REVIEW SUMMARY: The July 2013 issue of Lightspeed features four works of fantasy and four works of science fiction (two original stories in each category), plus a novella and two novel excerpts (ebook exclusive), interviews with Hugh Howey and Austin Grossman, author spotlights and a bonus short horror story from Nightmare magazine.
BRIEF SUMMARY: The lines between science fiction and fantasy are sufficiently blurred in this issue of Lightspeed, providing a range of stories for a variety of tastes.
PROS: Reprints from a couple of heavy hitters; opportunity to sample lesser known but talented storytellers; good mix of fantasy, science fiction and horror.
CONS: A few weaker endings; blurring of SFF within some stories may not appeal to those who prefer one genre over the other.
BOTTOM LINE: It is possible that this has always been the case, but in the eight months I’ve been reading Lightspeed consistently, I haven’t seen so many stories placed under either the “Fantasy” or “Science Fiction” headings that felt as if they could have just as easily been placed in either category. I don’t mention this to complain, merely to point out that the genre-blending that is occurring with more frequency in SFF is very much on display here. This issue has a reprint that provides yet one more reminder of why Ursula K. LeGuin is much-lauded writer and another that demonstrates why Margo Lanagan is an author on the rise. There were several stories by authors that I personally had not sampled which I see as a strength of magazines like Lightspeed. With all the extra features, this issue gives a great deal of value for the price and would be a nice jumping-on point for readers who have yet to sample what Lightspeed has to offer.
“Golden Apple” by Sophia McDougall
A dream-inspired story about sickness and sunlight and the length that loving parents will go to in order to bring healing to their hurting child. The protagonists of McDougall’s contemporary fairy tale are a husband and wife, by all accounts very good, law-abiding citizens, who break into a research lab in order to steal solid sunlight in the hopes that it will cure their daughter’s wasting illness. It is painfully obvious that thievery is not a skill set that these two possess which makes their efforts all the more poignant. There is no point in McDougall’s story in which any parent would find their actions incredulous. Though the overall idea is fanciful, the imagery of the sunlight and its effect on the daughter is beautifully rendered.
“The Boy and the Box” by Adam Troy Castro
Castro’s story of the boy who would be God is one of the works of original fiction in this issue of Lightspeed. On one hand it is a thinly veiled commentary on a divine God, and one that is in my own personal opinion short-sighted. On the other hand it stands alone as a terrifying little story that will leaving you eying the children in your neighborhood, or in your home, with a healthy degree of mistrust. Castro’s tale has that feel of off-putting terror that makes certain episodes of the Twilight Zone, or Outer Limits, so memorable.
“Ushakiran” by Laura Friis
The titular character is born into the rocking arms of the sea as her mother lies dying on the ship where she gave birth. She is adopted by the ship’s surgeon and even though a ship at sea may not seem an ideal place for a girl to grow up, she soon is seen as the good luck charm by the rest of the crew…provided no one makes her cry. Laura Friis brings the world of sailing ships and the open sea to life, weaving in the air of suspense and suspicion that accompanies men in a small, confined space upon the vast ocean. As she grows older she knows no other life than the sea, no other “land” beneath her feet than the deck boards of her floating home. Her idyllic existence begins to change when newcomers come on board ship with an agenda all their own and no concern for the luck Ushakiran is thought to embody.
Capable world-building and an interesting blending of ocean mythology. The ending could have been stronger yet held a degree of satisfaction.
“The Stars Below” by Ursula K. LeGuin
In the late 16th century in a time where it is heresy to view the celestial bodies in any manner not “approved” by the Church, an astronomer is driven into hiding (with help from an enlightened nobleman), in order to escape a fiery cleansing. As this man hides in a cave that is part of a dried-up silver mine, he begins to see patterns in the earth not dissimilar from those he saw in the skies.
The story immediately called to mind Galileo and was not surprised to see LeGuin mention him in the author spotlight. There is a great section of the story in which the protagonist, Guennar, cries out to God in anguish, wondering why his version of praise was being deemed unacceptable. In exile Guennar meets more unexpected help and in so doing finds more wonder in creation.
“Division of Labor” by Benjamin Roy Lambert
The images that Lambert conjures up are both comical and horrific in this original work of fiction that takes the idea of efficiency to an extreme end. In this unspecified future, Renny is fighting hard to ensure that he does not lose anything, while those around him lose arms, legs, mental functioning and more. Renny gets passed over; the others are promoted. In this bizarre world value is placed on specification, on efficiency, and any time or energy spent using biomass for non-essential functions is seen as wasteful and negligent. Lambert’s is a disturbing but effective use of outlandish storytelling used to address even more outlandish real-world behavior.
“Mulberry Boys” by Margo Lanagan
It took a few pages to get into the flow of this story by an author that I’ve heard many positive things about. The fifteen year old narrator’s speech patterns were slightly odd, but once I found the rhythm, the story started to flow. The narrator and an older adult named Phillips are out in the woods with some kind of creature they refer to as a “mulberry boy”, which they have captured for reasons not yet known to the reader. As the story unfolds the reality of the mulberry boys and their plight creeps up on the reader, and with that knowledge comes a sense of unease and dread.
Lanagan does a great job of not tipping her hand too early, of giving the reader just enough knowledge to ground them in the story without projecting the direction that events will take. While the reader is left with questions of how these situations came to be, “Mulberry Boys” satisfies by having a solid ending and enough intriguing world-building to leave the reader wanting more.
“Cancer” by Ryan North
This short story is featured in the newest “Machine of Death” anthology, This is How You Die. In this shared-world anthology, a simple blood test can tell you how you will die. Not when, nor where, but how. In Ryan North’s story, people can opt to have their children tested at birth. Helen has been tested and will die of cancer; her partner Tina has not been tested and lives in ignorant bliss. But what would happen if the machine was wrong? North explores this possibility in an engaging short story inspired in part by the real-life story of Henrietta Lacks whose cells had been used for years after her death in medical research, unbeknownst to her family. To say more would spoil the impact. Suffice it to say, “Cancer” will make you want to grab this new anthology.
“This Villain You Must Create” by Carlie St. George
Every superhero needs a good arch nemesis, but what happens when a superhero actually wins? Or the villain for that matter? Carlie St. George explores what happens when the improbable becomes reality for a superhero named Granite and the efforts he makes to live a purpose-filled life. Carlie St. George captures the super-hero vibe brilliantly with a voice that feels right, infusing her comic book world with authenticity. Weaving in a love of literature and a deft sense of humor, St. George has created a delightful story that ends the issue on a very high note.
There is more to be had besides the reviewed fiction in the July 2013 issue of Lightspeed. Be sure to check out the author spotlights for each featured story, available on the various story links. Additionally you can check out interviews with authors Hugh Howey and Austin Grossman.
The cover art for this issue is concept art created for the comic Seven% by artist Jarreau Wimberly. You can check out an interview and further examples of his work here.