Sunday, December 31, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, part 12: Enigma Tales by Una McCormack

We're here. It's not the end, exactly, but it is an end. Of the year, at the very least. On this last day of 2017 I think I can fairly's been hard. On almost every level. It's been hard. But I think this series has made my year at least a little brighter. I hope it's brought you a little brightness in the dark as well.

We've reached the twelfth chapter in the Year of Garak, and are looking at the most recent major Garak project, Enigma Tales by Una McCormack. After everything, I think it's a fitting way to close out the year. With hope. With triumph. With the prospect of healing. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Please, if you haven't, go and check out the posts so far, including a lot of discussions about everyone's favorite plain, simple tailor. You can find all the posts here: January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November.

To the review!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 12/18/2017

Taking the last week of the year off means that Strange Horizons closes things out with a novelette and a poem, about difference and transformation. The story focuses on the harm that people can do, on myths and the idea of justice. It's also about hope, though, and about isolation and about survival. And facing the terrible beauty and possibilities of a changing world. The poem takes on a more romantic feel and features two people who shouldn't work, who couldn't work, and yet who somehow do. It's a yearning way to close out the year, which seems rather fitting for 2017. To the reviews!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Quick Sips - Terraform December 2017

December comes to Terraform with four original stories, (okay three but I missed the last November piece so that's here too) which cover a lot of ground, from nightmare Christmas to sex in the future, to combat in the Ukraine, to the extinction of human life on Earth. Woo. These are pieces that do a good job encapsulating what Terraform does as a publication—offering up glimpses of possible futures that lean on the technology and trends of today. Some of them...are a bit more successful than others, imo, but they all have something interesting to unpack. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #241

With its last issue of the year, Beneath Ceaseless Skies delivers two very dark fantasy stories about expectations and rules, curses and sacrifices. In both characters find themselves playing out roles that have been laid out for them, having to find ways to exist in stifling situations. In both, the main characters must contend with the weight of tradition and expectation. In both, the main characters are faced with strong willed women who want to change things. Who want to break the Rules. And in both stories the main characters have to face what the world is like, what their life might be like, should those Rules shatter. It’s an interesting issue that asks some very difficult questions and reveals some visceral hurts. To the reviews!

Art by Dimitrije Miljus

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Quick Sips - Two Stories from Prime Books

In something of a departure from my normal schedule, I’m looking at two short stories released individually from Prime Books. The stories fall heavily into military science fiction, with wars that take place across solar systems and beyond, and soldiers trapped, for all the broad horizons of warfare, into suffocating roles thanks to loss, grief, and the drive for conflict. Nestled into narratives about corrupt empires and delicate subterfuge are themes of family, resolve, and the way that justice blurs into something else in the face of atrocity. These are stories of soldiers facing the unknown, cut off from orders or the immediacy of battlefields, having to change the way they think about conflict, or else be ground up by it. So yeah, without further dalliance, to the reviews!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Quick Sips - Shimmer #40

It’s a pair of December stories from Shimmer Magazine that focus on love, on relationships, and on distance. That reveal characters dealing with new realities that their skills and their lives have brought them. Unexpected sentience and unexplored magic. That allow they to experience love and yearning, to brush against acceptance and community, only to have part of that taken away. These are not the happiest of stories, and yet they are both beautiful and alive with feeling, with heart. They show characters trying to make connections despite their fears, despite how their uniqueness might make them targets. And even when things fall apart, the stories show the fragile grace of love and compassion. To the reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #103

December’s Apex Magazine looks at the end of the world, or at least two visions of it. Two very different visions of it. And yet both look at how people face destruction and the prospect of having broken a system so wholly that there might not be any going back. In one story, though, humanity has destroyed the Earth through what might be negligence, or might be random chance, and in the other it comes from hubris, from pushing too far, too fast, even after having prevented environmental ruin. The stories look at characters faced with knowledge of the end and how they adapt, what they reach for. Comfort, perhaps, but mostly other people. Community. A way to work together in order to perhaps salvage something from the end. And maybe even do something about it. Before I give too much away, though, to the reviews!

Art by Clarissa Ferguson

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #19 [December stuff]

The holidays come a bit early this year with an extra-big issue of Uncanny Magazine, stuffed with four short stories and four poems. Of course, perhaps because we are finally in winter’s talons, the work has a decidedly complex and not-exactly-happy feel to it, the pieces confronting some very heavy issues and finding characters not always able to escape the harsh realities of their situations. From new gods born from misery and exploitation to an android finding their future grim indeed, from a young girl dealing with trauma and stress to a hero who knows that heroes are anything but always heroic, the stories are tinted windows into humanity, revealing us not always through contemporary humans but through our stories, our creations, and our works. It’s not the brightest of pictures, but it does create for some captivating and compelling short fiction, with a whole slew of poetry that ranges from sweet to brash and back again. To the reviews!

