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2015 Stories 214 - 222

This batch come from the August issue of Lightspeed magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams:


214. THE SMOG SOCIETY by Chen Quifan, translated by Carmen Yi Ling and Ken Liu).  An older man takes smog readings for a private group dubbed The Smog Society, while reminiscing about his troubled relationship with his late wife. The transitions from present to past are seamless, and the story is a deep character study in which the spec-fic element (is the smog generated by societal depression, or is the smog the cause of the depression?) is world-building background but not the focus. I was completely engrossed in the character development and what conclusions the old man would reach about his own life.

215. LIFE-POD by Vandana Singh.  A story of detachment and connection. The Eavesdropper is the only human awake on a life pod carrying hymans to an unknown destination. She can listen in on other's dreams, but she cannot clearly recall her own personal history. Fragments of that history reveal themselves throughout the story until the picture becomes clear. I loved the way Singh expressed PTSD through the character's thoughts, without ever naming it as such.

216. AND WE WERE LEFT DARKLING by Sarah Pinsker.  Jo is one of hundreds of people around the world who have recurring dreams of a baby she doesn't have in real life, and her reaction to the dreams strains her relationship with her wife Taya. Then the dream-world infringes on the real and lives are turned upside down.  Pinsker expertly keeps the dreamlike quality of the story throughout, a beautifully wistful story.

217. CIVILIZATION by Vylar Kaftan.  A "Choose Your Own Adventure" story about the rise and fall of civilizations, with "You" as the unnamed God of a civilization that starts out looking like modern Western civilization but quickly derails and rebuilds in a variety of spectacular and mundane ways. I read the story in order, and then in random sequences, and enjoyed it each time.

218. TO SEE PEDRO INFANTE by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.  Cecelia is an office drone who has several encounters with movie star Pedro Infante before his sudden death by plane crash. She lives vicariously through others via her ability to send her consciousness into other people's bodies; she also has limited ability to control those bodies while present. Another story that centers on the two-headed coin of detachment and connection and how easily one can slip from one to the other without realizing it.

219. GHOSTS OF HOME by Sam J. Miller.  Agnes works for the Bank, visiting repossessed homes to leave tribute to appease lonely and angry household spirits. She's complacent in her crappy little job until she meets the house spirit Micah, who jolts her out of the fog she's been living in. Miller's story balances Agnes' house-spirit connections with her relationships with the living, and effectively conveys the ease with which we "do what we have to to survive" without seeing the ramifications for those around us.

220. PYTHON by Ursula Pflug.  Drugs unlock the magic of a New Orleans night for Faith, a young Canadian woman on vacation in the fabled mystical city. The strong point of the story is just how fever-dream-like it is, keeping the tone throughout and letting the reader decide what's really happening versus what Faith sees and hears.

221. GIVEN THE ADVANTAGE OF THE BLADE by Genevieve Valentine.  Valentine puts every fandom's favorite question ("Who would win in a fight between...?") to the test in this story. Every archtypal fairy tale woman (maidens, princesses, witches and queens) are forced to do battle repeatedly in a locked arena, with different outcomes depending on initiating factors. The omniscient narrator sees all and passes judgement, as any sports spectator would. The whole thing feels like an incisive commentary on abusive relationships (the obvious and the subtle kinds equally) and how hard it is to work out how to get free. Throughout, I kept saying to myself, "but if they'd only work together to get free..." -- which I think was Valentine's point: in the midst of the struggle, one cannot always see just how close help and rescue might be.

222. EQUINOCTAL by John Varley.  In a far future, after tons of transformative life experiences a woman named Parameter bonds with a symbiote lifeform named Equinox in order to live among Saturn's rings. But a political-religious war separates them just after the birth of their children.  The story, which was already somewhat dark, takes an even darker turn as Parameter sets out on a revenge quest.  Varley effectively jumps between time-frames to show us Parameter's life with Equinox, before Equinox, during the Bonding with Equinox, and post-Equinox. A solid and involving novella.

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