Thursday, August 31, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, part 8: "Improbable Cause," "The Die is Cast," "In Purgatory's Shadow," & "By Inferno's Light"

The Year of Garak keeps rolling on! For those just tuning in, the Year of Garak is an exploration of whatever Garak texts I can find. Whether episodes from Deep Space 9, tie-in novels, or fanfiction, I'm casting a wide net trying to find more with my favorite plain, simple Cardassian. If you want to catch up, here's links to the previous posts: January | February | March | April | May | June | July.

I'm joined again today by SFF poet, writer, and all around awesome person Nicasio Andres Reed. Today we're looking at four pivotal episodes from Deep Space 9, or really two sets of 2-part episodes. We get to see Garak at his cleverest and most cruel, but also at his lowest and most vulnerable. So let's get down to it, shall we!

Also, in case you forgot...

Nicasio Andres Reed is a Filipino-American writer and poet whose work has appeared in Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Liminality, Inkscrawl, and Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology. Nico currently lives in Madison, WI. Find him on Twitter @NicasioSilang.

And now, to the discussion!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Quick Sips - Terraform August 2017

Terraform makes its return to original fiction this month, with its first story since March. Yes, there was the Highwayman project, and there have been a number of excerpts, but here is an original story that celebrates forty years of the Voyager missions. I must admit, it’s a romantic idea, humans flinging something out into the vastness of space, hoping maybe, against odd, to hit something. A cosmic game of darts. The story is paired with a nonfiction piece going over Voyager and some more recent projects, and also an interview with William Gibson. I certainly recommend checking those out, but for how I’m keeping my review just to the original fiction. And, without further delay, here we go!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quick Sips - Lackington's #14 - Musics

The latest issue of Lackington’s to be released for free is themed around Music. And what results are six original stories that show just what music can and does mean—the rhythm of it, the magic of it, and the power of it to push change. And these stories explore not just the way that music can be enjoyed, but the ways that it can be used both to inspire and to lure, to remember and to heal. The stories are by and large rather dark, showing an appreciation for characters experiencing loss, for people needing direction. Songs can be maps, and these stories show characters following songs off into the unknown. Finding paths by no means safe, and at times very dangerous indeed, but also often paths that they need to take. That offer some way forward after everything has been wiped away. These are some great stories, and I’ll jump right in to the reviews!

Art by Stacy Nguyen

Monday, August 28, 2017

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers August 2017

I’m very sad that the Gods & Monsters short story season is over at The Book Smugglers with these two short stories. It has been an excellent run and the pieces have consistently been among my favorite every month they’ve been out. But even good things must come to an end. At least for this year. To close things out there are two new stories exploring youth and education, love and responsibility. The stories aren’t that similar on the surface, but digging deeper finds narratives that are very concerned with consent and with fostering an environment where young people can explore who they are and how they want to live. They mix humor and magic, emotion and stress and frustration. But they also imagine characters taking control of their situations, negotiating their ways past the forces trying to crush them. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Ira Gladkova

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mapping Smutty SFF - Part 2: Market Forces

Goldilocks: Not Just a Character in My Gender-swapped Slashfic

 So starting out as a new writer and wanting to write SFF and basically finding that my brand of SFF isn’t considered Real SFF(TM)...wasn’t really an easy thing. Fuck, it still isn’t an easy thing, and it’s still something I struggle with all the time. As I talked about last time, the distance between what I call “Pro” SFF and what I call Smutty SFF is...rather large. This is maybe changing, fairly slowly, but market realities are something that crop up a lot when thinking about what to write and how to focus as a writer hoping to make money. Because thus enters the impossible task of balancing not self-rejecting and aiming your stories for venues you think you can sell to. It’s a task complicated by the lingering dread that, as a writer, you’ll always be wrong.

It’s a Goldilocks situation, but one in reverse and one that’s constantly shifting. If your story is too queer and happy or focuses too heavily on romance, it’s unlikely to fit in at SFWA-qualifying markets. If it doesn’t feature a Happily Ever After or Happily For Now ending, or if the brand of queer isn’t popular enough, it’s a harder sell to the larger romance presses. Instead of shooting for a happy medium between the two as being the perfect fit, market forces push writers to choose and embrace a binary system where SFF with queer romantic plots and SFF w/o queer romantic plots must be kept separate.

Obviously, there are some exceptions to the rule. Beneath Ceaseless Skies and The Book Smugglers have both put out a number of stories that feature strong and joyous queer relationships that split the distance between “just” SFF and SFF romance. Lethe Press puts out a lot that’s queer and SFF without necessarily focusing on romance, and even Dreamspinner has an imprint that is about explicitly queer characters but not romance. It’s out there, but it’s not all that talked about and when it is, it’s often from a lens of either a romance reader or a “just” SFF reader.

Market Spotlight: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

There’s aren’t too many SFWA-qualifying short fiction markets that seem especially keen to publish Smutty SFF, but BCS might be a great place to start if your style runs into fantasy. It’s not someplace that you’re going to be able to tune into every issue and find works that celebrate queer characters and relationships, but there are quite a few stories in its extensive backlist that fit the bill, and many that are presented in audio format as well. I am very impressed with the work that BCS does issue after issue to put out nicely paired stories, and quite often there is queer content, and occasionally there is queer romance as well, though as with many more “pro” venues, tragedy has a tendency to win out over HEA/HFN (but hey, I’m guilty of it, too…). It is fantasy-specific, but it’s also published some of my absolute favorite Smutty SFF stories full stop, including an amazing novella from R.B. Lemberg recently, “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power.” People, go read it! BCS is also a non-profit, so give some support if you can!

And it’s a self-feeding problem. Because readers looking for or wanting SFF that falls into the area between SFF romance and SFF w/o romance can’t exactly trust either side to provide for them what they want. I know from experience that if you can’t find what you really want, you either make do or leave. Those who make due are essentially used to justify not diversifying content and those who leave are given up on. It’s what capitalism does, and it’s helped by a number of factors. The result is that it can often feel, as a writer, that there is no right decision. Even trying to write what I hope will sell instead of what I most want to write doesn’t mean that I will succeed, but it does mean that the writing itself is less rewarding.

Anecdote Time!

Here’s a real-life example. I decided not too long ego to start writing a novel, a SFF mystery with psychics that is not a romance but that has some queer sex and a lot of weird. And writing it terrifies me. Why? A few reasons, really. First, I have no idea what I’ll do with it when/if I finish it. Do I try to get an agent? Do I send it to a smaller queer press that does open submissions? What do I do? To be clear, I know many writers who have written novels that I would want desperately to read that either haven’t found representation or who did find representation but didn’t sell their works to publishers, or who are finding it very difficult to. Obviously, I want to tell these people “Keep writing!” “I believe in your work!” “I really fucking want to read your novel!” But I’m not a book buyer. I’m not an editor. In the face of a vast and, if not outright hostile, sharply apathetic market, what can you say to someone writing stories that might not fit.

This is all complicated, of course, by the fact that writing often works in reverse of most traditional professions. We do the work first and then try to get paid. How do I justify spending hour and hours, days and weeks and months, on a project that might earn me nothing? Or slightly north of nothing. I’ll let you in on a secret—I don’t make a lot of money. I spend my 40+ hours a week at a union print shop and I make enough to live, but not much more. There’s medical debt and the need for a newer car and trying to not let my home fall apart. I make a little extra doing writing and reviewing, but it’s only “extra” in that it’s not regular. At this point I basically need to be earning something on the side to help ease the financial strain/have any hope of surviving something going wrong. I doubt I’m the only Smutty SFF writer in such a situation, or for whom being able to earn actual substantive money off of writing would be transforming. Perhaps I should just shut up and get a part time job and give up on writing, on reviewing, or anything but making sure I’m financially secure. But writing and reading are some of the few things that I really like in life, and being told to give them up because my passion is not popular or marketable enough is...well, difficult.

Further, and as I said before, even if a book does see the light of day, it has to contend with the gatekeepers of the field, with award committees that don’t think it fits, with reviewers who want a book to conform to what they can recognize as either romance or “just” SFF. Having been reviewed widely for both SFF romance and “pro” SFF, I can tell you that the landscape is pretty fucking bleak. Those who review the most are often the most conservative when it comes to works that straddle genre lines, and often those who are the best suited to reviewing are more likely to be overwhelmed with the need out there for quality reviewing. I’ve seen reviews of my works that take issue with the fact that it’s either not romantic enough or too romantic, depending on where the story appeared at. And while negative reviews might not prevent me from selling future stories, they do impact readers, and by extension sales. It’s simply hard to build buzz for a project that most people have trouble placing, because the distance between SFF romance and “pro” SFF is so large. There are very few places that review both romance and non-romance SFF. There are fewer still that do so with an eye and appreciation for queer content. There are a few, but again, neither SFF romance nor “pro” SFF are super welcoming for a newer writer who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere.

But okay, so what? I really don’t want to just make this series about me and my woes. So what do I suggest? For what you can. I hope you can write the stories you truly want to write, and I hope that they sell. If they don’t, and you need money, then I’m so sorry. You will ultimately have to decide how much to try and make your writing fit better so that you can tell as close to the stories you want most to tell as possible while still selling. It still might not work. There are no guarantees. Fuck. I’d say don’t discount the small presses, especially those who seem to be trying to put out what you’re writing. Often it means less money than you’d like, but often it does mean some money, and you’re splitting it with people who believe in your book and want to publish your stories.

If you’re a reader...consider becoming a reviewer as well. And, wherever possible, search out small-press books that sound good. Buy them if you have the money. Or get your library to order them. Advocate for the books you want, signal boost the projects you’re excited about. Be loud. Try not to be an asshole.

Market Spotlight: The Book Smugglers

So this is both a venue for stories and reviews. Starting life as a review blog, The Book Smugglers have since branched out into publishing as well and they are amazing. Their stories often defy genre expectations and get into delightfully smutty territory. “Superior” by Jessica Lack was one of my favorite stories last year, and Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap is OMGlob the best thing ever! If you are not reading the amazing stories they put out, you should be. And The Book Smugglers is also one of the best SFF review sites around, reading widely and not shying away from books that are marketed more as romance. They are a vital and affirming link connecting the more “pro” SFF venues and the SFF romance venues. From short stories to novellas to novels, they put out a lot of amazing stuff and a vast majority of it is joyously queer. Definitely go out and buy the hell out of their books and just pay attention. They are doing amazing work, and I hope they continue for a long, long time.

The market is a strange and often opaque thing. It serves financial interests first, which is to say it’s not often very concerned with justice. Its favorite phrase is “vote with your wallet,” perhaps the single least democratic phrase I have ever heard. But it is the reality of the situation, and it doesn’t mean that everyone making decisions based off of market realities is a terrible person. It does make it very difficult for those writing outside the more traditional lanes of SFF or romance, though. And it makes the question of whether to attempt to conform or to attempt to blaze a new trail all the more difficult and dangerous. For those having to make those decisions, fucking good luck. I hope you find joy and success.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Quick Sips - Glittership Summer 2017 part 1

The Summer 2017 issue of Glittership is out, and it is full of gloriously queer stories and poetry! And wouldn’t you know it, a certain intrepid reviewer might have a poem in this issue as well! I won’t, of course, be reviewing “becoming, ca. 2000,” but I wouldn’t mind if you all checked it out anyway. What remains I’m breaking up into two reviews, today looking at the first half of the issue’s content. Which would mean two original stories, two reprint stories, and a poem...except that my poem is first up, so I’m skipping that. And the first of the reprints, by Bogi Takács, I have already reviewed when it appeared in the inaugural issue of Capricious SF. What remains is a trio of stories that are dense and moody, that revolve around hurt and grief and fear. They are not, as a rule, happy stories, and some of them might have reduced me to a small collection of salty tears, but they are all deep and heavy and incredibly crafted. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #232

It’s another masterfully paired issue of stories at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with two pieces that weaves power and poison, duty and servitude. Both stories find characters who have had no choice about where they are, who are essentially slaves, though that they are treated somewhat well is supposed to make them loyal to their captors, to their owners. And in both stories the characters have to face what they’re doing and their desires—for freedom perhaps, or for worth. In both, the characters seem to know their trajectory, their fate, and it is violent and quick. And though they seem at peace with that, there is a tendril of doubt that works through them, making them question if there might be another way. To live. Let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Jordan Grimmer

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasty Quarterly Q33

There's something of a surprise in this issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly—a pair of linked novelettes! The stories are dark and center on the European invasion and colonization of the Americas, and the death and sins associated with that time. The stories feature characters in some ways divorced from their people, alone and looking for punishment for the direction their lives have taken. Instead they find new purpose in the face of a dark and twisted threats that go far beyond the Europeans knocking at the door. Along with another short story and a nice range of poetry, the issue marks an interesting complication of what's normally considered Heroic Fantasy. But it works, not only to fit into the guiding theme of the publication, but to find new territory to discover. Onward to the reviews!

Art by Jereme Peabody

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #59

August brings a pair of rather short short stories to Nightmare Magazine. In both, characters find a bit of magic lurking at the edges of the mundane. The two stories differ sharply, though, in how the main characters approach that magic. In the first, the magic is familiar, grown out of the land where the character is from, as much a part of him as not. In the second story, though, the magic springs forth from something quite foreign, for something dark and alluring that turns out to be incredibly dangerous. These are both stories about a loss, about a disappearance, but they take very different paths to that final moment when someone realizes they’ve been left behind. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Chorazin / Adobe Stock Art

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #17 [August stuff]

August brings another packed month of content from Uncanny Magazine. And as much as it pains me to do so, I’m going to be stepping away from reviewing the nonfiction, not only here but probably everywhere. I love Uncanny in part because of its nonfiction, but I feel I need a little bit of slack in what is a difficult time for me so my apologies. I will still definitely be reviewing all the original fiction and poetry, though, and there are three stories and two poems to look at. Everything this month seems to hinge a bit on transformations. Seasons shifting. Women being made into trees. A person becoming a city. These transformations reveal a certain corruption at the heart of the worlds the pieces explore—our world. And they show that often there is no good way to avoid unwanted change, that when there are those with power and those without, harm and injustice often follow, and those without are often the ones to suffer regardless of what they do. It’s a brace of difficult and rather dark SFF, but there’s some light as well. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Kirbi Fagan

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Monthly Round - July 2017

The Monthly Round is up over at Nerds of a Feather, Flock together. It gathers up my favorite July 2017 short SFF reads and pairs them with booze, tasting notes, and reviews. It's a lot of fun.

For those who just want the title and links, well...

Tasting Flight - July 2017

“A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power” by R.B. Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“Owl vs. The Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger (Strange Horizons)

“Cracks” by Xen (Fiyah)

“Waiting on a Bright Moon” by JY Yang (Tor dot com)

“Elsewhere” by Meera Jhala (Flash Fiction Online)

"A Question of Faith” by Tonya Liburd (The Book Smugglers)



Thursday, August 17, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/07/2017 & 08/14/2017

There's a pair of stories and a pair of poems in the first two weeks of Strange Horizons' August content. The stories present brilliant portrayals of minds that are part human and part computer. Minds that have been made into something else—into a ship, into a solar collector. This is not always a consensual act, and the stories look not only of the cost of such a transformation, but how these new beings interact with their world, their civilizations. Through war and extinction, the stories manage two very powerful looks at decay and hope. The poems as well provide a nice array of strange ideas and poignant memories, as they tour a house of birds and the filmography of a dead actor. It's an incredibly two weeks of content, and I will just get to the reviews!

Art by Galen Dara

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Quick Sips - Shimmer #38 [August stuff]

It’s a rather action packed month of stories from Shimmer Magazine. With two original pieces, the settings move from old myths to weird West, from a pair of monsters circling each other unaware to a woman trying to outrun those that would suppress the truth. Both stories feature women who feel the need to act. Mostly, to act against the injustice of their situations. The cultures that pressure them to accept what domestic service they can offer and a death because of the inequities of the system. Instead they decide to risk a much younger death in order to fight back. To push against the pressures wanting them to conform in order to make space. It’s not always a very successful fight they wage, but it’s one that they believe in, and it makes for some interesting reading. So let’s get to those reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #131

It's another full month of stories from Clarkesworld, though only the translation this time is a novelette. The stories are dense, though, and wonderfully strange, revealing the topography of meat, the tapestry of stars, the malleability of human flesh, and the tenacity of scientists working to protect data. There is a theme running through many of the stories of form and perseverance. People stand against the enormity of societal pressures to conform, to accept erasure or corruption or expectation. They follow what they know to be right even as it threatens to tear them apart. It makes for a nicely balance, emotionally impacting issue. To the reviews!

Art by Pascal Blanche

Monday, August 14, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #99

The subtitle for this issue of Apex Magazine is “A Celebration of Indigenous American Fantasicsts,” and I think that’s a great way of framing these four original short stories. Selected by guest editor Amy H. Sturgis, they are a celebration, though not always an overjoyed one. It’s a celebration with an edge of memory, with a weight that comes from constant danger and corruption. These are stories that examine identity and authenticity and family. That look at the way that relationships can fray or be strengthened by being in danger, by being isolated and marginalized. They are a wonderful bunch of stories, and form a nicely coherent and flowing issue that you should go and buy immediately. To the reviews!

Art by Dana Tiger

Friday, August 11, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies # 231

August at Beneath Ceaseless Skies starts out with blood and war and cruelty. With two stories that look squarely at corruption and the specter of overwhelming power and corruption. The two stories show very different scopes of a similar core conflict between...well, not exactly good and evil, though if you squint it might seem that way at first. More like between cruelty and compassion. Or between freedom and enslavement. The stories show just how similar these sides can be at times, in their methods and their results, and how it can seem incredibly pointless in the face of the limitations of hope. And yet both still leave room for the characters to strive for something they might never reach, that they will probably never reach, because in the striving there is something beautiful and rewarding and valuable. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Jordan Grimmer

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus August 2017

It’s a longer release from GigaNotoSaurus this month, with a long novelette that warms the cold, lonely chambers of my reviewer-heart. There is something to be said about a story that just embraces being an adventure, that features characters striking out into the unknown wilderness for the joy of it. And it reveals a world of striking beauty and harsh reality. Of danger and mistrust and old hurts, but also the possibility of new growth and new hope. Of healing. It’s an absolutely gorgeous story that is well worth the time and effort, and I’ll just get to the review!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #87

It’s a rather subdued batch of stories for August’s Lightspeed Magazine. Most of them focus on conversations and internal motivations. They focus on both great kindnesses, and great abuses. Throughout the stories there is a sense of slowness, of time. These pieces are not in a hurry. Instead they unfold thoughtfully, patiently, holding important truths toward the end when they can be revealed in all their complex beauty and ugliness. These are stories that hold a weight to them that goes beyond explosions or monsters—what they face instead are corrupt institutions that form the bedrock of society. They look at the pain and the hurt being done and they offer no easy answers, no ready solutions, just the assurance that people helping being can be a source of magic and light, just as people hurting people can be a source of a darker sort of magic, and one that’s all around us. To the reviews!

Art by Reiko Murakami

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online August 2017

Summer is still going strong at Flash Fiction Online, but with August comes a slow slide toward autumn, the bright colors of spring now distant and the heat of the summer leaning toward oppressive. To push back against that, here are three original stories that focus on relationships and, mostly, the redemptive potential of relationships—friendships and partnerships that allow people to grow in ways that they might not have been able to do alone. The stories can be heavy at times with fear and uncertainty and hurt, but end up shining with the beauty of the connection they highlight. And the issues doesn’t stay completely serious, offering a lighter, funnier tale to ease the heavier impacts. So yeah, to the reviews!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #27

August brings a pair of rather strange stories to The Dark Magazine, including one that’s much longer than I’m used to from the publication. Both stories look at different kinds of hunger, different ways that the main characters seek to fill up an emptiness inside them. For both characters, the emptiness has something to do with the loss of their mothers when they were quite young. For one, that loss is a trauma that he can’t seem to heal from. For the other, the loss opens up a void that cannot be filled, that is filled with anger and uncertainty. These are stories that do a good job exploring place and grief, the characters trying to find some map to lead them toward peace and fulfillment. How the characters follow those maps, though, is quite different. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Tomislav Tikulin

Friday, August 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/17/2017, 07/24/2017, 07/31/2017

It’s a nicely balanced three weeks of content from Strange Horizons. For my part I’m looking at a story and three poems, though there was also a bit of nonfiction that is certainly worth checking out. All the pieces do a nice job of mixing the strange and the mundane, the exotic and the familiar. The story shows the magic of desperation and family, and also the ache of growing up and growing apart. And the poems look at fairy tales and out space, food and freedom. All the pieces digs a bit at something that seems like it might be ordinary and finds something fantastical to hold on to, even as they reveal very intimate, personal truths. So without further delays, the reviews!

Art by Sebastian Gomez

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com July 2017

The stories from Tor dot com this month offer a bit of everything—shared universe urban fantasy, far future space opera, near future apocalyptic science fiction, and a sort of twisted fairy tale. And the stories are about resistance and standing up to bullies, or at the very least standing up for the vulnerable, for those who society has let slip into danger, pain, and erasure. The stories sing with a power that crosses galaxies and makes bones dance for justice, and they center characters in some ways just trying to get on with their lives who must stop and take stock…and then take action. To the reviews!

Art by Victo Ngai

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction July 2017

The July stories from Fireside Fiction keep things rather short and sharp, with three flash pieces and a short story. The fiction is moving and rather violent, showing characters faced with difficult or even impossible situations—the betrayal of a sibling, the dangers of unknown worlds, the end of human life on Earth. The stories all take a rather measured look at people who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and asking if they really have to. In some of the stories, the answer is a resounding yes, reported with a gun's firing. In some, the answer is no, as people can decide to step back from the brink, to change their role from active to support. And in some, the answer is more nebulous, less certain. But in all of them the characters must look within and ask how far they will go for their cause. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that the new BlackSpecFic report is up for 2016 and the numbers are…less than ideal. In any event, very much go read the report by Cecily Kane and then all the commentary by a slew of contributors. Do it!!!

Art by Galen Dara

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers July 2017

It's another busy month at The Book Smugglers this July with two new Gods & Monsters short stories! And really the stories are very different takes on the central theme, the first looking at faith and how it's constructed, how it's framed, and how it can take on a life of its own. The second visits much more the monsters side of things to present a gothic horror that is full of gasps, fainting, and things lurking in the dark. Both stories take a close look at the characters first, and on family. They examine the ways that family can be a burden, or a great strength. And they both provide moments of action, moments of quiet contemplation, and moments of staggering horror. So yeah, let's get to those reviews!

Art by Jennifter Johnson