Monday, August 31, 2015

Quick Sips - August 2015

Providing nothing comes out in the next few days, there are four stories this month from Tor. Things lean a bit more fantasy than science fiction this month, with an alt-historical fantasy leading things off and leading into two stories that blend genres quite well, part science fiction, part fantasy, and ending with a story of witches and magic and birthday parties. There are certainly some fine stories in the bunch, most of them about seeking for something without quite knowing what it is. Seeking a miracle, perhaps, or seeking the truth about one's heritage, or seeking to stop an injustice from being committed. What is found, though, is normally something more than expected, something that opens up for the characters whole new worlds of possibilities. A fine month of stories that I should just review already.

Art by Chris Buzelli

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Quick Links - 08/30/2015

Wow. Once again it has been a long time since I've done this. But here are my various reviews from around the internet! Gaze in wonder!

European Monsters eds. Jo Thomas and Margrét Helgadóttir (Nerds of a Feather, my score 7/10) - A quite good collection of monster stories. I liked the premise and many of the stories, though some others I found harder to follow. Still, a fine collection!

Circumpolar! by Richard A. Lupoff (Goodreads, my score 2/5) - This was...not the greatest. It wasn't all bad, but wow was it strange and there were parts that...just no. Got this in a "bad book swap" though, so I guess it fit...

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (Goodreads, my score 2/5) - I'm something of a Gaiman fan, having liked American Gods and Good Omens and Sandman and even Smoke and Mirrors, but this collection did not really impress. There were a few I found...well, not good, though there were some good ones all the same. Just...disappointing...

European Monsters eds. Jo Thomas and Margrét Helgadóttir (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - and the inevitable Goodreads review,  because I do things like that. Different site, different review.

The Peripheral by William Gibson (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - okay don't hate me but this was the first Gibson I've read. I  liked the setting and the characters quite a bit. The ending (the very end ending) not so much, but overall I quite enjoyed it.

A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner (Kidsreads) - A very good middle grade book about education and friendship and basketball. Not speculative at all, but still charming and fun and inspiring.

A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - And the Goodreads review. Again, this one is a fun read, with a richly diverse cast and a nice message. If you enjoy books for young readers, go give this one a try.

Sherlock Bones Volume 1 by Yuma Ando and Yuki Sato (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - This one is a weird manga where a boy adopts a dog only to have it be the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, which means the boy is Watson. The volume gets much darker than the premise might imply. Still, very cute.

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - finally getting around to reading some of McGuire's urban fantasy and it is quite good. Lots to digest this book, but the world building is solid and the drama dramatic! Good times.

NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART (my review series of naughty books/graphic novels/manga)

Nyotai-Ka! Volume 1 by Ru-en Rouga (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - Not really what I was expecting, but not in a bad way. It examines the main character's masculinity in some interesting and rather unexpected ways. Not a bad read, though quite strange. Technically hentai, though with some gender-bending-type stuff.

Ninth Life Love by Lalako Kojima (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - OMG SO CUTE!!! This is actually not the happiest of yaoi because of some of the stuff going on in the longest story in the collection, but overall it is super cute and rather sexy. apparently I get emotional at times, because that first story...quite good.

Okay, that's what I've been up to recently. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Star Trek, Hugos, and Puppies (oh my)

I'm going on a rant here. About Star Trek. About the Hugo Awards. About things. I'm probably not qualified to do so. I'm new to SFF (kind of, as I've been reading it for as long as I've been reading, but as that doesn't seem to count for anything, there it is). I've been to all of two conventions (both WisCons, because it's close and all I can afford and also because it's awesome) so I don't really feel as connected to fandom as I could be. But as a writer and a reader the Hugo Awards…stuff…got to me. And I've come up with an analogy that works for me.

So science fiction, to me, is Star Trek. And I think that it's a sentiment that exists for many people, because Star Trek has been around for a long time and has changed from generation to generation. And I feel that the arguments about science fiction, about SFF, as embodied by the Puppies, can be illustrated quite well with Star Trek. It starts with Kirk. And Spock. And Bones and Scotty and Sulu and Uhura and Chekov and Chapel and the whole gang. The Original Series is…hard to watch at times, just as early science fiction can be hard to read at times, because it is a product of a time. The intent is to be better, to hope better, to find a place where there is inclusion and space for all kinds of people. And for that Star Trek was revolutionary. But go on back and watch those episodes. There's such a surety that Kirk is right. That his way is right and that his methods, however they might seem, are honorable.

