Review: Lightspeed #101

Lightspeed #101, October 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “The Horror of Party Beach” by Dale Bailey (science fantasy novelette)
  • “The Real You™” by Molly Tanzer (science fictional short story)
  • “Super-Luminous Spiral” by Cameron Van Sant (science fantasy short story)
  • “Ten Deals with The Indigo Snake” by Mel Kassel (fantasy short story)

Real” dragoons the reader into being the audience for a woman’s gossipy monologue about her and others’ relationships in which the SF gimmick of a magic procedure that turns people’s faces into blobs is used to touch on identity, isolation, and protective measures to say, with Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are.” There’s a good phrase or two and some people may enjoy this sort of thing but, if it doesn’t sound like your thing, you probably won’t.

A couple of stories touch on addictions of sorts. “Deals” deals with a woman making risky deals with a snake (which has been a common thing in this world, which is otherwise like our own, since Eve) to gain everything from good grades to the attentions of another woman which, as only part of her gambling habit, leads to worse and worse things for awhile. Among other things, the story’s a fuzzy blend of genres, it’s in present tense, it includes a revolting section (#8), and it’s in the form of a list. Just as “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” is the “perfect country and western song,” this is the perfect Lightspeed story! Even more fuzzy a blend is “Spiral,” which is in the fantasy section but could just as easily be in the SF section if you treat its “galaxy boy” as an alien indistinguishable from magic. As Juvenal said, “tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes” (“the incurable itch of writing possesses many”) and a budding author tells us all about his encounter with the magic alien transsexual virus muse who has quite an effect on quite a few college students. This isn’t in the form of a list but is in second person in addition to being in present tense.

Reversing “Spiral,” “Horror” is billed as SF but it’s not remotely, being another of the many transmutations of “1950s sci-fi movies” into “2010s retro-stories.” This one is a weird sort of coming of age tale set in the summer of ’55 on the East Coast and deals with a boy meeting a girl and having a wonderful relationship except that not all is as it seems. What makes this work is a great narrative voice and a generally reasonable sense of time (though “cancer” was not a word used in polite company). What makes this not work is its sledgehammer foreshadowing (when nothing that happens is surprising anyway – the daughter of a mad scientist parties at a beach with teens and…) and its excessive end. But, aside from those two issues (the last of which might not bother some), it’s an engaging read. I still think it, along with aspects of “Deals,” would be a better fit for Nightmare or, at least, in the case of this one, for the fantasy section.

(While I’m quibbling, when I started reviewing Analog for my old site a few years ago, I used to take detailed notes on most of the grammatical and proofreading issues that bothered me. Such problems in webzines are so overwhelming that there’s little point and I only emit random distressed noises every now and then and, to be fair, Lightspeed is not the worst offender, but I feel like complaining about the Great Disappearing Adverb again (“your [literature!] professor taught you to read slow and careful”) and other things like “you scramble to stuff you and your roommate’s laptops under your coat…”)


Review: Lightspeed #100

Lightspeed #100, September 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Her Monster, Whom She Loved” by Vylar Kaftan (science fiction short story)
  • “Harry and Marlowe and the Secret of Ahomana” by Carrie Vaughn (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Last to Matter” by Adam-Troy Castro (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Explainer” by Ken Liu (science fiction short story)
  • “Hard Mary” by Sofia Samatar (science fiction novelette)
  • “Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine (fantasy short story)
  • “Jump” by Cadwell Turnbull (fantasy short story)
  • “You Pretend Like You Never Met Me, And I’ll Pretend Like I Never Met You” by Maria Dahvana Headley (fantasy short story)
  • “Conspicuous Plumage” by Sam J. Miller (fantasy short story)
  • “A Brief Guide to the Seeking of Ghosts” by Kat Howard (fantasy short story)

Lightspeed brings us a more-than-double special issue for its 100th number with five original SF stories, five original fantasy stories, plus extra reprints and non-fiction. (The online edition swaps two of the usual reprints for two bonus originals with the Kaftan, Vaughn, Castro, Valentine, Turnbull, and Headley being made available.)

