Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #123

Art by grandfailure / Adobe Stock
Lightspeed comes out swinging in August with there short stories and a novelette that, as usual, cover both science fiction and fantasy. More than that, though, the works move from quasi-religious science fiction to far future generation ship dystopian science fiction, from twisted mythic fantasy to historical fantasy that bleeds into horror. Through it all, the thematic link that binds them is storytelling itself, each piece in part looking at the power of narrative to shape perception and reality, to sway hearts and either reinforce corrupt systems, or bring them crashing down, opening the doors for healing and peace. It’s an interesting and varied issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!


“Still You Linger, Like Soot in the Air” by Matthew Kressel (5675 words)

No Spoilers: Gil is a sort of...teacher? Guru? Emissary of the numens? He’s connected to one, Muu, who is part of a group of beings that are part of a wider consciousness, who exist on an entirely different level than humanity. Who are, to Gil and the rest of the people serving them, gods. And the story follows Gil as he is assigned a new student, a woman named Tim. Tim comes at a time when Gil is grieving, though, and questioning his own faith, and her desire to pursue the path that has led him into such pain is a complex and raw thing. The story does a wonderful job of capturing Gil’s hesitation, and Tim’s perceptive inquiry. And of questioning what matters in a faith and physics that draws no distinction between people, between the living and the dead. Where does that leave love, and individuals moving through the world. It’s a strange, yearning piece, quiet and slow but emotionally powerful.
Keywords: Religion, Grief, Queer MC, Teaching, CW- Suicide(?), Drugs
Review: I really like how the story captures this place where Gil is. His faith shaken by his god having taken his lover. And yet by his faith that’s not supposed to matter. Because the body is an illusion, the universe is a kind of illusion. It’s only supposed to matter that we are all one, all united at our basest level, all just particles with borders that are more or less arbitrary. It’s that truth that Gil is supposed to have access to, and is supposed to give him his comfort and joy. And yet it was his relationship with his lover, Demi, that really gave him joy. It was in that relationship, and in some ways in the threesome relationship with Demi and Muu, that Gil really felt fulfilled. In his faith, though, that’s something that of the flesh, not really a part of his oneness with the universe. And as Gil struggles now that Muu has taken Demi, he comes across his dissatisfaction with his faith. How Muu controls him. How he is pushed, how he was taken into the faith when he was vulnerable, and now can’t just walk away. And he’s in charge of pulling others into the faith. Others who might be killed, like Demi. Like Tim could be. And Tim is so certain in what she wants, that it’s this contrast to Gil’s own hesitation and guilt and despair. And I just love how it all comes together, showing Gil in many ways reject the faith that would but him through such misery, rejecting that it’s his fault for hurting. And the ending is wrenching heartbreaking and, sadly, freeing. Gil taking back control of his life, his faith, his everything, even if that means a kind of self-destruction. A wonderful read!

“Sing in Me, Muse” by Katherine Crighton (1957 words)

No Spoilers: Anisah is on a ship moving through the endless sea. Looking ahead for any sign of land for the ship to land on. But forever just sailing, sailing, the women on board expected to sing to a Mother, Mnemosyne, who they never see. Their journey is couched in metaphor, the reality of it scratched in secret places that Anisah and her love, Tara, find. But even as they start to suspect that things on the ship aren’t what they seen, they both run into the fact that their songs might not be going where they think, and that there are consequences to singing things that go against the grain. The piece has a song-like quality to it, bright at first, triumphant, but swirling down into something else as the piece moves, ending in a kind of crush of loss and grief, a cycle of silence and oppression.
Keywords: Generation Ships, Songs, Queer MC, Clones(?), Subversion
Review: I really like how the story moves, how it begins with this brightness of Anisah finally getting to sing to Mother. How she cherishes it even as she begins to question it. How she believes the stories of how the ship works, believes the metaphor like she’s supposed to, and how tragic that is. Because she comes to see that the system she’s been raised in is corrupt only too much, and only because she believes in it so much that she doesn’t filter what she sings. That frame of the story is heartbreaking, the story a chronicle of her songs to Mother, the very songs that, being monitored, flag her to the cousins, to the people tasted with maintaining order in the ship. Who make sure that the official metaphors are not twisted. There is only the mission, only the sea and the possibility of land. It’s a way of showing how these people have been made into a kind of machine, a human machine programmed by stories and songs to deliver the data that a distant observer needs. Because Mother’s planet is drowning, and they need a new planet, and so ships were sent out. But for all the hope those ships might represent, for the people on them it’s a kind of prison, and for those who start to see the prison, the prospects are...bleak. And the hope of change, real change, tends to be ground under the cycle of birth and rebirth, the “defective” singers merely replaced with their next iterations, which might not be so divergent, subversive. It’s a wrenching story of resistance and space, hope and song, and it’s a great read!

