Thursday, March 21, 2019

Quick Sips - Nightmare #78

Art by Yupachingping / Fotolia
March brings a pair of rather chilling tales to Nightmare Magazine even as spring arrives to the Northern Hemisphere. The stories look at broken systems, broken worlds, that push people into places where they can only participate. Where they can only choose how much they want to be victims or perpetrators. Where opting out isn’t really possible. This might take the form of a legacy and a world that bring about drastic and violent changes, or a criminal justice system where the justice part has been shattered entirely. The stories provoke and challenge, putting the characters in impossible and horrifying situations and forcing the readers to sit there with them, experiencing those no-win scenarios first had. It’s effectively done, and before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #273

Art by Flavio Bolla
The first Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of March features two stories (one short and one novelette) about boys fighting back against the traumas and restrictions of their pasts. Seeking to gain some semblance of freedom from the harsh realities that seem to require their suffering and subjugation. And yet both resist the pressure to conform to the toxic and abusive cycles that they are unwilling parts of, seeking instead to break the systems and free themselves and those with them to reach for something better than they were given. These are two rather dark stories made light by the hope the characters manage, and the cages they escape. To the reviews!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Quick Sips - Glittership Summer 2018

A new Glittership is out and super queer!!! Now, though the cover says Summer 2018, these are all original to 2019, which means that people nominating for awards should consider these very much eligible as 2019 releases. That said, there are three original stories and three original poems, as well as three reprints (two of which I’ve reviewed when they originally came out, I think). And the stories are wonderfully defiant, full of characters dealing with systems and settings where they are oppressed, where they are criminalized, and where people try to bend them to fit into what is comfortable and allowed. But even facing the threat of violence and erasure, these characters manage to reach for the unknown, for space where they can be safe and free. Not all of these are incredibly happy, but they are all driven by hope in the face of tyranny, and they are all amazing. So let’s get to the reviews!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #27 [March stuff]

Art by Christopher Jones
Three short stories and two poems usher Uncanny Magazine’s March offerings in with style, revolution, and heartbreak. The pieces move around survivors. Not people who have outlasted others, but those who are surviving their own personal hells and oppressions, their own personal griefs and losses. They are survivors by necessity, their worlds condensing in a squeeze of despair that makes everything seem impossible. And yet at the same time, these stories work to show people helping people. Showing main characters able to move to more active resistance and freedom because they are not alone, because they have the support they need to make their stories about more than just enduring the hardships they face, but rather excelling in the face of them to find healing and hope for the future. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/04/2019 & 03/11/2019

Art by Helen Mask
Two short stories and two poems open up Strange Horizons’ March content. The fiction shines with magic and with beings who are a bit different than humans, passing through a world where they are set apart by their passions and their hungers and their hurts. Looking for ways to find expression and acceptance. The pieces swirl around love and art, meaning and freedom, and the poetry adds some excellent layering to the themes, revealing people and feelings ripe with longing, uncertainty, and, as always, strangeness. To the reviews!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Quick Sips - Apex #118

Art by Aaron Jasinski
Despite editor Jason Sizemore’s continued health issues (hope there's improvement, Jason!), Apex Magazine definitely isn’t slowly down, with three original short stories and a new novelette, all looking at history and memory, violation and revelation. The stories explore the ways that people build prisons, for themselves and for others, and how much it hurts to have to inhabit those places, barred in and often cut off from hope. They run the gamut from historical fantasy to humorous science fiction, showing that humanity casts a long shadow on history, and in that shadow all manner of greater darknesses can lurk concealed. It’s a gripping, rending issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #150

Art by Arthur Haas
There’s lots of news in this March issue of Clarkesworld Magazine, plus six new stories (five short stories and one novelette). Mainly, the publication will be adding more translations to its offerings, replacing reprints with new translations of Korean SFF. I trust this doesn’t mean that the Chinese translations will stop, though the current issue again doesn’t have a translation. What is here are some stories that deal very poignantly and viscerally with grief, with oppression, and with people reaching out to other people. That finds people dealing with loss in very profound ways but working through those losses to try and find community, or joy, or love, or purpose. The stories feature moments great and small of people starting something, taking a chance and sparking change. And life. And hope. So without further delay, let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Quick Sips - The Dark #46

Art by grand failure
It’s a strange month at The Dark Magazine, with two original stories that take some very novel approaches to some rather tried and true subjects for dark SFF—mummies and science. These are pieces that don’t really retread ground, though, instead blazing very new interpretations on the ideas and tropes they tackle. The results are stories that are anything but expected, that are fun and mysterious and weird. And before I give any more away, let’s get to the reviews!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online March 2019

