Thursday, April 27, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 04/17/2017 & 04/24/2017

There's another two weeks of content from Strange Horizons and it's...actually rather manageable. One new story (and a flash fiction at that) and two new poems make for a fairly quick read, but the content is still in keeping with the high quality expected from the publication. The fiction is heavy with the weight of tragedy and hope and scarcity and hunger, and the poetry is reaching toward different worlds, toward things that seem and perhaps are out of reach. These are pieces about the distance between pain and numbness, between hope and despair, and the pieces all explore how people can keep going despite bitter circumstances. So let's get to the reviews!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #8

As always, there’s a lot to see in the latest issue of Mithila Review, which seeks to look a bit at visual arts. For original fiction, there’s one flash, one short story, and one novelette, and there are nine different poems, not to mention a reprint and a load of nonfiction that I will leave you to discover on your own. What’s here, though, and what I’m looking at in my review, does an amazing job of showing people coming into contact with the unknown. Shows people who assume based on the narratives they have been told about the nature of the world. And who find that they can’t accept those narratives. That only by challenging the stories that other people tell about the world can its nature truly be revealed. The poems expand on this as well and everything works together wonderfully to create an issue that is cohesive and sharp. But I guess I should just get to the reviews!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quick Sips - Shimmer #36 [April stuff]

The two stories from Shimmer’s April offerings are heavy with grief and the weight of the past. The weight of expectations. The weight of the family business. These are stories of people finding themselves swept away by the tides of other people’s lives and deeds. Subject to them and wounded by them, unsure if they can set those old hurts aside, unsure how to escape the hooks of the past and the obligations heaped on them by the generations that came before. For both main characters a time has come to both face the past and the future, and these stories do a wonderful job of capturing that moment with hope and despair, magic and possibilities. To the reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Monday, April 24, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #15 [April stuff]

It’s another full month of SFF from Uncanny, and another month full of pieces that look rather specifically at resistance. At least, the three nonfiction pieces all revolve around the idea of resistance and how SFF can be an invaluable tool to bridge between cultures, people, and experiences. There’s a bit of a surprise novella in among the fiction, paired with a flash work, and both look at the profound impact that loss can have, that disaster can have, on a person and their life. How it can make an ambivalent person dedicated. How it can make a peaceful person a killer. And the people it equally beautiful, exploring the boundaries between religion and consent, history and human folly. It’s a well rounded issue, and I’m going to get right to the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon

Friday, April 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #95

It’s a special guest-edited issue of Apex Magazine this month, with Maurice Broaddus in the driver’s seat. And people, poetry is back for this special occasion! It’s a full issue with four stories (three shorts and a novelette) and two poems. And the pieces all seem to center on narrative and voice. These are stories that look at how we pass along roles and expectations. How we prepare people to accept being abused and tortured, and how people still manage to find ways to stand up and take back their names and their voices and their skins. These are stories that center acts of violence and pain and fear, and seek for ways to bring justice and healing and hope back to people who have little reason to feel them. It’s a wonderful and challenging issue of dark fiction and poetry, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Art by Angelique Shelley

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #55

The April stories in Nightmare Magazine do a great job of capturing a sense of darkness and magic in settings that don’t seem too different from our own. Where, for all the violence and all the strangeness and all the eerie beauty, there are links too to the mundane and the common, to the chore of visiting a sick relative and the insecurity of being in a new relationship. The stories reveal characters being confronted by strangers and making decisions they might have reason to regret. But these are also stories where, for all their violence and betrayal and weirdness, also hold on to a lifting hope. And before I spoil anything more, to the reviews!

Art by Dusan Kostic / Adobe Stock

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #223

The stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies both have an almost video game appeal to me. In one, the conventions of gaming and fantasy are definitely in full swing, revealing a world where Fate is capitalized and an adventuring party are nearly at the end of their mission. In the second, a person travels a blasted landscape killing gods with a special weapon. From these beginnings, though, the stories branch into newer territory to tell stories of people made into victims and reacting to that. Finding that they are unwilling to stay down and accept what’s happening. In both there is a sense of community and broken promises, and in both there is a moment when the main character has to face a sudden revelation. The pair is nicely matched and creates a moving, magical experience. So to the reviews!

Art by Ward Lindhout

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus April 2017

It’s a longer piece this month at GigaNotoSaurus, though still very firmly in the novelette category. Things get a bit historical as the piece pulls the reader back into the age when opera houses were huge draws and ghosts roamed the land. Wait, that didn’t actually happen? Well in this world it did, and exorcists are in high demand. It’s a historical paranormal fantasy with an interesting take on the time period and history and general, keeping things moving and fun even when touching on some decidedly dark and complex themes. It’s another great month of long-ish SFF from GigaNotoSaurus, so let’s get to that review!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 04/03/2017 & 04/10/2017

It's a strong opening to April with these two weeks of content from Strange Horizons. With two short stories, three poems, and an amazing essay in the offing, there's a lot of content and a lot of good. And there's also an editorial change going on, fyi, so it's doubly impressive that the publication hasn't slowed a step and is meeting this month head on. The fiction is a nice mix of strange landscapes and nearly-alien sights and sounds that get under the skin and into the minds of the main characters. These are stories of being lost, of losing oneself. The poems are at turns fun and wrenching and wonderful, building a number of different people on missions, people bound for something over the long term having a single moment of feeling and hope. And the essay…is about Star Trek and you all need to read it. And before I say anymore, let's just jump into the reviews!

