|Art by Elizabeth Leggett|
March brings three short stories and a novelette to Lightspeed Magazine, with perhaps a focus on characters facing worlds/situations/lives that they want to escape from. Relationships that have began to feel like prisons. Systems that offer them no room to reach for what they really want, or where making the decision to reach for change carries a rather high cost. The pieces explore how these characters push on regardless, hoping that they can find a balance that will work for them, not sure of it and afraid that it might be a mistake after all. For some, there is a brighter future ahead. For others...not so much. But it's an interesting issue, and I'll get right to my reviews!
“Giant Steps” by Russell Nichols (4972 words)
No Spoilers: Dr. Jenkins is an astrophysicist and astronaut on a mission to be the first human on Titan, to investigate indentations in the ground that resemble footprints. Her mission is multi-faceted—on one level it seems to be about her desire for knowledge and scientific fact, on another, it seems to be about her desire to believe in something, a story from her childhood that always felt real. Tied up in all of that is grief at the passing of her gramma, and perhaps something of a desire to escape the cage she feels her relationship with her partner and daughter have or will become. It’s a story of absence and faith, knowledge and hope, and the desire to be free. It’s complex, and doesn’t seek out easy answers, and it’s a little bit just haunting and beautiful.
Keywords: Space, Explorations, Footsteps, Family, Music
Review: This story does a very careful job of showing the messy situation that Dr. Jenkins is in, the conflicts of family and ambition, of expectation and desire. She wants to go into space, an explorer, wants to be a giant, to grow beyond the restrictions heaped on her by circumstance and hate, prejudice and safety. Which is no easy thing, because everyone around her keeps telling her she should want something else. That she should sacrifice. That she should settle. But she doesn’t want to, and so she doesn’t. And it’s complicated more because she does some things she doesn’t want to. She has a child despite not wanting that constraint. But it’s something her partner wants, and so she does it. And for him it’s something that fits him, that suits, him, that seems to help him keep his life together. For her, though, it seems more of a cage she can’t really stand. She yearns to do something for herself and has to deal with constantly being called selfish regardless of how much she gives up for other people. They demand everything. Everything. And she’s not willing to give that. And I like that the story doesn’t exactly condemn her for that. Rather for me it acknowledges that this is a situation that doesn’t have a simple fix. Yes, she owes something to the daughter she helped create, but it’s not necessarily her presence. In some ways it might be not letting that daughter become a cage that she would resent, that she would regret. By reaching out into space for answers, for the magic she believed in as a child, she might find something to bring back that...that won’t make up for being gone, but might will still be valuable and good and rewarding. For herself, for everyone. The story doesn’t necessarily answer that, doesn’t show what it is that she finds, but it does seem something Big, something that maybe no one other than Dr. Jenkins could have found. A great read!
“Many Happy Returns” by Adam-Troy Castro (5421 words)
No Spoilers: Gorman is a young man experiencing situation after situation placing him in danger, in combat or harsh terrains, in death-defying dives or perilous climbs. Through each of these situations, though, he is followed by a robot who has a specific task, and who cannot rest until they’ve seen it through. The piece mixes humor with a more sinking seriousness, Gorman’s situations a bit ridiculous for their wish fulfillment and structures and yet revealing a more complicated picture of the overall cycle that both he and the robot are stuck in. In some ways it’s a story about growing up, or not wanting to, about responsibility, and fairness, and escape.
Keywords: Robots, Adulthood, Loopholes, Cycles, Virtual Reality
Review: The exact machinations of Gorman’s immortality are perhaps a little vague, but the result is that for about a million years he’s been avoiding “growing up” and settling into the life his family wanted for him, the dour solitude and grumpiness of being an “adult.” He’s tricked his way into a forever of games and illusions, and he has no intention of giving that up. Which makes sense, as the future that his family wanted for him is one devoid of “fun.” One that is purposefully unpleasant because that’s how they define adulthood. That all said, to me what Gorman suffers from is affluence. He’s got money and time and safety and clearly lacks much of an imagination. His answer to being pressured by his family to take on his “responsibilities” is to escape into this rather visceral situations that, despite their sensory feedback, aren’t real. For me, it speaks to how those with everything, given everything, are woefully unprepared to operate in a world where their actions have consequences. Gorman never cares about anyone other than himself, something I don’t think something so arbitrary as adulthood will solve. In some ways it’s good that one so selfish doesn’t have more power than over a single robot, but even that is a violation, and Gorman really just comes off in the worst light for me. I just...mostly I wonder how he’s not dead, given the time he’s been doing this and that the rest of his family is dead, meaning if it’s a tech issue couldn’t they have enjoyed similar longevity? Because I am mostly apathetic to his “growing up” and more saddened that the robot has been waiting so long to be released from this service, something they are apparently incapable of giving up on. It’s a story of cycles and, for me, a kind of entitled and toxic escapism. And it’s certainly worth checking out for that.
