Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #125

Art by Grandeduc / Adobe Stock Image
Three short stories and a novelette round out the original content in October’s Lightspeed Magazine. And it’s not exactly a spooky month of offerings, though there is a vampire for those interested. Rather, the stories deal a lot with stories. Stories people tell that help to define the world they move through. Of good and evil. Of hero and monsters. And the stories end up dealing with the ways those stories can be affirming and healing, and the ways those stories can be cages, devices of erasure, pain, and destruction. And the works cover a lot of ground, from post-disaster Chicago to a romance far far away, from a small village in Hungary to an online reality that can be more real than real. To the reviews!


“The Ambient Intelligence” by Todd McAulty (11398 words)

No Spoilers: Mister Simcoe is a Canadian presumably in the employ of the AGRT, a volunteer-organization that has come back into what used to be the United States of America following a devastating war between the US and a group of Central/South American armies led by robots/AIs. Though a ceasefire has been called, the conflict is still simmering, and Simcoe finds himself drawn into what might be a resurgence of conflict thanks to the facts that 1. he owns an illegal combat suit that allows him to go toe-to-toe with even military robots and 2. he’s friends with Zircon Border, an AI also working with the AGRT who has discovered an alarming series of events that point to a murderous robot loose around Chicago. What follows is part investigation, part prolonged fight scene as Simcoe looks into what happens and steps into something much bigger than a rogue robot. The piece is fun and flashy, doing quick work bringing readers more or less up to day with the world and its problems before throwing us (along with the narrator) into a fiery situation that still needs something of a delicate touch.
Keywords: Robots, Chicago, AIs, Lakes, Missions
Review: I like how the story sets up Simcoe as this guy who is sort...well, he’s trying. In possession of highly illegal items that make him the go-to for an AI looking to do some robotic wetwork off the books? Yeah, sure, he’s game. But he’s not exactly a soldier in the traditional sense, and like most of what I’m seeing of the AGRT, something of an opportunist but at least a polite one. Canadians, eh? Anyway, the piece is fairly straightforward and escalates quickly once we’re all caught up on what the situation is like on the ground. And on the dude-fights-giant-robot side of things, the story works quite well. The action is well rendered, the choreography nothing to complain about. There’s a visual/cinematic element to the work, an immediacy that, once it starts, doesn’t really let up, and Simcoe has to deal with the pressure to Do Something despite the situation devolving into something of a violent, fiery mess. But even with his friendly AI whispering in his ear to just take out the “rogue” robot, Simcoe manages to do some listening, and starts to suspect that things are not what they seem. And I love the way the trust works in this story, the times when Simcoe chooses to trust the robot he’s sent to kill because things don’t really add up, and the way that plays out for him. No one seems to want him to find out what’s Really Going On, but that doesn’t mean he won’t stumble right in just by trying to do the decent thing. I get the feeling this is only the tip of the iceberg on a much larger story, but it’s an intriguing and very entertaining episode in its own right, and it makes for a neat introduction to the world and the characters that apparently (according to the bio) appear elsewhere. And it makes for a great read!

“Everything and Nothing” by Jenny Rae Rappaport (2657 words)

No Spoilers: Told in the second person, the story revolves around a family that doesn’t really start a family. That starts as two children who have heard stories about the Lovers, the tragic couple who went out with a blaze of glory because their love burned too hot. A cautionary tale, though to these children it’s considered just a first draft on the real story they intend to write. But then they get involved in war. In conflict. They break up, get back together. And the you of the story becomes grounded in an actual person, and the narrator, the I of the story, becomes one as well, and the full scope, hope, love, and tragedy of the piece really starts to draw everything together. It’s not exactly a happy story, in the end, but it is a beautiful one.
Keywords: Space, Love, Relationships, Family, CW- Disease, Queer Characters
Review: This story seems to me to be largely about the power of love. Both the ways that it’s possible for it to shape and change the universe and the ways that it’s possible for it to be crushed by the movement of everyday events. For me, at least, the piece explores how strong love is, how solid and transforming it can be but also so fucking fragile. And in many ways I appreciate the way the story deviates from expectations, at least for me. At first it seems like it’s going to be all about these kids, about Cali and Jere, and indeed it’s a lot about them and their love, and how they avoid the fate of the Lovers, how they love passionately and wildly and how they break up, get back together, break up again, only to come together with another man as in what seems a stable triad and how lovely and strong that is, how they do manage to rewrite the story some by making it more than just two people. But the piece is also very much about the You and I, the narrator and the narrator’s love, and how they find each other through their children, and how they come together, and how their love is just as strong, just as passionate, even as they pursue their own interests, their own lives, even as to others it might seem like they’re apart. But love is strange and part of what makes it strong is that it can look different than you expect. Can shift and stretch to fit all kinds of forms and definitions. And it’s wonderful and vibrant and great. Even as the story then sort of ripped my heart out by showing that love doesn’t necessarily mean that you can survive a biological weapon. And that love is strong but it doesn’t always “win” in the traditional sense. How that sucks. And hurts. But doesn’t change the fact that love is there, was there, and changed the universe. At least for those who experienced it, were touched by it, and changed the universe because of it. And it’s a bit of a devastating read but also a wonderful one. Go check it out!

