Sunday, January 31, 2016

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

This is it, my friends. You've stood by as I've shipped my favorite relationships. And while I've shivered under the covers waiting desperate for dawn thanks to my favorite horror. And while I've wept enough rivers of tears to sail an armada on because of my favorite emotional stories. And even while I've revved my engine and worn my sunglasses at night in honor of my favorite ACTION! of 2015. But now we come to the final Sippy category, a category so mysterious that it defies the very nature of definitions...I think... Because the final Sippy category is--

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

Sometimes there are stories that just refuse to be placed into a specific box. Stories that, when looking back on them, I can't quite pick out one element that made them memorable. Not that the stories from previous categories were at all simple, but these ones feature cakes made from dead people and were-helecopters and fox spirits and just so many things that made me want to honor them for being...well, strange. And amazing. So instead of thinking of myself as lazy, I will try to think of this category as the wide net to make sure I don't let any really weird tales slip away. And the winners are...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Quick Thoughts - My Favorite Longer Reads of 2015

So I've been loving running the Sippys. Want to know my favorite stories of 2015? Check out the Sippys (which sadly end tomorrow with the fifth and final category). But what about longer works? Novels and graphic novels and poetry chapbooks and…uh…other things? I figured today I would go through my favorite reads of 2015, which is to say my five-star rated reads that made it to my Goodreads (if you want to see all my 2015 reads, feel free).

DISCLAIMER! These are not things that necessarily came out in 2015. Some of these are older but new-to-me. Keeping up on new releases while also catching up on the near-infinite number of books I haven't read is a delicate game, and one that's a bit fraught thanks to ideas of canon and all. But I have a fair balance this year of things that are brand new and things that are contemporary but not new and things that are definitely not new. Anyway anyway, to the list!

I actually feel rather bad I hadn't read this one sooner, because I had intended to any number of times but…well, never did. And what the fuck was I thinking, because it is amazing. Deep and intense and troubling and this look at both a period of time in general but more than that the story of family and people and the relationship between father and son and between both men with the conspicuously absent mother/wife. And yeah, so glad that I've read this and definitely looking forward to tracking down the second volume.

I love the structure of this novel, the way that it's not linear and is basically a collection of texts. It's constructed with such care and mystery and power and the setting is amazing, a taste of a solar system from the dreams of the past, where each world is an unspoiled land for humans to exploit—I mean explore. The voices shine here and the different texts combine and complicate each other in an amazing and delightful fashion. One of the many books out in 2015 that I absolutely loved.

Speaking of 2015 books that I loved, this one came out fairly early in the year and it is amazingly fun, a bit of steam western with characters that feel real and alive and a setting that breathes a history that was and wasn't. It's great because it blends fantasy and research and it's quite surprising to find out which elements from the story are fabricated and which are pulled relatively whole from the actual past. And the plot is tight and the action amazing and it all just works.

I've been meaning to read this for a while and oh my GLOB! I was not disappointed. I'm a sucker for m/m romantic plots and this books weaves one into an epic science fiction with expert skill. The two leads are complex and the setting is amazing. The plot is sufficiently huge and brings up eugenics and diasporas and reconciliation and war and the supporting characters are great, too, the whole package a brilliant mix of science fiction action with character-driven moral and romantic complications. So good. I can't wait to get to the other books in the series (hopefully later this year).

This book is amazing and the setting and the complexity and fuck I just want to read this over and over again. The way that it plays with how language shapes culture and perception and how language can be used to try and be better is just great. And yes, there are still problems but that idea that being better is a process that's never over but that things can get better, can be more just and fair, is just yes, all the yes. The story touches on politics and sexuality and a sort of socialism and I just sort of love this book for the hope inside it, and also the sense of continual revolution and resistance.

Post apocalyptic dystopia with kickass bisexual characters sex in Brazil? Yes please! I don't think it's a surprise that some of the books on this list are typically lumped into YA, because YA is actually amazing at showing that dissatisfaction with the way things are, with being content with imperfect systems. And this novel is all about resistance and art and voice and age. It's about love and about sex and about growing up. And I love it with an unashamed passion. The setting is vibrant and the characters are great and I CRIED SO MUCH!!! Ahem. Sorry. Yes, definitely read this one.

