Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/29/2018

A fifth Monday in a month typically means something special from Strange Horizons, and January definitely brings something special in this week’s issue focusing on Trans / Nonbinary SFF. Two original stories and three poems anchor an issue that is very aware of perception, identity, and defiance. In many of the pieces, the authors explore the ways that the world, that society, seeks to force people into neat lines, into binaries and labels. How systems evolve to coerce people into erasing themselves or others for the sake of the comfort and profit of the dominant. These are sharp stories that reveal characters struggling under the weight of those seeking to punish them for existing. And yet not giving up. And yet finding that they’re not alone, and don’t have to be alone. And yet carving out something for themselves. It’s a fantastic special issue and without further delay, the reviews!

Art by Alex Dingley

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Quick Sips - Terraform SF January 2018

The new year kicks off at Terraform with three excellent stories exploring futures that seems almost inevitable, that seems in many ways here already. The stories look at three very different things—immigration, employment, and nuclear destruction—but they all manage to tell emotionally resonating stories that share the feeling that most people are already accepting these futures as reality. Indeed, what the three stories seem to reveal, or diagnose, is the collective apathy of people, the resistance to taking steps to change. The stories examine the ways that people are used and exploited, and how without active resistance and change now, things will only get worse. And they highlight a sad fact that, for many, accepting these realities as inevitable is more comforting than actually trying to avoid the nightmares involved. It's a complex and beautiful bunch of stories, so let's get to the reviews!


Monday, January 29, 2018

Quick Sips - Lackington's #16 (Trades)

The last Lackington’s issue of 2017 (though for me the first one of 2018), centers on the theme of Trades. And trades of all sorts. The editorial makes mention of the idea of trade as in profession, with people pursuing their trades in the face of the inequalities and injustices of the systems they work within. The whims of cruel kings, the corruption of governments, the power of supernatural beings. But it’s also an issue that looks closely at the idea of trade as in exchange. The bargains we make with ourselves and with others. The ways that we buy and sell things, people, and justice. Or try to. The stories have some very interesting takes on these ideas, trying to look at what makes a fair trade. It’s a fascinating collection of stories, mostly fantasy and with a great sense of magic and danger. To the reviews!

Art by Paula Arwen Owen

Sunday, January 28, 2018

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2017! The "Where We're Going We Won't Need Categories" Sippy for Excellent I Don't Know What in Short SFF

Welcome back to the fifth and final category of the Third Annual Sippy Awards! It’s doesn’t have the history or prestige of the Hugos or Nebulas or...well, any other award, but I like to think the Sippys represent a much needed niche in the award season. For me, at least, it’s a chance to celebrate the stories I loved from 2017 and remind myself that not everything is about the Big Awards. Sometimes it’s rewarding to just love what you love, and make no excuses for it. In that vein, the Sippys were born, and I definitely encourage everyone: don’t be shy about celebrating the stories you loved. Make awards for them, write reviews about them—have fun and add a bit of joy into the universe.

But I digress. I’ve shipped my favorite relationships, hidden under the covers from the scariest horror, wept until the world was awash in my tears at biggest heartbreaks, and drove fast and took chances with the most pulse-pounding action! Which leaves just one category to go, and it’s...

The “Where We’re Going We Won’t Need Categories” 
Sippy Awards for Excellent I Don’t Know What in Short SFF

What does it mean? Well, part of the point of this category is...I’m not sure. These are stories that defy conventional definitions and categorization. These are the ones that slip between genres and expectations. They’re...well, a lot of them are weird, but beautiful. Haunting, but fun. Deep and complex and brilliant in the ways they innovate and inspire. So without further delay...

Friday, January 26, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/15/2018 & 01/22/2018

The new year keeps rolling on with two more weeks from Strange Horizons, featuring a story and two poems. There’s a very nice global feel to the pieces overall, a sense of violence and flight, a yearning reach toward freedom and the difficulties and fragility of that reach. Featuring characters pushed to make choices that they hope will lead to something better, to something freer. But that don’t always. Not when the world is not organized to allow and encourage justice. Not when it acts as a giant mill wheel grinding people into money and power for those in charge. It’s a great two weeks of content that I’m going to get to reviewing...now!

