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Hugo 2015: Lightspeed 44, John Joseph Adams 22 June 2015

For this year's Hugo awards there are three semiprozines in contention that satisfy my voting criteria. One didn't bother to provide a sample in the Hugo packet. This is one of the other two.

According to the Hugo nomination, Lightspeed is edited by a committee of five, but John Joseph Adams' is the only name that appears in the issue itself.

The short fiction is separated into "Science Fiction" and "Fantasy", but there's no real discernible difference between them; both include stories set on modern Earth, and the story that does most exploration of ideas and their detailed implications is in the Fantasy section. It seems a very odd distinction to make.

Science Fiction

In the Dying Light, We Saw a Shape (Jeremiah Tolbert) has giant silica "space whales" landing on Earth, passing on memories to anyone who touches them, and dying. Why is that happening? That side of things is quite interesting; but of course that story has to be juxtaposed with a failing relationship, because who isn't endlessly fascinated by failing relationships?

Bears Discover Fire (Terry Bisson) hasn't improved since I first read it in one of those massive best-of-the-year anthologies. What happens is what's in the title. There's no explanation or investigation or speculation, just observation; thinly-sketched people do obvious things. Maybe it means something more to people steeped in Appalachian tales?

Salamander Patterns (Anaea Lay) has as protagonist a young woman with an alien "salamander" grafted to her neck; hosts are what they ask for, in return for lots of tech transfer to humans. Which might be quite an interesting story, but the important thing here is her relationship with her parents, who regard the salamander as a thing to be got rid of and can't understand why she might want to keep it. Golly, I wonder if this might be one of those metaphor things I've read about?

Exuviation (Zhao Haihong) is a reprint of a story from 2000. Gong is a caver, a subterranean non-human whose species must periodically moult and change form. She is holding this urge back via drugs and meditation. She meets Tou, another caver, who is enthusiastic about the process, even when it might lead to his death. More thudding message.

Fantasy

Apotheosis (Rosamund Hodge) is rather more developed than anything so far: three sons set out to get a new god for their village. From the god factory, of course. The meat of the story is the nature of gods in this world, and it rapidly becomes apparent that this is an echo of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. But it's an interesting echo.

His Elbow, Unkissed (Matthew Hughes) is one of a series set in a world where rationality is fading and magic is returning. Some people realise this, and are trying to get a leg up. Erm Kaslo is a confidential operative (assassin, more or less) who's trying to become a mage. At least there's a reason here for things not particularly making sense. None of the characters is particularly interesting or sympathetic, and I feel no great urge to seek out more.

Elementals (Ursula K. Le Guin) is a discourse in a non-fiction style about various magical creatures. Quite pleasant, but by definition no characters or plot.

The Thing About Shapes To Come (Adam-Troy Castro) has children being born as geometrical shapes (spheres, cubes, etc.), who can do nothing except sit and absorb food. (Well, the spheres apparently have some slight volition in their rolling.) The closest thing we get to a viewpoint character is the mother of one of these children, who resists her parents' urge to get rid of it. That seems to me a bit too close to Salamander Patterns to fit well in the same issue, and it makes the fantasy/SF divide really obviously pointless. But this was worth it for one great line:

Spheres, she thought savagely, were troublemakers by design. They could spin; therefore they were revolutionary.

Novella

The Chambered Fruit (M. Rickert) has only the mildest of supernatural content, something which could easily be an hallucination. I suppose it's fine as a depiction of the process of grieving, but it's a very long-winded one.

Novel Excerpts

The Cormorant (Chuck Wendig) is more of a short story than some of the short stories here: it establishes a protagonist with Weird Powers, resolves the immediate plot, and sets up what presumably will be the rest of the book. It starts at chapter 13 and goes on to chapter 17, but you can't have everything, and I certainly didn't feel lost other than at the term "Fiero", which I could easily enough work out from context is a car of some sort but which doesn't have the associations for me that it would presumably have for an American.

A Darkling Sea (James L. Cambias) is fairly conventional planetary-exploration SF (humans deep within an alien water-world). Cambias wrote a large part of the current edition of GURPS Space, and knows his alien worlds and creature design. Bringing in a second (spacefaring) alien race seems excessive, and the characters are a bit thin, but I intend to read the rest of the novel.

Clockwork Heart (Dru Pagliassotti) layers on the steampunk æsthetic with a grit-laden masonry trowel; the first goggles are in paragraph three. Taya is an icarus, a flying courier and one of the few people who can pass freely through a caste-segregated city. She has a flight frame made of ondium, metal which is apparently lighter than air, and does something heroic in a "wireferry" accident, thus coming to the attention of those in high places. Quite fun but feels a bit by-the-numbers; reading more won't be a high priority. (It's had good reviews elsewhere, though, so I probably will eventually.)

Non-Fiction

Interview: Allie Brosh would make me want to read Hyperbole and a Half if I hadn't already tried it and found it a most unpleasant experience. So, success, I guess.

Interview: Scott Lynch is very much the standard author interview which I've heard him give elsewhere.

Both of these are transcripts from a podcast, which seems a slightly odd way of doing things.

Mukesh Singh, an Indian fantasy artist, gets nine paintings shown here, followed by an interview. He posits an advanced technology combined with an absence of mass production – well, I suppose it doesn't have to make sense, it's art.

Author Spotlights

These are short interviews with the authors of the fiction in this issue. Since they're talking about the specific stories, I wonder why they're not put just after the stories they discuss, but instead they're in a separate section, apparently in a random order.

M. Rickert clearly doesn't remember much about her story any more, and the interviewer doesn't seem to understand much about it either. Terry Bisson seems to have no patience for the interviewer at all. Some of the others are more interesting, but these are all short interviews that can't get into much depth.

And that's about it: the "Miscellany" section is basically blurbs and other advertising.

I would have liked a bit more science and a bit less thick-brushed metaphor, but I have to assume that the editor knows roughly what the audience wants. The layout, on the other hand, is downright wrongheaded, with its artificial separations and distinctions. I can't help remembering that Adams edited The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination which was in the sample packet for the Editor (Short Form) Hugo last year; there he chose to write introductions to the stories which often gave away key plot points. I don't think I'm terribly impressed with him as an editor.

See also:
The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination

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