Monday, October 31, 2016

Quick Sips - Terraform October 2016

This is certainly an eclectic month for Motherboard's Terraform, with stories that show the great range possible even within the narrow range that the publication aims for. From bizarre stories of dogs and the defense of Earth to more tender stories of identity and relationships in the digital age, the stories reveal different aspects of humanity. Humanity the confused. Humanity the hopeful. Humanity the resourceful. Humanity the doomed. It's a great mix of views about where the future might take us, focusing on things that seem huge and making them achingly personal. It's a fine bunch of tales that I will review now! 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Quick Thoughts - I Want To Believe

Sometimes it's difficult to go back to things that you loved as a child. Or even things you enjoyed as an early adult. Because…well, because life goes on. You learn more about yourself and you learn more about your world and you come to a place when you look back and find that…well, that what you loved really isn't something you love anymore. You see things that you missed before, either because you were too young to understand or, probably more to the point, you were still seeing the world in the way you were taught.

I recently went back and started rereading the Goosebumps series. It starts with Welcome to Dead House, which derives most of its horror from the fact that a young girl, Amanda, isn't believed when she says there's a ghost in the house. Fast forward to today, when I just read "The House That Jessica Built" by Nadia Bulkin (look for it to come out in the November The Dark Magazine). It is also the story about a young girl, Rue, who isn't believed when she says there's a ghost in her house. And these two stories made me look a bit closer at horror tropes in particular but, wider than that, at a lot of the media that I've taken in growing up and to this day. Because I started to look at just how much this idea of not being believed feeds into the stories we tell. Especially the speculative stories that we tell.

The X-Files. I never really thought of it before but the catchphrase of the show is "I want to believe." This is used in a lot of ways in the show but I've been thinking of how this idea unfolds around the central relationship of the show, that of Mulder and Scully. Now, this is Mulder's line. Throughout most of the show it's him who embodies the desire to believe. It's also him who somehow is so secure in his job at the FBI that he can basically do whatever the fuck he wants on the X-Files. I mean, here's a man whose case notes are…completely off the charts and he keeps his job. Is encouraged, even, and seen as brave. Essentially, even when he's not believed, he's still believed. Because his desire to believe in the supernatural ends up being more important than Scully's work as a scientist, more important even than Scully's eventual belief in the supernatural because she can actually believe what she sees whereas Mulder can only want to.

And Scully. She's there to be Mulder's foil. To keep him honest. But, really, she's there to be disbelieved. Background in medicine and science and it's Scully who has to admit that she is wrong, time and time again. And it's Scully who is vulnerable for the work done on the X-Files. More than Mulder ever is, it's Scully who is intimidated and told that she didn't see what she saw. From Mulder she is told that her science can't explain what she sees and from the rest of the world she is told that she didn't see anything anyway. It's part of where the horror of the show comes from, that Scully is always in a sort of danger that Mulder just…isn't in. We're not taught to fear for Mulder when he goes and does whatever stupid thing he does. We're taught to fear for Scully, because she's always at a greater risk, in part because of our society and in part because that's how it's written. Looking back, it doesn't surprise me as much that the new X-Files was so horrible. Looking back, Scully is still awesome, but always more awesome in my head and in my heart than she was ever allowed to be on the show.

And I love that this is a trope that people play with deliberately and intelligently (like the Bulkin story), but I'm also dismayed that so many things I've read and watched simply used it like it's an objective truth. Unfortunate, perhaps, but a sort of horror that men can drop into to feel uncomfortable before being comforted by the return to normalcy and their own enforced superiority. I mean, it's no surprise that if a story focuses on a man not being believed, there has to be a "reason" for him not being believed. He's a habitual liar or trickster or some such. He has to have a mental disorder that makes him "untrustworthy." He has to be poor, or a person or color, or queer. Looking at The Boy Who Cried Wolf, one can't help but imagine if it was The Girl Who Cried Wolf she wouldn't have been believed from the start. There would be no tangible difference between the reaction she got while lying and the one she got telling the truth, because in both scenarios she would have been brushed off, called a liar, maybe punished. And that's the crux of gaslighting, the crux of misogyny, that we live in different worlds, and the world we've labeled as female is one that isn't allowed to exist without constant male monitoring and policing.

