Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quick Sips - Tor dot com June 2016

It's another full month of fiction at Tor dot com with five original fiction that mostly stick to fantasy but with a few science fiction or at least science fictional elements going on as well. It's also something of a mixed bag for me personally, but I think overall the good outweighs the things I didn't quite care so much for. What's for sure is that there's a lot to think about in these stories, from what justice might look like in a post apocalypse to what it might be to have Sasquatch governors. It's what speculative fiction is all about, asking "What if?" and trying to provide a satisfying answer. Now to the reviews!

Art by Alyssa Winans

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #202

The stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are, to me, about choice. In two very different settings, with two very different characters, choice is examined and pulled apart. It's not exactly the most optimistic of issues, as both stories focus in many ways on how sometimes, despite what you choose, there's no real escaping punishment. There's no real justice. It's a view that is shaped by their circumstances, by what they witness and experience. They are dark stories, haunting and beautiful, and I'm going to jump right into the reviews! 
Art by Martin Ende

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Quick Sips - The Sockdolager #6 Summer 2016

This is my first issue reviewing The Sockdolager, and I'm definitely glad I've added it to my list. The goal of the publication is to provide stories that are fun to read. Not stories that are shallow, but stories that breathe life into the reader. That provoke a smile, or a grin, or a laugh. That are full of energy and style. And it delivers. The stories tend a bit more toward the fantasy (and especially contemporary fantasy), but there's some science fiction here as well, and some horror. There's enough variety that nothing gets old, that each story hits well, bows, and clears the stage for the next act. So let's get this show on the road, because it's review time! 
Art by Paul Starr and Alison Wilgus

Monday, June 27, 2016

Quick Sips - Apex #85

If ever you forget that Apex Magazine is a market for dark fiction and horror, just pick up this issue and be reminded. Because the stories and poetry this issue are pretty fucking intensely dark. The stories especially look at violence and fear and cycles of abuse and hate and...well, they aren't exactly happy strolls in the park. But they are compelling, gritty, and good. Though violent and at times bleak, they do reach for hope, and they end in ways that maybe...well, just read them to find out. The poetry adds a nice layer as well, from a creepy series of journal entries to a piece I want put to jazz to a slice of something serene...and inhuman. So without further ado, the reviews!
Art by Joe Badon

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "Medium"

In some ways I'm very glad that I've had a story out almost every week for the past two months, because with everything that's been going on, in America and beyond, has been a bit numbing to me personally, and it's easy to let my thoughts sink into some dark waters. It's been healthy, I hope, to try and think about happy things instead. Like the fact that my contemporary fantasy story, "Medium," is out now in the first ever Book Smugglers Quarterly Almanac! It's an amazing project with a cover illustration based on my story (which is so gorgeous!) and I'm incredibly proud (and humbled) to share a table of contents with such an amazing line up of writers.

Art by Kristina Tsenova

I actually already wrote a bit about this story over at The Book Smugglers blog, so you might already know the kind of inspirations that went into this story. What I didn't go into there and can now is the sort of strange journey this story had to getting published. I actually wrote this story for a themed call (Success). I wanted to work a little bit with the idea of success, and the more traditional superhero story was a great place to start. Part of what I liked about writing this story was playing with victory, and the cost of victory and the responsibility of being a superhero. I think much of the time the emphasis is solely on winning. But in light of things like the Superman movie and beyond, where collateral damage is accepted and not really cared about, I wanted to look at a different kind of success. A moral success.

So that's an added wrinkle in what went into the story. The wrinkle in its publishing adventure is that it was rejected for the call (which is no surprise, as I subbed a lot to that publication and it was all rejected). And because it's sold and out now the sting of this particular rejection is dulled a little and I feel I can talk about it. It's nothing against the very good people who rejected the story, but I was told that the story was the last story rejected. Basically, that they accept 3 stories per issue, and mine was number 4. I think I stared at that email a little bit. I mean, it was nice to know that they liked the story, but I'm not sure I needed to know just how close I was to making the cut. Still, they said I should resubmit it if I thought it would be appropriate for a different theme. The publication, of course, closed for good shortly after.

