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2016 Stories 73 - 81

This next catch-up post is for the stories appearing in the April 2016 issue of Lightspeed Magazine, #71, edited by John Joseph Adams:

73. CAUSE FOR A HAUNTING by Patricia Strand.   Kate and Shawn have bought a house with a haunted history. Is it really haunted by the couple who built it, or not? Some nice twists keep the story interesting. The focus on Kate, on her obsession with the ghost story and her apparent disinterest in being a mother, really propels the story but also makes it feel insular, almost claustrophobic.

74. ORIGIN STORY by Carrie Vaughn.  Mary lives in Commerce City, known for superheroes and super-villains. She’s making a deposit at the bank when a villain attacks, and recognizes in the body language a man from her past. From that start, the story could go in any number of directions; Vaughn teases them all out and slowly discards the options, through revealing snippets of the characters’ pasts, until the conclusion reached is the inevitable one. This made me move her novel set in this city to a higher position on the “to be read” piles.

75. COLLATERAL by Peter Watts.  Nandita Becker is a cyborg soldier caught in a bad situation: she’s killed civilians thanks to what appears to be a malfunction of her bioware. But a reporter, Amal , suspects more is at work. This is a really great study of a character with PTSD caused by an event she barely remembers taking part in, and how she finds the truth while navigating the minefield of memory, trauma, public opinion and government handlers. I realized where the story was going only moments before it went there, and it devastated me. (A second reading showed that the hints and nudges for the reader were well-placed and almost inconspicuous, but still present.)

76. THE BIRTH WILL TAKE PLACE ON A MUTUALLY ACCEPTABLE RESEARCH VESSEL by Michael Bailey.  I have a notoriously hard time with second person (“addressing the reader as ‘you’”) narration, but I’m getting better about it. In this story, “you” are the Earth woman about to give birth to the first Human-Tharkan (and thus the first human-alien) hybrid child. Bailey’s focus is on the feeling of helplessness, of being a pawn in political deal-making, of the difficulty of not knowing what form your child is going to be born in. But he also deals with the recognition of love and mutual attempts to cross the communications barrier between two similar but disparate races. The emotions throughout ring very true.

77. DRAGON BRIDES by Nghi Vo.  The unnamed narrator of Vo’s story survived being kidnapped by a dragon as a young girl and then being married to the man who rescued her. But what happens after “happily ever after”? Late in life she returns to the cave she’d been a prisoner in, to try to understand the dragon and his obsession with cold. I think Vo’s point is that we never get over transformative events (like kidnapping, violence, loss of identity) and may spend the rest of our lives trying to understand why that thing happened to us. (Should note: there is no evidence in the story that the main character was mistreated either by the dragon nor by the man who rescued and married her.)

78. LILY WITH CLOUDS by Theodora Goss.  Eleanor’s sister returns to town after being married to an artist in a bigger city. She is widowed and in end-stages of cancer, brings along a nurse whose romantic history is intertwined with hers. This is a portrait of two sisters who share almost nothing in common. Disdain is evident all over Eleanor, acceptance all over Lily.  Some really beautiful imagery softens the edges of the less-savory aspects of Eleanor’s character.

79. THE KNOBBY GIRAFFE by Rudy Rucker. Full opening admission: the science of the story lost me. But I related to the main character’s wish to discover some secret underpinning of the universe to correct the loss of her lover which she feels responsible for.

80. OF METAL MEN, SCARLET THREAD AND DANCING WITH THE SUNRISE by Ken Scholes.  After a call for help brings General Rudolpho to the destroyed city of Windimir, he discovers a metal man he names Isaak, who holds secrets of the destruction. Scholes crafts a tight tale of secret knowledge, the temptations of power, seduction, and choosing the right thing over the expedient thing. I was quickly and completely engrossed by the characters and setting. This is the second story in this issue that made me move a book (in this case a whole series) higher up the “to be read” piles.

81. INCIDENT ON A SMALL COLONY by Kristine Smith.  I have not read any of Smith’s Jani Kilian novels, so I can safely say one does not need to have read them to thoroughly enjoy this novella, which takes place a decade or more before the first novel. The story finds Jani living on the run under an assumed identity. I really feel like Smith nailed the PTSD elements for both Jani and another character. The action never slows – even the one or two intentionally “quiet” moments are tense and ready to explode. At novella length, there’s plenty of time for Smith to develop Jani’s character and the rest of the cast and lay out a few different red herrings for the reader before the highly satisfactory conclusion.

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