The world is full of ghosts. And it is not enough to want to believe in them. What is interesting about The X-Files is not really that Mulder was always the wild-man chasing after UFOs. It's that Scully was always the believer. Not in Mulder and his theories, but in what she could see and touch and feel. She trusted not Mulder, but herself, and built up her beliefs from that. Mulder, for all he wanted to believe, never really did. Not for sure. Not without proof. In the end he became the voice of the establishment. Give me proof and I'll believe, he says, knowing that there is no proof great enough, not given everything he's seen. And because he's still the one believed more, trusted more, he can go right on doing it. But change will not happen as long as those with power say only "I want to believe." Change will happen, justice will happen, only when we turn off the gaslight and treat people like people. When we start trusting people when they say there's a wolf among us, that there's a ghost and it wants to hurt us. Otherwise all we live is a horror that many of us don't believe because we don't have to live it. And that...well, that's pretty fucking awful. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur


Friday, October 28, 2016

Quick Questions - Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner of Apex Magazine

Hello and welcome, dear readers, to the inaugural Quick Questions. I have been kicking around this idea for a while and thought this was an excellent opportunity to show just how I'd like to run it. At the moment, doing these on a more regular basis is a goal on my Patreon. Until that funds, though, I would still like to run these every now and again. So join me as I pick the brains of some of the pillars of short SFF.


Stopping in to talk today are Jason Sizemore (Publisher/Editor-in-Chief) and Lesley Conner (Managing Editor) of Apex Magazine. So let's get to introductions first.

Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason Sizemore fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (real school with its own vampire) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2004, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, and usually can be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions seeking friends and free food.

Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 marks her debut experience in anthology editing. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Quick Sips - Tor dot com October 2016

October has been a surprisingly full month for Tor dot com, which saw the release of six original stories. It's also a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy and horror, each story reveling in worlds richly detailed and masterfully fleshed out. These are not often easy stories, with recurring themes of death and rebirth, but there is a strong vein of control here as well. Of being able to tell your own story. Of escaping the confines of the expected, the cage of the acceptable. These are stories about pushing boundaries and reclaiming identities, and I'm going to start the reviews…NOW! 

Art by Jasu Hu

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 10/17/2016 & 10/24/2016

Things have mostly settled back down following the Strange Horizons, though they do have a brand new look that is a huge change from their old layout. Also, I accidentally missed the translated story from earlier in the month, so I have rectified that by including it here. There are two stories, then, and two poems, all of which seem to evoke the idea of travel. For some it is a physical thing, the pursuit of a quest, the arch of a journey. For others the travel happens between possibilities and universes, or between times, showing how the distance we travel away from the past can make it vulnerable, can make us vulnerable by extension. These are works that warn and that inspire, and I'm going to get to reviewing them! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Quick Sips - The Sockdolager #7

You know, it probably shouldn't surprise me that the latest issue of The Sockdolager, coming as it does so close to Halloween, is incredibly dark. But I will admit that I was expecting something a bit more lighthearted. What I got was an incredible issue filled with stories told with clever flourishes and an occasional sense of fun, yes…but stories that nonetheless are dark and darker and oh my glob I think I need to spend some time staring at funny cat videos now. Shock aside, though, these are some amazing tales, that lift and sink and inspire and depress. These are stories that fit in with the season, with dying of summer and the creeping nearness of winter. These are stories that I wholeheartedly recommend, though perhaps aren't for the faint of heart. To the reviews! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Quick Sips - Apex #89

It's October at Apex Magazine, which means that there's extra reasons to revel in some dark SFF. Halloween! And while neither the stories nor the poetry evoke the holiday directly, they do bring the darkness and bring the horror and don't let up. The prose is…well, it's violent and full of monsters and uncomfortable truths. About the people who get overlooked and how the abuses the world creates lead to monsters. Lead to death and tragedy. The poetry looks a bit more at the past and the future, reaching and touching the unknown through shared experiences, through the constellations of what joins us as humans. Today also kicks of Apex's subscription drive, so be sure to give that a look! It's a spooky issue and I'm going to jump right into the reviews! 

Art by Denis Corvus

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Quick Thoughts - New Kids on the Block

Things have happened. I dislike saying that SFF needs a lot of work, but…well, it kind of keeps getting proven to be the case. I'm not close to the situation and I don't really want to write about it. Other people have written some brilliant pieces things and I don't want to step on that. I believe the people who have spoken out. I want to write something else. Something about being new to SFF. Or perhaps about being outside of SFF looking in.

Maybe that will seem like a weird thing to say coming from a person who is best known as a SFF reviewer, as I am. But then, my inroads into SFF as a fandom, as an institution, has been rather strange and rather defined in part by rather abusive people and situations. Yay. And I still don't really feel in SFF. Not really. Maybe on the fringes, but still definitely looking in instead of really a part of it. I'm…what? An up-and-coming writer? A sage reviewer? A new face in SFF? An…introvert? Well, that last one is something I've been called. The earlier ones? Eh...not so much. Which is not to say that I've been wholly unsuccessful as a SFF short fiction writer and reviewer. I've sold stories. I will hopefully continue to sell stories. And some people seem to like my reviews. But my debut in SFF, such as it was, went largely unnoticed and since them my sales have been rather spread out and at publications that are outside what many considered "the core of short SFF." Which…I cannot tell you how grump I am about people only paying attention to certain publications because "those are the only ones that win awards." There is grump, readers. Such grump.