Art by Emily Ettlinger

Saturday, April 15, 2017

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #1: WELCOME TO DEAD HOUSE

Greetings! As some of you know, I've been running drunk reviews of the original Goosebumps series on my Patreon. It's...lots of fun. Now, six months later, I want to start bringing some of the fun to whole world. As part of unlocking some of my Patreon goals, I will now be releasing all odd numbered Liver Beware! reviews here on QSR after six months Patron-exclusivity. For those who enjoy this series, though, please consider becoming a Patron to gain immediate access to the reviews as they come out as well as full access to all of the liver-destroying goodness. Anyway, that said, let's get to it!

Friday, April 14, 2017

The March 2017 Monthly Round is Live!

Head over and check out my March 2017 Monthly Round now at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together.

There have been some changes, and I go over them in brief detail there, but the main thing is that I'm moving to do just the 6-story Tasting Flight and dropping the Shots. As fun as they were, they were a lot of work and I wanted to further refine the column so it is what it is. Plus I got a new graphic! Anyway, as always, just the picks are included below:

Tasting Flight - March 2017

"The Cold, Lonely Waters" by Aimee Ogden (Shimmer)
"It Happened To Me: I Melded My Consciousness With the Giant Alien Mushroom Floating Above Chicago" by Nino Cipri (Fireside Fiction)
"You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych" by Kathleen Kayembe (Nightmare)
"Terra Nullius" by Hanuš Seiner, translated by Julie Nováková (Strange Horizons)
"If We Survive the Night" by Carlie St. George (The Dark)
"Suddenwall" by Sara Saab (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

There you have it! If you want the full reviews, notes, and booze pairings, go over and check out the full piece. Otherwise, Cheers!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #127

It’s another month of Clarkesworld Magazine that focuses (at least in the original fiction) entirely on science fiction. But more than that, this issue looks at what makes people human, and what makes people not human, and how all of that ties together into something shocking, beautiful, and complex. The stories focus on different people who either have drifted from humanity or never were human. For some, that not being human is a lack that they feel, and for some it is a source of strength and identity. For all the stories, though, there is a focus on how people can bridge the gap between where they are and humanity, and reach for something like justice, like compassion, like cooperation. These are some great stories, including a surprise novella and another interesting (and really weird) translated piece, so let’s get right to the reviews!

Art by Eddie Mendoza

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online April 2017

Where last month’s Flash Fiction Online was all about scares and horror, this month turns things around quite sharply, offering up three original stories that are weird, fun, and full of whimsy. WHIMSY I SAY! These are stories that explode with charm and cuteness, with worlds that are bent in strange ways. Discarded clothes that want to be adopted into new homes, luck that runs bad or good according to a set formula, and beauty pageants where the contestants are all plants—the premises are refreshingly and a bit ridiculously speculative, and offer an invigorating breath of levity into the mix. So without further delay, let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #83

This issue of Lightspeed Magazine definitely skews a bit more science fiction than fantasy, even in the stories that appear in the fantasy section. Exploring the space where magic meets science, the stories show just how…energetic SFF can be, and just how subdued and ponderous. The stories are balanced well, from a piece that takes a screaming look at the possible end of the world on the eyeball of a giant god to a heartwarming story about the allure of time travel and the problem of being too caught on the question of "what if?" These are stories that look at people reaching back to try and find some way to fix things that might not be broken. That feature characters trying to find, amidst their own hesitation and fear and regret, some way forward. And before I give too much away, let's get to the reviews!

Art by Odera Igbokwe

Monday, April 10, 2017

Quick Sips - Fiyah #2 Spilling Tea

It's the second issue of Fiyah and the theme this issue is Spilling Tea. Actual tea does feature in a number of the stories, but more than that is a sense of conversation and community. There are stories about families and about bridging distances. In space, yes, but also in ideology and culture. In perspective and time. About creating connections between people that might act as lifelines to keep people from plummeting to their doom. The stories capture a sense of awe and wonder, as well, revealing distant worlds and magic right under our noses. There's action and there is humor and there is also a lot of heart, an emotional weight that stayed with me long after I put the issue down. These are seven short stories that deliver one hell of an SFF roller coaster so keep your arms and legs inside the blog at all times and let the reviews begin!

Art by Geneva Benton

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Quick Questions: A. Merc Rustad

Hello and welcome to the second installment of Quick Questions, everyone's favorite interview series they don't remember exists! I'm here today with short fiction writer extraordinaire A. Merc Rustad to talk stories, time travel, AND SO MUCH MORE! But before we begin, let me introduce...