Monster” is a cosmic fantasy with scientific phrases sprinkled about and involves a goddess creating some children, one of whom is a monster, and follows their battle of the eons. It has a lot of the feel of June’s “Silent Sun.” “Ahomana” is a “shipwrecked on an island with a secret city” story with an additional component of alternate history in which “Harry” and Marlowe wander from their Victorian England (which has been modified with relics of alien tech) and discover the wonders of Ahomana. Even for being a part of a series and granting that this episode is finished, this is a middle and a bit long for its content but entertaining enough. “Matter” is a “jaded at the end of the worlds” story with a splash of posthumanism thrown over the New Wavy core. A man is ejected from his “orgynism” of perpetual sex to discover the City is dying and decides there are two ways to go and picks one. Some of this is repellent, the rest is common, and the end isn’t as deep as it purports to be. “Explainer” is metafiction nominally involving a repairman and a little girl, in which a broken (lying) house AI is relevant to the craft of fiction and, more generally, the drive for narrative.

The (perhaps excessively) gender-edged “Hard Mary” was much too long for its content (nearly a novella) but the oddly Simakian tale was the most interesting of the SF tales. Lyddie (narrator) and Mim (misfit genius) are effectively characterized young women living in an isolated religious village in the near future who, with some others, discover an abandoned, semi-functional robot they come to call “Hard Mary.” The (mostly mild) tension comes from multiple places including within and between the characters, between that group and the village, and between all of them and the “Profane Industries” men who created Mary.

Abandonware” involves a broken narrator talking about a sort of VR game while covering her childhood and her current situation with a dead mother and a father who has replaced both of them. There’s a symbolic deer and some things that could be called hallucinations but no real fantasy or effect. “Plumage” takes us to an alternate 1950s where everyone has a fantastic talent, though the narrator’s hasn’t manifested because she first wants to learn more about the murder of her gay brother who “danced birds,” so to speak. From the street that went on forever to its questionable rock history and odd perspective on baseball to its ending, it’s unconvincing and “drops frames” at an increasing rate through the sketchy narrative. “Brief Guide” is no story but yet another ineffectual list (eleven sections on how to avoid or attract ghosts depending on season, weather, time of day, and a tip for the ghostless).

Moving up quite a way, “Pretend” is an initially darkly delightful tale of the less magical son of a magician who has to entertain at a birthday party. Naturally, he goes to a bar and hits on what turns out to be a bereaved mother whose child was killed and husband injured in a motorcycle accident. That turns out to be the high point of his day. His life hasn’t been much better, either, as we learn about his childhood, his dad, and deals with Death and/or the Devil. The sardonic tone and comical imagery (the magician’s bright yellow “lemon” of a VW Beetle accidentally ending up in a funeral procession, for instance) keep this story involving and entertaining and the only real problem is a somewhat incongruous and pat ending.

While much more understated (but consistent), “Jump” is the issue’s best story. One fine day, in an overflow of love and joy, Mike and his girlfriend Jessie teleport home. A desire to repeat the experience comes to obsess Mike while Jessie prefers to treasure the singular experience. For a time, she accedes to Mike’s efforts and, somewhere in there, they get married but this thing that cemented their relationship also tends to tear it apart. Very concise, yet well-realized and with some humor and pathos. Good stuff.

Review: Lightspeed #99

Lightspeed #99, August 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “A Bond as Deep as Starlit Seas” by Sarah Grey (science fiction short story)
  • “The Atonement Path” by Alex Irvine (science fiction short story)
  • “Scavenge, Rustic Hounds!” by Manuel Gonzales (fantasy short story)
  • “A Compendium of Architecture and the Science of Building” by Kate Elliott (fantasy short story)

All four stories deal with dystopian societies though I suspect the last isn’t supposed to be seen as such and is at least humanized by one of the Powers That Be. All four stories are readable and most have their strengths but none really stuck out for me. Each pair billed as SF and as fantasy contains a long short story (6-7K) and a shorter one (2.5K).

Bond” deals with a woman selling her semi-AI ship, which she’s named Cleo. The “middlewoman” is the Abbess who runs the Henza (whose name may be inspired by the c.1400 German “Hansa”) which is an unscrupulous, slave-driving politico-religious order whose deity is a goddess of trade. The woman is so sentimentally attached to her ship that she’s insisted on a clause against scrapping it and also insists on meeting the downstream buyer. Finally, after getting some wisdom from a barkeep, she goes back after her ship and things do not go well.

The protagonist, Jeri, is the main problem with this tale. Her sentimentality, which would be sympathy-inducing in small doses, is extreme (or the ship is not aesthetically sufficient for the story’s demands on it). She’s incredibly naive if not downright stupid as anyone can immediately see the problem with her clause to a middleman and she’s supposed to be an experienced merchant yet either has no idea who she’s dealing with or is insane for dealing with them. She’s hasty and a poor physical specimen as she’s easily and immediately incapacitated at one point. And she ultimately drags the plot down with her as it’s somewhat ridiculous that the Henza wouldn’t “indenture” Cleo with governors as well as doing a better job of restricting Jeri, making the supposed “suspense” of the ending moot. Aside from that, though, it does a good job of metamorphosing key elements of our own society into a science fantasy one.

The Atonement Path” is a relatively short Robert Browning-like monologue (though it does have a couple of inserts which break the monologue in fact, if not in feel) in which a lawyer describes his society’s juvenile justice system to a visitor. Some effect is achieved through the matter-of-fact approval of the lawyer calmly narrating awful things but I’m not sure I followed the ending line.

Also short and confusing, “Scavenge” describes a woman warning her husband that “the creatures” have arrived and are carting people away. Despite their best efforts, concentrated on saving the at-risk husband, both suffer in various ways. This is yet another “Lightmare” story in which Lightspeed‘s supposed “fantasy” is far more horrific than anything in the companion issue of Nightmare. The problem is that everything is either elliptical symbolism or doesn’t make sense at all and changes the rules of its own game once, if not again, with no (logical or discernibly aesthetic) rationale.

Finally, while “Compendium” is a hierarchical medievaloid tale in which wise old guys can build men out of boys if the boys are properly respectful, industrious, and driven, it comes as a relief from the other three tales in having a form of kindness within it. When the seemingly innocuous old architect’s fire goes out and he finds a boy hiding in a workshop, both their lives change. The architect is a sort of grand poobah and the boy is a commoner, yet a powerful cold mage. The old man adds his guidance to that of the nearby Hogwarts which has been misusing the boy. Not very dramatic or suspenseful and feels like a piece of a larger story or series, but done well enough, especially if you’re interested in exactly how many dabs of butter are alongside the porridge and other such details.

Review: Lightspeed #98

Lightspeed #98, July 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Waterbirds” by G. V. Anderson (science fiction short story)
  • “Greetings, Humanity! Welcome To Your Choice Of Species!” by Adam-Troy Castro (science fiction short story)
  • “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” by James Beamon (fantasy short story)
  • “Wild Bill’s Last Stand” by Kyle Muntz (fantasy short story)

Reprint note: this issue includes Caroline M. Yoachim’s “The Right Place to Start a Family,” which I recommended when I reviewed Humanity 2.0 in 2016.

Waterbirds” deals with two women who keep each other company for years as they decay until one of them meets a third woman and those two break free from their submission to evil men by finding love with each other. Oh, and one of them is a robot. If “Greetings” were to be done at all, it should have been 40% its length. It’s an ejection of misanthropic bile, intended to be humorous, in which some smug and self-righteous aliens decide to exterminate the human race for being too vicious to live, though the populace will not be killed but allowed to choose from eight lovely species to turn into. This is basically like karma causing us to come back as slugs except faster. “Wild Bill” is a Weird Western with gay cowboys, two of whom fight a duel and few if any readers will care what happens because there’s no one to like.

As I gather “Wild Bill” is an example of one microgenre, so I gather Lightspeed‘s well-chosen cover story, “Song of Home,” is of another. It’s an “alternate history with weird combat mechanisms”; in this case, a Crimean War with steam-powered air (and sea) ships. Our air ship is most significantly crewed by an artificer of metal prostheses, an organ grinder, his homeless street urchin protagonist assistant, and an army of vampire attack monkeys. If I’d read more of the stuff like this that’s out there to read, I might not have been so impressed but it certainly struck me as fresh and was vividly, brilliantly told. The milieu and combat was complex and exciting, the protagonist sympathetic, and the conflicts and emotions powerful, the latter without being mawkish or manipulative. The theme, assuming I’m reading it right, is perhaps not as original as the rest felt, but was brought home aesthetically and believably, somewhat akin to “Last Night at the Café Renaissance” by D. Thomas Minton in the July/August 2015 IGMS, which had its own powerful imagery. This one’s images of bloodsucking cyborg capuchins and the like will linger. Recommended.

Review: Lightspeed #97

Lightspeed #97, June 2018


Original Fiction:

  • “I Sing Against the Silent Sun” by A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffman (science fantasy novelette)
  • “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Lighthouse of Quvenle the Seer” by Lina Rather (science fantasy short story)
  • “The Quiltbag” by Ashok K. Banker (science fantasy short story)
  • “From the Root” by Emma Törzs (science fantasy short story)

Lightspeed‘s table of original contents would seem to present the usual two science fiction and two fantasy stories but there are arguably none of either as all four strike me as science fantasy.

In “Silent Sun,” a genderless person and a sentient spaceship are hunted by a god which demands silence of all and they recite poetry at it in defiance. It’s interesting to think of this in comparison with “Repent, Harlequin” in that the two tales of rebellion against oppressive authority figures share a certain juvenile nature but the sharp, vivid imagery, sense of whimsy, and universality of the Ellison tale contrasts strongly with this impressionistic, humorless, particular (and unconvincingly resolved) piece.

Pilgrim’s Guide” involves a person engaging in space travel to approach someone in zero-G… who is a seer and gives her a prophecy. Basically, as the prophecy was being revealed, I realized the “why” of her state (meaning not just what triggered it but why she wanted what she wanted). It’s initially evoked effectively but it’s ultimately made a little too explicit and, aside from that, would have been better as a straight fantasy (and without the second-person narrative technique).

The next tale’s protagonist, who believes racism is genetic, is judge, jury, and executioner of innumerable parallel worlds, using her “Quiltbag” to “eat” “bad” worlds. (“Bad” means irredeemable worlds who have an inhabitant who fails to meet her definition of being sufficiently accepting of the races, genders, and identities she values, or who have improper diets. “Eating” means that those worlds which are not already like the quiltbag in one way are turned into the quiltbag in another.) The undramatic structure mostly involves her waiting in a room for an interviewer to arrive and then interviewing him.

Finally, “From the Root” takes place in an alternate eighteenth century in which “regenitrices” are known to exist in the background of the world. These are otherwise human women who regenerate from wounds and would only die from old age except that childbirth is always fatal. The protagonist is one and she’s fallen for a doctor who knows her secret and who’s trained her in midwifery. Marya is another regenitrix who, though a lesbian, has become pregnant by force. He wishes to examine her corpse when she dies and the midwife wishes to save her with another in her line of theories about why pregnancy kills regenitrices. Marya just wishes to be left alone. They each try to encourage the others to share their desires without knowing who can be trusted, with the fate of the midwife’s love, Marya’s life, and the lives of innumerable others in suspense.

This is very well-written with an ample, but unpretentious style, a tangible setting, sufficiently realized women and an appropriately vague doctor, and a set of compatible and contrary desires which produces real tension. Thematically, it speaks to gender disparity in the medical establishment but is wider-ranging and deeper than that. My only problem is that I have a hard time accepting the “science” of the regenitrices and of part of the resolution. I can’t get into the last (which is arguably more serious) but, for the first, if regenitrices can only produce one offspring and not all do, they should go extinct unless their numbers are replenished by spontaneous mutation but this is never questioned or answered. The general quality makes this a story I’d recommend but the background problems of this completely non-supernatural story focused on the science of medicine make me hesitate. I recommend it in the sense that it’s generally good and I may be mistaken about the problems or they may not bother some readers.

Review: Lightspeed #96

Lightspeed #96, May 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “We Will Be All Right” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (science fiction short story)
  • “A Green Moon Problem” by Jane Lindskold (science fiction short story)
  • “Godmeat” by Martin Cahill (fantasy short story)
  • “Our Side of the Door” by Kodiak Julian (fantasy short story)

We Will Be All Right ” is a short-short in which the species generally has to deal with the sociobiological problem of a pathogen arising which makes sex/reproduction generally fatal for men while a woman personally has to deal with hosting her son and the new woman in his life who will kill him.

In a truly hellish kitchen, Hark is preparing the latest type of “Godmeat” which Spear has hunted for some semi-alive demigod revenants who wish to eat it to become fully alive once more so they can remold the world their way. Hark is basically a monster of pride and disconnection while Spear is less convincingly damaged so both go along with their tasks but the inner conflict grows. Isolating the fantasy elements alone, they felt fairly fresh and imaginative.

A Green Moon Problem” is also a genre problem. It’s billed as SF and nothing necessarily supernatural occurs in the space station its set on so I can’t dispute it but it’s written like and feels like a fantasy. A boy falls in love with a girl who doesn’t return the favor, being too devoted to her own interests. The boy goes to the genie and carefully phrases his wish to get the girl, but perhaps not carefully enough. In this case, the boy is an engineer, the girl is a geologist/astrobiologist, the genie is probably an alien but is certainly a mysterious masked figure, and the ending, while drawn from myth, is thinly rationalized.

