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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Lightspeed #79, December 2016

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Lightspeed #79, December 2016

"The Cyborg, the Tinman, the Merchant of Death" by Rich Larson

"Every Day Is the Full Moon" by Charlie St. George
"The Venus Effect" by Joseph Allen Hill
"The Death of Paul Bunyan" by Charles Payseur

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

It's an honor to serve under Petty Officer Cox, but in "The Cyborg, the Tinman, the Merchant of Death" by Rich Larson, Private Berenson can't help but feel nervous about the astronomical casualty rate of those who do. They say that the Petty Officer is a hero—practically a god—that he doesn't think like other people. It's not long before Private Berenson discovers just how horrifyingly correct the rumors are.

Cryptic without being unapproachable, and with unadorned yet effective language, "The Cyborg, the Tinman, the Merchant of Death" relates the human side of war through a decidedly inhuman character. The relationship between the Petty Officer and Private Berenson is complicated and confused and unsettled, mirroring the chaos of their setting and the insanity, the casual wasting of life in brutal conflict. The reader understands the freedom at the end of the story is impermanent and yet the most blissfully important moment in either of the two character's lives.

There are a lot of unknowns in life, but when you live in a world populated by monsters and mythical beasts, those unknowns multiply. In "Every Day Is the Full Moon" by Charlie St. George, you don't know what you are yet, but everyone else seems to. Everyone else has their quirks and their cliques and it seems that you're just kind of floating. But with demons popping up and possessing people at random, all that has the chance to change dramatically, and maybe not for the better.

Steeped in metaphor and highly indicative of life growing up in a hyper-individualistic society "Every Day Is the Full Moon" paints the every day reality of adolescence with the romantic veneer stripped off. It's brutal, it's uncomfortable, and the growing pains can be down right deadly. For some, there is no happy ending to look forward to. But there are scraps of love. Maybe not enough to patch the whole problem, but enough at least to hope. St. George pulls all of this together in a dark fantasy that exposes the demons people carry with them in secret and in the open.

Apollo just can't seem to catch a break, and neither can his author for that matter in "The Venus Effect" by Joseph Allen Hill. No matter where he goes, no matter what he does, no matter what profession he's in, he can't seem to help being shot and killed. Even the puppeteer behind the scene can't seem to prevent it from happening. It all comes down to the Omega Question, but will it be enough to save Apollo from his endlessly looping fate?

Hill crafts a beautiful piece of social commentary in "The Venus Effect" that manages to be both entertaining and scathingly critical of race and power relations in contemporary America. The words flow like poetry on the page through each of the very different artistic moods. Hill demonstrates both his versatility in the craft and the versatility of the genre in being funny, dark, thought provoking, and exciting, all at once. There's something in this story for everyone, and a lot to come away with to chew on later.

After receiving the news of his ex-lover Paul Bunyan's death, Johnny Appleseed finds himself wrapped up in memories to the point of distraction in "The Death of Paul Bunyan" by Charles Payseur. What he doesn't find himself stewing in much of is emotion. Johnny has lived so long that maybe cynicism is all that he's got left. He's not exactly sad that Paul's gone—Paul was a bastard, after all—but there is an emptiness where a legend used to stand; a large, gaping hole of fire and terror.

Payseur digs up the bones of an American legend and then promptly buries them again in "The Death of Paul Bunyan." The story comprises three main elements: the myth, the contemporary setting, and the relationship. While the myth and the setting flow together nicely, the relationship feels like the odd man out and is dragged through the story like an anchor on land. Johnny makes some dry observations on the path America has been walking since his arrival, but these are difficult to juggle with his frequent flashbacks to his love life with Paul. The pace of the story is a bit off, especially near the end with a hurry up to a reveal that feels underdeveloped compared to the intimate details provided earlier in the story.