Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #722-725


It's another full month of original fiction at Escape Pod. And not gonna lie, it's a bit of a strange month of stories as well, with tales of artificial lives and discoveries on distant moons, augmented veterans looking to live in a world of peace and people who've become unstuck in reality. There's a general...trippiness(?) to these stories, to the situations they reveal. People building wings and flying over an alien landscape. People trying to change the laws that govern multiple realities. People fighting back against a violent oppressive state with more violence. People seeking enlightenment through the advancing technology. But there are no shortcuts to be found here. Perhaps that, more than anything, links them all. There's no getting around the difficult truths and choices out there. But there are ways through, for those willing to put in the time and effort. To the reviews!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #300 [part 1]

Art by Flavio Bolla
There’s no rest for the wicked reviewers out there as a third special issue in a row drops at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, this one celebrating the milestone of issue #200! The first half alone is over 36k words all told, so I’m definitely going to be breaking the issue up into two parts. Covered here are stories that look at stories that are anchored by change and upheaval. By complicated politics that intersect with messy family situations. And they feature characters with missions. Some rather humble--to finish a miniature-and some very large--to find a city of the gods. There are spills and chills aplenty, and so much to get to, so let’s dive right in to the reviews!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/16/2020 & 03/23/2020


March isn't quite over, and I hear tell that Strange Horizons has a big special issue planned for next week. So before that buries me in all the things to read and review, I'm catching up on the last two issues of the publication, featuring a new original story and two new poems. The works look at some rather heavy topics, from climate change and the loss of a(n adult) child to the misfortune that multiverses might imply. For all that they feature some lingering grief, though, they also seem to be about finding new ways forward, new methods of dealing with situations that aren't exactly good or hopeful, and continuing on regardless. It's a beautiful two weeks of content, and I'll get right to the reviews!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #12 [translated poetry]

Art by Theobald Carreras
Well oops! Looks like when I was reading the last issue of Mithila Review, I overlooked two translated poems. My bad! I’m fixing my mistake now, and I must say the poems do not disappoint. There’s great skill on display both from the poets and the translators, and the works take on ideas big (alien refugees and possible global catastrophe) and small (laboratory experiments thrown off by something miniscule and overlooked). Together the pieces offer a nice one-two punch, and make for a great way to close out what was a huge and excellent issue of SFF fiction and poetry. To the reviews!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #299 [part 2]

Art by Andis Reinbergs
The science fantasy goodness continues as I finish up my look at the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which hits a bit above its weight with over 20,000 words of fiction. The stories deal with unfairness in very meaningful ways, finding characters who want to break free of systems that have them trapped. That are hungry for their death and suffering. That are punishing them for something they don’t understand. The pieces are visceral and bloody at times, but through all that they also hold to hope, that even the more powerful of systems can be dismantled, though that doesn’t mean it will be easy. To the reviews!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Quick Sips - Nightmare #90

Art by Patila / Adobe Stock Art
Both of the stories in the March Nightmare Magazine deal with urban legends. With how they might start, and how they spread. And both of them rather directly examine the power of the darkness, the dangers that come from speaking into it seeking an answer. The issue is superbly paired to infect and spread, the nature of urban legends made a kind of contagion that can leap from person to person. Where even if a legend started its life as pure fiction, something can happen to it, believe fleshing it out, giving it very real teeth. It’s a creepy, a series of warnings, but let’s just walk past the boldly printed signs saying “Stay Out” and see what the reviews bring!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #61

Art by Joey Jordan
The two original stories in March's Diabolical Plots feature new takes on older settings and ideas. From the size-changing potions of Alice in Wonderland to the horrors of Lovecraft. Neither piece exactly allows those texts to exist without complication or challenge, though, and the focus for me is on providing new lenses through which to examine some of the failings and problems of those older texts. And in doing so the stories seem to offer some commentary on generational shifts and changes in attitudes, and the ways that the older generations can fail the younger. So yeah, to the reviews!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Machina [ep01.07 & 01.08]


Well the end of the first season is closing in and Serial Box’s Machina is shaping up to be an exciting and complex experience. Mixing hope and capitalism in beautiful and painful ways, the race is still very much on between DevLok and Overwatch to see whose machine will reign supreme. In the midst of this competition, though, the goalposts are shifting, and fear of failure is being deepened by what that failure might look like, and just how devastating a rogue AI can be. So far the focus has been on the possibility for good that these AIs and their programmers have, but there’s a small detour here to show just how large that possibility is for harm, too. So buckle up and let’s get to the reviews!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Quick Sips - Translunar Travelers Lounge #2 [Hearty Fare]


I’m back looking at the second issue of Translunar Travelers Lounge, this time reading through the second section, labeled Hearty Fare. And I’m not sure exactly if that means these are supposed to be a little denser, a little bit more built up. Certainly these stories do feature some interesting and complex world building, from one where fairy tales are part of genealogical research to one where superheroes walk a precarious line between heroism and corruption, to another where magic is bridged to the mundane world by a network of pirates. More than that, though, it’s possible these feature a bit more emotional complexity, putting characters in morally perilous places within these worlds and demanding they find their ways back out. It’s fascinating work and still manages to stick to the general guideline of “fun” while at times being emotionally sharp and a wee bit devastating. To the reviews!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #299 [part 1]

Art by Andis Reinbergs
Science fantasy month continues at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and I’m once again breaking up the issue into two passes so I can not drown under the weight of all this genre bending fiction. The three stories released first lean a bit more science fiction than the stories from the previous issue, but most of them still carry within them a fantasy core. And the works look at non-human entities struggling in hostile environments. War zones and galaxies where death itself has been twisted into profit. The works are often strange, often haunting, and occasionally gritty, and before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Quick Sips - Uncanny #33 [March stuff]