So I liked Half-Resurrection Blues but I LOVED this book. It is amazing and comes out swinging and is basically a huge middle fiction to appropriation wrapped up in a bow of generational change and just basically everything that makes YA such fun and so valuable. There's just so many amazing characters and the magic flows into the setting into the art into everything and it's a great read, combining heritage and superheroics and magic and music and art and does it all with style.

And there you have it! Most of these I have actually reviewed (sometimes multiple times) and you can find my reviews by clicking on the author's tag either on the side bar or at the bottom of this post (added bonus is you can see my reviews of their other words that I've read recently as well). Anyway, there you have it, my favorite reads of 2015! Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Quick Sips - Late January 2016

This was certainly a full month of, with most weeks seeing double releases of original fiction. And the second half of the month sees a nice mix of material, stories that border on funny at times but that mostly stick to the shadows. Whether that means small creatures living in the shadows of bigger things or assassins prowling the shadows in search of their target, the stories all carry a certain weight and darkness that makes them interesting and dense reads. The fantasies also range from solidly second world skulduggery to urban fantasy catering, so there's a nice range in there as well. And all in all the stories might not always be the most fun, but they do shine a light on the darkness. So let me get to reviewing!
Art by Rovina Cai

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/18/2016 and 01/25/2016

It's the end of the month, which means at Strange Horizons there's something of a break when it comes to original fiction but there's definitely no shortage of poetry and even a bit of nonfiction to keep readers coming back. And it might fall rather on the surreal, creepy, and unsettling side of things, but there's also a subtle joy and hope in these works that make them compelling instead of depressing, that call for action instead of apathy. From a story about a skinless god to an article about the energy of science fiction, the reads are dense and complex but also quite good. To the reviews!

Art by Patricio Betteo

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #191

The new Beneath Ceaseless Skies is out and features two stories that surprised me. I don't really mean that they twist, exactly, but rather that they played with my expectations on what was going on. On what I thought was going on and where I thought the stories were going. By challenging and complicating tropes, by some nice and layered characterization. By refusing to be as simple or straightforward as I had thought. So color me pleasantly surprised and impressed at these tales of "classic" fantasy. And now, to the reviews!
Art by Xiao Ran

Monday, January 25, 2016

Quick Sips - Terraform January 2016

So I've been reviewing Terraform for a year now, and I must say that I think it does a nice job of collecting science fiction stories that provide a mix of social commentary and tech idolatry. Not that these stories are especially different or necessarily more innovative than anything else being published in short SFF, but as a publication Terraform has a vision and does a good job of delivering on it. Not so much on sticking to its published guidelines (namely the under 2k bit), and I might personally not care for the practices of any place that doesn't actually respond to all submissions with at least a form rejection, but I'm here to look at the stories and I continue to find myself digging the directions these visions of the future take. So yeah, here's to another year of looking forward!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

THE SIPPY AWARDS - The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action in Short SFF

Hello and welcome to everyone's favorite awards that no one asked for, the Sippys! So far I've managed to ship my favorite relationships, cower in fear at my favorite scares, and totally not cry over my favorite tragic and/or beautiful stories of 2015. And there's still two more categories of Sippys to go! This week is all about the stories that get the heart pumping, that made me lean forward in my seat and read a little faster. Because fourth up is--

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

There are those who complain that short SFF these days are, well, boring. Too luminous, too poetic, too metaphorical. There are those who pine for the days of the pulp science fictions that prioritized action and plot over subtlety or meaning. To those people I ask: what the fuck are you reading? I have seen zero indication that stories now are any less intense or visceral than those written at any point in the past (that these people who complain about the decline of compelling short SFF often identify as fans of Lovecraft...confuses me). And stories today use action in subtle and profound ways, to entertain of course but also to challenge and to goad, to complicate and to reveal some ugly truths. And today I'm focusing on stories that bring the action, the battles big and small, that manage to take a breakneck pace and a visual flare and craft something deeply personal. And the winners are...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Send in the Clowns (part 2)

So Clowns: An Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix is officially available to buy (will be available in print soon I hear) and it features, among a great list of other stories and writers, a piece by me titled "Pushpin and Pullpin." Definitely go and check that out. My infinite thanks go to my partner, who helped me from making a couple of huge mistakes with the story and is just generally an amazing person. 