But the story has a happy ending! Because lo and behold later in the year the Year of the Superhero call went up and I was all over that. All. Over. That! And I am super super excited to be published by The Book Smugglers, who I have admired since they started putting out original fiction. They are a great source of fiction and nonfiction and all things SFF. And I am so pumped to be in the inaugural issue of the Almanac, which has an awesome physical edition that will be coming out early next week. Seriously there is so much awesome swirling around this. The reprints look phenomenal (I've read 2 of them and loved them both). The original fiction not by me is by John Chu!!! I've loved his work at Lightspeed and and beyond and am super excited to once again share a TOC with him (we were both also in QDSF!). And the nonfiction comes from some genre all-stars!

So yeah, definitely check out this collection. I will probably be looking at the other original story as part of my next month's Book Smugglers review, so there's that to look forward to, and otherwise, thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, June 24, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 06/06/2016, 06/13/2016, & 06/20/2016

Today I'm looking at three weeks of content from Strange Horizons, and there is certainly a lot to see. Three original stories, three poems, and two nonfiction pieces anchor what has been a very strong, and very wide-ranging array of pieces. The fiction, though, is pretty heavily contemporary fantasy, stories that mix magic with very different life experiences. Characters of different classes, races, genders, and sexualities all confront magic in their own ways, from ghosts to art to traditions. The poems take readers to far off worlds and plunge into the heart of myths. And the nonfiction looks at history and awards and place. There's a lot to enjoy, so I'm just going to get to the reviews! 

Art by Sandro Castelli

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers June 2016

The Year of the Superhero continues at The Book Smugglers with two stories that combine a nice sense of fun with more touching and serious messages about age, choice, trauma, and  hope. One of the stories acts a bit like a meta-narrative about how superheroes and origin stories and sidekicks don't quite translate out of comic books into the real world. How giving young people powers and telling them to fight crime isn't exactly the most responsible of things. And there's some saying about power and responsibility in comic books that…well, you get the idea. And the other bridges the gap between two novels with a heartwarming story about falling from the sky...and getting back up again. To the reviews! 

Art by Jade Liebes

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceasless Skies #201

Some issues of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are all about violence and darkness. And some, like this one, are a bit more about good old fashioned adventuring. Tracking down a run-away noble. Delving into a forgotten tomb. Finding riddles in stories. Talking (and fighting) out of impossible situations. The stories here have a bit more of a "classic" feel. They're also rather hopeful tales of looking forward, of meeting adventure with a ready wit and readier sword. Time to review! 

Art by Martin Ende

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Quick Sips - Nightmare #45

The great thing about speculative horror that Nightmare Magazine always showcases is how wide a field it is. From contemporary fantasy to off-world science fiction to historical fantasy to basically any speculative genre, horror can be added. This month's issue sees a pair of stories that at first blush seem vaguely similar. But one is a military contemporary fantasy and the other a near-future science fiction and both are creepy in their own ways, filled with strange sights and a darkness lurking, ready to consume. These are stories about place, about darkness stepping out from where it had been confined and into a whole new world. So to the reviews! 

Art by Jeffrey Collingwood

Monday, June 20, 2016

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #73 - People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction - THE FICTION

Though it appeared first in the issue, I'm tackling the original fiction of Lightspeed's People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! after the flash because, well, I needed the extra time. There are ten stories here, and fully half the stories are novelettes, so there is a lot of stuff to get through. Which is good, amazing news. The stories here more than live up to the premise of the issue and the reputation of the publication. These are stories that hit and sink, that confront and confide and conflict. These stories work. They're at turns heartwarming and tragic, darkly humorous and beautifully poetic. These are stories to savo(u)r. To take your time with. So pour yourself something strong (you'll need it for some of these), and make yourself comfortable. To the reviews! 

[For those looking for my thoughts on the Flash Fiction from the issue, go here.]