We move forward. The Next Generation. Picard and Data and Riker and Worf and Troi and Crusher and all of them. A bigger, more diverse cast. And more complicated plots. A loss, perhaps, of the surety that the Enterprise always does the right thing. Picard is not Kirk, but still remains a paternal figure, one who is wise and who, even when he breaks the rules, is correct. There is more nuance, but even those shows are far from perfect. The messages, while by and large better than the Original Series, are still at times incredibly uncomfortable, rather oppressive, and hypocritical. But for many I think the Next Generation marks the height of franchise, and this despite the fact that it's a rather mixed bag and produced four rather mediocre films.

But then came DS9. And the moment people saw a black starship captain (who, by the by, couldn't start as a Captain but had to be promoted later in the series) people started to have…issues. Cue the people accusing Star Trek of basically being run by SJWs because Sisco is black and actually aware of his blackness. It's important to the show in ways that Picard's whiteness never were. Indeed, it kind of calls out Picard for his "color-blindness" and is aware that for all the good that Star Trek did in positing a better future, it also failed to follow through in some of the most important ways. And the show is phenomenal. Try to find a better hour of television than "In the Pale Moonlight." The show got it, got the complexities of what Star Trek was trying to do and what it could do better. It didn't blink from showing just how racist and sexist the Federation could still be despite it thinking it was past such things. The subtle things like the Holodeck recreations from time periods steeped in racism. Colonialism and appropriation. Greed and capitalism. And yet no movies for DS9 and for all the scale the show managed, an entire war being fought with consequences that the Next Generation couldn't even dream of, it's not promoted as much as the earlier shows.

Then Voyager, which does a fine job of picking up after DS9, and while I don't think it ever quite captures that magic, it's still Star Trek, and it continues to explore some nuance and some very complex situations. Janeway is in many ways very much like Picard, unflinching in her command and willing to take risks. But where Picard is exalted, Janeway is sneered at. There's a joke out there about the more modern Captains and judging them by their reactions to Q. Picard tolerates him, Sisco punches him, Janeway kisses him. Which is all sorts of incorrect and problematic. It erases the fact that Janeway faces a much more sexual threat from Q, who harasses her (for all Q and Picard end up in bed together, this is never seen as sexually predatory, as the scenes with Janeway can be, and for Janeway to be blamed by viewers for what, having to deal with an omnipotent asshole's advances? It's terrible). And it just places stereotypes over characters (Sisco the brute, Janeway the slut) who are actually done much better than Picard (who's characterization is a bit…well, dull much of the time, because he's the stern father, which of course is rather hilarious because Sisco is an actual father who has an actual healthy relationship with his son).

But then the backlash. And I cannot see Enterprise as anything more than a backlash. It's…well, it takes all the progress that DS9 and Voyager had made and throws it away. It's like Star Trek grimdark. It reacts to the growing diversity of the show (which was never more than like a third female, never less than two thirds white) by having a cast in which almost all of the principle characters (the captain, first officer, doctor, engineer, security) are white, and nearly all of them are men. Once again the communications officer and helmsman are the only people of color, so aside from a female Vulcan it goes all the way back to the Original Series as it's benchmark, trying to recenter to that past, to the "glory days" which were only exceptional in the context of the time they came out of. Like people wanting to get back to the stories that were told by "the greats," that constitute "classic SF," the show sought to capture that same magic. But that show is…boring. And pretty not-good overall. And instead of that leading to a chance to get back to what made Star Trek great, what made DS9 so amazing, the franchise just…ended.

Let me be clear. If SFF goes "back to the glory days" it will be irrelevant. At most, it will produce works like the latest two Star Trek movies, which are made with such an open disdain for Star Trek as a franchise that I could not stand to watch the most recent one. If those are the best stories that people looking to recapture that "classic" feeling can make then I want no part of them. Same with much of the Puppy slates. I've seen time and again Puppy supporters say that the stories and novels that the Hugos have been awarding in recent years are not deserving. That they are not interesting. But honestly, I think the Puppies have failed to keep up with what makes a story exciting. The new Star Trek movies are boring. For all that they are explosions and planets imploding, they are boring. Terribly boring. They do nothing new, have nothing to say, and while the visuals can be striking, the characterizations are flat and the plots predictable. I'm not saying that it's true for every work the Puppies nominated, but…well…

There are books out there, stories out there, that can capture something that is new and striking and invigorating. That are complex and subtle at times but also fast and frenetic and fun. And written with a passion and a craft makes everything else seem…boring. Again, watch DS9 when it's really going and then watch the Next Generation at basically any time and tell me which has better action. Which has better characters. Which has the stronger message. Go read Karen Memory and tell me anything the Puppies might promote this next year will be as visceral, as moving, as subtle and clever. Go read Signal to Noise and tell me anything Puppies might promote will be as wrenching, as deep, as well crafted.

