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2015 Stories 51 - 59

Slowly catching up on the story reviews. The following are all from the April 2015 issue of https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/, edited by John Joseph Adams.

51. THE UNIVERSE SUNG IN STARS by Kat Howard The music of the spheres is real. Newly-born pocket universes need to be nurtured by human guardians until they find their songs, and the role of guardian is one that a person must earn. Vera is a guardian to a dying white star and hopes to earn a spot as guardian to a universe – but what happens when one person becomes guardian to both dying and borning universal matter? Howard’s story is suffused with lyrical word choice and musical phrasing that fits a piece about the music of the spheres, but craft doesn’t overwhelm the characters at the center of the story.

52. THE INVISIBLE HAND ROLLS THE DICE by Carolyn Ives Gilman     Lee Nelson is a young man on the rise in a future where everyone is (or wants to be) a publically-traded commodity. A targeted ad saying “We Know What You Desire” threatens to unravel his carefully cultivated, upwardly-mobile lifestyle. Gilman builds the tension of Lee’s decisions slowly. I also like the way the story started out with concrete description which got more surreal/dreamlike as Lee descends through a night-club in search of what he desires.

53. QUIET TOWN by Jason Gurley    Bev, her son Benji and elderly neighbor Ezze live in the titular quiet town. Why the town is so quiet is the crux of the story, a reveal I won’t spoil here. The small details of a daily visit between neighbors are what make the story work, make the story so personal. The speculative elements only add another level to an already poignant story about people who make decisions based on misinformation that turn around to bite them in the end.

54. THE BIRDS AND THE BEES AND THE GASOLINE TREES by John Barnes    Something strange is happening in the Southern Ocean. New life seems to be blooming in response to human-engineered increases in iron levels (intended to cool warming seas). Reporter Stephanie watches her scientist husband Lars, the team leader, wrangle for control with his ex-wife Nicole, who is also genetically-engineered. Again, the interpersonal relationships are what made me care about the environmental changes the story posits. Two strong female characters (Stephanie and Nicole) hold the center stage.

55. A WOLF IN ICELAND IS THE CHILD OF A LIE by Sonya Taaffe    Taffe’s tale is very stream-of-consciousness, with no real dialogue. A change of pace from my usual fare. The narrator describes her visit to Iceland (chosen because her mother had never been there), hooking up with a werewolf, and the aftermath of those decisions. It’s got a lovely nostalgic tone and plays with the way memories feed off of each other in our thoughts. It’s also heavily steeped in Norse mythology.

56. WE’LL BE TOGETHER FOREVER by Joseph Alan Hill     In Hill’s almost claustrophobic tale of a relationship on the verge of a breakdown, Anthony and Audrey first translate and then cook up an old love potion. The results are increasingly erotic and disturbing and run through every possible permutation of the relationship these two characters have, from the mundane aspects of living together through all the reasons they might not quite be right for each other. There’s also a comic undercurrent: just how much more ridiculous can Anthony and Audrey’s actions/reactions get?

57. THE USSURI BEAR by Ken Liu    This might be the first steampunk story by Ken Liu that I’ve ever read. The setting is rural China/Manchuria. Japanese-born scientist Nakamatsu seeks out the great bear that killed his parents and gravely injured him. Using steel-powered horses and a small team of compatriots led by a local teen named Yirin, Nakamatsu confronts his past while the reader becomes aware of how his personal history is not the full story. Classic magic vs. technology / man vs. nature tale with some really great characterization.

58. THE MINISTRY OF THE EYE by Dale Bailey     In the bleak, colorless society of Acheron, beauty is forbidden. Alex Gerst, a punch-card operator, starts to see beauty in unexpected places and falls into a web of deceit that endangers his family. I think the story is an equal commentary on the addictiveness of art, on sacrificing security for beauty, and on the penchant for the powerful to want to control what the masses have access to. A really moving story.

59. ON THE DYING WINDS OF THE OLD YEAR AND THE BIRTHING WINDS OF THE NEW by Kate Elliot   Mai has settled in a town far from her ex-husband the King, but her life will always be impacted by his control and the politics surrounding how he came to power. On the day before the Year’s End and the start of the Ghost Nights, political and familial plots collide. Although this novella is set in the world of one of Elliot’s novel series that I haven’t read, I didn’t feel lost or like an outsider. The story is complete to itself and the world-building (or I guess world-revealing) pulled me in. I had no idea this was part of a series until I read the Author Spotlight at the end of the issue. Elliot balances the personal and political aspects of the story so very, very well, not letting either one overshadow the other.

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