Short Fiction Review – Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 88 (September 2017)

Among the original fiction, there were two very good stories here. The best of them is Jaymee Goh’s “The Last Cheng Beng Gift” (8.1), a charming and entertaining fantasy about a woman “living” her afterlife in the underworld, who receives annual gifts from her still living children. She hates the gifts she receives from her daughter, and finally decides to take a trip back to the living world to haunt her. Goh does and excellent job of establishing her protagonist and the otherworldly setting, and though the ending is a tad predictable, it is still welcome and emotionally satisfying.
Nearly as good is Giovanni De Feo’s “Ugo”(8.0), the story of a man (the titular Ugo) who can “travel” to inhabit his own body at earlier points in his life. He can interact with the past as his future self, but changes cannot be made without severe consequences. He tells his future wife, Cynthia, about his strange power when they are both children, and it affects the way she views her own future and even her own identity. The reader figures out Ugo’s grand scheme well before Cynthia does, and while this sort of thing is often a frustrating conceit, it works here. The author employs an odd narrative device in which Cynthia creates a separate identity (Cinzia) for herself when she is with Ugo. It adds an interesting dimension to the story at first, but after the “twist” ending, it feels like a bit of a cheat. Not bad enough to kill an otherwise terrific tale, thankfully.
The other two original stories are less successful. Timothey Mudie’s “An Ever-Expanding Flash of Light”(6.2) uses time dilation in a similar fashion as The Forever War – in this case a soldier, Tone, keeps signing up for more year-long tours while hundreds of years pass on earth. His hope is, one day, science will be able to cure his hibernating wife (Irena) of cancer, but every year he returns to Earth and no progress has been made. It’s a compelling concept with some nice touches, but it doesn’t work as science fiction. A thousand years go by over the course of the story but there is no indication that any changes to the cultural or political landscape have any effect on his job as a soldier or his wife’s status on earth, so the whole concept feels underdeveloped. The ending is sweet, but the overall story is a little flat.
“A Pound of Darkness, A Quarter of Dreams”(3.3) by Tony Ballantyne is the only real dud in the group. It involves a grocer who must make a deal with a demon who traffics in souls to keep her shop open. The whole concept is shoddily conceived – it’s the kind of story that needs to keep adjusting the rules of its premise to move forward. The characters are uninspiring, and the prose aims for a whimsy that feels forced.
There is also has an interview with Theodora Goss and a review of her new novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter – which sounds interesting and has been added to my reading queue – as well as an excerpt of Annalee Newitz’s terrific debut novel Autonomous; if anyone is on the fence about reading either of those books, this issue of Lightspeed should help you make up your mind.

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