Monday, November 30, 2015

Quick Sips - Terraform November 2015

I'm actually rather surprised at Terraform this month, because for once it actually mostly stuck to its guidelines and all the stories are at least under 3K. The stories are quite different this month, ranging from a humorous string of inter-office emails detailing a crisis with a microwave to a very serious examination of art over time and the rise of AI and immortality. Most of the stories are fun, though, even as they examine future that it's probably best to avoid. And mixing the commentary with humor makes them a little easier to swallow. All in all, it's a fine collection of very short stories, which I will get to reviewing now!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Thankful

It's Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Or it will have been by the time that this appears on the blog. As I write this it's still a day away. I was going to write up something on the "morally complex YA" thing going on right now but there are better minds doing that and so I thought I would step back and concentrate instead on things I am thankful for. Because while a lot about the holiday is pretty side-eye, I do think that it's important to reflect every now and then on what's good.

First off, I am thankful to my partner, for putting up with me. In about two weeks it will have been nine years since our first date, and when I think about how much we have changed in that time I am filled with hope and joy. It is my greatest pleasure and honor to be able to share my life with someone so amazing, and though I don't often talk about nem in this space (for a variety of reasons), ne is first in my mind and in my heart. And without nem I would not be doing what I am doing. 

I am also thankful for great stories, which should come as no surprise. To both the writers writing and the publications publishing them, many thanks! I have said it often enough but this is an amazing time to be a reader. A scary time, because there is a feeling that it is fragile, that things might at any moment be taken away, but it is also invigorating, challenging, and rewarding. My thanks as well go out to other readers and reviewers, who provide something equally vital, which is engagement. It's sort of my core mission with Quick Sip Reviews to engage with short SFF fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, but without others I'd just be shouting into an abyss. And while it can feel at times like that's all I'm doing, seeing other people out there reviewing is heartening. It's what gave me courage to stop reviewing for a place I couldn't feel comfortable at and make a space of my own. So for everyone out there, from Goodreads reviewers to the biggest names in SFF reviews, thanks! 

Of course I am thankful to my readers! This blog started pretty small and has picked up steam pretty much every month it's been around. Which is a great feeling personally as I hope it means people out there are reading and liking what I'm doing. So thank you, everyone who checks in and everyone who spreads the word. My sincerest thanks for finding my thoughts on stories and such worthy of your time (I know how precious that can be, often). An especial thanks to any and all who have offered up words of encouragement as I struggle onward, to everyone who said what I am doing is worth something. It means an awful lot to hear that every now and then. Sorry that I seem to whine an awful lot. 

I am thankful for craft breweries, good bookstores, and the internet. I am thankful that there's a place for me to be me even if it's only within the walls of my home and in the boundless reaches of digital space. I'm thankful to all the people who have bought my stories, and for all those who read them and enjoyed them (not quite so thankful if you read them and hated them, but thankful at least you didn't feel the need to tell me about it). I'm thankful for my pets, who are adorable and furry and make life interesting. For all this and much more, I am thankful. Thanks for reading! 

All the best, 

Charles Payseur

Friday, November 27, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #187

Beneath Ceaseless Skies must really care about my sanity, because they came out with their latest issue a whole two days early (at least, I think they normally drop on Thursday and this was out on Tuesday) so that I could get ahead on reviewing before Thanksgiving. I'm sure that was the reason. Yeah. Anyway, this issue features two stories, one featuring a returning storyline and one all new. They are quite different. The first features a more traditional fantasy plot, breaking into a prison to commit a crime. The other looks at the nature of history and conflict. The stories scratch two very different itches, but both are interesting and well written, and while my personal tastes run a bit more toward the later, I enjoyed myself throughout. So to the reviews!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers November 2015

This month The Books Smugglers offer up a double-helping of fairy tales mixed with noir mysteries. And the stories are delightful! I'm not incredibly into noir stories most of the time because they tend to be rather full of some...not-that-great tropes and cliches, but these stories subvert in the best of ways while providing fast action and excellent world-building. 