“All These Guardians of Order and Clarity, None of Them Can Abide a Free Witch” by Benjamin Rosenbaum (7825 words)

No Spoilers: Told as a sort of confession, as a counter to a more “official” story recorded by the Djinni in the city where the narrator, Maghd, is being held, the story seeks to set the record straight. In broad strokes, the story and the one Maghd is refuting share a lot of details, for all that the “official” one that the Djinni have accepted is told by Marish, a man from Maghd’s village, a man whom she cared about, whom she hoped saw her differently from the other villagers who abused and belittled her. Both stories agree that Maghd got control of powerful magic through the bargaining of souls. Both agree that the people of their village, aside from the two of them, combined into a giant creature, a construct of flesh. Both agree that Maghd ended up imprisoned. But the hows and the whys differ greatly, and Maghd’s story reveals more complexity than Marish’s, a refusal to accept an order that unjust. It’s a strange but fascinating ride, defiant and showing how the story people think is the truth often simply reflects their own misconceptions and prejudices.
Keywords: Stories, Witches, Bargains, Children, Prisons, Djinni
Review: I really like how this story moves, the voice of it. Because Maghd knows how to tell a story, and in many ways is using that pointedly throughout. Not just telling the truth of her story but making an argument at the same time. About honesty and about justice. Showing that for all that she was made the villain of Marish’s story, she’s a lot more complicated than that. She’s done some things she’s not proud of. But she’s also been trying to do something good. Something that’s different, that unwinds, that breaks down barriers, yes. Something that is occasional violent, that seems strange and maybe terrifying, yes. But she cares about consent, and what she’s offering isn’t despair but hope, something that she never had all that much of. Resilience, yes. A desire for something better, yes. But hope was always something that never seemed to quite work out. Until she got power. And what she does makes sense, even if the outcome is something that from the outside looks like traditional villainy. The truth is something deeper, nestled into the idea that order, when it’s a corrupt order, is not preferable to chaos. That unjust laws are often worse than none. And I just love that it’s all this sales pitch in a way, explaining not for the benefit of history or to set the record straight, but to convince one djinni to take a chance and do something that will lead to some real change. It’s a grim read at times but also a lot of fun, and it is a story that deals with hope in an interesting, freeing way. A great read!

“The Bone-Stag Walks” by KT Bryski (3385 words)

No Spoilers: At midwinter the Bone-Stag walks, knocking at the doors, asking to be fed. Liese is told not to answer, not to acknowledge it, for if she does the consequences... The story is grim, split between different perspectives, different stories. Liese, a young girl. Her grandmother, an abusive woman. The Bone-Stag himself, imploring, hungry. Except for Liese, they have stories to tell. About starvation. About a winter in the woods, in the cold. About a brother who vanished. About a hunger that doesn’t end. The piece is fantasy horror, mixing a kind of fairy tale quality with a much more visceral, intense feeling. There’s a duel of stories going on, and in between them Liese has to act as judge and jury. It’s a lot for a child to take in, especially one so young, so vulnerable. And it’s in some ways an unexpected story, for how grim it gets, and how it manages to turn that into something brighter, blooming, and hopeful.
Keywords: Winter, Family, CW- Abuse, CW- Cannibalism, Starvation
Review: This is a very grim read (I’m slightly surprised this wasn’t in Nightmare, but I’m in no ways complaining about it being here), and just a chilling (hah) sff horror piece set in everyone’s favorite destination--winter. And really, winter here is its own country, a biting and hungry character that surrounds the tragedy that unfolds. It’s winter that crowds in, that gives the backdrop for the Bone-Stag to arrive. That traps Liese with her grandmother, that oversaw the first of the transgressions that started this cycle. That set the Bone-Stag out into the snow in search of food. I love the way it’s captured, the dread that Liese holds, the way her grandmother seeks to control her, to keep her. There’s a slow twist in the story for me, a knife being turned, where it becomes more and more obvious what’s happened, and who the Bone-Stag is. The fairy tale elements are wonderful, bleeding out from the magic of starving children and strange houses in the woods, talking rivers and a creature at the window. But they are subverted here a bit. It’s not the monster outside who is the danger. The grandmother is certainly not a victim (not exactly, not really). And the resolution doesn’t come by way of a passing woodsman. It’s Liese who has to parse fact and fiction, has to reach out with compassion when she sees in another the kind of fear that she feels. And through that she is able to twist the normal happy ending of a return to the status quo (but richer) into something much more magical and uplifting. A breaking of one ritual and the start of another. Not of locked doors and hording but of sharing and warmth and joy. A fantastic way to close out the issue!


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