A. Merc Rustad is a queer non-binary writer who lives in the Minnesota. Favorite things include: robots, dinosaurs, monsters, and tea. Their stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Apex, Uncanny, Shimmer, and other fine venues, with reprints included in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, Wilde Stories 2016, Heiress of Russ 2016, and Transcendent 2016. Merc likes to play video games, watch movies, read comics, and wear awesome hats. You can find Merc on Twitter @Merc_Rustad, Patreon ( or their website: Their debut short story collection, SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROBOT, is out from Lethe Press in May 2017.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #23

For the original fiction in this issue of The Dark Magazine, I might say that the theme is hauntings. At the very least, the two new stories look very closely at the ways that people can haunt and be haunted. The way that places and situations and especially relationships can link people, tie them together, and not always in a very good or healthy way. These stories explore how the dysfunction and abuse between people can create a story of haunting, a situation where people become trapped in a place, or near a person, and lose the ability to escape. There is a gravity to pain and torment, lies and longing, and the issue does a great job complicating that. But before I ramble on too long, to the reviews!

Art by Aleksandra Grahovac

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Quick Sips - Motherboard's Terraform March 2017

There are only two stories (that I found) from Motherboard's Terraform this month, but they pack a nice one-two punch of near-future worries. In one, art and artificial intelligence meet in a mesmerizing tale of gaze and intent. And in the second, masculinity is indeed so fragile, and apparently needs to enforce a gun culture that requires compliance or death. The pieces look at characters struggling with their environments, with the artifacts of a culture that is harmful. And things in both…don't really go as expected. It's a pair of interesting stories that I'm just going to jump right into reviewing!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction March 2017

It’s a rather full month from Fireside Fiction as their publishing model has moved a bit away from issues and toward more regular, weekly content. It’s not exactly the most conducive to reviewing, as it means waiting and wondering if more stories will be coming out, but that particular blow is one probably more unique to me and the blow is softened by a month packed with great SFF. Weighing in well above the 10K in stories they shoot for, the four stories out explore a multitude of worlds and situations, from a Rome that never fell to a Chicago shadowed by a giant alien psychic mushroom. The stories explore the ways that people react to corruption and to weird situations, and how they adapt and overcome and fight for what they feel is right. And since there’s quite a bit to get to this month, I’ll get right to the reviews!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #222

There’s not exactly the strongest of thematic links that I could tease out with the two stories in the latest Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t excellent windows into fantastical worlds. The stories look at the weight of place, at long conflicts that seem unwinnable, and in how hope often comes with the newer generations. Both stories do feature people, parents, fighting for a better world for their children and at the same time needing their children to carry on the fight, and to bring the fight to a close. These are stories about sacrifices and bargains and difficult decisions, and the idea that only when everyone is free can anyone be free. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Ward Lindhout

Monday, April 3, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com March 2017

First I guess I have to talk about Tor dot com's March project, Nevertheless, She Persisted, which features eleven pieces of flash fiction all centered around that idea, that quote. These are stories that hit and hit hard, some of them blisteringly defiant and some of them steeped in despair. The stories (and poem) show the many facets of the idea of persistence. The power of it and also the crushing nature of having to persist, and persist, and persist, ever and always. The stories run across a wide range of speculative genres and it's wonderful to see the authors taking this central idea and being inspired by it. Using it to say something new and interesting. Making a statement on our current situation and refusing to look away from the uncomfortable truths of it. So yes, it's a wonderful project and makes for a some surprising start to Tor's March.

That's not all that the publication got up to, though. Oh no. This would have been a full month even without the eleven flash stories, as there are also three short stories and two novelettes to look at. And wow. These are some gorgeous pieces that take on some deeply uncomfortable themes and manage to find glimmers of hope even in the most devastating of loss and corruption. They are stories of ghosts and magic, bodies and wars. And before I get too lost in describing them, why don't I just get to the reviews!

Art by Scott Bakal

Friday, March 31, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, part 3: A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson

The Year of Garak just keeps on rolling along! It's month three and there's still SO MUCH GARAK to discuss. Seriously, people. So much. For the next stop, though, we're looking at another novel, by Garak himself, actor (and author) Andrew J. Robinson.

The novel covers the entirety of Garak's life up to the direct aftermath of the Dominion War. His childhood, some of his time in the Obsidian Order, some of his time on DS9, and some time back on Cardassia following the Dominion withdrawal. It's a fascinating read that's a bit hard to track down in physical form (I was watching amazon & ebay for about a year and still paid over $10 for it), though it is available in ebook, too. Anyway, this is more a discussion than a normal review, and I'm joined again by writer and all around awesome person Nicasio Andres Reed!

Oh, and in case you don't remember from last time...

Nicasio Andres Reed is a Filipino-American writer and poet whose work has appeared in Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Liminality, Inkscrawl, and Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology. Nico currently lives in Madison, WI. Find him on Twitter @NicasioSilang.