Art by Melanie Cook

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Quick Sips - Mothership Zeta #1

Amid some more somber news of publications closing, there are still some rays of sunshine, and Mothership Zeta is certainly one. Coming in as an ezine, the Mothership is the home for fun. Mostly, at least. The stories do have a flare of the fun, voices that roll from the tongue, a wry sense of humor and healthy amount of sarcasm. But stuck in here too are stories that slow things down. That break the humor in favor of topics that are much more serious. The issue manages to balance itself quite well, starting and ending with flash and moving between those two points from humor to sweet to dark and back again. There's also nonfiction and a reprint to enjoy that I will not be talking about here, but below are reviews of all eight of the original fiction stories. Here we go!

Art by Frank Wu

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quick Sips - Urban Fantasy Magazine V2, #1

Two pieces of fiction round out the November issue of Urban Fantasy Magazine, though sadly only one of them is original. In order to make more of a review of this issue, I'm looking at both stories, and I don't think you could really ask for more different tales, though at their heart I see two stories about a deep dissatisfaction with "the way things are." In both stories there are characters faced with reality and their own unhappiness, and in both those characters chose to make a change, chose to drop the security of their own misery and try something new. It's an interesting contrast to look at them together, but worth doing. Time to do just that!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Quick Sips - Nightmare #38

This is perhaps my favorite issue of Nightmare Magazine so far this year. Two stories, as always, but two stories that really bring the dark. These stories reveal damaged characters, characters haunted by their pasts, by the hurt they caused others. By their mistakes and by their inability to really change what they've done. Stories about reaching out and about being selfish and about pain and pain and pain. Really this is an amazing pair of stories that you should read immediately. Time to review them!

Art by Bruno Wagner

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Quick Links - 11/22/2015

Oh Glob I'm behind on this. Bad me! Post more! Anyway, I have had a few reviews up in the last month. They are linked below.

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari (Kidsreads) - A kind of cute story that plays on the spy kids tropes, but here the kids' greatest asset is being invisible. Which introduces some problems into the mix.

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - And here is my personal review of the book.

Scarlett: A Star on the Run by Jon Buller and Susan Schade (Kidsreads) - This book is weird and I didn't know the authors did Ten Thousand Baseball Cards Under the Sea, which I think was the first book I ever read completely on my own. This one involves genetically modified pets.

Scarlett: A Star on the Run by Jon Buller and Susan Schade (Goodreads, my score 3/5) - I will reiterate that this book was weird. Like, rather mundane except for the genetic experimenting and dumpsters full of dead cats and dogs. 

The Entropy of Bones by Ayize Jama-Everett (Nerds of a Feather, my score 7/10) - This was a solid action book with some big concepts that probably would have worked a bit better having read the first two books in the series. Still, a fine read.

The Entropy of Bones by Ayize Jama-Everett (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - And here again. I swear, this is my last double. I loved the voice of this book, and the violence, and the weird characters. It reads like a Kung Fu movie.

Pluto Vol. 7 by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - Finally I got back to this series after having gotten the final volumes some time ago. And though it doesn't offer up too many surprises at this point, the plot is tight enough that it doesn't need to. It's a very good series, and the push to the end is something to see.

Pluto Vol. 8 by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - Things get a little transparent in this final volume, with some of the metaphors becoming...well, a bit obvious and a little simpler. But mostly this volume is about kicking ass and learning how to be human instead of wanting to lord over humans. It's about war and forgiveness and love. I really enjoyed the series as a whole.

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - My first Miéville and one that's a bit middlegrade but as I read a lot of that it works. I loved the idea of the UnChosen One, and the UnGun, and all of it. The characters were great and the story line compelling. A lot of fun, this one.

Eden: It's an Endless World Vol. 10 by Hiroki Endo (Goodreads, my score 4/5) - This series continues to be rather conflicting to me. On the one hand, it's still exploring doing good in a fallen world. And the bits with the Closure Virus transforming into the Disclosure Virus are promising. But it is an ugly read at times and I do not like how most of the women are around basically for violence to happen to them. It's making a point, but still... 

The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper by Carlie St. George (Nerds of a Feather, my score 8/10) - And finally a review of a novelette that was a lot of fun. Not sure if I'll do these longer reviews for all three stories in the series but otherwise the reviews will be on this site direct soon enough. Indeed.

