|Art by Galen Dara
I kick off my May reviews with this look at Lightspeed, where again it's all short stories. And it marks a return to a few ongoing projects, both in the form of a new work set in the same universe as Ada Hoffmann's The Outside, as well as a new excerpt from Alex Weinstein's Lost Travelers' Tour Guide. Throw in a pair of wholly original stories that deal with romance and love amidst fear, uncertainty, and shame, and it makes for a very interesting issue, one grounded very much in love and communication, and the fragile lines between people. There are some stunning visuals and deep character moments, and if you don't believe me yet let's get to the reviews!
“The Time Travelers Advice to the Lovelorn” by Adam-Troy Castro (3637 words)
No Spoilers: This story follows a junk collector named Samael as he pines for Magda, a woman in his village. A woman he knows he doesn’t really have a chance with, but is deeply in love with anyway. Lacking skills with words, or ambition that would make him appealing, or even good looks that might get her attention, he decides to seek out the advice of the resident time traveler, a man who might know a thing or two about women, or at least might act as a kind of fairy godmother to Samael and his desires. And the time traveler does indeed have some advice, and a bargain, if Samael’s interesting. It’s just not...exactly what Samael had in mind. The piece is quick and light, building the world in broad strokes and leaning on some tropes in order to deliver a twist on them.
Keywords: Love, Transformations, Bargains, Time Travel, Dogs
Review: The whole thing is basically a set up for the joke at the end, and as far as it goes, it’s a rather entertaining joke, one that recognizes that the “love” that Samael has isn’t exactly a deep well. It’s based on seeing this woman and imagining her qualities. It’s a kind of adoration rather was love that would be about her full person. And as such the resolution involves finding a way to channel that into something that can be rewarding for both Samael and the woman. At the same time, it’s something that could easily be viewed as a “be careful what you wish for” kind of story, warning against trying to effectively cheat your way into love as Samael might be seen to be cheating his way into the life and bed of the object of his affection. And that might play out except as a cautionary tale I don’t think it comes together. Rather, it seems to be about how this is a good outcome for all involved, reflecting essentially what they all want. Samael is happy with this, and Magda is happy with this, and even the time traveler finds this all works. The transformation of Samael into a dog isn’t a punishment so much as making physical the kind of love that he had for Magda. He loved her like a dog loves a person, no less fiercely or loyally. But with a shallowness to it, a kind of acknowledgment that Samael could not provide in the romantic areas. I suppose there might be something to be said that this man is transformed into a being considered subhuman, and that’s not exactly kind to him, but at the same time the piece doesn’t reward him with a woman simply because he desires one, at least not in the rather toxic way stories sometimes do. For me it’s a light, fun little read, certainly worth a chuckle!
“Melting Like Metal” by Ada Hoffmann (6291 words)
No Spoilers: Unfolding in the same setting as the author’s The Outside. It features angels of the god Nemesis, who have been tasked with bringing in a heretic, a person trying to spread a message that threatens the gods’ supremacy. The story features a number of characters from The Outside and stars Enga, an enforcer, an autistic and disabled woman damaged by her training and conversion to being an angel and taken in Akavi, now her superior, who saw great potential in her. Great rage. Along with Elu, the three now make a very effective team, though Enga is still hampered by a restriction program that shuts her body down when she enters meltdown, typically from sensory overload. It’s something their latest target unknowingly exploits, making Enga confront the limitations that have been placed on her, and those she’s still struggling with that arise from her condition. It’s an action-packed and fun ride that acts as a delicious taste of the larger world and a highlight of a character I would love to read more of.
Keywords: Angels, Space, Gods, Autistic MC, Sensory Overload, Heresy
Review: Enga was a really fun character in the novel, and here with the focus entirely on her, she gets to shine. Her condition, a combination of her autism and the damage she’s suffered as part of becoming an angel, make her an at times volatile narrator. While Akavi schemes and Elu supports, Enga tries to hold herself still. It’s both a tool to cope wit sensory sensitivity and a way to not give away anything in a situation where she’s always been monitored and judged. She knows that she’s not in complete control of herself, knows that there are programs that keep her at times prisoner in her own body. And she’s angry about it. And it’s that anger that carries through, that focuses her aim even when her body is rebelling, when her angel circuitry is failing. It’s her anger that allows her to push through the pain and carry out her mission. Her mission, which as it turns out isn’t exactly Akavi’s mission, or the gods’ mission. And that might be what I like the most about this piece, that it shows the ways that she’s been underestimated, the ways that she is still a few steps ahead of those who think that she’s so broken, so easy to manipulate. She shows, to herself and the reader, at least, that she’s much more aware than people assume, and that she’s not above leveraging that to teach her fellow angels some lessons that they need to learn. It’s a fast and furious read, and it’s very much worth checking out!