And now, to the discussion!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/20/2017 & 03/27/2017

Strange Horizons has a treat to close out March. That's right, Samovar has officially arrived, and with it a pair of translated stories and a translated poem. Plus, you know, the other outstanding work from the regular issue (which also includes a translated story). Sadly, for time reasons, I am skipping the reprint, but I do encourage everyone to go and check that out. What's here is gorgeous, though, at times bleak but with an unrelenting current of hope and empathy and reaching out. These are pieces that ask us not only to survive but to stand up. To preach. To inspire. And what results are some amazing pieces of SFF. So yeah, without further ado, the reviews!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quick Sips - Glittership March 2017

I'm looking at two stories from this month's Glittership. There were three originally on the schedule (I think), but the third story (which doesn't seem out yet) they're running is a reprint of a story that I've already reviewed, Rose Lemberg's "How to Remember to Forget to Remember the Old War." It is still amazing. If you want to check out my original review, it can be found here. That still leaves an original story and a different reprint to tackle, though, and they are delightful, filled with monsters and villains and humanity, food and taste and hunger. These are stories that offer nicely complex flavors that deepen the more you peel away their layers. They're fun and it's powerful and I should just review them already!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Quick Sips - Orthogonal #3: Criminal Variations

There’s a new issue of Orthogonal out and this time the theme is crime. The way that the stories take on the theme are varied and, largely, very strange. There’s corrupt and abusive pastors, a number of conversations concealing pain and death and damage, and a number of people seemingly broken by their experiences and lives. The stories are not the happiest of pieces, either, which might be because of how they look at crime and criminals. The perversion of law and justice. These stories are bleak and they are uncomfortable, featuring characters making difficult decisions or trying to avoid making difficult decisions. So, before I ramble on any more, to the reviews!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #94

It’s March and the new Apex Magazine has arrived with one short story and one novelette. I have to say—I miss the poetry. But what fiction is here is definitely in keeping with the feel of the publication. These stories are certainly dark. And they look at loyalty in an interesting way, showing how people make connections. How people are willing to do nearly anything for those that they care about, those that they have claimed as their own. These stories explore how people care for each other, even when they suspect that it might make them into monsters, even when the entire rest of the world seems to agree. These are tales of plans and danger and hope, that develop slowly to reveal characters driven by their hungers, for security or justice or blood. So yeah, to the reviews!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #221

The two pieces from this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies explore the boundaries of childhood and adolescence. They introduce us to young characters just coming into themselves and their bodies and their desires. Who are learning how to act with one another and how to move through their worlds. And yet the worlds that they move through are filled with dangers, holes that they might tumble down if they’re not careful. And the stories take very different approaches to these holes, showing in turns the tragedy that can come from childhood folly and the power that can be pulled from being free of the ingrained practices and beliefs of adults. These are stories that deal with darkness and with death, decay and destiny. And before I give any more away, to the reviews!

Art by Ward Lindhout

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #15 [March stuff]

March seems to be particularly concerned this year with two things. Horror and resistance. Probably not surprising, given everything. But these are certainly themes that run strong through Uncanny’s March offerings. With three stories, two poems, and two nonfiction pieces, many of the works linger on darkness and fighting back against adversity. Against oppression. Against wrongs both personal and societal. These are works that are very aware of our current moment but also reach beyond it, also capture something to bring forward, something hopeful and resilient and defiant. There’s something beautiful about the way the works all push us toward confronting loss and building communities. It’s a wonderful issue and it’s time to review it!

Art by Julie Dillon

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Quick Sips - Shimmer #36 [March stuff]

The March offerings from Shimmer Magazine certainly aren't the brightest of stories. Delving into human and non-human desperation and loneliness, the pieces show the lengths that people will go for hope. For the desire to get out of a bad situation. For the chance to start fresh. These are stories that build up some interesting worlds, some very close to our own, some…very not. But both have a taste of the sea to them, the sound of crashing waves and the spray of mist. Both show people pushing through hardship and catastrophe to find something beautiful and to pass it along to future generations. These are some shocking and lovely stories that I should just review already!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus March 2017

March is here and for GigaNotoSaurus that means another excellent piece of SFF that ranges a bit on the long side. It’s a novelette this month, long enough to sink your teeth into but not so long that it drags. No, this story is a dense story that takes place in the American Southwest and tastes like country music, sugar, and rot. It’s a piece that explores a relationship in all its complexity and messiness. That looks at bargains and death and recrimination. And it’s just another fine example of what makes GigaNotoSaurus worth returning to, month after month—a SFF tale of magic, tenderness, and most of all, humanity. So yeah, to the review!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/06/2017 & 03/13/2017

It's another dense two weeks from Strange Horizons, with a novelette cut into two parts, two poems, and a nonfiction piece from the videogame-centric Metagames. Which means that there's a lot to see and experience. The publication doesn't often do multi-part stories, but I'm certainly glad it's made that decision here, presenting a tale that's wrenching and bleak but with a vein of hope and faith. The poetry is all about scope and perspective, about what is hidden, and how we can reveal it. And the nonfiction takes a look at the different reasons people have for playing video games. The different ways that people can engage with the idea of challenge and flow. It's a great pair of issues and I'm going to jump right into my reviews!

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Monthly Round is up!!!

The Monthly Round is now live at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together. Check out my favorite short SFF stories of the month paired with reviews and delicious (and alcoholic) beverages. Check it out!

As ever, for those who don't want to enjoy the full commentary, here is just a rundown of the stories.

