Lightspeed #93, February 2018

Friday, 23 February 2018 09:37 Kat Day
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Lightspeed #93, February 2018

Four-Point Affective Calibration” by Bogi Takács

"A Coward’s Death" by Rahul Kanakia
"The Quiet Like a Homecoming" by Cassandra Khaw
"The Goddess Has Many Faces" by Ashok K. Banker

Reviewed by Kat Day

This month Lightspeed contains four original stories and four reprints. “Four-Point Affective Calibration,” by Bogi Takács, is an unusual and short piece (only 1400 words) which takes the form of a transcript. The first-person protagonist is, we learn, "being asked to contemplate various emotions" which are "supposedly universal across cultures." The reason why becomes clear as we move through the piece. The over-arching message was, I felt, a little heavy-handed, but this piece is certainly different.

"A Coward’s Death" by Rahul Kanakia is another unusual story. It appears to be set in an alternative-history version of the ancient Roman Empire. The "101,201st Emperor" wants to build a huge statue of himself, and decides to use some of his subjugated people as slaves to do it. Philosophy ensues. Although it makes it readable and the characters engaging, the modern slang used in this piece jarred with me. Perhaps it shouldn't—after all, the author was hardly going to write in Latin. Still, words like "okay" and "butt" feel anachronous. Then it suffers from the problem of a passive main character: he purely observes events, never really participating or doing anything to move the story along. For all that, this manages to be a thought-provoking piece which evokes some vivid imagery (some of it brutal and bloody: be warned).

"The Quiet Like a Homecoming" by Cassandra Khaw tells the story of a woman who is an "animal wife," travelling through Scandinavia. The piece has hints of the selkie legends—the idea of a female character having her skin coerced from her and hidden—although in this case the protagonist isn't (at least, this was my interpretation) a water-dwelling creature. This is a dreamy piece with beautiful writing, but ultimately I was left with a lot of questions which, for me, made it somewhat unsatisfying.

"The Goddess Has Many Faces" by Ashok K. Banker is one of the longest stories in this issue at 4350 words. Marked as science fiction, it tells the story of Pillai, whom we first meet being admitted by guards to a tower in a disputed territory to carry out a mission. Unfortunately, my inner pedant was triggered early on when a "reinforced silicon needle" embedded in Pillai's forearm is described as "barely ten millimetres in diameter." Hang on… that's one centimeter. And a few sentences later we're told it has a "nine-inch length" which is… the best part of twenty-three centimeters. That's some needle to have embedded in your arm. I re-read this several times trying to work out if I was misunderstanding or if it was a translation error. The problem then being that I was well and truly thrown out of the story and multiple other subsequent plot problems poked at me like, well, needles. I found myself thinking "I'm sure that's not physically possible," followed by "but how does that happen without that also changing?" Then, "really, only after that many?" and "but how is this arrangement sustained?" Finally I mentally threw my hands in the air with, "oh come on, if that was an option, why not just do it at the start??" Obviously a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary in fiction, but this felt like it was breaking far too many rules for me to go with it, not helped by the fact that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever to like in the character of Pillai.


Kat Day makes children handle fire and dangerous chemicals for living (it’s okay, she’s a chemistry teacher). When not doing that, she spends her time writing and trying to wrangle her own two children into line (without fire or dangerous chemicals, because that would be frowned upon). She has had a short story published in Daily Science Fiction and has another upcoming in “24 Stories,” an anthology to raise money for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. You can follow her on Twitter @chronicleflask.