Monday, August 29, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #206

The two stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies look at politics and conflict and the ethics of action and inaction. Both stories look at complex situation, either global wars or mass uprisings, and how a single person has decisions to make in the face of such violence and uncertainty. And where the first story looks at the power one person can wield to shape events, the second story shows how sometimes the right thing to do is to walk away. These are stories that build vivid settings and populate them with complex characters and situations that live and breathe fantasy. So to the reviews! 

Art by Marek Hlavaty

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Quick Thoughts - The "Trouble" with SFF

So I was just writing up my review of Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott when an entirely new and deeper reading of the novel occurred to me, one that has everything to do with SFF and writing and fandom. One that I'm a bit surprised didn't occur to me as I was reading and is part of why I love to think about stories, why I like to write about stories. [SPOILERS FOR A FAIRLY OLD NOVEL] The novel is a cyberpunky tale about a group of queer hackers who have all brain worms, something that's dangerous to have installed (comes with a risk of brain damage as it is, after all, brain surgery and rather illegal in America where the novel is based in) and allows them to experience the web differently, more intensely. Now, these hackers are all part of the same clique because they're queer, because being queer doesn't really make them popular. They all have the brain worms essentially because they have nothing much to lose. For them they're already at risk and so the prospect of risking themselves further isn't that much of a stretch. And because of their talent and their drive to carve out a space for themselves, they're among the best hackers out there. Which, again, doesn't really make them popular. They’re "political," which for the straight hackers means they're not as good, that the brain worms are the only reason they can do anything.

And…and in thinking about that I'm struck by how resonant it is now, especially in SFF. Not just for queer writers but for really all marginalized writers. That we get labeled as "political" and, so the logic goes, inferior. People claim that we have an unfair advantage because of "PC culture" and affirmative action as if it still isn't more dangerous to be a non-dominant writer. A queer writer. A writer of color. A neurodiverse writer. Now, like in the novel, the danger might not be the same for all people. Certainly money has a lot to do with it. People who can afford to have the surgery done where it is safer are, well, safer. People who operate under the protection of large corporations are safer. There is definitely something to be said about the ways in which these queer hackers risk themselves. But regardless of their protections, they are not safe from people claiming that they haven't earned what they have. Not from "imposter syndrome," which is something completely different, but from their peers treating them differently and negatively because of a perceived advantage. They are not safe from the resentment and harassment of the larger community and especially from those who feel that their differences make them a stain on the landscape.

Of course, the novel is about this group of queer hackers overcoming the patriarchy and overthrowing the broken systems. Expelling the worst of the shitholes and setting up a new order that might not be perfect but is at least trying for something better. So of course I love it.

But it seems especially topical now, when people are coming out the woodwork to decry diverse writers as "special snowflakes." To claim that the success of marginalized writers is only because they get bonus points for being marginalized. Is only because of their brain worms. Not that being marginalized gave these writers the experiences and drive to succeed. Not that being marginalized made it even more important that they innovate, that they push forward, because they never would have been let in to the community as it was. They had to first build their own. They had to first be better. Better than the dominant group. Better hackers, better writers. And I think that the direction that SFF has gone reflects that. Why have awards moved the direction they have. Is it because "PC culture" dictates that inferior writers receive higher praise? That there's some large conspiracy at work to keep out straight white cis-men from being lauded? Or is it possible that the stories winning awards are just better?

In Trouble and Her Friends, there is never a moment when Trouble gets to stare into the face of her opponent in triumph. He would quite literally rather die and take down as much as he can in the process than be held accountable for his own crimes. He would rather ruin the world and the community that he claims is important to him than admit that he had been bested by a queer woman. And that doesn't sound familiar at all, I'm sure, with the Puppies still trying to do as much harm as they can to the genres they claim to love. It's almost sad that a novel written over twenty years ago is so timely now. Almost sad, though, because by the time the antagonist of the story is trying to destroy everything rather than change, the heroes have almost won. As much as they can win. Theirs, and ours, is not a world where victory is going to look like 24/7 queer vodka parties. Both are worlds where victory means more work, more care, more craft, and more community. It means not making the same mistakes as those who held power so corruptly for so long. But it is victory all the same. A victory so many are fighting for. A victory, I hope, that's getting closer daily. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, August 26, 2016

Quick Sips - Nightmare #47

The two stories in this month's Nightmare Magazine offer up glimpses into what might have been. In the first, a woman is haunted by her past, by a loss she suffered and can't seem to get over. The same is true in the second story, as well, where the main character is prompted to action following the murder of his mother. In both instances the characters seek to deal with the nature of their losses. They both avoid and confront the specters of their lost loved ones and strive to do something about it. For the second story, that means trying to avenge a death. In the first story, that means trying to undo the death. It's a nicely paired selection of dark tales with a strong look backward into the past. To the reviews! 

Art by Jana Heidersdorf

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Quick Sips - Apex #87

August has arrive and with it the approach of autumn, which means at Apex Magazine it's a month for stories about death, beauty, and the vastness of space. There's three fiction pieces and four poems in this issue and a solid theme of complicity, murder, freedom, and dissolution. These are stories that examine the morality of killing and the morality of letting others kill. The burden of living chained and the desire for freedom. The small ways that beauty grows and flourishes even in the darkness. It's an issue full of blood and hope, and I'm just going to get to those reviews! 

Art by Marcela Bolivar

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #29

The latest issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is out and represents the first full issue I'm reviewing of the publication. There's certainly a nice mix of prose and poetry, with almost more poetry words than fiction ones thanks to an epic poem that's at least novelette-length (though only the first part is available this issue). The poetry examines classics in fantasy, from knights to death to barmaids. And the fiction…well, the fiction is certainly an interesting collection of elements that twist expectations. Shadows and swords, ships and subterfuge, and…shit balance out the short stories and make for a memorable experience. So let's get to the reviews! 

Art by Vuk Kostic

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #5&6

The wait is over and Mithila Review is back with a double issue of content! Which, yeah, there's A LOT to read through. Just…just look at all the interviews. And fiction and poetry and nonfiction and… O.O Which is why this time I'm going to be sticking to my regular policy and reviewing just the original pieces. Which still leaves four short stories and six poems and is, well, still a lot. And is still amazing. There are a number of threads that weave the stories together, but I think the strongest is the ideas of loss and yearning. These are pieces that know what it is to hope but also know that hope alone is not enough. They are at turns brutal and tender, far reaching and intimate. And before I gush too much, I should get to the reviews! 

Art by Likhain

Monday, August 22, 2016

Quick Sips - Omenana #7

After a bit of a break Omenana is back with a full issue of fiction and nonfiction and art (my glob the cover is gorgeous!). The stories this issue seem to take a look at institutions. Not necessarily physical ones, but rather ideological institutions. Religion. Law. Parenthood. Masculinity. Employment. The stories examine the way these forces and concepts shape how people move through the world. How they interact and relate to each other. How they foster guilt and shame and violence and death. It's a rich issue that covers fantasy and science fiction, hope and loss and despair. And I should just get to those reviews! 

Art by Sunny Efemena