Lightspeed #130, March 2021

Lightspeed #130, March 2021

“Homecoming” by Claire Wrenwood

“And Now. A Preview of Coming Attractions” by Adam-Troy Castro

“The Bear Prince” by P H Lee

“Brightly, Undiminished” by Sarah Grey

Reviewed by Geoff Houghton

The first SF story in Lightspeed #130 is “Homecoming” by Claire Wrenwood. This short story is set in a future where cheap and easy light-speed travel allows the exploration and exploitation of alien planets by commercial companies. The protagonist has returned to her hometown on Earth after a period with such a company to find that she no longer fits into the small-town mentality of her family. The theme that an ordinary person’s entire world can be so altered by their experiences of the exotic that they can never go back to the mundane was old before SF was first conceived. For a truly definitive treatment of that theme, Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Chant-Pagan (English Irregular ’99-’02)” still cannot be bettered, but Claire Wrenwood has made a fair effort with its own unusual twist at the end.

The second SF piece is “And Now. A Preview of Coming Attractions” by Adam-Troy Castro. This novelette is set on an alternate Earth where the first-person chronicler opens his narrative with the attention-grabbing words: “I have experienced some tastes of my afterlife as a crustacean.”

At first you may consider that this novelette is wrongly categorised and should be included as fantasy, but, after further consideration, this particular reviewer now accepts that it qualifies as genuine SF, albeit with a truly outlandish initial premise.

The author postulates a fascinating variant of reincarnation. Every individual on his alternate Earth knows that they will inevitably be reincarnated as an alien life form on another world elsewhere in the universe. Furthermore, they will personally experience previews of their future state as their world’s equivalent of near-death experiences.

The author uses this novel conjecture to explore the impact that a certain and incontrovertible knowledge of this idiosyncratic form of personal immortality might have on the people of that alternate Earth. The reader may disagree with the author’s conclusions, but it is certainly a thought-provoking piece.

“The Bear Prince” by PH Lee is set in an alternate fantasy world that first appears to be more Renaissance faire than genuinely medieval. However, the lack of pox, sewage and smells is the only concession to gentler sensibilities. This “fairy-tale” is not intended to lull children into a contented sleep. Instead, it is very much in the original dark Germanic style of the real Brothers Grimm.

The King of the land is a despot who threatens his wife with death if she presents him with yet another girl-child rather than a male heir. So when she gives birth to yet another golden-haired little princess she is forced to perform a substitution that eventually brings a well-deserved doom down on the evil old King. The fact that many of his innocent subjects are also killed and eaten as collateral damage to his overthrow is just part of the cost of doing business in a true Grimm fairy story!

The last fantasy offering is “Brightly, Undiminished” by Sarah Grey. This short and gentle story adds the shadowy existence of potent but essentially benign magic to the lives of a couple in present day suburban America.

Imelda had been a powerful white witch in a deep and loving relationship with a human partner and husband. Now she is dead and her surviving partner remembers the wonders that she brought to his life and the (in this case, literally) magical times that they had together.

In his despair at her loss, he attempts dark magic well beyond his powers to return her to the living, but Imelda had foreseen even that and has left a message in her typical idiosyncratic form.

It is a great achievement for an author to paint such a clear picture of a character who is actually absent from the narrative but Imelda’s mild and calm personality shines forth, even from beyond the grave. The ending is heart-warming but deliberately ambivalent. You may read it as a finale or a new beginning, but you should read it with a smile.

Geoff Houghton lives in a leafy village in rural England. He is a retired Healthcare Professional with a love of SF and a jackdaw-like appetite for gibbets of medical, scientific and historical knowledge.