kind of numb acceptance of it, a victory that Manil can’t feel but that the story seems to me to position as necessary. For fans of gritty and dark fantasy, this might be exactly what you’re looking for. For me, it hits me in a lot of wrong ways. But I still do encourage people to check it out if it sounds like you’d enjoy it (with an added emphasis on the content warnings).
"A Leash of Foxes, Their Stories Like Barter” by Cassandra Khaw (3492 words)
No Spoilers: Framed as a kind of fairy tale told to children, this story reveals the figures of Mary and Mr. Fox. The pair are put in a dark but romantic light, perfectly suited to one another and in love despite the myriad and jealous suitors that Mary has, that she spurns to spend time with Mr. Fox. Their connection goes deeper than attraction, though, deeper than swift words and flashing kisses edged with sharp teeth. And the story is nicely creepy while building an interesting layered experience because of the nature of fairy tales and the mystery of who the narrator is, and who the people are listening to it. It’s dark, sly, and lots of fun.
Keywords: Foxes, Marriage, Stories, Fairy Tales, Monsters
Review: I love the framing of the story because fairy tales told to children are supposed to be moral stories. There are lessons to be learned amid a field of darkness and beauty, monsters and forests and magic. But the story of Mr. Fox doesn’t exactly carry a moral that most children would find helpful...unless these aren’t “normal” children. After all, we know only that the narrator is called Papa, and so is presumably the father of the listeners of the story, which we as readers get to sit with to listen to the tale being spun. But is the narrator also an older Mr. Fox, trying to teach his children a bit of their nature and what to expect from the greater world? For me at least it implies that these children have things to learn from a story that is definitely operating with a non-human focus, where Mr. and Mrs. Fox are indeed a kind of monster, but also belonging to something older and darker than humanity. Whatever the case, I like the edge it gives to an already sharp story, that added darkness giving a crispness to the text, to the violence and the hunger and the love that it reveals. And it really is a fun story, the couple alive and full of a bloody mischief, with a magnetism that is delightful. Their story is one of trust and joy, their dance of destruction and revelry full of shadows and promise. A great way to close out the issue’s original content!