Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #126

Art by Roman3d / Adobe Stock Image
Lightspeed is here and for November things are a little bit different. Instead of the usual two science fiction and two fantasy stories, there’s one longer sci fi novelette and two fantasy stories. So not a huge difference, really (and one the publication has done plenty of times before), but a change all the same. What hasn’t changed is that the fiction is at turns sharp and charming and wrenching, the character work solid, the world building epic, and that it all comes together to form a rather awesome issue of short SFF. There are spacial anomalies that defy the laws of physics, magic that is caught in the tears of a cosmic mourner, and a cat who isn’t about to let anything threaten the World Tree. The stories are very different, and not very linked thematically, but they provide a great range, and a little something for everyone. To the reviews!

Stories:

“Schr√∂dinger’s Catastrophe” by Gene Doucette (12846 words)

No Spoilers: Broken into two installments but still one novelette, this story about a ship where things have Gone Very Wrong Indeed. The piece mostly follows Corporal Alice Aste, a kind of general fixer for problems encountered by USFS vessels. This time it’s the Erwin that’s run into some trouble while exploring a previously unexplored by supposedly empty quadrant of space. It’s just...the emptiness of the quadrant is both entirely too accurate...and not accurate at all. And it brings Alice into a kind of mystery. One that doesn’t make any sense, where the Erwin’s computer seems to be malfunctioning, the crew is either missing or Not Quite Right, and the laws of physics themselves might be a bit different. The mission remains finding out what happened and rescuing any survivors, but just surviving the chaos of the mission might be about all Corporal Aste can manage.
Keywords: Space, Ships, Physics, Computers, Science!
Review: Perhaps the best description I can give of this story is it’s a bit like Star Trek meets Alice in Wonderland, and I think that’s definitely a conscious decision the story makes, what with the name of the main character and general tone and feel of the piece. The language, the strangeness, the vague nonsense wrapped around a quasi-scientific idea...it’s rather delightful, and luckily is waaaaaaay better than the Alice in Wonderland elements from the old The Original Series (and Animated Series) Trek. Here Alice walks into a situation that makes no sense because the anomaly that the Erwin ran into is a section of space that doesn’t follow the rules. That contains a Void that the ship ran into and now can’t get back out because the nature of the Void makes it so that the ship can’t function right. The equipment might be malfunctioning or it might be working fine, and given everything it’s impossible to say. The results is a kind of funhouse, though, where the ship is in a state of flux, the crew might be dead, might have ceased to exist, might just be taking a rest. Alice, thrown into the middle of this, is practical and adaptive. She is there to solve a problem, because that’s what she’s used to, and that keeps her moving forward to a point. The story really does follow her through the impossible nature of this space, of this ship. It’s a mystery, but only kind of, because what takes most of the time is not figuring out what happened but believing it, because it shouldn’t be possible, and that time it takes to accept that things are messed up is time lost to the Void, time it has to take over more completely. So that instead of a rescue mission Alice is left with just trying to survive, to warn others, to try and make sense of everything when making sense might be impossible. Worse, the breakdown of the rules might not be something limited to the quadrant. Not, at least, once it’s brought out. The ending has some rather chilling implications, but the piece at a whole is fascinating, fun, and makes for a wonderful read!

“The Lachrymist” by Kat Howard (1413 words)

No Spoilers: In the house of the Lachrymist are bottles containing memories caught in the tears she has shed. In those tears are the essences of people, of all the dead, all their deeds, their words, their languages, their worlds. The Lachrymist weeps for them all, and in so doing she holds a piece of them, archives them, makes ghosts of them to last forever, though the edges blur, though the ghosts themselves slowly lose their form and are left only as bottles. It’s an arrangement that just _is_, and yet the Lachrymist has to face that in some cases, ghosts might want to dissolve completely, might want to avoid the eternal cataloging of the Lachrymist’s house. It’s a strange piece, quiet and heavy with longing and grief.
Keywords: Memories, Tears, Loss, Death, Ghosts
Review: I like the way the story seems to grapple with the complexities of grief, loss, memory, and mourning. The Lachrymist seems to act as a sort of balance, a counter to the cosmic indifference of the universe. She notes each loss, even those that no one else knows about, and she holds them. Recognizes them and catalogs them. She’s a part of a system that prevents things, prevents people, from being wholly lost, and it’s there that the crux of the story rests for me. Because...outside the Lachrymist, no one else really remembers. And while people could approach her house and experience the memories, no one does. So what is the utility of grief, of mourning, of really remembering the lost? That’s what the Lachrymist is faced with, in the form of a poet who wants to be forgotten, who wants to be poured out, truly lost. Which is something that the Lachrymist is sort of taken aback about, I think because she’s not really the one who seeks out the dead. They come to her so that she can mourn over them, so that she can weep and capture those tears. But the piece seems to ask what the point is of keeping the memories, of holding onto the tears, even after the ghosts have faded. Is there a point to holding onto them, to hording them, if no one else is going to come and experience them. What is a library without patrons? The story doesn’t seem to reject the idea of memory or mourning, though. Instead, it seems to me to recognize that respecting the dead can be different to different people. That mourning has power, and that memories can preserve something vital. But that sometimes some memories, some griefs, need to be shed and forgotten. The tears not captured forever but allowed to soak into the ground. And it has a lovely, yearning feel to it, a way of valuing and living with grief, with the promise that even when work seems pointless, when mourning seems futile in the face of the unblinking cosmos. A great read!

“Magnificent Maurice, or the Flowers of Immortality” by Rati Mehrotra (4540 words)

No Spoilers: The titular character of this story is, well, a cat. A cat who guards the tree on which the universe sits. Whose branches give structure to the laws that govern creation. Whose fruits are whole galaxies. Whose flowers are stars. Stars that can be eaten to turn a mortal into an immortal. Maurice lives with the witch that resides in a cottage at the base of the tree, and he guards it, has guarded it with all of his lives, so that now he only has one left. One left, and suddenly his home has been invaded by orphaned star kittens. Ones who listen to his stories, and who he suspects mean to replace him. Not that he’s getting any younger. But he’s not done yet, as this latest adventure with a desperate human and some nefarious undead prove. It’s a brash and fun story, capturing well the voice of a cat, which is always a good thing!
Keywords: Cats, Trees, Stories, Replacements, Retirement
Review: Cats!!!! Those who know me know of my love of SFF stories involving cats, and this one is delightful! I love the voice of the story, love the mythology, love the weathered relationship between the witch and Maurice, both of them worried about the other, both trying to set up ways that the other might retire. Both of them stubborn as hell about it because it’s been their job for so long. And really a lot of the story really focuses on that, on how Maurice comes to sort of accept...not that he needs to retire. But that the Tree is going to be okay when he’s gone. That these kittens, these other cats, are going to care about it as he has. Are going to fight and are going to protect it. And that he had a role in that. Not always a nurturing one, but as a teacher, as a mentor. Inspiring them with his stories, and knowing when he needs their help. In that, it’s a story about the process of passing the torch. Not a moment, because that moment isn’t always easy to pinpoint. But the process is important, a progression of building trust and getting to a place where Maurice feels that the future can be secure. Which is, in the end, a step toward maybe being able to retire. Or at least relax a bit more. Cede some of his territory, his responsibility. Maybe not all of it. But maybe more and more as time goes by. As circumstance gives him a chance to maybe let down his burden, maybe spend more time being pampered, being cared for, instead of doing the caring. And in any case it’s a wonderfully fun story, and I absolutely love the voice, the world that’s built, and all the different characters. A charming and fantastic read!

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