Lightspeed #112, September 2019

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Lightspeed #112, September 2019

“A Bird, a Song, a Revolution” by Brooke Bolander

“Sacrid’s Pod” by Adam-Troy Castro
“All In” by Rajan Khanna
“The Answer That You Are Seeking” by Jenny Rae Rappaport
Reviewed by Kat Day

“A Bird, a Song, a Revolution,” by Brooke Bolander, begins with a girl listening to the song of a bird. Eventually she captures the bird in a cage and keeps it so that she can hear its song all the time, and the adults around her name her Whistlecage as a result. She meets a witch who knows, amongst other things, how to find the paths that lead to other worlds. The witch shows Whistlecage a flute which she plays, tells her she’ll never be able to hear all the songs, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse. This story has beautiful prose, but a confusing, non-linear narrative. I found it difficult to care about Whistlecage or the events she became involved in. The idea that “change always demands a sacrifice” is explicitly stated, and I can’t help feeling that if you have to outright tell your readers the theme, it’s probably not rooted deeply enough into the story. All this said, the words are beautiful, so if you’re a fan of more literary fiction you’ll probably enjoy this.

In “Sacrid’s Pod,” by Adam-Troy Castro, the titular pod is actually a sort of prison. The story is narrated by the pod as it talks to its occupant, Sacrid Henn. We learn that Sacrid has been imprisoned by her deeply religious parents who, believing her to be vain, rebellious, disrespectful and generally unsavable, have sent her to an installation operated by the “independent software intelligences known as the Alsource.” In short, they’re so desperate to protect their child they’ve decided to lock her away from the universe entirely. The pod takes the form of a small-ish room, but it can appear to be anything its occupant wishes. The walls can look like any external environment, and the floor can move to simulate travel. Any kind of food, drink, entertainment and other facilities are available at all times. And so we find ourselves with a very interesting musing on the importance of freedom. Does one really need to be free, when one can experience a simulation of freedom so perfect that it feels entirely real, and never needs to be turned off? I found this a very powerful story. Only hearing the pod’s side of conversations might have felt contrived, but it works. I even began to feel empathy for the pod, and what it seemed to be trying to achieve. This is a great piece and well worth a read.

“All In,” by Rajan Khanna, centers around Quentin, a man with a special deck of playing cards which he is able to use to cast spells. Each card can only be used once, and the different suits and values have different abilities. Not entirely understanding how the cards work, he and his companion, Hiram, have been hunting for other so-called Card Sharps who might be able to give them more information. The magic system here is interesting and original, although the level of detail perhaps goes a touch too far for this relatively short piece. That said, the action kicks in quickly and overall this is a fun adventure story with some nice twists.

“The Answer That You Are Seeking,” by Jenny Rae Rappaport, is a shorter piece than the others in this issue, which begins with a parent contemplating the need for her preschool-aged child to carry out lockdown drills. Despairing at the world, she embarks on a project to build a quantum computer simulation in an effort to ensure her children’s safety. This could have been a predictable, well-worn story—scientist messes about with nature and It All Goes Wrong—but it manages to avoid falling into that trap. Instead it’s a well-executed exploration of the lengths a parent is willing to go to in order to protect her children, pondering whether, when it all comes down to it, the answer is really quite simple.

Kat Day writes a mixture of stuff and can be found generally hanging around on social media. You can follow her on Twitter @chronicleflask.