Short Fiction Friday: Lightspeed Issue 37, June 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: In the June  issue of Lightspeed, 2013 Hugo-nominated editor John Joseph Adams presents a solid slate of new and reprint fantasy and science fiction short stories, accompanying author interviews, feature interviews with Robert J. Sawyer and Nalo Hopkinson, and an artist spotlight and gallery of work for the creator of this beautiful cover illustration, Pavel Elagin.  The Ebook version contains a bonus novella, “The Fool’s Tale” by L. Timmel Duchamp and an excerpt from the newly released third novel in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series, Abaddon’s Gate.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In this issue, variety reigns supreme. Stories feature time travel, immortality, travel via generation ship, life as art, witchcraft, a dark fairy tale in a modern landscape, terraforming on a hostile planet, and the story of the moon’s daughter and touch on issues of relevance as well as entertain.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Familiar tropes examined in a new context; wide variety in story offerings — darker, more serious stories mixed with lighter but no less entertaining selections; some longer stories allow for deeper characterization; first free online appearance of Ken Liu’s excellent Hugo-nominated “Mono no aware”.
CONS: Fans in the mood for a particular kind of story may find the variety off-putting [I realize that is a reach, but even with the stories that did not hit all my hot buttons, I appreciated what the author was trying to accomplish.]
BOTTOM LINE: Having already overused the “v” word in this opening snapshot, allow me to dip into the Thesaurus and say that the “array” of stories in the June issue meant that each story was a surprise that could be judged on its own merits.  While there were stories that appropriated familiar science fictional or fantasy tropes, several included attempts by the author to play with those tropes — changing the setting or subverting expectations.  It would be safe to say that despite my lack of specific “cons”, there were stories were not in my wheelhouse.  Looking objectively I put those down to personal taste, as this issue was light on stories that missed the landing.   I was predisposed to give this issue a high rating based solely on the presence of “Mono no aware”.  I made an instant emotional connection with Ken Liu’s story when I read it upon release in last year’s The Future is Japanese anthology.  It is a testament to John Joseph Adams that he filled the space around it with interesting and engaging stories.

Science Fiction

The Ballad of Marisol Brook by Sarah Gray

Told in a rhythmic, poetic fashion, “The Ballad of Marisol Brook” takes inspiration from the early days of Hollywood when studios owned actors/actresses through exclusive contracts and grafts that idea onto a futuristic landscape in which people, or at the very least the rich, can be reconstructed after their death.  In an almost documentary fashion the audience is given an overview of Marisol’s successive reconstructions, with each new arrival heralded by declining fanfare and each new iteration controlled by some outside interest.  Each reinvention of the Marisol persona appears to leave her with increasing problems and thus it is a surprise for the reader when Sarah Gray takes the story in an unexpected direction.  Sarah Gray has penned a story of female empowerment that hearkens to a time in history in which that was largely an unrealized dream.

In the interest of full disclosure, my appreciation for this story grew after reading Sarah Grey’s author spotlight.

“Get A Grip” by Paul Park

In this story, where the author stars as himself, a chance visit to a neighborhood bar leads to the discovery of a Russian man that he met a few years earlier on a business trip.  The Russian pretends not to know who Paul is and then in a fit of desperation and paranoia, remonstrates with Paul to leave him alone as all is not what it seems.  Thus begins the slow unraveling of Paul’s world.  “Get A Grip” is a story that attracts your interest right from the start and even when you get a sense of where it might be going, the journey there continues to entertain.  Unfortunately I can say little more about the story without spoiling it and so I will leave you with the advice to read it for yourself as it is worth the time.

Mono no aware by Ken Liu

In this 2013 Hugo- and Locus-award-nominated short story, Ken Liu’s protagonist, Hiroto, carries the weight of his Japanese heritage to the stars as the multicultural generation ship Hopeful begins its 300 year journey, leaving Earth’s destruction in its wake. As the story unfolds you see the events leading up to this journey through the eyes of young Hiroto and how these events inform the later decisions that befall Hiroto as he fulfills his role on the ship. Ken Liu examines cultural identity, nationalism, loss and hope in this story that hits all the right emotional notes. Adult readers are allowed to see things through a child’s eyes which gives the story a level of meaning it might not otherwise possess. I have been waiting for over a year for this story to be made available free online so that I could share it and discuss it with other readers. Lightspeed will make it available on June 11th. I strongly recommend adding that date to your calendar.