This is not about social justice. DS9 is a better Star Trek than the Next Generation, is much better than the Original Series. It is my "classic SF" because it is good, not because it was around first. It is fun but it's also difficult at times in ways that the earlier Star Trek really didn't manage. What I don't want to see happen to SFF is what happened to Star Trek. I don't want to see the genre be taken back toward a time that was worse. If the future is what we want to be better, then why does it seem some SFF enthusiasts want only to look back? I want better. New. Because as good as DS9 was, we can do better. We can improve. We can make a better future, a future without what makes the Original Series so painful to watch, a future where perhaps the injustices of the past are addressed instead of hand-waved away.

I believe that SFF is amazing. It keeps me reading, week in and week out, because the stories are exciting. They are good. They are good in part because they challenge and provoke and take me outside my immediate experiences. I want more of that, not less. I'm so happy that there are others out there that want the same thing. I'm not so happy that there are people out there who would like nothing more than for me to disappear, who would tell me I'm not a true fan or true writer or true whatever. But I'm not going anywhere. I'm here. Get used to it.

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, August 28, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/17/2015 and 08/24/2015

There might or might not be one more week of Strange Horizons in August, but I'll catch that in September and focus instead on these two weeks, which include a piece of fiction, two poems, and a piece of nonfiction. There's more nonfiction, as well, and highly recommend you go out and give it a read, but for now I can say that the story is fascinating, the poems at terms chilling and solemn, and the nonfiction a great look at a figure that doesn't get as much attention as they could. A very strong collection of work that I'm going to go ahead and review...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Quick Sips - Urban Fantasy #10

Two stories this month from Urban Fantasy Magazine, and both are about loss, though in vastly different ways. In the first story, the loss is of a wife, the main character dealing with the death of his love and seeking to find some way to fill that lack in his life. In the second, the loss is of a mother, and the situation is very different, the mother a sort of curse that is following around her son, her death a thing haunting him. In both, though, there is hope of recovery, of moving on, and perhaps of a lifting of the isolation the loss has caused. To the reviews!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Quick Sips - Book Smugglers August 2015

The last of the First Contact stories is now out from Book Smugglers, and it's a good way to wrap up the theme. So far, we've seen stories about contact with aliens and demons and stars, but this one changes things up a bit, offering up a historical fantasy about a woman meeting choice for the first time. It's an interesting take on the theme and a fine story which I should just get to reviewing!

Art by M Sereno

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #180

This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is something of a strange read for me, in part because it takes on a bit more of a violent edge. Of course, violence is not something I shy away from in fantasy, and I think that the stories use violence quite well to get across what they're trying to say. I think, however, that they might be trying to say very different things. They are both about resistance, about power and changing how people are oppressed. The first story, though, seems to advocate more for everyone being equal while the second...does not. But perhaps I should just get the reviews already.

Art by Tyler Edlin

Monday, August 24, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantasy Scroll #8

Wow, this issue of Fantasy Scroll is stuffed full of fiction. Honestly, I was not expecting there to be this much original fiction, and only one flash story in the mix. The good news is that it's another solid issue, with a nice mix of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Plus another installment of Shamrock, and I think that more places should feature graphic stories as well. But with so many stories I'm not sure I can find a central theme of this issue. Or perhaps I can, because a good number of them deal with people facing the idea of willful ignorance. How it is incredibly dangerous and harmful and how it can be overcome. So onward with the reviews!

Art by Chris Drysdale

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Influence

For some reason I feel like examining my writing influences today. Perhaps because I've been seeing some other authors weigh in on the topic in the Nerds of a Feather 6 Books interviews, but it makes me want to think about my own influences when it comes to writing, and makes me want to unpack a little bit the thorny issue that is writer influences.

