Friday, July 31, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #178

As always, two stories anchor another issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Both take the second world push of the publication to rather satisfying extremes, showing in both reflections of our own world distorted in interesting ways. In the first, the world is explained as being like our own but grown on the leaf opposite us, like a branch with opposite leaf structure. In the second, the setting involves time travel of a sort and an examination of insurrection and love. Both are interesting, building worlds that live and breath, but I should just get to the reviews already!

Art by Julie Dillon

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/20/2015 and 7/27/2015

Two more weeks of Strange Horizons means one story, two poems, and one article that I'm looking at today. As always, there are things that I'm not getting to review for various reasons but definitely go check out all the offerings. For what's here, there's a nice mix of science fictional pieces with poems that evoke much more a natural fantasy, a sense of nurture and humanity. These two aspects of the weeks' offering makes for a nice balance, a serious examination of life and wonder but also an optimism about the future, about the universe. So I should just get to it!

Art by Sishir Bommakanti

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform July 2015

Well Terraform is certainly branching out a bit this month, including not only a piece of nonfiction but also an excerpt from a novel. The nonfiction I will be checking out, but I'm skipping over the novel excerpt for now. Aside from those newer offerings, there is also a humorous fictional nonfiction piece and a slew of mostly humorous stories, with a large exception being the first story which is decidedly not very funny. But there's a fair balance of different speculative stories, even if some are purposefully ridiculous. So to the reviews!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Quick Sips - Urban Fantasy #9

This month's Urban Fantasy Magazine is all about guilt and the weight of actions. In the first story, the weight comes in the form of a child, half-mer, who is never really allowed to be her own person. In the second the weight comes from a dead friend, one who is never really allowed to pass on. Both are interesting and sad and do a good job at showing how actions can lead to these weights, how people construct mental walls that keep them alone and suffering, and both give small hints at how those walls might come crumbling down. So let's get to it!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Quick Sips - Book Smugglers July 2015

The 2015 publishing schedule of Book Smugglers continues with this novelette. As it is the only thing I'm looking at today, the review might have grown a bit. Of course, some of the review is full of spoilers, so beware I guess. Oh, and I suppose I should mention that this is a First Contact story, and as that it does work, a human woman meeting a man who was literally a star. The story is fun and romantic and I'm just going to get to the review, okay?

Art by Yasmin Khudari

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Quick Thoughts - 8 Things Writing Erotica Has Taught Me

So I write erotica (no big woop). There will be news later on this year and perhaps into next and probably further still surrounding that but for now just know that I write it. Nice, speculative erotica. And in the spirit of that I thought I would write up this list of things that writing erotica has taught me. Preface achieved!

1. It’s not something I tell people about. Except you, oh internet. But somewhere in the mix of telling people I write things, erotica usually does not get mentioned. I imagine that this would be different if I wrote primarily erotica or didn’t have other published works out, but with the screen of more “respectable” writing, I don’t often advertise my naughtier successes as much. Especially to family (though to be honest I’m not all that forthcoming about my other successes either). This, of course, opens up a weird sort of paradox, because…

2. I’m less ashamed talking about reading erotica. And indeed I find myself wanting to argue with people who dismiss erotica or romance even as not worth reading. I like both, and can say without reservation that there are erotic and romantic stories that are just as subtle and crafted with just as much skill (or more) than anything in “regular” spec. Of course, it’s weird because I don’t often identify as a writer of it in these discussions but as a reader. Like, maybe I feel that if I admit to writing it people with think I’m biased? Like that’s a thing? I’m not sure, but I do know…

3. Writing erotica is fun. Like, writing in general is fun, but there is something to be said about sometimes writing a story with the basic commandment of Let There Be Sex and a rather happy ending. I mean, if sci fi “purists” are so much in need of fun stories, they should be reading erotica. This is where the starship captains of old have gone (although chances are they’re getting it on with Spock, at least with the stuff I read, but still). And there is that push to be more dramatic, to be more over-the-top, to be more pulp-y I guess. Not with all of it, but there is more freedom to play, perhaps because…

4. Erotica is easier to get published. For me, at least. I mean, it’s still not like everything I write gets picked up the first go, and maybe I’m just super good at writing erotica (ha!), but my submission to acceptance ratio for erotica is crazy high compared to my more “respectable” submissions. Seriously it is not even close. This might be that the process is less competitive, which makes a certain amount of sense. This does, of course, present a few problems for me, because…