Art by Sam Guay

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #243

Normally with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, it’s pretty easy to tell the binding theme or element that holds the two two together. It’s one of the reasons I always look forward to sitting down with a new issue, because of this resonance that allows the stories to act in synergy, and if D&D has taught me anything, it’s that synergy bonuses are the best. Now, this second issue of 2018 might seem oddly paired at first glance. Certainly the mood of the stories is very different, one wrenching and one fun. But I think the element that binds and complicates these stories, and this issue as a whole, is the idea of banishment. In each, a character finds themself cast out of what they thought of as their home, looking for a way back to the way things were. In each, it’s not really through any fault of these people that they’ve lost a place, and there’s a part of them that feels it’s unfair that they should be cast out. Only, in both, getting back seems an impossible thing, though for very different reasons. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #20 [January stuff]

Kicking off the new year with three original short stories and three original poems, Uncanny Magazine structures a lot of its pieces this month around hurt and love and obsession. From a knight who falls in love with a dragon only to be burned to a woman who wants more than anything to add one crowning piece to a collection that gets her into a dangerous situation, the focus is often on how people are drawn to situations and people who aren’t necessarily safe. And how, deeper than that, safety isn’t an option, because of the world they live in, because they themselves don’t fit, aren’t welcome. The mood of the pieces is fitting for winter—the desire for warmth, the dangers of finding yourself locked out in the cold, losing feeling. It’s a difficult bunch of short SFF, but also a beautiful and rewarding bunch. To the reviews!

Art by Tran Nguyen

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Quick Sips - Shimmer #41 [January stuff]

The first issue of 2018 is a strange one for Shimmer Magazine, with two stories that seem to dwell on moments of understanding between humans and…other entities. Whether a rabbit or something a bit more monstrous, the stories examine how the characters react from having a moment of contact with some being on a different plane with them. The stories revolve around wounds, around hurts, and around the question of what comes next. How do people move on, and how do they hope to heal? And, perhaps more so, how do they deal with having their vision of the world so fundamentally altered by the introduction to a completely different perspective? The stories are immediate and visceral and dark, so let’s shine a light on them with some reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Monday, January 22, 2018

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #136

January brings five original stories to Clarkesworld Magazine (3 short stories, 2 novelettes), and for me the issue seems to draw heavily on mysteries. At least, many of the stories involve characters dealing with either having been lied to, or finding that their understanding of the world is fundamentally flawed. Or, really, a combination. For most of the stories, the main characters are driven by a desire to figure out what exactly is going on around them—how they’re being manipulated, how they’re being used. For many, knowledge is kept away from them, and for many of them it’s kept away indefinitely. The few that manage to cut through the barriers between them and an understanding of what’s happening to them do seem to find a measure of healing in that, seem able to move on and forward. Those that can’t, who are kept from knowing the truth, fare less well, locked in someone else’s agenda, stripped of their ability to consent to their own lives. There’s a lot to explore, so let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Artur Sadlos

Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2017! The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action!!! in SFF

Welcome back to the Third Annual Sippy Awards! Some part of you might be wondering, “why?” The answer: to celebrate short SFF across different styles that make excellent use of various elements to shine as examples of why I love this field. There’s no panel of judges or voting population, just me and my inflated ego and love of short SFF. Given how most short SFF awards focus on length, I wanted to look instead at how stories use different elements to stand out and be powerful. This year I’ve already shipped some excellent relationship, cowered before some excellent horror, and bawled from the some emotionally devastating reads. Which means today it’s time to put the pedal to the metal with...