Art by Dario Bijelac
Loss anchors the stories of March’s Flash Fiction Online. Loss and yearning and something dark and oppressive. For some, the loss is of identity, or family. For some, the darkness is a totalitarian regime, or an abusive parent, or death itself. And in each characters must struggle to find something that makes dealing with the darkness worth it. Music. Desire. Ghosts. The sad thing about the stories is that none of the characters seem entirely successful in escaping their darknesses. But there’s still some hope to be had. And plenty of good reading. So let’s get to the reviews!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #106

Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia
March often means spring and new beginnings but a lot of the stories in this month’s Lightspeed Magazine are a bit more about grief and yearning. Which hey, might be very appropriate for some, like me, who are so desperate for spring we’d burn our favorite Garak trading card if only it would make the winter stop. The stories often linger on distance, and on parting. On loneliness and fear and all the negative emotions that we try to vanquish in order to be happy. More than that, though, they also reach for hope and joy, and reveal some characters who manage to grab something precious and affirming and some characters who…don’t. To the reviews!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 7-8]

Things are certainly heating up in the latest episodes from Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station, with plenty of murder, yes, but also a widening scope and political scene, with politicians and terrorists both making life much harder for Miyako and Emma. There’s some further exploration of each characters romantic lives, as well as plenty of office politics to go along with the global politics they’re trying to keep from exploding back into war. And the series continues to hit its television-like feel, with one “Emma episode” and one “Miyako episode” that give a little each character the chance to grow and be challenged. So let’s get to the reviews!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: The Vela [episodes 3-4]

Today's the day! The Vela is now available for your greedy eyeballs! And people, it is so worth it.  For those who missed it, I just reviewed the first two episodes, and I’m back looking at the next two as the series continues to deliver when it comes to action, political intrigue, and all the power of a solar system’s slow demise. Where the first two parts focused on Asala and Niko’s personal reasons for taking the mission, these parts move into the actual hunt for the missing Vela, and all the danger and corruption surrounding what happened. In the outer planets, with extinction knocking on the door, there is a desperation that gives rise to predators. And Asala and Niko have to decide if that’s what they’re going to be, or if there’s another way to move foward. It’s thrilling, tense, and harrowing, and I should just get to my reviews!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Quick Sips - Tor dot com February 2019

Art by Soufiane Mengad
Four works (three short stories and one novelette I kinda missed from the end of January) make for another full month of fiction from Tor dot com. Further, all the stories are science fiction and most focused on the strength and fragility of relationships. They feature characters who are lonely, and who fear being alone, who are struggling against a culture that often doesn't care about them or their happiness, that wants them to bend to its desires and the fabricated needs of its demands. The pieces explore darkness, self destruction, and what peace looks like in a world that might not be full of war but is full of violence all the same, just a kind that is a bit more socially acceptable. And these are difficult, beautiful works that explore futures (and maybe a near-alt-historical past) that are broken, but not without hope. To the reviews!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #272

Art by Flavio Bolla
The two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are linked by water, by characters who find being submerged to be more natural than being on land. Who are not afraid of the dark and deep. But who are also not free. Who have to live on the demands of others, bound to service that they don’t exactly understand. And they both want freedom, though of different sorts. And when the time comes where it’s within their grasps, they have to make the decision of if they will reach for it, and how. The pieces are very different in tone and style, but both are intense and satisfying reads and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #64

Art by Ashanti Fortson
Four stories and a poem make February a rather full month for Fireside Magazine. Though most of the fiction is fairly short, the pieces end up packing a rather palpable emotional punch, from a story about sentient spaceships to a piece about gods and grandmothers to a guide to surviving on Mars. The longest piece, too, is a great exploration of the magical girl idea through a very new lens and split between different perspectives that have some disagreements on What Actually Happened. Throw in a poem full of history and hurt and hope and the issue is a strong one that shows just what makes short SFF so wonderful. To the reviews!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: The Vela [episodes 1-2]

So do nothing halfway, I guess. In December I started reviewing Ninth Step Station from Serial Box, and this month I’m adding another of their projects, The Vela, which is almost out and is available for pre-order now (and you should really get on that, because wow). The project drops on March 6th, but I want to get out ahead of it and say loudly "It Is GOOD" so you all have time to clear your schedules. From near future to far future (or maybe even “second world science fiction”), this one looks at a solar system facing a decline, a destruction. Because while there was prosperity for a time, a general lack of water has led to over-harvesting of hydrogen from the sun, which in turn has led to cooling, which has made the outer planets uninhabitable. Refugees fleeing these dying worlds are finding most havens closed to them, even as they cannot stay where they are. The humanitarian crisis has produced many who have lost their world and their family, and in response one world has opened its arm to a large ship of refugees. A ship that has gone missing. So yeah, it’s a rather stunning premise, and a project I’m super excited about. Again, I’ll probably look at two episodes or so a month. To the reviews! 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/18/2019 & 02/25/2019