Art by Galen Dara
Three short stories and two poem round out Uncanny Magazine’s March offerings. And the pieces mix magic and seduction, visions and trauma, freedom and loss as they explore their worlds and futures. It’s difficult for me to pick out a single connective tissue that runs throughout, but I appreciate the way each story features characters struggling with the decision to act or remain silent. And in that silence, complicit. Each character ends up making the decision to act, but how they do that, and what they’re acting against, are quite different. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #162

Art by Thomas Chamberlain-Keen
It’s something of a surprise to find that the March Clarkesworld has six new fiction pieces and none of them are translations. What it does feature are six science fiction stories that range from wry and fun to grim and gutting. A few of the stories return to settings previously established (in stories I believe also came out at Clarkesworld), while others do some very new things. And there’s still plenty of ground to cover, with three shorts and three novelettes, and a few running themes that people might want to be aware of, most notably substance abuse. But there’s a lot of beauty, a lot of messy relationships and characters, and some fine reading. To the reviews!

Stories:

“Time Reveals the Heart” by Derek Künsken (5804 words)

No Spoilers: Lěi is a kind of time traveler, a person who can jump into the past to conduct mostly anthropological research about what it was like. It’s mostly passive, doing its best to be non-interfering, but sometimes things happen. Like a jumper losing a camera in the past, where someone from that time might find it. Which is enough of an emergency that Lěi is assigned a retrieval job, and on New Years no less, a day that’s supposed to be spent with family. His mother is an alcoholic, though, and the weight of that pushes Lěi into interacting with an AI version of his mother instead, all the while not really facing his own growing urge to abuse the drug that allows him to travel through time, which has the effect of expanding his mind and leaving him feeling connected to the universe. It’s a dense story that covers some delicate issues, but the story is careful throughout, respectful of the complicated web of things going on. And it’s ultimately a heartwarming read about facing your demons and trying to exorcise them.
Keywords: Time Travel, CW- Substance Abuse/Addiction, Family, Employment, Temptation
Review: I really appreciate what how this story approaches the complicated situation between Lěi and his mother. The way that substance abuse has made her seem like someone completely different. Not his real mother. And it’s a kind of denial that makes a lot of his decisions a lot easier, because if it’s not his mother than he doesn’t have to feel bad not really helping her. Not being there for her and instead retreating into his own drive toward escape from his body. The time travel really just gives him access to his drug of choice. The thing being that by most standards, he’s not actually abusing the drug. He wants to, but he’s not doing it. And that really speaks to me of what addiction and substance abuse does, that it doesn’t start (typically) with diving off the deep end. It starts with small creeping steps forward, more and more, until you realize that you’re in the deep end all the same, flailing. And here Lěi gets to catch himself, gets to see through the issues of another jumper what might be in store for him. Because he understands it. Because he still wants it. And it’s that, to me, that allows him to step back. Perhaps he could have controlled himself. But the strain of wanting it probably wouldn’t go away, and if he ever did give in, he might do things that can’t be undone. And I like that, from that, he’s able to reach out to his mother, too, and start to see through the lie that she’s someone else. Her addiction might have changed a lot of things about her, but she’s still there, and if he wants any relationship with her, he has to face the reality of her. It’s a touching and powerful story, and a great way to kick off the issue!

“Coffee Boom: Decoction, Micronized” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (7233 words)

No Spoilers: Ava is a chronic job hopper, going from coffee place to coffee place to, finally, the bottom of the barrel, a diner. But she’s propelled by a love of coffee and a drive to make the perfect cup. It’s an obsession, a passion, a life’s work, and she’s not about to give up on it. Especially not once her best friend puts her onto a special way to grind coffee that truly unleashes the inner flavor, a method that combines partical physics, art, and cooking. It’s Ava’s ticket to a better life...if she can pull of a heist to bring it all together. The piece moves quickly, following Ava and her quest. It’s light on stakes, perhaps, but heavy on personality, and I personally love how the piece combines its elements and delivers a fun, triumphantly flavorful reading experience.
Keywords: Cooking, Art, Coffee, Employment, Theft
Review: Ava is perhaps not the easiest character to like, thanks to her drive toward perfection and her desire to be a verbally abusive celebrity chef/culinary consultant. But for all that she’s bitter and angry that she’s been frustrated and thwarted in her attempts to find the perfect coffee, underneath that is really a one track mind who just wants to do this one thing very, very well. And for me the piece becomes about passion, about the way that it’s leveraged, the way that it’s exploited. Ava has a talent with coffee, and yet none of the ways people are offering to pay her to work are really using that talent to do anything interesting. To drive sales, to get a CEO a few more dollars. But it lacks the kind of ambition that she has, an ambition that she can’t match with her own funds. And it sort of shows how ambition and skills just aren’t rewarded under capitalism. Not without some...er...less than legal boosts. And that’s a lot of it for me, that Ava has to become technically a criminal just to do something that turns out is exactly what will make not only the best cup of coffee, but the most money. She can succeed, and her ideas take off, but without a ton of money, it’s all sunk, that potential wasted. And yay, the story is how she doesn’t accept that and is able to “win” anyway, but for me so much of it comes down to the lies that she lived with for so long, the anger and resentment that yes, fades when she is able to succeed, but that almost feels like a dream. It’s a joy to read, and I like that it doesn’t have success come with this Hidden Cost, but it does show that it’s success that allows her to be happy. It’s being able to act on her ambition. And without that she is more resentful, more angry. Because it’s not fair, and the system is designed that way. Still, it’s a really fun story and definitely worth checking out!