So I think that I've gone through stages when it comes to my writing. Probably every writer does. My writing changes in many ways because of what I read, and so on one hand it should be easy for me to point out some influences and say "Look there, that's what has influenced me." Except…influences are strange things, because I feel like I'm a very different writer than I was way back when. And perhaps because my influences have had, for most of my life, everything to do with the kinds of books I was praised for reading, so…

The first writer who made me was to write was R.L. Stine. I love the Goosebumps books and to some extent still do. I am almost tempted to start a reread of the entire series with reviews for each one, but I don't really know if that's worth my time or yours (I do have them all, though, or at least the first 62 and a good deal of the choose your own adventures). But to say that R.L. Stine still influences me is…well, maybe but in a very distant fashion. Likewise, most of the writers who I liked when growing (Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Harry Turtledove) are ones that I find myself slightly less drawn to now that I'm older. Certainly they did influence me, but as I was saying before, I think they influenced more my earlier writing, which was before I really got myself.

The question then becomes, what works have influenced my writing today. And that is a much tougher question to answer. I feel like every story and novel I read influences me in some way, teaches me something. I think that Guy Gavriel Kay's work continues to inspire me, continues to captivate me. I really liked Mary Stewart's Arthurian series (which sparked a rather obsessive interest in the King Arthur myth). Those are ones I read earlier and have stuck with me. But I think it's only recently that I've started to see what could really be done with genre and in genre. Only recently have I been escaping the gravity of straight white cis male orbits and venturing out. And it has been thrilling.

But I think, more and more, what's been learning is that while there are books I remember with some fondness, and there are definitely stories that I really like, the lines of influence are becoming…diffuse. And I can't think of that as a bad thing. I mean, it is an honor to read so many stories every week, an honor to examine them and think about them and try to figure out what they mean to me. And by doing that I think I just sort of absorb things. To the point that when thinking about my influences I'd probably just point around the room. And I'm sure that's the "wrong" answer. Because there's the smartass part of me that wants to answer "the next one" to the question of what novels or stories influence me.

Because, really, I'm not sure what my influences are. I've lost track (if I ever knew) and more and more I believe that this question has more to do with what tradition an author wants to belong to rather than how they actually are influenced to write. It becomes a way to flag what shared lines writers have. Well, if I was influenced by Lovecraft or Tolkien I rather firmly stake a claim in that camp. And I…I'm not comfortable with that. If people were to ask me what author made me want to write spec, it's R.L. Stine. But if people were to ask what author makes me want to continue to write spec, the answer is "the next one." I write and read to participate in a conversation that is ongoing. I hope to be able to appreciate a good story 20 years from now even better than I do today. But the only way to do that is to allow that I can get better, that other writers will always have something new to teach me. And I very much believe that to be true.

So I probably failed quite miserably to actually answer what my influences are. A great many things that are probably constantly changing. At least I hope that's the case, because without that I can't see how to get better. So thanks to all the writers out there whose stories influence me every day. And thanks to everyone for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quick Sips - Nightmare #35

Another month of scary stories from Nightmare Magazine, where the theme of the original fiction seems to be the monsters we can become. In both stories the characters are monsters, or becoming monsters, and in both their is a danger in losing yourself too wholly to the monster inside. In the first, all is not lost, not yet, though in the second the same cannot necessarily be said. It's a nice pair of tales, full of tension and the promise of destruction. And it's time to review them!

Art by Carlos Fabián Villa

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex #75

Breaking a bit from the light July, the August Apex Magazine is rather full, having four original short stories and four poems. That's...quite a lot to get through, but the good news is that the issue is filled with great talent and great stories, fine pieces that capture a sinking darkness with a pinprick of light to be found, to be grasped like a brass ring, to be used to pierce the darkness and emerge from the other side. The stories are about identity, about pain and difference, and about finding a way to find comfort in that difference. It's a fine issue, and I'm going to review!

Art by Billy Norrby

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #63

This month Lightspeed Magazine delivers an incredibly solid issue ripe with brilliance and emotion. Leaning a bit more toward the fantasy side of things, even the science fiction seems a bit touched by the fantastic, providing a stirring series of stories that move from nostalgic to biting. Two of the stories touch on the broken promises of the past, the broken ideals that people working hard are rewarded. Instead they look at how working hard is often exploited and even resented, and how to make a difference sometimes you have to break the agreements that have failed, have to forsake the bonds which time has rendered abusive. It's a strong issue, and I should just get to reviewing it.

Art by Reiko Murakami

Monday, August 17, 2015

Quick Sips - Crossed Genres #32 - Portals

The theme for this month's Crossed Genres is Portals. And the stories do a great job exploring that idea, that theme. For portals are openings, are possibilities. They lead somewhere, and not always to places that are expected or what they seem. In each of these stories there are portals, be they food or rifts in space or boxes that can shift reality. To step through that portal is to take a chance, to find something wholly new. These stories are strong and they are powerful. So I'm going to get to reviewing, okay?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Let Down, Set Free

So I'm stealing the title of this quick thoughts from a story by Nino Cipri (which appeared at Crossed Genres a ways back and you should all track down), but it captures something that I want to think through a bit today. Something about reviewing. I had something of a rant on Twitter a few days ago where I examined some of my own reviewing past, and it got me to thinking about...not what advice I would offer to people starting out reviewing (because I'm still new and learning and by no means "successful" so to offer advice seems...full of myself), but what I wish I had realized a little earlier when it comes to reviewing.

Firstly, of course, and probably something I knew even at the time, is don't be an asshole. Reviews can be weapons, can be used not only to hurt the authors of whatever is being reviewed but as a way to entrench shitastic genre walls and power structures that play into the old boys club mentality that pervades almost every corner of culture. I believe there are many ways to review well. There is no one right way. I feel this makes people think they can "win" some sort of argument with me, though, by saying if I believe that then people should review however they want. And that's just dumb. Because there being more than one right way to review does not mean there are no wrong ways. There are. A great many. And the easiest way to review wrong is to be an asshole, to use reviews as weapons to oppress and hurt and "defend the proper order of things."

I've spoken a bit about my thoughts on destroying science fiction. And genre. And while I have even more thoughts on them now, perhaps it's obvious that I strongly believe that the strength in short stories really rests in their ability to shatter genre expectations, shatter conventions, break down walls. Short fiction is where the most innovation is seen in form and character and giving voice to people who have long been not only voiceless but threatened if they tried to be heard. Part of that is because there are less financial barriers to short fiction. Almost anyone can write fiction and send it out, moreso than have time to write novels and go through the much more taxing process of trying to sell it. But it's also because change has to start at the bottom, has to start as a series of revolutions that work their way up, eventually toppling those who have stood on the backs of others and making room for a new (and hopefully better) landscape.

And reviews are a part of that. Reviews signal boost and, more than that, redefine the language we use when thinking about stories. They allow others to see that writing a queer story isn't just going to result in being shat upon on the internets (though that might happen, too, as recent history has taught). But in my ranting and moping, Sam J. Miller said something that really stuck with me, that the awful review of his story "We Are The Cloud," though full of hate, prompted a backlash, not of further hate but of love. It prompted people to talk about the story because they did not want to let one asshole at a problematic review site define what is thought of as good and what is thought of as bad. And that movement, to not let assholes decide what is good and what is bad, is gaining strength and momentum.

It is heartening to know that there are other reviewers out there doing so much to talk about stories that move them, that speak to them. In the face of the hate, the Puppies, the everything that seems to think enough progress has been made, enough freedom has been afforded those who have too long been silenced, threatened, and killed for trying simply to live up to the futures promised to them as human beings. There is so much hate out there, and some times it seems, while wading through it, that it's a sea that stretches on forever. But in the face of it all there is also love. And there is hope.

I no longer review for Tangent. Sometimes that feels like defeat. But that would be believing that Tangent is the best I could do. That anyone could do. And it is not. We are capable of so much more. We don't have to be assholes, or accomplices of assholes. Reviews can be weapons, yes, but that doesn't mean they should be used to hurt. Like the stories they champion, reviews are weapons of revolution, work to map a world free of the gerrymadered fuckery of bigoted assholes. It's work that needs doing, and I'm eternally grateful for everyone out there reviewing to change the world. From the reviews in publications to personal blogs to reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, we all need diverse reviewers. We need the voice of the asshole to not be the only voice in the room. It's the main reason I keep going, that I still love reviewing (aside from getting to read some amazing stories). We've got to let down our baggage, let down the shit the past has passed down to us, and set ourselves free to remake the world, to find what works for us.

And I guess I should get back to it, having fallen behind a little this week. But thank you, everyone, for being amazing and for showing me what is possible, and how to be better. And thank you for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, August 14, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/03/2015 and 08/10/2015

Two new weeks of Strange Horizons means two new short stories and two new poems. In a rare show of restraint (more because work is kicking my ass) I will be skipping over reviewing the nonfiction. I still recommend everyone go and check it out, but as both of the columns dealt with texts that I'm not familiar with, I'm not the best of judges on how well they succeed. They're interesting reads and make me want to do more, but as it is I did look at the fiction and poetry and it's a great collection of interesting characters and ideas, strong images and haunting messages (sometimes literally). So before I go on too long about it all, to the reviews!