And there you have it. Obviously a lot of these books here graphic in nature (manga or graphic novels), which means it's nearing the end of the year and I'm picking up things I think I can clear out of my TBR stack quickly. There's some novels in there, though, and there will be more. Hopefully I'll manage to post another link post before the end of the year. Otherwise, thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Awards and Eligibility

So I'm under no real illusions that I've done anything that would produce awards buzz this year, so I'm not entirely sure what to do around "awards season." Mope? I think it's a bit weird, as a writer just sort of starting out, or at the very least just starting to get things professionally published, to think about awards other than "I hope [insert story I really liked] wins something." I suppose in some ways because I read as much as I can probably see that there's just so much out there that is so good, and though I want desperately to write as well as the stuff I see out there, I don't think I'm there. Yet. And if I can try to think of it that way, maybe I can write more that's better and not just wallow in my own mediocrity.

So instead of doing an eligibility post for myself, I'm going to announce something tangentially related. Namely, that I'm going to run a little award through this site to highlight the stories I liked the most this year. Which is kind of weird, I admit, because yes, I already have a monthly review/recommendation column that I run at Nerds of a Feather. But this would be for the year. For. The. Whole. Year! I've been planning on this for a while now, trying to figure out how it will work and how I want to do it. Keep in mind, this site is a product of one person, so the jury on these awards is going to That said, if people had a problem with my opinion of things then they probably aren't reading this anyway, so hurrah.

So, The Sippys!

It will work like this. I am looking at anything that I have reviewed for this site that came out in 2015. There will be five awards categories, and for each I will have five total stories, four Sippys and one Big Sippy. The categories will be:

The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF

The "I'm Sleeping with the Lights On" Sippy for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action in Short SFF

The "Where We're Going We Won't Need Categories" Sippy for Excellent I'm Not Sure What in Short SFF

So finally, the Awards that no one asked for! The Sippys! I'll be rolling out the awards in January, with each category getting its own Sunday spotlight. Because I need more to do! Anyway, there's something to look forward to, I hope! Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, November 20, 2015

Quick Bonus - as always

as always

We wreck ourselves in these still moments
when, storm fled, the choice (as always)
is to let ourselves down to rest,
bandage the broken horns, the bloodied
shoulder where the earth met us
on our way down or
unsure of our feet,
knowing (as always) that
we might falter now and lose everything;
our pride, our status, our minds,
all in the distance our legs can raise us.

And here is the silent war we wage
not with opposition but (as always)
with fresh wounds and the old ache
of our joints as we move,
the creeping doubt that somehow,
we were wrong, we are nothing
but voices calling into an empty room
hoping for a response that might (as always)
be our own echo.

It is moments, only, though doubt lingers
and the fear (as always)
grinds at us, mortar and pestle,
blood smeared hands helping us to
to take stock of ourselves, our injuries,
to find our way back to friends,
neighbors, brothers, sisters,
and you
and I
(as always)


I wrote this back in 2012 after the unsuccessful recall of Scott Walker here in Wisconsin. I am putting it here because I'm a little drunk and I still like it. I put it on Facebook at the time, so no worry about selling it ever. Just...I thought of this.

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #186

This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies features a pair of stories that show just how unjust the world can be to those that lack power and favor, either from the Divine or from the more terrestrial powers that be. First is a return to an Italy in danger of being overrun by creatures of the night, followed by a story of a pair of sculptors trying to make good on a promise to a volatile Empress. Both tales highlight ways that those with power act, and learn, at the expense of those that live beneath them. In the first, the relationship is parasitic, a group literally sucking the blood of those lower. In the second, the relationship is much more subtle, and yet much more devastating. So to the reviews!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 10/26/2015, 11/02/2015, 11/09/2015, and 11/16/2015

Well this was certainly another full few weeks of Strange Horizons, though I suppose that's more my fault for letting four weeks go by without checking in. In that time there have been three short stories, four poems, and three nonfiction pieces (at least, three nonfiction pieces I'm looking at). But Strange Horizons shows just how strong it can be with stories that show loss and hope and rebellion, poems that unsettle and shadow the dark corners of the world, and nonfiction dealing with everyone's favorite topic: sex. It's a full four weeks to get through, but very rewarding and enjoyable, even when it is uncomfortable and challenging. To the reviews!