5. I feel really guilty writing erotica. Not because it’s erotica, but because it’s not something that will ever count toward SFWA membership, which I am still short of, and because there’s only so much time in a day and writing erotica does mean that I am not writing some other story. Of course, it’s been very hard to write anything recently so having this to fall back on has probably helped (curse you depression!!!). So it’s part that writing erotica isn’t exactly seen as “professional” but also that…

6. Erotica pays less than “regular” spec publications. Which does matter. I mean, I’d want them all to pay the same, but the truth is that for some places there is a very small payday involved for writers. Less than a cent a word, which is below the cutoff of semi-pro for a lot of things. Of course, it’s also something where you might have a more robust contract that includes ebook publication and percent of royalties and things like that. One has to be a bit more careful, and there is the feeling for me that if I have to section off time to write that I should be shooting for the most prestigious (or at least a professional rate). And this might explain more why erotica seems a bit easier to get published, because the rewards aren't quite as good. So the guilt remains. Not helping is the fact that…

7. Erotica editing seems way more intense than for “regular” spec publications. Again, this might just be my experience, but when I’ve had stories accepted for publication (even at professional venues), the editing process has not been too bad. One or two rounds, maybe. For erotica it seems like there is layer after layer after layer. And serious revisions. Sometimes for a story that is making like $25, which can make it seem like why bother because editing (for me) can be a painfully slow process and I would almost think erotica would require less editing. Cliché is that it would. But in truth there is probably more a push with erotica to make sure things are all matching more of an external style, making sure that they have that "erotica feel" to them that typically means writing to what people want and less darkness, less sadness (not that darkness in erotica is not there, but that the point is normally the fun sexytimes). Which can be frustrating but as long as you want to be writing those stories it's fine (and most of the time when I write erotica I do want to be writing less doom and gloom). It also, however, has shown me that…

8. Erotica is for extroverts (mostly). And I am an introvert (mostly). I mean, erotica tends to be more small press which sort of asks more from its authors in terms of promotion. They want you to have a blog and a facebook and twitter and things of that nature, and are rather serious about that. There are author groups to join which I have not found at any “regular” publication. There is more of a central community, I guess, with more expectations on doing things. Not that spec is without community, but there is much more the sense that things are expected of you in erotica. You need to have this and that. You need to promote, or else things will be difficult for you. Your story won’t sell. For spec short fiction it’s more like hey, I wrote a thing, it was accepted, end of my work. Not really, but there's a bit less of a need to have a public face. Trust me, as someone who normally tries to tag people on twitter for reviews, some writers are difficult to find any trace of on the internet.

And I will call it a day there, because eight is enough. But yes, erotica is a wild ride, full of fun and fear and good times. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex #74

July brings what might be considered a light month to Apex Magazine, what with only one poem to look at and three stories. The works all have a weight to them, though, that this issue can definitely not be accused of being light. It is dark and heavy and gripping, a mix of sex and creation and rebellion. The stories are a mix of science fiction and fantasy and the poem is amazing. Seriously, I love longer poems and this one is very much a must-read. For those who normally skip the poetry, don't. But I should just get the reviews already.

Art by Carly Sorge

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Quick Sips - Farrago's Wainscot #15

Well the newest issue of Farrago's Wainscot is finally here! I apologize for the dramatic exclamation point, but I was a little nervous that it wouldn't arrive in time for me to have time to review it. And it has carved out a nice place for itself as a nice source for weird stories and poems. It offers up a nice variety of each this month, with four stories and four poems. The fiction moves from pumpkins to pennies to chickens to cocksucking and is a very strong issue, and the poems provides four glimpses into some strange places. So let's get to the reviews.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #177

This month has really been good at providing issues with strong unifying themes, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies is no exception. The two stories are on the short side, and for once I was rather bummed about that, because this is a very story issue that tackles war and language and the pursuit of peace. In both their are mothers trying to do right by their children, though the stories take very different tracks when it comes to this. The stories are about finding the language of peace and finding it not in the way that's expected. That war cannot exactly be overcome by peace in the abstract but only with the full weight of death and dread. It's a stunning issue which I recommend very highly. So to the stories!

Art by Julie Dillon

Monday, July 20, 2015

Quick Sips - Nightmare #34

Horror takes a look inward in this month's Nightmare Magazine. Two stories, as always, and two that are linked by the shared theme of the inside leaking out. Of the repressed finding its way to the surface. The first is a story of people lost physically, the second the story of a man lost emotionally. In both situations, the added stress the situation brings leads them to breaking down their barriers, their controls, and transforming. So let's get to it!

