Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform March 2015

Another month comes to a close, so there's another month's worth of weekly stories from Terraform. This month the stories range a bit longer on average than in most since its start, but overall I think they are worth checking out. It's a somewhat bleak look into the not-too-distant future, but there are some humorous bits as well, and enough to think about to make this another interesting month for this unique publication. So here we go!

Stories:

"Headshot" by  Julian Mortimer Smith (1701 words)

In this rather interesting story told via fictional interview, a future is imagined where military action is taken via direct democracy. Civilians can follow people online and any action requires the input from those people following. You need to be approved to take a shot, to make a patrol. It puts some of the participation in the hands of the public. I liked the style of it, the way that social media had integrated into the technology of war, the way it all seemed to flow. The ridiculousness of having to rouse people to vote on an important military action. I liked the idea, that such things would be more open to the public. I mean, on the one hand it's a terrible idea, because the public is swayed by things that would lead to some terrible decisions, but I did like that ultimately the military was answering to the public and nothing else. I think there would be a much more troubling problem in that soldiers would face much greater risk in that situation, when they might not be able to comply to the wills acting on them. But the story does provide an interesting glimpse into the system, into something where the public really isn't allowed to be in the dark. Plus the tone is just sort of nicely disturbing, the way the headshot is glorified. As it would be. It's just nice that it shows this system that is in many ways repellent but still holds a small sliver to promise. Indeed.

"Springing Backwards" by Rick Paulas (2140 words)

In this story is a comedy-apocalypse, the end of the world coming from the removal of daylight savings time. It's a fun, light story of a man and the mistakes he makes that lead to the end of the world, or at least a small end of the world. And, really, it's not exactly something that had much to do with daylight savings time. Sure, it seems to have contributed, but it seemed more that this one guy rather caused most of the troubles all on his own. Still, it sort of the blown-out-of-proportion kind of thing, people battling to keep daylight savings time despite it not serving a real definitely purpose anymore. It's cute, though I kind of hope that the main character gets what's coming to him for being a complete ass and probably causing the deaths of untold number of people. I can imagine, I guess. A funny little diversion, to be sure.

"The Dragon and the Martian" by Becky Ferreira (2510 words)

Two very different kinds of biological engineers work in the same area in this story. One is working on microbes that will help give Mars an atmosphere. His work is long, largely invisible. But he believes. He believes that he is doing something right. Good. The other is designing mythic animals for the few wealthy enough to afford them on an Earth that is devastated and resource strapped. This designer is vain, aggressive, and frustrated because the dragon he's designing doesn't want to be made. Figuratively and literally. While he is trying to force the world to fit his vision, to be a god of sorts, his friend is actually working at terraforming a planet, and yet isn't driven in the same way. It's quite a shift between the two, and well handled in the story. I really liked how the two men clashed and contrasted, and how their missions showed a lot about them. I was a little less convinced about the ending, which seemed a little abrupt, but overall I think the story pulled it off all right. I did like the image of the herd of wild unicorn in the end, that way of summing up the one guy's work. It's an effective bit of story, a glimpse at what might be in the future of designed life and two very different visions that can shape it.

"Flesh For Trade" by Nicholas Budgen (1350 words)

This story is short and seems to be about the circle of how people use technology, in this case in the sex trade. In the story, androids have replaced human workers in sex work, and a pair of new seemingly android workers are delivered to a brothel to work. They are billed as being incredibly life-like. That they'll be able to simulate everything. And, of course, they turn out to be human. The cycle of wanting something to mimic humanity comes back around so that (one would assume) the only way sex workers can make money is to pretend to be robots. It's an interesting premise but one that I think gets a but muddied by the ending, which seems to imply that these new workers, the human ones, don't really want to be sex workers. That they're doing this just to live. Which makes an interesting point but also kinda paints sex work as being demeaning and I'm not really for that. Perhaps it's trying to make the case that for these people it's all they have left, but with the protests shown in the beginning of the book I'd think they could find people more willing to do it. Of course, maybe the point is that people don't want humans, they want robots who seem human so that they can have more license to actually abuse the robots. There's enough in the story to make it provoking and the style is interesting, the lingering question that finally gets answered in the last few sentences. Indeed.

"From Fire" by Cecca Ochoa (701 words)

The last story of the month is also (by far) the shortest. Here the narrator (using the second person you) creates a small avatar or person in a game. Kind of like the Sims or something similar but with more laterality. You start out interested, invested, giving the little person things to do, meddling and helping and all that. Then, invariably, you get bored and reward the person in a way that it doesn't understand. It reacts poorly, and then you get even more bored and stop playing for a while only to check in later and find that the little person is near death, the landscape destroyed. Basically what happens to me in between bouts of Animal Crossing. The ending then turns it a bit, imagines that this little person is creating a little person of their own, imagining that perhaps that is what reality is, that we're all just layers of programming. Which is a pretty interesting idea, though if that were the case I'm not sure where the story says we are. I prefer to think that the story brings up the point that maybe we're the ones inside only to reject that idea. I mean, our world is not entirely destroyed. If we're in a game it's one that's being played for a long time by someone fairly vested in us not completely going to hell. But I do think that maybe it's that knowledge that this isn't a simulation in the end that prompt the most introspection. An appreciation that we are not at the whim of our own playing, that perhaps we need to be more conscious of what we do to our simulations, to the lives we might create, because if life ever erupts online or in a game, we don't want to be terrible through out ignorance and laziness. A good story with lots to think about.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Quick Sips - Tor.com March 2015

I'm taking a look at the month's offerings from Tor today. On the whole a rather sad bunch of stories. But varied in their sadnesses. The sadness of estrangement and betrayal, sadness of isolation, sadness of loss, all distinct from story to story. They are also mostly creepy, with some strong ideas about body and characters running across something that is profoundly foreign. That said, time to get reviewing!


Art by Richie Pope

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Masculinity and Reading

Today my thoughts are ranging far and wide. You see, I've recently signed up for a new penpal group and it has a database of people that you can browse to find similar interests so that, I'm guessing, you're not sending blind to someone you share zero common things with. Which I hope means more meaningful connections. I hope it means people who are motivated to send and receive some mail. I've been struggling to find some penpals I can use all my geeky stationery, stickers, and washi tape for. But I digress. While browsing, I noticed something that solidified some feelings and such I've had for a while on such things.

First, I'm a guy. I'm bisexual. I read, almost literally, all the things. There are a few things I tend to stay away from, but it's typically because it's...because I've chosen to. Normally, though, that's informed by my own reading experience. For instance. I like romances and cozy mysteries. This weirds some people out. Men and women. For men, I think it affronts their idea that romances are just for women. It makes romances into something other than the books that they're allowed to avoid because they aren't meant for men. But it bothers some women, too. In part I'm sure it's because I'm intruding into what is normally a fairly safe space for women and I get that it's not cool when someone intrudes into a space that's supposed to be free of judgement. And I'm not reading romance to judge. I'm looking for good books. But then, I also feel like romances in general are only okay for some people (regardless of gender) if they're viewed as fluff, as less than other kinds of books. They're guilty pleasures, or indulgence reads. I wonder if this, too, is a sort of defense mechanism to keep (or to try to keep) readers of romances (mostly women) safe.

It reminds me of much of the book landscape in general, but especially what's been going on in increasingly mainstream spaces with regards to women and other marginalized groups. Basically, the most powerful group (white, straight, cis-men) are generally "okay" with things as long as they are given permission to ignore them. Women? PoC? Queer people? Sure, okay, whatever, as long as I can read my WSCM authors. But more than that. Sure, okay, whatever, as long as there is not the expectation that I read any non-WSCM authors. And that is something completely different. Because that means that non-WSCM authors are only okay if they are kept somehow separate from science fiction or fantasy. If they're science fiction or fantasy with romance (which I love), they must be cast out to the separate romance section of the bookstore. To the romance section of the conversation. To the romance section of the awards. This happens all over the place based on who is supposed to like a thing. In the major bookstore near me, Gregory Maguire is in fiction, not SFF. Octavia Butler (all of one book, but still) is in fiction. They only started putting urban fantasy in with SFF instead of romance somewhat recently. It's...disturbing.

Because it pushes everyone into camps, with WSCM (mostly) readers deciding the lines. And I can see perhaps the financial reasons why bookstores and publishers do it. They want to sell books, they think this is how it's done. But this only strengthens that whole "books with feelings don't belong in SFF." This prompts people to complain, endlessly, that there is a problem with short fiction and awards because those works being highlighted there are...not white and masculine enough. Like, okay, if a woman or PoC or queer person wants to write SFF, yay, but only if they write it like a WSCM writer. Because that's the "style" that I like and you can't tell me that's wrong! And right, no one's telling you that you're wrong for liking or not liking a book (exactly). People are just out there, liking the books they like, trying to be as passionate about them as fans of SFF have always been passionate about their books. Only these ones don't as much resemble the works of Asimov or Tolkien or any of the other people most people get told are the architects of the genres. If it's not like them, it must be different. Please put it on a different shelf. One not labeled science fiction or fantasy. Call it soft. Call it fluffy. Call it feminine.