Art by Stephen Hamilton

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination #231

The longest name in short SFF is back this month and Fantastic Stories of the Imagination offers up a pair of stories, one about as long as they publish and the other about as short. The two tales are quite different in tone, in message, but both do present science fictional looks at space travel and both are, admittedly, quite good. There is a feeling in both of feelings just below the surface, of characters facing situations they didn't exactly expect when venturing into space. Both in some ways also explore the idea of people who leave Earth behind still being connected to it, and in that it's a rather thematically tight issue of the publication, at least where original work is concerned. But enough of my ramblings. To the reviews!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Quick Sips - Shimmer #28 (November Stuff)

It's November, which means autumn is already in the decline here, and yet Shimmer is keeping the fall alive with two stories that take us into the woods where the wild things live. Where magic is possible, but only at a cost. The pair of stories offered this month are powerful and dark and focus on choice, on family, and on leaving people behind. Both feature characters who have to give something up in order to be faithful to themselves, in order to honor those they care about, even if it means they can't see those people in the same way again. They are stories full of the feel of dead leaves and long dusks, and it is my pleasure to review them today. 

Art by Sandro Castelli

Monday, November 16, 2015

Quick Sips - The Dark #10

This latest issue of The Dark Magazine certainly doesn't shy away from tackling some very dark and disturbing themes. Trigger warnings include: sexual assault of a minor, incest, murder, rape culture, murder, cats, and murder. And while at times the extreme content of the issue can seem a bit much, I believe that most of the stories do a very good job of justifying the use of such heavy tools to do their work. The stories are shocking as well as moving, questioning the institutional ways in which women are targeted for violence. There's a lot to cringe at, yes, but also a lot to think about. So let's get to reviewing!

Art by NKMandic

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Quick Thoughts - The Cost of Voice

So a while ago I posted about "the state of short fiction" following a piece by Clarkesworld and a subsequent bump in commentary about it. The piece by Clarkesworld was about a possible contraction in short SFF markets, and some of the commentary was blaming "those kinds of stories" on this possible contraction. Since then (and it's only been about a month), Crossed Genres magazine has announced that it's closing it's doors. It is an incredibly sad event because Crossed Genres was explicitly trying to publish stories that made me excited to read. Since that, I have seen a lot of places say basically "you need to vote for what you like with your wallet" (and also a few veiled implications that Crossed Genres was publishing "those kinds of stories" and that's part of why they weren't supported). It's to these things I kind of want to speak to now.

When I talked before about the Hungry and the Full, I said that a reason why short SFF can seem different than novels is that those people who aren't really being pandered to on the novel level can come to the short fiction level and find stories that they really like. I did not say, though, why they weren't getting pandered to at the novel level. Which is, of course, power and influence. The reason why the market at the bottom seems so much different than the market at the top is partly because the market at the bottom is in part geared towards people who don't exactly make up a strong and consistent market (kinda sorta). At least, because short SFF is a much smaller market, people with less money can get more "bang for their buck" or even get stories for free. The problem is that these same people are being blamed for the viability of publications, are being asked to "vote with their wallets" for what they want to see. But you know, when you make voting about who can spend more money, those with the most money have the loudest voice (as evidence: AMERICA RIGHT FUCKING NOW!). And those people hungry for stories about them, stories that speak to them, stories that they cannot find anywhere else, are not the loudest voice.

What is the Puppies if not an attempt to buy out the Hugos? It's not like the Hugos are free to vote for. Why is it easy to mobilize uncomfortable dudebros? The same reason it seems like every god damn piece of media is already geared toward them: they have money. They have privilege which gets them money which gives them power which makes this whole thing go 'round. So why do people get upset at short SFF, why is there a movement to "take it back"? Because it can be kinda shit as a business model and that is exactly why it is important and vital. Not that publications have to be losing ventures, monetarily, but sometimes not caring about turning a profit is the only way that certain stories ever see the light of day. I'm a little tired of people saying that the problem is people not supporting things. God, I would give all the money to places. I subscribe where I can, how I can, and I review and I spread the word and of course I believe that people need to be paid and that these things are important. But in my little heart of heart I also believe that these stories should be free. That stories should be free. Not only free to read but free from the expectation that they make money in order to justify their existence. And in some ways they are. There are libraries and there is the internet and hurrah for all of that. Seriously, it is amazing. But what I keep seeing in publishing is people throwing up their hands and saying "we publish what sells." And there is just something so gut-wrenchingly sad and disgusting about that.