The “Time to Run Some Red Lights” Sippy Awards 
for Excellent Action! in Short SFF

The name comes courtesy of the outrage that followed the original release of The Fast and The Furious. No joke, I remember a bunch of articles about how, upon leaving the movie, people were basically much more likely to speed and engage in...not good decisions. Likewise, I’ve seen studies about how listening to music effects how we drive. So I wanted to find the stories that left me feeling amped up. That made me to go fast and take chances. In a weird sort of surprise, most of them are from the very beginning of 2017. Not sure what that means, but there you are. In any event, please make sure your seat belts are securely buckled and that your tray tables are in their full and upright position. In 3...2...1...GO!!!!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus January 2018

Weaving together nostalgia, storytelling, and the magic of the Big Top, the January short story from GigaNotoSaurus offers a walk down a memory lane that is in danger of crumbling to nothing. It follows a man who defines himself by what he used to be, who has lost a bit of himself as he has lost the role that gave him meaning. Without it, he is fading in some ways. Until someone finds him in order to give him what he gave others—a shot at immortality. It’s a story that blends styles while evoking a very specific voice in speculative fiction. Before I give it all away, though, to the review!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #242

Beneath Ceaseless Skies opens up its 2018 fiction with a duo of musical and magical pieces. Focusing on harmony and discord, inspiration and creativity, the two pieces find characters whose professional ambitions are somewhat at odds with how their society treats them. They are good at what they do, driven by the art and the joy of music and yet finding that at every turn they need the patronage of powerful men in order to be taken seriously. In order to be safe. And both stories explore what happens when being safe stops being motivation enough for staying silent, and what happens when the right song bursts forth into the world. To the reviews!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

X Marks the Story - January 2018

X Marks the Story is now live at The Book Smugglers. This is the spiritual successor to The Monthly Round and covers five recent short SFF stories that I loved from late 2017/early 2018.

So thrilled to have my column go live. Please go check it out at The Book Smugglers! Links to just the stories are below:

“When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act Play” by Nin Harris (published in The Dark Magazine #31, December 2017)
“The Weight of Sentience” by Naru Dames Sundar (published in Shimmer Magazine #40, November/December 2017)
“The House at the End of the Lane is Dreaming” by A. Merc Rustad (published in Lightspeed Magazine #91, December 2017)
“The Heaven-Moving Way” by Chi Hui, translated by Andy Dudak (published in Apex Magazine #104, January 2018)
“The Epic of Sakina” by Shari Paul (published in Fiyah Literary Magazine #5, January 2018)

Cheers!
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/01/2018 & 01/08/2018

After a brief break for the holidays, Strange Horizons returns with its first two issues of 2018, each with a new story and new poem to enjoy. The pieces are wonderfully paired, story and poem working together to provide interesting and complex one-two punches. It’s something I very much appreciate as a reader, the issues holding together and complicating the individual pieces, allowing for a deeper reading than would otherwise have been possible. The first issue seems more about magic and growth, of children learning the dangers of the world and trying to overcome them. The second issue is more about refugees, from either wars or climate, people displaced and vulnerable, preyed upon and in need of kindness and rest. It’s a strong start for the year, so without further delay, the reviews!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #104

Apex Magazine kicks off the new year with a continuing tradition—treating readers to an extra big issue as thanks for the success of last year’s subscription drive. Which means six original stories (including a fantastic translation) and the return of poetry (for this issue only)! The prose runs the gamut of what Apex puts out, giving people an excellent sampler platter of dark SFF that leans a bit sci fi but still has an eye for the strange and magical. The stories range from hopeful to abyssally bleak, but even when the stories lack hope, they tend to reveal something compelling and devastating. Gladly most of the works _are_ hopeful, pulling progress and healing from the jaws of predation. There’s a whole lot to experience in this issue, from monsters in the Wild West to twins in the farthest reaches of space. So without further delay, to the reviews!

Art by Daniele Serra

Sunday, January 14, 2018

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2017! The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

The 3rd Annual Sippy Awards keep right on moving! That’s right, the SFF awards that no one asked for and few pay attention to is back! I’ve shipped my favorite relationships, and I’ve cowered in fear before my favorite horror stories. Which means that it’s week it’s time to reduce myself to a small puddle of tears somewhat resembling a functioning human being. yes, it’s time for...