And okay, I'm rambling a bit because this is hard. This is hard. Refocus. Take a breath. Write. When I first wanted to really get into SFF, and short fiction in particular, I knew nothing about it. The mechanics of the business were obscured behind the veneer of names and book deals and my own hopes. I wanted so desperately and so blindly that I was very, very vulnerable. I don't think this is uncommon. Education in the formal sense rarely goes into the business of writing. And especially the business of short SFF. And there are so many places out there having so many different opinions on the "right way" to do things. The fast way. The best way. All I knew starting out was that I wanted. Wanted to write. Wanted to be a part of something. I wanted. And I let that want guide me. Now, it wasn't all bad. I found places to submit stories to. I found communities to join. I thought…this must be how it works. I imagine I was an easy target.

It's really easy to get tricked into believing you're doing something "for your career." You meet someone and they talk about the people they know, the names that you've only seen on the spines of books. You hear how you might help them out, or be a part of something, that you might do something that will earn you some gratitude. That maybe will give you some SFF cred. So you volunteer. You leap up and you give your time and your effort. And if you're uncomfortable with anything you tell yourself, who are you? Who are you next to these names? If the work seems too much you think how can I not? How can I say no when it might mean someone will hate me? Or someone won't want to help me? You get this weird idea that the business is this network of people doing favors for each other and if you do good enough, ingratiate yourself enough, then maybe someone will do a favor for you in return.

This, by the by, is a paralyzing thought. Is a toxic thought. If you buy into it, are you buying into the idea that the only way to get published is to know someone? To call in a favor? If you sell a story, is it because it's good or because you were nice to a person? Because you did something for them? From the outside, I remember thinking this at times. That my stories were just as good as the ones I read. Why not me? It must be that other people are part of some conspiracy to keep me out. The game wasn't fair. I mean, I get why the Puppies feel the way they do. Why people get angry and disillusioned and hateful. I understand it. I don't agree with it at all, but I understand those feelings. And I understand that those feelings, that fear and insecurity and anger, make a person easy to manipulate. I was, and contributed to harm being done. Made decisions that I wasn't comfortable with. Sacrificed my time and my effort in ways did not benefit me and that did not reflect what I believed in. I was bullied and I was used, and I am ashamed of that.

People will do a lot to not feel alone. To feel like maybe they're just a little bit closer to their dream. And other people will take merciless advantage of that. The truth as far as I can find it is you have to find a way to make the work worth the effort. Meaning in some ways it can't be about the goal. The dream. It has to be about the work, the moment. If you want to write stories, then the writing has to be worth it. Not the selling. Not the praise. And that's…hard, because there are times when it seems like everything is pointless and you're on the outside looking in and you'll always be on the outside looking in and I can't guarantee that you won't be. I can't guarantee that I won't be. And some days, when you see the time you spend on writing and the bills that need to be paid and the starved, struggling hope that looks like one of my houseplants that I seem to either water too little or too much…

The work has to be worth it. And if you don't feel it is, then you might have to ask yourself why and what you can change. For me, it wasn't a quick decision or a painless one. It's a question I'm still asking and still answering. I can say that I'm happier now than I was before I made certain decisions. Before I started asking that question. Not because I'm selling more, but because I like the work I do. I believe in it. I own it without hesitation. I am no longer ashamed. Or at least no where near as much as I was.

Being new in SFF is hard. It is also dangerous, especially if you aren't of the most dominant group. So take care of yourself. You are valuable and you are worth so much. You deserve respect and decency. Always. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers October 2016

The Year of the Superhero at The Book Smugglers might be winding down, but that doesn't mean there isn't a few more surprises in store for 2016. Which is why I hesitate to post this review. Not because I didn't love the story (spoiler alert: I did!), but because I worry that there might be a release later in the month to coincide with Halloween and I'm worried by posting this I'll miss it. But these are the risks of a reviewer. What is here is a story that sets up the fourth and final book the Extrahuman Union series. These stories are always gripping and this one brings in action and angst and identity, the main character stuck between being broken and being...something else. It is a profound story that makes me quite excited to read the novels, but until then I should really get to that review!

Art by Kirbi Fagan

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction #37

Surprise, I've added a new publication to my review pile! I've been paying attention to Fireside Fiction for some time now and as a few publications have closed of changed their release schedule I found a spot had opened up and didn't have to debate long what to fill it with. The fiction of this issue is, well, dark. From outright horror to heartbreaking science fiction, these are stories with a shadow falling across them, where what moves in the darkness is vague but moving closer. Each piece features someone brushing against both loss and the unknown. Grief and the struggle for relief. These are sharp stories with a great weight and a powerful force. So yeah, time to review them! 