Art by Dennis Carlsson

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Quick Thoughts - History, Canon, and Privilege

Oh, first you may want to go read Renay's article on canon and the weight of history over at Strange Horizons. I recently read it and it has prompted this. Not exactly a direct response but...well, you'll see (I apologize in advance!). 

Okay, confession time. Growing up, I was always told what a great reader I was. Well, not at first. At first I couldn’t read (and I don't mean I was too young to read). Like, I had troubles with it. I couldn’t read Dr. Seuss until I was in third grade. I’m not sure exactly when it clicked for me, but when it did I was rather hooked. The thing is, I wasn’t all that strong of a reader. But…well, I sort of faked it. It’s weird, pinpointing the moment when child-me began to use people’s perceptions and expectations to get things. Like, I started walking around with books. Big books that made me look smart. And lo and behold, my grades improved. I was treated somewhat better. Still as a loser by most people, but at least as a smart loser, which had its advantages.

But wait, let me back up a second. I want to somehow let all this settle in my mind as I write this. Because I’m not even sure I know what I’m writing about and I’m afraid of writing any of this and I should just go, without thinking so much. I am a fake. A fraud. Looking back, I feel a little sick at the levels to which child-me and adolescent-me all the way up to young adult-me used the inequity of the system, used white cis male privilege, for benefit and gain. It’s interesting and also makes me feel hollow to map it.

Seriously they were my life for a while...
So I learned to read with GoosebumpsThere is a certain amount of shame I feel at writing that, though I am also fiercely proud of it. It was Goosebumps that got me to read, that stoked whatever flames of passion that I know feel for speculative fiction, that got me to understand words. There were a few other books, mostly boy-and-his-dog stories, that I also liked when I was little, but if not for Goosebumps I would probably hate reading like my siblings do. The thing is, no one is really impressed if you read Goosebumps. I mean, all well and good, but it’s sort of like comic books, and as such is sort of like, well okay that’s nice. And child-me wanted something. Wanted something to be good at. Like I said, my siblings do not care for reading, and reading is seen as smart so…

I can tell when I started lying about reading. It was fourth grade and aside from my fun little reads I didn’t really care about reading. I mean, I devoured those short, ridiculous stories, but otherwise I couldn’t be bothered. I was weird and awkward and didn’t really fit in. And then there was this year assignment in class where the winners would get some sort of reward (I don’t even remember what). It was the reading assignment. Partners would read and progress would be marked on a big board at the front of the class. I was paired with another kid who was nice to me and was cool and loved reading. And he read fast. He read all sorts of books, classics and Gary Paulson and when he started going through them I…well, I said I did as well. And something strange happened (or I guess, something completely predictable). People believed me.

I don’t think I’ve ever really gone back and unpacked this time in my life, this awakening to the fact that I would be believed pretty much regardless. Me and this other boy would read (he actually read and I read, what, maybe a handful of what I claimed to?) and we would be cheered and seen as smart, seen as what everyone wanted us to be. "Good" kids. Now, that felt good. That was probably the turning point in my education, because after that things were just…easier. Because of that one moment people treated me better which made me feel better which made me do better. Now, I had to put in some work somewhere, and after middle school I never had to lie about reading a book, or doing an assignment, because by then I was trying harder. But I can say that without that one moment of extreme privilege I would probably not be where I am today, and that…it’s difficult to know what to do with that.

           Don't let anyone tell you size doesn't matter...
But why bring this up (aside from the fact that this blog is basically therapy)? Because it shaped my reading and because, I think, it illustrates what makes canon in spec so very, very troubling. Why the idea of canon in general is so troubling. Because I can say that when I started reading larger things, it was in part to capture some praise and respect I wanted. So yes, I would walk around with a Robert Jordan book before I could actually really get into them. Adults would comment at how impressive it was. It led me to be very conscious of what I “should” be reading. Tolkein was fine. So were big ol’ male-written fantasies and science fiction books. Tor fantasies were a large part of my growing up, with Jordan, Goodkind, Turtledove, Modesitt, Williams…basically, if it was in the Legends anthologies, I read it. I read other things, like Donaldson and Kay who I found I liked a lot more but who didn’t quite get me the same points so I mostly talked about what was popular. When people suggested things I went out and read them, and they were all pretty much white and male, and I didn’t even consider that things could written by people who weren’t straight.