“The Vampire of Kovácspéter” by PH Lee (3012 words)

No Spoilers: A remote Hungarian town has something of an embarrassing problem--a vampire. With the march of progress, with new rail lines and the promise of Industry, this just won’t do, especially when they have to send the most beautiful of their daughters up to his castle every year as tribute and sacrifice. So one of the villagers decides to telegram for a Hero to get them out of this mess. The man who arrives isn’t exactly what they were expecting, but he’s keen to get right to it. Before he deals with the vampire, though, the vampire himself has a request--a request that is also a story. The piece is strange and rather fun, charming in the way it plays tongue-in-cheek with heroics, with vampires, and with the bargains people make with regards to their governments.
Keywords: Vampires, Heroes, Stories, Bargains, Queer MC
Review: I love that the story sets itself up as sort of ridiculous. The whole scenario sort of slyly nods at the ways that the situation is something of a cliche, and one that’s leading this village to feel left behind on the march towards progress. So they wire a hero. One who arrives and sees from the start that things aren’t exactly on the up and up. Everything’s falling apart, and he’s got his own concerns, a dream about a restaurant with his partner, which means he has to get through these jobs without being careless or sloppy. And I really like how he listens to the story of the origins of this arrangement between the vampire and the village and how he...doesn’t really pay it much mind. When the story is one that’s supposed to cast the vampire has the victim here, as the person who really should be upset with the village because they were the ones who set the terms of their arrangement after having turned down the vampire’s provisions a number of times. Which speaks to the ways that misogyny really is shit but I do like that the hero just ignores it. Because the truth here is that it hardly matters. It doesn’t change that the vampire is killing people, doesn’t change that the vampire is, well, a vampire. To the hero it’s not personal. It’s a job, because the march of progress is rather about that. Not about laying blame for the past having made these monsters. He’s just wiping that away. The new world will come up with monsters of its own, and the hero seems to understand that, too, but it doesn’t chance his situation, his job. And it’s just a neat little story that does something interesting with a remote village, a vampire, and a hero. And makes for a wonderful read!

“Everquest” by Naomi Kanakia (3034 words)

No Spoilers: Gopal is thirteen when he gets a new MMO and creates his new character, a female wood elf named Gayatri. It’s not exactly an easy game for him to play, in part because his bad internet connection, his living in a time zone well outside that of most players. And his family, who don’t really approve of his game, and especially of his decision to play as a girl. The piece follows Gopal as he grows up, torn up by the things he feels and the knowledge that he shouldn’t feel them. He avoids, he convinces himself otherwise, he eventually tries to accept what his parents tell him he is. But Gayatri is waiting. And when he’s an adult he finds his way back to her, and something magical happens. The piece is difficult, messy, dealing heavily with body image, with dysphoria, with shame and anger and a lot of things that the story doesn’t sugar coat or make...easy or clean. But it’s a bold and sharp story about identity, gaming, and escape.
Keywords: Video Games, Elves, Programming, Uploaded Consciousness(?), CW- Dysphoria, Trans MC
Review: This story does not pull its punches when depicting dysphoria, when showing the ways that anti-trans sentiments pervade and dominate so many areas and conversations. The two-pronged assault of the ways people talk about bodies assigned male and the rampant misogyny that is everywhere. For the main character here, gender is something that she can’t really think about because being trans just isn’t an option. In her eyes she’s too ugly, too fat, too masculine, too toxic. She’s a cliche of disgusting male gamer. Liking to play as a woman for perverted sexual reasons. And seeing the truth in that even as it’s not the truth at all. Because...because it’s the consensus that exists, that is put out there. Not a truth but true for most people, and to live in their world that consensus gets into her, defines her life because she lacks the power to define it herself. She’s stripped of her dignity, of her identity, and the way the story hits that home is utterly gutting, uncomfortable, and deft. It shows the horror of how trans people are treated, how trans death is treated, often invisible, often made into jokes because of how it’s viewed from the outside stripped of its pain and complexity. And I love the way the magic here works, the way that Gayatri is able to escape, finally, all the things she needed to escape. And in doing so have a life that finally feels more right, one where she can have the conversations she was never able to in the physical world. It’s a stunning story, difficult and devastating but so so good as well. A poignant way to close out the original fiction of the issue!


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