Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams





Braid Me a Howling Tongue

When I was young, I used to fray apart my mother’s tales, seeking the threads of their structure. They were journeys, always, and marked by transition-places: doorway, gate, river. On the other side, someone offered the rules of this new environment. I liked the stories where these interpreters were animals or hags, though in my least favorite, it was a child with ragged clothes that admonished, that’s not the way things work here. I understand. Understand that people bore easily, that stories must be pragmatic. No time to waste on the heroine, bumbling her way through years of figuring out the rules.

Science Fiction

A Guide to Alien Terms Useful in the Human Diaspora

As you travel the spacelanes, the argot of your fellow beings may at first confuse and disconcert you. This guide is offered to help you acclimate to your new world and the strange beings that people it. All terms will be presented first as definitions, then used in context. Arakua (Origin: Tarukhxi, noun.) The process of “scooping” fuel in the form of hydrogen from the corona of a star, nebula, or gas giant. See also: il’arakua, mild pejorative. Scooping fuel from nearly-empty space; cf. “bottom of the barrel.”


A Man Walks Into a Bar: In Which More Than Four Decades After My Father’s Reluctant Night of Darts on West 54th Street I Finally Understand What Needs to Be Done

My father was so honest, people often spoke of him in cliches. For example—you know the way someone will sometimes say so-and-so was so honest they’d walk five miles to return an extra nickel they’d been given in their change? Nobody means anybody actually did that kind of thing when they say it, of course—you and I both know they’re only exaggerating for effect. Except in the case of my father. My Dad had really done that. Around the neighborhood, he was seen as so calm and understanding when compared to other fathers, other husbands . . . some of the grownups jokingly referred to him as Saint Barney.

Science Fiction

The Last Serving

The story of Chef Buzzati’s sudden and horrifying fall from the heights of fine dining is well known. However, given that the culinary innovations and legal ramifications are still being debated today, a recap may be in order. Elena Buzzati was born to owners of an unremarkable Italian diner in the suburbs of New Jersey in 2024. She grew up surrounded by the scents of roasting meats and the hot gurgle of the deep frier. It sickened her. The headstrong Buzzati declared herself a vegetarian at age six. She had a strong bond with animals and is reported to have spent much of he childhood behind the diner befriending stray squirrels and pigeons.


Mad Honey

The three wolves in the sun-smeared wood did not turn and run when Aran approached with his musket in hand. Wolves were supposed to run from men with guns. This was the way of the world. Sweat and necessity made his musket slide against his palms. He gripped tighter, not wanting to startle the beasts by bringing the musket to bear too quickly. Two of the beasts stood over the third, which reclined on its side in the patchy grass. He could count their rib-bones through their thin hides. His own hungry bones hummed in sympathy. But the world turned on toward frost and frozen ground, and necessity stilled the tremor in his chest.

Science Fiction

The Spread of Space and Endless Devastation

This is the fifty-seventh time Ship has tried to stop Zander from entering the cellar. By now, Ship simply watches over the feed as the mission gets underway. Zander and the other members of their crew open the front door and marvel at the lack of dust, the trickle of the entry hall fountain. “It’s as if someone still lives here,” Kala says. As the crew’s historian, she is endlessly looking for ways to insert herself into the past. “Like they just stepped out and will come back any moment.” That’s from Eun-ja, who spends xir off-shifts watching holos.

Science Fiction


The cab slices through the city, one small fish of a humming black shoal, while Henrik watches ads in his rain-flecked window. Today he sees carnal red sociomachines, spine-mounted, that spray pheromones and calculate human interaction. A black-and-yellow swamp whirling through space. A man screaming no at the moment of orgasm. The product is not always clear, but the ads are always effective. He can feel money slivering off his account and slithering into the ether. The cab’s vestigial partition, now a slab of flickering smartglass, shows him that he has invested in a dozen new corporate splinters.


The Metamorphosis of Marie Martin

This story is part of Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, the first climate-fiction contest from Fix, Grist’s solutions lab. Imagine 2200 asked writers to imagine the next 180 years of equitable climate progress, and the winning stories feature intersectional worlds in which no community is left behind. Read all 12 stories in the […]


One Day in the Afterlife of Detective Roshni Chaddha

It all started with a desperate phone call from a Yamaduta. Doesn’t it always? The new recruits are the worst. Madhav should have stuck to cleaning the Vaitarna River. It attracts debris from all the worlds. But someone had decided he deserved a promotion and transferred him to the most demanding unit of all: the Yamadutas, tasked with escorting the souls of the dead from the human world to the afterlife. Why they thought picking up trash was the same as picking up souls is beyond me. He sat opposite me in my airless office above Auntie Nimmi’s curry shop.

Science Fiction

Pledge Day

“Never be ashamed of who you are or where you came from,” Luke’s dad said every so often, and he meant it, but what he really meant was never let anyone talk down about the Founder, and never hide the fact that they were one of the Founder’s earliest Verified Families. Maybe not the richest, not by a long shot, but one of the first to make the choice. He said it more often as the time approached for Luke’s Hiatus, when Luke would probably do what his friends all did: Go sit in the woods for a week or do some fake-ass charity work, pretend it was a sobering and contemplative experience.