Tasting Flight - February 2017

"Finity" by Elaine Atwell (GigaNotoSaurus)
"Extracurricular Activities" by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor)
"Can Anything Good Come" by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (The Dark)
"The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike" by Andrea Phillips (Fireside Fiction)
"Queen of Dirt" by Nisi Shawl (Apex)
"Later, Let's Tear Up the Inner Sanctum" by A. Merc Rustad (Lightspeed)

"Curiosity Fruit Machine" by S. Qiouyi Lu (Glittership)
"We Are Still Feeling" by Karen Bovenmyer (The Sockdolager)
"Thursday in the Ice Fortress of Zelatharia the Terrible" by Sarah Crowe (Mothership Zeta)


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #126

It's a pretty standard month from Clarkesworld Magazine for March, with five original stories including a great novelette in translation. Indeed, the four short stories all come in within about 500 words of each other and all of them are science fiction pieces. More connective than length, though, these pieces are concerned with new forms of intelligence and with the end of the world. Or maybe just with the end of certain aspects of it. But at least two of the stories are more specifically apocalyptic, and many besides are about doubt and depression, anxiety and seclusion. These stories show people closing themselves off from the rest of the world—out of fear or hurt—and then having to decide whether to open up again. It's a wonderful issue and it's time to review!

Art by Sergei Sarichev

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #54

The March issue of Nightmare Magazine certainly doesn’t skimp on the stories. Though it’s only the usual pair of tales, the lengths are rather impressive (the shorter is still over 7000 words) and the complexity is amazing. These are stories that don’t really follow the conventional slasher-style tropes of horror. No, instead what we find are familial tragedies, stories of sons betrayed by their fathers, of young people trying to find some way forward even when their lives and their worlds have been poisoned against them. These are stories about old wounds that won’t seem to heal, and about the power necessary to go forward when everything seems broken, ugly, and dark. These are pieces that made me think and made me feel, and I’m just going to get to my reviews.

Art by ilonareny

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #220

Sometimes an issue comes along that really focuses on a central theme, and the first March issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies does an amazing job of exploring the devastation of war. Not just the costs in human life but in human conscience. Because the characters in these stories are war criminals, responsible for things that cross the line from murder into atrocity. And the stories dig into the minds of these characters not to sympathize with them (in my opinion) but to show what is left afterward. To show the empty guilt and shame and doubt. To show the lingering harm that has been done, that they have done, and show that there are some things you cannot heal from, should not be healed of. It’s a difficult and excellent pair of stories that I’m going to get right to reviewing!

Art by Ward Lindhout

Monday, March 13, 2017

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online March 2017

The March issue of Flash Fiction Online breaks a little from the regularly scheduled programs to bring us a dive into the inky realms of horror. And indeed the three stories that make up the original fiction all take the ins and outs, the dos and don'ts, of horror quite directly, calling out the excesses of the genre while exploring what makes horror effective. What lets it in under our skin to crawl around and unsettle us. The stories here all look at tropes and at clichés. But instead of stopping at the surface, they delve down into why horror works and how it fails. Who it harms and who it seeks to destroy. It's a powerful and creepy issue and I'm just going to get to those reviews!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Quick Thoughts - Some Notes from WriteFest!

I wrote this up ahead of time for my talk at WriteFest! which turned out to be more of a Q&A thing so I didn't actually use it. So here you go! Some thoughts on reviewing! (I mean, I did get to a lot of the material, but still...)

Hi everyone and thanks for showing up for this. Reviewing is one of those things that is rather near and dear to my heart, so having the chance to talk about it is something of a treat. I want to start by returning a bit to the description that I wrote up for this, because I feel that's probably what's going to give you the best idea of how I approach reviewing.

"Sometimes being a reader can feel like participating in a scavenger hunt held at a minefield—maybe you'll find something awesome, and maybe you'll be blown to bits. Within this landscape, reviewers can act as minesweepers, going ahead to give readers some guidance about what's out there. Charles Payseur, who publishes daily fiction and poetry reviews at Quick Sip Reviews, tackles not just the Hows, but also the Whys of reviewing, particularly in speculative fiction."

So that's…rather dramatic. But I think that it's the case for a lot of people out there. I find it difficult to watch television. Not because I don't like shows but because the popular media is so dominant-driven that it becomes an exercise in how much abuse I can stand. How much erasure? How much insensitive and awful language and storylines and "character development" can I handle? Part of why I like reading a bit more is because it's a bit less profitable and the barriers to entry are fairly low, so there are works being created that are just what I want to experience. That don't hurt. That I love. The problem is finding them. Knowing where to look. And that's where I find reviews are incredibly useful.

Let me say that there's a great many reasons why people review. Some want to become authorities on a particular form or genre. They want to be engaged in creating a canon or they want to help determine the boundaries of genres or any number of other things that essentially boil down to gatekeeping. They want to be able to say what is and what is not, what should and what should not be considered when talking about science fiction or literary fiction or horror. When they review they might refuse to look at certain works because they don't cleave close enough to what they expect and enjoy. This is not the kind of reviewer I hope to be.

And there are reviewers out there who just want to express their opinions as honestly as they can. They want to go onto Goodreads and Amazon and rank what they liked good and what they didn't bad and concentrate mostly on their immediate reaction to a story or work. This is actually much closer to what I do but it's not quite what I aim for.

