Lightspeed Magazine Issue 152

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 152

I previously subscribed to Lightspeed Magazine a few years ago. I resubscribed as part of my “year of short fiction”. Here are my brief reviews for the fiction in Issue 152 for January 2023, my first since I started reading it again.

The first story in the issue is The Last Serving by Lincoln Michel, about a vegetarian cook who conquers the culinary world and looks for her next challenge. She settles on learning to cook meat, but with a unique approach. As a vegan, I really connected with this. I really felt the motivation for the chef’s vegetarianism, and it ends with a humdinger of a twist. (My rating: 5/5)

This is followed by A Guide to Alien Terms Useful in the Human Diaspora by Deborah L. Davitt, a short glossary of alien linguistic terms. It is an interesting look at culture and language. It ends with a paragraph that uses all the words in the glossary. I found the format to be unique but the piece itself was just okay for me. (My rating: 3/5)

Imagine Survivor or The Amazing Race on a planetoid where if you die as a fan favorite, they simply bring you back to life and re-insert you into the program. Oh, and you are indentured to the production company. Two of the characters conspire to find a way out in The Narrative Implications of You Untimely Death by Isabel J. Kim. This is a well-written and entertaining exploration of facing hopelessness. It really grabbed me. (My rating: 5/5)

From the Largest Crater by Jendayi Brooks-Flemister is story of separation anxiety told as audio diary entries. A woman goes on an expedition from the moon to earth in an attempt to save her climate ravaged birthplace. Her wife stays home alone missing her. The telling felt overly long and didn’t feel like a particularly new take on this theme. (My rating: 2/5)

This is followed by one of the longest titled short stories I’ve ever seen–A Man Walks Into a Bar; or, In Which More Than Four Decades After My Father’s Reluctant Night of Darts on West 54th Street, I Finally Understand What Needs to Be Done by Scott Edelman. In it a son tells us of his dad who played darts in a league in the seventies and his run in with a particular famous New Yorker. The love and connection to his father really come out on the page. And what he decides to do in the end is an unexpected turn. (My rating: 5/5)

In Braid Me a Howling Tongue, Maria Dong tells of young enslaved girls living and working together. Once every five days they are put outside to fend for themselves as they are hunted by a large creature. One of those girls is an outsider with no tongue. She connects with another of the girls as they learn to cope with their circumstances and seek to better them. A very touching and haunting story of love and care for others told from a place filled with despair. (My rating: 5/5)

In Between the Stones and the Stars by A. L. Goldfuss a hunter and a warrior arrive at a temple to claim the same prize–a chalice. But rather than fight, they decide to camp together and share their food and enjoy each other’s company. But what about the chalice? I enjoyed how this trope was humanized through the individual experiences of each character. A short read worth your time. (My rating: 4/5)

The focus is on light in In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There by Seanen Mc Guire. A young woman recently divorced spends a night in her family’s old house in the country. The parts of this story (the light, the protagonist, the neighbors) didn’t come together well for me despite the excellent writing. (My rating: 3/5)

I love stories that deal with deep human issues. The final story, The Ministry of Saturn by Benjamin Peek, explores the nature of creativity, freedom, power over others, and what we owe others. This is the tale of a magician, a homunculus, and his creator. (My rating: 4/5)

My average rating for the fiction in this issue comes out to an even 4. An excellent issue with a mix of great stories well told. I look forward to reading the next issue.

Apex Magazine Issue 135

Apex Magazine Issue 135 cover

I finished reading my first issue of Apex Magazine! It was the first issue of 2023, number 135. On the whole, I enjoyed it. Interestingly my favorite two stories were the classic fiction that were originally published elsewhere. Hopefully that won’t always be the case. Now on to my brief review of each story.

The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside by Isabel J. Kim is one of those rare stories written in the second person, making you feel like the story is about you. You work as an intern downtown in a glass high rise for a global magical corporation. The longer you work there, the more your body transforms. If you decide to accept their offer of a permanent position at the end of the summer, your body will become completely transformed; you will no longer be human. But that’s okay, you have no intention of staying. But maybe that boy across the office may change things…. This is a well-told story exploring the deeper aspects of what we really want out of life. (My rating: 4/5)

In Carnival Ever After, Mari Ness tells a tale of a woman who has joins the carnival due to an unusual condition that her family just couldn’t accept. When someone comes to “save” her, she might not be interested in leaving the supporting arms of her new “family”. While this story is interesting, it treads on ground that feels already well covered without offering much new to say. (My rating: 3/5)

A chess game forms the outline of The Immortal Game by Lindz McLeod. But don’t worry if you don’t know anything about the game. The story works even if you don’t understand chess notation. It is the story of a seduction. But who is seducing who and to what end? This is a somewhat familiar story told in a novel way. (My rating: 4/5)