What follows are some notes on the story, and may be a bit spoilery, but I will try to keep things moderate because I know few people will have gotten their copies so soon. But yeah, "Pushpin and Pullpin" grew basically out of the reaction I had to reading the first Coulrophobia stories and seeing just how much they differed from my first attempt to write a clown flash fiction. As you all have seen the…uh…glory that was "The Thirteenth Sect" (posted on this blog yesterday ago), you know that attempt 1 was…well, a bit more of a humor. Humor action science fiction (because the original call asked for genre mash-ups) and I was channeling my inner April Fool's Day when thinking up that story. 

So yeah, "Pushpin and Pullpin" went in a very different direction, imagining a pair of clowns linked in some disturbing ways. It really started with the names, with the idea that one always acted and one always suffered. Obviously Pullpin was named after the action of arming a grenade, something quite easy, then sort of tossing it to Pushpin and well, it's much more difficult to get the pin back in, so… Once the names were done the rest flowed pretty well (save for a few glaring things that were worked out in revision). In case anyone was wondering, I had like an entire clown lineage for them, from their clown "father" Pinhead to their "grandfather" Pinhole and beyond. It never quite worked to include it in the story though so it got cut. I loved the names, though, because there's so much there, the metaphors quite thick because Pinhead can be evoking the idiocy and slapstick of clowning but also the divine in the angelic head of a pin reference. 

And I guess more than just playing with names, I wanted to get at the cathartic side of clowning. The tragic side. Because that is a tradition that's quite old, that the clown suffers for the amusement of others, that they provide that outlet, that target. That the clown dresses the way they do in some ways to make them different so that they can suffer and people can be comfortable with it, so that people won't see the person but the representation. Sort of how the whole cartoon/Bugs Bunny thing tends to work, that Bugs' opponent is the stooge that we want to see suffer. The stand in for the people we all hate (your Elmer Fudds and Yosemite Sams of the world). So yeah, I wanted to play with that and maybe a little bit with choice as well. 

In truth, clowns do kind of freak me out. I grew up on the Bozo Show (was even in the audience when an infant, though obviously I have no memory of this), but I do find the idea of clowning kind of unsettling. So hurrah, at least these calls gave me ample opportunity to explore that side of me. Hurrah I say! But if you have the time/money, do consider buying the book. Unlikely story does amazing work and the original Coulrophobia issue was great and reprinted in its entirety here with so many more stories! So many more! And one by me! Thanks for reading! 

All the best, 

Charles Payseur

Friday, January 22, 2016

Quick Bonus - The Thirteenth Sect

In honor of my Clown: An Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix story, "Pushpin and Pullpin," be available, I figured I would trot out this other piece of clown-based flash that was rejected for the original Coulrophobia call. It made it to round 2 but fell short, and it's proven a bit too difficult to place so I thought I'd just post it here. It's, well, it's rather odd. Very different than "Pushpin and Pullpin," but hopefully good for a chuckle. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Quick Sips - Nightmare #40

You know, I've said this before but I think if I had a "break-out performance of 2015" award to give, it would go to Nightmare Magazine. I have the feeling that it's often-times overlooked because of its focus on horror and dark fantasy, and I will admit that some of the stories have not been my favorites, but month after month the publication manages to challenge me, to serve up the unexpected and the dark and to push me to think more, to read better. I don't think any other publication has netted as many Sippy Awards as Nightmare, and if this issue is anything to go by, 2016 looks like it might be even better. Two stories (as always), and both challenging and deep and layered and good. Both take a look at the past, both the past as it was and might have been, both shedding light on how far we've come and how far we have still to go. It's a great issue that I will!
Art by Kirsi Salonen