Because it blames the people who are already being denied representation and voice. It's saying that to have a voice you must buy it. We are told that things fail because people didn't like them enough. People didn't care enough. People didn't buy enough. Because those things are conflated. Care=money. The message becomes that if there aren't enough people with enough money to make a thing financially successful then it doesn't deserve to exist, or that it doesn't deserve to exist unless everyone's doing it for free. That no, people don't deserve to get paid for it because who will buy it? Diversity is important, yes, but if it doesn't bring in enough money it's not really possible, okay? Which is shit. Don't tell me that all I need to do is spend my money enough and it will work. Don't tell me that if I want better I need to support what's out there now, that incremental change is the only change possible and some people just need to wait their turn and be patient. That puts all the responsibility on being heard on the people already being ignored. Basically, SFF should not be run on a trickledown system. Like with regular politics, that only really helps the people at the top.

You know what happens when you're told to "vote with your wallet"? You're being told that there's basically a two-party system. The people with a lot of money (those already being pandered to), and those with less (which encompasses every other group). Those in the "those with less" category are told that they need to pool their resources so that they can make it better, but in order to reach as much money as possible the party platform isn't really about doing what's right by everyone. It's about being better than the other party, yes, but pretty much just that. Even within the "those with less" group, it focuses on those with more money to spend within that group. It never goes far enough, and it never really questions the whole "voting with your wallet is right" mentality. It's still all about money. Which has nothing to do with fairness or equality.

So yeah, I pretty much hate the entire idea behind "voting with your wallet." Yes, of course, paying artists for their art is incredibly important and vital. I'm not saying don't pay for stories. Definitely do pay for stories and give what you can to support artists and people doing good work. But don't treat it like people who can't pay deserve shit heaped on them, deserve to have whatever good they can find taken away. Saying you don't deserve a voice if you don't have the money to buy it is saying that only fiction that sells the best deserves to be published, like selling well is not mired in a bog of privilege and oppression, like only stories that appeal to enough people with money to spend deserve to be published. Fuck diversity, fuck justice, hurray capitalism. Because capitalism is not moral, has no interest in justice that is not profitable.

Not selling well is not a moral failing or a lack of skill. It's not proof that the market needs to focus on more "commercial" stories. It's sad, and especially so when it means publications like Crossed Genres close. It is a symptom that something is wrong. That something needs to change. But not the way that some people seem to be suggesting, to make things more about money, about who can spend more. That only doubles down on a system that does not work for a great many people, and blames those either unable or unwilling to spend money on stories that are not popular enough or "commercial" enough for not getting the stories they want. Despite the fact that a great many people who like the stories already very popular can read as much as they want without having to spend a dime and never be in danger of their voice or their stories being taken away.

So maybe, just maybe, when a publication closes, or a book doesn't sell, don't blame the people who loved it.

All the best,

Charles Paysuer

Friday, November 13, 2015

Quick Sips - Apex #78

Did you know that today is the last day to participate in the Apex Magazine subscription drive? Probably get on that, because Apex continues to bring some amazing content of both fiction and poetry (and also nonfiction, though I'm not looking at it this month). This month alone are three stories that I could go on raving about for some time, including one that is definitely one of my favorites of the year. The stories are complex, layered, and worth diving into. The poetry is dark, creepy, and fun, and everything just works so well. And before I gush too much more, time to review!

Art by James Lincke

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #66

This month's Lightspeed Magazine is all about subverting tropes. From a time travel story about love and determination to a sentient ship bursting with faith in greater powers to dragons literally erasing diversity in Medieval Europe, the stories take some common ideas and twist them just so. Everything old is new again and the stories manage to range from subtle to more blatant, but all of them are subversive, all of them worth sinking your teeth into. Which I should get started on!

Art by John Brosio

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Quick Sips - Uncanny #7 (November Stuff)

November continues right along with a pair each of stories, poems, and nonfiction pieces from Uncanny Magazine. The Fiction is a bit on the long side but quite good, exploring faith and age and balancing self-care with doing the right thing. The poetry is dark and tinged with fairy tale, with a feeling of decay and loss and devastation. And the nonfiction shows off a nice range with one article on cover art in SFF (and seriously, Julie Dillon is everywhere this month, which is great!) and one critical essay on some sad Whelkfins. All in all, a fine month. To the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Monthly Round Is Up!!!

Go check it out at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together. My fav picks paired with thematically appropriate adult beverages.

