Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #124

Art by Grandeduc / Adobe Stock Image
The September Lightspeed Magazine brings out three short stories and one novelette, many of them tinged with a level of meta-commentary, whether through an author literally self-inserting into the text or through a fictional author confronting themselves through a series of revision notes. There’s a blurring of form, of reality and fantasy (or science fiction), and the result is a selection of stories that provoke and challenge. That aren’t always a joy to read, but that question narrative structure, time, and do a lot of interesting things. To the reviews!


“The Author’s Wife vs. the Giant Robot” by Adam-Troy Castro (7686 words)

No Spoilers: This story unfolds on two levels. The first features a narrator who lives in a city with a giant robot that kills someone in the city every day. One person per day. And when the narrator was young, one of those people was his father. And ever since then he’s had a complicated relationship with the robot, and with mortality in general. In the second level, the focus is on the author of the story, having a discussion about the story with his wife. And their discussion becomes about fiction, about questions and explanations, about what’s at the heart of the story. The piece weaves through those elements delivering an experience that has a heavy meta-fictional feel to it, for those willing to follow along the premise and the narrative conceits.
Keywords: Robots, Death, Trauma, Music, Meta-Fiction
Review: It’s an interesting call for the author to straight up drop into his own story, giving a new layer to this piece about a giant robot of nebulous origins. It breaks one of those early “rules” of writing about self insertion, and the result adds a bit of depth to what otherwise is a fairly angsty and straightforward story about a man struggling with the fragility of life and gaining a new appreciation for it as a result. For me, it’s a fine story. I mean, it feels all right. It certainly shows how much it can mess a person up who has living a privileged and secure life to realize that safety is an illusion. I can sympathize with that, and with the trauma of that, even as I don’t follow along to the point that there’s supposed to be comfort in that. But then, he still seems financially secure, more worried about the impact and legacy of his life rather than the reality of being killed outside of the shadow of the giant robot. But whatever. It’s fine. Moving on.

“Note to Self” by Sunny Moraine (6007 words)

No Spoilers: Following on the heels of the last story, here’s another with a rather Meta-Fictional twist, though this one doesn’t seem to involve the literal involvement of the author so much as a figurative one, the physics being explored such that the veracity of reality sort of gets called into question, and the act of observing, of creating, or everything becomes a bit more complicated. The story is about mirrors, mirrors that might be able to observe all the possibilities of reality. That might free people from the limits of their perception. But might also break the bindings of reality that keep what is from what might be. The piece is a bit about scientific ethics, a bit about the nature of mirrors, and a bit an exploration of reality through the meta-fictional lens of writing and reading. It’s complex and layered, a story framed as a draft of an article about a history that hasn’t happened, at least if you hold to the traditional constraints of time and history.
Keywords: Mirrors, Physics, Research, Queer Characters, Destruction, Alternates, Meta-Fiction
Review: This is a strange story, and I admit the philosophy and physics it discusses are outside of my experience or reading (though I’m familiar with Borges’s stories). And I really like how the piece takes on the idea of mirrors. Both within the story. where the mirrors are portals into something, into some place that should not have been visited. They are portals into a different dimension, into an infinite dimension, but despite the scientific breakthrough they represent, they’re also tears, holes that destabilize the underlying reality of the world. At the same time, the piece seems to play with the way that writing and reading provide their own mirrors. Stories are visions of what might be. Especially in SFF, the stories deal with these alternate realities where the rules might be different. Where things might be twisted, grotesque. When the “rules” that make out reality habitable aren’t necessary. Where we as writers can create how we see fit, making these mirrors for ourselves and readers. Readers, who bright their own baggage to those mirrors, making them their own. And just as in the story these portals wreak havoc on the world, so too can stories be destructive. Can change us. Can in some ways ruin the ways we see the world. There’s such power there, and it’s a power we often wander into willingly, with this compulsion to see and be seen, without maybe fully understanding what that can mean. And the story doesn’t end the way I expected. And in the frustration of expectation I think it provokes readers to really interrogate their readings. The piece is its own labyrinth, its own hall of mirrors, providing a multitude of lenses through which readers might approach the unknown and unknowable, the immutability of perspective while showing how it can be bent, how it can still be shattered, even as it cannot be destroyed. It’s strange and dreamlike with an undercurrent of something creeping and unsettling, and it’s well worth spending some time with!

“Destinations of Waiting” by Alexander Weinstein (5099 words)

No Spoilers: It’s another trip to the Eighth Continent in this story, this time looking at locations that are linked by the connections to waiting. To time. Sometimes frustrated. Sometimes bored. Sometimes full of quiet longing. The destinations here are places that aren’t always what they seem. Or are exactly what they seem, but are hiding a kind of revelation that the tourist doesn’t realize, doesn’t see, until they’ve gone and experienced and seen. There is a focus on the ways expectation shapes our experiences. The ways we wait for vacations. Or wait for our lives to be meaningful. Or wait for a release from our worries. The piece continues to flesh out the mysterious Eighth Continent, with its magical locations and peoples, and its geography that could only really exist fictionally, inviting all sorts of tourists, including readers.
Keywords: Tourism, Travel, Time, Money
Review: There’s a lot to go over in this story, a lot of ways the locations represent different things, some of which I felt acutely, some of which I bounced off of. And part of that is just that vacations in general are such a foreign thing to me. I expect to never really be able to afford to do something like travel to another continent, and so there’s something that rankles reading about travel like it’s a universal experience. Still, there are a lot of interesting and fun places that the story reveals, as well as some that sound rather awful. Locations that beckon with promise and yet deliver only disappointment, but someone still keep one wanting to return. Waiting for something that never seems to arrive. And really that seems to be the biggest take away I have from the story, that so much of the way people anticipate, the way people wait, is for things that are never going to be what they expect. Not always in a bad way. But that waiting is a complicated thing, and the human mind is really good at building things up. So much that the actual experience can seem pale in comparison. Or we can arrive and it can be as great as we imagined, but something else nags at us. Worries us. Reframes the trips so that our expectations didn’t prepare us for the real lesson we take away. The trips are often worth it for those revelations, if not for the reasons we wanted, and I like how the story shows people using this travel to have a deeper appreciation about what is possible, about living their life, rather than necessarily focusing so much on the importance of travel for travel’s sake. It’s an interesting piece, and another fine installment in the series.

“Entanglement” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (2916 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is the daughter of a woman and a sea monster. And, despite being outwardly human and having mostly grown, she finds that she has something of her father in her, a thing that coils around her heart, that sends her to doctors and therapists who put her on a regime of sugar and meditation. Things that don’t really appeal to her, but that she agrees to in part to satisfy her mother, in part because she feels guilty about the things her father does, the destruction he spreads. But there’s only so far that sweets and denial can do for her, and the piece explores how she takes her life into her own hands, leaning on the people who care about her, who love her, but finally taking action for herself, according to her own values and desires. It’s a quick and fun read, heavy with the weight of familial trauma and guilt but freeing in the way the narrator works toward her own acceptance and joy.
Keywords: Sea Monsters, Octopuses, Family, Queer MC, Magic, Witches, Therapy
Review: I love the way the story takes on therapy and medicine, looking at the ways people often look to deal with the symptoms of something without really getting at the root. The way that they feed the narrator sweets and eel blood to try and kill the thing within her. The way that her mother accepted a sleeping curse so that she could sleep free of her guilt for having loved a monster. The way everyone is expected to just sort of get on with things, to fit in and be “normal,” whatever that means. What the narrator seems to find instead is that she needs to be comfortable with herself, first. That she deserves to be seen and respected, to have some say in shaping her own future and treatment. There’s a great messiness to the piece, to the acknowledgement that sometimes we very much need help, but often it’s not the help that people want to give, that people think is safe and proper. The narrator gets way more from her girlfriend, who is willing to go with her to kill her father but is also just there for her, supporting her and caring for her through everything. Helping the narrator to overcome the ways she wants to punish herself for her father. Helping her get to the point where she can stand up against even her mother’s sacrifices. And I like the ending, the way that it gives these characters a way forward. Not that it’ll be easy. But that it will be more about them and what they want and not necessarily what other people think they should be. It’s defiant and bold and lots of fun, and a great read!


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