“Leave-Taking” by M. L. Clark (9672 words)

No Spoilers: Told as a series of audio recordings to a woman (Silv) in a sort of medically-induced coma, the narrator is Leni, who’s kind of a fuckup and who’s had an off again, on again, messy-as-hell relationship with Silv for a number of years. The piece is I think set earlier than the previous story I’ve read in the setting, “To Catch All Sorts of Flying Things”, and finds the Partnership (of which humanity is a part) sharing a planet with four other species (the militaristic Saludons, the energy-jellfish Esh, the fungi Feru, and spider-like Spinners). The story details the first (rather disastrous) meeting between a human and the Feru, and the extended fall out from that. And in many ways it’s a story about Leni sort of introspecting and interrogating his decisions and his relationship with Silv. Trying to make sense of it and also trying to do something new. The voice is funny and hapless, the action is interesting, especially for fans of the setting, and the ending hits some deep and resonating notes.
Keywords: Aliens, Space, First Contact, Fungi, Replication
Review: I really like the meandering way that this story explores the character of Leni through this misadventure, through his own kind of storytelling, which is part confession, part self guided therapy. And it’s a new take on the idea of partnership in a setting where that’s really important. And while the last story I covered in the setting was a lot about how partnership works and the promise of it, the power of it, this one looks at what happens when that’s not happening, when there’s a relationship and it’s not even, and instead of strengthening everyone involved, it’s doing the opposite. Because the relationship that Leni and Silv have isn’t exactly a great one. It’s messy, and in its own way it’s beautiful at times. But more it’s something that they’ve crafted out of trauma and need, both of them in it because they’re afraid. Afraid there’s nothing better. Afraid they deserve nothing better. Afraid of the uncertainty that would come from ending the relationship. It takes a lot for Leni to start to see the pattern of his actions, to start to get outside his own perspective and understand that what he’s doing has consequences, and that what he’s doing doesn’t have a lot to do with what he wants. That he’s stuck, and he’s not exactly happy, and it takes a series of dramatic events to push him into confrontation with that. To make him face his own cycles and then attempt to break out of them. Because he is a walking disaster, not really committed to his work and mostly just trying not to stand still because that’s when the feelings flood in, his paralyzing issues that its takes an entire alien fungus to deal with. And it explores when it might be best that partnerships end, and what comes next. And throughout it is a fun piece, a romp, a comedy of errors all provoking these deeper emotional insights. The framing is great, the voice is fantastic, and the story as a whole is powerfully built. A fantastic read!

“The Amusement Dark” by Mike Buckley (11860 words)

No Spoilers: Cal is on a mission to investigate planets and stations abandoned following a great war between humans and the First Ones, AIs who cast off their creators and imposed their dominance on the inhabited systems. Cal began the mission with his wife and, soon after, their child. But now he is joined only by a geezix, and the nature of the creature, and Cal’s situation, become clear as he explores an old military installation that a mysterious sect of First Ones turned into a kind of amusement park. The piece is incredibly grim and heavy with loss and with elements of gore and horror. At it’s core, though, it’s also a rather tender exploration of grief and loss, activity and purpose, featuring people who have lost so so much.
Keywords: Space, Amusement Parks, AIs, Exploration, Wars, CW- Trauma, CW- Death of a Child, CW- Substance Abuse
Review: For being the longest story in the issue, this one certainly isn’t the lightest. I dare say it wasn’t exactly a fun read for me, though I think that’s very intentional. The piece drips tragedy, and Cal is at the bottom of a deep well. He’s lost his wife and child, is plagued by guilt and despair about both, and now lives with a being made up of the flesh of both of them, a walking, talking reminder of what he’s lost and can never have back. And it’s maybe kept him alive. And I think that’s very interesting, that the First Ones understand people on a deep level but also don’t. They don’t know how to heal him, but they know how to focus his energy. They give him a geezix I think not to have a surrogate but to make him angry, to goad him away from self termination. It takes something much deeper to start to push him past that, to a place where he can recognize positive emotions again. Warmth. Love. It takes more humans being around, and ones who understand loss on the level that he does. In some ways the piece is like Cal finally finding a support group. Not that their experiences are his own, but they’ve all lost people, all been put in this incredibly painful place by AI mostly out of a sense of curiosity. Not to heal them, but to see what they’ll do. Which is rather terrifying, because it’s a place where the AIs are in control, where they won. And where a lot of what they do is keep humans engaged enough that they feel mostly in control, when really they aren’t. And in that the story follows Cal as he goes from being okay with that to...I guess maybe realizing the extent to which he’s checking out of his own life. And it’s a wrenching and difficult read for it, because there’s so much misery and pain, so much torn apart and pieced back together but not completely. It leaves these very profoundly damaged characters who still manage to begin to find their way towards hope, even as the AIs might be there in the background, learning, watching. It’s got a lot of content warnings, but I do think that it’s very much worth spending some time with, and the world building and prose are engaging, the character work solid, if relying hard on some emotional heavy artillery. A fine read!

“Grayer Than Lead, Heavier Than Snow” by Yukimi Ogawa (8536 words)

