Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Fusion Fragment, Lightspeed, and Fantasy

Fusion Fragment 3/22
Lightspeed 4/22
Fantasy 4/22

March also sees the first 2022 content from Fusion Fragment, with their tenth issue. Jennifer Hudak kicks things off with the bittersweet “The Topogra­phy of Memory”, which finds a narrator returning home for the first anniversary of her brother’s death, only to find she can’t quite find her way. The story is weighted with guilt as the narrator navigates their own grief and her complex relationship with her family, realizing that some things can’t be recovered or resolved, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be. Rayn Epremian weaves a tale of two survivors of a survey mission on a distant planet or moon in “A Star on the Tongue”. The pair, lovers holding on with the help of the strange natives of the world, find their situation suddenly changed following a relatively minor accident that gives them a much greater understanding of the beings who are aiding them. Despair, transformation, and hope all mix into a powerful reading experience. Transformation and destruction recur in Andrew Wilmot’s “Born Again”, which finds a strange orbiting… thing. When pieces of it fall to Earth, they cause organic and inorganic matter both to be restructured into something very alien. Still, as Zoe moves through this world, surviving and taking notes on how things change, the story reveals that not every change is a tragedy or a loss, and that finding meaning in survival is a process, not simple or binary but different for everyone. It’s a striking and beautiful story.

Russell Nichols provides a biting satire in “Death of the Private Eye”, which unfolds in a future where social media engagement isn’t just encouraged, it’s basically legally mandated. As people stream their lives through implants called POVs, though, the last analog private eye tries to solve the mystery behind a series of strange and inexplicable deaths of popular streamers. There’s a noir flavor that helps to sell a world that, while polished and slick for most people, still has plenty of grit and grime beneath the social media veneer. Maxine Sophia Wolff uses structure to great effect in “House”, which reveals generations of loss, longing, complicity, and death through the connections between a web of haunted houses. From water protests to interplanetary war, the houses are linked by suffering and profits, by guilt and blood and revenge. The small, interweaving sections make the story something of a puzzle, but one that, when completed, hits with a gestalt power that is greater than the sum of its parts. “A Manual for the Care and Keeping of Superheroes” by Amanda Crowley follows the girlfriend of a hero as she deals with loneliness and danger that comes with her girlfriend’s powers and responsibilities. It’s intense, tightly paced, and rather horrifying as it shows that it’s not just heroes that bear the weight of trying to do good in a world where supervillains exist. Louis Evans closes out the issue with the apocalyptic “One Last Bash Before We All Hit the Road”. It’s the end of the world as we know it, with New York City facing absolute destruction from a mega-hurricane, but for the uber-rich it’s just another excuse for a party before they flee to their new sanctuaries. Only this party, put on by a mysterious trendsetter, isn’t really what they think it is. It’s a fun and wicked read.

Moving into April, Lightspeed features one less story than normal to make room for Ashok K. Banker’s new Burnt Empire novella, “The History of Snakes”, which reveals the saga of a generation of snakes, swirling around quests, curses, and a magical ambrosia. Sandra McDonald, meanwhile, has a deft take on time travel tropes as captured in a list of dos and don’ts in “Advice from the Civil Temporal Defense League”. The world building is interesting and the narrative subtle, unfolding as it does in the subtext of this advice, but it comes together into a package that provides a lot of depth and a sense of fun despite some heavy elements. “Everything the Sea Takes, It Returns” by Izzy Wasserstein follows Jess, living in a post-disaster world, finding comfort and care despite the harsh reality of her situation, despite the loss of women she comes to love. Through her, and her despair and hope, the story examines healing and survival – not an erasure of harm, not a return to a previous time or state. It’s tender and, though difficult and wrenching at times, a beautiful story. Phoebe Barton continues the themes of broken worlds and survival in “A Sword Has One Purpose”. Siderossa Lee is a consulting swashbuckler, and when a woman ap­proaches her to save a brother captured by fascists, it’s up to Siderossa to find a way to save the day with her wits, daring, and the help of the AI in her sword. The piece is an invigorating romp, fast and mixing action and humor to wonderful results.

Fantasy’s April issue opens with the poetic prose of “isio” by Martins Deep, which captures the progress of stars through the night sky, and their conspicuous absence at times. There’s a heavy feel­ing to the story, and a lovely sense of a home filled with the push and pull of hope and danger, with a grim finish that’s very worth spending time with. Hannah Yang interrogates love potions in “How to Make a Man Love You”. Yang explores the way that magic can corrupt consent, but also the complicated ways that people fall in love and stay in love. For Cecilia and Zayyan, whose love is at the center of the story, nothing is simple, and I appreci­ate how a story that could have leaned heavily into horror instead found a different, and very careful, direction to tread. Kristina Ten’s Beginnings” is another that looks at a core relationship, this time between June and Nat, who started as friends, who became something different, and who, through the casual actions of men who barely knew them, found themselves hurtling toward tragedy, transformation, and loss. It’s a heartbreaking story, sharply captured by Ten, that urges readers to confront agency and prejudice and violence in some very raw ways.

Recommended Stories:

“House”, Maxine Sophia Wolff (Fusion Fragment 3/22)
“Everything the Sea Takes, It Returns”, Izzy Wasserstein (Lightspeed 4/22)
“A Sword Has One Purpose”, Phoebe Barton (Lightspeed 4/22)
“Beginnings”, Kristina Ten (Fantasy 4/22)

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others, and many are included in his debut collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the series editor of We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and a multiple-time Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When not drunkenly discussing Goosebumps, X-Men comic books, and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably found raising a beer with his husband, Matt, in their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

This review and more like it in the May 2022 issue of Locus.

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