Art by Christopher Park

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "The Colors of Magic"

So my latest publication is "The Colors of Magic," an m/m/f erotic contemporary fantasy out now from Torquere Press as an individual ebook and as part of the Time of Your Life Anthology.

So this is actually the first erotica I've sold that isn't just m/m, which is slightly weird. I'm bi but I tend to focus more heavily on writing m/m relationships in my erotica in part because I write primarily for queer calls and in part because I'm just a bit more comfortable that way. Which is not to say that I don't write bi characters. Many of the men I write into my stories are bi and just happen to be entering into m/m relationships. The publication I originally wrote this for, though, takes straight and queer stories and so I thought maybe a bi poly relationship might have a better chance of selling. I wasn't really correct, as they rejected it. But even erotica gets more than one chance to sell and when I saw a call that was about graduations I quickly got this ready to send back out.

If I had to boil down this story to something approaching a pitch, I'd call it a more adult Harry Potter where the main three characters are all fucking each other. I wanted to show this stable poly relationship where everyone involved was pretty much on the same page, had come up through life together, had faced down demons together (both literally and figuratively). I always wanted to write a story about the pressures to choose. Because there is a strong pressure that's put on bi people to kind of…pick a side, I guess. To either seem straight or gay. Just as I feel that poly people get told that they need to just make up their minds and pick a person and that will solve everything. Like being in a two-person, monogamous relationship just "fixes" everything. And…well, I want more stories where the characters are allowed to make their own way.

And okay, I also wanted to play with the idea of the Chosen One. Jamie here is the classic Chosen person, fated to help save the world, or save the magical world, at least. And he has, with his friends and lovers, done just that. Multiple times. Consider this a sort of coda to the series, where all the adventures up to now have been defeating The Bad Guy only to still be stuck in a system that's bullshit. It's almost a YA story because it's about giving younger people the ability to chose their own labels and fates. It's about trusting people to make their own decisions. It's about letting young people, especially those who you rely on to save the day, to maybe have some power to guide what they are saving, what they are being asked to sacrifice so much for. It's not surprising that a large number of young people identify as not straight, as much more open to different kinds of relationships. There's a brave queer world out there, and I for one want more of it.

So yeah, this was a really fun story to write, and a fun world to explore. Like with most of my smut, I aim for super adorable and just a bit ridiculous with a kernel of something deeper, darker, and more meaningful. I feel here that allowing the characters to embrace who they are, to embrace each other, is important. It shows some of my frustrations with love triangles and especially ones that seem super queer-bait-y without ever following through and always (ALWAYS) ending things in a straight pairing with any possible bi-ness erased and treated like a joke. Not cool, world. So have this m/m/f fantasy to make things maybe a little bit better and thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Monthly Round is up!!!

You know the drill! My monthly recommendations (and drink pairings) for May 2016 are up over at Nerds of a Feather.

This month my picks are:

Tasting Flight: May 2016

"Breathe" by Cassandra Khaw (Clarkesworld)
"Director's Cut" by Matthew Bright (Harlot Media)
"1957" by Stephen Cox (Apex)
"How High Can Your Gods Count" by Tegan Moore (Strange Horizons)
"Three Points Masculine" by An Owomoyela (Lightspeed)
"Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands" by Seanan McGuire (Uncanny)


"Now Watch as Belinda Unmakes the World" by Lynette Mejía (Flash Fiction Online)
"Espie" by Richard Larson (Terraform)

"Nobody Puts Baby in a Chamber" by Alexis A. Hunter (Mothership Zeta)
Check out my full pairings and reviews over at Nerds of a Feather and, as always...