I was living the dream, right? I kept going, kept reading. And then college. And being exposed to different things. And figuring myself out some. Did I really like Perrin and Mat from WoT because I identified with them or because I kinda mighta had a crush on them? Did the fact that I avoided female-written books (outside of a few "acceptable" series) because people gave me negative attention for reading them really protect me from scorn or prevent me from figuring myself out way sooner (hint: probably the later)? I started reading more, and found that I loved books that I never would have thought to try. Books that were never recommended to me. Books that did not get me much in the way of positive attention from my friends (spoilers: I have fallen out with most of those friends). I went looking for books that I might like, books that sounded truly interesting to me, not based on who suggested them but based on if I thought they sounded good (and wow, huge step). And I started doing more in the genre, and writing more, and…and I found that I was a reader without a history I cared for. My history was the white straight male history that everyone wanted me to have. I lacked a history that included queer writers or writers of color. 

Now that sounds dramatic. But as it’s been pointed out, you can never catch up on reading. You can never go back. Now, I found tons of books at sales and places that I would pick up intending to read them. Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke and so forth. Names I recognized. But, by and large, I never really read them. I’ve read some Asimov, mostly the Foundation books, and maybe two by Clarke and I don’t think any Heinlein. And I was at the point where I felt the pressure to read those works. But as I had read more I found myself drawn to other stories. Either newer works or older works by female authors, by non-straight authors. I can only devote so much of my time to reading. So what can I do? What should I do? I know the answer child-me would have taken.

I like to think that I’ve grown up some since fourth grade. I like to think that I don’t let privilege do all my work for me. I know I let it work some, which is probably part of why I’m not out to my family, why I’m not out anywhere but with those I’m closest to and on the internet. I think it’s probably why I try to do so many reviews, because I feel that I should have to work harder, that I should have to do more for others, because I’ve been given so much, because I’m safer, because I’m less likely to be attacked or bullied or harassed, and even if I am I’m more likely to be helped because of it, more likely to be believed and taken seriously by police, but the world at large. Because I’m scared, so very scared, that I cannot get out from under the weight of my own past. I like to think that I’ve grown up some…

And part of growing up has been realizing that history is not one thing. The more I learn about the past the more I realize that it’s not that the past was less diverse. There have been queer writers, and writers of color, and women writers, since forever. At times when they were killed because of their writing. It’s only our gaze backwards, the dominant, straight white cis male gaze, that makes everything seem so homogenous. Canon. The word sticks in my craw. It places an artificial map over things, narrowing inroads. Currently, there are hundreds and thousands of ways to come to spec. Video games, television, movies, comic books, novels, short stories, poetry…there is no one road, no one canon. Yes, there might be influences, there might be works that are considered “important,” but the truth is what is important to one is less so to someone else. There is no work that is required reading to write an amazing story, or novel.

The weight of history. It’s an apt phrase, because history as a construct is a weight, both a hindrance and a responsibility. It’s a tool and a weapon. For those in power, it is a way to make it seem like they have always been in power, that they deserve to be in power; it is a way to comfort them. For some it's the physical weight of a book, and the thicker the better because it gives the illusion of being thorough, of being robust, of being complete. In reality, those books that I carried with me, seeking praise, were anchors, were chains—chains on me and chains over others, maintaining a system I was too young and stupid to see was hurting everyone. That weight was keeping me from hearing the great diversity of voices that existed, keeping me from escaping the same refrain over and over, which kept me alone and afraid and unfulfilled. It gave me the illusion of comfort and protection. But the past should not be comfortable for those who have benefited from the oppression of others. History should mean facing the injustices that have been committed and striving to do better. Because, more than anything, I want to believe in the possibility of doing better. For canon, this means constantly reevaluating older stories, newer stories, and evolving what should be passed on into the future. Creating a landscape that is just and respects the diversity of the past, present, and strived-for future. 