Art by Julie Dillon

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #63

The stories in the December Nightmare Magazine send 2017 out with a whimper of fear and the crushing knowledge of harm and abuse. The stories take full aim at the ways in which people suffer, showing both the strength and the draining weakness that can come from being at risk, from being hurt, from being killed. Both feature dead girls and women dealing with their situations, trying to find some way forward despite, you know, being dead. How well they succeed—how well they are capable of succeeding, in some ways depends on how much hope you as a reader enter into the stories with. Whatever the case, the stories are ripe with darkness and horror and do a wonderful job exploring pain and injustice. Let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Breakermaximus / Fotolia

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Monthly Round - November 2017

The Monthly Round is up now at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together. Go check out my favorite short SFF stories of the month and see what kind of adult beverage I think they pair well with. There's tasting notes and reviews, too. Just the list is included below. Cheers!

Tasting Flight - November 2017

“The Summer Mask” by Karin Lowachee (Nightmare)
“The Sound of His Voice Like the Colour of Salt” by L Chan (The Dark)
“Hungry Demigods” by Andrea Tang (GigaNotoSaurus)
“A Pestilence Come for Old Ma Salt” by Dayna K. Smith (Lackington’s)
“An Unexpected Boon” by S.B. Divya (Apex)
“Making Us Monsters” by Sam J. Miller & Lara Elena Donnelly (Uncanny)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Quick Sips - Samovar 12/04/2017 & Strange Horizons 12/11/2017

Strange Horizons actually starts the month off with a new issue of it's sibling publication, Samovar, which focuses on translated SFF. Now, because the issue contains two reprints, and because I'm short on time with the holidays approaching, I'm giving those a pass for reviewing but I very much recommend people check them out. As it is I'm looking at an original translated novelette, as well as a short story and poem original and originally in English. The content speaks of strangeness and dread, destruction and hope. The stories are both dark and feature people trapped in a situation, finding that their imprisonment isn't quite what they thought it was, though they take two very different roads from there. And the poem is just a delight, fun and full of a nostalgic joy. Before I give too much away, though, let's get to the reviews!

Art by Jabari Weathers

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #240

As always, it’s a nicely paired issue from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with two novelettes that deal with men’s power over women. Which, hey, might not seem like the greatest of things to focus this many words on, but I love how these stories contrast, the different ways they show forward for men who realize that they are in power, and realize that their power gives them a unique standing over those they care about, those that they are supposed to love as an equal. The stories do a great job of defining these relationships, the men struggling with the amount of power their station gives them, with the certainty that they can act and not be stopped. In one of the stories, though, the man learns how to be an equal to his partner, to care about what she wants, and in the other the man decides he knows best for the woman he cares about, and though he does give her something she wants, it poisons the relationship they share. These are interesting takes on power and relationships, and I’m going to get to those reviews!

Art by Dimitrije Miljus

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #135

The December Clarkesworld Magazine is all about oppression and corruption, about settings that where hope is a fragile, dangerous thing and where the characters are living in equal parts running from their lack of options and toward a future they’re not sure exists. They are dealing with the hurt and despair from having to live in situations that seem crushing, that seem all-consuming, where they don’t really have the power to fight back, where their tools have been made by their oppressors and where any resistance to the situation seems pointless. And yet the stories also look at what resistance in these situations looks like. The stories explore how these characters survive and try to thrive despite everything. Whether by finding an exit they didn’t think possible or trying to make connections in order to make change through cooperation, the stories use their SF elements to explore what it means to hope when hope itself has been twisted into a tool of oppression. To the reviews!

Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus December 2017

December brings one of the longest stories to GigaNotoSaurus, a novella with an interesting mix of elements and its sight set on retribution, rot, and stubborn pride. The setting finds magic weaved into everyday life, though in strange ways, and sets up a situation where a woman running from her mistakes falls in with a group of police officers to help with magic-related mysteries. It’s a wonderful setup that evokes both noirish grit (there’s plenty of blood, grime, and spit) and some more modern sensibilities. It’s also a lot of damn fun, so let’s just jump right into the review!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online December 2017

This is something of an unexpected month from Flash Fiction Online, with two very short flash stories that are also not-really-SFF. All the stories are powerful in their own ways, though, beginning with a tense and wrenching piece about conflict and safety and moving to a pair of stories that tackle romance in very different, but heartwarming, ways. The result is an issue that recognizes the harsh realities of winter, of December, without succumbing to them, reaching instead for the warm of human compassion and love and finding a way to banish the cold for just a little while longer. For all that the kindness and safety are fragile, tenuous things, they also have their own strength, and their own gravity, and are capable of so much. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Friday, December 8, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #31

December brings a pair of stories to The Dark Magazine that focus sharply on observation and theater. In both, women drawn into roles where they are closely watched by men, and in both these experiences are further framed in terms of a sort of voyeurism. In one, a woman is filed, in the other, a woman is part of a play. Both feature stages and bring the reader in as spectators and in some ways as participants. We are the eyes that act as camera and as audience. We get to peek into the private worlds of these character, the inner thoughts dragged out into the light. These are two interesting and at times very unsettling stories that do some fascinating things with style and tone. To the reviews!

Art by Sandeep Karunakaran

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #91

December finds Lightspeed Magazine wondering about what ifs. Because the four original stories all seem to circle around the idea of what if? The characters feel the pull to embrace something that is in some ways against the very core of their beings. A cyborg chef, a religious woman tempted with a dark cure, a young woman trying to break her (literal) programming, and a person faced with doors into other words. For some, they can embrace this pull, can travel boldly into other worlds or find the obsessive joys of cooking meat. For others, they define themselves by how they resist, how they refuse to take the easy road, even if I seems the entire reason they exist. For all of them, though, the stories unfold as they confront their roles and seek to find ways to retain who they are in the face of a world, or worlds, that want to change them. Some are more successful than others, but all make for great reading. To the reviews!

Art by Christopher Park

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com November 2017

November is another short one for Tor dot com, with a pair of new SFF novelettes. The two stories couldn't be much different if they tried, with one a near-future sci fi with a YA flare and the other...just...weird. The stories deal with themes of deceit and discovery, exploration and growing, but in some starkly contrasting ways. I'm not gonna lie, the first story is a lot easier to parse than the second, but that doesn't mean that both don't have interesting depths to mine. The world building in each is stunning and the character work compelling with flashes of fun. So let's get to the reviews!

Art by Armando Veve

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/20/2017 & 11/27/2017

It's another two weeks of content from Strange Horizons, featuring a stunning horror novelette and two poems that explore art, voice, and freedom. The pieces weave together quite well, crafting narratives and experiences that deal very strongly with pain, expression, and community. They feature characters often dealing with the disconnect between rich inner lives and an external world that doesn't allow them to be at peace, where abuse is rampant and where true freedom can seem impossible. Instead they focus on the ways they can at least partially escape their oppressions, ways that they can still look for beauty and release and relief. These are some wonderful explorations of SFF and possibility, and I'm going to jump right into reviewing them!

Art by Tihomir Tikulin

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction November 2017

The content continues to pour out from Fireside Fiction, with three flash fiction pieces, a short story, and two more chapters of the serial novella they've been releasing. It's a lot to take in, from pieces that feature a lot of fun but sneak in some incredibly profound and stilling moments as well. These are stories that capture a feeling of people struggling against injustices, against the limitations of their realities, against forces that want to keep people still and controlled. And it's about rebellion and the cost of rebellion. But the reward as well. Some of the pieces feature characters able to fight back, to win openly against injustice. Others must accept a more measured gain, a more incremental victory. And others still find that their victory is tenuous and might be taken from them, leaving them voiceless and abandoned. It's a neat mix of SFF stories, so let's get to the reviews!

Art by Max Cole-Takanikos

Saturday, December 2, 2017

So You Want To Be A Short SFF Reviewer?

Hi. My name is Charles Payseur and I began reviewing short SFF in early 2014 for Tangent Online, with Dave Truesdale as my guide and mentor. If you shuddered just a bit there, I’m sorry. But imagine, little baby queer me, just getting into the field in my mid 20s, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. And running into that. I’ve had an Education. One that’s been somewhat dearly bought, but here I am, closing in on four years later.

Short SFF is a field dominated by broken stairs and strange pitfalls. What's more, it seems to attract some (fairly loud) people who really like to make objective statements of merit with regards to stories and are absolute shit at admitting when they’re in the wrong while simultaneously being wrong fairly frequently and jerks generally. It's a field that chews and spits out a great many excellent reviewers while seeming to find time to praise and promote the most toxic and insensitive. It's often tiring, draining, and infuriating. But it's also kind of amazing. Welcome!

My general goal in this is just to give something of a guide for people wanting to get started in short SFF reviewing. Because the field needs more and more diverse voices if it's to self-govern away from the most toxic examples of short SFF reviewer. It's not a comprehensive guide, but I've left my contact info toward the bottom if you have any more questions. So yeah, let's get started!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Quick Sips - Terraform November 2017

There are two new short stories from Terraform this month and they both offer very chilling glimpses of the future. These are stories that reveal incredibly suffocating settings, where people struggle to get even the freedom to breathe. Everything here has progressed technologically, but the stories ask what good technology is when legislation does not keep up to protect people against exploitation, against abuse from the systems of industry and government. The result is stories about people ground under the wheels of corporation and bureaucracy, forced to endure what they can't and then pushed further, into a realm where there is no safety, and no way out. To the reviews!