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #4

The June Mithila Review is out and to me is all about time and weight. About cycles of harm and history and time and intent and the hope of breaking free. The hope of finding a way to something better, to something not tainted with the violence of harm and loss and grief. There's a reaching in these stories and poems, a looking at what works and what doesn't work. What falls apart under the gaze of context and what might have a chance of standing up. It's a great issue with a nice mix of poetry and fiction and it's time to review!
Art by Ashim Shakya

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Quick Sips - Shimmer #31 (June Stuff)

The science fiction issue continues at Shimmer with two more stories this month that examine place and care and struggle. Both stories, as promised in the issue's editorial, make fine use of language to build their worlds, their voices. The stories blood onto the page with strangeness and with yearning and both make use of characters facing the end of something. The end of the world, the end of a single life. There are moments of profound change and resistance and I'm just going to get to those reviews! 

Art by Sandro Castelli

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #10 (June Stuff)

Just when I think I have Uncanny Magazine figured out there comes something of a curve ball. Which, I suppose, is a sort of pattern in itself, but this month's fiction offerings are probably the darkest bunch the publication has put out. These are stories that leak inky waters and blood and darkness. So of course they're about family, and about curses, and about the momentum of violence and oppression. There isn't an awful lot of hope in these tales, but that's part of their beauty and a large part of their tragedy. It's a powerful issue, if not a happy one, that I'm going to review now!

Art by Galen Dara

Monday, June 13, 2016

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus June 2016

June brings a rather heavy story to GigaNotoSaurus, one that builds a complex second world and fills it with war, intolerance, and hope. I'm fascinated by stories that tackle the very delicate ethics of medicine and trying to do good in the face of potentially losing patients. And the story does not look away from the blood, from the risk, from the layers of guilt and pain caused when medicine is something that is not valued or sanctified. It's a difficult story and not exactly a happy one, but it is good and I'm going to just review it already! 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "Fieldwork"

I have a new story out! This one is "Fieldwork," an m/m urban fantasy romance from Dreamspinner Press as part of their A Walk on the Wild Side Daily Dose 2016. It's set in a Chicago where shifters of all shapes and sizes live and work and eat pizza. And, I guess, kinda fall in love. And okay, okay, that's super sappy…but #SorryNotSorry

When I was getting ready to write this story I was mainly aiming to do two things. First, to tell a story about passing and faking something in order to avoid ridicule and scorn. And second, to glory in Chicago-style pizza. I'm from the Chicago area and seriously, anyone who says that Chicago doesn't have the best pizza is obviously wrong and jealous of how amazing it is. There, I said it. I await the masses arriving to troll my pizza preferences but I will stand against the waves of derision some people have for Chicago-style pizza. If there's one thing Chicago does best, it's corruption. But if there's two things, then pizza rounds out the list.

I don't write an awful lot of urban fantasy. And I will admit that I have an aversion to a lot of the shifter fiction, and especially the shifter romance, that's out there. Especially if there's some sort of True Mate thing going on, count me out. It reads super creepy and nonconsensual to me and just no, thanks, moving on. What I wanted to do here was to use shifters in a world where their queerness isn't questioned at all, to stand as a lens by which to look at passing and the pressures to conform to a certain vision of what people expect. Ignacio, the main character, enjoys his work, his friends, and (more or less) his life. But all of that runs through a filter of fear because he's pretending to be a wolf-shifter. The rest of his family is and it's easy enough for him to play along, especially because he gets treated better as a wolf than as what he really is.

And yes, it's not so subtle a metaphor, perhaps. But I did have a lot of fun with it. And I love Ignacio (aka Nacho). It's his fear that speaks to me, his flightiness, his worry. And his love for numbers, for spreadsheets. Reed is a bit more a classic foil for Nacho. Reserved, confident, with just a hint of vulnerability. Reed is drawn to Nacho and feels no need to hide it or fight it. In some ways he doesn't understand why Nacho is so afraid, but that too is intriguing to him. In many ways they mirror the animals that they shift into. At least, that's what I tried to do. Reed the tiger. Nacho the ??? trying to hide his nature. That's what interests me about shifter stories, how the animals act as totems in some ways and how people can those traits and work them into their personalities.