Daughter, Mother, Charcoal by Akis Linardos is a story of generational subservience, showing just how difficult it can be to change one’s circumstance. And it isn’t always the physical obstacles that get in the way. It can be our culture as well as our own resulting mental states that hold us back and why it can take generations to change. This story evokes the feelings of darkness and despair that go along with challenges of such circumstances. (My rating: 4/5)

There was just one story that really didn’t do it for me. It was The Wreck of the Medusa by Jordan Kurella. A young trans boy comes of age on a pirate ship. It might just be me or my environment when I read it, but this story felt all over the place. I wasn’t sure what was happening or even what the point was. It is a story of transformation and growing into yourself, but it just didn’t quite work for me. (My rating: 2/5)

The shortest story in the issue is Experimental Protocol for the Coronal Sectioning and Assessment of a Human Soul by Sagan Yee. It intertwines a quasi-medical document describing how to remove a soul with a dying person’s telling briefly of their life as they approach their own end. It is clinical, beautiful, and haunting all at the same time and only 800 words. (My rating: 4/5)

Walking the Deep Down by Michelle Denham is a clever fable about a trek through the desert, avoiding being eaten by a monster, and planting something special that grows into something unexpected. The main character avoids the foolishness in old fairy tales and wisely outfoxes the monster in way that is reminiscent of Aesop’s fables. (My rating: 4/5)

Message in a Vessel by V. G. Harrison takes place on the moon in a future where some sort of medical disaster has split humanity into vampires and humans. The humans have essentially become livestock that the vampires feed from. One vampire isn’t entirely comfortable with this state of things. Her compassion and sense of justice is too much to resist as she attempts to save a human life. The world building is fantastic for such a short tale and the characters and circumstances really come alive. (My rating: 5/5)

My favorite story by far is Your Rover is Here by LP Kindred. A Rover driver (think Uber or Lyft) tells of how he uses magic to thwart a would be terrorist’s attack by one of his rides. In the aftermath, he is not treated as a hero. A thrilling but dark tale about the reality of social injustice from the view of someone in the midst of suffering it. (My rating: 5/5)

When I average my ratings for all the stories, this issue comes out to be a 3.8. Not bad! But as I said in the intro, the two best stories were not originals. Regardless, for a first issue this was a good experience. Dark stories that touch on deep human issues in ways that engage all the senses and make you feel something. That’s what I was hoping for from Apex, and it delivered.

2023: My Year of Short Fiction

January Covers for Uncanny, Analog, Apex, Asimov's, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed Magazines

My favorite theme in fiction is exploring the human condition. By that I mean dealing with the everyday challenges for what it means to be human: survival, relationships, morality, how did we get here, what is the purpose of life. Any story that touches on these and how characters deal with them is my kind of story.

My favorite genre for this theme is science fiction. Not so much the space opera as the “what if”. Like, what would happen if an astronaut was left behind on Mars (The Martian by Andy Weir)? Or, what would happen if a human was raised by aliens and then came back to earth (Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein)? For me the best science fiction takes the trends of today, extrapolates into the future where they could lead, and explores that world through story. Currently, one of the best authors for this is Cory Doctorow (Two examples are Little Brother and Pirate Cinema).

One challenge about contemporary science fiction is that the world changes so fast while publishing takes so long. Once a manuscript has been submitted to a publisher it could take one or two years to get it into the reader’s hands. Consequently, some of the most timely science fiction comes in the form of short fiction (short stories, novelettes, novellas). These often take much less time to get to print. And when they are published online, it takes even less time.

For the past year I have subscribed to and read one of these magazines–Uncanny Magazine. As I thought about what I wanted to read in the new year, I had an idea. What if I focused in 2023 on reading short fiction rather than novels? I am a member of a book club so I would still read novels, just fewer. I decided to go for it. So now I subscribe to an additional five short fiction magazines that publish in three genres–science fiction, fantasy, and horror. These additional magazines are:

I have set up a spreadsheet to track all the stories I read in these magazines this year, including a brief summary for each. I will share that in some form here as I go, but I am not sure yet how. Perhaps as a single post as I finish each issue. I am excited about this project and look forward to recording my journey here!

Excellent Storytelling in Speculative Fiction

Uncanny Magazine Issue 47 cover

I’ve been a subscriber to Uncanny magazine for a little over a year now. I just finished reading issue 47, the July/August 2022 issue. It is the best issue since I started subscribing. Here are my favorite stories from the issue.

Every issue of this magazine uses speculative fiction to address the very human issues of today. Sometimes the stories are challenging and emotional. Sometimes they are just a romp. And more often than you might think, they are both. Each issue is reading. Consider supporting these writers by subscribing.