The “There’s Something in My Eye” Sippy Award 
for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

I’m something of an emotive reader, which means that there are times when reading that a story just hits me right in the feels and I need to take a moment to recover. These are stories that, for me, are defined most by their emotional weight. By the impact they have, the ability to completely destroy all the careful emotional shields we use to keep the rest of the world at bay. These are the stories that pry open the shell of control I try surround myself in and leave me little more than a blubbering mess. So joining me in smiling through the tears and celebrating this year’s winners!

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Monthly Round - December 2017

This is the last one, as I'm starting a new monthly recommendation/review column at Book Smugglers called X Marks the Story (the first of which will be out next Wednesday). But please join me for the final Monthly Round over at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together.

As, for those who just want links...

Tasting Flight - December 2017

“When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act Play” by Nin Harris (The Dark)
“The Weight of Sentience” by Naru Dames Sundar (Shimmer)
“The Birding: A Fairy Tale” by Natalia Theodoridou (Strange Horizons)
“The House at the End of the Lane is Dreaming” by A. Merc Rustad (Lightspeed)
“An Incomplete Timeline of What We Tried” by Debbie Urbanski (Terraform)
“The First Stop Is Always the Last” by John Wiswell (Flash Fiction Online)

Cheers!

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online January 2018

January is off to a hot start at Flash Fiction Online, with three stories that explore identity, erasure, and embracing the present. In each of the stories, a character finds themself poised at a frightening moment where the rules they are used to living under are taken away. For one, the rules are protective, while for the others the rules are stifling and harmful. The stories all explore how these people meet this moment and find a way to embrace the world without these rules they were so used to. The stories range from science fiction to fantasy to just slice of life, but they all are interesting and compelling and I should just get to the reviews already. Let’s go!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Quick Sips - Fiyah #5 (Ahistorical Blackness)

The first 2018 issue of Fiyah Literary Magazine is themed around "Ahistorical Blackness." In this case, the theme seems to aim the issue toward historical fantasy and more contemporary looks back at history and tradition. Given the history of blackness in America and beyond, it's probably no surprise that the stories all have an edge of violence to them. Whether the actual blood of revolution and rebellion or the legacy of violence in the form of inheritance and family history, the stories don't erase the pain or torture that have been the foundation for a great many nations and powers in the West. Instead, they reveal where this violence has led and where it might have led, challenging the dominant narratives about freedom, democracy, and civilization. These aren't easy reads, by and large, but they provide some excellent visions into what was and what might have been. To the reviews!

Art by Trevor Fraley

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Quick Sips - The Dark #32

2018 brings a fresh pair of stories to the Dark Magazine, focusing on family and the gravity of loss and grief. Both stories feature characters who find themselves in a bad situation, in a place where pain and sorrow seem to be a given. Where, try as they might, there seem to be no good options. And the stories follow what these people, what these women, choose to do. What they try to do. And for both, how their choices cannot bring them completely free of the dangers and hungers stalking them. But that there are still choices to make, and perhaps still a life to live. To the reviews!

Art by grandfailure

Monday, January 8, 2018

Quick Sips - Nightmare #64

It’s a pair of fairly strange horror stories from Nightmare Magazine to kick off 2018, but both are full of horror and the lingering feeling of dread. In one, a woman is reduced to a head in a box, only to find that the sense of reduction might be misplaced. In the other, a man finds a home maintenance problem might reach much deeper than he originally suspects. Both explore the way that people approach sudden change, how there’s this attempt to make sense of it, and how sometimes the answer asserts itself, and sometimes it does not. They’re rather different, as far as stories go, but they make an interesting one-two punch. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Gromovataya / Fotolia

Sunday, January 7, 2018

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2017! The "I'm Sleeping with the Lights On" Sippy for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

Welcome back to the 2017 Sippy Awards! For those just tuning in, the Sippys are the coveted awards no one knows about, celebrating short SFF across five categories grouped by theme. Last week I revealed my favorite relationships in short SFF, and this week I’m going in a much darker, direction. So make sure your night light is working, tell yourself that noise you hear is probably just the cats, and get ready for...