And I just rather like writing about the Midwest, I guess. Writing a story actually set in a fictional Chicago was a lot of fun. Not just the pizza, but because it's a little harder to find things set in the Midwest and not out in New York. There's a lot going on in Chicago and a long history of corruption and violence. The whole Prohibition era is interesting to me and it's easy to see that the city and the state are still dealing with traditions stemming from that time. Corruption and organized crime and all of it, and people doing very good work trying to fight against it. So yeah, there is something of a Prohibition feel that I wanted to infuse into the work, or maybe a post-Prohibition feel, where the bosses are all in jail and the gangs are mostly broken up but there's still this backbone of corruption almost waiting for a return to the days when there was a Capone at the top of things.

And there you have it. I hope it's a fun story. It's a bit long at about 12K, but I think for a stand-alone piece it works. It's also not super erotic, I'll say up front. It's much more a romance, the sort of budding relationship between Nacho and Reed. Basically because they can't have sex while Nacho's still pretending and because sometimes I just want to amp up the cute. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, June 10, 2016

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #117

Anchored by a novella in translation and populated by powerful stories, the June Clarkesworld takes a look at identity and self, harm and loss. The stories all crowd around moments of otherness and bridging otherness, of hurt and soothing hurt, of alien voices and learning to see the human in them. These stories are difficult and raw and imaginative and I almost can't believe that there's The Thing fanfiction but there is and I'm just going to jump into these reviews! 

Art by Vincent LAÏK

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #73 - People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction - THE FLASH

It's here! Lightspeed Magazine's People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction is here!!! And wow. The Destroy! issues have been great since the first go and this third round is no less deep or profound or hitting. Because of the enormous nature of the project, I'm breaking up the issue into its constituent parts and looking first at the flash fiction. I'll be back to look at the longer pieces as well, but that might take a bit longer... These stories, though. There's humor and hope and crushing despair and all the things in between. These pieces of flash know how to hit and hit hard and leave the reader gasping. They are going and there's a lot to get to so to the reviews!

Art by Christopher Park

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online June 2016

The stories in this month's Flash Fiction Online seem all about duality. About something happening that seems like something else. Preening that's really surviving. Healing that's really hiding. The stories show people being confronted with the pain of their past and trying to work through it. And all finding different ways forward. Harnessing the pain to do good. Remembering the hurt to not fall into old patterns. Burying the hurt in order to move on. These stories are compelling and interesting, and I'm going to get to reviewing them.
Art by Dario Bijelac

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Quick Sips - The Dark #13

The second issue of The Dark Magazine's new format is out and I'm still really enjoying how it's working. Especially with very dark stories, sometimes it's better to get smaller bites more often than to sit down and tackle it all in one go. Because The Dark is, undoubtedly, very dark. Even this month's original fiction, which might seem rather tame (and requiring a relatively small amount of trigger warnings), brings up the end of the world, parental abuse, forced feeding, crushing loneliness, and the sickening moment suspended between freedom and isolation. The stories both feature women yearning to be happy, yearning for something carefree and joyous and finding that there life is often filled with situations where there are no good options, just pain and hunger and hurt. So on that cheery note, to the reviews! 

Art by Peter Polach (Apterus)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #200

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is officially 200 issues old! Which wow, is quite the accomplishment, and the celebration means a double issue filled with fantasies that reveal worlds distant and magical or much closer to our own (and still, yes, magical). Characters struggle with guilt and moral dilemmas where there are no good options. People try to heal in the midst of conflict and violence and history and people come together, find comfort in the press of bodies, in moments of small compassions. It's a great collection of tales, well worthy of a celebration. To the reviews!
Art by Martin Ende

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Happy Birthday to Me

So I just turned 30. It's something of a…well, it's a number with a zero in it so I guess it's what people consider a milestone. Woo, three decades of life. Almost that much time being sentient. I wonder at times what 30 means to people. I assume that, in the near-ish past, it was a time for people to look around and say "I've got this life thing about figured out." At 30 people are expected to be making progress. Having families. Living that American dream. And…and I don't know whether to laugh or vomit.

I'm 30 right now and I'm not really looking around and thinking "I've got this all figured out." I do not. I'm getting published a bit more than I was last year, or the year before that. I'm doing more reviews, and interacting with more people. I think I'm starting to find what works for me. Maybe. Just a little bit. But in other ways not at all. I was asked at the Baby Writer panel at WisCon what I do to cope with trying to write, which sort of made me pause. Because, in my mind, I'm not sure I do. I'm still flailing, trying to maybe find something that might work. Trying to find balance. Failing. Trying to find it some other way. Like life is some sort of block castle and mine keeps falling to pieces. So take a breath, start again, and try not to look at the cool castles other people have.

I think when I was in school I used to think "By 25 I'll have a novel published. Maybe two novels." Obviously that didn't happen. At 30 my thought is…"Maybe I'll make it to SFWA eligible in a year or two." A novel? Unless I can publish a book of reviews I don't think that's in the cards. Maybe soon I'll want to pull that trigger. But then, I write between thirty and forty thousand words of reviews a month. It's not exactly possible for me to just write…more. So either I would have to stop writing reviews (which I don't want to do) or stop writing short fiction (which I don't want to do). Or write less of everything (which I don't want to do). Ah life, the process of figuring out which thing I don't want to cut I need to cut.

But perhaps this sounds a bit bleak. I don't really mean it to be. Or not all bleak. I think age is something that reminds us that there isn't time to write all the stories, all the novels. That time exists. That I could be farther, more successful. That if I knew at 20 what I know at 30 I'm not sure that I'd be doing the same thing. But also knowing that I'm in a better place on so many levels than I was at 20. That I do know more what I'm doing. That I have more figured out. And that's…well, that's my goal in some ways. To be able to look back and say "I have it more figured out than I did a year ago." That even if I'm not lighting the world on fire with my work, I'm still further than I was last year. That next year I'll be further than I am now.

30 is, after all, just a number. No more important or meaningful than 29 or 31. And I have things to celebrate this year. My urban fantasy m/m romance "Fieldwork" is available now from Dreamspinner. My superhero story "Medium" is soon to be out in the first Book Smugglers Quarterly Almanac (with art based on my story and it is SO GORGEOUS). My erotic m/m/f wizards story is due out from Torquere at the end of the month. I have over a dozen stories either out or forthcoming this year plus well over a hundred reviews and blogposts. I was on my first convention panels at WisCon. I'm in a fledgling local writing group that's going okay. I have an amazing partner and a house full of hilarious pets and awesome books. I am 30. Happy Birthday to me. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, June 3, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/16/2016, 05/23/2016, & 05/30/2016

Okay, so closing up May is proving to take longer than anticipated, but the good news is there's tons of great stuff from this month to enjoy, including another three weeks of content from Strange Horizons. Three fiction pieces, three poems, and a pair of nonfiction makes this a rather weighty post, and it's definitely not any lighter when you look at the subject matter. Loss and growth and guilt dominate—characters stuck in cycles and wanting to know where to go, what to do, where their place is. And with all this great content, I should just get to the reviews!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Quick Sips - Terraform May 2016

There is a part of me that stares in shock at the stories in this month's batch of Terraform SF offerings. Not just because they are rather shocking, about dangerous unknowns and the human tendency to push forward without thinking things through the most thoroughly. But also because all of these stories actually stick to the under 2,000 word guideline. Which means all of these stories know how to hit and bow and clear the stage, know how to reveal a future that teases, that compels, but that leaves so much deliciously unanswered. Time to review!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Quick Sips - Plasma Frequency Q2 2016 Part 1

May might be over but I'm perhaps a little behind on reviews so the May-train keeps on running with a look at the first half(ish) of Plasma Frequency's second quarter issue. Website issues have prevented some of the stories from being available and an art issue has prevented the issue itself from being ready yet, but I'm hoping both of those things will be fixed soon because these stories are quite good. Full disclosure: I have a story in this issue, which is available to read on the website now. Obviously, I will not be looking at it. But the rest of the stories are fair game, and present a fascinating array of science fictional visions circling around, well, circles and cycles of loss and resistance. Time to review!