Art by Grace Fong
Well, say what you will about the fact that Strange Horizons publishes all varieties of SFF, because what it always delivers on is right in its name…a h*ckin’ strange experience. A prime example is the short story from the second half of February, which combines an almost dreamlike, nightmarelike feel with a quest for apples in a ruined landscape prowled by twisted doctors. It’s as creepy as the poetry here is at turns fun and devastating. The pieces here show that SFF isn’t just one thing, isn’t defined by plot or world-building elements, but can shine by the strength of their weirdness. Their lovely strange horizons. So let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2019

Three original short stories mark another solid month of releases from Motherboard's Terraform (plus there's a reprint, something more rare for the publication, that's definitely worth checking out but that I am not covering here). The pieces as always look at what the future might hold for humanity, and the visions range from dire to something much more hopeful. And there's a thread that runs through these pieces of connection and isolation. Of relationships and loneliness. And the future seems brightest where people are able to make genuine connects and live freely. And looks bleakest where people are stifled and pushed to their breaking points. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!

Monday, February 25, 2019

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #16: ONE DAY AT HORRORLAND

Readers, can I share something with you? When I was a wee lad, I was very afraid of Ernest Scared Stupid. Like, I would leave the room during the climactic scene where...I think a troll is turning people into little statues and needs to be destroyed with...milk? Am I remembering this correctly? Anyway, a few years ago I went back and watched that movie again (there might have been drinking involved, yes) and...well, let’s just say that it didn’t exactly live up to my memories. Not that it wasn’ its own way. But that let’s be real it’s not what anyone should consider good. But why share this charming anecdote? Because ONE DAY AT HORRORLAND was one of my favorite Goosebumps books when I was little. Something about it just...well, I was a fan. But reading it through now is quite a different experience. Not that it’s terrible. It does a few things that aren’t the worst, but it’s a large step down from last month’s awesomeness.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #48

Art by Joey Jordan
February brings a pair of stories to Diabolical Plots that look at aliens and learning. That deal with difference and hope. In very different ways, mind you. And really, the stories are ones that carry with them a note of humor over a well of darkness, that handle some very real and heavy material with care and a slyness that's refreshing and interesting. The stories are fun without being crass, and they feature some great character moments and delightful voices. To the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! 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 Fourth 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 the last 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 anyway. I’ve shipped my favorite relationships, hidden under the covers from the scariest horror, wept rivers for the most emotional tear-jerkers, 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

So what's the deal? Well, the thing is, categories are tricky things, and no matter how I refined my original ideas for them, there seemed to be something...missing. Because what about those stories that just...don't fit? Part of why I love SFF is that the stories can be almost anything, can cover ground that's never been explored, can blaze trails and innovate in ways that other genres just can't. SFF is the genre of dreams, of strangeness, of uncharted stars. It's a place where things can get downright weird on a regular basis, and that's completely Okay! In fact, I love that! And this category is where everything goes that just doesn't fit anywhere else. They inspire, and they provoke, and they challenge, and they entertain. I don't know what else to call them, so I'll just call them excellent!

For venues, there's two making their first appearance in this year's Sippys. The Dark just managed to punch its pro-paying ticket, and though that might change with the recent updates at the SFWA, for now it's definitely a voice from wonderful (and as the name implies, certainly dark) SFF. And Fireside Magazine is putting out tons of amazing work. Though much of its content leans short, it's also put out novelettes and even novellas, and is (I hope) a rising star in the field. Returning to the Sippys are works from Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and Apex, who all definitely put out a lot of content that's often hard to quantify. So yeah, let's get to the awards!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #39

Art by Jereme Peabody
Feburary brings the first Heroic Fantasy Quarterly of 2019 and the publication is definitely sticking to its mandate to publish action-forward fantasy that’s very much concerned with what it means to be heroic. There are two novelettes, two short stories, and two poems to enjoy, and the fiction at least is largely about men dealing with honor and justice, trying to figure out what the limits are to trying to do the right thing, and what happens when you step too far outside what is right. It’s an issue full of gritty fights, eldritch horrors, and perhaps a little simmering desire as well. And before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action!!! in SFF

Welcome back to the Fourth 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

These are stories that got my blood pumping, that made me want to run outside and punch an eagle in the face. Or, perhaps more accurately, they made me want to climb into a mech suit and punch the moon! I mean, come on, the moon is pretty smug up there, always looking down on everyone. Just saying. Anyway, the action doesn't always have to be traditional battles and brawls. Some of these stories are about a chase, or a race. Some are about war and the struggle of the individual against the weight of history and press of injustice. But these stories run hot, fast, and furious, and I think that stories like that deserve to be seen, because they do show how much fun and thrilling short SFF can be without sacrificing nuance or meaning.