The “I’m Sleeping with the Lights On” Sippy Award 
for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

Now horror to me has to do a lot with feeling. About fear, particularly. And stories, especially SFF stories, can approach fear in many different ways. They can get us to look at the mundane differently by treating with teh supernatural. They can remind us of the terror of the unknown, and the unknowable. They can present us with a situation and setting where the rules as we know them don’t apply. Where anything might happen. 2017 was, perhaps aptly, a great year for SFF horror. The world has done a thorough job of showing us all just what a dark and forbidding place it can be, and a bit of that can be seen reflected in the horrors crafted in these tales. But for most of them the stories don’t stop at the revelation of horror. They keep going, reaching past that horror and to a place where ghosts are put to rest, hungers are fed, and we can all live in a better place. So please join me is celebrating this year’s winners!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #92

It’s officially 2018! Yes, I know that might be a little late, technically, but I’m kicking off the year with a look at Lightspeed Magazine, with four stories that explore, well, exploration. That look at place and the roles that people play. In most, these roles are pushed onto characters against their wills. Expectations or absences that the characters struggle to make sense of, even as they also have to find ways to stay true to themselves. It’s also something of a strange month of stories, with sentient cities, post-disaster flood plains, a plethora of reincarnated memories, and a magic word that solves problems, as long as they’re the right problems. I’m changing my reviewing format up a bit, too, so my apologies on any adjustment oddness. Please bear with me and let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Alan Bao

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Regular Sip - Conversation Pieces #53 (from Aqueduct Press)

I'm looking at a novella from Aqueduct Press today, another of their Conversation Pieces. I must say, for all the attention that Tor has received with putting out a novella line, similar efforts have always been a part of the SFF landscape, and Aqueduct has been putting out some great works for a long time (this is the 53rd Conversation Piece, and I reviewed the 56th not too long ago). This story captures a playful style that mixes together Victorian literary staples (and Common Domain regulars) like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Tarzan, and many more to craft an experience that is a mix of times, styles, and themes. It's a rather charming read, so let's get right to the review!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Regular Sip - Kaiju Revisited #4 (from Apokrupha Press)

This is the third Kaiju Revisited novella that I'm looking at, though it's the fourth in the series. Somehow I missed the third, and with my schedule I'm not sure if I have time to go back for it. For now, I do want to visit this story, which is a genre-bending, fast and furious story that still manages to hit some powerful emotional moments and craft a world that is all-too-real and, in that, all-too-depressing. But there's also a buddy-adventure aspect featuring an adorable baby dragon named Bear that keeps things from teetering entirely into the void. It's a strange read, but one worth unpacking, and before I give too much away, let's do just that with the review!

Art by Christopher Enterline

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction December 2017

It's another full month from Fireside Fiction, with four original short stories and two more serial chapters. And people, things are really moving in the serial novella. Just...you just need to read it. I'm freaking out a bit with waiting for the last chapter because wow. The original fiction is a mix of fun and poignant, though I feel there is a heart of kindness in many of the stories this month. For a good deal of the stories, at least, the focus seems to be on kindness and on trying to help people. There's an edge to some of the pieces, but there's also a golden shine to them, a joy and a triumph that send out 2017 on a rather brighter note than it rode in on. These are stories that explore how people can protect and help others to heal, or how they can leave them defenseless and alone. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!

Art by Marianne Khalil

Monday, January 1, 2018

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2017! The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF

It’s 2018! Which means that I’m already behind on reviews! But it also means that it’s time for me to pay homage to all of 2017’s amazing short SFF with the THIRD ANNUAL SIPPY AWARDS!!! It’s truly the awards that no one asked for, but I’ve never really let that stop me. There are five categories in the Sippy Awards, bunched around themes rather than length. I’m kicking things off today with one of my favorites. It’s time for the 2017…

“I’d Ship That” Sippy Award for Excellent Relationships is Short SFF

I’m a bit of a sap at heart. I mean, I write ridiculous and super-queer superhero romances, so that might be obvious. But relationships go beyond just romance, beyond just romantic partnerships. Friendships, family, and more help to make relationships one of the most important aspects of storytelling, and short SFF is no exception to that. So today I’ll be highlighting stories from 2017 that I think did an exceptional job with regards to relationships of all sorts. So without further delay…