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus January 2016

Today I'm adding a new publication to my to-review list with GigaNotoSaurus, a venue that offers work that skew a bit on the longer side. Which is good, because I'd like to read a few more longer stories, and with one story a month it seems like I should be able to add this without fear of overextending myself. This month's story is a nicely weird piece of magic realism with a strong vein of horror and a trippy feel to it. Not the longest of pieces, but plenty to get my feet wet with the publication. To the review!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination #232

Kicking off the new year right, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination is back with two very short stories that still manage some weight, some punch, and so depth. The stories both fall into the fantasy side of thing, but more than that both feature characters dealing things things a bit out of the ordinary, magical events that, at first, they weren't really ready to deal with and now have become...well, not used to them, but they are now able to act. To face the strangeness and the powers that seem aligned against them and to take moral action. The stories pair well and I should just get to reviewing them.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Quick Sips - Early January 2015

Well is certainly back as far as original fiction is concerned. After being fairly light in November and December, January already has three original stories and is slated to have another three before the month is out. So I'm breaking up my review into two parts. The first three stories are all embrace their inner fantasy. For some, that means second worlds that dazzle and delight, for others it means fantasy staples like warriors and swords and blood, and for others it means the lurking danger that borders the real world. Each is interesting and while not all of them are exactly fun, they're all of them good and I'm going to get to my reviews!

Art by Richard Anderson

Sunday, January 17, 2016

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

Obviously by now it should be clear that Sippys are going to replace all other awards as the premier short fiction award. Already I can imagine awards nights and packed convention centers with writers arriving in limos and--okay maybe I exaggerate. But hey, the award that no one wanted continues! Relationships have been shipped and the lights are all blazing lest the creatures of horror find me, so that means it's time for the next Sippy category. Third up is--

The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy 

for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

Maybe I cry a little too much when it comes to reading fiction. Perhaps. I know society at large is a bit focused on real men not crying or some bullshit, but good stories are good stories and there is just something about reading certain ones that just gets to me. That wrecks me. And I love that, in part because it's such a release of emotions, one part catharsis and one part just really fucking good prose. Of course, some of the stories featured elsewhere in the Sippys also made me cry, but the five below did it with the most gusto. The winners are...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Reading Reviews

I think it's safe to say that I have thoughts on reviewing. Much like I have thoughts on stories, I could write my own reviews of reviews and how successful I think they are at what I think they're trying to do. Obviously I don't think there's some metric of a good review, some eternal and objective guide, just as I believe that no such guide exists for stories. There is no formula and no approach that necessarily has more value than any other. But I do think that some reviews are more valuable than others just as I think that some stories are more valuable than others. But why the fuck should anyone care? Why am I bothering to say this when it might seem obvious given my philosophy on reviewing stories? 

The easy answer is that Lois Tilton leaving Locus got me thinking about reviewing. Thrown into this has been some general chatter falling out of that about reviewing, which opened up the old discussion of who reviews are for in general. Because, it is argued, no one pays attention or no one changes their habits based on reviews, or…well, there are a number of reasons why reviews exist in a strange place where they can be useful or useless, depending on whose complaining to who. Some said that reviews are really just for authors, that it's a sort of circle jerk of ego stroking. Of course, the same voices were sort of decrying the "state of short SFF" in the same breath, so I kind of think it has more to do with the reviewers perhaps liking stories that people don't think are worthy of time or attention. 

Now, okay, Lois Tilton has walked away from Locus, where she reviewing an awful lot of stories. And, okay, to review some reviews, some of the work she produced there was…questionable. And not just in the "there were some reviews I agreed with and some I didn't." There are many reviews I disagree that I still think are good reviews, because they are insightful and because they are well written and because reviewing is a form that does take some work. Are reviews bad because they are negative? No. Indeed, negative reviews can be both damned entertaining and damned important texts. Are reviews bad because they are glowing? No, for much the same reason. I love sharing in someone's joy at reading a text, and what they manage to pull out from the words and techniques. When I have a problem with reviews my biggest complaint is failure to engage the text. Failure to try. A review that is half about how the author of a work's name is like a different author's name and is therefore confusing=not trying. A review that is basically complaining about how the story isn't really science fiction but is marked as science fiction=not trying. 

