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2014 Stories 210 - 218

This batch of stories can all be found in the September issue of Lightspeed Magazine, #52.  These are the contents of the e-book edition, which include a reprint novella not found in the online website issue content.

210. HERD IMMUNITY by Tananarive Due    In a follow-up to Due's story "Removal Order" (from the anthology The End Is Nigh), we find main character Nayima several months into her jounrey across a post-viral-apocalyptic United States. She finally encounters another human who seems to be as immune to the 72 Hour Virus as she is -- but the man, Kyle, is rightfully cautious about contact with another person. Due expertly builds the tension of hope for a happy -- or at least not horrible -- ending in waves of connection and distance between two people caught in an untenable, lonely situation. There was one particularly startling piece of imagery Nayimi comes across, reminiscent of the Jamestown Massacre that brought me right back to seeing photos and news footage of that event.  I won't talk about how it fits into the story as a whole, but it was an immediate and effective gut-punch that just proves how well Due connects her future fiction with the world we've grown up in.

211. STARFALL by Saundra Mitchell      Set against the backdrop of a star gone super-nova that is visible from Earth, Amara  Moore ponders existential questions of universal interconnectedness.  This is a lonely, heartbreaking first person narrative that I had to read twice to make sure I picked up on all of the nuances and small moments that build to the climax.

212. TEN RULES FOR BEING AN INTERGALACTIC SMUGGLER (THE SUCCESSFUL KIND) by Holly Black     One one hand, this is a "listicle" type story, a storytelling style I'm usually very fond of. On the other hand, this is also a "direct address" story ("You find yourself moving..."), which is always a hard sell for me.  Black manages to balance the two conceits so that I enjoyed the story far more than I usually enjoy direct address narration. "You" are a teen who has escaped her harsh colony world by stowing away on her uncle's smuggling ship and finds herself in over her head when other pirates attack the ship. There are some really neat moments in the story, and the author really drives home the "don't judge an alien race by its reputation" effectively, but being addressed as the character always puts me at a slight remove instead of drawing me in.

213. BOY ON THE ROCKS by Sam J. Miller   In a very near-future, a big "dumb" gay teen in a group home falls under the spell of a wily twink who leads him to question his life and circumstances.  Of course, neither boy completely fits the stereotype people see him as, especially not Sauro, the narrator.  He may think of himself as slow and a brute, but the cloudport in his head gives him greater power than he recognizes.  Case, the twink, leads Sauro into shooting a porn flick to make money -- these group home kids all do something illegal (or at least borderline so) to make ends meet under the watchful Fagin-like gaze of the group home director -- and this leads Sauro to taking control of his own life. Miller's characters are real, conflicted, making potentially bad decisions because they feel they have no other choice; the same characters could be set in a story without the near-future SF aspects and feel just as real.

214. NO LONELY SEAFARER by Sarah Pinsker    A port town is blockaded by sirens. Male and female captains alike run aground trying to escape, and the town is suffering for the lack of commerce from ships being unable to arrive or leave.  The teen narrator gets pulled into a plot a rescue the town. The tone of the story is wistful and full of self-awareness as Alex navigates the past (abandoned by father, taken in by inn owner) and self-identity ("Is it because I'm neither/nor?" Alex asks the innkeeper, who responds "No. Because you know what you are, in a way that most people don't ever have to think about.")  I really enjoyed Alex's voice and Pinsker's world-building and would love to see more with this character; I think there's a lot left to explore, and we need more stories featuring characters like this.

215. PRAYERS OF FORGES AND FURNACES by Aliette de Bodard    In a steampunk future, the old Mexican gods like Tezoca and Quetzacoatl have been beaten down, claimed killed, by the god machine that runs, and stratifies, society. But Xochipil, a handicapped young female worker, meets just such a god and her world changes. de Bodard's style in this story starts out very concrete in terms of detail and setting, immersing you in the physical setting, but gets more dreamlike as Xochipil realizes the situation she's in and the nature of the people she's encountering.  Several scenes physically unsettled me and made me antsy.

216. UNDER THE SCAB (A KASLO CHRONICLES STORY) by Matthew Hughes    I've been a bit tough on this story sequence as it's progressed; it's not an understatement to say that I wasn't a fan of the earlier stories. In this installment, Erm Kaslo crosses from his home planet to the Seventh Plane to find the villagers stolen from under his watch by the "Clicker" creatures, and the new magic-based reality that has replaced his former science-dominated existence is shoved in his face in a way he hasn't encountered since the universe changed. Hughes keeps the reader as disoriented as the main character throughout the bulk of the story, and that feeling of not really being sure what's going on (because Everything Has Changed) makes this the first Kaslo story I've really felt completely engrossed by.

217. ETERNAL HORIZON by Rhys Hughes    A man falls in love with and enters a (apparently amazing) sexual relationship with her. His status quo is threatened when a new horizon appears on Earth, between the "real" horizon and the characters, causing havoc and destruction.  In typical Hughes fashion, this story is bizarro, outlandish, a roller-coaster ride on which the reader simply has to accept that certain things are just a part of the world-building and no further details are going to be added.

218.  GILEAD by Gregory Feely    Gilead is a lenghty novella that alternates three time periods to weave a story of historical perspective.  In the present, a struggling author and his researcher wife (Trent and Leslie) become deeply involved in the beta-testing of Ziggurat, a new computer empire-building war game set in Mesopotamia and Sumeria. As they become immersed in the background and world-building of the game, we are transported a century earlier to the thoughts of Trent's favorite writer and also further back to the setting of the game itself and the actions of Nanske, a Scribe's daughter (in an era when female scribes were not allowed).  The time-drifting is confusing at first, the author flowing from one character's POV to another's (in the first instance, from Leslie's to Nanske's) without warning -- but once the reader becomes acclimated, the time-shifts feel natural.


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