I have, perhaps it's obvious, a weird relationship with masculinity. On the one hand, it's been hammered into me my entire life. Value these things. Don't this. Always this. Masculinity is rigid; femininity is flexible, supple, and probably fuckable. And while I knew that wasn't right, that I tended a bit more toward the feminine, toward wanting to express, to feel, to enjoying things "I wasn't supposed to," I still tried to appear to conform. I played sports (swimming and water polo...probably did not, in the end, help my masculinity) and read masculine books (when I wasn't smuggling in other, less "acceptable" books) and talked about them loudly. Nothing really worked, of course, because while I was doing this I wanted more, wanted something different. Any validation I received wasn't for me but for my toeing the line. When I finally worked myself out more and figured out more of what I wanted, when I finally started reading all the books I wanted openly, that's when I found myself enjoying myself much more, but also much more out of place.

Or maybe equally out of place but without anyone to even talk books about. As long as I was talking up Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin I was at least tolerated. People would talk to me. But I was having to restrain myself from really talking about them. Talk about how great they are, how cool the plot is, how awesome it was when x, y, or z happened? Okay, yeah, all goes smoothly. Talk about sex and gender and how they make me feel and how I might not like aspects of them? Well, let's just say that I've lost most of the people I used to talk with about books because I don't do it right. I forgot that to be a man reading you have to read masculinely. You have to do everything masculinely. Heaven forbid you get one drop of feminine on you or you'll be gay. And wouldn't that be the worst thing ever HAHA!

Okay, settling down. These thoughts have quickly spiraled out of control. What I mean to say is that I think people are conditioned to be silent about their book preferences when it comes to books that don't fall into the masculine "norm." Well, not just their book preferences, but I'm talking about books so will limit to that. Like romance. I think people want to be quiet about it. They don't want to talk about it in mixed company. It gets them in trouble. It gets people to walk away from them, avoid them, belittle them, maybe even attack them. It makes them afraid to express a positive opinion. It also isolates them, and it isolates the form. Do I like all romances? No (shifter stuff is normally pretty iffy for me, and almost anything regency...also cowboys). But how to discus what I like and what I don't, how to move anything forward to reach new and different readers, when there's this culture of silence about it? No doubt it will be the next signal of the bookpocalypse about to ruin everyone's childhood, but I want to see some shelves merge. I want to see paranormal romance next to urban fantasy next to fantasy and science fiction. I want it to blend. I want readers to know, hey, if you like this you might like this. Because you might!

And only through the breaking down of some of these very rigidly held divides are people going to see and experience that the differences are not too great. And maybe that then they won't be scorned for what kind of science fiction or fantasy they like. And maybe then they won't have to feel like they have to hide it. And maybe then the quality of everything effected will increase. Because more people will be participating. Because more people will feel safe for it. So please, talk to me about romances. Talk to me about books. I think one of the worst things that can happen is to have someone stop talking about what they love. For me, I guess I'll keep talking even if it's only with the few people who can still stand me. And I'll keep looking for that place where I fit in.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #169

I'm looking at the latest from Beneath Ceaseless Skies today. The two stories pair fairly nicely, but much more in contrast than in compliment. Both are about risk and choices, about taking chances and whether those chances are worth taking. They present very different glimpses into how people approach the question of if action is worth taking. Together they leave it more to the reader to chose which they prefer. So let's see!


Art by Takeshi Oga

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #58

I look at the latest from Lightspeed Magazine today, which is always a cause for celebration. This month most of the stories are dealing with war, which is an interesting choice. They work fairly well together, too, though the serial story sticks out a bit. Not sure how the reprints would fit into this tapestry because time prevents me from reading the reprints, but the new fiction is solid and creates an interesting whole. That cover really does do a nice job of showing the imagery of war and civilization contrasting and working together. But time to get to the stories!

Art by Wylie Beckert

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Quick Sips - Urban Fantasy Magazine #5

I'm taking a look at a new magazine (for me) today with Urban Fantasy Magazine. I heard about it some time ago but never really got over there, something that I will likely rectify now. It's quite a bit of fun and the two stories that I'm looking at this month are well worth reading. Plus there's more stuff that I'm not going to be looking at (at least not in this review...might be back to peek at the nonfiction but unfortunately it's not out yet). Still, it looks like here is a new market that I'm going to be stopping back at. Which is always a good find.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Quick Sips - Nightmare #30

Today I'm looking at the latest from Nightmare Magazine. As always, two new stories, which means a relatively light load for reviewing, but I can really understand why this magazine puts out less than its sister pub, Lightspeed. These are dark stories. Stories that have a bit more impact when let a little more room to breath. So take a deep breathe, and let's get started!

Art by Robert Emerson

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Quick Links - 03/22/15

So another week has come and gone and I did manage to do some reading. Plus one of my reviews came out at Teenreads. Oh, and I had an interview with Elizabeth Bear that went up that linked back to my Karen Memory review at Nerds of a Feather. And it looks like next week will be pretty busy as well, with another review going up at Nerds of a Feather and a number of things I'll hopefully be finishing up reading-wise. I am actually quite behind with reading this year. Perhaps because all the short fiction I read now. Perhaps because almost all the books I've been reading for me this year have been fairly long. But so it goes. Anyway, the links.

Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions by Sheila Grau (Teenreads, my score 4/5) - Hey, a slightly more professional review than the one I wrote for Goodreads. I still quite enjoyed the book. Cute stuff.

Neon Genesis Evangelion 3-in-1 edition, Vol. 2 (includes Vol. 4-6) by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - I do like this series and have watched the old anime and most of the newer movies. I think it does some things quite well but other things...not so much. Still, it's a fun read. Rather depressing, but fun.

The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia: Inhabitants, Lore, Spells, and Ancient Crypt Warnings of the Land of Ooo Circa 19.56 B.G.E. - 501 A.G.E. by Martin Olson (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - I am a HUGE Adventure Time fan, and so this was both really cool and a bit of a disappointment. I think I was bummed that there wasn't more story, more...something. Still, worth picking up for fans.

Okay, so those are the non-Adult-Themed reviews for the week (or two weeks). Below are two entries into my Not for the Faint of Heart series. Be warned, these are either erotica or pornographic in nature. Mostly the series is me reviewing manga (either hentai or yaoi), though there are other things as well, because I think there should be reviews of those as for other things. Also because I rather enjoy reading fun sexy things (don't judge!). But most of the time I have to get a bit tipsy to actually review the works, which is just an added level of fun, really. So yeah, here are the two I did this last week.

Smut Peddlar ed. C. Spike Trotman (Goodreads, my score 5/5) - oh mans if you are looking for sexy fun times go and buy this. It's an amazing collection of diverse, sex positive smut. Go, go and buy. Plus there's a volume two now, so the smut can continue!

The Bid by Jax (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - This was the first erotic novel that I read. I wasn't bad, but I was expecting more. Also I just did not like the guys very much. Probably not written for me, but it had its moments. And, of course, quite disappointing if you judge a book by its cover.

Well there you go. Hopefully people are still enjoying the reviews and can look forward to another full week of them. Not sure if I'm doing four or five this next week, but we'll see how packed it is as the end of the month will no doubt arrive much faster than I think. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Retiring Stories

I don't think any writer really likes to come to a point when they look at a story and say "you know, I'm not going to submit you anymore." It feels like giving up. It feels like, shit, I just wasted all that time, writing it, editing it, sending it out (sometimes many times), and now I'm left with this...thing that I don't think I can keep going with. But (at least for me, and I want to imagine for most writers who keep at it) the time comes when either I completely lose faith in a story or nothing more can really be done with it.

Case in point, today I have the sad task of retiring a story that I rather liked. Maybe, if I see a theme call for it, I'll break it out again and see what can be done. But for now, I consider it retired. And what does that mean? Well, it means I'm shading it blue in my giant "Spreadsheet of Writerliness." Yes, I have a spreadsheet. I would think most writers do, because how else to keep track of every submission? And I have different colors in the spreadsheet, for stories that are out (yellow), for stories that sold (an understated grey), and for stories that are retired (light blue). I made it light blue and not, say, deep red, because it's tough enough retiring a story without making myself angry about it. I try to keep all my stories yellow (or grey, because that's the best), but I have a growing collection of blue stories sitting in my spreadsheet.