“Alive, Alive Oh” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

The story in this original work of fiction is being relayed by a woman who is recounting the journey she and her husband went on to the exoplanet G851.5.32.  Slated to be a 10-year journey followed by a return to Earth, the reader can see early on that this is a plan that will not come to fruition.  The first wave of colonists sent back to Earth bring a mysterious virus back with them, infecting them upon re-entry as well as anyone on Earth they come in contact with.  As the colony has become self-sufficient, the word comes back that those still remaining will be staying indefinitely.  Five years into this adventure, our protagonist became pregnant and she and her husband Owen brought new life into the colony world in the form of a daughter, Megan.  As Megan grew,  her mother told her stories of Earth in preparation for their return at the end of the decade, stories that fascinated Megan even though to her they were pure fantasy.  G851.5.32 is not at all like Earth.  It is a hostile, toxic and extremely deadly planet, a place in which there is no interacting with the environment in the way that occurred on Earth.  As Megan grows and becomes a teenager, and the people of the colony try to come to terms with the idea that they may never return home, Megan becomes more and more obsessed about stories of Earth.  Teenage rebellion being what it is, Megan begins to test the rules and limits and will be forced to deal with the consequences of those decisions, as will her mother.

Fantasy

Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon by Theodora Goss

The Queen of Karelstad cannot have a child and though her husband tries to comfort her with the assurance that rule will pass down through his nephew, her sorrow will not be abated. On one cheerless, cold, moonlit night Queen Margarethe escapes the pomp of the evening’s celebration to walk the grounds. When she returns she does so with a baby found in a basket underneath a chestnut tree. Though they advertised the discovery, no one answered and the Queen became the mother of a daughter, Lucinda. Princess Lucinda was a fairly ordinary child, though she liked to read books and play in ways not typical among the children of royalty, and her life was nice if unremarkable. On the day of her sixteenth birthday, a rumbling shakes the castle and a voice announces that Princess Lucinda is being summoned. This extraordinary occurrence in her otherwise ordinary existence leads Lucinda to revelations that will change her life and the lives of those around her.

Theodora Goss has created a fairly straight-forward fairytale that is nevertheless lovely in the telling. She has built her imagined kingdom on a real-world framework which adds elements to the story that ground it.  Goss captures simple beauty with her prose. It may seem dismissive to describe a story as “sweet”, but “Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon” is just that, leaving the reader with a warmly satisfied smile.

“The Huntsman” by Megan Arkenberg

In this original fantasy short, Arkenberg reimagines the story of Snow White juxtaposed against a dark, gritty modern setting. The huntsman is tracking a woman through an unseemly part of town and when he finds her she not only shows no fear but offers him an alternative to the task for which he was sent. The strength of Megan Arkenberg’s story is her ability to create an atmosphere that sizzles with discomfort. From the very beginning the reader is aware of the threat of violence in this tale and the way in which Arkenberg describes the scene, laying out seemingly innocuous details, builds the tension at just the right pace. I will admit that in general I am not a fan of grim fairytale retellings, however the author’s skill in penning a tight, highly effective story must be praised.

“Paranormal Romance” by Christopher Barzak

The second original work of fantasy in this issue takes on a stock fairytale character, the witch, and immediately subverts the reader’s expectations. Christopher Barzak is known for his stories that examine relationships in a variety of contexts and “Paranormal Romance” continues this by painting an intimate portrait of a woman with a gift for working with love who is not in a loving relationship of her own. But the story is not quite that simple. Life is complex and we see that in the case of the witch, Sheila, who genuinely cares for the people she helps and who does have satisfying relationships in her life, if not of the romantic kind. The characters introduced early in the story served to project how the story would end, somewhat lessening its impact. In the end Barzak’s is a very nice story which would work better in the larger context of an anthology as his stories did in The Love We Share Without Knowing.

“Game of Chance” by Carrie Vaughn

A small group of people, who exist outside of time, examine patterns and manipulate events to try to bring about a better world. Clare is one such person, pulled into this existence from a time of drawing rooms and rigid expectations, which gives her a viewpoint different from their leader, Gerald. Where Gerald looks for the big event, the change that will finally bring about the better world that he envisions, Clare sees smaller changes, places where a slight intervention can bring about meaningful results. Carrie Vaughn has created an interesting time travel story that is not about the time travel but instead focuses on this select group of characters who live on the fringes of time. Vaughn’s story has tension in the form of the dangers that exist from intervening in a way that is too direct and the world she has created is engaging and mysterious, but it is the characters, particularly Clare, that makes the story stand out. “Game of Chance” is just the right length to allow the various plot lines to develop and ends in a way that leaves the reader feeling content.


Australian-based artist Pavel Elagin provides the cover illustration for Lightspeed Issue 37.  The covers for SFF magazines do not always directly relate to a story featured within, but Pavel’s work is not only eye-catching but is representative of the spirit of some of the stories contained herein.  The color choices for the young lady’s outfit work well against the darker background and the image recalls nostalgic memories of firefly-filled summer nights–a very timely choice for the June issue.  I recommend visiting the artist’s website for a larger version of the full image as well as other samples of his work.

The June 2013 issue of Lightspeed is well worth your time. Be sure to check out the website each week during the month of June for more opportunities to read these stories for yourself, or don’t wait and buy the issue now.

Next Friday: The June 2013 issue of Clarkesworld! See you then.