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2013 Stories 49 - 57

March 13 is the 72nd day of the year, so I am way behind on posting a review for every day. I'm even, at this point, behind on having read a short story for every day. Still, pushing forward.

These stories all appeared in the March issue of LIGHTSPEED magazine, which I proofread in February. Most of them can be found on Lightspeed's website new stories added throughout the month. I'm due to start proofreading the April issue in a day or so.

49. THINGS UNDONE by John Barnes Each ebook of Lightspeed has an exclusive novella not part of the website content, and this month we get Barnes' very interesting take on time travel and rewriting history. We start out in an alternate history where a method of ... well, other than enabling time travel, I'm not sure what the particular method is meant to accomplish ... but it's a line of scientific thought introduced in the 1600s that essentially brings about a world where indigenous peoples are extinct and the Dutch have control and the Irish are slaves. The main characters are a pair of folks who are able, unlike their peers, to see how history is changed by time travelers, and tasked with tracking down the "ballast" those travelers force into modern times -- the concept being if they can destroy the ballast before it contaminates the present, then the actions of the person in the past will not have any lasting effect on history. Of course, their latest case winds up not being so simple. I was impressed with how thoroughly Barnes created the world in question and how much I questioned what decision I would make if I were in the main characters' shoes. Very effectively told, very detailed.

50. LILY RED by Karen Joy Fowler  Where Felicity Savage's "Ash Minnette" (see below) deconstructs one particular fairy tale, Fowler's "Lily Red" goes for the bigger picture, taking on the entire genre of fairy tales in which a young female lead is empowered through her encounter with supernatural forces. Only Lily isn't quite so young as most Disney Princesses (nor is she old, mind you), and the way she stumbles into the story is not quite typical Disney either: pulled over for speeding and directed by the sheriff to a bed and breakfast, with recommendations to "stay the night and visit the caves" that the town is "famous" for.  From that start, the story does not at all follow the typical Disney mode, and feels more like an original Grimm -- you can tell almost from the start that things are not going to resolve neatly and happily for all concerned. I would like to have known more of Henry's backstory, but I think that's what makes this story so effective, that the focus is on Lily and doesn't veer from that no matter how interesting the secondary characters may be.

51. THE BOLT TIGHTENER by Sarena Ulibarri   As I've proven in my comments on stories by Laird Barron and others, I'm a sucker for stories that have that Lovecraftian/Mythos feel without directly referencing Lovecraft, Derleth or Chthulu. Ulibarri's story falls into that category. The setting is an oceanic port city protected by a high and mysterious wall, a wall with bolts that need to be periodically tightened. The old, wizened bolt tightener retires and passes the job to a headstrong young man with appropriate warnings and dire mysterious comments. Ulibarri does a great job of building the mystery and tension throughout to an almost inevitable ending.

52. ASH MINNETTE by Felicity Savage  Savage retells the Cinder Ella story from the perspective of one of her older sisters, Ash Minette, and the most effective move she makes is giving the characters a very different family history than the familiar one.  Like the Drew Barrymore film "Ever After" and several other retellings, Savage also very capably sets the story in a non-magical setting. The family's dismal history, the protectiveness of the older sisters, the appearance at just the right time of a "fairy godmother," all contribute to make the story real.

53. THE DREAM DETECTIVE by Lisa Tuttle Tuttle's story is eerie from beginning to end, which in my reading experience lately seems harder and harder to pull off. The tone never really shifts from one of awkward disquiet. The narrator is pulled into events gradually, first encountering the dream detective at what he believes is a blind date dinner with mutual friends. They don't hit it off, but of course that's not the end of the story.  Tuttle subtly (or in retrospect perhaps not-so-subtly) riffs on the concept that outside forces change us far more than anything internal.

54. BIOGRAPHICAL FRAGMENTS OF THE LIFE OF JULIAN PRINCE by Jake Kerr  Kerr experiments with form, exploring life in a post-extinction-event world without ever showing us the event itself. The entire story is told through Wikipedia entries and excerpts from stories and interviews. We get a pretty clear picture of reporter-turned-author Julian Prince's life arc and the pivotal events that shaped his life, without hearing much directly from anyone who actually knew him.  Kerr's experimentation delivers a much more intriguing story than if he'd written it out as a memoir or biography with footnotes.

55. THREE DAYS OF RAIN by Holly Phillips  I'm still not completely sure if Phillips' story takes place on an Earth vastly changed after a long period of global warming or just on an Earth-like planet. That's my only lingering question. The main character, a commoner who doesn't quite see how much of an "adorable pet" he is to the upper-class men and women he pals around with, is our eyes into a city dealing with the impending failure of certain necessary systems. We see idle duels and city council debates, which seem to carry the same weight in the eyes of most of the remote city's citizens. It's a strong story that leaves the reader with at least one key question unanswered, which intrigued me.

56. LET'S TAKE THIS VIRAL by Rich Larson  Larson combines the biologically viral and the internet meme viral incredibly well in this far-future story of life on the seedier side of a space station. Larson manages to comment on hive-mind and herd mentality and entropy and unrequited love without mentioning any of them by name. The  main character (whose name is "Default") is going through a rough patch and willingly throws himself into every possible diversion thought up by his childhood best friend, who now lives in the depths of the station.

57. THE SENSE OF THE CIRCLE by Angelica Gorodischer, translated by Amalia Gladhart.  This is science fiction, but also has a touch of that Latin American magical realism and penchant for direct address to the reader. The narrator presumes that the reader is familiar with the characters in the framing device, because how could one not be familiar with one's neighbors? This is structured as a story-within-a-story-within-a-story: the tale of this seemingly regressive society on an alien planet told to an interstellar trader who then tells his story to compatriots back home over cards and drinks. And there are hints at an even bigger story: why does the host of the party, Cinto, live the way he does? Is he a mirror of the young linguist in the second-level story, the one finds herself sucked into the story of the society being analyzed by the scientific expedition the trader visits? I loved the story-telling at all three levels (although the language of the society boggles me), and ended up with a lot of unanswered questions (which are perhaps answered within the story for folks more perceptive than I).

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