As to the venues, there's perhaps less surprises here as they have been in other categories. All the venues are pro-paying and rather high prestige. Uncanny and Strange Horizons are both making second appearances in this years Sippys, and Lightspeed punches its ticket along with both Clarkesworld and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It's not that, in my opinion, any of these publications are more action-focused, but when they choose to go for it, they do brilliantly. So let's get to the awards!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #271

Art by Flavio Bolla
The stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies show once again that the publication (and editor) does a great job in pairing stories by theme and feel. Because here are two pieces that take place in vastly different worlds, but where gender roles and societal outlooks do a lot of harm in how people relate to one another and how they handle loss and grief. Both stories find people desperately trying to push forward their craft, to cheat death. And, well, that rarely works out so well. Through it, though, there are moments when people have the opportunity to push through the prejudices and problems of their times and cultures...and sometimes do, and sometimes don’t. The result is the difference between tragedy and hope, between life and death. So let’s get to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

The 4th Annual Sippy Awards keeps 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 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!

When it comes to venues, it's once again a rather eclectic mix. I'm so happy to include a Shimmer story here, in part because it was the publication's final year and they've definitely given me a lot of stories over the years that have made me weepy. And there's the second story from Omenana to receive a Sippy, too. Seriously, if anyone is missing this magazine, reconsider. There's so much amazing work. Tor makes its first appearance in the Sippys this year, as does Terraform, two publications that are part of larger publishing bodies that definitely flex their reach to bring in some awesome stories each year. And the winner here is from what was probably my favorite publication of 2018, Strange Horizons (at least, it definitely led the pack with stories that made it to my recommended reading list). So yeah, a diverse bunch. To the awards!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Quick Sips - Nightmare #77

Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia
The two original stories from February’s Nightmare Magazine deal with death and life, hunger and desire. And the ways that those forces are corrupted and twisted so that they become prisons. So that a family is caught in the web of poverty and place as their town goes to the ghosts. So that a woman is caught in a marriage she doesn’t really like but that she’s unwilling to give up. So that all the characters end up making choices and hurting people because they just want what they were promised—security and safety—that might always have just been a carrot to keep them in line with a society that doesn’t actually benefit them. These are some dark and layered horror stories, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "I'm Sleeping with the Lights On" Sippy for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

The 2018 Sippy Awards keeping rolling on! For those just joining, the Sippys are the "coveted" awards no one really asked for, celebrating short SFF across five categories grouped by theme, as picked by me. Last week I revealed my favorite relationships in short SFF, and this week I’m going in a much darker direction. So make sure you've brought your noise-cancelling headphones, all creepy doors to the basement are chained tight, and get ready for...

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

For me, horror is all about fear, about feeling. And certainly 2018 has been a year ripe with horrors great and small, global and personal, for probably most people reading this. It's probably no surprise that a number of the stories I've chosen to celebrate here focus on the climate and natural world, the ways that humanity it driven by exploitation that is unsustainable, cruel, and ignorant. But there are other horrors still. Some that dress themselves in the guise of virtue. Some that hide in the pillars fo society, in its laws, customs, and media. And some that can only be heard through the static hiss of a recording, waiting for someone to press play.

As for venues, Nightmare Magazine (as might be expected) had a very strong 2018, and comes away with two of the five spots this year. Apex, another publication devoted to dark SFF, also walks away with one. And the Book Smugglers and Fiyah both make the list as well, because while neither of them focuses specifically on horror, they certainly do a great job of it when their attentions draw in that direction. Many thanks to all the people who helped bring these stories into the world, from the authors to the editors to the people behind the scenes. So, to the awards!

Monday, February 18, 2019

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF

It’s 2019! Which means that I’m already behind on reviews (I will keep saying this until it's not true)! But it also means that it's time for me to put on my Serious Critic Hat (hahaha) in order to host THE FOURTH ANNUAL SIPPY AWARDS! That's right, I've been doing these things for four years already, and the formula hasn't changed. For those wanting to learn a little more, you can check out this recent post where I go through the basics. And I know, I know, I'm normally the first to hesitate about awards and attempts to be objective and all that, but keep in mind that these are just my subjective favorites, coming just from those venues that I cover here at QSR. There's a lot more out there, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate the stories that I loved from 2018. So let's begin, starting with the...

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

I'm a sucker for a good relationship story. They don't have to be romantic. Or sexual. Though most of these stories do feature romance and sex, they also feature characters that interact and orbit each other in intensely beautiful ways. For some of the stories, the connections are between just two people, lovers or friends or something else. For others, the connections flow between more people, or did, and were severed. They feature people striving to find comfort and meaning in their own skins, knowing sometimes that takes help, and understanding, and compassion. And occasionally it takes kicking some ass. Whatever the case, the relationships explored in these stories have stuck with me through a very hard year.

