written by David Steffen
John Joseph Adams has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. He used to be the slush reader for Fantasy & Science Fiction, but has gone one to be the editor and publisher of Lightspeed, and of their horror sister Nightmare. He has also published quite a few themed fiction anthologies like The Living Dead, Wastelands, and By Blood We Live.
Fantasy Magazine has been around for quite a few years. Lightspeed is only a couple years old, started by Fantasy‘s publisher Sean Wallace and edited by John Joseph Adams. In 2011 John Joseph Adams became the editor and publisher of both, and chose to consolidate the two into a single magazine titled Lightspeed, but which contains the same amount of fantasy and science fiction stories that the individual magazines had carried. From the beginning Lightspeed has had a podcast that has broadcast all of their stories alongside the text publications. When JJA took over Fantasy, he started their podcast as well, but it only lasted 10 episodes before the merger absorbed Fantasy into Lightspeed.
So this is a “Best of” list combining all of Lightspeed‘s podcasted backlog, combined with the 10 Fantasy Magazine episodes in consideration as well.
1. The Way of Cross and Dragon by George R. R. Martin
Yes, Lightspeed has managed to attract some big household names like George R. R. Martin. This particular short story was published before I was born. But George is not on this list because he’s well known. These lists are based strictly on merit–I considered his story on the same grounds as everyone else. My #2 choice was very close to this story in my ranking, but this one edged it out because it is centered around my favorite topic for speculation–religion. This story is about a member of an intergalactic Catholic church in the future who is tasked with rooting out heretics in far-flung star systems. He is sent toward a particularly strange sect centered around Judas Iscariot.
2. The Old Equations by Jake Kerr
Based around a future civilization with quantum-based technology, which is an alternate future, based around a past in which Albert Einstein’s theories were dismissed as nonsense. In this future, one of the first interstellar trips at near-light speed is begun. Since they don’t understand the concepts of relativity, they have to figure out all those problematic details as they go. An interesting science problem, with a strong human story at the core of it. In some ways it reminds me of the excellent flash story “Deep Moves” by Bill Highsmith (which I cannot seem to find active link for, too bad)
3. The Taste of Starlight by John R. Fultz
Fair warning: This one will likely be too dark for many viewers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. A long-haul intergalactic trip with a crew in stasis goes wrong in mid-flight when the cryochambers become damaged and a crew member wakes up years too early. He can’t re-enter cryo, and he has to figure out a way to stay alive until the end of the flight. An entire colony’s survival depends on his technical skills, after all.
4. Using it and Losing It by Jonathan Lethem
A man who is sick of dealing with people enjoys a visit to a country where he does not speak the language because of the freedom from conversation it grants him. Returning home, he decides that he wants that freedom in the comfort of his own country, and he sets out to forcefully forget all language.
5. A Hole to China by Catherynne M. Valente
A very fascinating story in the age-old tradition of a child who finds a secret fantasy world. A girl sets out to dig a hole to China and finds hidden worlds beneath her backyard. Lots of great worldbuilding here, a lot of fun to read.
6. Mama, We are Zhenya, Your Son by Tom Crosshill
I always like a good story from a skewed perspective. This story is told from the point of view of a Russian child who is the subject of scientific experiments to see if he can be taught to move and manipulate objects on a quantum level. It’s a bit confusing at first, because the boy does not understand what is happening very clearly, but stick with it and it sorts itself out.
7. Transcript of Interaction Between Astronaut Mike Scudderman and the OnStar Hands-Free A.I. Crash Advisor by Grady Hendrix
“You are going to die,” are the first words from the OnStar crash advisor after crash landing on a planet. (don’t worry, that happens right away, that’s not a spoiler). This story is exactly what the title makes it sound like. Lots of fun, dark humor, and the ending is superb.
8. More Than the Sum of His Parts by Joe Haldeman
A man badly injured in an industrial accident is reconstructed with cyborg parts. The story begins as he is going through his procedures, and progresses as he becomes more and more familiar with his new superhuman abilities, and how they set him apart in every way from his fellow men.
Bubbles by David Brin
Dark Sanctuary by Gregory Benford
Four Short Novels by Joe Haldeman
“Eventually it came to pass that no one ever had to die.” A vague opening that could lead any number of routes to tell a good story. In this case, Joe Haldeman has taken this beginning and gone four separate ways for it. Generally these are very high level, often without individual characters, or I probably would’ve ranked this one higher, but it was very interesting, if not emotionally engaging. It’s illustrative of the concept of story triggers, wherein a single prompt can send four authors in four completely different direction, but with just one author involved.
Lessons From a Clockwork Queen by Megan Arkenberg
Generally this one is written a bit distantly for my tastes, but the ideas in it are good enough, and the writing is charming enough that I liked it nonetheless. It’s written as a fairy tale story about a clockwork queen, with fable-style morals sprinkled throughout.