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2014 Stories 1-4

First post of 2014 is a catch-up post for the first 4 days of the year. After this, I'm going to try to get back to posting one story review a day, and writing/scheduling them ahead of time so I don't miss days. We'll see how that goes.

I'm also going to try to be more consistent with the tagging of these entries: I plan to include: the year, author's last names, genres, editor's last names, and the source material (magazine or anthology title, etc) where I can.  I'm also going to try to be better about linking to where the stories can be read/purchased.

These first four reviews are of stories that appear in LIGHTSPEED magazine's January issue. Most of the issue's content will appear free on the website throughout the month, but there is a novella exclusive to the e-book that you can only get if you subscribe.

1. THE CHAMBERED FRUIT by M. Rickert (e-book exclusive novella)   This deeply moving novella, a spin on the classic Greek myth of Persephone retold in very modern dress, skirts the line between fantasy and horror in a way that makes the story feel at home in either genre. (I don't know if the story won any awards when it originally appeared in 2003, but I wouldn't be surprised if it won awards in both genres.) Narrated by a grieving mother who has lost her only teen daughter to a very current type of tragedy (involving making friends via the internet), the story uses "seasonal sense" to add to the loneliness and melancholy of the main character. It is the narrator's voice that carries the story though, that brings those sensory details into such sharp familiar focus.

2. IN THE DYING LIGHT, WE SAW A SHAPE by Jeremiah Tolbert  Tolbert's story of the discovery of a species of "space whales" falling to Earth and the discoveries that flow from that initial event jumps effectively in time to build the tension and keep the reader wondering where the story is going; I can honestly say I was surprised by the ending. The author also intersperses tweets and interview sound-bites to contribute to the world-building.

3. BEARS DISCOVER FIRE by Terry Bisson   Bisson's tale is nominally science fiction, in that bears in the story do stop hibernating after they discover fire, but it's really more the story of the narrator's relationship with his family (distant brother, hero-worshipping nephew, dying mother). As with some of the best, most affecting, science fiction, the SFnal setting almost plays second fiddle to the characters. The bears are just present enough, as tertiary characters, for me to wonder how they discovered fire and what would happen to them as a species (some not-so-subtle indicators in the story lead me to think "peaceful co-existence" with humans is not going to be easy to achieve), but I wasn't bothered by the fact that answering those questions is not the story's focus.

4. SALAMANDER PATTERNS by Anaea Lay  In contrast to the Bisson story that precedes it, Lay's tale puts the SFnal setting of the story at equal importance with the character arc.  Another first person tale, this one is narrated by an astronaut on leave, visiting her family -- which would be tense enough, as most of us know, even without the alien life-form that has bonded itself to the woman.  Everyone has an opinion about the symbiotic relationship and what it means for the woman's future -- and no-one wants to accept that she could possibly know what she wants from the relationship and why she allows it to continue. Lay eventually reveals how this situation came to be, in flashbacks that come to the narrator's lips at the right time and not a moment sooner.

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