In terms of venue, there's a bit from all over on display here, from the stalwarts publications of the genre as well as from some that are a little newer or less well known. But that's part of why I love reading outside just the publications that tend to get nods come awards season. Because Omenana and GigaNotoSaurus and Fiyah all produce stunning short SFF. So too do Strange Horizons and Uncanny, and it warms my reviewer heart a bit to be able to include pieces from all over here for your enjoyment. To the awards!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/04/2019 & 02/11/2019

Two short stories and two poems open up February’s Strange Horizons offerings. The fiction at least focuses on history and fairy tales. On the injustices that people layer onto those who don’t have power. On the children and peasants of the world. But how the truth and the dark realities that the powerful author and ignore have a way of coming back, of being felt in strange and haunting ways. The poetry mixes the wonders and chaos of creation and universe-exploding potential with…the wonders and chaos of day to day life and partnering and cohabitating. And it keeps in perfect harmony with my own feelings about the publication—often lyrical, often heartbreaking, always Strange. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #26 [February stuff]

Art by Julie Dillon
It’s a full February at Uncanny Magazine, with two poems, two short stories, and a novelette to round out this shortest month of the year. The fiction is broken situations. People who have been abused and are looking for a place to belong. And yet finding that place isn’t always easy—often what might seem safe could be a new abuse in disguise, a sort of pitcher plant designed to lure in the desperate. For those who can avoid the traps, though, the pieces also focus on the joy that can be found in finding a place, and a people, who make you feel at home. With a purpose that rings true and the ability to live, even if it will always be tempered by the ways the world is broken or corrupt. So let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #149

Art by Arthur Haas
Clarkesworld hits February running with five short stories and a novelette, all taking on some big issues. From genetic manipulation to colonialism, from empathy to divinity, the stories tackle some Big Ideas, with some mixed results. The joy of reading SFF is that it can often make literal circumstances that would otherwise be purely figurative or philosophical. What if the world worked quite differently? What if people could experience an alien afterlife? It allows us to explore moral and ethical concerns without test subjects, but that’s not to say that means no harm is done. Though often careful, I find myself hesitating around many of the stories here this month, that seem to bring up some Big Ideas without fully examining how those ideas are in conversation with real world injustices and harms. But before I get too much into that, let’s get to the reviews!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Quick Sips - Apex #117

Art by Julia Griffin
February’s Apex Magazine is a little shorter than usual, with only two short stories (though there’s still over 12,000 words of original content), but the pieces definitely don’t feel small. Indeed, they’re about people who are tired of being forced into boxes too cramped and confining. Roles laced with pain and abuse. Situations where hope seems hidden behind a veil. They are done being expendable, being victims, and they are fighting back. Both pieces balance action and heavy emotional lifting, blending wonderfully realized and magical settings with careful character work that doesn’t make light of what they’ve gone through or where they’re going. So let’s jump right into the reviews!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online February 2019

Art by Dario Bijelac
February brings a batch of short SFF to Flash Fiction Online featuring a sense of longing, community, and the threat of loss. In each of the stories, characters deal with a fragile connection to someone else. To a child, or a student, or a part of themself. And in each that connection is under attack, is threatened in a way that makes any action dangerous. That makes any movement perilous. And in each story the characters’ movements are explored—their hesitation or their determination to keep going or stand still. And it makes for a rather quiet, rather wrenching month of stories, with a delicate but resilient hope that shines even in the darkness. To the reviews!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Quick Sips - The Dark #45

Art by Peter Polach (Apterus)
February brings a pair of stories to The Dark Magazine that center energy in different ways. Ghosts, in different ways. Exploitation, in different ways. But both look at women moving through a world where it’s dangerous to exist. Where it’s dangerous to be competent and independent. And where they can’t really maintain what they have without a little help. Now, for one of the characters that help is freely given, a form of justice and strength and hope. For the other...well, for the other it is something taken from those with less power, with less rights, and with less ability to fight back. And both are great dark fantasies that look at the abuses of society and show how hard it is not to be pulled under by the currents of societal roles and expectations. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #105

Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia
The February issue of Lightspeed Magazine runs a little long with two novelettes and two short stories that look at confinement in a lot of different ways. That look at freedom and what happens when people’s freedoms are taken away, by an outside force, by nature, or by fate. Each piece finds people struggling with systems that limit them. That might mean man-made systems of criminal justice, or social convention, or something a bit more divine, like fate or death itself. The stories show how characters either try and fight back against these systems (where they are corrupt) or learn how to accept or embrace them (where they are just). It’s an interesting bunch of stories with a slower, more ponderous feel to the issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 5-6]

I’m looking at another pair of episodes from Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station. The whole look and feel of Serial Box mirrors television, with projects coming out in seasons and taking on tropes and genres that feel TV-ish, but in a way that television might not be able to really pull off. Which is something of a shame because I would watch the hell out of this show. Still, coming in fiction form is just as good, and I love how each episode comes alive a little different for each of the serial’s authors. Today marks the halfway point in the first season, and so it’s rather apt that the focus (while still featuring individual mysteries) grows a bit broader to look at the setting and just where Emma and Miyako might be headed now that they’ve come to a better place as partners. They’re beginning to trust each other at lost last. Which means it’s time to throw a wrench (or a few Chinese detectives) into the works at see how it plays out. To the reviews!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #270

Art by Flavio Bolla
The second Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of January brings with it two stories about war and conflict and the women, reaching for each other, who are pulled apart by conflict, death, and grief. It follows two women in two very different situations, but both of them hurt by war, by what it has taken from them. And they both have to figure out what to do and where to go when what was familiar and relatively safe for them is taken away. Is made not an option. And it leaves them struggling to snatch something back from the jaws of war, from the gravity of sorrow. So let’s get to the reviews!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #63

Art by Galen Dara
There's some big goings-on at Fireside Magazine in 2018, and January kicks off with five original stories plus an original poem. The pieces can be rather short (the poem might be longer than a number of the stories), but that doesn't mean they pack less of a punch. The pieces range from deeply dark to lighter and so so cute, from epic and unexpected to unsettling and tense. The relationships that the pieces introduce, though, are complex and interesting and enlightening. From a father desperate to give his son a better life to a spouse unsure how to talk about what's happening to them without draining those they care about. The piece looks at impossible situations, or situations that seem impossible, and shows how people move forward regardless. To the reviews!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Quick Sips - Tor dot com January 2019

Art by Ashley Mackenzie
January sees a return to form for, which took most of November and December off of fiction releases. They’re back, and with two short stories and two novelettes covering a lot of thematic ground. From living space ships to food magic, from jinni to wraiths. Most of the pieces deal with haunting, as well, in some form or another. And perhaps more specifically, with people haunting themselves. Holding themselves to the past in ways that are like chains, that offer them no hope or help to move forward. And the stories show how these characters seek to sever the ties with those pasts, with those dreams they have outgrown, so that they can put new ones in their place. The pieces lean dark and quiet, and it’s a wonderful collection of short SFF. To the reviews!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/21/2019 & 01/28/2019

Art by Rachel Quinlan
January keeps on going with two new issues from Strange Horizons featuring an original short story and two original poems. The works cover a lot of ground, thematically, dealing with memory and with place, with visions and perspective. The story takes an interesting look at fate and communication, while the poems bring a rather dark mood that flourishes in the sweeping stanzas of their forms. And mostly it shows the publication doing what it does, providing weekly SFF content that challenges and inspires. So let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Quick Sips - Terraform January 2019

It’s a full month of short SF to kick off 2019 at Motherboard’s Terraform. As always, the pieces on display look at visions of the future, taking trends and projecting them out, wondering what if and guessing at the shape of things to come. Or, perhaps more accurately, guessing at the shape of things that should not come, as each of these stories is a warning against a future full of heightened oppression, fear, insecurity, and corruption. They look at the pressures to conform and the way that mob mentality infects and can drive institutions that shouldn’t be handled by popular demand. The stories skew a little long for the publication, though still very manageable, and they pack rather a strong emotional wallop. So hold onto your feels and get ready for some timely science fiction. To the reviews!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Liver Beware! You’re in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #15: YOU CAN’T SCARE ME!

The title exclamation mark is back, the first time it’s shown up since Let’s Get Invisible! back in #6. I’m beginning to get a feeling that these Exclamation! books are all linked, if not in precise continuity, then in spirit and general construction. There have been three so far from the main series, Say Cheese and Die!, Let’s Get Invisible!, and now You Can’t Scare Me! In each of the books, there is an extended core cast (made up of four kids of mixed genders), and the stories tend to involve the kids stumbling across something weird and having to figure out a way to get distance from it. This was a stronger connection between Say Cheese and Die! and Let’s Get Invisible!, but there’s also an element of it in You Can’t Scare Me! as well. There’s also a blending of magic and science that gives them a more resonating feel to them. Hmm. I wonder if this stylistic consistency will hold up throughout the rest of the series, but for now I find it interesting that here we have another exclamation mark in a title and more similarities with some of the older books.
Oh! But hey, I should talk about what I’m drinking. It’s a Smoked Bock from Lazy Monk Brewing, based right here in Eau Claire, WI. It comes in a 16oz. can and it’s delicious! Definitely something that goes nicely with a book that’s all about mood and scares. So let’s GO!

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Sippys Are Coming...

No reviews today, my darlings. Instead, I want to remind you all of what's coming up on the horizons. That's right, it's almost time for the short SFF award that no one asked for! THE SIPPY AWARDS!

Now, many of you will already be familiar with these awards, which look at short SFF of any length (so up to novellas) across five award categories. These categories are mostly thematic, looking at the different aspects of SFF that I love and seeking to celebrate short SFF that other awards, by separating categories by length only, don't really do. And though I do not have the funds to make actual awards to send to people, I do make up little graphics, especially for the top story in each category, which I call the Big Sip Award Winner.

But what are the categories? So glad you asked! As a refresher, the five categories are...

The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF
This looks at stories that feature amazing relationships. Those might be romantic, sexual, friend, enemy, family, or really any way that people relate to people. It doesn't have to be "healthy" relationships (whatever that even means) so long as they're compelling to me.

The "I'm Sleeping with the Lights On" Sippy for Excellent Horror in Short SFF
This isn't just about horror. This is about the intersection of horror and SFF, which is something that has whole publications devoted to it but often finds itself on the outside looking in when it comes to awards. So I want to look at what makes me afraid, and what freaks me right the fuck out.

The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF
Okay, so I'm something of an emotional reader, and sometimes I read a story that leaves me sobbing into my coffee (or stronger adult beverage). I want to honor the stories that do more than tug at the heartstrings--I want to celebrate those that rip those strings out and leave me an emotionally devastated mess.

The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action in Short SFF
EXPLOSIONS! SWORD FIGHTS! MAGIC FERRETS! Okay, well, maybe not that last one. But I do want to look at short SFF that features pulse-pounding, jaw-dropping action in a way that only SFF can. Because who brings a gun to a mecha fight?

The "Where We're Going We Won't Need Categories" Sippy for Excellent I'm Not Sure What in Short SFF
And finally, this one is for those stories that just don't fit anywhere. That really experiment with what SFF can look like and how it can feel. These are the stories that are hard to pin down, and that's what makes them so special. Sometimes, when something doesn't fit into a box, the best way to celebrate it isn't to try and force it, but to throw away the idea of boxes (but still, you know, give an award...).

So there you are! The four runners-up as well as the Big Sips for each category will be announced together on consecutive days in February, so look forward to that! Also, this is the fourth year of these awards. If you want to find the previous years, you can check them all out here.



Thursday, January 24, 2019

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #47

Art by Joey Jordan
It’s my pleasure to announce that starting today I’m adding a new publication to my reviewing list—Diabolical Plots! The venues tends to come out with two original stories a month, but kicks off 2019 with three short stories that present a mix of styles and structures. Indeed, the stories are linked perhaps by the novel ways they approach storytelling, with each taking a style that isn’t precisely new (a travelogue utopia/dystopia, a portrait of the mundane, and a list of words and definitions) but doing something different and delightful with them. There’s also a decent amount of darkness to even the brighter of these stories, and a humor to even the darkest of them. And they certainly don’t take the road most taken to reach their literary destinations. To yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #269

Art by Tyler Edlin
The latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies has a lot to do with transformations, with the threat of revenge, and with the need for freedom. It finds characters who are caught in circumstances of waiting to be punished. To be found out. And trying to find a way free of the things hanging over them. Now, some of those things are no fault of their own and some of them...well, the characters aren't always quite so innocent. But the piece looks at freedom and who can hope for it, and what it might cost. The stories deal with the weight of revenge and the feelings that can come when that weight is lifted and set down. To the reviews!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #26 [January stuff]

Art by Julie Dillon
The new year brings a new month of short stories and poetry to Uncanny Magazine, with a fresh focus on broken worlds, battered families, and audacious hope. The pieces here outline pathways of resistance, of fighting back against oppression, of refusing to bend under the weight of damage that has been done to the world. It finds characters struggling against their expected roles and finding ways of living true to themselves even in situations where they can't fully escape the touch of injustice or the lingering scars of devastation. Through it all, though, they find moments of tenderness, compassion, and love, and armed with those they go out into a world they can make better. Not whole, perhaps. Not fixed. But soothed a bit under their careful administrations. To the reviews!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Quick Sips - Nightmare #76

Art by Kevron2001 / Fotolia
Nightmare Magazine kicks 2019 off with a pair of short stories very concerned with falling. In both, it’s not so much the landing that’s the problem. It’s the feeling of freefall, of not having a ground beneath your feet. Of knowing that the world is run on money and that’s something that you either don’t have or know is tainted with blood. It’s a story of slow and wrenching climbs that can be toppled with a sudden shift or jolt and lose all the progress gained. These are not easy reads, but through the dense gloom and creeping horror they do offer a way forward, though not perhaps in an expected way. To the reviews!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/07/2019 & 01/14/2019