The picks for October are:

"The Lord of Corrosion" by Lee Thomas (Nightmare #37)
"Blue Monday" by Laurie Penny (Terraform)
"And If the Body Were Not the Soul" by A.C. Wise (Clarkesworld #109)
"The Librarian's Dilemma" by E. Saxey (Unlikely Story #12)
"Geometries of Belonging" by R.B. Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #183)
"Hold-Time Violations" by John Chu (Tor)


"Love and Prejudice" by Amatesiro Dore (Omenana Issue X)
"White Elephant" by Shannon Peavey (Flash Fiction Online)
"Broken-Winged Love" by Naru Dames Sundar (Strange Horizons)


Monday, November 9, 2015

Quick Sips - Crossed Genres #35 - Anticipation

With this issue of Crossed Genres comes the very sad news that the magazine will be ending publication at the end of the year. Which is a shame, because it is a consistent source of quality short fiction that explicitly looks to promote new writers. Seriously, I don't think there is another SFWA-qualifying venue that guarantees a third of it's content is by a new writer. The only good news is that the publication is still here for a short while, and is still putting out good stories. The theme this month is anticipation, and the stories here take some interesting routes to explore the theme. To the reviews

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Quick Thoughts - "Millennial" Fiction

As with many of my thoughts, this one comes out of a Twitter rant from about a week ago where I commented that I had recognized a...well, trend could be a word for it, or perhaps a thematic convergence, of some stories recently. I called them "Millennial" stories because they were largely concerned with the Millennial experience (Millennial being the American generation after "Generation X," born starting somewhere in the early 1980s and going to about 2000). So let me try and organize these thoughts in a way that makes sense.

I should say, I am a Millennial, born in 1986 and probably the cliché of what a Millennial looks like. Insecure, liberal, white, middle class (Is this how we talk about every generation? Are there different names for generations if you're not in the privileged class?). Filled with guilt because of a growing global awareness but also a deep selfish entitlement. Disaffected and probably quite lazy. Hi there! As these stories are in some ways about my experience, I find myself often enjoying them. They speak to me. And at the same times I see them as part of a larger conversation going on in SFF, one that reflects ideas of globalization and post-colonialism. But I should get to my point, I guess...

Anyway, these stories. I think I was first recognizing it when I read "Please Undo This Hurt" by Seth Dickinson ( The story is about two people struggling with guilt, with the desire to do no harm and the knowledge that they cannot possibly live up to that. Or, as the main character relates, "I have this stupid compassion in me, and it cries out for the hurts of others" and as her friend says "I’m a good guy, I don’t want to do anyone any harm, so I’m going to opt out." She finds a number that she can call to take her out of the world. But not just that, to make it so that she never existed. To make it so that all the harm she caused will be undone. The story is about wanting to not be a part of the shit of the world, the systems of oppression and pain. It's about wanting to opt out of the system. The story ends with the characters deciding not to, of course, because "He wouldn’t have to care anymore, of course. But he still cares. That’s how compassion works." Now, I like the story. It's a philosophy argument as much as a story, but the message is that you can't universalize opting out. That if you did the people who didn't care would be the only ones left and that wouldn't actually undo any harm. That even if you can't fix anything, it's worth it to try to do good. As someone who feels a bit put upon in this country for not living up to the promise of my parents' generation, I understand both the urge to opt out and the reassurance of being told that it's okay not to.

But this isn't the only story dealing with what I see as the "Millennial experience." In Sunny Moraine's "Dispatches from a Hole in the World" (Nightmare), the main character is studying the Year of Suicide, where Millennials did opt out, where over three hundred thousand Millennials killed themselves (this idea was also touched on in "Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions" by Gwendolyn Kiste but I think Moraine's story is more about opting out and less about depression as I read Kiste's story). This story draws the line a bit more firmly along generational lines, and touches on a lot of the Millennial disappointments and concerns, the dissatisfaction. The main character puts it pretty clearly with "Look: don’t you judge us for opting out of a fucking lie. Don’t you ever do that." And that line speaks to me, because it is a lie that this generation was sold and then, when we were old enough to see the lie, expected to pass along. Despite the fact that it had stopped being beneficial to do so. Success had been horded by the successful, and everyone was told to play along, pass it on, despite seeing no benefit. There is something selfish there, yes, a feeling that hey, we weren't meant to have to try so hard. We were told it would be easy, that we'd have it as easy as our parents. And we don't. It's a loss of privilege that we at the same time see as a loss of something we never earned and also as a wound. Here again, though, the story argues for engagement, for pushing past the wounded feeling and coming through to try to do good. As the main characters says, "We can’t leave the holes in the world." That, in the end, we are responsible for trying to treat the wounds, despite our own dissatisfaction or pain.

Lastly I want to touch on the much more explicit "Where the Millennials Went" by Zach Lisabeth (Fantasy Scroll), where there is an actual fantasy world that people can travel to in order to escape the disappointment that is adulthood. A place of childhood promises. Freedom from student loans and predatory housing practices. A place where "President Maggie greeted each and every one of her constituents with a participation trophy and a flexible career. Together they ushered in a golden age of peace, prosperity, and access to contraception." A dream world. Here, opting out becomes a way of gathering power, a metaphor for refusing to accept the shit and standing up and fighting for better things. The revolution in this fantasy world stands in for voting and making the world better by reform. Like the previous stories, the center of the plot and message is on wanting to opt out (though of the three this is the only one that doesn't use that term). But it's clear that the goal here is to achieve those things that have been stripped away, to get back to what we were promised. Again, the point is engagement, reform, resistance.

What binds these stories, though, as "Millennial" fiction, goes slightly deeper than the idea that there is hopelessness and powerlessness and that opting out is not the answer. It is an integral part of what makes these stories "Millennial" to me, but there are many stories about struggle against a system that is corrupt, that causes pain and misery. Another part is the need for community and compassion/empathy, which is another strong message throughout most of the stories. The last line of Moraine's story is "All we ever had was each other." It's a vague answer to a more direct question. The question being "What can we do?" and the answer being "Try to be good to one another." Which is a fair if slightly unhelpful answer. Perhaps the real answer is "You are not alone" which is also true but which is similarly unsatisfying when looking at what to do. But I think that's part of what defines "Millennial" fiction, that it is more concerned with mindset than action, offers answers in terms of philosophy rather than direction.

So to break things down into something approaching the "rules" of "Millennial" fiction, I think it must:

1. Be primarily concerned with wanting to opt out of reality.
2. Reject opting out in favor of trying, with the idea that trying is the most one can do/be asked to do.

But I'm not really happy with those. Because there are works that seem to follow those "rules" but are not, in my mind, "Millennial." In works like Making Wolf by Tade Thompson and "Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef" by Cassandra Khaw, there are main characters who feel powerless in their situations but who want to opt out of the harm being caused (so check to rule 1). And they do reject opting out in favor of trying to make things better (check to rule 2). Here, however, it is incredibly transparent that by attempting to opt out of the system and then try anyway, the characters prop it up. They become a part of it not because they want to but because participating is the only way they see of getting through without losing what they have. It's interesting that the goal of doing no harm, of having some promised happiness, security, and power, is shared by both of these sets of stories. In those I would label "Millennial," though, the story ends with the determination to do something, to live, where the other stories refuse to look away from what comes next, which is the reliance on privilege to try and change things. The part that "Millennial" stories seem less willing to look at is that trying often leads to reliance on privilege which in turn further entrenches the systems of harm. What Making Wolf and "Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef" do very well is showing that trying is not enough, surviving is not enough.

So I add a third "rule" to my criteria. "Millennial" fiction must also

3. Treat harm done by the system wanting to be opted out from as natural and only able to be minimized, not eliminated.

In that, the third story ("Where the Millennials Went") almost doesn't pass because it argues for changing the system. But as I see it the story only wants to roll back the system to factory settings, arguing that other people broke it but not that it has always been broken. And again, I still like these stories. They basically say don't let guilt at being privileged stop you from trying to do good in the world. And that's an important message. But I do like that these kinds of stories are being complicated by works that call into question more the fundamental need for harm in the system.

I'm struck by the latest issue of Omenana, which is looking at visions of the future. Flash fiction that looks at how the future might be. I contrast these stories to Terraform as a whole. The premise for all of these is the same. But the themes are...different. In Omenana, the emphasis is very much on tearing down walls, on breaking down privilege for everyone so that there can be a base of equality to build from. Basically, "Millennial" stories, like Millennials themselves (myself definitely included here), hesitate from saying "tear it all down," because we still have so much to lose. It maybe doesn't feel that way because we have lost already and we want that loss recognized. It is no less real just because it's a fall from one privileged position to another. It is no less a crisis point. But there is also the recognition on some level that our hurt at this is a selfish hurt, and while there is the knowledge that we should be trying to do something, we don't want that effort to be worse than we have it now. We want to know that we won't have to fall further, won't have to hurt further. For those already lower, bringing everyone down means starting over is possible, abandoning the structures of oppression and trying something new. For those falling, there is an urge to want to halt that fall first. Which is where I see the urge to opt out springing from. We want it better for everyone yes, but first we don't want to lose more.

I am not saying that these stories I have kind of lumped into the boat of "Millennial" fiction are bad (as I said, I like these stories, and they do prompt some introspection as to why I like them, as to why this trend exists). I'm saying they're part of a broader conversation, and one that needs to happen, about privilege and action. The stories do not, after all, merely say that one shouldn't worry about guilt or privilege or loss or harm. The stories say that you can't just ignore it, that you have to recognize the hurt. But, as other works in SFF are demonstrating, just recognizing there is damage done isn't enough to dismantle it. Wanting to not participate is an important step, but one that only props up systems of oppression unless something is done to reach further. Trying is important, yes, but without some clearer direction on how to try, visions of what a Millennial future might look like are...a bit bleak (and not without reason).

Anyway, why do all this? I think I just wanted to share my thoughts on some trends I've seen reading through short SFF recently. I think I hoped that organizing these thoughts would allow me some frame by which to compare stories and also to do some introspection into how I read and write and how I might be able to do both better. I'm not sure if it's helpful at all. I hope, at least, it isn't wildly insulting or offensive. I think that Millennials get blamed for a lot in the US and I understand so much of the feels of these stories. At the same time, there are parallel movements in SFF that I think give some vital contrast and insight into how to complicate the Millennial experience. Or something. Maybe. But thanks for reading (and sorry that was so long).

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, November 6, 2015

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #110

The November issue of Clarkesworld offers up a slew of stories that could be described as apocalyptic. At the very least most are concerned with disasters, with destruction on a large scale, though often these huge extinctions are viewed in the most personal of ways. As posts on a cooking blog. As reports from a woman to her father. As the recollections of one person about the last human. As an unlikely banding together of very different people. Plus a slow and subtle translated piece that makes for a layered and rather meta read. It's a deep issue, and one I should just get to reviewing! 

Art by Julie Dillon

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online November 2015

This issue of Flash Fiction Online is all about throwing curveballs. Each one of these stories surprised me. With their depth, with their twists, with their layers of humanity. Each one can seem simple at first, predictable. But there's a lot more going on than what is immediately apparent. There are subtle ways the stories defy expectations (and some not-so-subtle ways). They take on loss and death, privilege and harm. So I'm just going to get to the reviews!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #185

I have climbed the mountain of October SFF short fiction, and at it's peak is the third issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies out this month. Released just before Halloween, the stories are full of monsters and people, and sometimes monsters who are people and sometimes people who are monsters. The two tales offered up are filled with things lurking in the night, shadows that might be innocent but rarely are. Halloween might be over, but these stories do a nice job of pointing out that monsters don't go away just because the holiday has passed. To the reviews!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Quick Sips - Omenana Issue X

As I counted the last issue of Omenana an October release (though it might have made the very end of September), this marks the second release of the publication in less than a month. The main difference between the two issues is that this one, the special Issue X, is entirely flash fiction, stories that hit and take their bow. And they're good. If I had to pick a theme for the issue I would say it's about islands and separation. Walls and power and revolution. The stories all move and are moving, all work for the theme of visions of the future and all relate back to now, to here, to what maybe we can do to make this world a better place. Time to review!

Art by Shade Tubor

Monday, November 2, 2015

Quick Sips - Books Smugglers October 2015

Well the hits just keep on coming this October with a new story from Book Smugglers. Luckily, it's quite good. And quite creepy. The story is billed as a Halloween installment that also ties into the first contact theme they've been running with and it does a beautiful job of it, crafting a tale of a woman making first contact with something herself, with the outside world, and with a very dark presence approaching. It's a atmospheric piece, and I'm just going to get the review!

Art by Kristina Tsenova