Some are easy calls. I get them done and send them out a few times and every time I send it out I feel less and less good about it. I think I screwed something up. I try editing more and more and it still gets rejected and for some, I look at them and can't really see a point to them and those I pull because I can do better. I pull them because at that point I'd rather I not publish them. It happens. I feel I didn't handle something right or that the story is just too flat and that is that. As annoying as it is to admit defeat and just pull the damned thing, at least I feel like I'm making the right call. I don't know if other people do this. I'm not sure if this is self-rejecting. But I feel like sometimes the right call for a story is to pull it and try again but better. And I still normally let a story go out, editing and such in between rejections, somewhere from five to a dozen times before the urge to retire wins the day.

Then there are the stories that I still like. Maybe I don't think they're my best work, but I can still see what first drew me to them. I think I did something okay with the story. I like the setting, the characters. And I can't think of anything to edit aside from starting over, writing a different story, which I don't want to do. These are the stories that I don't want to retire. I want to hold on, kicking and screaming, but I believe that the story is still good enough to entertain and provoke. Especially if a story like this makes it to the second or final round of submissions somewhere. Or multiple somewheres. That's what's happened today.

"The Song of the Mountain" is a weird story, part fantasy, part science fiction, part horror, dealing with music and a giant monster that fell from the sky. I did write it a while ago, but I've always rather liked it, and hoped that it would find a home. It has received some of the nicest rejections I've ever received, and some of the meanest (seriously, first readers, no need to get nasty when saying no. It does not make your rejection "constructive"). So it's not like it was universally despised. Just...not good enough. And I thought, maybe next time, maybe next time. Twenty five rejections later, and I rather have to face facts that it's not going anywhere. At this point there just aren't many places that I can submit to. Like, it would take quite a bit of work to find one (that would accept this kind of story) and after searching for a while for where I could submit I've decided to let it go.

But it kind of sucks. I can look at this as a learning experience. I can look at this as a challenge. But for the moment it feels an awful lot like a defeat. I will bounce back. I have many other stories out, some of which are bound to get accepted. And others are bound to be retired. I'm just not a writer that can sell everything. I'm not sure I will ever be a writer that can sell everything. I'm not sure there are writers that can sell everything. Which is okay. I hope. I think.

People reading this and thinking it might have some sort of advice are probably wondering what the hell? But then, I'm not in a position to advise anyone. These are just my (probably very whiny) thoughts on retiring stories. The long and short is, for me, it happens, and it sucks, and if I wasn't off alcohol for the moment I'd probably drink a toast to my retired story. I guess that will wait. But I'll keep writing. And hey, if I want to use an idea or image or line from that story I can and no one will ever know (mwahahahahaha!). Ahem. But yeah, I guess I'll just keep on keeping on. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, March 20, 2015

Quick Sips - Plasma Frequency #16 - Anti-Apocalypse

So this is my first time reviewing Plasma Frequency here, though I've read the publication and featured a story from an issue late last year on the Monthly Round. There certainly are quite a few stories. And there's a theme! Anti-Apocalypse. The goal is to escape the grim and gritty apocalypses that seem a dime a dozen these days. And for the most part the issue succeeds at showing some more uplighting and hopeful stories. Some funny ones. It's a big issue, and I'm skipping the reprint that begins the issue and the installment that wraps it up, focusing on everything else. So yeah, let's get to it!

Art by Jon Orr

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/09/2015 and 03/16/2015

Two more weeks of Strange Horizons have gone up so here they are, reviewed and ready. For the time being I'm going to try and keep it to two weeks per review, because if I let it go much more than that these could get fairly long. But yeah, two stories and two poems and two columns, so there's a bit to get to. Onwards!

Stories:

"The Salt Mosquito's Bite and the Goddess' Sting" by J Mehentee (4380 words)

This is a rather sweet story about a young monk who is nearly completely naive of the world and a much older, much more wearied woman who, though him, finds her way back to her calling and her faith. Dawa is a sort of perfect child, an innocent, who believes what people tell him without question. It is that innocence that gives him some spiritual power, as those around him try to shield him or abuse him because he believes so easily. When he is led astray by a cruel older boy, he is saved by a woman on a pilgrimage of sorts to return the body of one of her spiritual sisters to her homeland, Thailand, where Dawa lives. And she sees in Dawa something that draws her back, something that makes her believe that it's still worth it to try and help people. And from there she returns to her calling as Guru of her sisters and finds herself rejuvenated. It's a strange story, told with mostly simple language to mimic Dawa's innocent state, his holy ignorance. And in that simple style the story manages to evoke a rich world and got me to smile. Rare are the stories that are just rather nice, but this one manages it with a clever style and an engaging set of characters.

"City of Salt" by Arkady Martine (3522 words)

This story, not nearly so happy as the first. In this, a man returns to the city he had once lived in with his king and the king's illusionist. Together they had been happy but the king seems to have been a bit insane and raised an army of the dead that the man had refused to lead into battle, and then the man just left. The king was defeated and died in the city and only the illusionist remained, becoming something of a ghost of the city, punishing those who trespassed. Now the man returns and the illusionist isn't entirely pleased. She harries the man and forces something of a confrontation. It's well done, the anger and frustration the illusionist feels and how she is reminded of all she's lost with the man's return. There is an unbridgeable gap between them, formed when he walked away, and even though he wants to mend things it's too late for that. The confrontation is dramatic and magical, the two caught in a sort of dance, a sort of contest. It's a rather sad tale, the two caught in their own moralities and unwilling to bend. They are apart, forever apart, but at least this time they get to part on better terms, knowing it is the last time. Another fine story.

Poetry:

"Long Shadow" by Rose Lemberg

This is a long poem with a story, that of a god set out to right the wrongs of the world. And yet at each turn they are told that there are wrongs that cannot be made right. Some things cannot be healed. And believing that you can set all things right makes you guilty of not understanding the complexity of those wrongs. The god minimizes them and simplifies them in thinking that they can be erased. And yet they push on, feeling that if they can't make things right then what's the point in trying? What's the point in helping anyone? Which is a great way to tackle privilege and responsibility, because the god is privileged. They do have power and can make life better for people. But because they can't get credit for helping everything, for fixing everything, they get frustrated and want to take back their aide. They see the world as somehow stubborn or ungrateful. Only slowly do they realize that the wrongs, while not really something that can be stopped, can at least be eased. Some people can be helped, and if that action might seem futile, it's still something that helps some people. And that stopping, giving up, is only agreeing to step away from the struggle and put yourself outside the struggle, above it. It's a great way to approach these concepts, and the language and form of the poem give it a mythic feel. I quite enjoyed it, even over it's considerable length (for a poem).

"Laying Claim" by Liz Bourke

A much shorter but thematically similar poem to the last, this one dealing with the attempts of the conquerors to validate their actions by writing history, but finding that even as they do that they are not completely successful. That the ghosts of those they pave over do not quit the cities and the valleys. It's similar to the last poem because it deals with war, with the idea that things never end, that even renaming and remaking things does not wipe away the traces of what was before. The pain remains and nothing can make that right. Some things do not heal. So a great followup poem, this one a bit more Earth-bound and drawing the experiences back to the narrator, to the border that exists within them, to the comparison drawn between even a mind or body and a city or country. Ghosts remain, even if the scars are erased. Still there is lingering unease, wounds that go deeper still. A strong and resounding poem, it uses lines that draw quite nicely, a mix of short and not-so-short lines that seem to rush the narrative at times, as if the poem itself is trying to get past the ugly parts but can't, keeps finding itself confronted by ghosts. It's good work.

Nonfiction:

"Encouraging Diversity: An Editor's Perspective" by Rose Lemberg

This column is really just some brass tacks advice to people about editing in a way that (a big surprise given the title) encourages diversity. It really does seem like some common sense things that I personally don't have the most experience with. My editing days were back in college but even then I wanted to promote a diverse literary magazine and tried my best as managing editor to make sure the diversity started with the staff (like the co-editing and guest editing points in the article). And I am super proud of the issues our little magazine put out. Of course, it's kinda apples to oranges with more professional publications, but I can see a lot of good points in the article. At the very least, it's a glimpse into the way it works for one publication that seems to be doing things right. Indeed.

"Movements: Taking Stock: Encouragement and the Antidote to Toxicity" by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Here's a great and heartfelt look at one writer's early career and how their anxiety and what other people were telling them nearly pushed them out of writing. It has a lot of good things to say about the need for encouragement and the dangers of online toxicity that can easily push people, especially the already vulnerable, out of doing what they want to do and what they would be great at. It's a ponderous article, one that looks at how the writer was effected by what people told them and by some of the various episodes in the genre that have spurred some controversy. I like the subtle approach they make, the mindfulness that they advocate for. The love. Because without the love, with the empathy and care, it's easy to get caught up in call-outs and blames and yelling. Lines are drawn. I think that speaking out of care for someone else, though, can do a lot. Obviously, this is rather topical. Even this week there have been a number of small controversies surrounding K. Tempest Bradford's challenge, and I think that the discourse between the person asking (perhaps a bit selfishly) what he could be doing and Bradford herself telling him was one that had compassion. She wasn't "calling him out." She was trying to engage and educate. And as long as that is the point, then maybe people can learn. But yeah, I liked this article and think it has a lot to say. Hurrah!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Quick Sips - Shimmer #24 (March Stuff)

So today I'm looking at (mostly) all the March releases from Shimmer magazine. Why the qualification? Because technically there's a story coming out on March 31st. And yeah, I can't get to that this month. So that story will be reviewed as if it is a April release (also for purposes of the Monthly Round) because it would be too difficult to put off making decisions for that until the 31st. That said, on to the stories!


Art by Sandro Castelli

Stories:

"The Scavenger's Nursery" by Maria Dahvana Headley (4400 words)

Trash is an interesting topic for thought and discussion, but in this story, where trash has become sentient and entire landfills stand up with a will to life that rivals our own, trash is frightening as hell. Because trash is everywhere. There are islands of trash floating in our oceans, and the world is, if you'll pardon my pun, littered with landfills and trash heaps and it's not something that most people want to think about. It gets swept under rugs for a reason. It's picked up and disposed of and we forget about it. But this story doesn't really let that happen. This story shows the trash unwilling to be the silent partner in our destruction of the earth. Instead, it takes the wheel, staking its own claim to the planet as dominant, as superior. It's a great way of approaching trash, by having them magically gained a sort of awareness, like all our neglect paved the way for them to quietly amass the right parts. The story focuses on a few characters while also giving an overview of the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine...). It's a poignant and powerful narrative, the way the trash seems to mimic us while also doing something deeper, taking what we throw away and creating something with it, creating life with it. I'm not entirely sure on all my thoughts about the ending, but it's definitely a set of powerful images, from the landfills standing up, our past returning, to that last bit of trash and the whisper of strange voices. An excellent story.

"The Cult of Death" by KL Pereira (3145 words)

A young girl with a voice that kills tries to find her way in a community that really doesn't like her in this story. The community, staunchly Catholic, has sort of infected her with guilt, with the belief that she is responsible for the deaths the result from her voice. More, they make her believe that her voice is a punishment for her being evil. As a child, she doesn't have much choice but to believe them, and she ends up hating herself, wishing that God would take away her voice. Until a woman with prosthetic hands and feet enters town. Another outcast, the girl and Marsha, the woman, form a bond when the girl discovers she can speak with Marsha with her full voice. They confess to each other and Marsha teaches the girl that she doesn't have to be ashamed or guilty about her voice. That her voice is a gift that she should use. That she can do good. Told in a second person, the girl becomes the reader, because it's likely true that everyone is guilted by society, pressured and blamed for things that they are not responsible for. It's an effective method of telling the story, and flows seamlessly, to the point that I would forget about the second person voice at times. It's a softer story, but interesting and well told and definitely worth a look.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex #70

Today I'm looking at the latest from Apex, which brings another strong issue. I'll start by saying wow, the poetry in this issue was very consciously chosen to circle around the Fae and also the loss of a child. So does the fiction, though perhaps not in such an obvious manner. Still, it's a solidly connected issue. So you know it's going to be cheery stuff. As always, though, Apex brings its stories with a healthy dose of darkness. These are not always the most happy of tales, the but quality is always excellent and it keeps me coming back month after month. So here we go!

Stories:

"Houdini's Heart" by Thoraiya Dyer (4195 words)

A story that mixes the promise of magic with a deep-space tether around a planet with perpetual lightning storms. The world-building of the story is solid, slowly revealing the situation without dumping too much information all at once. The planet, the station, the necessity of heart modifications, the never being allowed back from the surface, the desperation of Houdini and Owen and Carmela. Everything works, from the con that Houdini is trying to run to the obvious love that Owen has for his son and the way that Carmela will follow Houdini wherever she goes. Really solid stuff, and I liked how Owen was put in a position to believe Houdini but not in the way she anticipated, and how that one desperate and rather tragic action led to the resolution, which is something of a happily ever after if happily ever afters were depressing as hell. I mean, it's kind of nice because Carmela and Houdini will be together, and Owen's son, Ben, will be seen to, but it took Owen's death and it's also not really a great situation for any of them. Carmela's feelings for Houdini aren't exactly the healthiest, and Houdini will kill herself at some point. So even though the story closes on a "things sort of worked out" note, it's only the latest in a string of things trailing after Houdini. One gets the sense that the future isn't exactly shining bright for Carmela and her, despite the likelihood of lightning strikes. A very good story, though.

"Charaid Dreams" by Rati Mehrotra (3500 words)

Another sort of colonization story, this one focuses on a family on an icy world that's not quite what it appears. Charyn, the only child to actually survive being born on the planet, is in a not-great spot after her father gets lost in the snow and is presumed dead. She must go out with her older brother to hunt, but while out she is lured away by some force of the planet, and learns the true nature of life there, that there are creatures that live in every aspect of the world Charaid, including her. They've let her survive to study humans, and they're giving her a choice to stay or go. The isolation and cold of the story are palpable, and that's something that, as someone from Wisconsin, I can appreciate. I rather like stories about the cold, about what it does, and this story has it in spades, the wide openness contrasted with the closed in feeling the cold brings, the need to draw together. The alien life is truly alien on Charaid, and I liked the word play with the naming of the planet, the visible world a charade for this other life to exist and grow. And Charyn, young and rebellious and uniquely isolated, is interesting and sympathetic, though I did want to know a little more what she was going to do. There just doesn't seem much of a future on a world with so little humans. At least, not human life. That aside, the story doesn't trap Charyn, leaves her to find her own way. It's well done, and makes me want to know what happens next.

"A Beautiful Memory" by Shannon Peavey (4000 words)

Birds are memories in this story where a young woman finds that she can't just bury her problem in dirt and hope that they'll go away. Living on her own, she runs a business of selling the birds that grow from her repressed emotions. Business is good, and yet getting rid of her emotions and the memories that went with them doesn't make her happy. It doesn't even make the emotions go away. Her anger, her hurt, her sadness all remain and come back again and again. It's a great concept, and one that plays out well with the woman's issues with her family, issues that are never really explained but perhaps don't really need to be. what is certain is that she does not get on well with her parents, that her father at least is quite cruel and manipulative and probably not a great source of happiness for her. She wants to get away, to escape the feelings that she can't help but feel, but she can't. The sense of joy that she has when she discovers she can lose her memories is heartbreaking, and the image of her birds pecking their way back into her head is...well, dark. It's a good story, with plenty of mood and some great scenes. I loved the bits with the businessman, and how he seemed to evoke the reactions she might hae toward her father. A good read.

"Where I'm Bound" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (4200 words)

This is what happens when you read the poetry first; you miss that the poems aren't the only ones that relate to the Fae and stealing of children. Really, mostly all of these stories and poems have been about the loss of a child or the Fae. Kind of strange, given the lack of a theme issue, but it's well done, and nice to see the different ways the writers approach the themes and motifs. In this, a changeling human clown named Tess, captured from the human world and made to work in the Fae realms, is tasked with taking a new child by her Fae wardens. There are rules to taking children into the Fae realms, though. They have to give their name, their free consent, and eat something from the Fae. And Tess manages to get the child she has chosen, Rex, to do all of those. It's a little but up in the air if that's really a good thing or a bad thing. because Rex had a shitty life and wanted more than anything to get away. It's still preying on the child, but like "Momma Gonna Fight" (one of the poems) the situation the boy is in changes the context of the abduction. So hurrah, even more to add to this theme of missing children and the Fae. And this story is well done, with a bit of hope at the end, though like with the rest of the story it's hope tinged with a bit of sadness and cruelty. Like any good Fae story.

Poetry:

"barefoot sprites beware" by Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Sometimes very short poems can have some of the strongest images, mostly because with that much condensing a lot has to be drawn out of a little. Perhaps it's shouldn't amuse me so much that my review of this poem is much longer than the poem itself, but I would have to work hard to beat a haiku. And this is a haiku, five seven five, with a sort of cautionary tale that beneath something that looks bright and cheery there is a dark, hungry side waiting for the unwary. It's a strong image, t he leeches under the leaves, with a sprinkle of magic thrown in for good measure with the word choice (sprites, starving leeches that exist on land). Really it's just good advice, a sort of look before you leap or don't assume just because something's pretty it isn't deadly as well. Because sometimes it's the pretty things that are most dangerous...