“Tend to Me” by Kristina Ten (2295 words)
No Spoilers: Nora is a self described “becomer,” someone who changes depending on the people she’s with, and especially depending on the person she’s in a relationship with. Their interests become her interests, crowding out her memories and her identity in an effort to be what they will want her to be, a perfect companion. It’s something those partners largely take for granted, taking it as their due, even as they fail in any way to reciprocate. Until she starts dating a man who’s an amateur acupuncturist, at which point her transformation goes in some unexpected, and weird, directions. It’s a story that explores the pressures placed on people, and especially on women, in relationships. The way that society structures gender to make some people feel like they have to change everything about themself to please someone else. Even so, though, I love the direction the story takes, Nora finding a way to become herself, to step into a role that’s completely for her own joy and protection and fulfillment.
Keywords: Relationships, Interests, Cacti, Transformations, Identity
Review: I love how this story develops, the movement of Nora from someone who is twisted by her relationships to someone who gains some kind of freedom and affirmation, some space to be herself in a space that is safe without being completely isolated. And part of that is the nature of her transformation, that she becomes a cactus. And she does so in a relationship with a man who is just a bit more laid back. Like she needs that he’s okay with her being more herself, and in some ways must be a bit of a becomer himself, because he adapts to her, learns for her, tries to be what she needs. And I love that, when it’s clear what she needs is space, he is able to give that without malice or anger. She’s able to grow defenses, grow large, let herself become more powerful, less afraid. And, ultimately, more independent. Not needing even this amateur’s attention or care. They are able to part, and she is able to move into a place where she can be...more than one thing. A cactus yes but also a woman among women, also a person who might want to dance, who might want to try new things. Not stuck, but with roots all the same, and an anchor when she wants it. For me it speaks to this desire for something that has constantly been twisted, channeled into this kind of servitude, this kind of abandonment of identity in an effort of be accepted, to be loved. When really that love has to start inward. It’s quiet and careful, and the character dynamics are wonderful and real, even as the speculative elements are strange and almost dreamlike. It’s a lot of fun, even for a story dealing with some difficult elements, and I definitely recommend checking it out!
“Love and Marriage in the Huxasun Lands” by Tahmeed Shafiq (7844 words)
No Spoilers: This story acts as a sort of history, though one steeped a bit in romance. It follows the king Adhamrya, who was wed to a goddess, but who ended up falling in love with someone else. And it examines the nature of those who call themselves gods but who are very like humans, and the nature of humans when faced with the power and brutality of those who call themselves gods. And it’s a rather complex look at a specific love triangle that leads to some horrific violence, some deep tragedy, but also to a bit of light and love as well. It’s part myth, part judgment, and entirely sweeping and engaging, a fantasy built around a war in part being fought between gods and human hearts.
Keywords: History, Kings, Gods, Love, Marriage, Cheating, War
Review: I love how the story takes on love and marriage of the kind often found in myths, between gods or goddesses and mortals. How those relationships are often built on these huge loves and appetites but that, when the spotlight shifts from them, the reality of what’s happened sinks in. In this case, it leads Adhamrya to really question and be repulsed by the man he is when he’s tasting the divinity at his side. Or not the divinity. The power. The goddess he loves and who loves him is a creature of passions and appetites and it means life is never boring. But it also means that there is often blood, and pain, and crimes that she doesn’t feel because to her human lives are something she has every right to spend how she wishes. But that doesn’t change the way that she loves, and it’s a rather wrenching situation that everyone finds themselves in when Adhamrya falls in love with a mortal. It’s tragic but resists being about the brutal punishment that must come because of his transgression. Rather, it’s a story about the pain of love and loss. The joys and the loneliness that linger and linger. The world building is great, and the character work solid, and I just love the feel of it, full of a robust romantic flair. It does read a lot like a history, one that treats myth and magic and the more mundane all with the same brush, creating the sense of a world that still has magic, that still traces itself back to these huge moments of gods fight wars against each other and loves and betrayals that shape countries and continents. It’s a delight to read, evocative and with an ending that complicates Adhamrya and his legacy nicely. A wonderful way to close out the issue!