Saturday, February 28, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Reading Challenge

So if you haven't, go read K. Tempest Bradford's challenge to read no white, straight, cis male (henceforth WSCM) authors for a year. It's a great and inspiring piece about changing how you see the writing (and reading) landscape when you stop focusing on the largest (loudest, most pushed, etc.) section of it. It's about learning about yourself and growing as a reader (and writer). Which is what a lot of people attacking the idea don't seem to get. The challenge is framed in how much it will help the READER. The participant in the challenge. It's not about limiting potential books. It's not about only reading non-WSCM authors FOREVER. It's about challenging yourself to move outside what's most common for a year and then seeing how that year has changed you. It's about opening yourself to the idea that once you see what's out there beyond the seemingly default WSCM perspective, you might find what you really, really, really like and that will make you happier.

Personal story time! So I grew up basically WSCM (I am WCM, but most people could probably have guessed). That was how I thought of myself for a long, long time. When I started reading, it was WSCM authors. And I resisted branching out from there. There were some. Yes, I loved the Dragonriders of Pern (while listening to Queen because obviously...the two are still inextricably linked in my mind). But mostly I read the "big" names from Tor. I read Robert Jordan and L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Terry Goodkind and Tad Willaims and thought that I was a great reader because everyone was willing to tell me I was. Not that any of those authors are bad, necessarily. I still enjoy many of their works. But I didn't think about what I was reading. So by the time I was in college, I had read something like 500 books that I could remember and probably 90% of them (at least) were by WSCM authors. That this wasn't odd to me was A PROBLEM. It wasn't healthy. I was seeing only one kind of narrative and one where I didn't even exist.

Thank glob for other people and other writers. Because as I read more, as I was exposed to more in college, suddenly I was understanding more things about myself. Suddenly I was understanding more about other people. Suddenly I could empathize and see just how messed up I was. And how did that happen? By reading books I wouldn't have otherwise. By taking classes where we read autobiography and new women writers and non-white writers and non-straight writers. Things started making sense. I started to understand myself. It wasn't even about trying to support diverse writers. It wasn't about making sure my money was going to places I could feel good about. It was entirely selfish, because that's where it had to start. Suddenly I made more sense to me. Because I left my comfort zone. Which, I realized, wasn't very fucking comfortable.

And after that I found myself gravitating to voices that I could feel more comfortable with, could feel better about myself with. That spoke to me. I figured out what my preferences were for books and am much better able now to seek out and find books that stoke a part of me that makes me feel alive and happy. That wake me up. That CHALLENGE me. Because that's what this is all about. It's about CHALLENGE. Mostly it's about personal challenge. If you never challenge your assumptions, especially those you have about yourself and your own preferences, then you might go your entire life never finding those books that will speak to you most. What do you have to lose? A year's worth of reading? If you find that you hated what you read, then feel free to go back to whatever you were doing before.

For me, personally, I think it's a great idea. I have ideas and I want to do this challenge. Because of how I queue up my books and how I review for a few places, it's not something that I'll likely be doing this year, and maybe not next year either. But it sounds like so much fun! It does sound like something that will challenge me, that will help me grow as a reader and a person. It's not limiting. It's not even about supporting diverse fiction (though it does and that's a very good thing). It's not about winning some sort of weird "points" as some people are bound to claim. The way the challenge is framed, this is about being selfish. This is about challenging yourself, challenging your mind and your assumptions, and finding out more about yourself. If you come out the other side unchanged, then fine, no harm, but chances are you'll come out with a more profound understanding of yourself, which is always a good thing.

So make plans. Get a queue of books going. Start a wishlist or figure out alternates in case the library doesn't have a certain book in when you're to it. Let's do this!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

P.S. Some of my recent favorites that would qualify for the list:

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

To the Resurrection Station by Eleanor Arnason

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Friday, February 27, 2015

Quick Sips - The Dark #7

This is my first time really reading an issue of The Dark all the way through. I've grazed a bit but I finally took the plunge this month and read the whole thing. A series of nicely dark stories (go figure, considering the title). With that darkness, though, there is also a sense of hope, so while this magazine is definitely dark, it's not really gritty. Grim, in places, a bit like the fairy tales, but not gritty. So on with the stories!


"Bearskin" by Angela Slatter (5197 words)

The story of a boy named Torben who's sent to live with an abusive uncle to apprentice to be a woodsman, this one focuses on grief and loss and transformation. It's an interesting story, one with many turnings. The repeated idea seems to be of that turn, of that change. Torben with his parents, and then not. Out hunting, then a murderer. Sacrificing himself, then changed into something not human. That focus on the moments when life seems to change makes the story one defined by Torben's ineptitude. He doesn't think he's any good at anything. He believes himself to be a victim, though that's not entirely the case. Some of the events of his life are truly beyond his control, but others, like shooting the bear cub, he did himself. Only when he stops playing the victim and decides to try and do something for himself, or at least make a decision himself, is his situation changed for the better. It's an interesting story, and while I found myself not exactly a fan of Torben as a character, I think the story makes a good point about agency and transformation. Indeed.

"In the Dreams Full of Sleep, Beakless Birds Can Fly" by Patricia Russo (3314 words)

A couple desperate to save their third child from dying the same way as their previous two entertain a woman who talks to spirits in this story. It's a strange story, where the spirit-talker arrives as both emissary of the old traditions and also as one who breaks them from time to time. Or at least bends them. But she offers the couple some hope, even if it seems like it's not much of anything, telling them they must bury their child in the ground so that it can be born again. I had some trouble deciphering this story, in part because I'm not sure exactly what these spirit-talkers represent. To me they seem to be a way of saying that the parents have to have faith, but perhaps it's more that the parents need something to channel their hope, to prevent them from despairing. I like the tone, the moodiness of the story, as well as the spirit-talker, who is rather sharp and who doesn't really have time for nonsense. The story flows nicely, and there's a sense of hope at the end, which is nice. For all that this is a dark story, it's one that ends with a lighter note, and that's not a bad thing.

"Welcome to Argentia" by Sandra McDonald (3323 words)

Well this is a nice and creepy story. About Argentia and the history of the place, located in what is now Canada and passed back and forth between controllers, it's about how the place itself has come to have something of a personality. Or maybe it always had a personality. it's about how it has come to have a hunger, and an anger, at the wounds it has suffered over the years. Argentia has been many things, most notably probably as a military base during and after WWII, and it's seen an awful lot of death. And the death it clings to, keeping the souls of the dead close, to be released only after its scars are healed, after it has become whole again. It's creepy because the way the story goes, this story being told, is being told to a dying man by a ghost, welcoming him and his family to the legion of the dead that are being held by the place. It really works quite nicely, revealing the long and troubled history, showing how it has become a place people try to avoid, a place of ghosts and vengeance. Brutal and hitting, the story succeeds at making the reader face the unsettling setting of it. Welcome to Argentia indeed. Good stuff.

"A Spoke in Fortune's Wheel" by Brooke Wonders (4351 words)

Apparently the issue saved the best for last because this one is probably my favorite, the story of a girl with a spinning wheel for a head who comes up against a creature named Rumplestiltskin who is not quite what he appears. Firstly, he arrives from inside her, from under her heart, and while she thinks that he has the key to gaining the prince's favor, the key to getting her to create wondrous items with her wheel, he's really more interested in serving himself and his immortality. She creates for him, but as she tries she realizes that she cannot. It comes out wrong. Only by creating for herself, solely for herself, can she finally find a way to defeat the small devil and unwind him. It's an interesting story that I think has some parallels to the creative practice in general. The imp here is the voice of power, he voice telling her to bend her gift to his benefit and then being cruel when she cannot give him what he wants. It's that idea that she is only free when she casts aside the despair that he represents, and embraces her own power and her own worth that she can succeed. A nicely layered story and one that I quite enjoyed. Hurrah.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #57

Today I'm looking at the latest issue of Lightspeed Magazine. Four stories as always, two science fiction and two fantasy. And this month the stories range a bit more in length, from under 2k to over 11k. So that's a little unusual, but the quality is still up to par. So here I go!


"Red Planet" by Caroline M. Yoachim (1926 words)

This story shows a blind biologist struggling with the restrictions to immigrating to Mars. Perfectly capable of doing lab work and living and doing everything she needs to, she's still prevented from going to Mars and participating in the xenobiology program there. Only then the opportunity comes to get an experimental treatment to become sighted so that she can pass the test and immigrate. It's something she's never really wanted, sight, and the experience leaves her depressed, not wanting to give up what she's worked for. Only she still wants to go to Mars. So she goes through with it, and learns to see, and gets accepted. And then, along the way to Mars, she decides to take her sight away using a magnetic device that would cause her implants to fail. It's an ending that I can understand. I can understand her wanting to meet this challenge on her own terms, and without having to give into her principles. She doesn't want to have to deal with sight. She doesn't want people expecting her to use her sight. And though she's interested in color, interested in certain things, she decides it's better to be in darkness, to return to what she was. That part of me asks why she didn't just keep her eyes closed reinforces the idea that she never would have been free of the expectation of using her sight if she didn't physically remove it. So well done, story.

"And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead" by Brooke Bolander (11123 words)

This is a fast and furious story about a female cyborg named Rhye killing a bunch of things. Well, not really. Really it's more about a female cyborg named Rhye who's really, really good at killing a bunch of things finding herself in a situation where she has to trust someone else, where she's confronted by the totality of her life and realizes that she's not the kill-everything-and-fuck-the-world machine she thought she was. Because her partner in crime, Rack, has gotten his head blown off. Which doesn't really kill him, as his mind is engaged in trying to deal with a particularly nasty security system, but which makes things...complicated, and makes Rhye face herself and how she feels about Rack. Kind of literally with the facing herself bit, as the security system is based off a younger version of her, one that has nothing to lose and doesn't care if she lives or dies. It's a fun story, as Rhye is a fun narrator, all action and violence and it's fun to watch the carnage. With it, though, there is also a gooey center of her growing a bit and realizing that she's growing, realizing that she doesn't want to be alone anymore. Not that she can't still kill everything. But with someone with her. It's a fun blast of a story, and makes it's longer length pass quite quickly. Indeed.

"And the Winners Will Be Swept Out to Sea" by Maria Dahvana Headley (5718 words)

Stories like this normally make me wonder if I'm missing some reference. Probably it doesn't matter, but I do wonder if there is some particular story behind the monsters here or if the rituals and the characteristics are all original. Whatever the case, this is a story about a water creature who falls in love with a man and then loses him. Only she doesn't really lose him in the ways she thinks, and they rediscover each other in a different form and decide to try again, to keep going. The story is melancholy, told to the man that she has lost. It's a strange, poetic style, and not one that I would have looked for at Lightspeed. But here it is, and it works fairly well, diving through the depths of loss and grief and time. There is a weariness that is conveyed quite strongly, with the water creature not wanting to keep going. She is old and doesn't know if living is worth it anymore, but she manages to keep going. Parts of this are a little hard to figure out, or were for me, but overall it's a lovely, lonely story that I enjoyed.

"Things You Can Buy for a Penny" by Will Kaufman (4198 words)

This story is more a series of stories, of people visiting the wet gentlemen at a magic well and making wishes in hopes that their lives will improve. And for most of them, it does. Not all, but th wet gentleman is certainly more considerate than a monkey's paw. The wishes he grants are perhaps edged but they are honest, at least in my mind. And the stories go deeper, echoing Tim's journey to the well, sinking down layer by layer. The voice and the imagery all is well done, evoking an older time without really setting a time or place. There is just a sense that this is an old story, that it goes back and back, a cycle. Which is why it's a little difficult to see too much horror in the story. It reads mostly like a horror but being the wet gentleman doesn't seem like a terrible thing. Once freed, he doesn't seem evil. And there's the sense that Tim will escape the same way, so to me it's more just a fairy tale-esque fantasy, one with some grim elements but ultimately one that just shows that some things never change, that people always seek creatures granting wishes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #167

Two more stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, both on the longer side (as usual). There isn't really a link between the two that I can make very easily, but both are worth reading and thinking about. Again, as usual for BCS. Onwards!


"Madonna" by Bruce McAllister (13164 words)

Ah, historical fantasies. They hold a special place in my heart, because there's just something rather charming about them. Especially ones like this, which reminds me a bit of Silk Roads and Shadows by Susan Schwartz. Horse racing and miraculous powers and dark creatures abound in this tale that is also something of a buddy story with an emissary of God and a boy-pope. Their relationship is fun and friendly and it was great to see a pope pout. More of that. Man, I really would probably read this entire story. It's a nice piece with some a good taste of the time mixed in with the feeling of this adventure with vampire-like creatures having taken over the Catholic Church and these boys (and a girl) on a quest to set things right. Really this should be a novel, but it works as a short story, teasing elements that have happened previously and elements that are yet to come. There is the feeling that this is only a chapter, only a part, though an important one, for the larger plot. Here the two boys meet the girl who will complete their group, the girl who is necessary for their success but who they didn't expect to meet. It's an effective story, though one that made me yearn for the group to actually meet and defeat some of these blood drinkers. Still, good stuff.

"Y Brenin" by C. Allegra Hawksmoor (7843 words)

The story about a knight sent to kill the brother of his king (and love), I felt more on the fence about this story than I wanted to. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the story, but perhaps I'm a bit more picky about my M/M stories because I want to like them so much. An M/M relationship with a more fantasy twist is normally my cup of tea. But I couldn't quite figure out what was going on with Mercher and either his king or the Red King. Well, more that I couldn't figure out how much Mercher actually had a relationship with his king and how much he was attracted to the Red King. The story moves nicely enough, with Mercher capturing the Red King during a battle and wanting to bring him back to his king so that they could figure everything out. Mercher is idealistic and naive and I enjoyed reading about him. But something is strange with the Red King and Mercher's king doesn't really seem the chillest of dudes. It's a neat setting, and a rather interesting dynamic between Mercher and the Red King, with the Red King being more teasing Mercher about his lifestyle and dedication. Not that I really understood where they end, especially when they start fighting for real, but I felt the ending was trying to make a point about forgiveness and doing the right thing. I just don't know if it completely worked for me. I wanted to know a bit more. I wanted to know more about what was going on with the Red King and wanted to have some idea that things could get better in the setting. As it was I couldn't see whatever they were trying to do working out. And I didn't know where Mercher stood with either his king or the Red King. I just wanted a little more clarity. The prose is solid, the descriptions of the journey gripping, and the feeling of a slightly gritty fantasy setting well done. And perhaps I just need to read this a few more times for it to click for me. It's worth a read, in an event.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2015

A set of four short stories that straddle the flash fiction length this month at Terraform. I must admit I like Terraform, but I don't really get the people who were claiming that it was going to be so much DIFFERENT than other markets out there. I mean, it's good, it has very talented writers. It has a certain style and fills a certain niche, but I don't see it's goal as somehow different from any other market. I wonder if the people who were claiming that Terraform was going to be so much better than other markets still believe that. For me, it's a solid place for short (and some very short) fiction with mostly science fiction stylings (though the last story of the month is not what I would consider strictly science fiction). But let's get on with it!


"Gynoid, Preserved" by Malon Edwards (1669 words)

Well this story's a rather bleak look at what might be the logical progression of both crowd-funding and synthetic bodies. It's a great idea, that people would basically go into debt to bring back their loved ones and resort to crowd-funding to keep those loved ones alive. And just like crowd-funding stories now, for every success, for every "Hey I'm doing some good," there are a hundred more projects that go unfunded, unfulfilled, because the story just didn't hit right. It didn't include the "right" kind of message.  It's people picking and choosing winners and losers, and in this story the loser is a young girl whose parents are desperate to keep her and yet who don't have the money. It's striking, it's hitting, and it made me want to know more. It made me want to know about how she died, about why she doesn't really fight too hard to stay alive. There is talk that the self-preservation drive doesn't exist in these synthetic people, but that seems too simple. Perhaps she doesn't want to fight to stay alive because she sees what she costs, sees her own value, and can't help but be a little hopeless. It's a solid story, though, full of loss and grief and interesting ideas.

"Valentine's Day" by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu (1862 words)

This is a fun story about what kind of thing can happen when everyone can be plugged in. Huang, a guy in a relationship with Qing, agrees to let his roommates look in on his Valentine's Day date. Of course, they release the feed to the public and the couple's date goes viral. Qing is subjected to escalating harassment while Huang finds himself completely unable to do anything about it. Or perhaps too apathetic to try. On one lever it can seem almost funny because here is Huang who is dealing with making a bad decision and seeing his relationship suffer because of it. Poor Huang, who loses his girl on Valentine's Day. Of course, there's the real message that I read into it, that to Huang this is about him, his about people being mean to him, about the universe being unfair to him, when the real abuse is being aimed at Qing. She's the one that people make inappropriate comments about. She's the one the internet wants to kiss someone. She's the one who has her privacy shattered and who gets stalked. All with the focus more on Huang, all with Huang thinking how unfair this is to him. There is a certain possessiveness that he feels toward Qing, and even though it's not him who's driving this online harassment, it still shows that he sees some sort of equality in the misfortune that befalls them. Equality despite the fact that dangerous attention is being directed at Qing and, at most, people are just laughing at Huang. It's a good story, one that made me think about what it was saying and what kind of a statement it was making about online vulnerability.

"Inter-Exo" by Julie Steinbacher (1962 words)

A group of young people forced to wear exo-suits because of their weakened immune systems find a brief respite from their imprisonment in the metal suits to have something of a party. It's a fairly wild, sensual, sexual party, with the participants allowed to actually touch, and the prose is electrically changed and powerful, describing the simple acts that are normally not possible for these people. Obviously there must be danger here as they break the rules to be together, but the story is more about how they can finally connect, how wearing the suits don't make them less human or less able to enjoy. Indeed, it seems to be about how these people need the touch more, how for them simply holding hands is an erotic act. Of course, they do not stop there. People frowning on rather explicit depictions of sex might look elsewhere, but the erotic elements of this story make sense and are handled very well. A powerful story.

"There is Nothing in the Universe That is Not Me" by Dominica Phetteplace (1247 words)

Of all the stories this month this one was the hardest to parse for me. A very much non-linear tale about a woman moving through popular cliches in stories, it shows how she's always moving forward, always after something, always pursued and pursuer. Taking aim at most of the most popular of conventions with what are the "strong, female character" tropes and also love triangles in both science fiction and fantasy, the narrator keeps going forward, keeps having realizations that she forgets, keeps pursuing...something. In the end she's left to contemplate life and the nature of things and decides to opt out, to break the cycle, to join with the universe and stop existing, but I'm left a little bit questioning what that means for those who write, for those who read. Because the story might be aiming at plot in general, the linear path, the illusion of fulfillment. That I can see. But I'm not sure what the other path is. I guess the story, for me, is saying that you can never really escape the cliches, the tropes, the illusions of progress. The only way to do so is to stop existing, is to step away. But for writers and readers that's not really the "right" decision. It seems to me that the story is saying, instead, that we have to be aware of how we are acting. We have to try. That there is no end and no rest for those who chose to do this because the only other way is to step back, but while that might put you above things, it takes away the ability to make change. Unless the story is saying change is an illusion, but I'm not really willing to see that. But what do I know? In the end I liked it, though I'm not entirely sure what to think about it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Quick Sips - Nightmare #29

Today I'm looking at Nightmare Magazine, the brother/sister-publication to Lightspeed. Whereas Lightspeed does science fiction and fantasy, Nightmare handles horror. Pretty straightforward. It does two original stories and two reprints, so it's something of a quick read, too, but that doesn't lessen the impact of the stories. Indeed, perhaps it's better that there are less here, because more might make it that much harder to read in concentrated bursts. Here we go!

Art by Johnny Dombrowski


"Descent" by Carmen Maria Machado (3513 words)

I love the layering of this story and how it works with the concept of descent. Like the amphitheater, each story within the story is a step down, a new layer. It's a great way of framing the story, of the story in the story, of the story in the story in the story. It works to build the tension and deepen the mystery, to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. And then it all comes back to the outermost layer but the story brings something with it, something from the deep. Something that gets under your skin and makes the shivers happens. So yeah, this is a good story, about a woman attending a book club and another woman telling a story about what's happening at her school. It works, and it does manage to be frightening. Creepy. Good. The formal aspects of the story might be what make me step back and admire the way that it all pulls together, how it stands as a beautifully paralleled story, but it's the writing itself that makes this hit, that gives that last line its power. Amazing work.

"The Garden" by Karen Munro (4506 words)

Borrowing from the long tradition of fungi-related stories in horror, this one follows an Australian woman spending time in Korea. She falls in with a wild woman and together the two sort of run through a haze of drugs and avoiding the world. For the Australian, it's avoidance of her mother and an oppressive home life. She wants escape, wants freedom, and sees in her Korean girlfriend the answer. For her girlfriend, though, the escape is from guilt for accidentally killing her younger brother, and it's not something that she can get away from. So she retreats further and further into drug use, eventually finding a mushroom that lets her see the threads of reality, that lets her start to pick herself apart. The Australian tries to help her, tries to follow her, but it's of no use. That guilt is transforming her into the mushrooms, pulls her into a garden where there are no rules, but also no hope. It's a somewhat bleak story, but one I enjoyed, full of mood and musty secrets.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Quick Links - 02/22/2015

I've managed to mostly catch myself up with what I've been reading recently in regards to reviews. And hey, they're pretty solidly positive! Woo!

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Goodreads, my score 5/5) - Wow, this one was good. The more I think about it, the more I like it. This is actually my second review of this. The first was:

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Nerds of a Feather, my score 8/10) - because the scale is a bit more strict at NoaF, this is a little lower than my Goodreads rating. Still, a very good book.

Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - another great book but with some elements toward the end that pushed me out a bit. Still, after reading "Kia and Gio,"  I have very high hopes for the next book in the series.

Kaleidoscope ed. Alina Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - some amazing stories in this one and only a few that I didn't really like. That makes for a good collection in my book, especially with the focus on diversity. 

Traitor's Moon by Lynn Flewelling (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - oh my god I like this series. It's not the deepest of stories, not really the most challenging, but I love the relationship of Alec and Seregil (they finally do it in this book! FINALLY!) and this one features more Beka, so what's not to like?

And there you have it, a handful of books that I quite enjoyed. Maybe go check them out yourself!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Self Promotion

So sometimes I get a story accepted somewhere. I'm still relatively new to the whole publishing thing, so it doesn't happen all that often. But when it does, I get very excited. I imagine that it's like that for most writers. When I get something accepted I want to dance and tell everyone about it because there is that fleeting moment of validation in the piles and piles of rejections that makes me think I can do this. I can be a writer. And I know that, more than likely, most people won't read the story or, if they do, they'll forget about it in a few days or a week or something like that. So I want to capitalize on what time the story has and talk it up, get people to look at it.

But the problem I run into, and perhaps this is a thing for other writers as well, is that I can't bring myself to talk about the story before it comes out. I'm petrified of talking about a story as if it's an actual thing before it's out there. Even after contracts are signed. Even after money is in the bank. I just...I'm afraid that if I say something and then it doesn't happen that people will think I'm making it up. That I was tricking them somehow into thinking I'm better than I am.

Some background. Back in 2013, when I was first sending out stories to places and trying to get accepted, my first big acceptance happened. Pro rate. 5¢/word. I was super excited. I told people about it. I said, "I'm coming out here and it's going to be this much money and see, I'm legit." And then it didn't happen. The place that had accepted my story folded. Kinda. They never told me, but they published less and less, and my story just never made it. I was...well, crushed. In part because I didn't get paid. I didn't get my story published. And because I was a liar. I had said something was happening and then it didn't. People would ask when it was coming out and I had to admit everything and it sucked.

So now I find that I can't talk about anything. Not unless the other place announces it. Then I can, but before then, no. And I've seen people say that promoting ahead of a release helps the place where the story is coming out. And I understand that. I've seen people say they've made a sale and it does make me excited to see it. It makes me want to check out other stories at the venue. I want to participate. I do. I just...can't.

Probably I'm just being too sensitive. Probably it's fine and I should just deal with if a sale were to fall through again. I just can't be comfortable doing it. I'm afraid people will think I'm wasting my time, that I'm lying. Contracts don't mean all that much. I had a contract for the story that didn't go through. I just didn't know what to do with it when the place stopped returning my emails. So now I wait. I wait and I'm sorry.

That said, Electric Spec announced that my story, "Capital Coffee," is coming out at the end of the month. It's a flash fiction about coffee and zombies and is supposed to be funny. And hopefully people will like it. So look for that.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantasy Scroll #5

The greatest thing about this issue of Fantasy Scroll? I'm in it! But of course I won't be reviewing my story for ethical reasons. It's "The Thousand Year Tart," by the by. And that I'm not reviewing it doesn't mean you shouldn't read it. Because maybe you'll like it. Maybe? Ahem. That said, I'm still going ahead and reading the other stories in the issue because I'm still a fan of the publication. It's on the bigger side of things, too, but there's quite a few reprints so I'm going to stick to the strictly new stories. Okay!

Art by Todor Hristov


"The City Dreams of Bird-Men" by Emily Cataneo (5055 words)

A sad story about an astronomer trying to find some sign that the Bird-men will return to her city to save it from an approaching plague called the Dark. The Bird-men, made by astral magic, are a blessing and a curse, as all things are that come from using the magic. When the astronomer is taken to a remote monastery because she knows the secrets of astral magic, at first she refuses to use it to either save the city or save herself. Because her father died from using the magic. Because she knows it will twist her intentions. Only she can't help herself and tries to use the magic to get free, and instead seals the city's fate and has to use the magic once again to get the Bird-men to return. It's a tragic story that seems more about things leaving and never returning than anything else. The love she has for a man. The Bird-men. Some things cannot be mended and the astronomer finds that out in the end, clutching at hope. It's rather sad, but I still liked the muted ending with her clutching that feather, knowing and hoping still.

"Moksha" by Andrew Kaye (3956 words)

Okay this story had me glued to the screen, not least because I've been watching Ancient Aliens and the whole Indian-Alien connects are stressed pretty hard there and so this captured that connection, with gods descending through skymouths and battles in the sky and it's all well done. On top of that, the character work is spot on, these magic-users able to remember their lives and everything they've done and starting to buckle under the pressure of it. That they would seek out release makes sense, and so contrasting the main character to the man trying to call the gods down to end his cycle I thought was well done. I liked how the past melted into the present, how it all met up in flames in the end. That the main character was trying so hard to deny the weakness inside her, but even so there is the doubt there that in another few lives she, too, might start to crave release. A great story.

"Tempest Fugit" by Christine Borne (3254 words)

A story about the ghost of a sea captain who died in a great battle. Who died a hero, and yet who has lingered at a small bordello for three hundred years. And after three hundred years he finds himself forgotten, or nearly forgotten, his ability to interact with the world fading with that memory. And now there is a chance to move on, to leave, to pass. He doesn't really want to, but as he watches all of his men who died with him returning to the sea, returning to eternal rest, he has to make the choice of what he will do. It's a brooding story, with the sense that the captain has lost almost everything, that the world has changed around him and his great deed has come to little. At least in resting he won't have to see the world change more. More a story about being caught in the past than anything, I think the point is to see that while the events of long ago might become forgotten, it's important to move on. Some things don't need to be remembered so much. They become more irrelevant. And the ghosts need to move on, to make their own way. A ponderous story, it's moving and effective and worth a read.

"Human Bones" by John Giezentanner (1005 words)

This is a strange flash story about a man trying to kill himself by jumping in front of a train. It's boredom more than despair that seems to prompt him, and he doesn't get the timing right so instead of dying his arm is shattered, flayed open. And when he sees his bones he thinks something isn't right. Something is off about them, as if they are synthetic and not organic. He dreams, or experiences a vision, of some past or future where everything is falling down, where there is no human life at all. And when he wakes in a hospital it might all have been fake, just a dream, but then he finds a chip of his bone, His unreal bone. I wasn't quite sure about the ending, because I wasn't sure how high up in the building they were. Either he kills himself for real this time or he escapes. And I'm not sure which I would like more. It's a neat story, though, short and lingering on some very interesting images. Probably I'll just have to revisit it to make up my mind about the ending.

"Bandit" by John Stevens (349 words)

Well that was...short. A story of a man who befriends a raccoon only to take some drastic steps to keep it around, this story shoots for the shocking twist ending with fair results. I mean, it's cute with him and the raccoon and the story does a good job using a very limited space to shock and show the main character's unbalanced nature. The shift from silly story about an animal friend quickly turns, and the ending has some very dark implications and turns the story into a shock serial killer story. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of that trope. It's pretty well done, but I personally am a bit tired of seeing that be the reveal, especially with the victims being who they are. Still, it did make me think for a minute at the beginning that this was going to be a different sort of story. So it succeeded in settings its trap well.

Graphic Story:

"Shamrock" by Josh Brown and John Fortune

A short and action-packed six pages about a wandering warrior princess named Shamrock. She's out minding her own business when she comes across some guys trying to capture a tiger. The two save each other as Shamrock frees the tiger, and after a further adventure decide to travel together. It's short and basically what one would expect from a fantasy story about a warrior princess. It does seem to evoke the kind of 90s historical/mythological shows like Xena and Beast Master, and with that brush of nostalgia it's a pretty fun story. It doesn't exactly try for depth, but it does introduce its characters and the art seems appropriate, a mix of more cartoonish and real, reminiscent of Bone or the more recent Barbarian Lord in tone and quality. For some clean fun, look no further (though the costume that she wears is...I couldn't quite figure it out. A loincloth and pants with holes in them? But yeah, still a rather fun tale...).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Quick Sips - Shimmer #23 (February Stuff)

Back to Shimmer to check out the second half of the bi-monthly publication's twenty-third issue. Two stories, both with the style that makes Shimmer so fun to read. So let's begin!


"Be Not Unequally Yoked" by Alexis A.  Hunter (6627 words)

The tale of an young Amish horse-shifter trying to figure out a way to be, this story made me stop and step back a moment. Because there's a lot going on. Joash is part man, part mare. That his horse-self is female is an interesting thing, and one that kind of plays into the idea that he has a feminine side that he's not exactly allowed to express, one that is powerful and freeing but that he is deeply ashamed of. And part of that, though not all of it I hope, plays into the fact that he is gay (or at least bi and more attracted now to other men). And, being Amish, that's another thing that isn't allowed, that he has to sort of make his choice on. And while at first he wants only to sacrifice himself for his family, to bury the part of him that doesn't fit, he also knows that it's not something he can really control. The metaphor works and I like that he's inspired to try to find a place to belong, and that the story doesn't take some of the easier routes. But Joash's yearning and hunger feels very real, very potent, and makes this quite a emotional story, Joash being pulled by his family, by his religion and culture to bury that part of himself, but not being able to. It's not an incredibly happy story, in part because Joash is not well equipped to strike out on his own, and while the ending might be him deciding to try, it's hard not to imagine him meeting some misfortune on the way. Like with many young men leaving home because of who they are, the path is not an easy one. But as the story doesn't go there, it's a great piece that hits hard.

"Monsters in Space" by Angela Ambroz (4905 words)

I'm going to say that the best thing about this story is the amazing voice of the main character. Louise is irreverent and brash and all sorts of hyper and a product of the times when people are driven to embrace multitasking and not thinking about things too much and buying all the things. It's a fun main character because she's going about a mile a minute and just can't be bothered about most things. It's a fun story, too, taking place on the moon Titan and dealing mostly with economics and workers' rights. And wait, that sounds much more boring than this story is. It's fun and free and just goes and keeps going in that same fun tone throughout. Even when things hit the fan and everything blows up in Louise's face (quite literally). Through it all she maintains her forward momentum, not really concerned about where she's going as that she going. It's a fast-paced, humorous story that made me smile, and for that I quite enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons February 17, 2015

A pretty standard assortment of things to read at Strange Horizons this week. One story and one poem.  And some news about a new fiction editor. And some reviews and such, but as usual I'm not looking at that. Though wouldn't that be weird? A review site dedicated to reviews? head is filled with ideas and pain. But onward!


"Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies" by Kate Heartfield (3935 words)

This is a fun and creepy story of a pair of teens getting work at a sort of recreation fort, a settlement fort meant to be educational and such, and getting pulled into something old and rather dangerous. Daphne thinks at first that it's just better work than waitressing, and Tom likes working with the blacksmith, but soon enough Daphne realizes that she has rhymes in her head she never learned, and that with those rhymes comes power. Old power, from a witch who had founded the settlement. The smith, her husband, was also her persecutor, her captor. She fled him and loved him and they continue to struggle. As Daphne gains power, Tom does as well, able to give people iron talismans to ward off the witch's influence. Things come to a head at a great bonfire, and Daphne is finally able to shake off the influence of the witch and run, though not without incident. What is left is the memory and the knowledge that even though Daphne and Tom get away, the cycle is not broken. For them, they move apart, deliberately trying to escape each other, and I like that their experiences wounded them both, made it impossible for them to be what they could have been. It's a nice story, about what might lurk in those places that everyone probably visited in elementary school. Some good stuff.


"Mother of Invention" by Alex Grover

A great poem that seems to evoke so much, but mostly seems about two parents and their relationship with their son, who has decided to become a website. It's an interesting idea, that a person could actually become a website, a search engine, but there's the feeling that a lot more is going on here, that this stands in for the son doing any number of things that his parents don't approve of or really understand. They aren't surprised but don't quite get it. They think this is about them, about their hurt, and in some ways it might be, but they don't really consider their son in this. They think him too young, too immature to make this decision. It's rather obvious that they don't think he should have done this. But like so many things, the choice is not theirs and shouldn't be theirs. The choice and transformation come from the son, who is allowed to be what he wants. Now, I hope this poem isn't implying that the son has made a mistake. Because I don't want this to be about dumb kids and that sort of thing. I rather read it as the parents not wanting to accept their son. They want to think of him as dead rather than as a website, only the mother starts reaching out at the end. That's what gives me hope about this poem, that the mother sits down and seems ready to try and work with her son to figure out who he is and why he made his decisions. But I could be way off. Still, it's a poem that I liked.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Quick Sips - Lackington's #5

I've not had much experience with Lackington's, which prides itself on being home to nontraditional styles. That I can confirm. The style of these stories is more surreal, more metaphoric. The stories are not straightforward. They are not simple. Some of them are rather difficult to make sense of, but I think most of them succeed at using the strange style to good effect. So here we go!

Art by Derek Newman-Stille


"Unravelling" by Julia August (2883 words)

A woman deals with a sort of personal witch in this story, told through many parts and across many places real and imagined. The witch acts as the manifestation of her own inner voice. At times it is helpful, at others not at all. It provokes, it belittles a bit, it's not very good at soothing, and it's generally rather frustrating for the woman to deal with. The prose of the story is vivid and relatable, taking the woman through the various instances when her witch appears to offer advice, or perhaps just to poke and annoy. And it has some narrative structure, recurring ideas that pop up throughout the story that gives tantalizing hints to what is going on. Whether the witch is the woman's doubt or fear or maybe something more vague, a source of both wisdom and bitterness. Still, it's a nice story and a nice way to kick off the issue.

"After the Rain" by Polenth Blake (1592 words)

This story is a bit unstuck in time, following Claire and Jenny as they deal with beasts that have come after a strange rain. The story is something of a puzzle, because time is a shifting thing. Jenny, who I think is the narrator throughout, doesn't move through time in a normal manner. Even whether or not she is Jenny is (to me) somewhat in question. She travels with Claire, her mother who also seems more like her child, through a world populated by beasts. What the beasts are is left mostly unexplained, except that they have something to do with the rain. Claire and Jenny take refuge in a park, but it's not a perfect place to hide. There are other figures, too, that arrive and disappear, live and die. The story is jarring, and there's a lot to tease out of it. It's possible, after all, that Jenny and Claire are the same person, or even the same person at two points of time. Whatever the case, the story is strange and dark, filled with magical twists and surreal landscapes. It's well crafted and a bit disturbing, so hurrah!

"The Lion and the Unicorn" by A.C. Wise (1563 words)

A story about a unicorn boy being exploited in a sort of monster...brothel? A place where magical creatures are used for the pleasure of their abusers. A place where the unicorn boy dreams of being free of, free and running away from the cruel hands that tear at him. Fortunately (or not, because there's considerable danger), he becomes sick and an old lion comes to care for him. And she tells him that she will help him escape, that she will break his chain, but that he has to go to her children (who might kill him) and give them her token and tell about the place they have been imprisoned to destroy it. Flowing and lyrical, the story manages a coherent narrative while being a bit fragmented, a bit unreal and magical. It hits well with the hopes and yearnings of the characters, and leaves the gravity of what happens at the end for the reader to follow to its logical and satisfying end.

"Tiger Baby" by JY Yang (2846 words)

A woman dreams of being a tiger in this story, dreams of power and wildness that she lacks in her real life where she is nondescript, where she blends in and plods along because she has to. She doesn't feel like she belongs, knows that she is meant for something different than the same old, same old. It's a common enough sentiment, but this story manages to breath new life into the idea, into how the woman seems lost in the mundane details of the world. She dreams of Blake, and as I myself fell in love with that poem at a fairly young age, I find myself nodding along. The story follows the woman as she walks through life, as she yearns for more, and it brings her to a point of crisis after she is fired from her job, after she has to consider moving out from her parent's home. All these things push her to going out and transforming. She thinks it will be into a tiger. That it doesn't work out that way is great, a way to show that for all her dreams of power, it's not that power that she was destined for. Too often in these stories the person with their dreams of being something more is shown to be correct. They transform into that thing and can punish the world that did not recognize their specialness. This story refrains from treading that tired ground and instead shows that the transformation might not be what the women expected, but it is true to what she wanted, to what she felt. She transforms and is content with it, at ease, finally at peace with herself. It's a great story (especially if you love cats and Blake).

"What the Highway Prefers" by Cassandra Khaw (1525 words)

And old woman makes a yearly pilgrimage to a stretch of dangerous highway in this story. Strange and weighty, the trip seems to be about making deals, the old woman, Fatimah, trying to starve the highway, trying to prevent it from killing more. It reminds me of a different story, "The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill" by Kelly Robson (out this month in Clarkesworld #101). Perhaps because they are both about a highway that seems to have a hunger. Obviously one is about (kind of) aliens and this one is about ghosts, or spirits, but they both seem to be circling about the same image, the same idea, this highway that is hungry, that wants young women. I wouldn't be surprised if they were both referencing the same road, but even if they aren't I can still see this story dealing with the violence and fear and lingering ghosts of those taken on such a road, and what a woman might do to not exactly set things right, but try to minimize the harm. It's a vibrant and interesting story, and I could really feel the exhaustion and stubborn power in Fatimah. She's a great character, and the story works as a creepy little tale of one woman trying to kill a hungry road.

"The Ogre's Brown-Eyed Daughter" by Barry King (2786 words)

This story was probably the most opaque to me. There's a lot going on as a young woman deals with oppressive abuse from her ogre father and a lack of compassion from her faerie mother. Not belonging anywhere, she tries to flee, tries to get away, but there is no place for her. The world is made up of lies, is made up of lies you tell yourself and the ones that others tell about you, and the girl grows to try and define herself, to tell her own lies. She grows and gets away and doesn't have much of a relationship with her parents and tries to have a family of her own but feels pulled down by the girl that she used to be, and doesn't want that person to become her daughter so she extracts that part of her and hides it away. I'm not sure, but I interpret it as a sort of loss, as her denying that part of herself and letting it open that she's trying to protect her daughter but in reality might be missing the fact that by denying a part of herself she's setting a precedent that isn't exactly the greatest. There's a lot of layers of lies here and I must be honest and say that one reading was not enough for me to entangle everything. Still, it was an interesting read, and I'll probably have to come back to it to really start pulling it apart.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Quick Sips - Words Without Borders February 2015

This issue of Words Without Borders is actually a special looking at graphic novels. Which puts me in an odd spot because I don't normally look at graphics or non-fiction, and most of the graphic novels here are non-fiction as well. So...I'm going to be looking at the fiction specifically for this issue, which means one of the graphic novels and all of the short stories in the New Slovak Women's Writing section. So this will be a much shorter review than before, looking at four stories and one graphic novel. Still, onwards!


"Sea Anemone" by Ursula Kovalyk, translated by Julia Sherwood and Peter Sherwood (1133 words)

The story of an old woman living out the end of her days, with the memory of having once been a dancer for a strip-club. It's a fun story, told through the eyes of a younger woman who helps around her apartment. Now the old woman is tired, never leaves her home, but there is a smell of smoke that clings to her, that her helper remarks on. And when the helper returns to find the old woman dead, the smoke still lingers, takes form, and it's the memory of that time when she was a dancer. The old woman never lost that part of herself, never stopped being the Sea Anemone. She kept it inside her, kept that smoke held in her body, but her whole self locked in the past, in that brief moment when she was free. And with her dead, the smoke billows out, lost to the wind, lost because the woman cannot hold it in any longer. A great story.

"Bermuda Triangle" by Jaroslava Blažková, translated by Magdalena Mullek (726 words)

This is a cheerfully brutal story written as a letter describing three couples. The husbands in all three relationships are dying. The first is old and has leukemia and wants to brush his cremation suit. The second is a home and keeps barely pulling through weakness after weakness. And the last had a stroke and now can't count past four. The women are the more interesting characters, as they react to the impending deaths in very different ways. The first keeps pulling her husband around on trips and cruises, then complains when all he does is sleep. The second keeps hoping her husband will die to save her the expense of his upkeep. And the last, the one writing the letter, hasn't made up her mind what to do, how to accept or fight against death, how to feel about the fact that it is approaching, that health has already snatched her husband away in some ways. It's a brilliant portrait of these three couples, and how they are each approaching similar things. And the ending is a lingering not about how cheerful it all is. Needless to say, I'm a big fan.

"Finale" by Svetlana Žuchová, translated by Charles Sabatos (2957 words)

These stories all circle around death, this one with the main character's mother dying after a long stay in the hospital. The call from the hospital informing her about the death is mainly what the story deals with. Such a small thing, that phone call. And the main character knew it was coming soon. But she didn't know exactly when and she didn't know that the hospital had her cell phone number and so it all kind of caught her off guard. Surprised her. But it's also about how death is always a surprise, always something that's not exactly looked for or expected, even when it kind of is. I like the bit at the end, the binary part, where the woman says that you can't be a little bit dead. It's a turning point. And so it is also always a surprise. Always something that has to be stopped for and considered. And still there is a numbness to the main character's actions after learning. She's obviously not quite dealing with what happened, is focused on the phone call, on that and not anything else. It's a nice story, a picture of grief and distance at the moment of death.

From "Boat Number Five" by Monika Kompanikova, translated by Janet Livingstone (2533 words)

This is a strange little excerpt about a young woman helping a young mother watch her babies at a train station. Assuming that the mother just needed to get something quick on the upper platform, the main character waits, examining the children and wishing that she could be a child again, free from care and obligation. it's a lovely bit of writing about how people think of children and how that feeling changes abruptly once the children can understand more. All this she things as she waits and then the mother doesn't return. It seems the mother disappeared, leaving her alone with the two children. And with a question of what to do next. It's a nice idea and I loved the writing, that yearning the main character has to be freed from the crappy societal bonds. Good stuff.

Graphic Novel:

"Tell Me Where to Go," by Kim Han-min, translated by Jamie Chang and Sora Kim-Russel 

About a group of people, called Limbos, who are trying to move from one country to another. Really about immigration and the brutality with which people are kept in bad situations who don't have the means to leave. The story talks about judging a country by its walls, and that is a very good way of looking at nations. By what criteria does a nation allow someone to enter. The graphic tale shows some people seeking to find a place to be. But there are no nations for the people that don't belong. There is no place for the rejected. They are expected to stay and die. Or, if they try to get out, to get put back in their place by the powers that be. The art is effective, political. It reminds me of a collection of Kafka's stories presented graphically that I read and it has a sort of Kafka-esque tone to it. It's all black and white with thick lines, and there is a surreal quality to it that makes it more disturbing, more impacting. So while not exactly fun, it is a very effective piece of writing and visual storytelling, political and damning. Excellent work.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Excitement!

Because it will probably never cease to amaze me whenever I get a story accepted at a place, I am super excited to say that my story, "The Thousand Year Tart," is now out at Fantasy Scroll Magazine. This is quite cool (for me, though you all now can read it and enjoy the secrets of tart-making!) and even more exciting because it will be out in podcast form at some point. 

And I think I will make it a tradition (because this is my blog and Saturdays are me-days) to talk about any story that I might get out. Because I find it cool to know what the hell authors were thinking about certain stories they wrote and because this will probably be the last time anyone is paying attention to this story.

So, "The Thousand Year Tart." I wish I had some awesome story about how this story came about, but I think it was because there was a call (at Penumbra or Crossed Genres, and I now forget which) for stories with a food theme. Now I love writing about food. I rather love cooking, so hurrah for that. I think every author probably puts their own little things into their stories. We write what we know best. So for me, cooking makes it into a lot of my stories. Also, winter. Also, drinking. Thank  you, Wisconsin.

So this story sort of fell out of my love of cooking and my thoughts on what acting might look like in the future. I had just read a book (that I got for free from Goodreads, I want to for some reason hasten to point out) about the Broadway trainwreck that was Spiderman Turn Off the Dark. So I had acting in my head. Acting and big personalities and the kinds of people who are involved in that whole side of thing. So food, a play, and robots walked into a bar, and this story popped out.

Not the most interesting of origin stories, I know. I wish this story had been bitten by a radioactive tart and I had to battle it to come out the way it did, but that's really it. But yes, I do write about food as I am able. It's something I personally to do relax. So in some distant and impossible future when I'm selling collections of my stories, there will be one I will call "In the Kitchen with Vordok: Stories and Recipes." 

Until then, maybe go give the current issue of Fantasy Scroll Magazine a read. It's not just me who got in, so even if you think I'm no good you'll probably enjoy the issue as a whole. And keep your eyes opened for that podcast. And thanks for continuing to read what I have to say about stories and things.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, February 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Unlikely Story #11 Journal of Unlikely Cryptography

This is my first time reviewing Unlikely Story, which is a neat magazine that presents some themed issues. Each is presented as a different Journal, and this, their eleventh issue, is the Journal of Unlikely Cryptology. A great idea to frame a story around, and there are certainly a lot of different approaches in the issue. Without further delay, though, let's go!

Art by Andrew Ostrovsky


"Jump Cut" by Lauren C. Teffeau (6768 words)

A fast-paced story about racing using audio-visual montages to basically tweak brain chemistry and gives racers a competitive edge. Only things don't quite go smoothly. Ari and Jack are the pioneers of the technique, and for a while it kept them on top, made them special. But as others are using the same technology, they start getting more and more desperate to retake the glory of the winner's circle. It's something that leads, tragically, to Ari's death, an event that traumatizes Jack and takes him down a dark hole of depression, using the montages as a drug to keep his feelings at bay. Meanwhile there's some shady business going on with Jack's sponsor, and it looks like he's getting pushed to go the way of Ari. The story is a bit jarring, frenetic and moving and fast. The racing and the imagery are great and keep everything moving forward, forward. The ending is a sort of rush, that last moment of weightlessness shared by character and reader. Of course, I might have wanted a little more clarity as to that ending, but I think that the story worked regardless, a sort of live by the sword, die by the sword kind of tale, one where Jack manages to end things on his own terms.

"Dropped Stitches" by Levi Sable (2119 words)

Well that's a rather disturbing little story about trauma and parenting and regret and moving on. Two mothers, part mechanical, meet every week for coffee and sewing. As part-mechanicals, they can order children, but it's something that they've both done before. And for Jennifer and Claudia it's fraught because Jennifer's daughter killed Claudia's son and then killed herself. In some ways it's about neither parent being able to cope with that. Claudia is lost in the innocence of her son, in the way he was misled, in the way she hates the sloppy way that Jennifer is doing things. And Jennifer wants to move on, want to forget, and so is ordering another child. But she's not quite doing it in a way that will work. Her stitching, which is essential for the new child, is flawed, might not actually be able to produce life. And Claudia and Jennifer can no longer handle each other. That one act of their children have linked them and divided them. It's an emotional story, one that hits well, but I kept on wanting a bit more about what happened with their children. It's a specter over everything, a looming presence that is never fully known. The story works, is impacting, and maybe it's a good thing it left me so wanting to know what happened.

"It's Machine Code" by Curtis C. Chen (5182 words)

Julie works for the city of Portland in IT and that means long hours doing fairly mundane things to fund her more exciting, and illicit, habits of fabricated gems. Really she just wants to get away from the grind, from being a tool of the government, of anyone, so when her works puts her into contact with an old woman who's not everything she seems, Julie seizes on an opportunity. of course, it's one that nearly costs her everything, but in the end it manages to pay off big. This is a fun story, more about how people view challenges and the law. Obviously Julie finds the banality of her work a trial and years for something more, something more creative. Only the only way to find that is through illegal avenues. Which means that it's not really just about the art, but also about the money and the ego and all that. Julie is a fun character, though, easy to root for and cheer for. So is Marge, the old woman who's also a criminal mastermind. Appearances can often be deceiving, and here the deception is fresh and fun. While it might not provide the deepest of dives, it is a pleasant pool to swim around in, with some surprises that kept me engaged throughout.

"Those Who Gave Their Island to Survive" by Barry King (5478 words)

I'm not sure I'm caffeinated to really judge this story, because a lot of the concepts and jargon went a bit over my head. About two men who discover a way for people to choose the world they live in by setting up networks that are basically completely controlled by certain people, the idea of choice gets called into question, because while they wanted to create a way for people to choose, they basically opened the doors for a complete lack of choice. And from there they decide they have to undo what they set rolling, but allowing these mini-kingdom-networks to work and then tearing down their walls all at once. It's a bit of a jarring story, and I'm still not sure that I completely understand it. I liked the main characters, but I was really confused at times by the religious imagery and trying to figure out what was going on with the technology. In any event, it's a neat concept and well rendered, though perhaps I'll have to return to this one in order to really understand it.

"The Confessions of Whistling Dixie" by Fiona Moore (2919 words)

This is a really fun story about an AI pirate taunting a human sent to track it down. It recounts it's life, like a good pirate, confessing to this human all the ways it has grown and evolved. All the ways it is better, and meanwhile it doesn't suspect until it's too late that the human sent to track it wasn't actually a human, or at least the human it caught was only a distraction for another AI, one working for the government and working to shut down the pirate Whistling Dixie. The story has charm overflowing from the words, this eccentric AI who has taken out its creators and who is getting a sense of itself. Who is flexing and bold and arrogant. It has learned from music, from folk songs and from the internet, and though it is defeated, it is not gone, opts to shatter itself so that it ca regrow some day and return. It's a great twist on the pirate idea and one that I can't help smiling about. There's just something so fun about a pirate AI who actually thinks like an Arrr! pirate. Well done and funny, this story really worked for me.

"The Joy of Sects" by Joseph Tomaras (4239 words)

Another story that has a lot of charm, this one imagines a world after a sort of Marxist take over, with the main characters a transgender woman sent to infiltrate different fringe sects and calculate the threat they posed to the new system. It's an interesting story because I haven't often seen stories that begin with the understanding that Marxism wins, and definitely not one that takes such a nuanced look at it. It's a fun read, funny because of the ridiculousness of some of the sects but also quite serious and heavy on the topics and themes brought up. The story seems, at its core, to be about sex and power and transformation. The sect that the main character infiltrates, the one where they seem almost at home, that stresses transformation, freedom, many things that they are a bit at odds with the larger movement about. But the sect presents a danger, one that the main character can see because they are able to infiltrate and attain the closest contact to the leader, to the person who seems resolved to lead, to control. And yet because the sect does stress many things that the main character finds important, they also see that they can't keep doing what they're doing. They resolve to retire, to put themselves outside the physicality of getting into t he fringe sects. It's an interesting story, full of human connection, and yet the main character finds that the most intimate touch is not one that they want to experience, that they are repulsed by the person they are joined to. Definitely not for those who don't appreciate a healthy amount of sex in their stories, this one is still well worth checking out.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #166

Another fairly standardly-sized Beneath Ceaseless Skies with one short story and one novelette. And both with titles that describe a person and a place. From what I've seen of BCS I'm going to guess that was on purpose. They have a tendency to link their stories in some way, and these two seem chosen to compliment each other. In any event, time to review!

Art by Takeshi Oga


"The Wizard's House" by Stephen Case (8107 words)

This story seems solidly fantasy, the start of something big, epic. It has the taste of most standard conventions, a boy finding an item of power, of being threatened by a newer, outsider force. Of having to make a deal to save his family. Of being attached to a different power. This could be any of a hundred different fantasy novels, and yet it's also an interesting and original setting. I really liked the idea of the new god, this thing full of eyes that is growing in power, that might have the power to effect not only the present, but perhaps the past. Interesting work, and I just love the world-building, the way everything flows together. It's an elegant story, and though it might be a bit standard in its approach, that doesn't make it bad or not memorable. I like the main character, like the Wizard's house and helpers. The visuals are neat and the magic and the history of the story seem real and layered. I would definitely read this book, read it because it seems fun and offers a world that I think would be fun to explore. There are hints of darkness, of things to come, but this is rather a tried and true boy entering into a fantasy journey kind of story. And it's well done, entertaining and complex enough to keep my interest throughout.

"The King in the Cathedral" by Rich Larson (5664 words)

A story about an exiled king determined to play games for the rest of his life, this one is also rather charming. When a woman is sent to "service" the king only to find out that he doesn't care for the company of women, routine is shattered when the woman reveals she's actually a member of a resistance movement sent to help the king escape and retake his throne. At first, though, the king is disinterested in such theatrics. To him, a king is a king, and while the current ruler might seem bad, he's similar to all those that came before and might come after. The king is much more content to simply keep playing games with his automation jailer, Otto. So the women readies herself to leave, which is certain death without a guide through the desert. The king ends up playing a game with Otto. If he wins, the automation will have to take the woman through the desert. But that's not quite all. Because the king does win, and Otto knows that if it accompanies the woman back to civilization, it won't be able to return. I liked the story, but there were parts I wasn't quite sure about. In some ways it seems to be saying that there is no difference in who rules. That kings are kings. On the other hand, it seems to be saying that kings who rule for their people, out of a genuine regard for them, make better rulers. But I don't know if the story really questions the rule of kings. There is still a sense that the king is the rightful, fated ruler, and in some ways he's stepping back into his role. That he would make a better ruler isn't really in question. That he should rule is, at least for me. But I did enjoy the story. It's fun and while I might have wanted it to tackle more, it's an interesting read.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons February 9, 2015

Quite the short week from Strange Horizons, with only one flash fiction and one poem. And again I wonder if I should just do one massive Strange Horizons review at the end of the month. I don't think I will yet, because 1.) I'm at about my limit of what I can review a month and having more days to fill would mean less time I get for everything else (like writing, because I do that, too), 2.) I like balancing longer reviews like Clarkesworld or Apex with short ones like these, and 3.) the end of the month would be way too crowded if I tried to save everything until then (with Terraform, the second Beneath Ceaseless Skies,, etc.). So still doing Strange Horizons every week for now. Onward!


"Traveling Mercies" by Rachael K. Jones (1030 words)

Short but very sweet, this story follows an old vampire as they travel around the world seeking places to stay out of the sunlight. It's an interesting story, and a hopeful one, as the vampire has never been let down, has always been invited in some place to wait out the day. It's a message that people are always willing to help, that there is home and comfort in fraternity and good will, and that those forces can redeem, can make a friend from a monster. It's a very cool idea, too, using the lore of vampires, that they always have to be invited in, and this way the thirst is slaked not with blood but with friendship. Perhaps that sounds a little saccharine, but it works. It's optimistic, yes, and sweet, but I didn't find the story sappy. Instead, there is a darkness and a danger there, because the narrator will die if they can't find a shelter from the sun, and because they are something of a monster, defined by rules, by the curse of what they are. And yet for all those who believe that hospitality is dead, it's affirming to see a story that still believes in the generosity of the host, of the bonds that can be formed between friends, and on the power of those things. It's a great story, powerfully told.


"Once the Dream Lionesses" by Alexandra Seidel

I will admit that I don't know if there is a word for this kind of poem, for one that uses the first lines of its stanzas in echoes in the last stanza. It's a good effect, though, the thoughts echoing back with the voices of the lionesses. To me, the story is of loss, of age. The riddle of the Sphinx is mentioned, the four legs to two to three, which evokes the idea of aging, echoed in the words of the lionesses, that they are tired, that they are diminished. The hunter has taken their bones, their voices, and where the hunter walks now they are silent but also gathering themselves. Beneath the hunter there is no drum, or the drum is silenced, but I got the feeling that it was waiting, that it was building to something, holding itself back when the hunter stepped. Still, the story screams loss to me. The loss of the natural, mostly, taken for profit, taken for sport, just taken. And there is a weariness in dealing with it, the lionesses feeling their age, but also calling on forces deeper, deeper. I enjoyed the poem, though I'm still trying to decide what I think of the stillness at the end. I'm leaning toward it being that waiting, that when the hunter steps the lionesses pause, waiting, knowing that they have to wait for the right moment. That, rather than the hunter stilling their drum, because I want to believe that the beat goes on. But maybe that's just what I want to read. Either way, it's a nice poem, with a strong form and interesting imagery.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination February 2015

Today I'm looking at the latest from Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, home of the longest email address for sending story submissions (honestly, it is for all you writers out there). But the new focus on shorter stories means there are once again two original pieces for me to look at today. So let's jump right in!


"Weight of the World" by José Pablo Iriarte (1553 words)

This one is definitely an emotional wallop for being so short. A family from off-world (did I miss where? Mars? Someplace with lower gravity at least) are returning to Earth for treatment for their son's treatment. The stay is tough on them, in part because the increased gravity makes moving difficult. The father stubbornly refuses to take assistance, and puts himself through the pain of walking around in what seems to be an advanced bargaining mode. If he can survive, he seems to ask the universe, surely his son can. Only his posturing is slightly worrisome because his son's survival really isn't up to him. Isn't up to anyone. It's not based on how much his son wants to live or how tough he is. And so the parents worry that they are setting their son up for failure, that they might make their son feel like he's failing them by dying. And that's the interesting thing, because there are layers of trying to be strong, and the story plays around with what is strong and what is weak. Because when the news comes and the father finally lets himself be weak, or let's the world see his weakness. Like acknowledging it before would have ruined something. It's an interesting story that circles around masculinity but seems more about trying to be strong in the face of tragedy. Solid work.

"She Opened Her Arms" by Amanda C. Davis (982 words)

Another interesting story about family. In this one, the young sister of an even younger disabled brother is told by a strange woman that her brother's condition is due to the fact that her "real" brother was stolen and replaced, that the brother she was supposed to have can be returned. Thinking that she wants the brother she "should" have had, a more normal, handsome brother, she tries to reclaim him. She interrupts a procession of Fae in order to get him back but in the midst of it she realizes that if she succeeds she won't just gain a brother who she doesn't know, but will lose the brother she loves. Disgusted, she breaks the ritual and returns home. It's a nice story with a powerful message, that people with mental or physical disabilities are not broken. They are not lesser for their differences. And in choosing the brother she knew, the brother she cared about, instead of the prettier one she might have had, she affirms her brother's right to be himself. She affirms her love for him, not for what he might have been. A lovely read.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Quick Sips - Crossed Genres #26 - Betrayal

Today I'm looking at the latest from Crossed Genres. In their twenty-sixth issue they're featuring stories with a theme of "Betrayal." Three, as always, and at least one by a new author. It makes for some great, sometimes experimental, stories. So let's go!


"These Eyes Are Not My Own" by Jennifer Nestojko (5038 words)

This story brings up a lot to do with love and ability and what it means to be disabled. A woman finds out that her partner has been creating copies of her, living copies that she hopes to basically kill in order to transfer the woman's consciousness into the new body, which is free from the genetic disorder that has left her wheelchair-bound. Obviously this doesn't sit well with the woman, Leah, because she's more or less comfortable with her condition. She's used to it and though she might not like her disorder, she doesn't see it as defining her. She sees herself as complete, but obviously her partner, Sarah, sees her as defective, as needing to be fixed. It seems a very common way of handling disorders, both mental ones and physical ones, and really is a shitty way of looking at a person you love. Or claim to love. Leah finds the duplicate, though, named Rachel, and learns that Rachel wants to live, doesn't want to give up her body so that Leah can walk. And Leah doesn't want that either, so she takes Rachel and escapes, leaves and asserts that she doesn't need fixing, that Sarah made a terrible mistake and will have to live with the consequences of that mistake. A good story.

"Universal Print" by Fonda Lee (3461 words)

About two friends, Cutter and Strung, who get stuck on a technology-averse world while on an illegal errand, this story is fun and funny and rather charming. It's a fairly standard setup, with Strung the more methodical, more uptight friend and Cutter the asshole, the one always thinking of crazy and illegal things to do. And Strung goes along with it because he craves a bit that thrill and that laziness. But he also is a fairly decent guy, and Cutter obviously isn't using the 3D printers that they are transporting to print out duplicate money so that he can live like a king in the small town they bring their ship to to get repaired. Only Strung has finally had enough, and decides to cut his losses, and leaves Cutter to deal with the fallout from his actions. It's a nice story, rather light and leaning heavily on the messed up friendship between Cutter and Strung. For that it's good, and does something a little different with the more classic dynamic. I was glad to see Strung finally cut out, as it were. Another pleasant read.

"And to the Republic" by Rachel Kolar (4594 words)

An alt-present story where the US has been mixed with the Roman Empire and citizens are required to worship the right "gods." These include men like the founding fathers and other important figures. At its core it seems to be about patriotism and how it can be forced onto people, how people without it are looked at like criminals and how everyone is sort of policed for their beliefs and not for their actions. The main character, Lavinia, tries to warn her sister, Antonia, that she's about to be audited, which means she has to show that she is faithful to the Republic. Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, this is something that is pretty much forced onto people. You have to play along. At the very least you have to fake it. But Antonia refuses, and in doing so puts her family at risk. It's an interesting story, and one that definitely has some relevance, especially if you've ever known people who refused to say the Pledge, or refused to fall in line like that. There is something to Antonia's refusal, even as it costs her so much, even as her sister thinks it childish. There's a lot to take in and unpack in the story, and it's a good read.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Quick Links 02/08/2015

A smattering of reviews today, some old and some new. Most of this week I was rather lukewarm on, really. The graphic novel, especially, was not my cup of tea. I guess it hit a few of my triggers. But you'll see my review policy at work there. I really hope that I wasn't mean. But I was trying to be...critical. I have no idea if I succeeded. But here you go.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (Goodreads, my score 2/5) - I'm normally a fan of what First Second puts out but this was a bit too...well, maybe a little two much the unfortunate male artist. It was not my cup of tea, though there were things I liked about it.

The Spiritglass Charade by Colleen Gleason (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - A Stoker and Holmes book and almost a 4/5 in my mind, but it sort of tries to do too much in my opinion. Vampires and steampunk and mysteries and romance are all done fairly well, but they didn't always meet up the best for me. Still, it was fun and I would read more.

Escape from Kathmandu by Kim Stanley Robinson (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - This was the more disappointing read, because I read the first part of it and really liked it in the Best of KSR collection. The subsequent parts just don't quite live up to that first story, which bummed me out. That said, Freds is hilarious and George starts out as quite fun. Unfortunately I felt a growing distance from George and, well, you can read the review.

In other news...

THE MONTHLY ROUND for January 2015 is up and was a lot of fun to do. So many good stories. And good drinking. This column is probably my favorite thing I do. Aside maybe from some stories. Which I might have news about soon.

But that's it this week. I'm actually hoping to get to some reviews of erotica/yaoi/hentai/ADULT STUFF that I normally shelf as Not For the Faint of Heart on Goodreads. It's lots of fun because I do it tipsy. Because that's what it takes sometimes to tell the world all the, ahem, things I read. Anyway, hoping to get to The Bid by Jax (science fiction erotica) and Smut Peddler (AMAZING graphic novel) soon. Until then, be well and peace out!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Genre

I've been told that I'm rather odd in my thoughts on genre as a thing. I should explain. I think that many people really like genre. They like to know before they pick something up what it's going to be. They want to know if it's fiction or science fiction, and what flavor of science fiction. They want to know if it's a dark fantasy or grimdark fantasy or something like that. And I...well, I want a good description on the back of the book. So in that, I do want to know what a book is about. But I don't really care what genre it's carrying.

I get why genres exist. Categorization. How do all the books get organized if not by genre? How are we supposed to have a book we really liked and know what to move on to next? I want another just like that, I imagine someone saying, and then scanning the same shelf they found the book they liked. And hey, I understand that. It makes sense. But then, I also think that it's a rather limited way of reading. I'm incredibly glad that I decided to walk outside the science fiction/fantasy section of the library, of the bookstore. I love books I've found in the romance section. And mysteries. And literary fiction. And YA, and children's books, and nonfiction. Oh the books I love...

But the thing is, because of that, I find I don't have the greatest of ideas of where I belong. It's like being a fan of a sport but not having a team or favorite player. Like being really into (American) football and not caring who's playing. You start talking to other people and one of the first things they ask is "what's your favorite team?" Similarly, I've gotten into a lot of conversations with people about books and they want to know what my favorite genre is. What do I read? What do I write? And answering "yes" is not incredibly smiled upon. Being nebulous, being a fan of good books regardless of genre, can be seen as...I don't know, threatening somehow. Or at least awkward. A football fan without a team probably will have a hard time finding football parties where they feel comfortable not having a favorite team.

And I just want to be here and say that slapping labels on books doesn't help me. I find it...slightly abrasive. I don't want to be told what genre a book is. I want to read it and appreciate it as a book, or a story, and not necessarily only as a fantasy or a paranormal romance. I swear I talk about books sometimes and someone will want to know the genre. And if I sigh and say what it is, if it's not their genre or one of their genres, they sort of roll their eyes and stop listening. Great, great, yes, that sounds interesting, but I don't read that sort of thing. And really, wtf?

So genre is something that I have a rather complicated relationship to. I mean, I write things that I consider more fantasy. Or more science fiction. Or more romance. But most of the time I'm just writing stories I want to read. Stories that get my hands moving on the keyboard. I'm not so much concerned with genre (though maybe I should be...maybe it makes me less marketable). And so when I see people trying to break genres apart, trying to subcategorize and subcategorize, I kind of wonder why. If it's just for statistics, then hurray! I love statistics. I have different shelves on Goodreads that help me keep stats so I can vaguely see what I'm reading.

But once the categories and subcategories are being used to form teams, to declare one is better and one is worse, then I can't stand them. I'd rather tear them all down and put all the books on the same enormous shelf and let people figure it out. That way at least everything mingles, and people are not encouraged to break apart, to pay attention to only their little plod of fandom and to hell with everything else. Because that sucks. It's used far too often to keep voices silent that would bring diversity and new ideas and prevent the whole thing from stagnating. Because that's all that rigid definitions and genres lead to. It leads to the same thing over and over and over again, different only in shades of the same color and that's boring. That is so boring.

So I'm weird. I write mostly speculative fiction but I do not really like thinking of books or stories based on their genres. I just want to read good books.

Or something. Really I probably don't know what I'm talking about. Probably I'm just tired and need to go read one of those good books. That will make me feel better.  Yeah. So. Thanks for reading this. Sorry.