And I should probably stop rambling and step aside. Really, I just really liked the articles that came out recently about the subject, so many thanks to Renay and everyone else. I’m sorry if this all came out as a mess. And, while I’m at it, I’m sorry to all the other students back in my fourth grade class and everyone since then that’s had to deal with my shit. I’m trying to do better. I’m trying… Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, July 17, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 06/29/2015, 07/06/2015, and 07/13/2015

Three weeks to catch up on with Strange Horizons today. Because of the time restrictions, I am not looking at the reprint from late June, but I do recommend everyone go and read it. The stories this month revolves around grief and tragedy. The first story is more with a legal system that has sprung up to protect people against the criminal consequences of their actions but not the emotional ones and the second story is about the way tragedy is handled by those close to it and farther away. The poetry ranges from short to long and is all interesting and worth checking out, though I will admit that a few gave me a little more trouble with interpretation. And the nonfiction. Excellent nonfiction this go-round that might have provoked the Quick Thoughts that will be up tomorrow. Because I have opinions on canon and on privilege and ahem, definitely don't miss the nonfiction. For now, to the reviews!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #62

So three stories this month from Lightspeed, but all of them on the longer side, with two novelettes and one short story that almost qualifies as well. I like the way the stories build off each other, how they each take very different routes when building setting. There are no second world stories this time, all the action taking place on Earth, but there is a historical fantasy set shortly after American Independence and a historical science fiction set during Prohibition. Seeing how those stories build up the past is fascinating, and then to see how the third story moves things to the future, taking no less care in setting the scene, makes for an issue that satisfies and challenges and provides some great reading. To the reviews!

Art by Euclase

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Quick Sips - Shimmer #26

The two stories that make up the July offerings from Shimmer Magazine are very well paired. Both are stories of girls growing into women, and the relationship they share with their grandmothers. In each there is a sense of magic, a sense that the grandmother is the guardian of some old secret, some old practice that is leaving the world, but that the granddaughter can and does keep alive, a candle to honor what has passed, to celebrate a woman who was indomitable, who was beautiful and kind and captured something that was vital for the women becoming who they are. It's a great pair of stories, and I should just get to the reviews already.

Art by Sandro Castelli

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination July/August 2015

Back with their new publishing schedule, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination provides two new stories this month. One flash and one short story, and both interesting. There is definitely a tendency for the publication to spotlight a bit darker of stories in their original works, which is A-okay for me. The stories are short but typically revolve around a kernel of emotion, of loss or tragedy. This month the stories both feature death and communication with the other side, but in two completely different ways. Thematically the stories build on one another, one a more humorous take on speaking with the dead and the other a more wrenching tale, but both focus on communication, or perhaps a failure to communicate, with the dead. Good stuff, so let's get to the reviews!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #5 (July Stuff)

Back again to review this month's offering from Uncanny Magazine, which once more has a nice mix of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I must say, the more I read the publication the more I feel I get the title, get the vision that unites it. I really dislike that people would see a publication like Uncanny and not see a unified whole. That some people might say "Oh, look, they publish different genres which means there can be NO other way to organize a magazine" is...disappointing to me. Because I do see that Uncanny really does stick to the idea of the Uncanny, of the unexplained and the magical, of the living metaphor, of the slightly twist on the expected. The stories are indeed uncanny, unable to be easily categorized, and I quite like them for that. Anyway, I should probably stop rambling and get to the stories. Onward!

Art by Antonio Javier Caparo

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quick Links 07/12/2015

Fuck it has been a long time since I posted one of these. Like, wow. Sorry, peeps. I will admit that things have been very difficult for me recently, mood-wise. Summer for whatever reason has been kicking my ass and I just find it hard to get the normal reviews done and then Sunday is there and I haven't done my links and sigh. Sorry. I will strive to do better. In the mean time, here is the long list of reviews I've had go live since May (yes, it's been that long).

Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - The more I thought about this after my review at Nerds of a Feather, the more I liked it. So it got bumped up a bit, score-wise. Otherwise, thoughts are similar to those I had before.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (Goodreads, my score 5/5) - oh man I want to read and review this for all the sites. It is so much fun and I love the characters and yes. My third five-star review on Goodreads this year (so in very good company). It was amazing. Go read it.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (Teenreads) - And here again is me gushing about this book, though in perhaps a more constrained manner. It is an amazing book and I was so lucky to get to read it early. Yes. All the yes.

The Klingon Art of War by Keith R.A. DeCandido (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - fun and for fans of Star Trek an excellent resource. It's still a wholly fandom project, though, expanding and collecting Klingon canon, basically. Still, an entertaining read.

Tide of Shadows and Other Stories by Aidan Moher (Nerds of a Feather, my score 6/10) - An interesting collection with a structure that made me enjoy it despite being a little iffy on some of the stories. Definitely a writer I'd be interested in another similar project by.

