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Short Fiction Friday: Lightspeed Issue 42, November 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the Original Short Science Fiction and Fantasy offerings in the latest issue of Lightspeed. The November issue has additional reprint short stories as well as nonfiction and exclusive extras in the ebook addition.


BRIEF SUMMARY: Four nicely-paced original works of short genre fiction that offer ideas sure to stir the imagination.

PROS: Strong science fictional aspects, even in the original fantasy selections; wide variety in style and subject matter; solid nod to two classic science fiction authors; offerings demonstrate that short story writers haven’t forgotten that stories can be fun.
CONS: Purists might feel the two original works of fantasy contain too many science fictional leanings.
BOTTOM LINE: The original fiction presented in the November issue of Lightspeed showcases the variety in subject matter and style that makes engaging in short fiction so pleasurable.  Not every story will work for every reader but the stories chosen demonstrate a proficiency with the medium that allows the ideas, and in some cases the characters, to shine through.

Science Fiction

Death and the Hobbyist” by Sean Williams   (Audio version available here)

In a far distant future where instant matter transfer has made other forms of travel obsolete, Juliet is convinced that all modern conveniences carry harmful side effects, most notably the D-mat.  William’s short is told from the point of view of Juliet’s adult daughter who is growing increasingly frustrated at her mother’s irrational fears and outmoded ideas about how the world works.  Through a series of attempts to appease her mother, she finds herself taking methods that reduce her mother’s freedom, thus adding to Juliet’s paranoia.  Until she meets a hobbyist, that is.

Sean Williams introduces some very interesting concepts here that are not able to be fully examined given the story constraints but nevertheless trigger the imagination while also weaving in a nostalgic aspect to the story that grounds it in our time period.  Williams did a nice job capturing a conflicted daughter, one who is obviously busy with her own demanding life, but who loves her mother and also feels obligated to provide her with a good quality of life.  More than once during this brief story I felt like I knew the direction the story was heading only to be surprised with it going a different way. That is, in my opinion, one hallmark of a good story.

The Turing Test” by Beth Revis (Available online 11/19/13)

Elektra Shepherd, a university freshmen studying artificial intelligence, is assisting Dr. Philip with his research by participating in a Turing Test–a series of questions meant to determine whether or not a subject is human or an A.I.  While Shepherd remains alone in a room she conducts a conversation with two subjects located in a room where she cannot see them, only the computerized transcripts of their responses on screens meant to identify each subject.  Shepherd is cocksure and quickly determines who she believes the A.I. to be, but things are not always what they seem.

Revis’ story pays specific homage to the creation of Philip K. Dick while also presenting ideas that have been explored in many of Asimov’s robot stories: the definition of humanity, the exploration of the soul, the question of when artificial intelligence may no longer be “artificial”.  Despite the presence of similar stories, the ideas explored in “The Turing Test” have not grown old and as technology edges ever closer to science fictional realms they become increasingly relevant.


The Insect and the Astronomer: A Love Story” by Kelly Barnhill   (Available online 11/12/13)

Kelly Barnhill’s story about a waistcoat-wearing Insect who has never been in love and an Astronomer who has never been alive is pure delight.  The Insect in this story is the last of its kind, highly educated, highly intelligent, and very lonely.  The Astronomer came to his current town of residence in a flurry of activity to build a magnificent tower from which he might study the stars.  He too is lonely.  How the two come together, and the journey they each take along the way, is whimsically laid out by Barnhill’s witty prose and is both fun and moving in its own quirky way.  To say much more would spoil the enjoyment.  Suffice it to say that Barnhill imbues her characters, even the incidental ones, with personality.  More please.  Much more.

Sleeper” by Matthew Hughes   (Available online 11/26/13)

Erm Kaslo is an operative returning to his home planet after a successful mission when suddenly the ship’s alarms sound indicating a slowing of speed.  In investigating the cause he discovers that the ship is slowing to pick up a sleeper, a person who could not afford conventional space travel who instead entrusted their fate to a small cryogenic vessel that travels at the whim of passing ships.  Kaslo’s boredom of the normal diversions while traveling through space causes heightened curiosity for the person who would take such a dangerous chance.   ‘Curiosity killed the cat’, the old saying goes, and for Erm Kaslo curiosity might just lead to similar fate, but not if he has anything to say about it.

Hughes’ tale introduces a positively terrifying method of space travel which makes for a very interesting plot device in a science-fantasy story that mixes a hefty dose of science fictional elements with a touch of magic.  “Sleeper” has a definitive beginning, middle and end while also acting as an introductory adventure for those who haven’t read any of his Kaslo Chronicles tales.  It felt like a bit of a stretch for the story to be categorized in Lightspeed under the “Fantasy” heading rather than “Science Fiction”, but it is a nit-picky response that ultimately doesn’t matter.  The story was entertaining and left me wanting to check out more of Hughes’ work.

In addition to these original works for fiction, the purchased version of Lightspeed will get you…

  • “Holy Places” by Martha Wells
  • Robyn Lupo’s Author Spotlight on Martha Wells
  • A novel excerpt of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • A novel excerpt of Starhawk by Jack McDevitt
  • A novel excerpt of SEAL Team 13 by Evan Currie

…as well as author interviews and additional nonfiction articles.

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