REVIEW SUMMARY: The May issue of Lightspeed features two new and two reprint stories in both the science fiction and fantasy categories. This review covers the four stories being published for the first time in this issue. In addition to the short fiction, Issue 36 includes feature interviews with authors Karen Russell and Gregory Maguire and cover artist Giuliano Brocani.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The fantastic original fiction offerings in this issue of Lightspeed emphasize relationships set against the backdrop of mythology, end of the world, and parallel universe scenarios.
PROS: Unexpected outcomes; familiar story ideas examined through a new lens; satisfying endings; imaginative world-building.
CONS: The focus on relationships over science fictional or fantastical concepts may not be to every reader’s liking. One of the original works has some potentially disturbing imagery.
BOTTOM LINE: The May 2013 issue of Lightspeed, from an original fiction standpoint, is quite good and comes highly recommended from this reviewer. The authors do not shy away from weighty issues while offering up interesting backgrounds against which they allow their dramas to unfold. As these stories become available on the website it would be a shame to pass them up.
“Always, They Whisper” by Damian Walters Grintalis:
Greek mythology, in particularly the story of Perseus and Medusa, is examined in a contemporary light through the eyes of Medi, a perpetually young and beautiful woman struggling with a curse that she does not feel she deserves but must contend with each day. When the painful remedy for her curse loses its effectiveness, Medi is forced to confront her own personal demons and the doubts and accusations that are forever within earshot thanks to her overly-active tresses.
Grintalis uses a mythological character that most are familiar with to confront the very topical issue of sexual assault and the ways in which society views the victim as well as the struggles a victim undergoes in the way they view themselves. “Always, They Whisper” is a well-written, tight story that keeps the reader engaged, unsure as to how it might end. In thus doing Grintalis is able to address heavy issues without burdening the story with a preachy or judgmental air. A highly impressive inclusion.
“Leaving the Dead” by Dennis Danvers
The strong original fiction in this issue of Lightspeed continues with what author Dennis Danvers calls his “anti-zombie” story. His is an atypical last man, last woman, last dog story. The reader begins by seeing events through Darwin as he comes into contact with a cashier, Gabriella, in Target, waking her before she succumbs to death. Via Darwin, Gabriella becomes aware that everyone has indeed died or is very close to doing so. Leaving her post she agrees to go with Darwin outside the store walls to confront whatever they may have to face. Along the way they meet a dog, a good dog, Elvis, and the three characters become the window for the readers into the scenario Danvers has dreamed up. One would assume a story filled with mostly dead and decaying people would be anything but fun or sweet, but “Leaving the Dead” is just that. It is hard not to connect with these three characters from the moment of their introduction. This is the kind of SFF story that could so easily, with little effort, end in a disappointing way. Danvers instead makes an effort and gives the reader a short story that fully satisfies. Highly recommended.
“The Traditional” by Maria Dahvanna Headley
This is the story of a girl used to holding sway over the men in her life and what happens when she meets a particular guy, a guy who sees through her game, who buys her a drink on the night when the Apocalypse begins. Through a series of “anniversaries” the reader catches glimpses of a world in an ever-downward spiral after some mysterious cataclysmic event that not only changes Earth’s environment but also unleashes killer worms that grow ever bigger as they feed. In a series of clever anecdotes filled with dark and occasionally disturbing imagery Headley offers readers an unconventional relationship between a man and woman who seem anything but heroic. Things are not always what they seem. One of the things readers may find particularly interesting in “The Traditional” is how these characters interact with one another to help them remember things that no longer exist, to be able to continue to conjure mental images for words and things that are dying out along with the Earth. Headley keeps you guessing as to how this madcap rollercoaster of a relationship will end while managing to do so in a satisfactory manner.
“Water Finds Its Level” by M. Bennardo
Relationships remain a central focus of the original fiction this month with M. Bennardo’s offering. Jennifer and Roger talk, but they shouldn’t be able to. It does not make sense. They have both heard of parallel universes, but to be in them and be able to interact? This is what seems to be happening, and soon they discover that their experience is being shared the universe over as two of these infinitely possible parallel universes are beginning to collide with one another. Bennardo tells a fascinating story that sends the imagination off on wild tangents as his story slowly merges two lives and, incidentally, two universes. “Water Finds Its Level” exists as a tale that is fascinating, fun and frightening all at the same time. The reader cannot help but be pulled into Jennifer and Roger’s story while at the same time contemplating the greater implications of what happens when two similar but separate existences begin to merge into one.
The cover for this month’s issue of Lightspeed is the work of Italian artist Giuliano Brocani. This image, “The Leviathan”, fits nicely from a thematic standpoint with the original fiction offered in this month’s issue and is a great image when seen in a larger format. Go and check out Brocani’s website for a full version of this image and more examples of his work.