Similarly, “Our Side of the Door” is billed as a fantasy and something fantastic may occur in it but not necessarily, so it’s practically mainstream metafiction. A fantasy writer, using often nicely written passages, describes moving to the country at his wife’s insistence so they can raise their child “wild.” He says that he finds a portal but asserts that portals are for the young and that the young who go through them can’t speak of them. While battling an inferiority complex about his parenting skills (made worse after a recent injury to the boy) he guides his son to the Door.

I’m not sure if there was a conscious theme of gender reversals and I don’t know that “Green Moon” has such an element but “All Right” has men dying in childbirth (after a fashion) and “Godmeat” has a woman hunter and male cook while “Door” has a fatherly mother and motherly father (speaking traditionally).

All these stories are fine but “All Right” is a bit thin, “Godmeat” is comparable to “The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” in ways, but unfavorably, especially in its talky didacticism, and the genre fuzz of the others may or may not be problems for readers. I also have to ask how the father put his shirt (as a cloth) over the boy’s injured eye without seeing it in “Door” and how a chef can prepare full meals of “Godmeat” he never tastes. White or red with that… substance? In sum: a decent issue but with no standouts.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-04)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

[Edit (2018-03-09): Okay, I’m updating this with the BCS stories (see end of post) Friday instead of “Wednesday or Thursday” but it is before the next Wrap-Up.]

BCS seems to be in a different timezone, producing yet another large “science fantasy” issue for the “science fantasy month” of February even though this came out on March 1st from my perspective [which still doesn’t explain anything as the first issue would have had to have come out on Jan.31, then]. It has three stories, including a short story, a novelette, and a longish novella. I was unable to get to those and need to try to cover some other things but I’ll get back to them and update this review, probably by Wednesday or Thursday and definitely before the next Wrap-Up, so check back soon if you’re interested. In the meantime, I’ll cover the other five stories of this week which, if you count BCS‘ science fantasy as SF, is remarkable for being all SF.

The very short stories include “WATCH: The Shocking Assassination of President Guy Fieri” which is another of Terraform‘s minor topical pieces about a “streaming” executive who deals with mystery algorithms while her fight for streaming ratings leads to rudderless shifting down to the lowest common denominator. “Lava Cake for the Apocalypse” is one of three stories of the five which deal with the humanity of earth being under threat or extinct. For the young year, this is at least the eighth of what I’ve suddenly started calling “listories” (stories written in list form, often proclaiming their listitude in their titles). This is another minor tale which has a New Worlder collecting ingredients for a recipe from Old Earth during a conflict between the two. Finally, “What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves” is one of those non-human first-person tales where strange things are taken for granted and normal things seem weird. In this, humanity is gone and a sea creature has made a gizmo which enables it to explore the surface where it makes an odd friend. I want to like this and it is likeable but the odd friend could only exist like that for a brief time after an apocalypse and this seems to be a long time after. Aside from that, neither critter behaves entirely believably. A nice idea, though.

Breakwater” is the third tale of humanity in peril and the second to deal with sea critters. This is a somewhat science fantasy-ish novelette of humanity polluting the sea until Things rise from the deep to smite us. We don’t know what they are but we fight each other with hydrosonic weapons and follow the protagonist scientist through a battle on a research facility she and her husband (killed in the war) built before the military took it over and weaponized it. The last two thirds are utterly predictable in general and are only surprising in detail because of the implausibility of some things. For instance, while the protagonist is fighting for survival, exhausted, and suffering from pneumonia, the story suddenly turns into a lesbian romance. If this had been a stream of consciousness narration you might have had something reasonable like “oh crap gonna die oh crap gonna die nice ass oh crap gonna die…” but to actually construct a narrative about seeing dead bodies here and there and trying to find an escape pod while a giant structure collapses on you and to spend a large chunk of it thinking about how hot the other woman is, hitting on each other, making dates, and so on, just seems ludicrous. This isn’t “must preserve the species” irrational non-verbal sex drive or fleeting instants of thought but an actual drawn out dating game. All that aside, it’s pretty crisply written and the action moves it along briskly so it’s not a bad read. Too reminiscent of the recent, much better story “Sweetlings” in some ways, though.

The Independence Patch” deals with a child who is one of those who are miscalled “Andys” but has actually been a cyborg since birth, with a brain and consciousness as much mechanical as biological. It does a really nice job of two difficult things at once: making this protagonist convincing as a cyborg and convincing as a teenage boy. Given that, it’s easy to be interested in the human angle and the technologically extrapolated angle. Since many people are already lobotomized without their phones, it’s a clearly relevant extrapolation but manages to feel substantial and to avoid any feeling of “trendiness.” There are only really a couple of problems with this: first, it lacks a hipbone-legbone plot that actually moves in a necessary way but is just a few scenes pasted into a scrapbook, though those scenes are important and work to convey the character; second, while the protagonist is nicely drawn, he doesn’t grow up so much as he counts down. Things happen to him and have their effects which change him but the focus is on his internal timer. Otherwise, the scenes which depict him dealing with teachers and their unwanted distaste or pity, finding and losing love, while impatiently awaiting his “independence patch,” which can free him from certain parental controls and privacy invasions (and what that actually means), is all a very enjoyable read with good voice, good phrasing, good insights, and I recommend it.

As an odd aside, since part of this cyborg’s internet connectivity mechanism manifests as silvery tendrils amidst his hair, I can’t help but think of A. E. van Vogt’s Slan, which is also about a young person coming to terms with his world, in which he has certain (in this case, mutant) advantages over “mostpeople” and certain disadvantages from being in a new minority. In those ways, this is an almost identical story. In virtually every other way of melodrama, scope, action, writing style, etc., this is almost completely different, for better and worse.

Edit (2018-03-09): here’s the BCS stuff:

BCS #246’s short story is “Gennesaret,” which is a broken-backed tale whose first part is about a minority figure struggling desperately to preserve her life, child, and culture from those who would assimilate and those forcing them to do so and whose second part shifts abruptly into an apparent satire of patronizing liberals. Both halves are naked and simplistic and add up to less than the sum of the parts. The novella is “The Emotionless, in Love,” which is a sequel to “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories.” I didn’t like the earlier tale of eco-fascist nanotech (“grains”) being used to keep humanity socially and technologically stagnant for, so far, thousands of years. This one deals with the same milieu and an even crazier and deadlier “anchor” (nanotech-driven human enforcer of the status quo), who is also broken to the point of disrupting that status quo, and the son of the previous story’s main character whose capacity for emotion was broken by his mother. Literally. It’s marginally better in ways, though worse in others. This one’s 28,000+ words are way too many and give us the joy of reading the words “grain” or “anchor” once for every forty-eight other words. It is full of simplistic psychology, unconvincing character interactions, and comic-book ultra-violence but at least the latter gives it a little pep. If you liked the last, you may like this; if not, not; if you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s safe to skip.

The most interesting story of the issue was “Do As I Do, Sing As I Sing,” which deals with “cropsingers” who go into months’ long magical trances singing to the crops, without which the plants won’t grow and the people will die. In Guerre’s village, the current cropsinger is ailing and visitors arrive to tell the villagers the replacement they were training hasn’t survived that process. Guerre is chosen as the next cropsinger, much to the outrage of her brother, Acco. Sometime after she goes off for training, he leaves for the big city and, almost immediately after her return as a successful cropsinger, he returns, with an invention to replace cropsingers. The remaining third of the story details this sibling rivalry.

The earlier part of the story which introduces Guerre and her situation is very well-written and interesting. While there is a latent problem or two, the first noticeable one is the lack of any sense of mortality in Guerre’s fairly cursorily covered training. Her predecessor died and one of the fellow trainees dies but there’s never any fear she will. Much more significantly, this is the second story in this issue with two parts strung together: seven-year-old Guerre’s childhood and training, and fourteen-year-old Guerre’s “maturity” and return. In that second half, the convenient plotting/timing rears its head and the story descends to stereotypical gender roles in which Acco is male, urban, scientific, transformative and almost evil while Guerre is female, rural, magical, traditional and supposedly good. This also raises some of the latent problems: while people can certainly behave like Acco, why he does so is under-motivated, reducing him to a prop. Further, it becomes obvious that he is fundamentally sadistic throughout but also that she is masochistic, which the story never addresses. On the plus side, there are some interesting subtleties, especially socially and holistically, in the critique of Acco’s science and Guerre perhaps muddies her virtuous waters in an arrogant and stealthily controlling way but, again, science is more a prop than something treated fairly and Guerre’s actions aren’t addressed as negative. The early strengths of this story are worth a recommendation but the whole is not. That said, many readers will have no problem with the characters and thematic issues (and may not agree with me on even the structural issues) and they will likely enjoy it.

And, now, because I can’t get it out of my head: a musical moment, because Guerre “never wanted to be no cropsinger; never wanted to write no cropsong.”