Not that I'm trying to tell anyone their business, but I do think that reviewing and reviews deserve to be viewed with some measure of critical gaze and I just want to sort of go through how I look at and judge reviews. Because, more than anything, I want a review to help me think about a text. Either after I've read a thing and want to see other reactions to see if they help crystallize my own thoughts or before I read a thing in order to get an idea of what to expect. Now, there's also reading reviews to get recommendations on what to read and there's even reading reviews because reviews are fun to read. In all of these, though, I value honest engagement with a text. And if I see that a reviewer has two sentences to say on a text and they have nothing really to do with the actual work, I know to kind of stay away. 

But what I think I'm trying to say in all of this is that reviews have value. Perhaps I'm biased because I review, but I think that reviewing has value outside what it can do for publishers. It's about energizing readers and connecting with stories, with texts. It's about passion and it's about expression in many ways just as much as the works that inspire the reviews. Like fanfiction in some ways, reviewing can't really exist without the original texts, and like fanfiction there's a vast range of reviews out there. Some are incredible. Some are…not. Hopefully I manage to hit somewhere in between (to lean more incredible than suck is my goal). 

But mostly it would be nice to be able to talk about reviewing as one talks about texts in general rather than as glorified advertising. Just as I cringe away when people start talking about "the problem with short SFF these days is…" so too do I cringe when people start talking about "the problem with reviewing these days is…" We are living in a golden age of access to amazing reviews (unfortunately also a golden age of people not getting paid for them, but that's another thing entirely), with people being able to see review of stories and books and movies (via Amazon, Goodreads, etc.) from users all of the world. I would like to think this is a good thing, not just in order to make money for people and businesses, but to complicate how we talk about and approach texts. Because that is amazing. Thanks for reading! 

All the best, 

Charles Payseur

Friday, January 15, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 01/04/2016 and 01/11/2016

Today I'm looking at two weeks of Strange Horizons material, which normally means a bit of everything except that I don't feel quite qualified to talk about the nonfiction (though it is quite interesting and I recommend checking it out). The fiction, though, is strange and fantastic, two stories that approach history and faith and journeys for meaning. And the poetry features departures and ghosts, of people lost and of the children we used to be. Everything works quite well and it's time to review!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Quick Sips - Apex #80

Fuck this is a huge issue of Apex Magazine. And I know, I know, that's the whole point, because this is the publication hitting eighty issues! It's also the reward issue for the subscription drive from late 2015, which means there is...a lot of fiction and poetry. Six pieces of original fiction and seven original poems make this the largest I've read this month, and it's not like the stories are all that short, with no flash and one story tipping the scales at 14k. So yes, it's big. But is it good? Yes. So much yes. Two stories by Ursula Verson bookend the fiction, circling around age and friendship and changing roles, and the gooey center features stories about inequality and difference and the unseen that exists all around us, about worlds within worlds, about danger and otherness and it's dark and effective and yes, very good. The poetry mixes science and love, loss and grief. All in all, it's a hell of an issue, a giant thank you to fans of the publication, and I'm going to review it, okay?

Art by Matt Davis

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #190

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is officially into 2016 and it's first issue of the new year is full of tales of blood and loss, of lives cut short before their time only to be given a second chance. Both stories feature charactesr who experience loss and violence and the threat of violence. And both, ultimately, are about justice and what it means to pay for one's sins. For all that, I'd hesitate to call these stories of revenge. There's something deeper to them, not just an eye for an eye but more an atonement, a balancing of scales, and both stories end with a sort of righteous hope and a promise that while some things can never be made right, they can at least be moved on from. I love the way these stories show characters defined by loss who find a way through that, who shake off such simple definitions and embrace realities more complex. But I should stop pontificating and just get to those pesky reviews!
Art by Xiao Ran

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Monthly Round is Up!

The Monthly Round is currently up over at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together. My favorite stories of December 2015 paired with adult beverages.

This month's picks are...

