Lightspeed #54, November 2014

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Lightspeed #54, November 2014

“Drones Don’t Kill People” by Annalee Newitz
“A Flock of Grief” by Kat Howard
“Enter Saunterance” by Matthew Hughes
“What Glistens Back” by Sunny Moraine

Reviewed by Charles Payseur

Showing a world where sentient drones rebel against their human makers, “Drones Don’t Kill People” by Annalee Newitz provides a refreshing take on the popular trope of a robot uprising. Told from the perspective of Quadcop, a drone that manages to free itself from its programming, the story bucks the trend of making robots either perpetual victims or tyrannical overlords of humans. Instead, the drones becomes something else entirely: pacifist revolutionaries. Using protest and organization, the drones begin a sort of uprising, but one that is not violent on their part, and one where humans have to revert to non-intelligent weapons to fight back, to try and keep their lethal machines in servitude. Concise and told with the honesty of a machine, the story succeeds on the strength of its message, in complicating the role of the weapon and the role of the soldier, in both war and peace.

Loss is mourned in the form of dark birds that perch upon the shoulders of the bereaved in Kat Howard‘s “A Flock of Grief.” Sibila, having just lost a husband she never cared for, finds herself passing her bird to a professional Mourner, a woman who is supposed to be able to bear the grief instead. Something goes wrong with the whole process, though, and birds of grief everywhere begin returning, bringing with them old sadness and old loss. Sibila seems less burdened by most, and finds her own way of dealing with the birds, and her conflicted feelings about her loss. The story is high on concept and mood, the birds a clever way of embodying mental anguish. I only wish that the story had been a bit clearer at the end, for while I enjoyed what was there, I would have preferred something a little less vague. Still, it was enjoyable, with excellent imagery and a fascinating premise.

Matthew Hughes continues the adventures of Kaslo and Obron in a universe where magic has supplanted science in “Enter Saunterance.” Part of the Ongoing The Kaslo Chronicles, the story finds the titular character bored and wishing for a way to strike back against his enemies. Frustrated that the new, magical world has rendered him largely useless, Kaslo must put his own lack of understanding behind him in order to help Obron retrieve something that will finally allow them to go on the offensive: a dragon. Light and funny, if a bit heavy on jargon, the story might be a bit of a maze to readers unfamiliar with the rest of the series, but it does throw in a few nice moments regardless. Next to the rest of the fiction in the issue, it can’t help but read as a little slow, and lacking in the same punch, but as a palate-cleanser it works well, offering up a pleasant little story told with style and humor.

A deep space miner has some time to think about his life as he plummets to the surface of an alien world in Sunny Moraine‘s “What Glistens Back.” After an accident that has left him hurtling helplessly toward the ground, Sean has to come to grips with his mortality, with his decisions in life, his regrets and lost chances. It is made only more difficult by his husband, Eric, the comm officer, being the one talking with him to the end, reminding him of what he is losing, and what could have been. As Sean nears the planet’s surface, he tries to find comfort any way he can, only to make a startling discovery, one that doesn’t save him but that might ensure his husband and the rest of the crew are able to make a monumental discovery. Stark and haunting, the story deals with life and death and choices, and ultimately with loss. Beautifully told, it hits all the right notes and provides an emotional punch that lifts up even as it devastates.

Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared at Perihelion Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, and Dragon’s Roost Press.