No Spoilers: This story also dips back into an established setting, revisiting Craftperson Kiriko and her mentor as they work on the strange island where some people are born with colors on their skins, a mark that sets them apart and above. The colorless are seen as lower class, even throse who are able to understand and craft using the strange magic of the island, the manipulation of patterns in order to create real-world effects. A pattern at the bottom of a cup that will make the contents improve blood circulation. A pattern to make food on shelves look more appealing. Patterns in carpets and walls to encourage calm and happiness. Of, as with their latest assignment, a pattern to make some medication more effective so that it can be stretched to last longer. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and it draws Kiriko into a situation with far reaching consequences. The piece is slow and dense with world building, but also a rather earnest story about castes and community, art and skill.
Keywords: Colors, Castes, Infections, Androids, Islands, Crafts
Review: I like getting another glance at this world, this island where people are separated by their skin color, though not in the usual way. And I like Kiriko’s resolve through it, her kindness, and the way that it focuses on the ways that the oppressed can get through their own prejudices against each other to start helping each other and working for a better, more just world. The piece expands what had been revealed before by getting more into the andos, android people who act largely on behalf of the rulers and powerful on the island. As such they wear their prejudices toward the colorless on their sleeves, despite not really being treated well themselves. They are seen as servants to those in power, and to the colorless they come off as cold and arrogant. Worse, they’re put in charge of the jobs that other people don’t want to dirty their own hands doing. To the point where Kiriko is essentially tricked and threatened into doing work that she finds unethical, that keeps her up at night. And I like how the situation probably could have been sorted much more easily if only the andos and the craftspeople could trust each other and approach each other openly and honestly. Because the andos have a problem, but because they deceived the craftspeople, they don’t get to explain how they need help. It escalates. But I also like that it’s not too late. That Kiriko is able to push through her own hurt feelings and ask after the andos, notice that there’s something bad going on and then take steps to reach out, to try and help. It gives the piece a much more hopeful feel for me, because it shows that through that compassion and care, through mutual aid, they can both rise and find some shelter from the prejudices of the ruling elite. It’s a lovely read!

“The Whale Fall at the End of the Universe” by Cameron Van Sant (2313 words)

No Spoilers: Tristar is a celestial creature with solar sails and the ability to both photosynthesize and metabolize food. They wake with no memory, barely conscious, flitting between hibernation from lack of energy, and the awareness of their situation. They spot a dead space whale, and thanks to a quick assist from a being on the whale, are able to eat and regain their energy. And they meet more beings, and things sort of go from there. The piece captures a great sense of distance and yearning, a quiet loss that resolves into new hope.
Keywords: Whales, Space, Scavenging, Relationships, Sign Language, Non-binary MC
Review: The story for me really does sort of capture this fragile beauty in the face of what might be a universe-wide die-off. At least when it comes to those who live between, in the darkness there. It’s never revealed what happened to Tristar’s family, or the rest of their people, but the implication I get isn’t exactly cheery. Things are winding down, the whales dying, and though that leads to brief surges in smaller life, in scavengers, it doesn’t really do much more. Except that there’s this small thing happening on the whale, the meeting of Tristar and Hunter, and their feelings growing and warming as they spend time together. It’s a tiny, tender thing in the face of the vast cold, the possible end of their ecosystem, and there’s a beauty there that I appreciate. Strangely, I kind of feel bad for the creature that pulled Tristar from space, who saved them and didn’t immediately eat them. Because while the story gives an explanation for why it would do that, it’s one that Tristar just sort of assumes, and never confirms. This creature becomes the Beast, and is the primary villain going forward. But it never seems actively Bad. Even when Tristar wakes to find the Beast and Hunter fighting, they don’t know what started the fight. Given that Hunter slipped from their den without saying anything, I almost suspect that the Beast was not the aggressor, and yet Tristar helps Hunter and kills the Beast and that seemed just a little unfair to me, especially after the help that the Beast rendered. Not that it erases the lovely ending that the story manages (I’m not going to go around with #JusticefortheBeast banners), but I did wonder a bit there, about the Beast, and by extension how truthful Hunter was being about everything. Still, it’s a nicely rendered and kinda haunting story, one that unfolds in the vast empty of space, which wasn’t perhaps always so empty. A fine read!

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Friday, March 13, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 03/02/2020 & 03/09/2020

Art by DAPENHA
Strange Horizons kicks March off with two issues featuring the normal story and poem apiece (on top of some excellent nonfiction). And the works play in an interesting way with tropes and with reflecting back on older literary works and traditions. One twists the old Frog and Toad Are Friends in a wonderful and queer way, while drawing in some deep hurts and systemic injustices. Another deals with the gothic tradition set in post-war France, and also looks at the hidden shadows lurking everywhere, the rots that haven't yet been brought to light. The poetry is strong, too, and looks at bodies and perceptions and time. To the reviews!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #298 [part 2]

Art by Andis Reinbergs
Sci-fantasy month continues at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and I’m finishing up my look today of the first issue. These two pieces have a lot to do with structures of society, with rituals both functional, religious, and damaging. Rituals that leave marks, or scars. That change people. Some are driven by corruption and a sense of “biology.” Some are driven by a need to survive a kind of attack. Both look at how some sort of invasion has changed humanity, either by altering the way they act or, more dramatically, by making them something other than human, by transforming the fundamental structures and progressions of their bodies. It’s a weird, dark issue, and I’ll get right to my reviews!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus March 2020


Building on an already strong year, GigaNotoSaurus is out with a new novelette for March, one dealing with fairy tales and magic, witches and prejudice. It finds a mother and daughter in a somewhat precarious situation, wondering if the new home they’ve found will be safe from a village that might turn violent about them being, you know, witches. The world building is strong and the character work shines, and before I give too much away, I’ll get right to the review!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online March 2020


The three stories of Flash Fiction Online’s March issue deal with fairy tales. With magic. With choices and grief and death and bargains. With people who might be tired of the abuses of the world, the greed, the pain. Who might want a way outside those rules, and find that the only way out might be to turn from civilization entirely, or else bring it crashing down on the heads of the corrupt. So yeah, to the reviews!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Quick Sips - The Dark #58

Art by chainat
March brings a look back at old horror movies at The Dark Magazine, with two original stories that deal with the roles present in those classic films. The Monster. The Villain. The Assistant. The Henchman. The piece examines what those roles mean, both to the people who lived and acted them, and to more modern audiences. And while some of the elements of those films are revealed to be the messy and often problematic pulp that many see them as, there are elements that stand up even today. Diamonds in the rough that polish to a shine. And ways of looking back that also look forward in interesting and freeing ways. So grab some popcorn and try not to jump at the scary bits as I get to the reviews!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #118