Art by Galen Dara

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #210

The stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are not exactly for the faint of heart. They are violent stories, and in some ways they are about the triumph of violence over peace. But they take very different meanings and paths when dealing with that idea. Because in the first peace is something artificial and corrupt, hiding a violence that is ongoing, and ending the peace means allowing that old and infested wound to perhaps heal. And in the second, peace is something that seems impossible, that seems naïve and stupid, and through the actions of the story peace is something that seems to be put out of reach, the wound only further infected and festering. Side by side they make an interesting contrast, and I'm just going to get to the reviews! 

Art by Raphael Lacoste

Monday, October 17, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 10/03/2016 & 10/10/2016

The Strange Horizons fund drive is nearly over, but that doesn't mean that the fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have slowed down. Indeed, I'm looking at two stories, four poems, and two nonfiction works today. The stories focus on change and history. On progress and what is lost and what is gained in the slow march of years and opinions. The poetry mixes resistance and loss, folktales and tenacity. And the nonfiction looks at gaming and communities. It's a very full two weeks of content and an amazing publication. If you haven't already, maybe considering contributing to the drive. And now, to the reviews! 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Quick Thoughts - SFF Poetry Venues (that also do fiction)

Every now and again, I just have to talk about poetry. It's something that's always been rather central to me. I started out writing poetry, way back in the day, and I still find that poetry can do things that other forms just cannot. But often I feel that poetry, and especially SFF poetry, is left out of conversations when thinking and talking about SFF as a whole. People think of stories and novels, but not chapbooks, not individual poems. Which is a shame. I love poetry and though I am primarily a short _fiction_ reviewer I make sure to look at the poetry at the publications that I check out. And today I want to highlight those SFF fiction and poetry venues that I read. I apologize that I won't be looking at poetry specific publications here. For those eager for SFF poetry more exclusively, there are certainly publications. But for those who already read SFF short fiction and might want to start transitioning over to poetry as well, I have a few recommendations.

1. Strange Horizons
Strange Horizons does a lot of things. Publishes some outstanding SFF short fiction, yes. Provides a wide range of SFF nonfiction, including scholarly articles and more personal columns, reviews, and opinions, yes. Commissions some world-class SFF art, yes. And this year, as part of their funding for 2017, they hope to add SFF fiction in translation and more SFF interactive fiction. But poetry is still what I know them best for. And Strange Horizons publishes SFF poetry across the board. Science fiction and fantasy and contemporary poetry. Inspiring pieces and devastating pieces and works that range all the way between. Pretty much every week there is a new poem to enjoy, and the podcasts capturing the month's poetry are probably my favorite the publication puts out. They have released some truly beautiful work, including "Long Shadow" by R.B. Lemberg, which was probably my favorite poem of 2015. From epics to very short and razor sharp poems, Strange Horizons has a long history of being one of the best sources of SFF poetry around. If you were going to start somewhere, my personal bias is towards Strange Horizons, if only because to me it puts out the widest range of poems and styles. And if you like what they do and want to help them expand further, consider chipping in to their annual fund drive.

2. Apex Magazine
Apex definitely rivals Strange Horizons for sheer number of poems published, normally putting out four a month, though occasionally a little less. These poems are also solidly SFF and cover a wide range of genres, but they narrow the focus a bit more to follow the magazine's push toward darkness. The poems typically waste no time in going right for the eyes and the feels, hitting readers where they are most vulnerable. For dark and horror poetry, there is no better source than Apex, and there are some downright chilling poems that they have put out. I've also been impressed with how they've taken chances on some formal poetry, and overall the quality and the number of poems they publish is incredible. And, as luck would have it, Apex is running their annual subscription drive starting on the 24th, so any interested in getting a great deal on dark SFF fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, should get ready for that. Until then, you can support them here.

3. Mithila Review
This is the newest publication on this list but it's one that's just blown me away in terms of what they've managed to put out in that amount of time. The publication as a whole aims to put out work from the borders and from the margins. It's rare enough to see a publication organized outside of the US or UK or similarly West-centric location, so seeing Mithila Review focus on works and writers coming from outside those places seems vital. It has certainly produced a lot of phenomenal work in a very short amount of time. The publication started off as monthly (and mostly unpaid) but has recently committed to paying writers and to focusing specifically on various underrepresented areas in SFF. The "Asian SF" double issue is FULL of poetry and is definitely worth reading and enjoying. Next will be an issue devoted to Central and South American SF and I'm very, very excited to read it. It's undergoing some organizational changes at the moment, and could definitely use some support. Consider contributing to their Patreon here.

4. Uncanny Magazine
Uncanny has certainly made a name for itself in the relatively short amount of time it's been in operation, and that's largely deserved thanks to a strong array of SFF fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. As far as poetry goes, it publishes widely and with an eye for those pieces that fit into its larger ethos of strange, beautifully written works. The main drawback is that the overall output of poetry is pretty small compared to most of the above publications. Normally publishing just three poems every two months, it makes up for what it lacks in quantity with a stunning quality. It also pushes work of some bigger names in SFF poetry, which might give people unfamiliar and wary of getting started in reading poetry a bit extra incentive. Whereas the previous publications tend to run more poems than fiction works, Uncanny is solidly fiction first, so those hungry for just a taste of poetry might be best served starting here and then, if so moved, seeking out more robust offerings. It's certainly a great source of SFF poetry and you can support them on Patreon as well.

5. Heroic Fantasy Quarterly
I have the least familiarity with Heroic Fantasy Quarterly's poetry offerings but from what I've seen so far it's the place to go for people looking for more classic fantasy takes on the form. Wanting some dragons, knights, and wizards in your poetry? Then look no further than here. The publication is, as the name implies, quarterly, so there's a bit of a wait between issues, but it typically publishes at least four poems an issue and, in the case of the most recent offerings, the first half of an epic poem that's probably going to end up being novella-length. So if you're serious about poetry, have at it. And because of the editorial direction to focus on heroic fantasy, this publication might suit anyone looking more for the works that sometimes pop up in "classic" fantasy novels, though that's not to say there aren't some delightfully innovative pieces on display. For those wanting a more carefully curated collection of solely fantasy poetry, find out more about them here.

And there you have it! As I said, there's a lot of publications that publish solely poetry, but I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a few that cross streams and offer up both SFF fiction and poetry. For me, it makes for a great combination, contrasting styles and forms while highlighting the strengths of SFF—the imagination, the language, and the flow of ideas. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Monthly Round is Up!

The Monthly Round is up now at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together! Go at check out my favorite stories from September 2016 as reviewed and paired with booze!

The lineup is:

Tasting Flight
"Unauthorized Access" by An Owomoyela (Lightspeed #76)
"Toward the Luminous Towers" by Bogi Takács (Clarkesworld #120)
"Applied Cenotaphics in the Long, Long Longitudes" by Vajra Chandrasekera (Strange Horizons)
"The Life and Times of Angel Evans" by Meredith Debonnaire (The Book Smugglers)
"The City Born Great" by N.K. Jemisin (Tor dot com)
"Some Breakable Things" by Cassandra Khaw (The Dark #16)

"Muse" by Nicola Belte (Flash Fiction Online)
"The Exemption Packet" by Rose Eveleth (Terraform)
"The Old Man and the Phoenix" by Alexandria Baisden (Apex #88)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #209

It's a special anniversary issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies and I'm treating the entire issue like it came out in October (though technically some of the stories released in late September). There's double the fiction to enjoy, which means twice the amount of worlds to explore. For me, it means a return to a few settings that I've very much enjoyed in the past, and also the introduction of a few that I wouldn't mind returning to. The stories are about resistance and identity. About facing choices about how to be, how to live, and then having to live with those choices. The stories are full of conflict, of looming war and exploration and intrigue, and there's a lot to see and take in among the worlds revealed, even those that look an awful lot like our own. To the reviews! 

Art by Raphael Lacoste

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #12 (October Stuff)

This month's offerings from Uncanny Magazine bring a bit of everything. Two original fiction pieces, two poems, and two works of nonfiction covering fairy tales and AI insurrections and ghosts and desires and distorted realities and lineages of SFF. The fiction is gripping and challenging, difficult and unflinching. The poetry is moving and all about desire and nostalgia and looking back. And the nonfiction is about perception and how it can be changed, either in the brain or by those around you, and how that can effect the inroads to SFF. It's a full month and a nice balance of the strange, the heartbreaking, and the affirming. So yeah, time to review! 

Art by Kirbi Fagan

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus October 2016

The October offering from GigaNotoSaurus certainly captures the feeling of autumn. At least where I live, autumn is a time of slowing down. Declining. It's something that creeps across the land. Temperatures start to drop. Leaves start to change color. Nothing happens all at once. Instead there is a gradual loss happening, a march toward something bigger, more definite. And this story captures that feeling, showing a character moving slowly around a single event in his life, waiting. Unlike where I live, the story doesn't show what happens next, doesn't drop into winter or lift back into spring. It shows this achingly beautiful and tragic moment and lets it linger, and I should just get to my review! 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #121

For this special anniversary issue of Clarkesworld, it seems like there's a single question being asked. Namely, what can you trust? What can you know? It's a fundamental question that cuts to the nature of human experience and perception. Can we be sure of our surroundings? What happens when we know that something isn't real, despite not really being able to tell it with our senses? And what if we just think we know what is real, and the rabbit hole goes deeper still? It's a delightful way to frame a number of excellent speculative stories, mostly all science fiction but still good, still hitting, still interesting complications of what we take for granted and how we perceive and reach for some trace of the real in a sea of uncertainty. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Quick Thoughts - The Sippys Are Coming! (and other announcements)

I know, I know, it's just into October and already I'm thinking about the end of the year. But let's face it, we are in the last quarter of the year and that makes me think ahead, I guess. Or maybe it's just that I want to focus on anything but the weather getting colder and the approach of winter. So I want to focus on some happy things instead. Namely, the Sippys! Yes, my awards-no-one-asked-for are going to be returning in January with the same five categories as last year. For those who missed out on the Sippys, they can be found here.

But story time, dear readers. Last year I was a bit of a mess around the turn of the new year. It's not so much that I dislike what I did with the Sippys so much as I could have done so much more and I felt quite rushed when I was coming up with things for the award. So this year I've started earlier and today I want to share some of the fruits of that. At the bottom of this post are the 2015 winners of the Big Sip Awards. Instead of the old award graphics, which featured a blank giant sippy cup, they are now customized both for the specific award and for the big winners. I'm still making up my mind what I'll do for the regular Sippy Awards, because I do kind of like that one. Probably those won't be personalized, though. So yes, get excited! It's been an amazing year of fiction so far and it's going to be incredibly difficult to pick out just 25 stories to honor with the Sippy Awards.

I'm also trying to find ways to tweak the layout of the blog a little bit. People might have noticed that I've put a Patreon link on the sidebar and that I've started adding something at the end of my posts. I'm trying my hardest to balance doing these reviews, which I love, and I feel is important to do, with also needing money to live. So hopefully they are not too much an eyesore. I deeply appreciate everyone who has decided to support me though Patreon for helping me to do this work and share it for free. That said, I'm getting mighty close to hitting my $40/month goal of doing drunk reviews of the original Goosebumps! books and those will be Patreon exclusive. And speaking of that, if you're looking to maybe get a sneak peek at select reviews before they appear on Quick Sip Reviews, I've added that as a patron perk at the $1 level and up. I'll also be adding exclusive anthology reviews with notes on every story for people supporting at the $2 level and up. I've also added a new goal to do Queer Smut Reviews, so fans of queer SFF erotica might be able to get my take on what's out there.

And, of course, there is publishing news. I'm super thrilled to announce that my story, "The Death of Paul Bunyan," will be appearing at Lightspeed Magazine in December! I am super excited about this story, which brings in American folktales, colonialism, the destruction of the natural world, and some kinda messed up tall tales having sex. So…look forward to that! I also have a superhero romance/erotic romance novelette coming out from Dreamspinner Press as part of their Bah Humbug! 2016 Advent Calendar. It's called "How the Supervillain Stole Christmas" and it is cute af. Seriously, it is super cute and features superhero fights, penguins, and unforgivable sweaters. I…think that's it for publications this year. But I already have some exciting news for next year. Not too much I can announce just yet, but I will be in Diabolical Plots in November 2017 (only over a year away, nbd). And there will be more announcements soon, so stay tuned!

And there we go, an entire post where I don't think I espouse any controversial opinions. Yay me! Thanks for reading and here are your 2015 Big Sip winners!!!

All the best,

Charles Payseur


Friday, October 7, 2016

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online October 2016

For another issue the stories of Flash Fiction Online seem to focus on parents and children. On being haunted. By the specter of ridicule and Otherness, by an actual friendly ghost, or by a past and future that seem to hold nothing but regret. These stories bring a bit of darkness and strangeness and fit rather well with the autumn season. With things winding down. With endings and declines but with the hope of something more. These stories are dark without being bleak, strange without being completely indecipherable. From monsters to ghosts to…house-children, this issue certainly is unique. To the reviews! 

Art by Dario Bijelac


"The Monster on Her Cheek" by Rebecca Roland (861 words)

This story is about a woman, Jane, and her child, a child born with a sort of disease or deformity that takes the form of a monster that is attached to the child's face. The monster is…well, a little thing, but otherwise doesn't seem to do anything. The fear and the tension comes from the way that the woman fears she will be treated, that her child will be treated, because of the monster. The story does a lot of interesting work in looking at how people are judged for the deformities and diseases and differences their children are born with. That parents don't want to be seen as bad because of those differences in part because theey have bought into the idea that those differences are a mark of sin and shame. The story reveals a woman afraid of going out because she might face name-calling and judgment, and so she stays in while others try to convince her to go out. And the story draws Jane toward a point where she can let her own prejudices against her child and against herself drop away so that she can embrace her child for who they are. I like the message of the piece, that you have to accept your child, that a lot of what allows harm and ignorance to continue is our own internal biases and especially for parents that can lead to some awful treatment of children by parents. So I like that Jane has to learn to stop blaming herself and her child first, that she has to see that they deserve to exist, that in some ways she didn't understand that until she was so connected and she has to try and do better. Act better. Which starts at home. So yeah, it's an interesting and rather dark story with a warm, gooey heart. A fine read!

"Three Rules for Befriending Ghosts" by Benjamin Thomas (924 words)

This is a rather fun story about a man and a ghost haunting him and the rules that define their relationship. To me, it shows two people desperate to connect, desperate to find someone who will respect them. To respect their rules. Those simple things that are required to have a friendship, to have any sort of relationship. Because despite Mandy being dead, being a ghost, the story is all about how willing the main character is to respect her rules. They are not complicated. They are not difficult. But still they require the main character to have a boundary and not cross it. That once he knows what she wants he has to stand by her or risk losing the friendship. And it's a great way to show what's required to form a bond with another person, to illustrate the ways that it's possible to overstep and how easy it can be, caught up in something personal, to be selfish and break one of the rules. But how it's equally possible to stop and consider and refuse to use a friendship as a weapon. And I love how the main character is described as lucky to be haunted, to have this opportunity to bond. Because anyone is incredibly lucky to have a good friend. Because those friendships can keep us sane, can keep us from being alone, can lift us up and affirm us. But it takes something. Effort. Trust. And the story does a nice job of bringing that all together with a touch of the ghostly. A great story!

"Offspring" by Brenda Anderson (778 words)

This is a…rather strange and disturbing story about being a parent, about surviving grief, and about the distance between animate and inanimate life. In the story a man at a sort of sentient house for…grief counseling (maybe) learns that his emotions have inadvertently entered the house and taken root. The house is pregnant and he is the father. And…and what follows is a picture of the man trying to flee from that, trying to get away and find some sort of peace where peace doesn't seem possible, trying to avoid the knowledge that he has a child out there. The story deals with regret and with surprise, with suddenly discovering that you're the parent of a child you never expected but in a way that's…well, certainly new. This house-child is one that he wants to deny but cannot, that haunts him even as he seeks to run from it. At the same time, this is a difficult story for me to parse, personally, because the nature of the conception is so strange and because the nature of his situation is rather nebulous. Well off enough to move and stay employed but not well off enough to avoid having to be held in some sort of prison or care facility following the death of a close friend. What is more certain to me is that the story circles around the man's past, his losses. As an older man he looks back and sees no legacy, and the house-child becomes some way to connect to a future he won't see, a past he never lived. I can't tell if it's hopeful or not, to be honest, but it's an interesting and moving piece that I certainly recommend people check out for themselves. Indeed!


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Quick Sips - Shimmer #33 (October Stuff)

The October offerings from Shimmer Magazine capture a feeling of isolation. Of loneliness. The bittersweet reality of being alive, of having survived something huge, only to find that they are alone and wanting to change that. And in both stories the main characters do, do work toward a reunion, toward a community that accepts them and where they can be themselves. But the stories concentrate more on the longing than on the finding, and as such are on the sadder side, though it is only with such a lack that hope can be more fully felt, and both stories are hopeful, showing characters striving to overcome, striving to remember themselves when the world seems set on blending them into everything else. So without further delay, the reviews! 

Art by Sandro Castelli

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #77

This month's Lightspeed Magazine features a rather full lineup of original fiction. Full not necessarily in length, because it's about average for the publication, but definitely full in terms of exploring genre and in terms of emotional weight. These are story that hit and lift, some with a subtle form and style and some with an aching wound of feeling and horror and regret. These are stories that look at hope in the face of despair, at healing in the face of disappointment and injustice. At what it takes to keep going after being betrayed by someone who was supposed to have your back. The stories are beautiful and expertly rendered and it's time to review them so let's go! 

Art by Sam Schechter

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Quick Sips - Nightmare #49 People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror!

People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror is official here, courtesy of Nightmare Magazine's October release, which means double the amount of original fiction to keep you up at night. The stories are…well, the stories show the range of speculative horror, with three mostly-contemporary pieces and one historical fantasy, all of which shine lights on very different aspects of horror and fear. The fear of the Other, of the foreign, and the invasion from the unknown. The fear of the self and the uncontrolled darkness a mind can harbor, that a mind can spin into tales to terrify, willingly or otherwise. The fear of anonymity, of the crush of circumstance and time that can strip people of their hope and humanity. The fear erasure, of dissolution, of death, of injustice. These stories know how to set the scene and each left me shaken, uneasy, and inspired. So yeah, without further hesitation, to the reviews! 

Art by Reiko Murakami

Monday, October 3, 2016

Quick Sips - The Dark #17

The two stories of this issue of The Dark Magazine take on some deep subjects, namely death and history. And not just death, but suicide and loss. And not just history, but torture and oppression and erasure. They both look at the wounds left over by loss, by violence, and both concern people and places being haunted. Not being allowed to move on. Having to deal first with what has happened, what has been taken, before healing can begin. These are stories with some definite punch and a strong creepiness and I'm going to jump right to the reviews! 

Art by Tomislav Tikulin

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Some Opinions on the State of Short Fiction

First, some happy news. This month marks the second anniversary of my monthly short fiction recommendation series, The Monthly Round: A Taster's Guide to Speculative Short Fiction. Woo! I did not know starting The Monthly Round that it would pull me into SO MUCH reviewing, as it's a large reason that I decided to start Quick Sip Reviews, but here I am. After the official anniversary post a little later this month, I will have featured 216 of my favorite reads paired with thematically appropriate drinkables. Mostly short fiction and flash, but with a few poems for good measure (and some not-so-short-but-still-considered-short short fiction). So yeah, two years after I started doing the Monthly Round I feel like it's a good time to check in and have some thoughts.

To be honest, I was waiting for Truesdale over at Tangent to release his full rant from the State of Short Fiction panel before really looking at this issue, but seeing as how each week seems to bring some other flavor of…response to the state of short fiction, I didn't feel like waiting any longer. I am not an editor of short SFF. I am not involved with any publication or magazine or site that's really in a position to talk about the business of short SFF. I understand that financial concerns are large and that the pressure to always succeed is great and that sometimes to make money people aim for what might be easiest. For what they expect to make the most money. I don't want to speak to that, really. Again, I am a (mostly) unpaid reviewer and blogger and a (sometimes) paid writer of short SFF. I am, however, first and foremost, a reader and a fan of short SFF. So…

There are a great many different conversations going on in short SFF at the moment. And most of them absolutely need to happen. It's not the overwhelming response that one might have hoped for, but Fireside's report about black writers of short SFF has already seen large impact. Strange Horizons and The Dark have been vocal about adding new editors in hopes of working to fix the issue. Apex has announced guest editorships along the same lines. Fireside had eluded to changing the way that submissions are received (and Strange Horizons also announced that they might be changing some of their methods, as well). Clarkesworld has hinted that something might be happening there, though no details on that yet. Meanwhile Fiyah has opened to submissions and Mithila Review has recommitted to reaching out to more marginalized voices. And there is more that I'm sure I've missed in my haze of trying to keep up with reading and reviewing.

This conversation seems to me linked but also distinct from the one that centers around awards and the more nebulous idea of "diversity." In some ways, the conversation surrounding awards, which the Puppies and the like have been and still are engaged in, is so far removed from the one surrounding how to better solicit to marginalized and non-dominant writers as to be laughable. Forget trying to do better, the Puppies have essentially declared—we're already too special snowflake and entitled and blah blah blah. Kids these days, amirite? This framing of the conversation seems consciously and deliberately constructed to try and stall the conversation. To try and Trump up the idea that it's those damned SJWs who are too easily offended. PC politics run amok! When really, really, it's not that racism and homophobia and ableism are offensive so much as…harmful.

To be fair…is a terrible thing to say in an argument. So is "life's not fair." Pretty much anything about fairness. Trust me, the people for whom life is less than fair already know that, and the people for whom life is more than fair don't know what fair is. Using that as a tool against those who are already oppressed takes a certain amount of assholery and I fear is the reason why certain fucking horrible politicians have gained in power and popularity. By ignoring the facts and speaking to what "feels" true. Ignore the fact that statistically short SFF still has HUGE problems and instead speak on how you "feel" that it's gone too far toward the "PC" and how the proof is how there's not a violent mob running non-dominant writers and fans out of the genre. All this while sharpening pitchforks and testing torches. This is not to say that short SFF doesn't also have it's share of people who see that, see that the genre is taking some steps in the right direction, and declare mission accomplished. Who think "I'm on the good side of this debate because I don't support X [Trump, the Puppies, what have you]." When…boiling the conversation down to an argument between two sides is erasing so much of what is being said.

There is a sense of clueless white guy "Yeah, but what am I supposed to do?" about this entire thing. An urge from certain parties to want to demand some magic way of doing things that will result in no risk, in no possibility of being called racist or homophobic or…"bad." You have people upset with "call out culture" because it doesn't allow dominant people a clear path to never being harmful. When…I don't really care what your history is or how much "good will" you think you're due, when you cause harm you should fucking own that, try to make amends, and then improve your actions. And even then, no one owes you understanding. No one owes you forgiveness. Do the work because it's important, because it's necessary, because it's right. Don't do it for cookies and certainly don't do it to profit off of the harm done to others.

It's been two years since I started The Monthly Round. And in that time I've read thousands of works of SFF. As a reader, I am excited about the stories coming out. I think the quality and the complexity rivals or surpasses anything written previously. But I know that there are even better stories out there that aren't being published. That are being rejected out of hand or that never get submitted because the field is such a fucking minefield of shit. I want those stories. And many need those stories. So what's the state of short SFF? It's a beautiful mess. It's among the best pockets for amazing, affirming, and inspiring stories being published today. But it needs improving, because it could and should be so much better. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur