Saturday, January 31, 2015

Quick Thoughts - My Review Policy

So I thought, because I've been thinking about this recently, that I should try to put down kind of what my policy is for approaching the stories I review. Obviously I have a bit of freedom in what I read and what I review. One of the reasons I love writing The Monthly Round is that it allows me to gush about the stories that I really liked and ignore everything else. I get to be entirely positive and point people in the direction of stories that, by and large, I loved. And part of that is that I take only nine stories from the entire month to review there.

...and, well, there's a lot more stories out every month. This month I've reviewed for this blog 61 stories (including 1 reprint and 3 excerpts from non-English novels) plus 12 poems and some nonfiction. And I did not like everything. But here, because I have seen that people want entire issues reviewed, I decided that I would write something up for each story and poem, regardless of whether or not I liked it. It is so difficult for me to write negative reviews, though. At least for short fiction and poetry. Because when it's on Goodreads and a novel and there are like 100 other reviews, I don't mind putting my (perhaps negative) review up, because it's balanced with other (more positive) reviews. I don't feel that I'm picking on anyone.

As a writer, I dread negative reviews. I crave people saying good things about my stories, but I really don't like when people say they didn't care for my work. So when I review I try to follow the idea kind of like I'm in a workshop. Be courteous, explain my issues, and make sure to say what I did like about the story. Even when the story hits all the things that make me angry. Even when I don't want to say anything nice. Because...I don't know, because I don't want to be mean to anyone. Especially someone I don't know. If I don't like a story, I will try to find a way to diplomatically say that. And then I will probably move on to talk about stories I did like. Because that's more fun.

Does this make sense? I don't really know. I normally think that most stories have something good in them. Some are definitely not worth reading, what with the bounty of better stories. And I guess I will try to be as honest as I can, keeping in mind that these reviews are only my opinion, that I am no one special, that I am not trying to discourage anyone from anything. I'm just looking to give my opinions on stories. That said, if I have a rather negative review, I probably won't try to tag the author on Twitter about it. I'll probably hope that they never look at the review. But I do believe in my reviews.

Of course, if anyone disagrees with me or wants to tell me I'm an idiot, please feel free to shout at me in the comments. I hope people are finding these reviews helpful. Maybe? Anyway, the first month is done and here's to a great many more!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, January 30, 2015

Quick Sips - January 2015

That is, except for the story by Daniel José Older that I reviewed earlier this month. The rest from means four more original stories. They are, by and large, on the longer side, but definitely manageable with only one novelette. Great to be read one at a time or, like me, all at once. So here we go!


"A Beautiful Accident" by Peter Orullian (10983 words)

This isn't a terribly long novelette but boy does it seem to feel like it. Not in a bad way, really, but reading about extended torture, both physical and emotional, is just draining, and I did feel a bit drained by the time I got to the end of this. The setting is fascinating, and the culture of the Mal is obviously one that supposed to inspire some revulsion in the reader. A place that tortures all of its citizens, that believes pain unavoidable and so denies the smallest easing of it. I mean, the work is Mal, so it's kind of obvious they're supposed to be "bad." That there is another side to their philosophy is interesting, that there are those among them that believe and who find virtue in that way of life is interesting and a credit to the story. Of course, it doesn't really work to alleviate the problems with the Mal, because if there are ways that people didn't have to suffer and die, then it seems inhumane to take away people's choice in if they want to accept it. And by indoctrinating the children to this, that choice is effectively taken away. So it's a layered story, and well done and well balanced. The relationship between the characters is one of friendship and is well done and refreshing, but I think drawing any conclusions from this story out is fraught. I liked the story over all, though, and for it being a lot about torture means it's done something right.

"And the Burned Moths Remain" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (6275 words)

Another story dealing with a different sort of torture, though this is much more psychological, as a a woman who betrayed her empire is trapped inside a sort of computer, one that doesn't allow her to die, that captures her every memory and creates more and more instances of her. It's an interesting and rather disturbing idea, because the instances are male and female and while they are all her they are also rather distinct. She fights herself, and she holds onto her guilt at having led to the downfall of her people, despite the fact that her people would have let her be destroyed. Her betrayal, though, led to her world being assimilated by an outside power, a power that now wants the last of her secrets, wants the key to the eternal existence that she is stuck in. The prose is elegant but was a little difficult for me to decipher at times. I think I understood all that was going on but I feel that I missed something near the end. This is another story filled with pain that just feels longer than it really is. But it has some killer lines and a strong central idea, that forgiveness is a stalk of thorns that just keeps on going, that it's not a destination but something to always be striving toward. And that's a strong, resonant idea that works for this story.

"Damage" by David Levine (7449 words)

Well that one was a lot more fun than the other two stories, and for one centered around death and loss and hopeless war, that's saying something. But there's something charming about the ship main character, programmed to love an ass of a pilot and yet with a core of morality that doesn't allow it to commit the greatest of crimes, doesn't allow it to kill millions of people in a desperate attempt at revenge. And though the action of the story is frantic and harsh, and though there is a lot of loss and death, this is still a triumphant story. The ship manages to escape, finally, manages to be something other than a tool of war. And that is something to hope for. I liked that this was a war the main character was on the "wrong" side of, though perhaps that was a bit heavy-handed, with no real explanation given as to why the two sides were fighting. But the story is fun with some great action and a nice message, that sometimes doing the right thing means giving up the things you love, and that even when you think yourself unequal to a task, sometimes you have to try anyway. Good stuff.

"The Sound of Useless Wings" by Cecil Castellucci (3308 words)

Another funner story despite some rather sad business, this one follows an alien who finds himself an outcast among his people. Smaller and more open to the unknown, to space and all its mysteries, he is excited when he is chosen to move to a new world, and that hope emboldens him to hope for more, to perhaps hope that he can succeed as a member of his people, to get a mate and sire broods. Fortunately or unfortunately, he is taught that it's not to be, and is betrayed by a brother so that he has no choice but to flee. But in that flight he gains what he had always hoped for. It's a strange story, but one that shows how what we want is something we're not always aware of. And while the main character thinks that his life is over when he loses the dream of having a family, instead he finds that he just needed to look elsewhere, just needed to find himself among the stars that he yearned to see. It's a sweet story, a nice way to finish off the month.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons January 26

So I'm kind of breaking my own rule this week with Strange Horizons. Normally I'd think I could just skip the week because there's no new fiction, just a reprint. But there is a new poem and new non-fiction and I really wanted to look at that. read the reprint and flesh out this review a bit more or not? Well, I decided to review the reprint, because it's new to me and because I will be reviewing it in context of the new intro from the author. So something is new and that will be my loophole. Hurrah!


"The Truth About Owls" and Introduction by Amal El-Mohtar (4303 words story only)

This is a story that lingers for me. Stories with children I think are always difficult to pull off, but this one does it well, capturing a child's frustration both at being an outcast and being rather powerless as children are. And that powerlessness seems to manifest itself with Anisa as actual power, as the ability to shock people, to make them sick. The way she internalizes all the things that happen around her in an attempt to be powerful, in an attempt to have agency. It's heartbreaking in many ways, because as a child she can't help thinking that way, especially with her situation of having to leave home. She lacks a figure to talk to, to trust. So she lashes out, so she sees herself like an owl, and a difficult one. And Anisa's relationship with the owls is cool, is believable and powerful because it shows where her sympathies are, how she views herself. And only toward the end of the story does she start to lower the walls she built around herself. Only then can she start to see the brighter side of owls. It's very well done and an emotional ride to be sure. The introduction (which is new!) helps a bit to contextualize things by giving some history on the events referenced in the story and how they tie back to the author, and also to translate the bit of text at the end. Owls are complicated. As is the story. And that's a very, very good thing.


"Meatspace" by David C Kopaska-Merkel

A fun and rather light poem on the surface, told with internet shorthand and a lot of style. It's a quite short piece, but that makes sense for the words, where the narrator of the poem is someone who has rented space in their brain out to telecom companies for discounted internet access. It's an interesting idea and one that could come to pass, but the side effects explain in some way the short poem, the truncated style. There is damage that comes along with renting out parts, and that damage effect communication. There might be a bit of a critique that the internet pushes for condensed narratives and forms over longer ones, the idea that it's valuing space or quality, but I don't feel while reading that the criticism is really technology, but rather the commercial exploitation of technology. Or maybe I'm reading too deep. In any event, it's a nice, fun poem.


"Me and Science Fiction: Dystopia, Dark Urban Fantasy, Zombies, and Monsters from the Deep" by Eleanor Arnason

An insightful and hopeful look at the recent trends in SFF, most notably the shift in focus away from near future and far future science fiction and a centering on dark urban fantasy and grimdark fantasy. And I can really see where she's coming from, though there are many examples of optimistic urban fantasy and fantasy out there. But I can definitely see the mentality that people are moving away from science fiction as ways of making statements on the present because the science is advancing so quickly and because it's easier to then make up magic than try to pick a scientific idea or theory that might be out of favor or discarded by the time the author's done writing it. But as To the Resurrection Station was one of my favorite reads last year (it is amazing and funny and everyone should go out and read it), I also know that science fiction doesn't have to be slavish to science to be impacting. I do want to see more science fiction that can posit the human race as not inherently fallen. I always look to Star Trek as a shining example of what science fiction can be, and yet the most recent Star Treks have been so bleak and pessimistic that I might need to find something else. But that does support the idea that people are moving away from hopeful SF. And I think we do need both. We need people with a vision and a faith that humanity can do something good. Because only then are we obligated to try, and we should all be trying to make the world better. So a thought-proviking piece.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform January 2015

Because this releases one story a week without anything else, I figured I would just wait to review all the Terraform stories at once. It means I have to wait a bit to put out the review, but I don't want to make a habit of putting out reviews with only one story in them. Those are for special occasions! So yeah...


"How A Dream Machine Works, Exactly" by Mark Von Schlegell (2582 words)

A surreal experience, as might suit a story that is about dreams. In it a man finds a machine that can turn his dreams into reality. At least, that's what he hopes. Things don't go exactly as he thought, though, and instead of really working to make his dreams real, he instead only is able to make another, similar machine, owned and operated by a childhood acquaintance, stronger. In the end he gives up trying to change the world with his machine, cedes the demands to her, and retires, only to find a new sort of machine to transform dreams into reality. The whole thing is a little messy, a little confusing, but it's still interesting in a dreamy sort of way. The end might be a little cheesy, but it's not bad.

"CES 2067" by Sam Biddle (1485 words)

Positing a world where technology is worshipped for technology's sake and not for really anything that it can do for people, this story was fun but didn't really hit that hard for me. At it's core it's about manufacturing desire, desire for technology, for the future, only it's a future that doesn't really exist, that doesn't really do anything for anyone. And that's an interesting idea, and it makes for a rather funny set of observations as the main character agonizes his choice in rectangle and imagines having a better one. I just always get a little touchy about these kinds of stories because sometimes they seem like "darn kids" stories. Not that this one is. I think what's being criticized is consumerism and the selling of an idea of "coolness" and not that it's trying to say that smart phones are stupid. And maybe because I don't follow the latest things when it comes to handheld devices I'm just missing something, that if I had ever gone to a CES I would like this more. I still liked it, but it didn't connect with me as much as I would have liked.

"Re-Homing" by Debbie Urbanski (1454 words)

Many of the Terraform stories revolve around some central What if...? question, and this one asks one in a way that is interesting, funny, and rather dark. What if raising children was like raising pets? It's both commentary on how we as a society view children as possessions and a commentary on how we treat our pets. Because even for pets, getting bored and trading them in or getting rid of them is terribly shallow. And people looking to adopt pets sometimes do so for some messed up reasons and with terrible results. But I think the more interesting part is to look at it as commenting on how we view children as possessions instead of people. And many do. It's part of the parent-child relationship that often bothers me, that many parents think they own their kids and that's just rather disturbing and leads to some horrible things. That this story manages to make that premise funny and sad and all the things is a testament to how good it is. Well handled and just the right length. Superb!

"Rockall" by Andrew David Thaler (2123 words)

A story about a colony that lives on a great boat out on the ocean, this one is a bit strange, focusing on Nails, the senior diver for the colony who must check to make sure the boat is anchored securely to a rock deep underwater. The routine of diving is taking it's toll, though, and Nails does not seem in a good way, haunted by giant squid that might or might not exist. This is a story I wish was longer, because as it is I feel like I'm missing some of the conflict. Nails seems to be rather bored, rather apathetic, but I didn't get a great feel for the colony, for the boat, or for what happened in the rest of the world. It's an interesting idea, and I like the perhaps-hallucinated squid, but I was left a bit wanting, a little bit confused at the end. I wanted to follow Nails, to see where he was going, but for what it is the story is fun and has some nice moments.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quick Sips - Kaleidotrope Winter 2015

Today I'm looking at Kaleidotrope, a magazine that I don't have an awful lot of experience with. It puts out a mix of genres, but this issue is mostly fantasy with some alt-history (maybe sci fi?) thrown in for good measure. And they are now accepting submissions, so maybe go check that out too. In any event, onward!
Art by Bridget Wilde


"The Salt Wedding" by Gemma Files (15696 words)

I wasn't expecting to find so long a story here, and yet this one has some legs, giving a moving account of some very strange happenings at sea. Told part in dialect, the story centers around Tante Ankolee as she is tasked by the King of England to investigate a report of ghost ships. More at the center, though, are Ankolee's cousin Solomon Rusk and Jerusalem Parry, two men who share a very sordid history and a very complicated relationship. It's really interesting to see that relationship, where Solomon is obviously infatuated with Parry, and as flawed as Solomon is he thinks that's enough, despite the fact that Parry is not comfortable with the part of himself that does want to be with Solomon. And Solomon doesn't wait, and that's no good, and I'm a little uncomfortable with that because it's sort of a trope that the forced party "learns to like it" but I think the story does a good enough job complicating things that I'm comfortable enjoying the plot and the characters and the voice. Because the voice is great, capturing the story being told and the spirits of the characters involved. I could feel that Solomon seemed to regret what he did and that he was tired of the long arguments, and that Parry didn't know how to feel, but needed space and release from being linked to Solomon. Perhaps smoothing things out is that they never get a happily-ever-after ending, as they are both dead, and that death can be seen as a way of clearing away some of the badness between them while not leaving real room for them to be together. It cancels their debts instead so that they can part. They enter into a new relationship where they cling a bit to their old excuses but can be more open about their feelings, but even that doesn't really last, and in the end they are able to let go and move on, and find their own ways. So in the end I liked the story, liked how it let everyone go and how it resolved the issues. A very nice, if very long, read, this story is well worth checking out.

"Bread of Life" by Cynthia McGean (2379 words)

A story within a story, this layered piece takes the side of the outsider, the abused and oppressed. The story is of a woman telling a story to a group of villagers. The story is picked out for one in particular, a girl who lives under the violent thumb of her father, a girl who is mocked by the rest of the village. So the story that is told is about a woman who is similarly looked down on, and who makes herself a child out of bread only to have her village turn their dislike into enough hatred to kill the child. It's a stark tale, shifting between the way the storyteller weaves her tale and the drama of the woman and her magic bread. There's certainly a sense of magic to it all, especially when the story seems to have some real-world consequences. And then the two stories are linked in the end, though one can only hope it's implied that things will go better than everyone dying. Artfully told, this story was a fun read, sad but with an uplifting spirit that is captured powerfully and emotionally.

"Atomic Missions" by Michael Andre-Driussi (4593 words)

A surreal alt-history where nuclear warfare became much more widespread but didn't outright target civilian centers, this story is something of a strange one. I'm pretty sure it's looking at what might have been, as in the alternate history nukes are used in Korea, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, in Vietnam. There's the feel from the bomber, who acts as the main character, that this is somehow cleaner, and yet it results in so much more death, in so much more damage to the globe. But I'm not sure that what's saying is that it's better the way we did it. I'm don't think, I guess, that the story really wants to make the point that things are better this way. I think instead that it wants to show that things might have been much worse, or different, or that without dropping the nukes as we did on civilians that the US might not have had the guilt to restrain itself from using them again. It's an interesting story, reminding me of the alt-history a-bomb stories of Kim Stanley Robinson, though perhaps a bit weirder. Worth checking out at least.

"Necessary Evil" by Stephen J. Barringer (9456 words)

In this long novelette, a wizard's apprentice seeks to cure a mysterious ailment suffered by his brother's beloved. Setting up a second world fantasy that seems to have a lot of similarities with our own world (the main character being from the Scotland-analogy and there at least being a German-analogy out there as well) but where magic is real and rather complicated. It's an interesting enough story, hitting all the plot points and bringing the main character to the conclusion that sometimes one must be manipulative to do right. Only I don't really like that as a message, because the idea of "necessary evil" is one where...well, even in the "Atomic Missions" story that idea is challenged. There's even a bomber plane in "Atomic Missions" named Necessary Evil. So having these two stories side by side is rather interesting, because I feel I come more on the "Atomic Missions" side where the right and wrong are rather muddied and cannot be judged based on the outcome. In this story, I find Mycroft's manipulating of Caitryn to be...well, it didn't feel wholly necessary nor...good. She should have had the right to make her own decision free of anyone trying to guilt or bully here. There are some pretty unpleasant analogies to real-world situations where people (especially men) think they know better than the woman about what to do with the woman's body (especially, like here, when it regards pregnancy). And while it doesn't seem the intent of the story at all, it gave me a bad feeling all the same. I just don't particularly like the idea that some people manipulating other people is "for their own good" and in this story it's somehow right, somehow moral for the manipulator. The greater good argument is not one that can be used with any certainty. It's...well, I was left feeling a bit conflicted about this story. The writing is well done and Mycroft seems an interesting enough character, capable of growth and introspection. For me, though, he falls into some traps that made me like him a lot less than I could have.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #165

Just when I thought maybe I was all caught up, Beneath Ceaseless Skies came along and reminded me that it comes out twice a month. So two new stories! And this issue is much more standard with its story lengths than last time. Two novelettes just waiting to be read. They both end up being about a pair, a man and a woman, traveling together. I rather prefer the depiction in "For Lost Time," but both are interesting in their own right. Let's go!


"For Lost Time" by Therese Arkenberg (7638 words)

It's not every day that you read a story with an asexual main character, but I feel that this character did a nice job with Aniver, who is traveling with Semira to try and bring back the cities of Aniver's homeland that have become lost in Time. Aniver is driven, perhaps a bit desperate, and definitely cares for Semira, but there is nothing sexual about their relationship. He's simply not interested in sex. Which is great. The only part that I could see as being maybe a little...well, a reason I would hesitate to endorse it fully is because there might be the implication that he was sexual and used that part of himself in his magic. Now, it sounds like he's always not been interested, but going off of how the magic in this story works, it's not for-sure for me. Still, it's a nice story about trying to recover something that is lost, and the strength and power of friendship. I like that, like that Aniver and Semira are so close and can stick by each other through so much. I like that Semira is taking on this task because it's right and not because it's her home that was lost. All around it's just a good story, with enough action and magic (Aniver's confrontation with a GIANT DEATH ON HER THRONE) to keep things moving right along. The "ending" of the quest isn't shown, but in some ways a very important part is already over. They choose to go on, and that choice is what defines them. Solid work.

"Day of the Dragonfly by Raphael Ordoñez (9737 words)

Even longer than the other story, this one takes place in an even bleaker setting, one that is dirty and that seems overrun by strange creatures and gods and cults. It's told a bit like a fable. A young woman, Yuni, goes in search of a man named the Dragonfly, who turns out to be the last of his people, a young man named Keftu. She needs him to save her sister from a giant worm that came from the moon. If he succeeds, he will get to marry said sister. It's a fairly standard setup, but the setting is interesting. Yuni turns out to be the sort who constantly gets him in trouble either to deal with her own growing feelings for him or, more likely, to toughen him up so that he can save her sister. The action is fast and violent and well done, and the visuals are interesting. The resolution and the ending didn't come as a surprise, but for someone looking for a male adventure story then this is a solid effort. Perhaps not really to my tastes, it does everything it sets out to do with skill, and is a fun enough read.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Quick Links 01/25/2015

This week was a bit slower for getting non-story reviews done. Nothing was due from the places I contribute to, so I decided to catch myself up on some personal reviews. These three books are quite different. One collection of stories, one collection of poetry, and one novel. But they are all very good. So feel free to follow some links and check out my reviews.

Being Full of Light, Insubstantial by Linda D. Addison (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - Very good collection of (mostly) spec poetry. I won four (signed!) volumes of her work by donating to Strange Horizons during their drive. This was the first I read. It's great!

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - Another very good one. I liked Wicked and I think this is a step up, and especially like the Bi protagonist. Had some confusion about the ending, but a very good book.

Tales of the Raksura, Volume 1 by Martha Wells (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - so many 4/5s for this link-fest. But this was a good collection. Probably I would have liked it even more if I had read the novels first. Bad me, but I won this through the First Reads program so got it for free in return for the review. Still, as a newbie I liked it plenty!

And there you have it! Another week, another handful of reviews. Looking forward to reading some  more this next week, but with the way life has been going lately I will keep my ambitions small. In any event, thanks for tuning in!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Week Three

Hi everybody! Thanks for putting up with me for another week of reviews here at Quick Sips. Hopefully people are finding out the sorts of things I will be trying to read going forward. Though if anyone wants to suggest anything, please feel free to shout out in the comments.

Things are certainly moving right along. The last week of the month is just around the corner and at this point I can predict that I'll likely have a post for every week day. I swear, it wasn't what I was planning. I was planning maybe 2-3 posts a week. But then I ran into the reality of how much is published. It's a great time to be a reader.

And the end of the month means The Monthly Round is just around the corner as well. I have many of them chosen already, but am waiting to find out what else is going to fill in the corners. Not going to lie, something might end up there that I don't review here. Don't hate me if it's the case. But I also have some other things going on, as well as some possibly good news that I can't talk about yet. But I am hoping. Hoping!

I guess people are hungry for translations, though. My review for Words Without Borders has been the most popular yet on the site and that's cool. I feel bad I didn't know about them before. But translations are great and I will keep looking out for things. I also feel a little bad because I'm fairly SFF focused and don't give as much attention to things like horror. I know there are a few new projects out that I should be paying attention to, but it is hard to keep up with everything. Not going to lie, this has taken a lot more work than I thought it would. There may well come a time when I cut back the number of reviews per week or per month. For now, we'll see how it goes.

Anyway, you've probably tired of me rambling on about things, which I would do ALL THE TIME, so I'll cut this off here and thank you all again for being awesome and stopping by.

All the best,


Friday, January 23, 2015

Quick Sips - Farrago's Wainscot #13

A bit of a new one here today with Farrago's Wainscot, a place putting out "literary weird" fiction and poetry. And a nice lobster on the front page. I'm all about lobsters! Apparently the publication was active until 2009 and then disappeared for a while and is now back! So yeah, onwards to the reviews!


"Everybody Has a Twin Except for Me" by Toiya Kristen Finley (3715 words)

Literary weird is probably a good way to describe this story, in which CF flees through what might be parallel dimensions from two predatory men bent on killing him. The story is a strange one, and not exactly linear. Through the jumble of scenes it's revealed that CF is kind-of related to the men pursuing him, that they're from his past, a past where he failed to do something and now can't escape. I wonder some how literal it's supposed to be, or if perhaps he's running from the men is more figurative, a running from his past, running from confronting what needs to be confronted. He's out looking for himself, and as long as he keeps running that's exactly what he can't find. It's an interesting piece, though a little muddy for my tastes. Still, it's full of some excellent imagery and language.

"Sinfonia 22" by Forrest Aguirre (1885 words)

Another strange beast, this one told as a collection of quotations from various sources surrounding the death of composer Allesandro Livetti. There is certainly the air of a detailed report to this story, like it could all have happened like this, like this is all absolutely true. Kind of like found-text stories, this one is rather a compiled text story that reveals a number of curiosities concerning the murder. It's a little tricky to get at first, but it does have a nice enough flow to it, and it set up to the ending, to the murder itself, quite well. Musical and strange, it works for what it seems to set out to do, and is entertaining and comical throughout. Some sections obviously will hit better than others, but it all weaves together to form a whole, one that is worth a look.

"Of Homes Gone" by Jason Heller (2013 words)

Still on the theme of weird shit, this story is about an enforcer of the Lack of Laws going out into a city where entering buildings is taboo and perhaps deadly. It's not entirely clear if the fear of the buildings is from buildings collapsing during catastrophes or if there is something more magical about them, but the agent goes out to follow a rumor that someone went inside. What they find is, well, strange, a sort of religious experience, and it changes them. Changes them enough that they start trying to break down the walls of meaning between thing. Starting with their face. Disturbing and creepy, the whole thing is once more a little opaque to me but interesting to read at least.

"Time is a Twisting Snake" by Richard Bowes (2999 words)

Definitely the most coherent and powerful of the stories in this issue, it follows an old New Yorker in a future where people can live on in the bodies of the young. At first this notion disturbs him, and he tries to take his age in stride, but as he goes about his life and sees the benefits to not aging, he is seduced. He's lived through so much, and getting a chance to be young again sounds like it would be too tempting to resist. Really, though, he seems to doubt what he's done, doubts that it should be done. For while he likes his new body, there is a sense that he has betrayed something fundamental about himself, to say nothing about what he's done to the person whose body he's taken over. Weird but rich with science fiction and a strong drive, this story is one that should definitely be checked out.


"Worlds In Collision" by Bryan D. Dietrich

This poem is pretty much exactly like the name implies. One planet smacks into another, and basically they both die. It's about the moments before the impact, the moments when the new world looms up like a moon and then everyone realizes what's about to happen. It's about not being able to do much. Stark and desperate, it's a compact poem, full of some neat phrasing and the feel of the atmosphere shredding. This poem hits, and it hits hard, summing up all the lonely despair that comes along with a planet's annihilation.

"Perennial Movement" by Glenn Shaheen

A poem with some form to it, this one moves in a circle, or in branching paths, or any way, really. I read it first clock-wise, then counter, then as a right side and a left. It really can be enjoyed in a number of ways, which is part of the fun and meaning, to find the different meanings that come with the different ways of reading. In most ways it seems to be about death and gravity and all those fun kinds of things. Definitely suited for multiple readings. A fun exercise, if rather dark.

"Whispering Into the Ear Of The Statue Of Your Choice What You Really Think About Things Is Almost Like Talking To Someone" by John Gallaher

This is something of a dense poem, using long lines that give it a sense that it, like the statues, is a bit set in stone, that it is solid, not vague or ephemeral. Of course, this works too because the statues in the poem are solid and allow the narrator to throw a bit of themselves into giving the statues voice. It's a neat poem, with some ideas that I want to call cute, like the voice the narrator uses to give the statues words. I think there's something under the lighter ideas of the poem, though, something about how we are all sort of like that, how we all sort of make ourselves into statues to each other. The last lines of the poem do a great job of capturing that idea, and I like the overall effect. Hurrah!

"Orbital" by Adrienne J. Odasso

And to completely turn things around from the last poem, this one is lithe and airy, very short lines and breaks and just a lot of space in there. Space that the words themselves seem to evoke, asking the reader to fill and make sense of. It has some really nice lines and a good sense that something is happening, that two people are burning, or at least one is burning, but the fire brings them together while it seems to resolve them, to destroy them. It's a short poem, but one that reaches up with the flames, one that lingers like an echo. It's lovely and definitely worth a few reads!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quick Sips - Shimmer #23 (January Stuff)

Today I'm looking at the January releases for Shimmer #23. Once again, I encourage everyone to go out and get the whole issue, but I follow these as they are released, meaning that the other two stories out in this "January" issue will get reviewed here in February. But if you like the stories, please go ahead and support the magazine! 


"The Half Dark Promise" by Malon Edwards (3423 words)

Well damn. That is one hell of a way to open up an issue. Visceral, violent, and tinged with loss, this story of a little girl facing down a monster with a skin condition and a machete is intense. Weaving in bits of language from the girl's background, from Haiti, it builds up the struggle between her and the Pogo, the struggle that is more than just her against a monster, that becomes about her against the world, against the harassment she suffers, the terror she faces. Tired of being tired. I liked that line, and liked even more the cool calm with which she wields Tonton Macoute. It's a fun read and yet a dark read, one that isn't particularly happy. Not when her best friend has been taken, not when her father has been taken and she must face such perils and hardship alone. But it is an uplifting story, one about a little girl not running, and her fighting through and winning something that she wasn't supposed to win. It's a great story.

"Of Blood and Brine" by Megan E. O'Keefe (3064 words)

Following a young and nameless child, this story starts mysterious when an equally nameless adult arrives in her shop to by a perfume. In a society where scents are linked to identity and every adult must buy a name and wrap or else die from exposure to a deadly moon, the story does a great job of world-building, and of setting up the main character's dilemma. She needs a name and yet her mentor is a drunk who won't help. When the nameless stranger offers enough money for her to buy her name, the child takes the chance, though it draws her into a mystery of murder and betrayal. That aspect of the story was nice, the build, and yet in a story this short the final confrontation seemed just a little truncated to me. I cheered to see the girl finally have enough to make her own way, but I felt it was a little bit of a disappointment not to see more with the woman and her sister. It by no means ruined the story for me, though, and this is strong with some solid mood and a setting I want to see more of.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons January 19

Strange Horizons is back with the second of the two-part "The Animal Women" and so I'm back and ready to review. Also DISCLAIMER: my review for the story is less review and more meandering effort to figure out how I feel about that story. It's a bit long and changes midway a few times and...well, I just kept it as-is because I'm not sure I have my thoughts completely together on it and if I have time maybe I'll be back to re-think this. Also a new poem, which is always nice. So let's go!


"The Animal Women" (part 2) by Alix E. Harrow (4434 words)

Well that was satisfying. I suppose I shouldn't say that when a fictional character gets killed, but Orrin really deserved it. The amount of wanting-that-guy-to-die-ness that went into that character is impressive, and the story not only gets him mauled in the face but then completely destroyed. It's fun and has a great mood to it, but now I'm trying to unpack the story a bit. And I think there is a lot going on in this story, with the little white girl who becomes a part of something...well, both animal and human. For all that these are Animal Women, I think there is a point that they are human, that it might ask the age-old favorite in science fiction and fantasy of "who is the real animal?" Of course, that gets complicated a bit because of the racial issues at work in the story, at the time that it is set, on the day that it came out. The women are all victims who found strength and power in...I guess rejecting the place people wanted for them. They break from the world that is set up to destroy them and find a little bit of power of their own. Wait a second. Maybe I'm thinking about this wrong. The women are probably all dead, aren't they? They all "split" and gained their power at times when they were about to die. One through a mob, one through self-inflicted harm. They all died, and in doing so became something like Furies, spirits of vengeance who are apart from everything, unable to change anything, except perhaps to save Candy. But...huh, does that mean that Candy is dead too at the end? And would that mean that these women only gained some power through their deaths? This just got way more complicated than I thought it would. Re-reading the end...

...and still missing out on something that would help me completely wrap my head around the story. I think I'd draw it back to the Shakespeare quote that Candy cries out when she changes. I think I have to think that the women are dead, that Candy is dead. I have to think that this is basically a story about how hatred creates something dark and twisted, that it doesn't just leave. That those women have become Furies, and that Candy has too. That they have, largely, lost their ability to change the world except through violence, that they have left the world except as vengeful spirits. Which makes this a little less the historical fantasy I thought it was at first and more a horror story. The implication being that what you do comes back in the end, and you should try to do good, to sow peace and understanding, or what you sow you will reap. Hmm. Not exactly what I thought I was going to find in this story. It's a bit less hopeful than I thought at first. Because Candy has effectively lost her voice. She gained it, but it has become something cold and animal. She lost her camera, which was the greater voice, which might have had the greater strength, and instead has become a killer.

Okay, apparently I have thoughts on this story. Many thoughts. I still like it. I mean, it's a fun story, and sometimes what you want is a story where the bad guy gets punished as he should and where the little girl gets the power to punish him. But something about it is...well, sad. Probably that was on purpose. Because sad things do happen. The women in the story went through horrible things and they couldn't stop that. According to them, they got a power in return, a kind of magic. But I'm still not sure what kind of magic that is. They say they were not nothing anymore, but I wonder what they are. They get the power to not conform, but still lack the power to...belong? Unless they're choosing to belong with more of a natural world instead of a human world. They have power, but it seems only the power to protect themselves, the power to kill, and how Candy fits into that is a little confusing because she seems different in the end, free but also changed, no longer the girl she was, and if the implication is that this version of Candy is better then I'm just not sure and look I've gone cross-eyed. I'm just not sure how to approach that just now. Hmm. Gah! I'm probably just over-thinking this and need to stop and delete all this.

SUMMARY OF THE ABOVE: I'm not sure how to feel about liking this story. Because I do like it. But I can't seem to wrap my head around it completely. Help?


"Retirement" by Samantha Renda-Dollman

Now that I'm all confused I probably shouldn't read anything more but I'm charging ahead (sorry this poem). And I like the poem. It seems to be hinting at a relationship that isn't really as stable as it could be. Making a statement about retirement in general, that this old (presumably) married couple has moved to the moon to retire and the woman (it seems feminine to me, but I suppose that could be wrong. The character is never gendered, but I guess I assumed) is completely okay with that. The man, however, doesn't seem to be able to stand it. He lost something on Earth and wants to go back. But she doesn't. She just enjoys herself. Maybe I've just seen this in people after they retire and that's why I gender the narrator (is it still a narrator in poetry?) as female. Because in some ways retirement is getting rid of a lot of expectations placed on you by society. And because for women those expectations are generally crappier than for men, they seem more able to handle retiring, while many retired men I know can't handle being a part of those expectations, because it gave them more power. And who knows, maybe I'm once more reading too much into this, but I like the poem. Quite and with a sense of a long exhale. Nice work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Quick Sips - Words Without Borders January 2015

And now for something a little different. With all the translations out this month and with the attention given to them, I must say I had never heard of Words Without Borders. But it seems a very valuable source for translated stories. A great many of them. A great, great many of them. I also looked at all of the excerpts from novels, part because I wanted to see how well they would stand on their own and part because there's no way I'll be reading the rest of the novels (unless they're fully translated). So here I go.

Image: Kacper Kowalski, China, Wuming, Guangxi Zhuang. Stone pits cut away into the mountainous area of Wuming near Nanning.

"Mine-Wife" by Karin Tidbeck, translated by Silvester Mazzarella (3966 words)

Delightfully creepy with a healthy dose of folklore, this one delves into the disappearance of a Swedish town and reveals the likely presence of a whole race of vengeful under-dwellers, creatures that might not be as gone as people think. It unfolds slowly using a series of correspondences as the framing device. It's not something I see much of nowadays, but it is effective, especially when working for credibility. There is a feeling that this might be real, that these might be true happenings, though the setting is different enough to be solidly fantasy. Still, it's great to read about the creatures that were thought of as myth, to see their mentality, to see that humanity betrayed them and that they have the capability to do serious damage. Great stuff.

"The Beast Has Died" by Bef, translated by Brian L. Price (5518 words)

A bit of alt-history set in a Mexico where Napoleon's France has conquered most of the world, this one was a lot of fun, if a little strange to follow at times. Because despite the story taking place in the 1800s, there is advanced science, the internet, television, and all number of other things, like robot soldiers and war-derigibles. So a very interesting setting, an elseworlds story about the struggle for Mexican Independence, which is brought about by digitizing a person's essence. Really this is like five different stories all crammed into one, and the result is fun, fast, and fresh. I might not have really gotten every historical nod, but those I did get were fun and wickedly funny. A good show.

"Distinguishing Marks: None" by Jorge Eduardo Benavides, translated by Gabriel T. Saxton-Ruiz (4568 words)

Another rather creepy one, this one dealing with the uncertainty of identity. A young man becomes obsessed with the idea that he is being replicated by one of his friends. Replicated in mannerism, in look, in everything. It's a dense, slow read, and the build is nicely done. It's a little dry for most of the story, and without an awful lot of speculative elements except that idea that he is being replaced. But that idea is a fun one, one that leads to an ending that is great, that really needles at that question of who is who, and how far the main character might have drifted into madness, or whether he's not mad at all.

"Contrera's Dream" by Jorge Baradit, translated by Gabriel T. Saxton-Ruiz (4034 words)

A re-imagining of events surrounding the 1973 Chilean coup, this story is more of a history than anything. Or perhaps, as the title suggests, a dream. There aren't exactly characters, just a string of events that might have happened, that might have led to different results than what really happened in Chile in 1973. In this dream version of events, things reached a much larger stage than the events of 1973, causing a great deal of global awareness and U.S. involvement than occurred. Instead of the U.S. being able to deny they were responsible for the coup, in this version it is the U.S. flag that flies after the violence is committed. An interesting story, and one that makes me a bit ashamed I don't know more about global history.

"Scandal" by Aldo Nove, translated by Elizabeth Harris (4067 words)

This one is technically an excerpt from a novel, which means I normally wouldn't look at it, but it rather works as its own story. Much more poetic, much more free than the other ones so far, this has a very strange feel to it. Vaguely biblical and yet also rather subversive. About family, about scandal, about what makes people free and how being holy doesn't insulate you from being discarded by your family. It's a little difficult to read at times but quite good, especially the last of the scenes where Saint Francis is splitting from his father. Powerful work, and definitely with some unconventional style and form.

"Cousins from Overseas" by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, translated by Sarah Ann Wells (5062 words)

Quite a fun little alt-history piece of the Portuguese King in exile after fleeing to Brazil during the early stages of WWII. Of course, in this world Brazil is still an empire ruled by descendants of the Portuguese throne, and so it is to his cousins that the King escapes. A day diversion hunting jaguar, though, turns into something even more dangerous when the King falls and breaks his leg, is set upon by an assassin, and contemplates his role in European intrigue. Really this is just a fun little adventure story, not exactly weighty but full of action and politics. It captures the idea of a monarchy, the dashing figureheads for an entire nation, and does a nice job tweaking a few things with regards to WWII. History fans should be entertained.

"Saint Lionel" by Hernán Vanoli, translated by Juan Caballero (2164 words)

Another except, and this one from something that I'd be very interested in reading, where a gang of women are stuck trying to make the best of a bad situation when they get tapped to transport the cyborg of soccer star Lionel Messi. It's another fun story, but there seems to be a lot going on here, more than this very short excerpt can really give justice to. But it's a neat setting in a futuristic Argentina and the characters are sound. Lionel himself, damaged as he is, is a fascinating idea, and the way the characters respond to him is great. The voice, wry and a bit cocky and sarcastic, is loads of fun and makes me want to read more.

"Cinépanorama" by Xavier Mauméjean, translated by Edward Gauvin (1636 words)

An interesting story but one that might require a bit more knowledge of French films than I possess. At the very least it is a fairly sad tale about a man who got caught up only slightly in the French conflict in Vietnam and who, after the French were pulling out, crashed a Jeep and ended up losing an eye. The story has a nice flow to it, broken up by quotes from various sources at the time, mostly concerning cinema, but I have to say that most of it was beyond me. A shame, because it seems like there is a lot there, a lot of sadness and anger and, perhaps in the end, some triumph. But unfortunately I don't get most of the references.

"The Agent" by Tatiana Niculescu Bran, translated by Jean Harris (2571 words)

A very strange story, this one focuses on a real-estate agent in Bucharest trying to sell an apartment to an old man who had been a refugee most of his life. The woman wants to sell, the man to remember, and together they embark on a sort of journey into the past. The old man recalls various stories of his life, of where he grew up, and the effect is that the agent feels drawn into them, to the point that by the end she is flying with him in his memories, into the vast sea of the past. Surreal and strange, it still manages to be engaging and interesting and full of things to discover.

"The Ditch" by Răzvan Petrescu, translated by Florin Bican (1683 words)

Another story that I'm not entirely sure what to make of. Three men working at digging a ditch eventually come across a human skull. It's a neat bit of slice of life, the three workers all alive, all as one would think of workers as, working and eating and talking to each other with an easy swagger. It's all captured very well, the way they act around each other, the tone and movement of it all, as if they are all actors going about this routine. But something shifts with the discovery of the skull. Something snaps in at least one of the men. But I wasn't quite sure what it meant, what it signified. And I wasn't sure why they were digging this ditch. I liked the story, but some part of it seemed just a bit out of reach for me.

"Onomasticon" by Mircea Horia Simionescu, translated by Sean Cotter (2454 words)

And finally there is this, yet another excerpt from a longer work, but one that doesn't really require the rest of the work because it's a list of names. Kind of like a baby name book, it gives names, but instead of meanings, the entries might be bits of anything. Most are interesting, or strange, and often they are complicated and hilarious. It's a great read, and makes me wonder after the whole thing, which apparently has been translated. Though there is no story, each entry is its own entirety, and I'd want to see if any themes develop. In any event, it's fun and entertaining and worth checking out.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #56

Today I'm looking at Lightspeed #56. Four new stories, two of them science fiction and two of them fantasy. The science fiction are both near-future (nearly present, in fact), and the fantasies range from contemporary fantasy to sci-fantasy. An interesting mix. So onward!

Art by Zelda Devon


"Headwater LLC" by Sequoia Nagamatsu (3431 words)

This was my favorite story in the issue. About a woman, Yoko, who inadvertently betrayed her friend, Masa, a Kappa, so that now he and all the Kappa are held prisoner and exploited for their delicious and drug-like head water. There's something just very human in it all, in the way that Yoko wishes to do soemthing but can't bring herself to. She can feel bad about it, and can wish for change, can fantasize about doing something, but in the end the most she does to fight is to feel bad. It really is a great way of looking how people in a privileged class can think that they should do something for people who are being oppressed and exploited, but when it comes time to actually do something they balk, they fantasize, they make it about their own pain. The story does a great job of exploring the pain but also the failure of Yoko to help her friend.

"He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (5882 words)

This story conflicted me by far the most out of any in this issue. About a boy who falls in love with an alien who at first is only using him for his genetic material but then falls in love with him. On the one hand, it has a homosexual relationship that is intense and shown without shame and that is great. I generally like the main character even as he's trying to deny that being with a man makes him gay. Which, hey, he could be bi, so it's not a terrible thing to think. He still likes looking at porn with women in it. But then, there are some serious issues I had with the relationship, not least of which is that there doesn't seem to be much consent. The main character is much, much younger than the alien who he falls in love with. And there's just the feeling that this might be coercive, because the alien doesn't begin as seeing the main character as valuing choice. It's...well, I'm conflicted. The idea that love can conquer all is a good message, and especially in a queer narrative, but I was very uncomfortable with what the story implied. Very. Not because the M/M stuff. I write M/M erotica and when I do, like with all erotica, I think there's a fine line that must be walked. And I'm not sure I felt this completely succeeded for me. It's kind of like vampires. Really old vampire who just looks the same as an actual young person doesn't really set up an even level of power in the relationship, and while the alien here is sure to ask for consent, it still seemed a little...well, sketchy to me. Maybe on purpose. And again, I liked some elements of the story. They just didn't come together for me.

"Men of Unborrowed Vision" by Jeremiah Tolbert (7127 words)

On the surface I think this story has a lot to say. About activists who have to face an attack that threatens the very collaborative and collective cohesion of humanity, it's about overcoming the barriers that corporate capitalism places between mutual beneficial cooperation. The characters are well done and the plot moves along nicely as long as you ignore the fact that the attack makes almost no sense. It even mentions this, because this attack on collectivity, which comes in the form of a virus that makes people anti-social, is a collaborative effort. Moreover, it's coming from corporate executives. Who depend on collectivity to exploit in order to make money. Perhaps if the movement posed enough of a threat to corporate interests I could see this, but in the story it's not put forth that the activists are really "winning." People are still super rich. So I just don't get how someone could be so crazy to actually pull off this attack. I like the message. It does seem at times that corporations want to see people alone and easy to prey on, but they want herds, not loners. It's a nice humans coming together story, but not one that I could completely believe.

"Archon" by Matthew Hughes (5508 words)

Another chapter in the Kaslo Chronicles, of which I have read the last few but not all of them. Basically science is replaced by magic as the guiding force of the universe and Kaslo joins forces with a mage, Obron, to do what he can to survive and...I'm not precisely sure. Part of not having read the whole thing is that the motivation for the characters is a little hazy to me. They're reacting to being attacked and trying to counter some threat from an unknown enemy. It reads fairly entertainingly but this installment is a little dull. Lots of talking heads and not much action. Even when a demon shows up it's dispatched with ease and it just seemed much more a housekeeping part of the story. People need to meet, pieces need to be moved around the board, but nothing all that new or interesting happens. I still thought it was a fine story, just not one of the most interesting in the ongoing narrative.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Quick Links 01/18/2015

So, as promised, here are the reviews that I've done (not including those on this site) that have come out over the past week.

Tales of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Volume 1 by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Jim Larson (GoodReads, my score 3/5) - got this as a gift and read it. It was pretty good for someone who is vaguely nostalgic about TMNT

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Goodreads, my score 5/5) - oh my glob read this read this now it is amazing!

A Taste of Ice by Hanna Martine (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - an all right paranormal romance with some problems I could not really get over. I mostly enjoyed myself, and the world is interesting, but it gets a bit messy at times.

Alistair Grim's Odditorium by Gregory Funaro (Kidsreads) - not a huge fan of it, despite some potential. A long book, but a very quick read at the very least...

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together, my score 9/10) - A great, great read. Both this and The Summer Prince had me in tears. I swear that doesn't happen very often. Go pre-order this one!

So there you go. Enjoy and thanks for stopping in!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Week Two!

So closes my second week of Quick Sips. I keep telling myself that I can have a day off, that I don't need to post every day, but there is so much to read. SO MUCH! And I want to read it all, and I want to tell people about how good the good things are. But there will probably come a day this month where I will not have a new post and I apologize in advance for that.

Oh, and for anyone who missed it, Queers Destroy Science Fiction is now live on Kickstarter. Go support the hell out of that, because it will be amazing. And important. Or, perhaps, Important. So go do that. I'll wait...Okay then.

Oh, and I've decided to do something on Sundays as well, because having things on the other six days of the week isn't enough! Really it's only going to be collecting links to other reviews I do of mostly-not-short-fiction. Which means mostly links to GoodReads, because I'm on there all the time. Really. It's kind of sad. So that's happening.

Some fun things are on the horizon. Next week I'm looking at the January Lightspeed as well as the January stuff from Shimmer and the January Words Without Borders (kind of like doctors, but wait, no, nothing like that at all). Words Without Borders is rather cool, though, a site dedicated to translations into English. With some great stories! So yeah, look forward to that.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and reading!


Friday, January 16, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination January 2015

So today I'm looking at the original short story releases from Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. Up to now they've been doing only one original story a month, but with this issue (and thanks to limiting word counts to under 3k, though there is one a little longer as the policy was just implemented) they have two. So let's dive right in.


"Heartless" by  Krystal Claxton (2773 words)

A creepy little story about a place where words have power and magic and where one woman hopes to save a man that has been attacked and nearly killed by a Shebeast. The set up is interesting, the woman running from her own past and legacy, the man a wounded thing that she tries to heal, that she sort of falls for. It's a little standard in its message, the transformative power of love, but I think it was done fairly well, that it wasn't the man who made the woman strong but rather that she made herself strong and realized that she wanted something. The fight between the woman and the Shebeast was interesting, visceral. I loved the idea of the kind of fight they were having. Not so sure on the whole Shebeast thing, but it was still a nice story that I enjoyed. And ripe for further exploration of the setting, the idea of the words having power. I'd read more.

"Underworld" by Katherine Mankiller (3521 words)

There's a lot to enjoy about this story, though I feel it suffers a little for being quite short (though longer than the new length restriction at FSotI). I mean, I liked the casual way that magic just works in the story, the way that Dion just does it and it does generally what he wants it to. I like the relationship between him and his mom, where he's the more responsible one, looking out for her. Families are great things to story and this family has its issues. I felt that the main focus, that Dion is finding out about his family, was all right but very rushed. This feels more like the opening to a novel, where he would learn more about who he is and would get pulled into some weird stuff. Again, I think I'd read more of this, but I don't think this one worked as well for me as a short story. I was left a little confused and wanting, and though I like a lot of things about it I just wasn't completely convinced by it. Still, I don't regret reading it. It just makes me hungry, which is not the worst thing a story can do.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quick Sips - Crossed Genres #25: Indoctrinate

This month's Crossed Genres #25 is centered around the theme "Indoctrinate." As far as themes go, it's not too bad. There's a lot that can be done with it, as shown by the three stories here. In any event, here we go!


"Cabaret Obscuro" by Julian Mortimer Smith (4058 words)

 A neat piece that almost seemed noir to me, at least in that it evokes that time period where cabaret's and shows of that sort were more popular, and it revels in a sort of mirky feel that makes me imagine in sepia. There is also the feel that this is a dangerous time to be different, that for the people of the story, the immigrant performers, things are not very good and they're fighting for even the most basic of rights. The fact that these immigrants are from the stars and not from other continents is what gives the story its speculative wrinkle, and it's a good one. There is an exotic flair to the situation, one that comforts as well as bothers the main character, a musician and dancer. I'm guessing the indoctrinate part of the story was the racism that many of the people had in reacting to the cabaret, though I feel I didn't get to learn quite as much as I wanted to about the various cultures meeting. Still, it was good and thoughtful and complicated. So hurrah!

"Distant Gates of Eden Gleam" by Brian Trent (4992 words)

In this one an average sort of man gets brought into a secret organization that runs the world to be complicit in some pretty awful things. It's a story where he basically gets anything he wants, is giving everything that people would assume he wants, and yet still decides to do the right thing and outsmart the secret society and save the day. It's not a bad story, either, with some humor and some interesting ideas. I normally don't like these kinds of stories, though, that imply that there is this guy who seems average but is secretly incredible and does crazy things that benefit everyone. There's something...that just rubs me the wrong way about those kinds of stories. I would think that it's about how people who seem like they're not exceptional still have that potential, but...well, it seems more to be saying that just this one guy was good. Everyone else in the company was just complicit but stupidly so, which let him outsmart them all. Which is a bit of a stretch. And that he doesn't abolish the power structure bothered me a little. He just takes over. Which is...well, it brings its own set of problems that aren't addressed. But it still has some nice moments, and funny voice.

"The Lion God" by Benjamin Blattberg (3703 words)

A nice little story about a resistance fighter going up against a literal Lion God. It's an interesting idea, that a lion with miraculous powers shows up one day claiming to be God and because of those powers gains control of the world. Of course he implements some harsh rules that benefit him and play into a conservative agenda and so people start fighting back. Only the Lion God has a breath that can break wills. Luckily he's a bit too full of himself to just use it on the main character, because she is filled with poison and so as he tortures her on natural television to get a confession, he ends up kind of killing himself. And I do like that, that he had the power to save himself and didn't because he thought he was unassailable, and that this woman managed to hold out long enough to succeed. The ending was a little less clear, as people kind of go crazy but I never got that much an idea of what this place looks like. Still, it was a good story, and the main character manages to look at the face of death and not flinch.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons January 13

Another week means another "issue" of Strange Horizons is out. Only this is the first part of a two-part story by Alix E. Harrow. And a poem. And some non-fiction, but this time I'm not going to look in depth at the nonfiction. Perhaps because I don't have much experience with what it's about so I wasn't sure what to think. But here I go!


"The Animal Women" (part 1) by Alix E. Harrow (3591 words)

Well this first part of the story really makes it seem like stuff is going to hit the fan. About a young white girl in the rural south right after the assassination of MLK, Jr., this story is a little hard to judge based solely on the first part. There's a lot going on here, a little girl with speech problems who wants to be a photojournalist and who finds a small group of houses where some women live. The women are described as animal-like but it's not really clear yet if that is to challenge the reader or if they are actual...well, creatures wouldn't be the right word. Spirits? Shape-shifters? It's a little difficult to guess but there is some power to them that looks like it's going to lead to some serious carnage in the second part. But I could be wrong. The premise is an interesting one, and the racial elements seem well done to me, making for a complex situation, especially when not all of the animal women are non-white. It makes me quite excited to see what happens next week.


"Orthography in the Lands of Yahm" by Daniel Ausema

I really like this poem. Though it does sound like it is very difficult to communicate in this Yahm. I love the ideas that are introduced, though, the writing on spider silk, which is delicate and often goes astray when spiders escape. Then the trees, writing that is concrete but always too late to do anything, that does nothing to stop the warring. Then the writing on the sand, which is supposed to be lasting but that only disappears. It examines the ideas of language, and how language can fail us, how it can fall short, because while these methods all seem amazing, they don't really work. And that's great. It builds an idea of each of these places, gives them personality and depth and conjures them with more force than I think would have been captured with a prose story. The structure worked for me, with the first and last sections, where the language is more ephemeral, having a loser structure and the middle, where it is written in trees, being built like a little brick of text. Excellent stuff!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #164

Wow, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #164 is a short one for the publication. At least, the things I'm looking at here aren't all that much. I'm not looking at the novel excerpt, which would have made this more typical in length to other BCS issues. Not that I'm complaining. With everything out there to read, sometimes having a short issue is a good thing. So here we go!


"Everything Beneath You" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (4697 words)

A story primarily concerned with gender and choice and I have to say that I like it though it does seem mostly a way to make a point rather than a way to tell a story. But then, that's not always a bad thing. I like that the main character is a woman who wants to be a woman but free of the expectations of being a woman. I like that she refuses the easy answer of becoming a man, and that she brings a confusion and a complexity to gender that some people see as needless. Because the more complex solution is often the right one. So what if there's some confusion at first. People are supposed to be equal to it, are supposed to be able to deal with it. Things are not supposed to be easy, simple. It's kind of unfortunate that she has to give up on her life with her love. I'm not a huge fan of that. Seems to me like she wouldn't give up just because she's told it's impossible. Maybe I'm wrong. But I want to see her get it all. Being told that you can't have everything isn't quite what I want to hear. Because she's right, there is no reason why she can't. It's an arbitrary concession forced on her because she's not the one with power, because the person with power is male and thinks things should be simple. I want to see her succeed in more than just story. But this story is still good, with a solid flow and an epic, mythological feel to it. Good stuff to think about.

"The Metamorphoses of Narcissus" by Tamara Vardomskaya (3231 words)

A story about transformations, as a dancer is transformed first into art, and then into something more. Around her, a nation is transformed from peace to war and back, but different. At first obsessed with an edgy artist, the main character gets swept away by the war and becomes a nurse, falls in love and marries an injured man, and then has to face the life she might have had if the war had not erupted. Somehow, in all the sadness of the story, I felt that it was hopeful, that it was saying that people are, ultimately, more than art, that art is aspiring to show something but isn't really something that can make up for life. It's interesting, and rather melancholic, looking at the lessons that war teaches, how is stripes away artifice and narcissism and how for the main character it teaches her what to value, gives her some perspective. An interesting story, and definitely worth checking out.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex Magazine #68

Today I'm looking at Apex #68, which as always is a nice mix of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. I always think of Apex as being the go-to place for dark speculative stories, and this month is no exception, with enough creepy and bloody to keep things moving along nicely.

Art by Emma SanCartier


"Pocosin" by Ursula Vernon (5000 words)

A story about a witch helping out an old possum god to die, this one is all about the mood, the tired witch fed up with the work of doing good. Fending off God and the Devil from taking the possum god, the witch wants a break, but things like this keep happening, and because she has a sense of right and wrong, and because she has the power to help, she lets herself be pulled out of her rest. I loved her reactions to everything, the world-building that the story manages where there are these forces at work and Maggie, the witch, is caught in the middle. And I rather like the message, that doing the right thing takes work, and that you shouldn't give up even if it's hard and thankless, but sometimes you do make a difference and sometime you do get a reward of sorts, even if it's only a break and some booze and a promise that there's more work to do.

"Multo" by Samuel Marzioli (3770 words)

A creepy story about a childhood fear returning. A man is contacted by an old neighbor and reminds him of an encounter with a ghost when he was young. There's something about immigration going on here, as well, with the main character being an immigrant as well as the ghost that tormented him as a child. The ghost attached itself to an old woman first, causing her to become withdrawn, haunted. And then it attaches to him, or maybe it's all in his head. That part of the story is very well done, that question of whether this is real or not. Obviously it could just be his fear, that as a child he believed the stories and now as an adult he remembers that uncertainty and it bleeds over, causing him to doubt, to see what isn't there. But then, it's also possible that it's real, that this is happening and a ghost has found him. But it's a classic fear of the dark story, a fear of the unknown, one influenced by stories from a different country. It's an interesting piece and contains a nice amount of creepiness.

"Anarchic Hand" by Andy Dudak (3300 words)

This story is a bit of a trip, because it operates with a disoriented narrator in the form of the mind of a cryo-perserved woman woken as a mental infection. It makes more sense than I can properly describe, but it's still a learning curve, and most of the story is simply explaining the situation and the main dilemma, that Dimia, the narrator, has to make a choice of what to do in her new situation. She's not alone in infecting a man's body, and she can either join a group that want to take over him entirely to go where they will in his body or can use him to enter into a place where more consciousnesses like hers have gathered. There really isn't a good option here, and Dimia changes her mind a bit. To be honest, I don't think I really followed enough to understand if her choice in the end was better or worse than anything else., Maybe it was neither. Maybe that's the point. It's an interesting idea, but it took a lot to simply understand what was going on, and I can't help feel it would have been better suited as a much longer piece, so that the actual story could play out more and the exposition wouldn't have been so overwhelming.

"John Dillinger and the Blind Magician" by Allison M. Dickson (4900 words)

A fun story featuring John Dillinger and Prohibition Era wizards and some violence and double-dealing. Not exactly a subtle story, but there's enough there to keep things interesting, wondering what the moral option is when Dillinger wants magic assistance in getting out of the life. Things aren't quite what they seem, and it all makes sense in the end, though it's a bit convenient, everything sort of falling together very neatly but without the mess that would have made it a bit more interesting. Again, it's fun, and the lightest of the stories in the issue. I'm not the hugest of fans of the time period, but I like the world-building and this feels more like a sample of a longer work than anything else. It works, but begs for more.


"Doors" by Alina Rios

A poem of short lines and short small stanzas, this one puts me in the mind of being outside at night. Something is going on with trees, though whether the "you" of this poem is a tree or is a person who sort of becomes a tree is a little hazy to me. I'd probably come down more on the side that the "you" is a person and the dreamlike quality of the poem is a way of saying that the "I" of the poem has traveled through a door where things are not quite the same, and not quite safe. It has a nice mood, but I found it a little hard to parse. Perhaps my lack of experience with poetry showing...

"The Poe Twist: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe" by Armel Dagorn

A fun and kinda creepy poem about playing hide-and-seek in the dark while evoking some Poe to get the job done. It brings together a lot of nice elements from Poe's stories, the darkness, the throbbing of the heart. That it is framed as a game, and a children's game (though not one being played by children), is nice and adds some mystery. Another poem with shorter lines, leaving more unknown, unsaid, it works pretty well. It never really bothers to clear up the relationship between the hider and the seeker, but that central mystery is what makes the poem most interesting, imagining if this is something kind, tender, or dangerous, violent. Good stuff.

"Before My Father Vanished" by Wendy Rathbone

A poem about a gift given to a person by their father, this one is more strictly science fiction than any of the others. And also good at capturing the way the "I" in the story is trying to hold onto this trace of their father. They cling to it, and yet it cannot last, and breaks, and is only reclaimed in part, in pieces. Like dealing with loss of parents, with the loss of memory, what remains is still real and still important, but so is the realization that breaking the string of crystals didn't break what the person's father was. The father remains at the end, and the "I" seems to grow a bit, realizing that things keep going, that there are some things that are never lost.


"The Other: HP Lovecraft, Alien, and Ghost Stories: Monstrifications of Dunbar's Number" by DeAnna Knippling

This is a fascinating look at the Other and monstrosity, a topic that is ever-recurring in speculative fiction. From Frankenstein and even before, it's something that really infuses not only the majority of horror but the majority of science fiction and fantasy as well. Orcs? Aliens in general? It's a great piece on how the Other becomes externalized and internalized, how it is contrasted between the in-group and out-group. Really interesting stuff to read, especially for nerds who can't help but drawn parallels between different sources. Something that brings up Lovecraft, Alien, and The Thing in the same breath is an article that I have to tell people to go and read. Also, yes, Jones the cat and "insufficient mass." There would need to be tiny face-huggers and tiny aliens. Which they should really do. Because that would be terrifying. Have they done that? Maybe in the terrible AvP movies? I never saw any Alien related movie since the first AvP. I feel okay about that, but the questions remain. Anyway, go read this and think about things. And stuff!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Quick Thoughts - A New Tradition

So welcome to the close of my first week of reviews here at Quick Sips. All I can really say is, "Wow, that escalated quickly." Weird how I kind of thought these would be much shorter than they turned out. And I had no idea how quickly this would dominate my week. Given, it was the first week of the month and that means busy busy busy. Everything releases and it's normally just crazy. But I'm hopeful that I'll be able to keep going with this.

I'll be (mostly) taking the weekends off, because I want to and because I need to read novels and things like that too, so yeah. But I figure I might chime in with little posts about things sometimes. Like this one, saying hi and thanks for reading this and following my ramblings about stories. 

This is a work-in-progress. It's an experiment. It comes from a love of reading but also a strange sort of guilt, because I can do something like this and so I feel I should. It has it's own rewards and I hope people like it because I believe that all of these stories should be read and reviewed and talked about. We should all of us talk about stories all the time. Really. And I felt sort of guilty reviewing only the "best of" each month. It leaves out so much. So here's me trying to leave out less. Not that I can't leave out something. If I tried to read all pro- and semi-pro- publications I would have no time. And I also write and also read other things. But I will do what I can.

And this is getting long. Hi, mainly. I'll hopefully be here for a while. If you have thoughts, please let me know, either here or through Twitter or something. I'm rather obnoxious there, and Tweet as @ClowderofTwo. Thank you again and happy reading!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online January 2015

Checking out Flash Fiction Online today, partly because it's shorter and that's the way the week is going so far and partly because it's a regular stop for me (as readers of the Monthly Round are likely aware). 


"Cliona's Coat" by Leslianne Wilder (911 words)

A story about a woman who I assume is also a Selkie. At least, that's how I read the story. She's from the sea and a man stole her coat/skin and now she is trapped as a human. And after leaving him and traveling, fighting in WWII, she resides in a bar and drinks and finds some small comfort with the owner of the bar. It's a sad, melancholy sort of story, like the Blues that it evokes. There is loss, and trying to find some way to fill the hole that the lack of skin has made. And nothing quite works, none of the furs that she tries to cover herself in. Only some human contact, some compassion and passion, seem enough to soothe the grief, at least for a little while. A nicely moody story.

"Death Comes for the Microbot" by Aimee Picchi (993 words)

Another story tinged with sadness, as outdated microbots contemplate death. Really it's almost unfair using cute microbots just to kill them, because they are cute and small and seem so helpless, so left behind. That they are sentient and that their sentience is ignored because they are expensive is just depressing. I'm not sure how to feel about some aspects of the story, though. If they are sentient, then I'm guessing the new tech isn't. Otherwise this would be too much of a "progress is bad" story instead of a "progress shouldn't lose sight of the human" kind of story. The loss of the microbots is tragic, but not even a blip to the human doctor who created them. Does this mean that she is now too wrapped up in the new technology, or that she has let a part of herself die in order to survive, in order to keep working. That's the more interesting angle to me, but it's not really explored her. This is more of a sad story about a small robot bee who just wanted to be useful.

"Star Box" by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks (995 words)

Okay, so my first thought was that this could be a pun on Star Fox with a spaceship-flying box battling against an evil cat. I was not disappointed to find that instead is another story about loss and getting through grief. About a man who keeps the stars in a box and lets them out at night, and also about a phoenix and a little girl who are dealing with losing a loved one, the story is short and sweet. It thrives with the novelty of the idea, that there is a man with the stars all in a box, that he repairs them, that this little girl manages to find him. And the realization that sometimes rules can be broken, or bent, for the sake of helping someone, is a neat message. Not that I would have minded a story about a box space-outlaw, but this was good too.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #2 (January Stuff)

For Uncanny #2 I'm going to be breaking things up into the January and February stuff because I want to review after things are up for free to the public. This isn't to discourage people from buying the issue. Really, if you can afford it, buy the whole issue. It's well worth it. If you can't, tell everyone  you can that the issue is great! Or, you know, just read it and like it and that's good too. Also, more good non-fiction means no rest for me. Really, non-fiction has been on a roll recently. 

Art by Julie Dillon


"Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (15805 words)

A long translation but a very interesting one that delves into ideas of class division, employment, economics, and desperation. The main character of the story, Lao Dao, needs money to send his daughter to a decent kindergarden and so takes on a rather dangerous mission to earn it. He braves sneaking into the riches of the three Spaces of his folding, mechanical city in order to deliver a message. Along the way he encounters a whole different world and set of issues. He discovers that the arrangement of the city, and the situation with poor and rich, is somewhat manufactured. It's fascinating stuff, and Lao Dao is not a very typical main character. Older and more run down, he concentrates on his daughter, on his need to do right by her, as he faces obstacle after obstacle. The visuals of the story, the folding city itself, are awesome, and the suspense was good, the sort of hopelessness that Lao Dao has to fight against. He never gives up, and in the end the story felt rather uplifting, rather hopeful rather than wallowing in the depressing truths that he learns on his journey. Complex and hefty, the story moves nicely to the very end, leaving me about as tired as Lao Dao after finishing it.

"The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History" by Sam J. Miller (5581 words)

Man, this story makes me feel both like a part of something and also completely alone. It's a good story, one that puts a supernatural twist on the Stonewall Riots, an important event in the gay rights movement. It's a great story, conjuring up the fire of oppression, the anger and the violence that bubbled over. It brings together a great variety of voices, captures a moment in time, in frustration, very well. And it makes me a bit ashamed that I don't know more about gay rights, about the history of it. Like I'm on a little island that is fairly safe from harm but that is also so isolated from a culture and a place where I would actually feel welcomed and like I belong and this is becoming something not at all about this story. Back on track. The story is great, with all sorts of feels, and examines not only the people in the incident but the journalist who is collecting these voices, and her struggle to make up for what she had done. An amazing story.


"After the Moon Princess Leaves" by Isabel Yap

A poem conjuring up old myths and legends, this one is a blocky sort of poem, with longer, more prosaic lines. In that it's a bit easier to get more literal meaning about what going on. The form fits with the meaning in that the sentences (if they can be called that) are typically broken in the middle, leaving a disjointed feeling that mirrors the sadness and loss that the couple feels. The lines are elegant and tell the story nicely, but are also enough to leave the emptiness mentioned at the beginning of the poem. Who is missing? The princess herself, missing even in the memory as she is an absence in the poem, a question of what happened and why. Only at the ending is there a small shift, a small hope, and even that is tinged with grief.

"After the Dance" by Mari Ness

A haunting poem, short lines and deep implications. Steeped a bit in fairy tales, the poem hints with dark implications about what happens after the story closes, or perhaps offers a different glimpse into what might have been. I like poems that play with the ideas of fairy tales, that twist them, because that seems to be what they were intended to do in the first place, before their Disney adaptations made them tools to spoon-feed people gender roles and terrible expectations. So this poem has some power, though holds itself back, concentrating on the silence. The short lines imply longer meanings, more that is left purposefully out because of the silence. It's a neat tool and works well here.


"Age of the Geek, Baby" by Michi Trota

Why must there be so many good non-fiction pieces? Makes my reading pile so huge. But I would be in error to overlook the stuff here, as Michi Trota makes some excellent points about how culture has changed and how Geeks are not really what people think of them as. I love how she cuts through the notion that Geeks are still persecuted for their interests when their interests are guiding so many huge things. But it is straight white male geekdom that gets attention. It is the stuff from Big Bang Theory cliches that people want to believe when reality has shifted. And pretending that it hasn't, that Geeks are still the victims when really there is an awful lot of privilege to being the white guys in BBT is harmful to all the other people who are just looking to be accepting, looking to have a voice and be listened to and all of that. A very good piece and worth a look.

"The Politics of Comfort" by Jim C. Hines

And there's more? Glob! I love how this piece makes it perfectly clear that every choice for a writer is a political one. To write or not write diversity. That there is no normal, no neutral, that what is meant by that is not challenging the existing norms. And as writers I think there is some responsibility to do that, to question and kick and yell. I think that we should be conscious of our politics, not willfully ignorant of what we do and who we hurt. Existing, and especially writing, should be done with open eyes. It's a fascinating article. Don't ignore the non-fiction!