Monday, July 6, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #122

Art by Galen Dara

I’m starting my July reviews with a look at the latest Lightspeed Magazine, which lands with four short stories (the lack of novelettes is cut by the fact that three of the four stories are over 6000 words, though, so there’s still a lot of original fiction). The works themselves show a wide range of speculative visions, from a very interesting kind of alien visitation to new takes on Baba Yaga and the Peter Pan story. The works recontextualize all these things through the lens of now, reshaping science fiction and fantasy alike by challenging the tropes and traditions of the genres. The result is often delightful, occasionally devastating, and very much worth checking out. To the reviews!


“The End of the World Measured in Values of N” by Adam-Troy Castro (1977 words)

No Spoilers: The premise for this one is fairly simple: the world is going to end, there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. And, depending on how much time is left between when people are told of the end of the world and when it actually is ending, people react differently. It’s a story without plot or character, one that mostly seems to be an intellectual exercise, and carries a warning, or a promise, or a whimper, depending on how you view the ending.
Keywords: Apocalypses, Law, Despair, CW - Suicide
Review: For me, most of the story is a wind-up to the final line, which seems designed to be a kind of profound moment. Everything before that is basically a bit of philosophy or anthropology on how people might react to the knowledge of the end of the world. And it rather covers its bases by saying that people react differently based on how much time is left before the actual end. It further covers by recognizing that regardless of how much time, people’s reacts are going to be different. So for me it doesn’t really offer much in the way of insights, which is actually all right, as any attempt to universalize a reaction like this would probably be insulting at best. Rather, it hits with the final line, the implication that we as a planet have already had this moment of certain destruction and that things will be gone in under twenty years. Which makes the story something of a wake-up call or just an exercise in nihilism. Either way it is what it is, I’m not a huge fan, but I recommend people check it out for themselves.

“The Swallows of the Storm” by Ray Nayler (6871 words)

No Spoilers: This story builds itself around a series of holes. Mysterious voids that seem at first like bullet wounds, except that they’re too neat, too pervasive. At first they seem to appear only in animals and plants, but as Dr. Nino Makhviladze looks into the phenomenon, a startling and rather unsettling theory emerges. One that she’s eventually called into a senate hearing to speak about. The piece is built in two threads that bounce back and forth--the testimony of Nino to the senators and a series of incidents as she investigates what happening around the world. The piece is grounded by Harlan, Nino’s assistant and someone a bit more interested in Nino herself rather than the research, at least at first. It’s a gripping and compelling piece, one that for me does a much better job capturing the chilling implications of inaction in the face of climate change and destruction than the last story. It’s detached and intimate at the same time, the destruction human thanks to the careful work done with Harlan and Nino.
Keywords: Climate Change, Aliens, Research, Parks, Fires, Holes
Review: I do love the way that this story unfolds, bouncing back and forth in time to get around ruining the moment when the implications of the holes becomes evident. That not only is humanity not alone, but that the signs of life might have something to do with the fact that Earth might not be around that much longer, at least not in its current form. Which I love because here is this rather huge thing. Aliens! And they have appeared and cataloged the planet, for reasons that we don’t really know. But the reason might have something to do with preserving some of Earth’s biodiversity. Preserving it by collecting it and shipping off the planet. Which, yeah, does seem to bode no good things. And I just love the systematic way that Nino goes about gathering up all this evidence, getting it ready, and then presenting it when called on for it. And how she can see so clearly that no one is going to act on it, can see that there’s no real hope that the government is going to do anything but cover it up. I love how there is this interest in her research, but that’s it. No feedback, no publications, no promises. It speaks to the way that people can see the ways that things are getting worse with interest. Climate change reports. Death reports. Extinction reports. Forest fires and dead coral reefs and all kinds of devastation. With interest, but mostly because there’s this institutional hope that the data will just...reverse itself. That it was all some sort of fluke. Only it’s not, and the bad things keep coming, despite people having the information they need to know acting is vital. Might already be too late. Again, it takes a lot of themes of the previous story and follows through much better on them, giving an actual story to sink into and a perspective already sort of passive and doomed, hopeful without hope. It’s a great choice, and a sharp ending, and it makes for a wonderful read!

“Baba Yaga and the Seven Hills” by Kristina Ten (6179 words)

No Spoilers: Baba Yaga has lost her house after an unfortunate incident with some withheld rolls, and she’s determined to get it back. To find her house, though, she needs help, and so she flies her mortal and pestle to San Francisco in the hopes of tapping into some of its magic to help get her house back. It’s not a journey that goes exactly to plan, though, as San Francisco’s magic is very different from Yaga’s. Along the way, though, there’s warmth and kindness, food and community, and the piece shows a woman resilient in the face of a world that’s almost as hungry as she is. It’s a fun read, touched with shadows but still brash and smiling.
Keywords: Witches, Houses, Chickens, Hot Sauce, Magic
Review: I mean I love the energy of this story, the way that it combines elements, taking Baba Yaga out of fairy tale and into the contemporary world of San Francisco, or a version of it that operates on a kind of magic. The magic of advertising and ideas, inventions and community. I love the way that Baba Yaga integrates, the way that she gets herself an apartment and interacts with her housemates. The whole thing is hilarious but rather wickedly so, Baba Yaga by no means sanitized for easier consumption. She’s got cartoonish proportions and flies around and eats children and it builds up this adventuring romp with a sharp edge. She’s the protagonist and she’s lonely without her house, but she’s not exactly a good person. And the story plays with that, finding that despite that, she’s still an interesting lens to view the world, and especially the strange hills of San Francisco, with its magic and its magic users who are no less powerful than her, who are no less dangerous than her. But who also don’t seem to understand her and, in part because they don’t know her, tend to underestimate her, to think of her as just as old woman. And it’s a strange piece, the fairy tale elements hitting the contemporary setting a bit like a car crash, the result a clash of elements that still manage somehow to work and flow. The quest that Baba Yaga is on, to retrieve her house, is relatable and real, even as it’s hard to “root for” her as a character (eating children isn’t cool, okay?). Still, though, the humor of the piece is endearing, charming, and lots of fun, and I found myself smiling despite the at times grim nature of the piece. I’d definitely be on board to see where this adventure goes next. A fine read!

“Great Gerta and the Mermaid” by Mari Ness (6441 words)

No Spoilers: Unfolding in the world of Peter Pan, around the island Neverland, this story focuses on a bit of possible apocrypha, a story that might be history, delivered as a bit of the “real,” forgotten story of the events there. And it stars a particular pirate, one Great Gerta, a woman of particular taste and zest, as she is drawn to the bottom of the ocean thanks to a magic ruby and the story of one particularly inept Lost Boy. And perhaps a bit because of the curves and charms of one particular mermaid, and certainly because of her own magic. It’s a jaunty and boisterous tale, lively and fun, steamy and just a bit tragic (like all the best Peter Pan stories). It takes the original and explicitly queers it, enacting in frame and function a sort of reclamation and piracy of the original text, and I for one am quite happy it does so.
Keywords: Peter Pan, Mermaids, Adventures, Pirates, Queer MC
Review: So a lot of the time when looking at queering older texts, we are caught up the idea of authorial intent. Is it some sort of violence to a work to take elements that speak to queerness, that have been important to queer readers, and make them explicit through new creative lenses? Certainly there are plenty of people to believe that queering these older stories (in the public domain or no) is a disrespect, that essentially all transformational texts like this one are acts of piracy! Vulgarities that shouldn’t be! And I...well, take a different view of them. Because the piracy here reflects the piracy as it exists within the story. Queer readers find themselves trapped on an island without much hope of escape. So they have to take what they can, enjoy what they can, find love where they can even if it’s going to fall apart. The story here is fun, a romp that brings Gerta to the bottom of the sea, making out with a mermaid, and generally threatening to kill a Lost Boy. For me there’s the sense all along that she’s limited by the constraints of the setting, the reality of Neverland, the inevitability of Peter Pan’s victory. She’s full of anger and bitterness about it, and she’s not about to just give up. And however much the Lost Boys find her gross, however much Peter Pan would make a mission to destroy her if he knew she was on the island, she’s not hiding. She’s still spitting defiance, for all the good it will ultimately do her, because in the mean time it means finding some fun, some love, some diversion from the monotony of Neverland. And the story does a great job of framing all of that in this quasi historical recollecting. A bit of hidden history that is unearthed, however unlikely it seems. It still holds the ring of truth, and it’s just a wonderful read!


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