Art by Geneva Benton

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #107

Today I'm looking at the latest issue of Clarkesworld, which continues to be one of the most impressive publications month to month, especially with its commitment to translated stories. It also manages to have a fairly nice mix of stories and themes despite the original fiction being entirely science fiction. Due to some time constraints, I'm not reviewing the nonfiction, but still encourage everyone to go read, because it does provide a lot of food for thought. The fiction, though, is a nice mix of science fictional ideas and themes. Exploring virtual war crimes, collaborative AI, the nature of sentience, and the philosophy of security, the stories all show visions of the future through various lenses of intent and critique. All manage, though, to tell moving stories, fun stories, and provide a very nice picture when considered as a whole. So on to the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Quick Sips - Shimmer #26 (August Stuff)

The August offerings from Shimmer Magazine are in and they both take on realities that are a little bit twisty (or, the case of the second story, VERY twisty). The second story won't be available for free for almost another week, but together the stories do provide an interesting look at loss and about not quite fitting in, of being in a different state than the rest of the world. In the first, a woman deals with the loss of her sister and her sister deals with not really being at home in her own skin. In the second, a paranoid man travels the country, spreading madness as he goes. So to the reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #179

The stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies this issue embody a sort of beginning and an end. An end because the first is the last (I think) in a series that have been appearing at BCS for a while now. Beginning, because the second story feels like just the opposite, the start of something that could be a series in its own right. Both stories are strong, examining how far people are willing to go to be true to themselves. In both their is a price for honor and integrity, and in both that price is paid. Now, to the reviews!

Art by Tyler Edlin

Monday, August 10, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #5 (August stuff)

Another month of Uncanny Magazine brings a mix of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The stories are a bit extreme in that some are on the longer side of short and one is perhaps the shortest that I've reviewed on the site so far. But all of them deliver strong ideas and a nice vein of darkness that makes this month a little unsettling. In some ways the issue (or this half of it) seems to revolve around the idea of the hidden coming to light, or perhaps seeing something often ignored in a whole new way. It's a strong installment, and I should get to reviewing it!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Quick Thoughts - The Promise of YA

So I read YA. Not all the time, but I do reviews for YA and middle grade novels and I figured I would take a week to think about YA a bit. The largest reason for that is probably because I've been thinking about my favorite novels I've read this year, which basically means novels that I've given five stars to on Goodreads. Which means The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Karen Memroy by Elizabeth Bear, and Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. It surprised me a little that two of those books are YA. And I wondered what drew me to those books specifically and what draws me to YA more in general. 

First, I suppose, I should say that I don't have an exhaustive history with YA. I mean, I like YA books but it's not like I have a whole lot of experience with it. I was an asshole when I was younger, and wanted people to know that I read "serious" fantasy and science fiction, which is just terrible. I have no excuse outside my youth and privilege, so I will say simply that I was asshole and I was wrong. I got into reviewing YA as an adult sideways. I was reviewing graphic novels at a site but the person who ran the graphic novel reviews left and I was sort of left out of the new team and was bummed but so it goes. Except that there was a graphic novel for children that the YA and middle grade division of the site wanted me to review and I did that and it transitioned into me working for her doing reviews there on a more permanent basis.

So hurrah, that basically establishes that I'm probably a strange creature, who used to look down my nose at YA before very much getting into it. And the thing that I like about YA, or at least the YA that I love, is that it deals with the idea of generations and the idea of younger people having power and agency and not fucking everything up. Perhaps because I'm a Millennial, which means that I have to see things written by older people decrying my generation as lazy and worthless. Despite the fact that Millennials work more, with more education, for less pay, when things cost more than they ever have. So I have a bit of a bitterness about stories steeped in pessimism about the future. Millennials did not fuck the economy, did not fuck the environment, did not fuck foreign policy. No, those were handled for us and we are just accepted to deal with it and…wait, this is about YA…probably should cut that rant short.

