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)

Shots
"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)

Cheers!

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