REVIEW SUMMARY: The April issue of Lightspeed features two new and two reprint stories in both the science fiction and fantasy categories, including a new release from self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey, as well as feature interviews with authors Jane Yolen and Brandon Sanderson.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Alien invasion and visitation, past and future examination of the disparity between the haves and have-nots, the importance of relationships and the efforts humans go to in order to heal the past and much more is revealed in the eight short stories included in the latest issue of Lightspeed.
PROS: Interesting ideas well-realized; contemporary stories that fuel nostalgia; a few likeable characters that the reader will root for; stories inspired by real places/events lend strength to the telling.
CONS: One story is longer and more descriptive than it needs to be to accomplish the same ends; fantasy offerings are weaker as a whole compared to the science fiction selections.
BOTTOM LINE: The April issue of Lightspeed is a good jumping on issue for those who have not given the magazine a try as it has a wide variety of stories balanced between new, upcoming authors and well-established storytellers. The science fiction stories are particularly enjoyable in this issue and it was particularly interesting to see a new story by Hugh Howey that is not set in the Wool universe.
“Deus Ex Arcana” by Desirina Boskovich
The first work of original fiction in this month’s issue is a story the author wrote “that reflects the essential absurdity of humans interacting with alien technology” and she does this with great aplomb by juxtaposing her own visually absurd images against some that are truly horrific. The protagonist is Jackson Smith who is seven when the story begins though the reader also spends time with him as an adolescent. It was an ordinary June morning when the box arrived in Springfield, Missouri and from the moment Jackson spies, and then touches, it the town and the people who inhabit it will never be ordinary again. Boskovich writes in an engaging style that compels you to enjoy the words themselves as well as the images they conjure. Jackson is a very likeable character and in the midst of all the chaos he grounds the reader and keeps the story from becoming silly. I couldn’t help but feel that the story reads like a very serious Outer Limits or Twilight Zone episode. Recommended.
“A Love Supreme” by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Ellie Santos-Smith lives in one of the safe neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. in a future where nanotech longevity provides for the very rich and the majority of people subsist on meager resources. Smith is a doctor who tries to assuage her guilt by working to help the needy as she exists on the border between two groups that she feels isolated from. When her father phones to tell her he is dying, an event she believes she can delay, she must make a tough choice that would allow her to overcome her acute anxieties but violate the way she feels about nanotechnology. This science fiction reprint was an interesting one in that it was very character focused, playing off of a parent-child relationship that is accessible to most readers while imagining an interesting future not far removed from our present.
“Schwartz Between the Galaxies” by Robert Silverberg
Nearly forty years after its original publication, Silverberg’s postulations about the loss of culture and identity in a globally homogenized world feel as if they were written today with an eye on our present and the path that may be laid out before us. The story focuses on Schwartz, a man who is traveling on an intercoastal rocket who is simultaneously living a very involved fantasy aboard an interstellar starship. Schwartz’s reality and imagination intersect throughout the story as Schwartz opines on what he sees as the regretful downsides of a world becoming ever more similar to the point that no culture retains a unique identity. It is a very interesting story whose message is thought-provoking. In the end I was not entirely satisfied with the execution but that opinion aside, it is a story worth reading from an author who knows how to get the most out of every word.
“Deep Blood Kettle” by Hugh Howey
The events of Howey’s original short story are seen through the eyes of a young boy torn between a teacher who says that the coming meteor strike will cause the dust to blot out the sky and a stubborn father whose belief lies more firmly planted in himself and the things he can control. There is a classic, almost nostalgic feel to the story that comes in part because of the setting of the story. In addition to the potential impending doom Howey also tells a story of alien invasion and he does all of this in one of the shortest stories in this collection. It was interesting to read a non-Wool story by Howey. Like much of what Howey has written, it will draw you in and leave you wanting to know what happens in the next chapter.
“Smoke City” by Christopher Barzak
In the night while her family sleeps a woman is pulled away from the comfort of her bed to return to a dark, underground place of toil and industry, Smoke City, where she will live a year in that one night. Her return is not something that she looks forward to because of the pain associated with a place where children and husbands are used up to feed the never-ceasing demands of production. This is a sad, painful story that looks at the past (and some places today) in which the average person’s blood, sweat and tears fuel the fires of industry and a select few reap the benefits of their sacrifice. Barzak’s is a very effective tale in its attempt to shine a light on unfair labor practices as well as unchecked industrialization.
“The Visited” by Anaea Lay
Lay’s work of original fiction looks at a planet-wide shared phenomenon, a visitation, through one writer’s recollections of a famous musician whose life and work were profoundly affected by the event. Manual Black had already had a strong following before the Visitation, but it was his ability to put the feelings of so many into lyrics and music that raised him to a level of popularity hard to fathom. Black spoke for all the people who felt as if something profound and special had arrived only to subsequently reject them. It is cliched to describe a story with a musical element as ‘lyrical’, but far be it from me to resist the urge to do just that as it one of the true strengths of Lay’s story.
“A Fine Show on the Abyssal Plain” by Karin Tidbeck
Recent sensation Tidbeck offers a piece of original fiction that is as wonderfully strange as the work in her collection Jagannath. In the Documentary Theatre Troupe enacts and re-enacts plays that they purport are true recollections of real events, only not necessarily those of this world. The story is told largely focused on one particular member of the troupe, Apprentice, who not surprisingly gets the lesser roles. Apprentice longs to play other parts but also longs to catch a glimpse of the audience that other members insist are always on hand. In this story Apprentice gets her wish. “A Fine Show…” is an odd and whimsical fantasy that speaks of a creative imagination. I have read other work from Tidbeck that I enjoyed much more and yet this is a good sample of her style for those who have not had the pleasure of experiencing her work.
“Dinner in Audoghast” by Bruce Sterling
Inspired by a real lost city in ancient Africa, Sterling offers a story full of exotic spices. Sterling’s use of language offerings something tangible to the reader. A rich lord is visited by his friends and they tell stories and talk amongst themselves while enjoying all the luxuries of lavish wealth. While planning the evening’s entertainments they hear of a disgustingly ugly prophet whose predictions are all the rage and they send for him both to satisfy their curiosity about his looks but also to test the veracity of the things they have heard about him. His prophecies point to a bleak future that those men and women cannot fathom given the unfathomable, even by today’s standards, wealth and privilege in which they live. There are common truths seen in Sterling’s story that we’ve seen in other stories but he weaves them so skillfully in the tapestry of the story that it doesn’t matter so much if you’ve heard them before.
The darkly gorgeous cover for this month’s issue of Lightspeed is the work of Armand Baltazar, who I had the pleasure of meeting at last year’s Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. In addition to the images you can see at the end of the interview linked above, you can check out Baltazar’s portfolio on his website.