Lghtspeed #103, December 2018

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Lightspeed #103, December 2018

“Mouths” by Lizz Huerta

“Under the Sea of Stars” by Seanan McGuire
“A Love Story Written on Water” by Ashok K. Banker
“Grandma Novak’s Famous Nut Roll” by Shaenon K. Garrity

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

The latest issue of this award-winning magazine of fantasy and science fiction offers three short stories and one novelette.

“Mouths” by Lizz Huerta takes place after an unspecified disaster has destroyed technological society. Survivors eke out a living on what they can retrieve from the remnants of civilization. They also make new use of natural resources. A woman’s lover goes away for a time, to learn new skills. While alone, she falls and breaks two of her teeth. She travels to see a man who works as a dentist, using whatever he can to relieve pain and restore normal function. The process of healing requires many months. Meanwhile, the woman serves as a helper and apprentice. The woman’s lover returns, leading to a change in the relationship between the dentist and his patient.

This is a simple story of human emotion, set against a background sketched out in subtle ways. At times the author tries too hard to write in an impressionistic fashion, sacrificing clarity for effect.

“Under the Sea of Stars” by Seanan McGuire takes place in the Nineteenth Century. Many years before the story begins, the narrator’s grandfather discovered a strange river-woman. Her naked, pure white body was covered with fine scales. She spoke perfect English, but knew nothing of ordinary things like the sun. The narrator deduces that she is the granddaughter of the river-woman. She organizes an expedition to explore the depths of the river from which her grandmother emerged. She discovers hidden wonders and a frightening truth.

Although listed as science fiction, this story reads much more like fantasy, with a touch of horror. The author paints a beautiful picture of the world below the river. Because we know about the narrator’s ancestry from the beginning, there are few surprises until the end. The final revelation is a shocking one, and seems out of place.

“A Love Story Written on Water” by Ashok K. Banker is a mythological tale. It begins in the realm of the gods. For the crime of gazing at a naked river goddess, a recently deceased king is condemned to be reborn. He will return in the body of one of his own descendants. Meanwhile, eight heavenly beings are doomed to enter mortal bodies for a time, as a result of a different offense. The river goddess, smitten by the dead king, goes to earth to become the wife of his new incarnation. She bears him children, each of whom is the reincarnation of one of the heavenly beings. Seven of these are granted the mercy of dying soon after they are born. They are drowned by their mother in the river sacred to her. The other, more guilty than the rest, must lead a full mortal life.

All of this is revealed early, so nothing unexpected happens. When the story returns to the mortal realm, it deals mainly with the passionate love between the river goddess and the reincarnated king. The author creates a poetic and erotic legend. The leisurely pace and foreshadowed plot of this novelette may frustrate readers seeking action and suspense.

“Grandma Novak’s Famous Nut Roll” by Shaenon K. Garrity takes the form of an e-mail from a woman to her female relatives. It contains several traditional recipes from her grandmother. At first, there is nothing strange about them. Bit by bit, it becomes clear that the women in the family are not ordinary human beings. Although their exact nature is never revealed, the reader finds out that they leave their hearts at home when they hunt, and that they do not go after the usual prey. This brief tale mixes the mundane with the supernatural, and ends the magazine on a note of dark comedy.

Victoria Silverwolf has a new cat in the house.