Tasting Flight: December 2015

"The Lily and the Horn" by Catherynne M. Valente (Queers Destroy Fantasy)
"Memory Tree" by Jes Rausch (Apex #79)
"The King of Ashland County" by Caspian Gray (Nightmare #39)
"Interlingua" by Yoon Ha Lee (Uncanny #7)
"When We Die on Mars" by Cassandra Khaw (Clarkesworld #111)
"Be Seeing You" by Madeline Ashby (Terraform)


"The Log Goblin" by Brian Stavely (Tor)
"Tigerskin" by Kurt Hunt (Strange Horizons)
"The Snow Globe" by Kate Hall (Flash Fiction Online)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Quick Sips - Shimmer #29

I was told a while ago to expect Shimmer to run a few "heavier" Shimmer issues, and I think I finally get what was meant, because the stories this month both weigh in at over or near 5k a piece. But hey, more great stories = fine by me! Both stories available this month are dark and nebulous, ambiguous and mysterious, about the power of loss. In some ways both also look at how gender and gender expectations can become cages and vehicles for pain and damage. They are soft story, horrifying in how they hint at the borders of humanity and...something else, but also in how they distance themselves from the horror they brush against. They are dark water whose bottoms are concealed, that could be any depth at all. And I should get to reviewing them.

Art by Sandro Castelli

Sunday, January 10, 2016

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

And you thought maybe this was over? After just one week? Fat chance! No, Sippy is back and will continue to be back every Sunday in January. With relationships safely shipped out, it's time for the Sippy to set it's drunken gaze elsewhere. But where? Under the bed, perhaps? In the closet, where none dare tread?  Second up is--

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

I will fully admit to being a complete scaredy-cat when it comes to most things. Scary movies? Nuh-uh (couldn't even watch Ernest Scared Stupid as a kid because it was too intense). But scary stories? Yes please. There is something about a well-crafted horror story that just makes me itch for more. Maybe I'm a secret masochist, but horror has provided some of my very favorite stories of the year. Indeed, if I had to pick one stand-out publication this year it would probably be Nightmare Magazine. As the below list might highlight. In any event, let's get to the winners...

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Quick Thoughts - 2015 Statistics

So 2015 is officially over and done, and, as promised, I have stats for you all. Now, maybe you've noticed that I am rather…a fan of statistics. Well I am. So to have an entire year of data, without holes, is amazing. So amazing. And instead of frontloading this post with analysis of the data, I will start things out by just posting it. So yeah:

2015 Stats

Month # Stories # Words Average Words <1500 1500-7500 >7500 Shortest Longest
January 61 306695 5028 5 47 9 911 15805
February 60 221820 3697 13 42 5 349 15347
March 63 242053 3842 13 47 3 213 14004
April 67 280780 4191 14 46 7 237 22548
May 50 222728 4455 5 42 3 510 14373
June 70 276295 3947 16 47 7 142 19323
July 57 271079 4756 6 40 11 638 14800
August 57 221554 3887 8 45 4 97 15034
September 52 228589 4396 6 43 3 543 15000
October 89 356908 4010 23 58 8 349 28027
November 55 238754 4341 7 41 7 205 13714
December 61 251850 4129 10 48 3 250 14475
Total 742 3119105 4223 126 546 70 97 28027

And there you have it. I will start out by saying: wow. Thank you, writers of the world. Thank you for giving me 742 different stories to read this year. That's over three million words of reading. That's…well, that's quite a bit. And by and large I have enjoyed the vast majority of those stories. So yeah, my thanks go out to anyone who writes and anyone who publishes and anyone who inspires great stories. You rock. Keep on keepin' on. 

I want to look a bit at the Total row a bit, aside from the actual totals. The average word count is quite interesting to me, because it does seem to be (in my experiences at least) about the "preferred" length most publications list on their guidelines. So it's not exactly a lie. Of course, some of that might be trended down a little because the stories I look are more likely to be under 1500 words than they are over 7500 words. I've talked about this in the past, but I suspect a lot that has to do with the fact that I do not read many novellas, or publications that put out novellas. Tor is about the only publication that regularly puts out work of that length. If I read F&SF, Asimov's, and Analog I would certainly expect that average word count to creep up a bit. Of course, if I read Daily Science Fiction I expect that average would go down. Those are really the biggest holes in my reading, and they aren't holes I'm likely to close any time soon. With the sheer volume of work I try to review, it's just not really possible to keep up on everything (sorry!). 