Tide of Shadows and Other Stories by Aidan Moher (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - And here it is again because I'm like that. Really I just insist that for sites that I don't solely run, they own those reviews so I have to write new ones for myself and my own Goodreads. Which is an excuse to write more reviews. So yeah...

Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventure in Moonshine by Max Watman (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - Nonfiction! Gasp! But I am interested in booze (go figure) and was interested in doing a bit of research into a few things for writing purposes. It was not what I was expecting but I did indeed get some good material.

Secrets of Selkie Bay by Shelley Moore Thomas (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - this book surprised me at the level of the prose, at the layers and complexity. It really is quite a good read, providing a dark backdrop to tell a children's story. Some good stuff.

Secrets of Selkie Bay by Shelley Moore Thomas (Kidsreads) - And here it is again. Sensing a pattern yet? Yes, I reviewed three different books more than once. But here again the book was good and I enjoyed reading it. Dark and with some magic realism elements that made it memorable. Indeed.

Oh, and ICYMI, THE MONTHLY ROUND went up this last week. So be sure to check that out...

So there you! Sorry it took so long to get these up. But life. Sometimes... Anyway, thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Quick Thoughts - A Spreadsheet is Worth a Thousand Words (or more like 1400, but still....)

I might like statistics. Spreadsheets. Data. Anyone looking at my profile picture here might realize that, but I do want to make sure it’s quite clear. Part of my joy in reviewing is that it provides me with data. Number of stories reviewed. Word counts. Publication months. Names of publications. There is a lot to sort by and it’s interesting to see everything stacked up and placed into neat rows. I imagine that this will help a great deal when the time comes to figure out what is a novelette, what a short story, and what a novella. Now, I’m pretty sure there is still some work to do in the spreadsheet, but I have the rough number for the first half of the year and I want to do a little light analysis.

So first and foremost, I’ve read and reviewed about 371 stories. About 60 poems. A number of nonfiction pieces as well. I haven’t really tallied that right now but I imagine it’s lower than my poetry total so yeah. The SFWA defines short stories as anything under 7500 words, in which case I’ve read 337 short stories. Novelettes are apparently 7500-17500, in which case I’ve read 32 novelettes. Novellas are 17500-40000 words, in which case I’ve read 2 novellas. Which means that I read very few novella-length works. For my purposes, then, I’ll make my own categorical titles. I’m going to break things down as Flash Fiction (under 1500), short stories (1500-7500 words), and long short stories (anything over 7500). With those definition in mind, I’ve read/reviewed 66 flash fiction, 271 short stories, and 34 long short stories. Which makes a bit more sense to my personal reading habits.

There is a part of me here that wants to say a word on the recent controversy surrounding the movement to eliminate the novelette category. I am unsure exactly what to feel about it. I want to say that I resist it, but I think more I resist trying to shift the award away from short fiction and to novel-length (or longer) works. I am under no illusion that saga or whatever would be an accurate reflection of craft. Already there is pretty rampant gatekeeping when it comes to science fiction and what is considered "hard" or "soft" and what should even be considered science fiction or fantasy. I’m thinking if people look demographically at those works that would qualify for saga, that things would swing incredibly far toward straight and white and cis male. Because that’s what tends to get most popular in order to be picked up for saga-length series. Not without exception, and not necessarily with any sort of outright malice, but as the Supreme Court itself weighed in when it comes to racist housing practices, racist intent doesn’t have to be present as long as the data shows a disproportionate harm. And I think that popular culture in general shows disproportionate harm to non straight, white, cis men. And as short fiction, which is probably the most even when it comes to diversity of voices, is still weighed toward white, straight, cis men, moving up to the tiers where more money and popularity and power is involved (as is the case with the saga suggestion) would seem to be much, much worse.

[ASIDE: So I kind of really don't like people who make the argument that things that are popular are somehow good because look, look how popular they are. I think of a certain series that has become a television series taking place in a "medieval" setting, how people leap to defend it from people pointing out how problematic it is. And yet those same people waste no time jumping on 50 Shades or Twilight and use bad writing or problematic elements in those works as a way to try and shame fans. Except 50 Shades is much more popular. Twilight was much more popular. Those works get disproportionate grief because they are popular among people who are deemed lesser (in this case, mostly women). Those works have to be pushed into other categories that don't include the "true" spec works. Twilight is YA, so doesn't count. Or is romance. Or something. Its readers are stupid, whereas readers of "true" spec are smart. But numbers don't lie. If it was a popularity contest, it would be Twilight that would win the awards. Not that I want that to happen. But I do think that people saying "well, sales equals popular equals relevant equals should be winning awards" are willfully blind to their prejudices when it comes to what they want to "count" for these awards. They don't want to think that, if things were based on sales alone, that probably most of the awards would go to paranormal romances (because vampires and werewolves and hunters and such are spec. Be real, those are SFF stories) or YA spec. Redrawing the lines of genre to try and game the system in your favor is simple gerrymandering. It's immoral and sucks in politics and it is no less shitty when it comes to speculative fiction. END ASIDE]

