Lightspeed #104, January 2019

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Lightspeed #104, January 2019

With Teeth Unmake the Sun” by A. Merc Rustad

Midway” by Tony Ballantyne
Son of Water and Fire” by Ashok K. Banker
Endor House” by Meg Ellison

Reviewed by Geoff Houghton

The first piece of new SF in Lightspeed #104 is “With Teeth Unmake the Sun” by A. Merc Rustad. This novelette-length work is part of an ongoing series, but it is possible to read it without knowledge of the rest of the series.

With Teeth Unmake the Sun” tells of a war of revenge fought in the far distant future (think Arthur C. Clarke’s adage that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic). So the author does not even try to explain the mysterious weaponries of his Universe, he merely places them in the hands of his protagonists and then concentrates upon the complex interpersonal story that unwinds during their universe-rending war.

The Seven Stars are ancient and entirely inhuman gods who rule a great multi-species Empire. Their opponent, the Starborn, is even more ancient, proud and nuanced. His living weapon, First Wolf, is direct and urgent. His immortal human tactician, Jarith, is complex and vulnerable, twisted by circumstances to contemplate one betrayal to prevent a greater evil.

This is a complicated and subtle story of revenge and betrayal in a uniquely different Universe.

The second SF offering is “Midway” by Tony Ballantyne. This story opens in the spaceport of an alien world many light years from Earth. The first-person narrator is a wanderer who has been travelling alone to alien planets for much of his life. He has begun to wonder if he should stop his wanderings and return home or continue, to eventually die alone in the far reaches of unknown space. Then he has a seminal meeting with a sixty year old human woman who left Earth a decade before him and has already been through a similar mid-life crisis.

This is a very human debate about the meaning and purpose of life. However, the aliens in this tale live and respond in a very human manner, albeit with telepathy and tentacles thrown in! Therefore, although this is a competently crafted piece, the reader should not expect that the SF setting will grant any unique insights into the human condition from exotic alien perspectives.

The first fantasy tale is “Son of Water and Fire” by Ashok K. Banker. This short novelette is set in a mythical pre-history civilisation. The protagonist is Vrath, a young demi-god, born to a river goddess by a mortal father. The story begins at the end of Vrath’s carefree youth. He is sent to his potent grandfather, a Mountain god, to be trained for a great but unspecified future task.

At the end of that training, the young but fully grown Vrath meets with the powerful but mortal King of the Burnt Empire. There he discovers the purpose of his mission and a secret of his past.

This story is well-crafted, with a mythic and Eastern flavour to the narrative. It can be read as a free-standing tale but is plainly a prequel to a larger work. Its purpose is clearly to delineate a key character in that Universe.

The last fantasy story is “Endor House” by Meg Ellison. The young Hermes Maleficarum has inherited the magical publishing house, Endor House. He has daring plans for expanding beyond the limits set by his father by making his business trans-dimensional. He will sell his company’s spell-books to other Universes.

The first person narrator, a young journalist, magically follows the career of Hermes Maleficarum and the fortunes of Endor House across the years until Hermes is a middle-aged man with a son of his own who is ready to enter the business. And, like father, like son, the young Azimuth has plans of his own for the future direction of Endor House, a direction that even his father considers too daring and outlandish.

This is a short piece, but packed with novel and fascinating concepts. Even hard SF fans may find it a diverting read.

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.