For me, reviewing is about a few things. First and perhaps more importantly, it's about reacting. I'm very big on owning your opinions so my goal as a reviewer is to read a story and engage with it and react to it. I don't think there's anything wrong necessarily with people who stop there, because I do think that these reviews have value. But I do believe that there's a bit more to be mined when it comes to crafting effective reviews and an effective reviewing ethos. Because aside from just reacting to a piece (I liked it! I hated it!), I also want to examine my reaction and reflect on what about the story made me react the way I did. How was the story structured or executed that made me love it? What did I love about it and what maybe didn't work so well for me? I do this for a number of reasons and the first is purely selfish—because it's an act of self reflection that helps me to better understand myself.

The second reason is that as a reader this is the kind of review that I find the most helpful. And helpful, what's that? Well, for me this kind of review is the most helpful by…just about every metric. For looking for what I might want to read or enjoy, or for helping me to firm up my thoughts about a piece afterward, I think I personally want more than just a number grade and a sentence of commentary that might only be a genre description. A great science fiction story about a sentient cat jewel thief and the hard-drinking human detective tasked with tracking them down. 4/5 stars. Well, okay, that does tell me a few things. Like…genre. Like…maybe the mood of the piece? That reviewer seems to have liked it, so maybe I will? But it's quite possible that I'd pick up the story and hate it. Maybe the reviewer really likes misogynist garbage? Maybe three quarters of the way through there's a graphic torture scene that I'd find triggering.

When I approach reviewing, I try to live by the simple advice of "be the change you want to see in the world." So I try to be the reviewer that I want to see. I want to provide people enough information, enough of a map, to be able to avoid the mines that are buried throughout what is written and published. For me that map covers only a fairly small portion of what is produced at the short SFF level. It's about all I'm capable of physically keeping up with, though, and I try to approach and engage with every original story and poem that the publications I cover put out.

Which sort of brings me away from the Why of what I do to the How of it. There are many strategies and ways of reviewing. My how was to approach the field as widely as I could because I felt there was a lack of reviewing being done that covered complete issues. Or, a lack of reviewing that I found valuable. But it's by no means the only way of doing things. I also do a monthly review of my favorite stories, which is a lovely way to get into reviewing anything. Now, unless you're reading a lot of novels a month, this is perhaps a model that works better for short stories and poetry, but this is a way to engage with a number of stories and be thorough but also to be positive. To talk up the stories you like instead of talking down the stories you did not. It still provides a map, but more for people flying around looking for safe places to land. And there are a number of people doing rec lists and review roundups and they tend to go over well and are fun and are useful. I made mine into a tasting guide where I would pair stories with thematically appropriate booze. It's great. I love it. But there's a lot that you can do with that.

Aside from that, though, which does sort of require a venue to post your reviews (a blog or facebook or something), there's other ways of reviewing. You can stick to amazon and goodreads. I like reading reviews on both that are done well. And this kind of reviewing also has the benefit of really helping promote works that you like. I've heard from publishers and people writing longer works that getting reviews on amazon and goodreads is important. It really helps to sell things. Similarly, reviewing can be as brief as posting on twitter or facebook (twitter might require a thread to really get into a review) but it's also a great way to make reviewing communal and give you a chance to maybe engage with other readers. You can also become a reviewer for an existing publication, either for free or for money. I reviewed for Book Reporter for a few years and it was a great experience, not least of all because you do tend to get free ARCs and things like that of very recent books coming out. And there are review sites that will actually offer money in exchange for reviews, though that can be rather competitive and difficult to break into.

Or, if you're like me, you can take the show to Patreon and try to earn some for doing it all on your own. It has its own problems, and it's not like most people can just jump onto Patreon and be successful, but it is a route that you can go to try and ease the financial and temporal burdens associated with reviewing. Whether you're paid or not, though, reviewing can be a powerful tool, and a great avenue of expression.

Reviewing is, after all, its own creative endeavor. Reviews have value as pieces of writing that can be moving and beautiful and inspiring in their own write, completely apart from the works that inspired them. Which, maybe I'm weird, but I approach short SFF as a fan so I feel that in many ways what reviewers do is like what fanfiction writers do. We take this source material and we craft something inspired by it, something that both reflects back on the source and perhaps reveals something new as well. At least, in theory that's how I think of it, as fan-nonfiction.

So to close things up before I move to questions, I guess I just want to say that if you want to review, it's can be a wonderful and rewarding and artistic and expressive experience. If you keep at it and keep an awareness about what you are doing, you will learn so much about yourself and about the works that you review, and about how stories are effective. It has certainly made me a better fiction writer, I believe, and a better poetry writer, because you essentially are teaching yourself about how writing works for you. It's incredibly personal, but it's also something that can be shared and can be valuable to a huge number of people. It can also suck, and I don't want to ignore that, because it can feel like no one cares and no one is listening, because it feels like it's an impossible task and not worth the time or effort. But to really be successful at reviewing, just like anything, the work has to be worth it. You have to love it in some way. And as long as you do, it's pretty much impossible to fail at it. Thank you!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Regular Sip - Kaiju Revisited #2 (from Apokrupha Press)

For those looking for a seamless tonal continuation from the first story in Apokrupha Press' Kaiju Revisited line, (the first of which I reviewed here)…well, I'd say both have their fair share of darkness. But where the last story was darkly funny and ultimately fun and uplifting, this novella is more utterly devastating and richly tragic. Slight trigger warnings because it's something of a tragic queer love story (and for content, which is intense as fuck), but I feel it manages to be so while still being powerfully complex and resonating. The story here takes much of the action off of Earth and into the stars, losing the kitchen appliances of the last work for a galaxy filled with different alien races all trying to get along (or destroy) humanity, while humanity has its own brand of aggression to dish out. It's a difficult work for many reasons, and it's not often fun, but it is filled with monsters and destruction and loss, and makes for a fascinating second installment in the Kaiju Revisited series. So yeah, to the review!

Art by Christopher Enterline

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #82

The March issue of Lightspeed Magazine certainly isn’t the cheeriest of reads. Though spring is showing signs of wanting to arrive these are stories still heavy with the chill touch of winter. Death and loss pervade, revealing a universe that is often cruel, that is often unfair. Characters move through situations made more and more unbearable because of intolerance, fear, apathy, and despair. And yet for all that these stories feature some heavy themes and sinking situations, they are also very much about hope and about taking something from the jaws of grief. Of finding the strength that can only really be honed by strife and stress. Of perhaps escaping the pain and the isolation and finding some peace, community, and freedom. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Reiko Murakami

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #22

The two stories from The Dark Magazine's March issue offer up some blood and gore, yes, but also something a bit deeper than that. To me at least, the stories examine the power and limitations of belief, especially to create a world bent to an ideology. For society at large, how we frame our world has very real consequences, can trap people in tropes and stereotypes, can push us to blame victims for the violence done to them. Believe can create a break from reality, a place that is stuck in the cycles of rot and decay, violence and erasure. These stories take very different approaches to the core idea of belief, but both seek to shatter the hold that conviction in harmful ideals can create. These are some nicely visceral stories, and I'm going to jump right into my reviews!

Art by breakermaximus

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2017

It's something of a short month from Motherboard's Terraform, though there's still quite a bit to see and experience. It's no surprise that with things the way they are that the first story is about immigration and acceptability and beauty. About how we value people and how we exploit people. About how the world as we're organizing it blames victims and glories tyrants. A bit more of a surprise is the story on the (possible) apocalyptic future of porn. Which...well, Terraform has always had something of an eye on the future of sex, and why should the future of self-sex be excluded? And then a new chapter in the Highwayman series rounds things out. All in all, it's a month of very different pieces unified by a common disillusioned gaze at the future. So yeah, to the reviews!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction February 2017

There's just one story from February's Fireside Fiction content, but what a story. There has been something of a surge in stories about...our current political situation in SFF since the last election. Small wonder, really, given that so much of our future now is colored by what's happening. For me, at least, it's a little hard to see past that, into the more distant science fictional realms. As some have said, we're living the dystopia. And yet. And yet here is a story that offers something a bit different than a story of corruption and greed and incompetence. Different than a story that has lost faith in the present and the future. It's a story of resistance and hope and, perhaps most importantly, people. And I should just get to reviewing it!

Art by Galen Dara

Friday, March 3, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/20/2017 & 02/27/2017

The end of February brought a rather light release of content from Strange Horizons, with one story and two poems that I’ll be looking at today. There’s a selection of nonfiction as well, but I felt I lacked some requisite knowledge/experience to really get into those pieces, though I definitely recommend people check them out. There’s actually a very interesting discussion in the essay on Moore’s novel about writing and reviewing but I’m not sure I have my thoughts together enough to address that, so instead I will focus on the fiction and poetry, which focus on bodies and on trauma and damage. That look at the ways that people seek to escape the confines of their situations, of their cages, of the judgments that people place on them and their forms. These are pieces that carry with them a definite darkness and do a great job of complicating gaze and intent. And before I ramble on too much I should just get to the reviews!

Art by Kathleen Jennings

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com February 2017

February is often a month devoted to love but Tor dot com has chosen instead to focus on duty and organizations and the role of a single operative in a larger mechanism. These stories cross genres, from high fantasy to space opera to near future science fiction. And yet they all involve people who are dedicated to a cause, who are part of a larger group. Whether attached to a government ministry, a military, a clandestine organization, or a religious empire, these characters are all parts of something larger than themselves. And many of the stories explore that size difference, showing how important, or unimportant, or importantly unimportant, some people can be. The stories are mostly thrilling, too, about assassinations and attempted coups and spies and in that they have a pace and a momentum to them that is captivating. They are not always the easiest of reads but many of them are quite fun, and all of them are quite interesting, and I should just stop yammering on and get to the reviews! 