So, ahem, I don’t think the course to take is to take awards away from short fiction. If I was to draw the lines myself, I think I would draw them more like I have above, which would end up merging novelettes and novellas and creating the flash fiction category. Numerically I would guess this would play out, because there are many publications that publish flash and less that concentrate on novelette or longer work. Of course, I don’t read Asimov’s or Fantasy and Science Fiction or Analog, which are three very large publications that do publish in quantity the longer work. But then, there’s also Daily Science Fiction that I don’t read very often and comes out with flash fiction every day. So… I guess what I’m saying is that for me, it makes more sense, if we can have only three short fiction categories (and I don’t think there should be less than three by any means, and a compromise could just be to break the short story category into two for 0-1500 and 1500-7500 and have four categories) that maybe it should reflect the rise of flash fiction, which I think does require a different kind of craft to do well.

Anyway, tracking stories from month to month, it seems that I read about 62 stories a month, which average just about 4200 words each. May was a terrible month for reading for me (for a number of personal reasons) with only 50 stories read, while June (thanks almost entirely to Lightspeed) topped the list with 70 stories. The shortest story I read was 142 words long, while the longest was 22548 words. Median story length was 3700 (or 3691, so close enough). January had the longest average story length with just over 5000 words, while February had the shortest average story length with 3700 words. For those not wanting to do math, that means the total words read (in fiction) for the first six months of the year was 1550371 words. I did not bother to try and separate by genre. My thoughts on genre are probably fairly obvious, so we’ll just say I think it would be a pointless exercise. I’ve reviewed stories from 24 different publications, though, many of them over multiple issues. And I think I've been generally positive toward what I've read. Which means I've liked most of what I read. So I'm doing something right with what I choose to review.

So where does that leave me? Well, it gives me something to go by for roughly what I might be looking at for the rest of the year, though I assume I might trend down a little because it's been harder to find time to read/review compared to early in the year. I'll also be able to track what publications my Monthly Round choices are going to be coming from as I refine the spreadsheet, which might give me an idea of which publications, authors, lengths, etc. I'm most drawn to. Interesting! Anyway, I think I've bored everyone enough with my obsession for spreadsheets. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, July 10, 2015

Quick Sips - Crossed Genres #31 Novelette

The theme for this month's Crossed Genres is Novelette. Which isn't really a theme as it is a style. A length. But hey, it's all good, as the stories still live up to the quality that people expect from the publication. All three are interest, two of them science fictional and one a contemporary fantasy/magic realism piece (gah, I dislike genre differentiating). All meet the word requirements for novelette, but all are also rather contemplative stories. Though there is a bit of death and dismemberment, there really isn't too much pressing violence. These stories use the higher word count to draw things out, to slowly build the tension. It's an interesting collection of stories (and three of them when I was only expecting two), so hurrah! To the reviews!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Quick Sips - Three Stories from One Throne Magazine (Winter 2014/Summer 2015)

So this is a bit odd for me. One Throne Magazine actually contacted me with an invitation to read/review a few of their stories. Now, not all of these are recent. Not all of these are even from this year, but then I saw the names and I was a little too tempted to resist. Chikodili Emelumadu and Tendai Huchu have both appeared in my Monthly Round series (three times between them) and I know I've read something from Nikki Vogel before (though I cannot for the life of me remember what). So while I normally try to look at only issues that have been out this month, I'm making an exception to look at these three stories. Anyway, onward to the reviews!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #106

Ah, Clarkesworld. I can definitely say that there are few publications that put out such a daring array of science fiction and fantasy. Most of the stories this month are science fictional in nature, but each takes a quite different approach to the genre. And, of course, the one fantasy story was such that it more than makes up for being the only fantasy story. Both on Earth and far, far away from it, the stories do a great job of capturing a dark truth about bonds, about groups. These stories are about surviving, are about what binds us together. Many deal with families, with falling apart and holding on, and some deal with societies both small (in the case of a group of tourists stranded on a hostile world) or large (in the case of the city with its suppression of the pain it creates). But all are good and there's even a new translated story to enjoy. So let's get to it!

Art by Julie Dillon

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Monthly Round is Up!

That's right! The Monthly Round is now up at Nerds of a Feather. My favorite stories of June complete with appropriate drink pairings. Probably go check that out, and I'll be back to reviewing single issues tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online

A new month means first stop: Flash Fiction Online! I swear I normally start here in part because it's less a huge commitment and the beginning of the month is always full. But also because I know that I will probably very much enjoy at least one story. Usually I like more than that, but one normally stands out to me as more "my thing." And this month is no exception. Three stories, on the shorter side even for flash, but still a nice mix of things. So let's get to the reviews!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Top Ten Fucking Amazingest Stories I've Read This Year (so far)

Despite the Top Ten billing on this, I'm not actually ranking them in any order. That would be WAY too difficult. Already I'm having to cull out so many amazing stories. SO MANY. Think of it this way: when I do the Monthly Round, I recommend nine different stories. A month. I now have to pick out ten stories for six months. But armed with my newly updated spreadsheet I will make the attempt!

What's clear to me now is that short fiction is amazing. There is obviously too much put out for one person to really do it justice. I read what I can, but I struggle with even that. Obviously I miss some of the largest publications like Asimov's and Fantasy and Science Fiction and Analog and such. Mostly I stick to the smaller places that put their stuff up for free online because I'm not incredibly wealthy and I just don't have the time, and not reading those places means I can spotlight some smaller publications that are very good. Anyway, I'm rambling a bit and should just get on with the stories. HERE THEY ARE!
  • "Descent" by Carmen Maria Machado (Nightmare) (February)
  • "The Language of Knives" by Haralambi Markov (Tor) (February)
  • "A Sister's Weight in Stone" by JY Yang (Apex) (May)
  • "Everyone's a Clown" by Caroline M. Yoachim (Unlikely Story) (April)
  • "The Heat of Us: Towards an Oral History" by Sam J. Miller (Uncanny) (January)
  • "The Shape of My Name" by Nino Cipri (Tor) (March)
  • "The Half-Dark Promise" by Malon Edwards (Shimmer) (January)
  • "Forestspirit, Forestspirit" by Bogi Takács (Clarkesworld) (June)
  • "Grandmother-nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds" by R.B. Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) (June)
  • "Documentary" by Vajra Chandrasekera (Lightspeed) (March)

I toyed around with the idea of giving little blurbs about these stories but between the original Quick Sips and then the Monthly Rounds (yes, all of these stories have...or will [spoilers!] appear in Monthly Rounds) I have already reviewed them twice and I really should just need to say that they are amazing and you should go give them a read (if you have not already).

Anyway, there is my list. Thank you all for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, July 3, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #176

I will admit that I had completely forgotten about Beneath Ceaseless Skies until I was putting together my spreadsheet and realized that I hadn't read a second installment this month. Shame on me. Of course, I remembered and that's why I'm back looking at these two stories. The fiction is actually a little on the short side this issue, neither story topping five thousand words, which is a rarity. Still, though short the stories are quite good, and provide some interesting themes to examine. Both are dark, both deal with some morally questionable Queens, and both are nice reads. Also, with this story Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam jumps to the fore as most reviewed writer of 2015 (so far) with five reviews. So there's that, too. Anyway, to the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Quick Sips - June 2015

Tor has actually been merciful this month! There was no very long story out a day or two before the end of the month. Actually, there are only three original stories this month, though each are on the long side, including one novella. But the quality of the work, which is what Tor is known for, is still high. These story all do excellent jobs with their world building, though in three very very different ways. The first sets things up with video game logic and action, the second leaning on history with some interesting embellishes, and the last gives a fully-realized future on a galactic scale. So let's get to exploring some brave new worlds!

Art by Kathleen Jennings

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform June 2015

Because apparently I missed a story that came out in (very) late May, this month's Terraform features six stories, most of them under 2k and a few breaking guidelines to be more than that. Personally I find it just a little funny because the "hard" word limit was praised in some corners (that I didn't really agree with) as being conducive to creativity, and yet here Terraform shows that for the right story the limits have to be eased. But yes, a very good mix of stories, all little glimpses into what might be and all worth giving a look at. So to the reviews!