Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: Fantasy, Lightspeed, and Hexagon

Fantasy 12/22
Lightspeed 12/22
Hexagon 12/2

Fantasy closed out 2022 with a bang with an issue full of hauntings, magic, and people desperate for a safe place to be. In ‘‘The End of a Painted World’’ by Sam Kyung Yoo, a painter named Woojin must flee an assault by the emperor’s soldiers. The reason for the attack is never confirmed, but it likely has to do with the way that Woojin’s paintings can come to life, fighting for their creator against fire and steel. For Woojin, it’s a story of loss and mystification in the face of a violence that for at least some around Woojin was almost inevitable, as those with power rarely tolerate it in others. Yoo paints a vivid picture of this world and this battle, imbuing it with emotional resonance without needing to re­veal the whole context. The issue closes with Timi Sanni’s beautiful poem ‘‘Luminous’’, which does a fantastic job highlighting con­trast. Sadness and joy, loss and gifts – the narrator feels the weight of failures but is not crushed by them, because they also feel the weightless energy of happiness, abundance, and something that cuts through the void. Sanni captures a warmth against a vast cold, and takes meaning where before it might have been missed, to stunning results.

Lightspeed manages an equally impressive close to the year, opening its December is­sue with L.D. Lewis’s ‘‘Last Stand of the E. 12th St. Pirates’’, a story that introduces readers to a half-drowned city. It’s into the drowned portion, where the buildings are being claimed by the rising oceans, that Dee delivers the mail, hoping that people will move away, escape the encroaching waters, but knowing that many won’t, and many can’t. Things are changing in the city, and not really for the better, at least not for those trying to hold on and live there despite everything, some of whom have taken to piracy to steal from the rich and sustain the needy, which isn’t something that the corporate interests hoping to exploit the situation like. Dee finds herself in the middle of those forces colliding – a confrontation she’s desperate to prevent because of the bloodshed she knows it will bring but can do little enough about. Lewis explores the push and pull of helplessness and effort, everyone caught doing all they can and finding, the face of climate change, corruption, and oppression, it might amount to relatively little. It’s a line that Roshni, the main character of Rati Mehrotra’s ‘‘One Day in the Afterlife of Detective Roshni Chaddha’’ hopes to have a little more luck with. After being kicked out of the Afterlife Police, she’s avoiding being reborn by striking out as a private detective for the dead, staying one step away from a stint in one of the many resident hells in the afterlife by tracking down lost things and cleaning up minor messes. When she’s approached by a minor official in over his head, though, the trouble is any­thing but minor. Mehrotra has fun with the worldbuilding, populated with many different hells and the ragtag group of people avoiding being reborn for reasons ranging from guilt to ambition to loyalty to corruption. There are some big revelations as the core cast fight for their careers and afterlives, and with a tight plot, charming humor, and plenty of heart, the story is definitely worth checking out.

The December Hexagon is concerned with life, death, and divinity, where mortals and gods alike find themselves struggling to live up to their potential, and needing a little help to keep going. And all the elements of the issue are echoed nicely in its final story, ‘‘Verðandi of the Present’’ by Liv Strom. In it, the titular Norn is pulled by her sister, who can see the future, to help prevent the end of all things, staving off Ragnarok. Even as they reunite with their missing sister, Urd, and convince a frost giant and a Valkyrie to join them in saving the world, something seems…not quite right to Verðandi. Strom does care­ful work in finding a god and a religion whose fatalism has allowed it to adapt to a loss of worship and attention. Verðandi is a teacher, with a life she doesn’t want to give up to return to the storm and stress of godhood, and it’s her growth as a person, outside the static role of her position, that allows her to really see what’s going on and try to find a way to stop it. It’s a great twist on bringing Norse folklore into the modern day.

Recommended Stories
“Last Stand of the E. 12th St. Pirates”, L.D. Lewis (Lightspeed 12/22)

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 February 2023 issue of Locus.

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