But yeah, just to touch on the by the numbers word counts. Of the 742 stories, only 70 qualify for the novelette category for the Hugos. The Hugos? Why yes, I might take this time to suggest maybe possibly thinking about shifting some categories in the Hugos. Just looking at things by the numbers, that's 70 novelettes or novellas that I read and 672 short stories. I actually read more flash fiction (work under 150) than I read novellas and novelettes combined. Especially because it's difficult to compete with longer short stories as a flash piece, flash tend to be excluded from things. Which is a shame, because flash is amazing. It would be nice to see flash maybe get an award category somewhere. But okay, okay, I'll quiet down about that. Obviously there is a great range of story lengths, from 97 words to 28027 words. That's…a bit difference. It's great that there is room for all these different tales. 

So now to the month-to-month breakdowns. October was absolutely crazy. 89 stories, including the longest story of the year, It snagged the most stories, most total words, longest story, most flash fiction stories, and most regular short stories. It was also in the top three for novelette or longer stories and about middle of the road as far as average word count is concerned (probably dropped because of all that flash). Longest average story, longest shortest story, and least number of flash fiction stories came in January, which also had the second most total words of any month. Least total words and shortest story came in August, and least total stories, least flash fictions stories, and tied for least novelettes and higher came in May. There really isn't too much a drastic shift month to month in any category, though obviously there are small things like special issues with lots of flash or lots of novelettes and some months just seem kind of slow. I'm actually surprised I started out as fast as I did, with so much in January, because 2016 seems to be off to a slow start. Still, there's time to turn that around. 

All said, I'm rather pleased with how 2015 went, review-wise. I wrote 313 posts for Quick Sip Reviews, and while I somewhat suspect my stats will decrease some in 2016, I think I'll still do all right. Anyway, there are the stats. Perhaps I will post the master list of stories I've reviewed at some point, complete with typos and copy/pasted word counts (where they weren't available from the publisher). Thanks for reading! 

All the best, 

Charles Payseur

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #8 (January Stuff)

Today I'm looking at the latest from Uncanny Magazine, which kicks off it's second full year. It's once more brought a strong mix of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, looking at the things that bring us together, the things that keep us apart. The fiction revels in the strange and magical, the poetry is dark as shadow, and the nonfiction is sporting a pocket protector and a letter jacket. It's a nice mix of elements, nothing really dominating thematically but each piece strong, honed, and giving each space to succeed on their own. So time to get to some reviews!

Art by Priscilla H. Kim

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #68

January is always a month to focus on beginnings and endings, and Lightspeed Magazine is doing just that with four stories that circle around the idea of life and death and life in death and death in life, all messy and all complex and all quite good. The science fiction outweighs the fantasy a bit in word count but I'm not sure about in emotional wallop, as all the stories this month hit hard and take no prisoners. From a story about bodies and oppression and abuse to one about love and death and loss, these tales blend light and darkness liberally and effectively, presenting a fitting opening to the new year. Time to review!

Art by Galen Dara

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #112

The first Clarkesworld issue of 2016 certainly doesn't pull it's punches. Weighing in at over 40k of original fiction, it's on the heavy side, both length-wise and message-wise. The stories are dense, rather subtle, and not overly cheery. But inside these entirely science fictional stories are examinations of inequality and value. Questions of what makes life worth living, and what humanity requires. Stories of love and challenge and pushing the boundaries of human experience while still grasping at what makes us human. So yeah, let the reviews begin!