"Hook" by Jennifer Ironside

This is a creepy and rather interesting poem, though one that I personally have a small amount of trouble figuring out. The imagery is strong, a person beside a stream, whispering the names of the dead into the waters. At the beginning of the story it seems like some sort of creature, a monster, and yet the image is revisited at the end as the parent of Katie, one of the dead children. I'm guessing, because it makes the most sense to me, that the child simply was out exploring and drowned, and the grief and guilt of that has driven the parent a bit mad, and now they're searching for their child, using the names to draw up the child, to try and undo the damage, reverse the death. More, it seems like this final act is one of suicide for the parent, unable to cope with the loss of a child, drowning in the same river their daughter did. At least that's where I land. It's possible that the first image and that last are not meant to be a circle and there is something predatory at the stream, something that took the child. Certainly the real estate agent is a little suspect, words that would become so prophetic. But I guess I see a less fantastical explanation to the language and imagery. The poem, though, is dark and definitely worth pulling apart.

"The Changeling Answer" by Jarod K. Anderson

This poem is much less figurative and much more fantasy than the other poems so far. Instead of drawing up imagery that could be fantastical, it very much chooses a side by having the main idea be the theft of a child by faery creatures. The old changeling story where the Fae steal a child and replace it with something else. In this poem, the parent discovers the deception but is not overcome by grief. Instead what is there is a cold anger that makes hot iron to destroy or at least punish the creature that has taken the place of their child. This is a poem that evokes vengeance and violence. The images are strong and methodical, the flow very much a structured beat like a drum. There is a great deal of restraint in the poem, the first three lines all ending with periods and more periods to end the stanzas. It gives the poem the feel of emotion being kept in check, but the ending break in the flow, the two line coda and the lack of punctuation leading into it, those show the heart of the character in the poem, that they might not be unhinged by grief but they are definitely grieving, and using that to fuel their anger and revenge. It's nice work, and one feels a little bad for the changeling. The story does definitely show that though the Fae can be wicked, humans can win hands down in brutality. Hurrah?

"Mama Gonna Fight" by Beth Cato

This poem takes a much different approach to the Fae, or at least puts it in a much different context. Again the idea of the Fae trying to take a child away is visited, but here it's a young slave-girl during the Civil War who is being courted by the Faery Court, and she wants to leave. Only her mother won't let her, doesn't want her to go, probably knows that the Fae are not to be trusted. Of course, taking place on the cusp of Reconstruction, there's a lot to consider when it comes to what would be best for the girl. Would she perhaps prefer living among the Fae to being a slave or, if freed, a newly freed former slave in the Reconstruction South. Of course, part of why this poem is a little bit more muddied in its sides is that we don't really know what the Fae are planning with the child. Obviously nothing entirely good, because why else would they fight over the girl, but there's a bit more nuance here. Perhaps it's just that one wants to believe the Fae more when the situation is worse. Perhaps that's what makes them so devious, so dangerous. Because they can make you almost believe that the mother is in the wrong. That they are the better option. A nice read, and in the context of the other poems an excellent counter. A great collection of poems here.

Nonfiction:

"A Whole New World" by Mark Allan Gunnells

Okay so I rather love articles like this. Not just because I'm not straight and wanting to succeed and it's always awesome to see people getting their stories out there, stories that I want to read and where I can feel like I exist. But also because these articles teach me about the field that they're describing. Did I know that there were a number of gay horror writers out there? Not really. Am I now excited to go look up the names mentioned (including the Mark Allan Gunnells) and find some books to put in my queue?  To spend some money on? Very much yes. That is a big reason why I like these kinds of articles. In part because the story and because it's nice to see that not being straight doesn't magically preclude someone from writing genre fiction. And in part it's just that I can actually feel my awareness being raised. Yes, I should be out there finding these things out on my own. I am still responsible for what I buy and what I read. But there are times I just don't know what's out there, and I always appreciate someone giving me some pointers on where to look for good writing. So this is definitely worth checking out.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #168

I'm looking at the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies today. As with many of the issues of BCS, the two stories have some similarities that make a good pairing. Both are looking at somewhat gritty settings, with destitute main characters and secondary characters trying to raise themselves out of their situation. The first story, though, ends on much more active and optimistic a note, whereas the second takes a very different track. But the stories play well off each other, and neither are all that long, so hurrah!

Stories:

"Steady on Her Feet" by K.J. Kabza (5705 words)

This story starts out with a charming advert about a procedure to surgically and mechanically augment personality, character itself. Holliday, a young and poor girl, finds herself drawn to the advert, and then inside for a free consultation to find that she has excellent character. A trait that earns her a job at the surgery, a job and something sinister lurking over her. Because why would a well-to-do man be interested in keeping her employed. She's poor, a nobody, caring only for her little sister. She's desperate, and the men of the surgery are anything but benevolent. Still, the inevitable betrayal is well done and built to have the most impact, when Holliday is trying to protect her sister after her job got her thrown out of her home. I loved the idea of the automations that basically act as nanotech but that use the outdated/old ideas about how the body works and what parts are in charge of what attributes. It's a nice blend of the pseudoscience and biology of the time set in a steampunk framework filled with rich men willing to experiment on the poor. But of course, things don't turn out quite so bleak. Holliday isn't quite the damsel that the men hoped she would be, and she manages to free herself, filled with rage at their actions, at what they did to her sister. And she starts something that will roll out of that small surgery and into the world. Revolutions start somewhere. A nice story, though the shift in tone and style at the end was a tiny bit jarring. Still, it was effective at conveying the altered state Holliday found herself in. Good stuff.

"A Screech of Gulls" by Alyc Helms (4121 words)

Well that was...sad. Quite effectively sad, really, because it leaves me just sort of staring and empty. And for that it's good. the prose definitely hits well, shows a man who has lost everything and just keeps losing. It actually reminds me a lot of Peter Orullian's story from last month's Tor.com offerings, though this one seems to be a bit less focusing on the nobility of a man kicked and kicked again. Perhaps that's a bit of it, that here is a man beat down and beat down and yet still finding the strength to keep going, but I think here it's a little different. Here is a man who is broken and just still alive. At least to the outside world. He keeps up the semblance of life because of his gulls and his one friend and by not thinking too hard on what he's lost. But the truth is he's broken since the loss of his wife, and there is no fixing that. The story seems to end on that, that there is no fixing some things. That some wounds are too deep, that some people just never recover from every blow. And Tutti is broken. Nico, the villain of the piece, is similarly broken. They are similar in that, that they hold onto some semblance of life only with a purpose. I think I like this one a little more than Orullian's story because I feel that the story isn't really saying how terrible the world is. Sure, the setting is gritty in this story. There is poverty and there is filth. But there not everything is crap. It's just that Tutti is broken beyond wanting to be fixed. As long as he grasps after the memories of the past there's no way forward. A sad story, but I liked Tutti and his birds, and so I ended up more positive than not about the story.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Family, Identity, and Writing

I'm going to dish on some secrets, 'kay? Not that I mean this blog to be a constant confessional, but I was thinking about my writing and my writing "persona" as opposed to me as a person as opposed to the my work and public life "persona." Firstly, I feel like I keep a lot from my family. Likely this is something that many people deal with, but sometimes I feel very strange about it. After all, I hear about people who are very close to their parents and siblings and who spend all their time with extended family, having this very close-knit support that is always there for them. And while I feel my family is there for me if I was ever in trouble or needed something, I'm just not incredibly close to any of them.

I feel weird about that, but I suppose I've never felt all that similar to my family. We're just not the most similar of people (or perhaps we are and my fear of seeing them in me makes me want to keep them distant because I don't want to be similar to them but maybe I am but anyway). But we have fairly different interests. No one except my Mom reads in my family, first and foremost. So writing has always been something that, while kind of encouraged, never really got any sort of attention. I'm secure knowing that most of my family would never pick up a book that I wrote. Which is both freeing and strange. Freeing because I don't really have to think about what they might think of me for writing anything. It's like there's this completely different me than the one that shows up for holidays that can exist in my writing and I don't have to be afraid of what they think of the me that is my stories.

It's strange, though, because the me that shows up and calls and interacts with my family is probably less the "real" me than the one in my writing. The "real" me I'd call the me when I'm with just my partner, at home, with no pressure to perform. But the "real" me is much closer to the me as a writer than it is to the me when I'm interacting with my family (or at work, or many places I don't feel completely safe at). It's in my writing (as a writer?) that I can let go a bit more, that I can be more honest, that I can show something of myself that otherwise I feel has to be restrained. And while I really have no reason to think that my family would treat me all that differently, I'm still not out to them. Which I feel quite bad about, but I'm at my core a coward and fear all sorts of things. Which only contributes to bi-erasure and it's so strange that I'm more comfortable talking about this on this blog that anyone can see than I am with my family. But as I'm pretty sure my family won't actually see this, it feels (perhaps falsely) safer. Again, probably not a rare occurrence.

