Building a 100th issue has given the magazine a chance to take stock of its mission and what it has done best. I didn’t join the regular crew of Lightspeed until just four years ago, but it was already a major inspiration to me. I can remember the excitement that filled me reading the first issue of Lightspeed—that beautiful, tender cover art, the gripping new voices, the seriously fun nonfiction (if you don’t remember Carol Pinchefsky’s “Top Ten Reasons Why Uplifted Animals Don’t Make Good Pets,” I recommend revisiting it), but most of all, the absolute sensawunda permeating every inch of the magazine. And wonder has truly been the magazine’s guiding inspiration over the past eight years. Even as Lightspeed has expanded to include fantasy, ebook-exclusive content, and three volumes of special issues devoted to inclusivity, the team has steered the ship toward inspiration, insight, and ever-newer territory.
To celebrate the work we’ve done, I’ve asked members of the Lightspeed community—contributors and staff—to name their favorite stories or experiences working with the magazine. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of wonder!
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I love so many Lightspeed stories, but Hao Jingfang’s “Invisible Planets” is an absolutely stunning travelogue, reminiscent of Le Guin’s “Changing Planes” in its use of vignettes to tell a larger story and its subtle, poetic heart. This was the first of Hao Jingfang’s stories I had the opportunity to read and it blew me away.
“We Are the Cloud” by Sam J. Miller opened my eyes to what short SFF could be. While it’s impossible to choose my favorite Lightspeed story, “We Are the Cloud” was probably the most important to me as a reader and a writer. It’s a tender, heartbreaking tale about exploitation, loneliness, sex, and hope, and doesn’t apologize for anything. It also helped open my eyes to a lot within the field, with how it was received, that I had been ignorant of and complicit in. It’s such a wonderfully imagined, beautiful story that has stayed with me even years later.
Maria Dahvana Headley’s “The Traditional.” Beautifully and lyrically, Dahvana Headley transports surrealist images into a chaotic, unsettling future. My husband and I just passed our tenth anniversary, and thankfully did not have to resort to this story as a gift guide.
One of my favorite Lightspeed stories is Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars.” Years after reading it for the first time, I still recall its strange, vivid images—the tower, the warden’s gun, the map in Niristez’s eyes.
“Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back,” by Joe R. Lansdale: It taps into so many sub-categories of horror: apocalyptic, familial, biological, psychological and more. Death seems like a mercy for the narrator by the end of it.
“The Faerie Tree” by Kathleen Kayembe really hit home for me and I’ve recommended it to a ton of people since I first read it. I’ve read a lot of fairytale reimaginings in the last few years, but this one packed a unique punch.
Lightspeed has published so many magnificent stories that it’s impossible to pick a favorite, but it’s easy to randomly choose one that I loved to bits and pieces, because there’s billions. One that haunts me to this day is Marie Vibbert’s “Michael Doesn’t Hate His Mother,” a terrifying story of monstrosity and motherhood, love and fear, and the twisted, tormented territory of childhood.
I’d like to highlight Theodora Goss’s “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology,” a sly and beautiful story about a group of anthropology students who make up a country—and make it real. I love how this story plays with fantasy and reality, from the reference to Borges (a real writer who wrote about an imaginary place that takes over reality), to the made-up journal citation in real MLA style. It’s a story with great inventiveness, ambition, and panache. You can read it for a sense of wonder, and also for a critique of that very thing.
I remember clearly the first time I read Sylvia Spruck Wrigley’s “Alive, Alive Oh.” I was in a hotel room while in the midst of a week traveling on business, and the reflective nature of the story and its emotional resonance on parenthood and what home means really affected me. I’ve read countless great stories in Lightspeed, but Wrigley’s has a special place in my heart.
Though they are very different, Lightspeed has published two short stories that are not just among my favorites from the magazine, but my favorites ever. They are “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Ken Liu and “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” by Maria Dahvana Headley. Ken’s story uses structure with grace and precision, and reading Maria’s makes me feel as if I am drowning in a dream of language. I go back to each again and again.
I couldn’t pick just one story, but I managed to narrow it down to my top three: I loved Kat Howard’s “A Flock of Grief” because, like all of Howard’s work, the way she turns emotion into imagery has haunted me ever since I first read it. Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Bit-U-Men” delighted me right from the beginning because stories that take real-life weird facts (in this case, that people used to literally eat mummies at parties) and give them the fantasy treatment they deserve are always right up my alley. And on the science fiction side, Terence Taylor’s “Wilson’s Singularity” turned up at just the same time I happened to read an article about how current AIs trained on natural language corpora inevitably inherit bias from that language, making the main character’s central choice in this story all the more relevant and realistic; a true intersection of science and science fiction in the current day.
“The Venus Effect” by Violet Allen: An incredible story whose power derives from its science fiction—at once embodying and transcending genre, demonstrating SF’s ability to tell stories that wouldn’t be possible in any other mode.
Honestly, my favorite Lightspeed experience feels egotistical, but it also feels like magic: editing Queers Destroy Science Fiction!. I got to meet so many amazing authors, and was even the one to buy the first story by several incredible authors. I came away with so much more respect for editors in general, and our community as a whole.
One of my all-time favorite stories to appear on Lightspeed has to be “The Infinite Love Engine” by Violet Allen. This story is bursting with coolness and hipness, and has a very unique voice that sucked me in from the first paragraph. It’s not often you encounter a story that’s so effortlessly original without being alienating. It’s a warm, cozy blanket made from a material you’ve never seen before. I’m still smiling, recalling Allen’s amazing work in this story.
Having the chance to work on Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! edition was a real treat. Not just doing the cover art, but also doing the art direction, finding other artist contributors, matching up stories with artists that I knew would do an amazing job of illustrating that story. Brilliant authors, Brilliant artists, all of them women. That was really something else.
It’s been my pleasure to work with Lightspeed. I love the selection of stories you assign me. They are all super inspiring and evocative. Speaking about the memorable pieces, Ashok K. Banker’s “Tongue” was definitely the most unforgettable, because it made me very emotional. For my little pleasure, I painted a noose into her hair, a subtle expression of my liberal perspective on female rights. Indrapramit Das’s “The Worldless” was also a delight to work on. The story spoke to me since I’m the first generation immigrant. I felt I could relate to the characters. Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station” is another favorite. I loved the format and the ending so much. It was also very fun to paint the cold grey atmosphere. Lastly, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor’s series has been extremely inspirational. I love the world setting! I’ve been having a lot of fun imagining and visualizing the characters.
My favorite Lightspeed story is “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias Buckell: I’ve known Toby since we were Clarion students together back in 1999, and it’s been a thrill to watch him grow as a writer and artist. To my mind, this story cements his place as one of the all-time greats. It’s everything a science fiction story should be, full of vivid imagination, memorable characters, and moral complexity.
When I came across Merc Fenn Wolfmoor’s “Tomorrow When We See the Sun” as a submission, I was so delighted! Great imagery, epic space opera setting, wonderful characters, so moving and dramatic, and all with a hopeful ending. I gave it the highest possible recommendation. John probably didn’t realize that meant I’d have to quit if he didn’t buy it, but fortunately he did (along with many of Merc’s others, later) and here we are.
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