“The Fenghuang” by Millie Ho (5380 words)
No Spoilers: Candice is a young woman suffering from a strange malady--bursting into fire when she gets to angry, dying, then coming back to life. It’s something that’s not only terrifying and an emotional burden for her, but is a financial burden for her family, something that Candice’s mom doesn’t exactly bring up often but is in the back of their minds, and her mom isn’t exactly kind about it. But then Candice starts a new treatment plan on pills that suppress her emotions, at about the same time she meets and starts seeing another woman with a mysterious condition. Fiona has a strange mole on her stomach that keeps growing, that keeps draining her nutrients. And the two find something in each other, but it’s something that Candice is losing thanks to the medication. And the whole thing becomes about the ways people handle emotions, the pressures people are under to remain “appropriate” and to live up to the expectations of their parents and society. And the need sometimes to reclaim something that has been deemed inappropriate, to strive for control rather than numb obedience.
Keywords: Fire, CW- Hospitals, CW- Treatments, Queer MC, Family, Phoenixes
Review: I love the way the story builds the romance between Candice and Fiona, the way that they come from rather different backgrounds and are brought together by the ways they are weird, the ways they are broken. But how they find in each other a way to want to take control of their lives. To reject the treatments that are prescribed to them to handle the symptoms of their issues and instead get at the roots. For Candice it means taking a more active role in her treatment and not hiding it any longer. She gets her power by facing that she has this issue and working to be mindful and more in control of her emotions. I helps, and I like that she’s slowly able to see her condition as not only a malady. It takes being on her own, though, and leaving the rather toxic environment she was in with her mother, as complex a mess as that is, her guilt about what her mother has done to provide for her grating against the ways that her mother is more concerned with her “success” than her real happiness. Only when she can control her own life can she start to see that her fire can be an asset. And only when she’s able to get together with Fiona then can they both make the decision of what to do next. And it’s a beautiful and hopeful story, one that has its share of shadows and dangers, that doesn’t end with a promise of happily ever after, but with the intense hope for one all the same. The ending is left ambiguous, unanswered, the final scene one of triumph, though, because even if it doesn’t work out, it’s about how whatever happens, they’ll be together, and they’ll be free. A wonderful read!
“Destinations of Love” by Alexander Weinstein (2741 words)
No Spoilers: Continuing the tour guide for the mysterious Eighth Continent, this story looks at the different attractions that circle about the idea of love. Like in previous guides, this excerpt showcases destinations that are both conducive to love and...not so much, including a number of places that are very much to be avoided if you want to actually find and keep love. The voice of the piece remains consistent with the previous entries, all of them coming out of the same fictional Lost Travelers’ Tour Guide, and the continued exploration of the Eighth Continent continues to be full of strange sights and experiences. There are mysteries, and there is magic, and there are deep shadows that an unwary traveler might fall into completely.
Keywords: Travel, Tourism, Hotels, Cities, Love
Review: I really like how most of these locations are actually...not really good places to go if you’re looking for love. The locations range from outright hostile, as in the Museum of Heartbreak, where visitors are personally and intimately acquainted with the subject matter, to rather mildly unsatisfying, as in the case of the city the guides fell in love with, only for it to break up with them. And I think that speaks to the ways that traveling to find love really isn’t something you can do. Love is, after all, a very elusive thing, as the guides set up in the introduction. Going in chase of it often results in less than satisfying results because it’s not something that can be forced, not something that can be caught or hunted. All the attempts, as chronicled in the story, fail, and many of them contain some sort of consequence, as well, the people actually much worse off than when they started. For me, some of the locations speak to the very real ways that couples can react to going on trips together, how some can rekindle a spark while others implode, and for some that spark fizzles and snuffs out the moment the vacation is done. How some things that seem like love are actually rather parasitic, and end up rather destroying lives. Mostly, I feel that the guide is actually about how love isn’t something to be quested for, but rather something to remain open to, because as much as finding love on the Eighth Continent might sound romantic, love is all around us, and might just take the right word at the right time, without ever leaving your hometown. In any event, it’s another interesting travelogue, and a fine read!