Lightspeed #78, November 2016

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Lightspeed #78, November 2016

“Dinosaur Killers” by Chris Kluwe

“Shooting Gallery” by J.B. Park
“Natural Skin” by Alyssa Wong
“I’ve Come to Marry the Princess” by Helena Bell

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

Lightspeed’s November issue has four stories with their usual high literary quality and with dark settings.

“Dinosaur Killers” by Chris Kluwe is set in space, where the protagonist is watching a compatriot fall like a meteor to Earth to die. They are the last soldiers of a war that has destroyed Earth by tossing asteroids and the lot down to them, while Earth was throwing nuclear weapons at them. The human race is going to be extinct. I have a strong dislike toward futile stories like this one. It’s not tragedy, just a reminder that war is hell and life’s a bitch. I won’t say this isn’t accomplished, but I find the dire sentiment a bit tiresome.

J.B. Park‘s “Shooting Gallery” tells about Paulie, a boy who is making a strange deal: he’s willing to let his friend Nick shoot at him with a gun just to see how the bullets won’t hurt him. Paulie is some type of zombie (though the term is never used) and needs the money to help support his mother and sister. But Nick wants to change the terms of their bargain… The story is an offbeat take on this sort of tale, and somehow manages to just evade the bleakness.

“Natural Skin” by Alyssa Wong tells about Xuemei, a teen living in Canada at a time when plastic surgery is prized and people are sold for body parts. She sneaks off into the night, giving the impression she is either getting surgery or wants to sell her face and skin to get the money to leave. The story, though, has surprises, powerful ones that show the desperation and the horror in the world it portrays. Certainly a dark tale, but one of the best stories I’ve read this year.

We move to magic realism in Helena Bell‘s “I’ve Come to Marry the Princess,” where Jack has been left behind in summer camp for years, nobody noticing him except for Nancy, who doesn’t believe him when he says he has a dragon’s egg. They put on plays for the other campers and Jack tries to make sense of it all, thinking the dragon will be important when it’s hatched. It’s a good story with enough odd imagination to make it work.

My main impression of the issue was one of interminable bleakness. Only “I’ve Come to Marry the Princess” isn’t filled with misery and dire situations, and it only avoids it by having a certain amount of whimsy that keeps it afloat. Bleakness isn’t automatically bad, and certainly I think two of the bleakest stories here are the best, but a steady diet of it gets as tedious as any steady diet.

Chuck Rothman’s novels Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate are available from Fantastic Books.