The first two Strange Horizons issues of 2019 feature two short stories and two poems, which deal with hauntings and injustice, with generation oppression and with seeking to come to terms with the past. The stories and poetry weave a picture of characters caught in the wake of tragedy, trying to make sense of the world around them, the losses that don't seem necessary, that all seem pointed and corrupt. These are not very easy pieces to open the year on, but given the global nature of the publication and the global issues facing us at the moment, they are perhaps incredibly fitting. They are difficult, about tracing the contours of loss and pain while still leaving a path open toward healing and hope. To the reviews!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Quick Sips - Apex #116

Art by Tangmo Cecchini
January might not bring a fan-appreciation issue like in the last few years, but it doesn't mean that there isn't a lot to read, with three short stories and a novelette that definitely bring the strange and luminous to Apex Magazine's usual run of dark SFF. The pieces all deal with memories, and with something strange and almost magical brushing against the more "mundane" realities of the worlds they reveal. Our world, in some cases, but not always. And it's certainly a mix of interesting and delicately-imagined settings, ripe with injustice, hurt, and longing, and before I spoil too much, let's get right to the reviews!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #148

Art by Pascal Blanché
January brings a slew of new science fiction to Clarkesworld Magazine, which probably isn’t much of a surprise, given the venue’s track record. What is something of a surprise to me is that the publication is taking a month off from translations, as there are five originals all in original English here. But these stories have more in common than just rough genre. They are all stories of planets, of movement. That find characters travelling across great distances to find new worlds and new homes. To be confronted by the lessons of the gods or experience a moment of peace and hope. The stories are all touched by darkness but much more about near-misses, about how situations might devolve into chaos and death but...don’t. Where something brighter manages to hold on and win the day. So without further delay, let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #268

Art by Tyler Edlin
It’s a pair of stories about decline and confrontations with gods in this first Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of 2019. Both pieces feature villages that have suffered great losses, that have been transformed by what they’ve had to do in order to survive. And both find themselves faced with a situation where they must put themselves in the power of a god (or godling) in order to try and save as many people as possible. More than that, though, both villages have to rely on their own very mortal humanity in order to stand up to the tyranny of gods who have lost their way and role. To the reviews!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Quick Sips - Anathema #6

So I might have missed when this latest issue of Anathema dropped on the last day of the year. My apologies! I’m super glad I caught it, though, because it’s an amazing bunch of stories, featuring six different works that explore grief, loss, and a palpable powerlessness. The characters are dealing with things that cannot be changed (or that seem like they cannot be changed) and finding out what they can do about it. That sometimes means learning how to accept things and try to move on, though that’s complicated by grief, by pain, and by the fear of losing more. It’s an emotional and often devastating read, and I’ll get right to those reviews!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus January 2019

January brings a short story full of magic, dancing, and...trolls to GigaNotoSaurus, where a young troll comes against the prejudice of humans and the pressure to conform to stereotypes. It’s a piece that looks at art, and the acceptable ways that people are expected to perform—the emotions and characteristics they are allowed to conjure to their audience. And the strength and bravery it can take to break out of those roles and refuse the conventional portrayals and wisdoms concerning different groups. It’s a piece with a breath of the forest, of the damp earth and cool air of a mountain hall, and a troll who wants nothing more than to fill the world with dance. To the review!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 3-4]

Good news, everyone! Ninth Step Station is available now from Serial Box! So for this exciting release day I’m looking at two more episodes of the sci fi mystery series (be sure to check out my reviews of the first two episodes here). The series mixes near-future political science fiction with police procedural-style mysteries and it’s just a lot of fun. After a strong (if rocky) start to their relationship…well, Miyako and Emma are still definitely trying to figure out how to work together. But split allegiances and outright lies aren’t really helping things. Throw in some invisible men and serial killers and this represents a very tense pair of episodes. And before I can give to much away, let's get to the reviews!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Quick Sips - Fiyah Literary Magazine #9

Art bDustin Bolton
A new year means a new issue from Fiyah Literary Magazine. Which comes with some news. Namely, that co-executive editor Justina Ireland is stepping down and leaving the publication and DaVaun Sanders is stepping up into that role. The issue also steps back from the tradition of centering around a specific theme, though that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few that sneak in. Namely, a lot of the works look at infection, disease, and affliction. They map the devastation that pandemics create, whether the plagues are medical, magical, or moral. And they find characters who are faced with the sicknesses draining their worlds and have to decide what to do about it. Fight back? Seek a cure? Flee? Or weather the storm as much as possible? It’s an issue full of defiance and strength, though it recognizes that sometimes even that isn’t enough. There’s four short stories, one novelette, and two poems to get to, so let’s dive right into the reviews!