June 2010 saw the launch of Lightspeed magazine, an online science fiction magazine. The fiction part of the magazine is edited by former Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction assistant editor John Joseph Adams and the science part is edited by Andrea Kail, who spent the last several decades working in television, including more than ten years working for Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Sean Wallace from Prime Books is the publisher and has Lightspeed poised as the science fiction counterpart to Fantasy magazine.
Each month a new issue will be posted online. Each issue will be four fiction and four nonfiction pieces, a new pair of which are released each week. In the coming months there will be two original pieces of fiction and two reprints every month, but the first issue has all new fiction.
Be warned, spoilers may be ahead. I’ll be talking about stuff that hasn’t been published yet and I may go into detail on the stories. From this point on, read carefully.
I’ve been very interested to see what Adams pulled together for his first gig as solo editor. The magazine launched with an excellent fiction piece, a time-travel love story from Vylar Kaftan titled “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno,” a nonfiction article “Is There Anyone Out There Who Wants To Go Fast?” from Mike Brotherton, and an editorial from editor Adams. Kaftan’s story contains echoes of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, but after some initial concern that I would find that too distracting, I settled in and just enjoyed the language of Kaftan’s story. There is a lot of emotion packed into this short story and I found it very moving.
I also enjoyed Brotherton’s short essay on speed—specifically the speed of light and the theory of relativity—although I wonder if people will find it too simplistic. I have a liberal arts background, so thinking about how the amount of time it takes for light to reach the Earth from the Sun is something I find philosophically engaging, I suspect that a physicist or an astronomer might find the concept pedantic or mundane. Still, it’s engagingly written and it ties into the relativity/time-travel conundrum of Kaftan’s story. In the editorial, Adams talks about how a lot of the online fiction is fantasy or horror and that he intends to rectify that with Lightspeed. A big task to be sure.
Since the initial launch of the magazine, we’ve also seen stories from Jack McDevitt and David Barr Kirtley and nonfiction from Genevieve Valentine and Carol Pinchefsky. Before the end of the month there’ll be a new story from Carrie Vaughn and nonfiction from Amanda Rose Levy.
Jack McDevitt’s “The Cassandra Complex” begins with a NASA public relations man, Jerry, fielding some questions before a joint US/Russia press conference where the two countries are going to formally announce their intention of shared mission back to the moon. It will be the first such mission since Eugene Cernan was on the moon (in the story, Cernan was on the moon 54 years ago). Jerry gets asked about some recently released 1967 Russian photographs of the far side of the moon that clearly show a dome on them. When Jerry has his team look into NASA’s archives, the photos of the same area in 1968 do not show the dome. The two presidents laugh off the dome in their press conference, blaming it all on Khrushchev, and everyone goes on their happy way. Except for Jerry. Jerry can come off a little one-dimensional, but I think his obssessiveness is necessary to make this story work. Jerry sets off to discover everything he can about the dome, even though he’s been warned away from it, and when he unravels the mystery it isn’t what he expected.
“The High Untresspassed Sanctity of Space: Seven True Stories about Eugene Cernan” by Genevieve Valentine relates parts of Eugene Cernan’s life, including the fact that he is the last man to have walked on the moon and that President Obama has decided to cancel the Constellation program, ending, for the time being, trips to the moon. Most of this piece, with the exception being the featuring of President Obama, is presented chronologically and I would have preferred it told more thematically. For example, the piece opens with a story of a Canadian Air Force pilot who writes a poem “High Flight” that is adopted by NASA astronauts as their credo. The importance of this poem to Cernan isn’t explained until the fourth section. I had to go back and start the piece over again once I realize the reason for including the poem. For me, I would have had the significance of the poem to Cernan come out either as the seventh section so that the poem bookended the piece, or have the poem and its importance come out in back-to-back sections. Presenting the piece chronologically comes across to me as a bland series of factoids. Re-arranging them some would have made the piece more entertaining to read.