Art by Micah Epstein

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Quick Sips - Mothership Zeta #6

Well I guess I got a little confused because I thought Mothership Zeta already was on hiatus. The good news is that I was wrong and here's a whole new issue packed with stories to read. The bad news is that I was only off by an issue and this _does_ represent the last from the publication for a while, though I hope not forever. It's a wonderful mix of stories, though, that explore the idea of fun in SFF as well as look at hope and possibility. Many of the stories here are about opportunity, after all, and about life. About those moments when the world seems to open up, with all the fear and all the hesitation that goes along with it. But that shows, in those moments, the hope for humanity, that people are willing to work for a better future. For a better world. That people, even when perhaps they shouldn't, will reach out with compassion. Will keep reaching out. And the stories all look at how we as humans reach out in hope and fear, and how we try to find meaning in a world that is often harsh, and often dangerous. Time to review!

Art by Elizabeth Leggett

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #219

Beneath Ceaseless Skies specializes in second world fantasy as well as some historical fantasy, so it's no great surprise to find that the two stories in this issue build up some incredibly original and visually stunning settings that twist expectations and conventions. From a world that is an enormous cliff to an ocean plain where aquatic-dinosaur riders roam and cause trouble, readers are treated to journeys through strange and at-times unsettling places where violence lurks in every shadow. These pieces feature characters hoping to return home and unable to do so, balancing their weariness at the constant travel and struggle with their resolve to keep going, to keep pushing forward. These are some great stories that mix moments of action with quieter moments of contemplation and grief. So let's get to the reviews!

Art by Florent Llamas

Monday, February 27, 2017

Quick Sips - The Sockdolager #8 Women of War

February has decided that it's going to be very full of fiction, and contributing to that is a special Women of War issue of The Sockdolager. Now, the issue actually contains eight stories, but three of them are reprints and because of time I'm not going to review those, though I do very much recommend people check them out. As it is, there are five stories seeing their first publishing and they definitely capture the theme well. Women are front and center here in all aspects of war—as soldiers definitely and as revolutionary, as monsters and nurses and victims and mothers. These stories focus on family and love and conflict and blood, and they are at times difficult to read because of the unflinching look they take at war. At what it means to go to war, especially for women. It's a wonderful collection of stories, and I'm going to charge right into my reviews! 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, part 2: DS9 episodes "The Wire," "In the Pale Moonlight," & "Afterimage"

Welcome back to The Year of Garak!

Lat time I looked at a tie-in novel that explored the relationship between Garak and Sisko and also followed up on "In the Pale Moonlight," and so I thought it would be worth pursuing to look at some of the DS9 episodes that informed that novel and also will inform a lot of the works coming after this. Namely, the trio of "The Wire," "In the Pale Moonlight," and "Afterimage." These are some of the strongest Garak episodes, and I'm very luck to be joined by fellow Garak enthusiast and writer Nicasio Andres Reed to discuss all things Garak. Warning, this is a fairly long post. And only one part of a much longer conversation that we'll be having throughout the Year of Garak. So get comfortable and settle in for what I hope is an interesting examination of these episodes and the character of Garak.

Oh, and in case you don't know my guest today:

Nicasio Andres Reed is a Filipino-American writer and poet whose work has appeared in Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Liminality, Inkscrawl, and Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology. Nico currently lives in Madison, WI. Find him on Twitter @NicasioSilang.

so without further delay, let's delve into the episodes!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #31

With the giant novella-length epic poem done with, this latest issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly brings things back to basics with four original stories and two poems (of much more modest length). The stories build up worlds filled with magic and darkness, where there are things lurking at the periphery, at the edges of the world, in the blank space of maps. The stories look at characters who are seeking something. Themselves or a much-deserved rest or gold or even escape from certain death. And none of the characters find the situation easy. The stories embrace their magic and their mayhem as the character work against the monsters and circumstances arrayed against them and attempt to wrestle some sort of victory from the jaws of defeat. These are fun, sometimes thrilling pieces that build very different world, especially once the poetry gets added in, but it's also a strong issue that does a lot right. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Jereme Peabody

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #93

Love is in the air for Apex Magazine's February issue. Er, well…maybe not exactly love. What's sort of like love but awful, horrifying, and uncomfortable? Well, the issue is probably first and foremost concerned with the loss of agency. With the way that (mostly women but also other) people can be stripped of their autonomy. Their will. Their bodies. Their souls. The way that they can be made into dolls and puppets and controlled. So okay, maybe the story's not about love so much as about people and things that mistake abuse for love. Who think that love means cutting away what makes a person human. It's a difficult issue with a wide range of stories, some hopeful and some…decidedly not. But that's the nature of dark SFF, so let's just get to the reviews! 

Art by Adrian Borda

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Quick Sips - Lackington's #12 (Animals)

The latest issue of Lackington's has a theme of Animals to it. And while it does feature a number of precocious and mischievous characters, this isn't exactly an issue I'd recommend giving to a young child as a diversion on a rainy day. Unless you want some very interesting conversations (and maybe therapy) later. The issue is full of stories that twist the unexpected, that show that just because there are talking animals in a piece doesn't mean they're all going to be sweet. Many of these are dark. And violent. And beautiful. The prose flows in good Lackington's style and the themes approach justice and human (and animal) nature, as well as loss, and dissolution, and expectations, and roles, and…well, you get the idea. It's a big issue full of characters and beasts great and small. And it's time for me to get to my reviews! 

Art by Pear Nuallak