Lightspeed #121, June 2020

Lightspeed #121, June 2020

“Single Malt Spacecraft” by Marie Vibbert

“Real Animals” by Em North

“The Postictal State of Divine Love” by Julianna Baggott

“Refuge” by Ben Peek

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

This on-line magazine celebrates ten years of publication with two science fiction stories with sharply contrasting moods, and a pair of fantasy tales that make use of familiar themes in new ways.

The protagonist of “Single Malt Spacecraft” by Marie Vibbert travels back and forth between Earth and a colony world. The effect of time dilation at extremely high speed means that only a few weeks pass for her, while decades go by on the two worlds. She takes advantage of this phenomenon to acquire fully aged Scotch every time she returns to Earth. The price for her passion for fine whisky is the way that the home world changes so much between visits. She is also unable to maintain lasting relationships with anyone, except for the cat that travels with her.

Although the main character’s isolation in time adds a touch of melancholy, the overall tone is optimistic. A crisis causes her to lose her supply of Earth-aged Scotch, but the ending reveals how she will continue to enjoy the alcoholic fruits of her labors. The story makes for pleasant, if inconsequential, reading.

“Real Animals” by Em North takes place at a time when aliens inhabit the bodies of animals, causing them to kill humans. Two women and a man survive in an isolated lodge. One of the women uses various materials to transform the bodies of people killed by the animals, including the husband of the other woman, into works of art. The husband of the artist leaves their fortress to hunt down the bear that threatens them. The two women, close friends since childhood, anxiously await his return.

In addition to this gruesome premise, much of the story consists of flashbacks to the widowed woman’s youth, particularly her relationship with the aunt who raised her. Because the characters seem reasonably sane, particularly given their horrible situation, there is no rational explanation for the bizarre and grotesque use they make of human corpses.

“The Postictal State of Divine Love” by Julianna Baggott alternates the narrator’s memories of her epileptic mother with non-fiction articles about vampires. After her seizures, the mother tells elaborate stories of how her ancestor was the illegitimate child of Queen Elizabeth I, a half-vampire, and Sir Walter Raleigh, a full vampire. The articles explain that vampires do not prey on humans, but are actually necessary to human survival because they strengthen immune systems. The narrator dismisses her mother’s tales as fantasies caused by epilepsy, but a strange occurrence at the end of the story suggests they are something more.

The author’s unique version of vampirism is the most interesting part of this work. The alternate history created in the mother’s accounts is elaborate enough for a series of novels, but the story does very little with it.

“Refuge” by Ben Peek takes the form of a letter to a biographer. The writer objects to the biographer’s account of the life of the leader of a band of mercenaries. While correcting the biography’s errors, the writer relates how the leader, badly wounded and alone after the destruction of his army, saved a village of children from the slavers who carried off their parents.

Although narrated in an unusual fashion, the plot is typical for sword-and-sorcery fiction. (As is often the case, there is far more sword than sorcery. The only relevant fantasy element is the fact that the setting is a world that never existed.) Because the leader’s strategy involves deception, the fact that his biography is full of errors adds a touch of irony to an otherwise unremarkable adventure story.

Victoria Silverwolf had to look up the word “postictal.”