Art by Elizabeth Leggett
March brings three short stories and a novelette to Lightspeed Magazine, with perhaps a focus on characters facing worlds/situations/lives that they want to escape from. Relationships that have began to feel like prisons. Systems that offer them no room to reach for what they really want, or where making the decision to reach for change carries a rather high cost. The pieces explore how these characters push on regardless, hoping that they can find a balance that will work for them, not sure of it and afraid that it might be a mistake after all. For some, there is a brighter future ahead. For others...not so much. But it's an interesting issue, and I'll get right to my reviews!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Machina [ep01.05 & 01.06]


I reach the midway point in my reading of the first season of Serial Box’s Machina and people, if you’re not reading this... Things have been building nicely, but here’s where shit hits the fan. Loyalty is tested and maybe shattered. The competition heats up in more ways than once. And the game changes in some fundamental ways, so that I don’t even know where the hell one of the teams goes from here. It’s beautiful, devastating work, and I’ll just get to the reviews because ahhhhhhh!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #718-721


It's a busy month at Escape Pod, with four original stories(!), which means the entire month has been originals. Aside from front-loading the year's new fiction, though, it also does a wonderful job of giving an idea of the diversity of science fiction on offer at the venue. The stories range from slightly humorous to absolutely devastating, from sharply satirical to guttingly earnest. There are stories of distant worlds and emperors of the universe that capture a feeling of vastness and stories much more intimate in scope and scale, about loss and desire. So stretch out those reading (and listening) muscles and let's get to the reviews!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2020


After taking January off, Terraform is back with a new original in February. And it's a story that imagines a future where corporations have grown even more powerful and even the perhaps-self-aware drones are worried about being victims of increasing exploitation. The piece finds a bit of utopian vision, a dangerous thing carved out from the capitalist nightmare. For a drone who has never really wanted to be a soldier, it's a hope they're not sure they can trust. To the review!

Quick Sips - PodCastle #614


One story rounds out the originals from PodCastle this month, and it’s a weird Western...or maybe closer to a kind of Yukon fantasy about a trio of sisters. The piece reveals a world that is strange and haunting, dominated by Light and Dark. Cycles of daylight and night that last weeks at a time. And people, both human and troll, who try to make their way through a harsh and often unforgiving landscape. It’s a story of burying the past, of grief and loss, and also of choice. The choice of how to handle the weight of legacy, and how to navigate a way forward through treacherous terrain. To the review!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #298 [part 1]

Art by Andis Reinbergs
It’s sci-fantasy time at Beneath Ceaseless Skies! In the interest of getting to things in a timely manner, I’m splitting up the review of this issue, as two of the stories are free to read in February while the other two aren’t going to be out until March. The first two kick things off a little soft, a little slow, but with some lovely visions of worlds and characters reaching for their hearts’ desires. Characters who didn’t think they could really hope for the freedom they wanted, but find that maybe, just maybe, a visitor from the stars will open doors that would otherwise have been shut tight. To the reviews!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Quick Sips - Tor dot com February 2020

Art by Eli Minaya
I keep on expecting Tor to decrease their short fiction offerings after a very busy January, but the hits just keep on coming with three new short stories and a novelette. The themes and the genres vary rather widely, from historical fairy tale to far future and far flung science fiction to a weird piece about a weird manuscript...and aliens. The works take on some wonderful settings and some fascinating characters, all while dealing with themes of loss and relationships. And there's plenty of fun and action to balance out the heavier emotional beats, so it's really a strong month of fiction. To the reviews!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #76

Art by Carlota Suárez
The three stories and one poem in February's Fireside Magazine have a lot to do with family, and harm, and the possibility of escape. An escape that is complicated by a history of pain and abuse, exploitation and pressure. The stories range from contemporary fiction to fantasy to science fiction, all of them grounded on Earth. The action involves the complicated roles people have within their families, within the bounds of expectation and desire. It's a dense issue, and a careful one, and before I give too much away, let's get to the reviews!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/17/2020 & 02/24/2020

Art by Rachel Quinlan
February closes at Strange Horizons with two more issues featuring one short story and two poems. The work does not disappoint, though, with a story that really does some innovative things with cosmic horror, including rejecting one of the major tenants of what's supposed to make the genre so terrifying. Add on some poetry that manages to be affirming and strange and haunting, and the issues do a wonderful job of capturing some of that February feeling. Not the romantic vibes, but rather the chill just showing signs that maybe spring isn't too far off. To the reviews!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Quick Sips - Translunar Travelers Lounge #2 [Fruit and Cheese Platter]


Translunar Travelers Lounge is back with A Lot of new fiction. Like with last time, I’m breaking the issue out into three parts, based on the publication’s own tasting menu. First up this issue is the Fruit and Cheese Platter, which promises works that are juicy and quirky. And the stories certainly deliver there, offering up five pieces that are at turns funny and action-packed, full of magic, day jobs, and demons. And characters who have had enough of forcing themselves to be small, to be convenient. They are ready to break out of their cages and take on the world—sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. The issue oozes charm, and is lots of fun, while still making some deep points. To the reviews!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #43

Art by Jereme Peabody
The latest from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly brings two short stories, a novelette, and two poems that celebrate fantasy. Now, that celebration is a bit...dark this issue, thanks to a focus on some grim themes of redemption, debts, and revenge. Each of the stories features characters trying to make up for events in their pasts, trying to seek something like atonement, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. Not all of them are exactly successful. But in looking at their struggles the stories reveal settings dipped in corruption and prejudice, full of hungry jaws waiting for a moment’s weakness. To the reviews!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #60

Art by Joey Jordan
The two stories of Diabolical Plots' February content deal with trials and struggle, though in very different ways. One is a contemporary sci-fantasy, an invasion story, about resistance and complicity. The other is a second world fantasy where winged people fill the skies, except for one youth who must deal with living more grounded. The pieces find characters who are faced with choices of either accepting a status quo that is stifling, or taking a chance and risking everything to fight for something different and better. The characters don't exactly all make the same decisions about what to do. So yeah, to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "Where We're Going We Won't Need Categories" Sippy for Excellent I Don't Know What in Short SFF

Welcome to the final installment of the 2019 Sippy Awards! So far we've covered relationships, horror, making-me-cry, and action in short SFF. What does that leave? Well...the thing is, sometimes there are stories that just don't fit into a specific box. Especially with speculative fiction, where the rule is you must break the rules. It means that there are ample opportunities to be innovative, to do things that don't fall in line with the traditional or expected. And for that I have the...

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

So sometimes it's hard to look at stories that are doing something rather different. Because they don't always fit nicely into the same discussion as other, maybe more mainstream stories. Except that they stand out as doing something new. On first glance, maybe they just seem weird. Odd. Many of them might be dismissed as just that. With maybe a few words on the beautiful language, and maybe a few words on how they were different. But I really love stories that sort of blur the lines between form and message. Where the way the story is told is part of the impact of the story, even as that impact is difficult to define. There isn't a lot of connective tissue between the stories in this category--they are doing some very different things. But that is actually what holds them together here, that each is innovative and daring, that each takes chances and risks that, for me, pay of wonderfully.

So where did these stories come from? Well, from a number of rather unconventional places, as one might guess. From Fiyah, whose mandate has always been to publish black voices who might fall outside the conventional (which is often viewed as the very white "classics" of the SFF canon). From Escape Pod, which innovates not just with what it publishes but by how it publishes, as a podcast for science fictional stories. From Strange Horizons, which in many ways has led the push to innovate the field as a non-profit and as a champion for stories that do something different and new. From Tor, who as one of the largest publishers in the genre is still invested in not falling behind the curve when it comes to experimental and challenging works. And from Lackington's, whose voice and style set it apart, a publication that knows what it likes and doesn't care if that falls outside what is often more popular or mainstream. The stories are dazzling and different, strange and haunting and good. So let's get to the awards!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #297

Art by Rytis Sabaliauskas
The two stories of the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies deal with nobility. In one, the ruler of a very small nation explains the nature of justice. In another, a boy who might have been king struggles with having all that taken away. Both deal with events that might be too much for the main characters to handle, events that might break them, leave them forever after altered, different. It’s a fascinating pair of stories, drawing on the historical real world, though with their own fictional flourishes. To the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action!!! in SFF

If you were around for the first Fast and the Furious movie, you might remember the news articles about how people coming out of the movie were more likely to make risky driving decisions. Not that they were just copying what they saw in the movie, but that it left them amped! Well, rounding out my categories that are primarily about an emotional response (horror=pain, ugly-cry=pain), this category is all about EXCITEMENT! FUCK YEAH!!!! So hold onto your butts and get ready for the...

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

As I said yesterday, I'm a bit of an emotive reader. Which means when a story hurts, it hurts. And when a story scares, it scares. But it also means when a story pumps it up, it makes me want to punch the sun in a mech suit the size of a planet! You know, like a normal person. Heh. But I love stories that really make me want to stand up, to run, to arrive somewhere breathless, alive. And these stories do just that, featuring characters fighting with all they have against what seems like an overwhelming situation. A threat to destroy their city, their world; a tournament where dreams are made or broken; an attempt by the actual devil to take the one person in the world you kinda tolerate--these are stories with some high stakes and some intense action.

As for where they came from...kinda all over. From the sadly-on-hiatus Apex Magazine, and from the always defiant Fireside Magazine. From Fiyah, from Tor, from GigaNotoSaurus (which came back from a bit of a hiatus this year). These are often sources for stories that get the blood pumping, the mind racing, the muscles twitchy and electric. So let's get to the awards already!!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Machina [ep01.03 & 01.04]


The drama continues and DevLok and Watchover continue their competition to see who will win the bid to help get humanity established on Mars. It’s Machina time! And there haven’t been any huge snags yet. That’s before scores got involved, though. And there’s almost no way better to make humans freak out than to grade them and assign them a number, tying that number to something they want, something they might need. It’s a tense web of people and interests that can’t really exist in harmony, at least as they are now. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someones, most likely. But who, when, how, and why? Let’s get to the reviews

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

The 5th Annual Sippy Awards show no signs of slowing as we move past horror and settle into a whole new emotional destination. That's right, people, it's time to bust out the tissues, because this category is taking aim directly at your feels! I might be something of an emotive reader, but I feel that comes with trying to approach fiction openly and engage with it deeply. I tend to let stories in to where they can hurt the most, because while that can often backfire and leave me hurt and angry, it can also lead me to some amazing emotional connections with stories, which I'm honoring with the...

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

Following horror with this category makes a lot of sense to me, because for me both are about evoking emotions. With horror, that emotion is fear. With these stories, it's probably a bit more about...pain. Which might seem a strange thing to value in fiction. But it's not that the stories are about making the reader feel sad. There are plenty of ways that people seek out pain. Through exercise, through sport, through food--pain is about more than telling person that they've taken damage. It's a powerful experience, one of the most primal things, and a story that can hurt in the best of ways is rare and precious. Because it allows people to experience in a controlled way something they'd probably never want to experience in their own lives. It gives perspective, and it mingles pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, despair and burning hope. It takes a great deal of care, and requires a bit of trust, but these stories I feel earn it and then some.

Publication wise, it's another rather eclectic mix, though Strange Horizons does appear twice. Really that's no surprise for me, as the publication really does a great job at reducing me to a small puddle of tears on the regular. What's doubly appreciated is that Strange Horizons offer ample warnings for people who might not want to take the emotional plunge into a work that deals with such heavy themes.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Quick Sips - Nightmare #89

Art by Hwitte / Adobe
The two new stories in February's Nightmare Magazine peel back the masks that people wear, the facades of decency that adorn the faces of a lot of people, and reveal the ready hate and violence waiting there. What the stories do with that is what makes them different, in one story that revelation coming with an almost scientific distance, an interesting survey question but no meaningful action. In the other, that revelation is followed by a kind of retribution. Either way, the focus is strongly on the horror of the reader realizing that many people wear masks, and that some, even some very nearby, might be covering over some heinous thoughts and actions. To the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "I'm Sleeping with the Lights On" Sippy for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

Day 2 of the 2019 Sippy Awards takes something of an abrupt turn from relationships to look at stories that I felt excelled at something a bit...creepier. Now, some people try to separate SFF and horror, treating them as two entirely different things. But like peanut butter and chocolate, I often feel like the two do so well together. And there's no denying the horror elements of some SFF stories, and no taking out the SFF elements from some horror stories. So call them what you will, but today I'm celebrating 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 there's no denying that in 2019 there was plenty of that to go around. But even as fear is often used as a tool to divide, to instill hate and bigotry, to inspire violence, I feel it can also be a tool to unite, to build empathy, and to inspire hope. Often horror is a genre where uncomfortable and disturbing themes and content come out to play. The inclusion of those elements confronts readers with things that they often might feel like ignoring. And through those confrontations, some readers must face the weight of the real-world horrors going on all around them, made personal and poignant in the fictional spaces these works open up. From toxic relationships to cosmic insignificance, the works range in their focus, but all tread carefully and powerfully amidst pain, predation, and abuse.

Probably coming as no surprise, the stories here came from two of the biggest SFF horror publications around, The Dark and Nightmare magazines. Not that other publications don't also do horror well, but these two had some incredibly strong years, and the stories here represent by favorites, full of creep and cringe, dread and unease. They also, though, aren't afraid to be funny, and don't hesitate use a bit of gallows humor to get their points across. They are turns beautiful and repulsive, sensual and terrifying. So let's give out these awards!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Quick Sips - Uncanny #32 [February stuff]

Art by Nilah Magruder
Two short stories, one novelette, and two poems round out the February offerings from Uncanny Magazine. And in each of the stories there is a strange encounter. A meeting that will end up having some large implications. A magical creature meets a small boy. A woman meets a younger version of herself. A youth tries to convert a vampire to Christianity. From there, each story takes it’s own road, though all of them are into shadow, and loss, and death. It’s something of a grim issue, for all that the works come in what is generally thought of as a romantic month. And there’s just a lot to see and experience, so I’ll get right to my reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 201! The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF

Welcome, dear readers, to the FIFTH ANNUAL SIPPY AWARDS! For those uninitiated, the Sippys are the SFF short fiction awards that no one asked for but I'm giving out anyway! The rules are simple: of all the stories covered by QSR over the previous year, I'm selecting my five favorites in each of five categories. That's 25 stories in total, with 5 that walk away with the prestigious and coveted Big Sip Award. This is obviously the literary achievement that people wait their whole lives to reach, yes? Anyway, these posts will go up, one a day, for the next five days. As is tradition, I'm kicking things off 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.

The stories come from all over, and it's probably no surprise that most of the relationships read as queer. But it's not just that which speaks to me. These are stories about people dealing with some crushing situations. And reaching out to each other, and helping each other, protecting each other, boosting each other. Surviving. Thriving. They're beautiful and fierce and I'll just get out of the way and let them speak for themselves.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #12 [part 3]

Art by Theobald Carreras
It's time to finish up my look at the latest issue of Mithila Review, this time covering a short story, a novelette, and four poems. The pieces get a bit weird here, looking at different cities that carry inside them different rules and different dangers. In both of the stories, characters seek to navigate these spaces looking for answers, looking for safety, and find instead hungry jaws snapping at them. The poetry delivers a slew of speculative ideas and feelings that show why this publication is one to watch, offering up resonating SFF from all over the world.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/03/2020 & 02/10/2020


A flash, a novelette, and two poems round out the first half of Strange Horizons' February releases. And the works look closely at homes and at cages, and how the two can overlap, and how the two can seem similar but be worlds apart. The stories here are very different, one contemporary fantasy, the other off-world science fiction, but both feature narrators who don't really fit in to larger society. Who struggle at times to be understood, and who want to live by their own values. The poem reinforce themes of intent, cages, and damage, and all together it's another great two issues of the publication. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #161

Art by Colie Wertz
February is often seen as a month devoted to love and romance, but at Clarkesworld things are a bit more...bitterly tragic than that. And okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the stories here are not easy, are not exactly light, and tend to focus on violence, survival, and oppression. Sometimes that means highlighting resilience and hope in the face of an overwhelming force. And sometimes it means speaking the language of the oppressors and embracing violence and murder, at least in part in self defense. So go into this issue fully ready to confront some difficult things, and let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus February 2020


I’m not going to sugar coat it, people. The February short story from GigaNotoSaurus hurts. Like, a lot. It’s a gutting near future science fiction story where people’s consciousnesses can be saved even when their bodies die. Which might seem like a pretty positive bit of medical technology. But like with all medical tech, it’s only as positive as people have access to it. As people aren’t made to suffer and pay and go into debt just to afford necessary medical care. And well, it’s not the world we live in now and it’s not the world of this story. But it’s also just a fantastic story about two women put in an impossible situation, and their love, and their pain, and just everything. Fuck. To the review!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online February 2020


February might be a month for romance but as Flash Fiction Online...well...it’s maybe a bit more a month for lost love. Which still involves love! But, well, the love is rather bittersweet here, as each of the original stories features characters to have lost and who aren’t willing to accept that. Who want to push back against the pain they are feeling. Who want to reconnect and who would do almost anything to have what they have had taken from them. And how they deal with that defines their arcs, their trajectories and these aren’t necessarily the happiest of reads, but they are about love, and that’s still kinda in the spirit of the season! To the reviews!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Quick Sips - The Dark #57

Art by Vincent Chong
The second The Dark Magazine of the year brings two new stories that explore, among other things, the messy dynamics between parents and children. Both find children trying to distance themselves from their parents, trying to live in a way that they find free and beautiful. Their individual visions of what they want are very different, but (given the nature of the publication) both of them find that there are monsters without and within waiting to stand in their way. These aren’t exactly easy stories, but they carry their own sense of beauty and resilience, and they’re both rather shattering. To the reviews!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #117

Art by grandfailure / fotolia
February brings the normal amount of fiction to Lightspeed Magazine, without too much of a unifying theme. The stories are stark, often featuring people or beings dealing with complex systems that have been built. The main characters tend to be those set outside of these systems, not centered, their desires and needs expected to be suppressed for the good of the dominant. How they handle that, and how their struggle ends up impacting those systems, varies by piece but gives an overall feeling of defiance even in the face of certain defeat and death. Not the brightest of issues, but some provocative works. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Regular Sip - Conversation Pieces #72 (Aqueduct Press)


I’m back looking today at a new Conversation Pieces long novelette from Aqueduct Press. I’m a big fan of the series, which has been coming out for quite some time, and especially like that it takes chances. This is a story that does not hold back, that embraces its themes and characters and isn’t here for any of our cis nonsense. It’s careful and measured and compassionate but also angry and so very tired. It takes a sharp look at the ways that society seeks to cut people off from their true selves and deny their own realities, and it gives hope that maybe some toxic systems can die mad. Anyway, let’s get to the review!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #716 & #717


Escape Pod kicks off the new year with a pair of original stories that explore futures were...elements of our world that are perceived as increasing productivity (but which also might lead to rampant burnout and misery) are embraced at a governmental level and expanded. Making sciences more (yes, moar!) competitive, making listening to people's issues a job where compassion isn't allowed. These stories reveal times and places where people are ignoring the toxic costs of their corrupt systems and instead push forward because it's what "get results." Only the end results might be much different than the hoped-for outcomes. To the reviews!

Quick Sips - PodCastle #611


Just a single story this month from PodCastle, and it’s a fun take on fairy tales. The mood and the tone are a mix of brash sarcasm and genuine desire for a kind of freedom that has nothing to do with knights coming to the rescue. It takes the tropes of the genre and twists them, embracing some (talking cat dragon! Time Wizard!) and dashing others (what it means to have a HEA). It’s a vibrant, refreshing read, and I’ll get right to my review!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #296

Art by Rytis Sabaliauskas
Two stories of queer romance, guilt, and redemption round out the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The characters here find themselves in difficult situations, forced out of love to contemplate betraying everything they stand for and believe in. Tempted into thinking that maybe it could be right to do something they know is wrong. And both end up rejecting that idea (at least in part), embracing instead the idea that through resilience and cooperation and love they can resist the corrupt systems pushing them toward betraying those they care about and maybe save them instead. To the reviews!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Quick Sips - Tor dot com January 2020

Art by John Anthony Di Giovanni
Welcome to Tor dot com's January, which turned things up to eleven with three short stories and three novelettes. That's...a lot, thanks in large part to the release of three linked stories on the same day (pretty sure that was a novel's worth of words in the same setting out at once, so yeah, lots). The stories are a mix, as always, though fantasy dominates, with historical fantasy and slipstream leading the way and the lone science fiction piece balancing things out. There's a lot to get to, a lot of versions of our world to experience, so I'll cut to the chase and get going with my reviews!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #75

Art by Kieu Vo
January brings four short stories and one poem to Fireside Magazine, many of them dealing with some rather grim takes on the future. Tucked into these visions of climate change run amok and robot rights being exploited by greedy corporations, though, are some rather quiet narratives about resistance, resilience, and the hope for rejuvenation. Not that it always works out like that. Not that these characters really get to just wipe away the scars and stains of long-term damage. But that they might now, despite everything, be done growing. Learning. Changing for (we all hope) the better. But that's the risk and the reward. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/20/2020 & 01/27/2020

Art by Deoxy Diamond
Strange Horizons closes out January with two more issues, including two poems and a novelette. The poems are well paired, about romance mixing with some certain darker elements, and both do a great job of exploring the feelings caught up in the attraction between two people. The novelette...well, it's an amazing work of dark fantasy/horror and I very much recommend it, but definitely be aware of the content warnings because it is also a very difficult story in many ways. Challenging and responsible, in my opinion, but certainly not light or easy. So let's get to the reviews!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Machina [ep01.01 & 01.02]


So it’s new series time at Serial Box, this time with a science fiction project involving possible Mars colonization and super advanced AIs and...well, mostly a lot of corporate politics, short tempers, and fragile egos. It’s Machina! The setting here is a little involved, with an Earth being rocked by ecological disasters that become background noise to the drive behind the science to reach Mars. In the foreground, though, are the egos and the tech and the warring companies trying to secure the lucrative contract to be the ones to actually run the terraforming and settlement. There's a lot of moving parts, but the series juggles them well from the start and I'll just get to my review already!