Art by Julie Dillon

Monday, January 4, 2016

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online January 2016

2016 is officially here, and my first review of an actual issue is, of course, Flash Fiction Online. Why? Well, firstly because the publication is always out on time, the first day of the month, and because it's just the right length for kicking off the new month and the new year. Three flash fiction stories, all razor-sharp and punchy and complex, the issue continues to provide high quality (very) short stories month after month. This issue is all about starting over, which is fitting for the new year. The stories all circle around the idea, either of going back to try life again or else leaving behind an old life to start a new one or else having to keep going after a loss. The stories show how people handle the idea of endings and beginnings, and there's a lot to like in them. So let's start the first reviews of 2016!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Sunday, January 3, 2016

THE SIPPY AWARDS - The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF

The Sippy Awards are upon us! Know ye excellent short fiction and, wait, no...rejoice! Yes, that's the ticket. Rejoice, for the hour of the award that no one asked for has come. I mentioned a while ago that I'd be running these, and here is the first. The format will be the same for each award. There will be five total awards, and five stories will be featured, with one "Big Sip" and four regular-sized Sippy Awards. First up is--

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

That's right, it's all about relationships today. I'm a sucker for a good love story, but not all of the stories below are happily-ever-afters. Indeed, a good relationship is one that's messy, that's complex. That's alive. These are stories with relationships at their hearts, and that do a damn fine job of showing people trying to find in each other a great many things: forgiveness, escape, redemption, acceptance. And these are the stories that I picked out as containing my favorite relationships.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Quick Thoughts - A New Year

Okay everyone, 2015 is officially on the books. Done. Welcome, 2016!

I will no-doubt have some stats to post about soon enough for the year, but as I looked back last week, this week I want to look forward. To how I want to tackle the new year. Which, surprise surprise, isn't all that different to how I tackled last year. I started this blog because I wanted a place to give my thoughts on short SFF (fiction, poetry, and nonfiction). That is still the case. I love SFF, and I love the freedom that short SFF affords, the chances that it takes, the voices that it highlights. Now, short SFF is a mercurial thing. Sometimes it seems even the best of stories is swallowed up by the sheer tide of work coming out. But fuck, I think it's a tide worth swimming against. Worth holding up a story, a poem, and saying "This. This is amazing. Read this."

In that vein, tomorrow will mark the start of the First Annual Sippy Awards! Which have been killing me to pick, because I have loved so much put out this year. I already recommend nine stories every month at Nerds of a Feather, so cutting down that list to just twenty-five for the entire year, when sometimes it is agonizing choosing only nine a month, has been an exercise in hard decisions. But what I want to do with what voice I have is to showcase stories I love. And to promote thinking about and discussing short SFF.

So what more can you expect in 2016? Well, in the world of novels I will be participating in the K. Tempest Bradford Reading Challenge, so my Quick Links will likely be filled with those reviews. I will not be extending the challenge to short fiction, because I still want to review every piece of original fiction that I can, and review full issues regardless of ToC. I feel this might be a bit of a dodge, but I do think it's important to keep looking at everything I can, especially because policing who qualifies and who doesn't when it comes to short fiction can be impossible. Not everyone is out or can be out, and I don't want to be that asshole who is going around picking works based on author name alone and how non-white they sound. The truth is that I don't trust myself to be able to do due-diligence when it comes to fact-checking each author I would read, so I'm just leaving short SFF as is for 2016.

I also have a hankering to do something along the lines of interviews with peeps doing short SFF in 2016 (called, of course, Quick Questions), but I have no idea when I might be able to get this going. My plate is...full at the moment, and I need to make sure that I keep up on my commitments elsewhere. Just saying, though, that I would love to sit down and talk to some people about their stories and about short SFF in general. So I hope that maybe I can add that to the lineup. Of course, I will be a little hard-pressed to find time to post all of this. At 313 posts in 2015, I clocked in at exactly averaging six a week. Not exactly a lot of space to add more, but who knows?

I'd also love to get more involved with contributing elsewhere. I was thrilled to participate in K. Tempest Bradford's "Best of..." post and I've been a few other places around the internets, and I just love talking about genre and short SFF and everything. But again, I don't want to overbook myself (well, more than I already do...). So yeah. And if anyone wants to shout-out some ideas or suggestions in the comments, feel free. What would  you like to see in 2016? Anyway, thanks for reading. 2015 is dead. Long live 2016!

All the best,

Charles Payseur