But my writing. I've heard it said by writers that you have to write as if your family is dead. That you have to disregard the part of you that doesn't want to embarrass or put something out there that would make them uncomfortable (M/M erotica, for instance, I'm sure would not go over great with my family, and yet I write it). Certainly there is a part of me that almost wants to be discovered. That puts this out there so that I don't actually have to say anything to my family directly, that hopes they'll find out and it will all be okay, and if it isn't that they'll just pretend they didn't see it and we can all just keep pretending. Which, again, is probably shitty of me. They should hear who I am from me and not from the vast internets. They shouldn't be surprised or blindsided by it. I understand that.

So yeah, identity is a strange thing sometimes. As are families. I just always feel somehow deficient when it comes to interacting with my family. Like most of what I do is hide and deflect when it's not like my family has ever been terrible. They've always been decent and kind and as supportive as they could be. I don't know when exactly I started pulling away. Middle school? High school? Definitely once I went away to college and started writing more seriously more and more of me went there and never made it to where my family would see. And now...now I'm probably just afraid of things changing, afraid because I'm not sure how they would take not only who I am, but that I've been hiding it from them for so long.

But this quick thought is starting to get a bit long, so I think I'll try to wrap this up. I guess what I'm struggling with are the various identities that, as a writer, get juggled. How to be both sure of myself and scared? How to be proud of who I am and just hide it from those I'm supposed to be close to? How to balance all these different versions of me running about and which, if any, have any claim at being "real"? Probably there are no easy answers (possible there are no answers at all). Anyway, here I am, talking into the void of the internet. Perhaps this is just therapy for me. Thanks for reading, in any event.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination March 2015

Looking at the newest from Fantastic Stories of the Imagination today. Two new stories, both flash fiction. And this month the two are very closely thematically linked. Ghosts and the living. Papers could  be written about the way these stories interact. A fine job of providing two parallels views of ghost stories. So to the stories!

Stories:


"Red String" by Cassandra Khaw (958 words)

I love the wound and death imagery of this story, which centers around a mortician seeking love. IT makes sense that his world would become somewhat inundated by such thoughts, by swaths of red being wounds, and dark clouds bruises. This is also something of a funny story, albeit one that is horribly sad at the same time. It takes a skill to make that work, but here it is. The mortician is just so mellow, so persistent, and Mrs. Ong so determined in her own way. I want to say that the story is about grief, about how holding onto someone after they are gone becomes something of a cage. The story seems to hint that the cage is not just for the person left alive, though, but for the dead. That by holding on so tightly to them we refuse to really let them pass on. And that is an interesting idea, something that blends souls and memories while evoking the image of the red string of destiny. Though perhaps I think that the mortician goes a bit far in what he's willing to do for the departed, it's still a fun story with some wicked imagery and a strong finish. Very well done.


"One for Every Year" by Dawn Vogel (850 words)

Another story about ghosts, this one also focuses on the relationship between one of the dead and one of the living. Here, though, the situation is a bit reversed. Here it is the living person who asks something of the ghost, in this case to trade another year of ghost-ness for a human soul the ghost extracts from a living person. This soul keeps the ghost's lady forever young. Only it's not quite so straightforward as that, and the on the hundred and seventeenth year of their arrangement the ghost finally finds a way to break the cycle. It's unclear exactly what might come next, whether or not the ghost will end or replace the lady, but the story is rather creepy either way. More than that, it builds a nice mythology in a very limited space and presents the a rather strong conflict, the ghost continuing in a sort of fugue state, not willing to move on until she remembers how she happened to become a ghost. And that realization snaps her out of her long idleness and gets her to act. A very nice contrast to the last story, because both show how the living can abuse the dead. Of course, in this story the ghost is a bit more magical and "real," but there's nothing wrong with that. Another fine story.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quick Sips - Omenana #2

The long wait is over. Ever since Issue #1 came out late last year, I've been eagerly awaiting the second issue. And here it is! And it's even bigger than the first, with a rather robust selection of mostly magic realism stories but with some other stuff thrown in there too. It makes the wait well worth it to have so much to read now. So without further ado, here we go!

Stories:

"Look At Me Now" by Sarah Norman (3764 words)

This story follows a woman who finds that she can turn invisible when she is upset. It evokes (and quite consciously) Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, but instead of the invisibility being merely figurative, it's a literal fact here. The woman, Tendi, at first doesn't know what to do with her power. She watches superhero movies and tries to hide what she is, and then slowly she begins to use her invisibility to make her life easier. She steals, she gets into places she shouldn't be (like one humorous episode in the Queen's room). But even as she enjoys what her invisibility brings, helping her get a boyfriend and designer clothes, she has a growing sense of obligation to do something about the situation in her home country. Because while she can use her power to help herself, she gets caught by the superhero mantra of "with great power comes great responsibility." I loved the voice of the story, the humor that went along with the transformation and the way that Tendi goes about using her powers. The way she sees the landscape of superpowers is just so refreshing, like she looks at Spiderman and rolls her eyes. As she says, she doesn't like the movies, perhaps because while they deal with powers they are all already powerful, secure in their positions in society, even Peter Parker who is so often cited as unfortunate. And when she does decide to act, it's to assassinate a man back in her home country. And by taking that step, by using her powers to kill a man, she gains back her visibility, becomes someone who has done something. "They would see." That's how the story ends and it's fitting and strong. Nice work.

"Shadows, Mirrors and Flames" by Sanya Noel (4836 words)

This story follows a girl, Jane, whose father was executed because of his involvement in a coup. Her father, abusive and a soldier who did terrible things during his career, had driven away Jane's mother and sister. But Jane searches for her mother, finds her in her own reflection. It's a strange device, but one that works quite well, a girl seeking something tangible of her family that has all left her behind. She starts seeing her mother, and not as merely a reflection, but as someone who talks to her, to command her. It's a rather creepy setup, because her mother tells her to hurt things, to kill things. And then Jane starts seeing her father as well, and her sister. And things get...strange, as all of them start fighting and Jane is caught between them all, all their legacies. It's a complex story and a rather dark one, showing how Jane's life and family have shaped her, damaged her, and how she's dealing with that. Dark and unsettling, the story is worth reading.

"The Monkey House" by Tade Thompson (2326 words)

Lanre, who works in an office as a Special Assistant, starts to notice some strange vents that he swears were never there before in this story. Lanre's job is rather interesting, a sort of nebulous place where he's paid on time and where he doesn't really do anything. He doesn't know what he does, but he doesn't ask questions because he gets paid and needs the money. But the grates bother him, to the point where he looks in one, and sees inside the face of a monkey, something that reminds him of a story he had heard about a greedy monkey cast from heaven and imprisoned in a cage. The sight of the monkey deeply disturbs him, but his company gives him something to deal with it, though it wears off fairly quickly, leaving him to have to deal with the knowledge of the monkey. If he lets on that he knows, he will be dealt with more severely. So he keeps going to work. I liked the idea that this place is his cage, that he doesn't really know if he's being trapped. Because in some ways the story of the monkey is like his. He is allowed a safe place, a job, and doesn't really care for anyone else. He rises, but his job becomes a prison of sorts, one that haunts him. Those last lines really pulled that idea together, and I quite enjoyed it.

"You are in the city" by Liam Kruger (3341 words)

This story is told in second person and takes place in a bar where gods and other creatures go to forget. Basically, people, gods, creatures all enter into the bar and drink some of the water from the land of the dead, and when they do their memories are mostly erased. But they can't forget their names, so those they have to hide in order to avoid their fates. Two gods, destined to kill each other and destroy the world, have a good time, caught in a loop of actions that bring them back to the bar again and again, never free of each other but at least able to avoid killing each other for a time. And the you of the story is also there, watching, and holds some similarly dark fate that must be avoided, so you hide your name in a story, in the story that you are reading. It's a rather neat little twist, that breaking of the wall between author and reader and the drawing of that idea that to be what you are is a terrible thing. While not the heaviest of stories, it's a solid scene and an interesting premise, and everything is pulled off well. As with most of the stories in this issue, there is a nice voice, and a humor that underscore everything, only here the darkness isn't quite so obvious or present. This is a lighter story, well placed to balance some of the darker tales.

"Location 22" by Chad Rossouw (213 words)

This bit of micro-fiction is very short but accompanied by a piece of art depicting a strange house, stone and medieval-looking. The text describes some person being taken as prisoner across the country-side in a van, fed bread and watching the landscape pass by. It's a peek into the future, at a building project of Edwardian houses and a Franciscan Friary. It's a bit difficult to tell what's exactly going on except the buildings seem to show vast wealth and waste, having chimneys when fires inside homes are forbidden. What's happening with the person being held prisoner, though, is never revealed, is left a mystery that lingers and offers no real answers. Given that it takes so little investment to give it a look, I'd say it's well worth it.

"Afrinewsia" by Yazeed Dezele (2694 words)

This continues the science fictional trend from the last micro and brings it to further realization. In the story, a man, Daye, has to decide whether or not to give up his mother to euthanasia in order to secure funds from a united African government to help his family. The Africa in this story is very concerned with green economics, and the choice to have his mother killed is seen as a form of recycling, a way of concentrating resources to make Africa a superpower. Along with this is a parallel story about this united Africa sending men to the moon, and in the middle of it all is Daye, who doesn't want to have his mother taken away but whose family makes it rather impossible to refuse. In the end he caves, and goes through with it, and it's like it solves all his problems, makes him rich, and yet the cost of it drives him a little made, and in a manic episode he destroys his screen and flees naked out into dangerous heat. There's a great idea of balancing life in this story, present life against future life, the young against the old, comfort against prosperity. Daye is a great character, afraid and bullied by his family and, ultimately, unable to face the life ahead of him. Another story that walks the line well between comedy and tragedy.

"The Horse of War" by Mame Bougouma Diene (5642 words)

Neila is a war orphan living in Haiti in this blend of magic and science fiction. After a great war broke out in the Caribbean, Neila's family all died, and in the aftermath Neila gets on as best she can in a city filled with desperate people. Taking refuge underground during a bombardment, she meets a strange woman who turns out to be more than she seems. She's granted a favor, and from the favor manages to kill the horse of war, and in so doing kind-of end the war that had destroyed her home. But nothing is without price or consequence. And her action, made perhaps to end war, was still accomplished with human sacrifice and greed, with no thought of what was to happen, and the cost was that the world would end, that the gods would fade and that she would have to make up for that, becoming war. Which fits, in many ways, hammering home the idea that war cannot be ended with wanton death, with murder. That the answer to war is not more killing. And it leaves her as that which she was trying to prevent, as the embodiment of war itself. It's a rather brutal story but one that uses that brutality well, ending with the complete failure of the main character, something that's not done too often and I think works for this story.

"Story, Story: A tale of mothers and daughters" by Chikodili Emelumadu (3686 words)

Wow. This story is about a woman without a name exactly. Or rather, with a changing name. The story is told as a fable, or a parable, the flow very much like a myth come real, set in the modern day. In it, a woman who is brilliant and successful finds that for all her success she cannot win the admiration of those important to her. Instead of reveling in her successes, her parents and family all look to what she hasn't done, how she hasn't conformed to their expectations. And so their disappointment infects her, and she tries to please them, but no matter how she tries she cannot. They want her to settle down, have kids, and so she tries, and gets a husband, but cannot have a child. So her husband leaves and in her grief she somehow makes a child all her own. And she tries to shelter this child from all the pain she knew, but in doing so becomes just as rigid as her own parents, just as blind. The cycle of tragedy keeps rolling, keeps grinding these women under its weight. Because this is a dark story. Dark for all that it's also incredibly funny. Numerous times I laughed out loud at the lines, at the descriptions, at how easily and simply characters are captured. But the ending is sad, is dark and hits like a hammer to the heart. This really is a generational story, how sometimes we can become what we're trying to avoid by seeing children as property or as an extension of the parents' will and expectations. An excellent story!

Nonfiction:

"Academia and the Advance of African Science Fiction" by Nick Wood

This looks mostly at the landscape of African science fiction, it's roots and it's importance, and lists some key links to how African science fiction has gained as a movement and an idea in more recent years. It doesn't go too in depth, instead giving the reader a number of avenues to pursue and making the focus be that this isn't some new thing, that it has a history and context that shouldn't be overlooked. And it's a resource for readers wanting to know where to look next for things to read. Which is always good. Indeed!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #3 (March stuff)

Today I'm looking at the March stories from Uncanny Magazine. And this month there's the added treat of including the Valentine's Day story that they ran. I was tempted to do a separate review for that at the time, but February was a full month so instead it's being included here. So yeah, let's go!

Art by Carrie Ann Baade


Stories:

"The Lamps Thereof Are Fire and Flames" by Rosamund Hodge (5107 words)

This story takes a little while to pull itself together, but wow, when it does it is a dark fairy tale done oh so right. Mostly it seems a re-imagining of Snow White, only my god is this one more depressing. And it's told over generations, with numerous players. Mostly it's the tale of three women who fall under the spell of Love, or of something preying on them who calls himself Love. At first he seems such a good thing, but he cares only for the fairest, and his love is not safe. It is destructive, to the point where the women, the Queens of a kingdom, keep trying to escape him, so that one sends her daughter away without her heart in hopes that she will be spared the curse. Alone without a heart, she is taken in by seven women who become her friends, and one of them, Leaf, becomes her best friend. There is not much of a happy ending for them. More matricide follows and Leaf is killed by her friend by way of a spell and becomes a magic mirror. But the mirror tells the story of how all of this started, and so in the end

"Those" by Sofia Samatar (5048 words)

This story, a bit like the last, is told mainly as a spoken story. Unlike the last story, though, where the narrator was also the storyteller, this one breaks those roles into two people. The narrator of the story is Sarah, a young woman caring for her aging father, who is the storyteller, who tells her of his time in Africa working on a plantation along with an old friend George. The story meanders a bit, as the old man is easily distracted, taking asides to explain events that happened back then, when he and George and the overseer were the only white people around and when he fell in love with a local girl, Sarah's mother. The story is ponderous and seems to be about the way those locals are treated, the natives that are dehumanized and made into "Those." Because even though Sarah's father married a native from that area of Africa, he still obviously had his issues with her people, as a retelling of an attack on the plantation shows. How he describes it isn't lost to Sarah, who lives in a sort of fog of racism and fear. The story moves until she begins to be more bold in public, until she's about to go a church that might help her feel more like she belongs. The language of the story is strong, subtle. The way the ants are describes and paralleled to the native Africans, how that casual racism gets to Sarah, twisting her dreams. A bit of an understated story, it still manages to hit hard with a great last line and image.

"Translation Corporis" by Kat Howard (3239 words)

This one's a bit of a weird story about a girl and then woman, Lena, who is secretly...host(?) to a city building itself for her. The city, which seems to live inside her, takes her favorite places out of the real world and incorporates them into itself along with pieces of Lena. Some of her blood, a rib, her iron, all are taken out of her body and she weakens, starts seeing doctors. To the city, this is a good thing. It is growing and becoming more realized and it wants to open itself for her. For Lena, it's not quite so good, because it seems like it could kill her. There's a lot of religious imagery taking place in this story, saints and women whose relics are stolen. Again and again the idea that you have to be dead to be a saint comes up. So in many ways it feels like Lena is not long for the world. When she finally disappears entirely, though, and enters into the perfect city, she doesn't linger. She doesn't stay. She takes back herself, takes it all back so that the city collapses. It's a nice way to show that she's not going to let anyone make a saint out of her. She tears it all down and leaves, not willing to be made into a city. And for all the city weeps and is (literally perhaps) broken up by this, she's unapologetic. It's her body, after all, and she never volunteered to have it made into a city. An interesting story and one I might revisit, as I get the sense I might have missed something. Still, solid work.

"Ivory Darts, Golden Arrows" by  Maria Dahvana Headley (3544 words)

This is definitely a bizarre story, out of time and out of place. Hypothetically it takes place on Earth, in America (from the reference to the Pony Express), but it also takes place in a magical fantasy realm between two mountains. And Miss Kisseal is a postmistress not to be trifled with. The story is kind of crazy, with Miss Kisseal out delivering mail to all sorts of people on both mountains and between and having to deal with a whole lot of people looking for love. The entire area is terrible at love, so when Cupid comes calling and shoots Miss Kisseal with an arrow, things have gotten weird. What happens next, though, is both amazing and sexual and strange as hell. It's a well done story that had me smiling along with the personality of the writing and the characters. It might not make too much literal sense, but the story does a great job of capturing a feeling. Maybe it's the feeling of getting a love letter in the mail from a secret admirer. Maybe it's the feeling of being struck by a magical arrow on a cold, cold day. Whatever it is, it's the feeling of Valentine's Day and it's cute and affirming and fun.

Poem:

"Deep Bitch" by C.S.E. Cooney

This poem has an interesting form to it, an interesting flow. In theory it's a conversation between a person and a (perhaps supernatural) talking dog. But then, that explanation of this poem doesn't really do it justice. More, it seems a conversation between a person and their inner fire, that deep part of them that doesn't want to be nice, that wants to rip and tear and be satisfyingly selfish and free of the constraints of societal expectations. A conversation between a person and their personal deep bitch. And in that it seems to click for me. Here is a person very concerned with how they are perceived, with doing the right thing. In some ways it's about a person with some privilege worrying about it, not wanting to take advantage of it. But, obviously, it's a harder road to walk than just pushing forward with complete ignorance and lack of care. So here this person is complaining to to their inner voice, to their Deep Bitch. And their Deep Bitch has absolutely no time for their whining. That part of them is action, violence, and need. And it sees that what the person is doing is just complaining, that it doesn't need her. Or, the person realizes that they have no reason to invoke the Deep Bitch. Yes, things are hard, but things are hard for many people, and the person backs away from the Deep Bitch, saving it for a time when it will truly be needed. It's a nice poem, the way it spreads away from the confines of the left alignment, the way it evokes violence and need. It's striking and I recommend giving it a careful read.

Nonfiction:

"Afrofuturism Rising" by Ytasha L. Womack

This piece is mainly an overview and brief history of what Afrofuturism is and where to find out more about it. Which is awesome. I names names when it comes to authors in the field which is great for knowing what to go out and buy already. It also discusses identity and the power of having a term and language to define what it is you're into and about. Because having that language allows you to connect with others about it, allows you to identify a certain way and find some solidarity there, to find out that you're a part of something that has a deep history and tradition. It talks about empowerment and optimism and just generally gets me excited to read some of the texts referenced. I find the idea of language effecting identity to be fascinating and quite true, too. That having something to call your movement makes it seem more real, less easy to be dismissed. It connects it to more people, gives it power. So yeah, good stuff.

"Family Matters: How Geek Communities Turn Dysfunctional" by Stephanie Zvan

This is a great and rather nuanced look at communities as family and how people can get really upset about them. This isn't specifically about geek communities, but given the space it appears in it's easy to see how what's being brought up applies. And really it's a call to be mature and listen and, more than anything else, try. It recognizes that trying is not a very fun things, that it's draining and that most people in these communities are doing so because they want to belong. They are working, mostly unpaid, to belong and so when things happen that causes strife they are too personally invested to be truly detached from it. Which is true. I know I'm super invested in things and when I hear something that feel like it's pushing me out or telling me I'm not wanted in the communities that I work hard to belong to, I do feel threatened. I do want to push back. And this gives some different options, urging stepping back and thinking, taking time, perhaps even seeking external help. It's worth reading and thinking about, surely.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Quick Sips - Crossed Genres #27 Ensemble

This month the theme of Crossed Genres is Ensemble. And the stories do indeed do a pretty good job capturing that collaborative spirit. Three in number, as always, the stories range a nice bit, from historical fantasy to magic realism to science fiction. All of it grounded on Earth this issue, but there's nothing wrong with that. So here we go!

Stories:

"Stone Dove" by Elizabeth Beechwood (2198 words)

This story's on the shorter side of what I normally see at CG, but it's also quite interesting. I will admit to having no real clue of where this takes place, as I assumed that it's set on Earth somewhere because of the Christian elements. But it tells of a set of mountains who take in some people, refugees from war, and who send out something of themselves, a stone dove that transforms into a woman, to help them. Mostly the dove, María, helps with the birthing of children, but she is seen as a Satanic, as evil and outside normal humans. The story does a good job of showing how this would come about, how she reminds them of something they want to forget, how she is different and so feared and shunned. It's something of a fable, this story, explaining the name behind the village that the mountains watch over. And as such it works pretty well, is filled with the elements that make a good fable, the magic and the closed-minded villagers. I'm not sure all the elements worked for me, but it's a good story that seems to be examining how people can be blinded by their ignorance and fear and indoctrination to think people lesser even when those people are only doing their best to help.

"Quiet Hour" by Peni Griffin (4814 words)

I'm not always a fan of time travel stories, but this isn't really a time travel story. Instead, it's a story about a sort of gathering. Delia, a woman whose mother ran a boarding house, discovers that the kitchen of the house is something of an enigma. Inside, times intersect, and women from all different times can converse and meet. It's a fun concept, and not exactly taken in a direction that most people would expect. Instead, this is a story about loss and remembrance, about stewardship in many ways. each of these women tries to do the best they can for the house because of how much their meetings mean to each of them. That community unites them across time and across many different backgrounds. Delia is a bit bewildered by it, but the story works, lingering not on how it might be possible but on the legacy of it, how these meetings keep people connected and how the past can inform the future, how the future can inform the past. Good times.

"Any House in the Storm" by Tais Teng (3066 words)

A competition between two young builders evolves over many years in this story. The two, Nadia and Rachid, both have learned the hard way the horrors of ecological disaster and are determined to innovate architecture to lead to more efficient and green living. Of course, they have extremely different approaches. Nadia wants to do things with the latest technology, and Rachid with the smallest footprint, using only what's available on site. They both flourish, but when they are called on to compete for the same project they find that they can work together much better than they can against each other. The story is a great mix of building technology and the romantic spirit of science. The story is hopeful, uplifting. The characters are solid, rivals and perhaps something else as well, something that they don't want to admit at first. The story moves across time swiftly but lingers at key moments, capturing the important moments in the lives of the characters. It's definitely a story that brought a smile to my face, and made me want to live in the houses they were designing. Indeed!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Quick Links - 03/08/2015

Hey all! Wow, this has been a busy week for me! Though I suppose to most everyone I just seem a lazy poo because I only did four reviews (and one of those from February no less). The shame! But I did get some other things read which means a small handful of reviews to link to. Mostly positive experiences this week, so that's nice.

The Living Dead ed. John Joseph Adams (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - This has some very good zombie stories, but people who know me know that zombies are a hard sell to me. There's a lot to like in this collection, but overall, like with many collections, it's didn't really hold its quality throughout.

Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions by Sheila Grau (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - I know, I'm a sucker for middle grade supernatural books. Some decent diversity in this one, which is always nice to see in stories geared toward younger readers. And it's just fun (don't judge me!).

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - This got a lot of buzz last year and it seemed like it would be right up my alley. Quasi-romantic and with a magic circus. Magic. Circus. I wanted to like this more but I really didn't like the male lead. Kind of a creep (in my opinion). Still, it's beautifully written and most of the characters are great.

Destiny's Hand vol. 1 by Nunio DeFilippis and Christina Weir (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - apparently this week is the "like things probably for people younger than me" week, because here was another pleasant surprise. Some solid work, especially seeing how bad it might have been.

So there you have it. Another week down, and some books reviewed. Thanks for tuning in!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Of Coffee and Zombies

So last weekend my story, "Capital Coffee," went up at Electric Spec. And, as I said I would, I figured I would just write up some thoughts as background for that story. In case anyone was curious.

I wonder if sometimes people look back at stories they get publish and sort of worry that it's no good. Not that I dislike "Capital Coffee," but it's from a while ago (it amassed fourteen rejections before it found a home, which is pretty high for flash fiction). In truth, it was starting to get difficult to send out, which means that it was only a step from being retired. So when I got the acceptance I don't think I believed them at first.

But then I did and the story is out there now with my name on it and I must try to be comfortable with it. The story itself came out of the Unidentified Funny Objects call for coffee-related stories. Obviously, this one didn't make it, but this is special for me in that it is my only zombie story. I don't really much care for zombies. I read and watch zombie things, but I'm normally more a hard sell on zombies. So why write a zombie story? Really, it was because I thought zombies drinking coffee and that being what causes them to run kind of funny. I mean, coffee is incredibly wide spread in America. The whole Starbucks thing and everyone having coffee makers or those cup things...I figured fueling zombies with coffee would be great.

There is also that joke about people being zombies without their coffee. That a zombie and your average commuter stopping for a cup would be pretty much identical in sound and action. I mean, I'm not my ending quite works for me now. They still didn't know it was a zombie? But a part of me was thinking that because it's so difficult to tell the difference, that maybe one slipped through. Not a great excuse, really, but hopefully it provided for a cheap laugh or two. Which really was about the only part of the story. It's weird, because while zombies are a subject that I don't write about very often, coffee is. Not in a while, but I think coffee plays into at least three different stories I've written and then retired.

Anyway, that's about it for that story. I hope people like it. Certainly it's a bit more "mainstream" than most of my other work. Oh, and if you ever want to know what I've gotten out recently,  you can now check out the My Stories tab under the banner and find links to what of mine is still up online. Not the hugest of lists, but it's growing. Anyway, thanks for taking the time, and thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur