Sunday, May 31, 2015

Quick Links - 05/31/2015

Hi all! Wow, it seems a while since I've done this. But reading has downright sucked recently. Aside from keeping (mostly) up on the blog I have gotten little done. But here, some links from around the internet before they get too old. Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler (Nerds of a Feather, my score 7/10) - I did quite enjoy this one, which takes a more progressive and balanced look at consent in a paranormal romance story line that could have been problematic indeed. Not that it always succeeds, but it does try. And that's something.

Adventure Time OGN Vol 5. Graybles Schmaybles by Danielle Corsetto and Zachary Sterling (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - I really enjoy the AT OGNs and was just a bit disappointed that this one doesn't quite live up to the promise of the other volumes. Not a bad read, but not quite up to what I expect from these OGNs.

Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith (Kidsreads) - I found this book a bit of a disappointment. It does some interesting things but is all over the place in a way that I didn't think served the story. It also did some things that rather personally bothered me. Not that it's bad, just...well...

Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith (Goodreads, my score 2/5) - Here's the second review of the book and one that might get a little more distracted by my little annoyances. As it's all mine, I tend to be a little more direct. Or something like that. In any event, here's my second review of this...

So yeah. I'll have another review of Jinn and Juice to do at some point and I have to catch up on some Not For the Faint of Heart reviews, plus I just have to read more. It's really rather sad how bad a month May was for reading. Hoping that June will be loads better. Indeed. As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Back Into the Swing of Things

I'm back! Well, I guess I was never really "gone," but I mean that I'm back home after attending my second ever convention. WisCon is an interesting place, and as an attendee it is just so full of amazing people and ideas that it's strange to come home and have to process all of it. Part of it went completely as expected. Meaning I am shy and so I didn't really socialize much. I went to a ton of panels and readings and bought a lot of books that I am very excited to read (mostly next year). I have to say that Guest of Honor Alaya Dawn Johnson's speech was the highlight and had me blinking back tears because wow. But it's a lot to process. And that's what I want to write about today, not about the convention itself but about the experience of coming back.

I don't want to lose the excitement, the inspiration that last weekend filled me with. Something about being around so many people who are creative and engaged is that it's rather intoxicating. The world seems to open up and so many ideas come pouring into my head and I just want to do them all. Of course, then you get home and have to go back to work and discover that all the projects that you were working on before haven't cleared themselves away and are still sitting there, staring at you. And there is the danger then of the backlash. The crushing weight of knowing that you can't do everything when and how you want it. And you have to face that so many talented people are out there writing that your own stuff can seem…juvenile? Unimportant? I'm not sure, but it arrives and it sucks.

In truth, I'm not sure really how to maintain that contact high of being in such a freeing place. For me it might mean trying to take control more of my surroundings. It might mean trying to connect more with any actual people in my area. It might mean taking time to think and ponder before pushing back to work. But it also must mean getting back to work. Writing. Remembering why it's so great and why it lives and breathes and why I need to do it. It must mean at some point pushing past and through and starting something new. Something even better. Because one thing these situations do very well is convince me there is better and that I need to be a part of it. That I need to improve, and that I have a lot of room for that improvement.

And perhaps that is the best thing about WisCon. That it reminds me of why I started writing and that it reminds that I still have a long, long road to walk if I want to do it well. Also it prompts me to think in different ways, to think outside myself, which is always useful. There's such a rich diversity of views and experiences at WisCon. I will definitely be going again. And hey, maybe next time I'll try to be on a panel or something. Which would probably get me to talk to more than like three people. But for all that it is an amazing experience it does always leave me rather drained and directionless, which is super frustrating because while there I felt so…turned on.

So I'm home. I'm home and I have to find a way for that not to seem like such a disappointment. That back here life is still okay but difficult. That the Con was amazing but that working and writing continue. I have to find a way to get back up and face what needs facing despite wanting a month off of everything but writing. Because I can see no other way around it. I just want that to be life all the time. To be engaged like that and inspired and with so many people I can feel comfortable around. Because I like my town but it's not WisCon. Hell, there's not even a serious writing group here. But maybe that, too, will change. In any event, I'm back and my mind is racing and hopefully I can manage to catch at least some of this lightning in a bottle. Thanks for reading!

All the best,\

Charles Payseur

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Quick Sips - Urban Fantasy #7

Urban Fantasy Magazine is out again with two stories that take very different tracks into Urban Fantasy. One is alt history and one is a more traditional "fantasy hiding beneath the surface" story with knights and wizards. Really, though, both stories look at privilege and power and loneliness and the power of one person to decide their fate. In quite different ways the stories nevertheless both tackle some pretty big issues while also being entertaining, which is always nice. So before I gush on some more, to the stories!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #60

So Lightspeed wins my "Came out with their longest story of the month in the last five days of the month" award (normally reserved for Tor but then, as I haven't read the Tor stories yet, might mean there will be two winners this month). Which, given I just got back from WisCon, means that I had to sort of rush to get it done in time. But I kid (because though it would be nice for all places to schedule their releases to suit me I don't expect it...yet). It's another month of quality stories that really showed a wide variation in kinds of stories. Nothing really feels similar, but it is all worth checking out in different ways. Including the stunning conclusion (I think) to the long-running Kaslo Chronicles. So let's get to it!

Art by Li Shuxing

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform May 2015

Hi all! Not quite back home following WisCon but at least the last story of the month from Terraform is a good one. Not really as short as I'm used to for the publication, which is supposed to be under two thousand words but has two stories over three. But the talent on the site continues to impress and these stories really do deliver on a science fiction vision of some pressing concerns. Also, a science fiction Orpheus retelling (I'm a sucker for Orpheus retellings). So yeah, settle in and get ready for some short fiction reviews!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Quick Sips - Nightmare #32

Two new stories grace this issue of Nightmare, and both very much live up to the horror name in the title of the magazine. Indeed, these two stories have the feel of different kinds of horror movie. The first is more of a Saw or Hostel-flavored story and the second is more of an Outbreak or other medical horror spiced tale. Both are interesting and intense and dark, but as I normally steer away from the torture-heavy movies like Saw I find that I might prefer the second story a bit more. But other readers will obviously have different preferences. So let's get to it.

Art by Vitaly Alexius

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Quick Thoughts - WisCon Part 2

Okay so now it's Sunday. Right? I mean, time is really weird on weekends that have conventions, and even more so with the extra time off I took. But it should be Sunday now and Saturday was pretty awesome. I am convinced that the only thing keeping us from being bale to get an entire year's worth of books for the Bradford challenge here is that we don't have the money to spend all at once. As it is we are getting SO many good books. Just picked up Mothership yesterday and a new comic by the author of Dayblack. Also a past WisCon GoH book by Nisi Shawl. That said, the day was a little light for buying books as we did not visit any book stores, just finished up the places we wanted to go to at the vendor rooms.

And panels. Me and partner both went to Sex Positive SFF in the morning (we got out a bit late and missed the first timeslot...the perils of staying with friends not really close to the Con). That was quite interesting though. I some ways it would tie in a bit with the Future of Gender panel in some of the ideas that it would play with, especially trying to imagine how effective change would actually look like and thinking about how to get around all the problematic elements of sexy fun in books and such has to also walk with recognizing that sex positivity does not necessarily mean sexy to many people. After that it was out to the Farmer's Market for lunch and then back to it with three panels back to back. Or three things. The first I went to was the Alaya Dawn Johnson GoH reading which was amazing. Gay "zombie" romance story that was all the yes.

After that it was the Mixtape, which was also amazing and I got a whole list of artists to check out now. I'm weird with music, but I really like writing with music and sometimes directly inspired by music. So that was a really neat panel and I got to hear a lot of music that I never really was exposed to before. Very good times. And then was the Future of Gender in SFF panel which was interesting and was mostly dealing with genderqueer and trans visions of what a better future might look like. And then it was out to dinner (Japanese) to talk about everything (after a stroll through the vendor room and art show). And then drinking (but not too much) and sleeping (but woken up again by whiniest cat in the universe). Still, all told a really great experience. And now coffee and back to the Con!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Quick Thoughts - WisCon part 1

So maybe you're noticing that this is not up on Saturday morning. Trust me, I'm quite conscious on the fact, and having missed my regularly scheduled posting time there is a part of me that just wants to skip entirely. But WisCon is happening right now, the one convention that I go to, and I've been both quite busy and quite tired. Also I couldn't really write this up ahead of time because yesterday was the first real day of the Con. And wow, what a day. The morning was entirely bookstores. After registration, at least. It was going to A Room of One's Own Bookstore and still being so impressed with the variety of books. Not many places is there such a diversity of books and authors that I found four different books for next year's Bradford reading challenge. That's on top of the books that I paid full price for. And then it was down to Rainbow Bookstore so pet the cat and buy some more books.

And that was all before the Con really started. Because speaking of K. Tempest Bradford, she moderated the second panel that I attended on Misandry and Other Imaginary Creatures and it was SO GOOD. The panel before that on Harmful tropes was also very good but the Imaginary Creatures panel is everything that I like about WisCon. People having fun, people talking about reading and writing, and also hitting some very thorny issues in a way that is educational and very meaningful. It's just the thing to get one's creative juices flowing and it is great great great! Dinner was expensive but gave me and partner ample time to talk and relax. And we drank Bilbo Baggins (a black IPA on tap at The Cooper's Tavern). And we walked the dealer room and bought even more books and I think we might have a bit of a problem with book-buying but it's great. Then on to WisCon after dark and meeting Sigrid Ellis and hearing some hilarious stories while being schooled a bit about maybe not being so introverted all the time. Then closing the day out with Death to Love Triangles and getting to listen to Alaya Dawn Johnson talk about all my favorite parts of The Summer Prince (still my favorite read of 2015 so far).

So that is why these thoughts aren't up until now. Because I've been busy. A very loud cat kept us from sleeping well going into our first day at the con (also a bit too much to drink) but it's Saturday morning now and we slept pretty well and I'm hoping to have these Thoughts up by Sunday early with further tales of how cool WisCon is (eff it, I"m just posting this now and Part 2 will be up tomorrow or something). Even though I'm quite terrified of it all, it's so invigorating. It makes me was to write more, and write so much better than I do. It's this one time every year that I feel a bit connected to the field in the flesh. The one time that I really engage with it. Probably I should do more to be outgoing, but as it is I'm loving my time here. I'll let you know how the rest of the time goes.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/11/2015 and 5/18/2015

Just two weeks of Strange Horizons on the horizon for today. With WisCon about to start and still a good deal left to review I thought it best to just do two weeks this time so that I can be done with the monthly fiction at least before the month is over (assuming that the last week of the month will have no fiction). But the fiction is quite strong and deals a bit with loss and with grief but also the strength to keep going after change. And the poetry is, as always, interesting and subtle and worth some careful examination. Plus there's some new nonfiction that's quite good and a piece of art. So let's begin!

Art by Milan Jaram

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #173

This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies manages to show that light and humorous stories are not out of place in fantasy. Both the stories in this issue keep things rather light, though of course there are a few less-humorous bits as well. Really, though, they capture a lighthearted approach to fantasy that really doesn't show up too often. Plus it also has a story that blends in some drama in the stylistic sense, being written as a play. So while thematically the stories are fairly different, and stylistically they are worlds apart, they both capture a bit more humorous visions that work quite well. So let's get to them.

Art by Christopher Balaskas

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quick Sips - Shimmer #25 (May Stuff)

So Shimmer has been super kind to provide me a subscription to their lovely publication for review purposes. So I'm sort of debating how I want to deal with that at the moment because I still would rather handle the issue as two review (one for each month). But it's possible that I will come out with reviews before the stories are up for free online. This month just happens to work out really well for that, because this review drops the day the second story is out for free online. Definitely go give both stories a read, as they are moody and dark with the shadows of creatures only partly glimpsed. Oh, and I will probably handle this in a future Thoughts (not this week, but maybe next?) but I am also debating how to handle spoilers in these reviews. Normally I try not to, as here (especially the second story) but I'm not sure if I can quite discuss the story as much as I want without spoiling certain stories. But that will be left for another day. For now, to the stories!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Monday, May 18, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination May 2015

Normally I don't think of flash fiction as anything under 3,000 words, but that's how Fantastic Stories of the Imagination defines the form and so here are two more "flash" fiction pieces. Really I'm just teasing (though really, the first story is not flash), because both stories are once again good and both science fictional looks at the future, at two young women who are trying to figure out their place in the scheme of things. The stories offer two different views of the future, two different dilemmas, but they both share some common things. Mostly, they're about being open to change, about not being stuck with tunnel vision. One story shows the protagonist finding this out, the other shows the protagonist with maybe some more learning to do. But both are interesting and I guess I should just get to it!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Community and Me

I want to talk (write?) about community today. Because I find that, as an introvert and someone living kind of out-of-the-way, that community is rather difficult to find, difficult to maintain. I know, I know, I have this blog and all, but don't be fooled—I am rather terrified of people. I walk the weird line between I was always the person raising my hand in class to I was also the person always incapable of talking to people outside of class. Probably no surprise there. But as I'm going to be off to WisCon this next week, I figured I would talk a little bit about things in regard to trying to fit in somewhere in SFF.

I discussed a bit last week one of my forays into community that…did not go exactly as I had wanted. Which, really, probably sums up an awful lot of my attempts to find somewhere to belong. Which probably sums up a lot of people's attempts to find somewhere to belong. Especially in SFF. In some ways, SFF is the land of outcasts, or at least can seem that way at times. Growing up, it was a love of things SFF that helped me to escape and imagine a better world, a world where I wasn't afraid and awkward and could feel some measure of freedom and respect. I think that's why many people end up in SFF, because it captures that hope for somewhere to belong. But obviously, feeling outcast isn't a one size fits all sort of thing.

My wanting a place to belong is not at all the same as someone turning to SFF as an escape from an abuse situation, from an unsafe world. My feeling outcast walked hand in hand with growing up in a privileged situation. I was still safe. I didn't get beat up. I didn't get threatened. I was just…lonely. And maybe in need of figuring myself out. But SFF was still where I turned to try and find a place to belong. As many do. The thing is, I think that also makes SFF a place where many people who have been outcast from various other groups turn around to find outcasts that they can in turn make further outcasts. Look at the Puppies. Most of them would probably say that they are the wounded party. Most would say that they were just trying to have a place of their own, that they are trying to save SFF.

Only SFF isn't one thing. It isn't one group. There are a great many groups within it. And so when I tried to find people who shared my interests, I did. But bonding over a love of SFF is…well, it's great and all but obviously there are a great many flavors of love for SFF. And mine…well, I brought t his up in my Destroying SF Quick Thoughts that it hasn't always gone well. Instead of being a bastion for the outcasts, some parts of SFF seem very much "conform or be punished." I mean, there is an entire "do not read list" put out by GG and the harassment and abuse some authors and fans have to endure because of their interests and passions is just terrible. So to say that sometimes SFF can be a scary place is to put it mildly.

But thank Glob for the internet and second chances. Though there are some scary factions of SFF out there, there are also many amazing talents and voices and groups and sites that are doing great work at helping people express themselves safely. For every community that I joined and then rather fell out of, there were others that I could join. Or lurk around. I swear probably a big reason I don't get more into fandom and online communities is I'm afraid I will pour myself into it and then it will all blow up in my face. Because I have a tendency to want to do A LOT when I join a thing. This can be very good. This can also be very not-so-good, because if for whatever reason I get disappointed with what I'm doing or feel like what's the point I tend to crash and burnout. Which can be tough when interacting with people is intimidating.

But I keep trying. I really like what I'm doing here at Quick Sip and with Nerds of a Feather and just in general. And there is definitely a part of me that wants more and more but because of time I am trying real hard to be careful with what I sign up for. Still, I love the connections. The feeling of community. I had a great time at WisCon last year despite pretty much being a turtle the entire time. It was great fun and I hope to do more this year. And who knows, maybe next year I'll try to be on a panel or something.
Anyway, there are my rambling thoughts out ahead of WisCon. Please excuse any weirdness these next two weeks as I will be trying to keep up with reviews. Trying. Not so sure about the succeeding. But thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex #72

This month's Apex seems to be a lot about the stories that we tell ourselves, the stories that cover over the truth. At least the fiction definitely seems that way. There are literal stories that cover up uncomfortable truths, both through the suppression of memories and through the "misremembering" of events. But there is also a drive to face the truth, to face the past head on and deal with it. That it's necessary for moving on, for getting better. In all the stories there is a sense that the characters need to face their mistakes, that they are stronger than their guilt or grief, that they can do something. And, of course, the poetry is amazing. A solid issue, so let's get to it!

Art by Beth Spencer

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Crossed Genres #29 Failure

This month's Crossed Genres has the theme of Failure. It's an interesting theme to see played out because of how broad and vague it is, but here are three stories that capture different aspects of it. I like that two of them feature failed relationships, though. Because in those failures there is also something else. A failure to cave to the dominant narrative. A failure on the part of the women in the relationships to be defined by the men who acted on then. In the one, a woman whose husband ran off with another woman refuses to let her remaining life be defined by that failed marriage. In the other, a woman who was killed refuses to let the narrative of her death be hijacked and used by her boyfriend. And in all three stories, the failures that are experienced really only open the door for a greater sort of victory. So yeah, let's get to it!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Quick Sips - The Dark #8

Another issue of The Dark continues to really live up to its name, offering four original stories that deliver with the dark and creepy. The first story is, I suppose, the only one of the stories that I would consider scary, but the other three are unsettling and dark in their own ways. And the last two are rather thematically linked by being about children and the horrors of being a parent. And, now that I think of it, the first story has some elements of parenting in it as well. Hmm. Well, it makes for an interesting set of reads, so let's get to it!

Art by Angus Yi

Monday, May 11, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #104

This is rather a loaded issue of Clarkesworld. With five original stories, two of them translations, it's a bit longer than a normal issue. Plus, the stories themselves aren't by and large short (two of them coming in over 7k). But it's also loaded in the sense that it packs quite the emotional kick. Rare is it that I'm confronted with so many touching stories all in the same issue. So a very good month for the publication, plus a piece of nonfiction that takes an interesting look at the craft of creative writing. Enough talk, though—to the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Still Here

So recently I stepped back from one of the things I've been doing for a little over a year now. I don't really want to say what it is because I don't want to name names. It was definitely a learning experience and it probably made me better at doing a lot of things but it was rather case and point why being part of a group in SFF can be…a bit fraught at times. And it made me look at my own personal responsibility in associating with a group that does not always do things that I am comfortable or okay with. It made me look at my own moral culpability in everything the group did, no matter how much I was vocally opposed to it.

Now, by and large, things start because they seem like a good idea. And, to be honest, by and large I still don't regret the time I spent with the group. Kinda. Sorta. It's complicated. Like many people no doubt do, I joined because I felt a lack. I wanted to participate in something, to be a part of something, and I saw a chance and took it. I was accepted and I was super thrilled to be a part of it. The complicated-ness of it, though, started pretty early and never quite left. I felt I could basically say my opinion, but it was always under the umbrella of other opinions. And I could not stop others in the group from doing…some things I did not agree with at all.

And the group did teach me a lot. Perhaps not always in the ways it intended, but it taught me all the same. Unfortunately, the more I did the more I was reminded that the group wasn't really for me. The more I did the more I realized that the discussions I was having did not leave me excited to be a part of SFF. They did not fill that lack I felt that made me join the group. I dreaded discussions. I dreaded feeling like yes, I could say my piece, but that I'd be hammered at by other members of the group until I stopped talking. That my opinion, my feelings, would at best garner a "let's agree to disagree." So what did I do? Well, I will admit that I strayed a bit. Like an employee not letting their work know they're seeking alternate employment, I applied elsewhere. But oh, the guilt.

I don't feel like a particularly strong person. I feel constantly filled with conflict and worry. I didn't want to be some sort of cheat or traitor. I didn't want to let the group down, despite that the group kinda made me feel like crap. And so when I found other groups, and when I started this blog, I stuck around in that original group because I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I didn't want them to think I didn't like them. I didn't want to be ungrateful for being given the chance to be a part of something that was my first step into SFF discourse. I kept working, but I got quieter in the discussions. I took on less things to do because I was doing more elsewhere.

And then my work situation changed a bit and I've had less time and cannot keep up with everything I was doing. I was faced with the prospect that I had to step back from something. Now, I hold no great illusions. This blog gets probably a decent amount of traffic for what it is, but I'm not winning any awards. It's just a place to get out my thoughts on the stories I read. And the poetry and some of the nonfiction. Because that's what I want to do. But it reaches less people than this other group. So in all fairness I should have stopped my Quick Sip Reviews and accepted that I didn't have time for it.

And I agonized this for an extra month while still trying to do everything. My partner is amazing and has helped tremendously but cannot, unfortunately, fabricate time itself, and I came to the point where I had to look at why I didn't want to make the call. And it was because I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn't give up this blog. It does way more for my mental health than that other group. It's what I want to be doing. So I stepped back from the other group instead. And oh, the guilt. But I hope that will fade. I hope that I've made the right call.

And this brings me just a little bit to my point. That SFF is a right fucked up place sometimes. There are many roads to it, many reasons for being drawn to it. They don't always fit the dominant narrative, and I think that's what it needs more of. Obviously there's going to be some backlash. It's really obvious in some places but in others it's a bit more subtle. And for those who are approaching green, without guides and without much support, it can be easy to feel that SFF is not a place you'd want to belong. For those who enter into groups only to suffer for it, I can completely understand the urge to just want to check out entirely. But I, personally, am glad that I stuck around at least long enough to find better groups and better spaces. I'm glad I'm still here.

And thank you, everyone who's bothered to read these reviews, for making the decision to choose what I wanted over what I felt obliged to do that much easier. It wasn't easy. Like, at all. But that there are some people out there reading these reviews and sometimes commenting and generally just being awesome makes doing this something I want to keep doing. So thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, May 8, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #4 (May Stuff)

So the new issue of Uncanny is out. Woo! Of all the various publications around, Uncanny is normally where has the biggest names consistently, which makes sense for some place looking to create a reputation and secure funding. So maybe go and support them. They're having a funding drive and do provide some amazing stories. In any event, the May offerings are indeed many and some intensely entertaining pieces. Three stories, some short and others pushing the short story word limit, but still everything is very readable. Plus some (as always) great nonfiction and an honest-to-god Sonnet for poetry. So a solid month, which I should get on with already!

Art by Tran Nguyen

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons - 04/20/2015, 04/27/2015, and 05/04/2015

So I got behind a bit with Strange Horizons. Normally I've been trying to do every other week but sometimes things slip a little and here is a collection of three weeks worth of stories, poems, and nonfiction. There is a lot to like with everything. The prose is solid, understated a bit and dealing primarily with family. The poetry is linked by its structure, each poem being broken into sections. But they are quite different thematically, and boy do some of them get under the skin and burrow for vital organs. Some of it is very, very dark. I'm not looking at quite all of the nonfiction, as some was either a bit over my head or on topics that I don't feel qualified to critique (or both). It's all interesting, though, and Strange Horizons continues to be a must-read publication.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online May 2015

Three new original stories this month at Flash Fiction Online, and they all fall on the speculative spectrum. For that, though, there is a nice variety, from a off-world science fiction to a contemporary science fiction to a nice, dark fantasy. As always, these are some short short stories worth checking out, short enough to be read all in one go without really losing much time for it. And at the beginning of the month, it's nice at times to not have to worry about a huge issue to get through. So yeah, let's get to it!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Monday, May 4, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #172 - Weird Western

Really, Beneath Ceaseless Skies? A special issue released on the last day of the month? I mean, I love the issue, but I'm afraid for Monthly Round considerations I'm considering it a May read. However, did I mention that I love the issue? Yes? Well it's true! And the issue even breaks the old BCS pattern of two stories per issue. There are three! But then, this is a special issue, so it makes sense. Also, the image below does not do the cover justice. It is amazing but I couldn't seem to get all of it so you'll just have to go to the site and check that one out. Very worth it! The three stories all take different tracks when it comes to approaching the Western theme. Only one really has a gun fight in it, but they all use the place and setting of the West to good effect, and all manage to capture a bit of that feel, the Weird Western style that makes them unique and interesting. So to the stories!

Art by Ignacio Bazan Luzcano

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Text and Subtext

As is usual for a lot of these thoughts, this week was preluded on Twitter with a bit of a rant about a book I had just finished. Not a terrible book, but one that got me rather conflicted because of the way I thought it toyed with me. Manipulated me into liking it perhaps a bit more than I should. And I won't quite go into the book right now, but basically it was a YA book that had a character (not the main character) that was portrayed as rather…well, the implication was that he was gay and dealing with bullying and as such the book had a chance to really make a statement with that character's journey.

I shouldn't get my hopes up. I know this. And yet there is a part of me that thrills when stories hint at things, especially that certain characters might not be straight. There are entire communities that pick up on the not-straight eroticism in shows and books and ship and write fanfiction and do all sorts of things because that story and those character speak to them in that way. As someone who has read fanfiction for a long time (mostly quietly, mostly ashamed), it makes sense to me and when I see things in shows where a character is show to maybe be more than "just friends" with another character in a queer way I get all hopeful.

But again, I shouldn't. I know the track record of such things, how many shows are willing to pay lip service to such relationships but would never make a popular character anything other than straight. This happened fairly recently with the Walking Dead show deciding to not make a character gay, or asexual, or bisexual, and state very clearly that he was straight, despite toying with the idea (and the audience) for a long time before that. Comic books have done it, books have done it. They revel in the subtext that a character might be gay or bi but then almost invariably reveal that nah, not so much, and all you people who wanted it are weird and isn't it funny haha!

I get where this comes from. People are hungry for queer content. Queer stories, queer characters—people are starved of them. Especially ones that exist in the mainstream. It's not just queer people wanting these stories, either, but it seems like whenever a show or a book series or a game or anything plays up subtext and never delivers text the excuse is that they don't want to alienate straight consumers. Which is ridiculous and stupid, because it's not like only queer people enjoy queer stories. A diversity of voices benefits everyone and is enjoyed by everyone. The idea that diversity doesn't sell is "conventional wisdom" that has been disproven time and again. I think a big reason why there's such an angry pushback against diverse voices getting more attention is because it challenges the idea that the mainstream should be white and straight and male.

But perhaps getting a little wide afield there. Pulling it back. The practice just seems predatory. A sort of bait-and-switch where people are drawn in for what they assume and hope is something only to learn that it's not, with the expectation that by the time it's revealed that the character is not queer, the reader/viewer/etc. is already invested in the story and will stick it out regardless. And it sucks. Slowly I feel that things are changing. I really need to watch Legend of Korra because of how it subverts this trope, and there are a few other examples of mainstream work that actually do deliver on queer text instead of subtext.

But mostly it's pushed aside, deemed deviant and weird and worthy of derision. I kind of like Supernatural, but wow if it doesn't have a love/hate thing going on with its fans, like it wants to pretend its fan base doesn't want to see Sam or Dean in a same sex relationship, that it would ruin something about the show. When, really? Really? And I guess I'm just tired at the moment of seeing this happen. When the book continued to avoid taking a stand, then killed the character in question and then brought him back as a ghost, well…things went from hmm to problematic and upsetting.

So is there a point to all of this? Maybe all I'm trying to say is that I expect better. For all that I love fanfiction, the reason it exists is largely because there is a demand in mainstream stories (of whatever medium) that is not being met. It's being ignored. And admitting there is a problem and then continuing to contribute to it and expecting everyone to be understanding is not cool. Don't do that. Don't make excuses. Just do better.

Ahem. So end of long and grumpy rant. Sorry about that. Thanks for reading, though!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, May 1, 2015

Quick Sips - April 2015

Sometimes I wish that the stories at would be shorter. Because even intrepid readers might have a little difficulty fitting in some of these stories in the otherwise packed month. None of these stories are quick, none of them light. But they are all rewarding, all interesting and deep and worth wading into. Or diving into headfirst. Most of them have a longing quality about them, circle around a lack that might or might not be filled by the end. The most successful of the stories seem to leave the question open, leave it to the reader to fill in, but all the stories are interesting and compelling. Another excellent month from one of the few non-print/free publications that will put out novellas. So let's get to it!