David Barr Kirtley, with “Cats in Victory,” gives us catmen who are hunting down dogmen. Along the way, they encounter a monkeyman who is really, as you may suspect, a human astronaut. This human astronaut also just happens to have a cat with him in his spaceship. The catmen are confused. They wish to slay the monkeyman, but he travelled with a physical manifestation of their god: Cat. When Cat shows the monkeyman favor, they leave him alone and do not ask any questions. You see, curiosity is one of their biggest sins. (You all know about curiosity and cats, right?) I had guessed at the idea that the catmen and dogmen were genetically altered cats and dogs who outlived/killed humans early on and this lead to me guessing the end of the story, so the unfolding of the story didn’t carry its intended impact for me.
Carol Pinchefsky takes us in a humorous direction with “Top Ten Reasons Why Uplifted Animals Don’t Make Good Pets.” I’ll only give away one of the top ten: #3. You have to teach the bunnies family planning. Like any top ten list, not every item will be a laugher for everyone, but most of them gave me a chuckle. I also like how they used a photo of Howard the Duck when posting this piece online. The visual of Howard makes the list funnier in my opinion.
[Mild spoiler warning: The following stories won’t be released until later this month.]
Carrie Vaughn’s “Amaryllis” is an ambitious story set in a society that lives with severe resource restrictions. Everything is controlled by a committee; from how much fish people can catch to how big each family’s settlement can be even on to whether they can reproduce. You can really feel how hard this life is for the people involved, but how at the same time they make the best of it. The titular Amaryllis is a fishing boat captained by our protagonist Marie. Marie’s mother got pregnant illegally which caused her house to be broken up and her family scattered throughout the region, never to see each other again. Marie carries this shame like an albatross around her neck and it eventually leads to trouble for the Amaryllis and its crew when scalemaster Anders habitually finds their catch over the weight limit. The power of Vaughn’s story lies within its people. As I said earlier, they live a hard life, but they find a way to make it work. They have hopes and dreams. They care for each other. The resolution to the story should be foregone, but it took me by surprise. It’s the only logical outcome, but Vaughn brings us to it in such an eloquent manner that I can’t help but smile at it every time I read it.
Amanda Rose Levy, in the final nonfiction installment from Lightspeed #1, tackles a current hot button topic, green or renewable energy, in her nonfiction piece “Every Step We Take.” The steps that Levy is talking about are our carbon footprint. Some people might not want to hear someone exhorting them to be green, but Levy has a number of resonable suggestions on ways to lessen your carbon footprint including using public transportation, eating locally, and taking shorter showers. As Levy says, “Sustainability isn’t a hippie fad, nor some political buzzword. It’s about preserving our resources as well as our way of life.” She concludes the article with a few links to where you can calculate your current carbon footprint. I was surprised at how big mine was, but I think I’m going to follow some of her suggestions to start reducing it.
[End spoiler warning]
This is an exciting debut for Lightspeed. I’m intrigued to see where the magazine goes from here. The online genre magazines have traditionally pulled in newer and younger writers, as opposed to the more established part of the field. It hasn’t been since Sci Fiction closed down that an online magazine has had an editor who comes to the fold having worked with a lot of established writers. You don’t have to look any further than the excellent McDevitt story in this issue to see how Adams might be able to draw on his past work and bring it into the new magazine. While the nonfiction pieces didn’t work as well for me, I did like that they tied to the fiction pieces and helped embellish each other.
I know there will be people who ask how this will work. Who wonder how a magazine can sustain itself without selling copies to readers. Well, Lightspeed is selling electronic copies of each issue and it appears to be doing well. For every person who’s willing to read the site online for free, there is another person who wants it on their smartphone, iPad, Kobo, Kindle, or any ereader device.
Overall I enjoyed the first issue of Lightspeed. I will certainly keep up with it as each new issue comes out. And if it’s successful and garners a group of followers, I just might have to break down and get an ereader to keep up with the online magazines.