What I mean to say is that YA captures a sense of optimism about the future. Or, if not a optimism about the future, an optimism about the people who will live in it. They identify the tendency of older generations to want to take a big ole dump on the younger people. Parents treating their children like property and like idiots. Society treating younger people like they are all spoiled idiots. What is GamerGate or the Puppies if not reactions to younger people actually showing their preferences, proving that younger people are more informed and more progressive than ever, that what people want is not the same old boy and his dog stories set in space where diversity is having some green people. What people want is stories of love that doesn't fall into line with binary boundaries, that don't follow conventions just because that's what's always been done. What people want is new stories, and what I love about my favorite YA is that it fully believes that it is possible to have agency and power in the face of resistant establishments.

Perhaps what I like, people might argue, in between shouts to get off their lawn, is the fantasy that youth has anything to offer. Because yes, young does not mean wise, and experience is an excellent teacher. But things are more possible to young people, which means that they are in an incredibly good place mentally to find creative solutions to problems people just accept as given. And that's what YA is good for. It kicks readers in the butt. They are fun and optimistic and manage to be just as creative and tightly plotted as any non-YA book. And there is something alive about them, alive and ready to take on the world. And I find something irresistible about that, something joyous and righteous and fuck-yeah!-inducing.

So YA. I really like it. If you're looking for some amazingly great books, definitely go and read The Summer Prince and Shadowshaper. While you're at it, Love is the Drug (also by Alaya Dawn Johnson), is also a very good novel. Me, my adventure with YA is ongoing, and leaves me hungry for more. So excuse me, but I'm off to start reading. Thanks for stopping by!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Quick Sips - The Dark #9

This month's The Dark Magazine certain lives up to the name, featuring four stories all with aspects steeped in darkness. From a town with a dark secret to a world where spiders lurk under every tongue to misunderstood man to a story people tell themselves to feel better about their situation, the stories all manage to weave the darkness into something beautiful, something almost luminous. So onward to the reviews!

Art by Michael MacRae

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online August 2015

This month's Flash Fiction Online features three stories, all of which focus on twisted visions of the future. The editorial calls these summer stories, and I can't really disagree, as the stories show humid swamps of form cities, bugs that eat light, and birds devouring groves of apples. Climate change, mad science, and horror all mingle in these stories, which provide a nice, if mostly science fictional, reading experience. But perhaps I should just get to the reviews!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Quick Sips - Lackington's #7 - Skins

Seven stories make the latest issue of Lackington's a rather weighty experience, especially with how each challenges and provokes, providing visions tinged with equal parts darkness and hope. Which, of course, means that I quite enjoyed myself while reading, exploring some of the depths the stories had to offer. The theme this issue was Skins, and I think most of the stories do make good use of the idea, the theme. Many feature changing skins, changing form, and it's a powerful metaphor and image. So let's get to the reviews!

Art by Kat Weaver

Monday, August 3, 2015

Quick Sips - July 2015 this month certain tends toward the dark, with pretty much all but of its five stories inky and disturbing. Of course, there's really nothing wrong with that, and the stories do provide a wide range of approaches to darkness, to suffering. And there is a much lighter superhero story thrown in to bring a bit of lightness and fun into the mix. Really these stories seem to be about dealing with the past, with past trauma in most of the stories but the past more generally. A dance unfinished, the looming ghosts of past experiments, the forgotten nightmares of a time before humans, the origin of a superhero steeped in loss, and the tragic childhood of a woman from a very messed up family, the past refuses to stay buried in these stories. So let's get to the reviews!
Art by Jeffrey Alan Love

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Spoilers

The time has come, I feel, to talk about spoilers. Now, I'm not sure everyone else's opinion on the place of spoilers in reviewing. I myself have some mixed opinions, because I understand that reviews play different parts for different people. For me, I normally try to avoid spoilers (try being vaguely honest), wanting to let the reader discover for themselves the endings of things, discover the twists and turns. Where possible I try to leave things ambiguous and open. And this is because I assume that there are people out there that are reading reviews to figure out what they want to read. It's something that I've certainly done, though a part of me doesn't much care when reading a review in this way if there are spoilers or not. And sometimes, honestly, I want spoilers even if I haven't read the work.

I shall explain. Sometimes, when I go looking for reviews on a story or a novel, I'm looking for certain ideas or keywords. If this is a book that I'm thinking of getting for myself, it's sort of like looking at the back, looking for some overview of what's there. In that case, I want the book spoiled in certain regards. Accidental pregnancy, rape, or other triggering content is probably not going to be on the back cover. But I can be faily certain that if a book or story has some content that is going to offend me or make it an unpleasant reading experience, that someone else has already discovered that and mentioned it in a review. Not that it's always so stated, and sometimes the most positive of reviews can steer me right the fuck away from a book. Because if the review is glowing and praising certain things that I have issues with, then I know that I want to stay away from it. So when I review part of me is trying to play to that, trying to perhaps warn people of things that they might find unpalatable. Which is different for me than it is for others, so it means that sometimes I do indeed include spoilers so that people know what they're getting into with a story.

Now, there is another part of me, too, that uses reviewing for completely selfish reasons. Namely, to get down my thoughts on a story, my own reaction to the writing so that I can organize my thoughts about what I just read. And I'm not sure how much that requires the spoilers, except that sometimes I want to react directly to something that happens, and often it's to something that is important to the story, that is a spoiler. I can think of many recent stories I've reviewed where this has been the case. I just can't really hold myself back from reacting to certain things because they get to me. They make me smile or cringe or cry or piss me off and I want to talk about them. I want to figure out my own thoughts about them and that means I have to spoil them. Now, as some have probably noticed, when I am conscious of spoiling things I have been trying now to include the warning in parentheses so that people can skip or whatnot. Do people skip? I'm not really sure, but I feel that it's the polite thing to do in case there are people who really don't want the stories spoiled.

Spoilers are fascinating, though. Part of me, the part that is a writer and not a reviewer, wonders if there is something to be said about spoilers being basically unfair to artists. That there is an argument that spoiling a story or novel in a review would be tantamount to basically copyright infringement or, if not that, something morally comparable. And there is a part of me that sees the point there, that what you don't really want is someone going around revealing things that artists took a long time to create, and to reveal it in a way that doesn't even capture the actual work. Like if I were to describe a painting in some detail and then someone would read the review and judge the picture for it. Which, obviously, they haven't seen the work, so should they be judging it? The answer that I invariably come back with is, yeah, pretty much. I feel that the idea of "fairness," which a loaded term, is used in these situations, and in situations similar, and I feel like it doesn't really apply.

Take the Puppies situation (please). I have seen reviews of the stories that were included in the Puppies slates. These reviews made use of spoilers rather heavily. I read the reviews and I am not going to read the stories. And I have judged the stories, and know that, if I were voting for the Hugos, which I would be voting for (or which I would not be, as the case may be). I feel that people would brand this as not fair of either me or the reviewers who spoiled these stories. Because of the reviews, I feel absolutely no guilt about giving the stories a pass. None at all. I feel like I have experienced enough vicariously through the reviewer, all without having to buy anything or read anything or give traffic to anything. I find this completely okay. Because really, people shouldn't need to be slapped in the face in order to know they don't want to be slapped. It's not "only fair." And writing something does not entitle you to readers. Nor to "unbiased reactions." I'm fully on side Reader here, and that's as someone who has been poorly reviewed.

I guess, in the end, I know that I will continue to use spoilers. I believe in them, in many ways. Without them, what, I'm left having to tiptoe around something I might not want to tiptoe around. Yes, if there's a really good twist I will probably try to avoid spilling the beans, but I might not be able to contain myself. And if I want to perhaps warn people of what they're getting into, I want to be able to do that rather explicitly, so that if they feel they want to have a go at the text anyway it's not a mystery. There are, for example, many people who like "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman. And the writing is solid and the characters fairly relatable (shy, sad, lonely). The premise is insteresting, crashing a party where the people turn out to be aliens visiting earth for a short stop. I sort of have to spoil that if I want to mention my issues with the ending. The main character, who was there with his friend (who is an ass), has a moment at the end where it's obvious that the friend wanted to have sex with one of the aliens there until he found out she wasn't really a woman. The language used is very evocative of trans tropes that are...not good at all. It's a trope that's played for laughs in the story and that...well, made me rather uncomfortable and made me not like the story. And to talk about that part of the story, I had to spoil that the people at the party are aliens. I had to wreck the punchline, because in my mind that punchline was unsettling. Now, that's an old story and most people who want to read it probably have already, but people are free to take my assessment of it and either avoid it or go seek it out, either to see how their opinions might differ from mine or just because they want to make up their own mind. My spoiler certainly hasn't hurt the story. It remains the story. But I needed to reveal it both to try and do my best at reviewing for others who might be reading my reviews and expect honesty and for myself, because what the hell would I be doing with my life going around writing fake reviews? The only way these reviews are valuable to me is by actually prompting me to examine how I react to stories and why.

And I should probably stop myself before I go on any further on something that most people probably find dull as rocks. Anyway, thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur