Review: Lightspeed Magazine, Aug 2012; Issue # 27

I’ve recently subscribed to several great magazines (including Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Fireside). I’ve always bought individual issues when I could but I made the move to yearly subscriptions as soon as I could afford to. Well, not afford, not quite yet, but as soon as I could be sure I could no longer afford not to.

Why am I trading eating Ramen more than once in a while for a chance to read some short stories? Partly because I firmly believe that a writer needs to be, first, a reader. Partly because I want to make the transition from someone trying to break into this industry to someone who’s in this industry, and being well-informed as to current trends in genre fiction makes me a better publisher too.

Since I’m getting to read these magazines more regularly, I’m going to start reviewing them as I get to each one. First up: Lightspeed Magazine, Issue #27, which I read this week.

This month’s ebook-exclusive novella is “A Separate War” by Joe Haldeman, and I wish it wasn’t the first piece in the magazine. Because I loved Forever War, and read it more than once (including dissecting it for a class on Science Fiction in Literature), I was well aware of who the main character in this novella was, her connection to the novel, and what was going to end up happening to her. That was what pulled me out of an otherwise well-written novella in Haldeman’s classic military sf style: if you read the novel, and you remember who she is, you know where she’ll end up. This story, then, isn’t about sharing something new as much as it is about filling in a gap from a background character’s off-screen life. Probably fascinating to some people. I didn’t love it.

Next was an excerpt of Kitty Steals the Show, the “new Kitty Norville novel by bestselling author Carrie Vaughn”. It’s typical urban fantasy, starring a werewolf named Kitty (ha ha! get it?) and a horde of vampires and cute boys and leather pants. I tried to read it but ended up skipping over it.

Then came the feature interviews (which I’ll talk about at the end).

The first original short science fiction story of the month was “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Ken Liu.

Some of you may know that I have published Ken a couple of times over at Dagan Books and consider him a friend. I’m always delighted to see new work by him. This story wasn’t my favorite of his, though it had many of his strengths – it was thoughtful, intelligent, well-written, and based on his ability to take an idea and follow it through to a conclusion far off in the future. What made this story very good instead of great, for me, was that it didn’t have the emotional connection some of Ken’s other stories do. It’s a list of species and how they relate to the concept of books, of storytelling, and while I love the idea, I just didn’t feel as much as I was hoping. I also had a tiny twinge of “I’ve read this before” but I can’t place where.

Still, good stuff, and you should read it.

The first SF reprint was Charlie Jane Anders “Love Might Be Too Strong a Word” – and it’s interesting that this should appear in the Aug issue along with Ken Liu and a feature interview with Seanan McGuire, since all three of them won Hugo awards last weekend (and Lightspeed was nominated in the Semi-Pro category, but came in 3rd). Anders’ short story is very creative, playing with ideas of sex, status, and grammar, and if you haven’t read it before, definitely do so.

The second original SF piece of the month was a collaboration between Caroline M. Yoachim and Tina Connolly called “Flash Bang Remember” (and, again, I’m connected to Connolly through Dagan Books – she’s got a story in Bibliotheca Fantastica). I liked this quite a bit, and though the “punch line” at the end was a little forced, it was the only slight hitch in an otherwise delightful story about a society based on cloning, and borrowed memories, and the kids they got their memories from.

The other SF reprint was Michael Swanwick’s “Slow Life”, a beautiful story about meeting new life in unexpected places. Like most of the reprints in this issue, it’s worth a second look.

Wil McCarthy’s urban fantasy short “The Necromancer in Love” is another reprint that I’d read before, but it’s one of my favorite stories. And if you’ve met me you’ll know why. It’s got necromancers, a classroom lecture, young love, and zombies. Plus I think the delivery is fairly novel, not something you see every day.

The first original fantasy story is Kat Howard’s “Breaking the Frame”. It’s magic realism, modern, lovely, and I adored it.

Delia Sherman’s “Cotillion” was the final reprint of the issue, and I’m glad they included it. It’s one of those stories I’ve heard about and been meaning to read, but because it’s fantasy – a 1960’s retelling of the Tam Lin fairy tale  – I just never got around to it. It’s very well done, though, even referencing Tam Lin within the tale, and while it doesn’t feel like you’re going to discover something new by reading it, it does feel comfortable, as all of the best retellings do. It feesl like it fits.

Linda Nagata’s “A Moment Before It Struck” is the final original fantasy story of the issue. I didn’t like it. It actually bored me enough that I quit reading and had to come back to it after I’d finished the interviews, just to have gotten through it. It’s very typical fantasy in the setting and the way it’s told, even down to the sword “thrust into shadows” at the wrong person, and someone shouting “No!” too late. There are some novel bits to the world building that feel like they were stolen from non-Western folklore (African? Pacific Islander?)  by someone who didn’t quite understand what they were stealing. According to the author’s interview, it’s meant to be a prequel story to a previously written novel, using an established character, so if you’d read and loved the novels this story might be meaningful to you but it felt too much like an novel excerpt to me – a bit of another story, not something meant to stand alone.

The regular interviews at the end (one with each contributor) were interesting in that they gave a very short look at the author’s idea of the story, which doesn’t always match the way I feel about a story when I’m done reading it. They’re only a few questions long, so none of them get in depth, but it’s nice to have them. The features are longer, but since they don’t go with any fiction in that issue they’re basically added because hey famous authors!

Overall I give the issue a 4 out of 5. I think that Lightspeed comes close to being a great magazine, but some decisions – including novel excerpts and having just as many reprints as originals – keeps it from being truly outstanding. The editors have to pay more attention to that line between “Lightspeed Magazine” and “Reprint Magazine”. If they could be a little more original, they could take home that Hugo award some day soon.

Edited to add: I had originally thought that some of the editing decisions were based on the magazine’s sponsorship by Orbit Books, but was corrected via Twitter.

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