Wednesday, October 31, 2018

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #11: THE HAUNTED MASK

Happy Halloween! Things are a bit messed up this month because as I read this book back in early September I was struck that it’s a Halloween book, and as the holiday was only a month away, I thought saving this review for all you good people to ring in the season would be a good idea. So yeah, sorry that things are a bit weird, timing-wise, but I assure you that things are about to get SUPER SPOOKY, so there is that. Things are also about to get SUPER AWFUL because, let’s face it, the series is back into another slump following some rather ridiculous installments. I’m not sure where this book falls in the popularity of the series as a whole, but it’s still fairly early and it certainly feels to me like Stine is struggling to figure out exactly what to do, throwing darts at a big board of ideas while still kind of trying to keep things serious. Which might sound weird, considering, but stay with me.

Also, fittingly, my drink is a bit out of hand as well. I’m having New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin and...okay, before I critique Goosebumps allow me to say that this Voodoo Ranger sub-brand is getting out of hand. Already there were three different Voodoo Rangers, and they represent New Belgium’s line of IPAs (what used to be Ranger, Rampant, and...whatever the third one was). Having one name and different colors for them now is just...kinda confusing, but at least they’re all IPAs. And then Atomic Pumpkin shows up. I will admit! The art is very well suited to a pumpkin beer (skeletons and all). BUT! It’s not even an IPA. It’s a pumpkin and habanero spiced ale. Which is delicious and burns a bit but is not really in keeping with the rest of the line. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense while still being rather Halloweeny—which ends up being very well suited for today’s adventure. So, without further beer-rants (I hope), let’s get to it!

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #263

The anniversary issues might be over but the great stories continue at Beneath Ceaseless Skies with a pair of pieces that look at nobility, conflict, and the future. That find two very different characters deals with their worlds falling part. In one, a woman blessed and cursed to see the future must find a way to keep going when everything seems futile. And in the other, a woman who often hears the voices of the past must navigate a world unlike anything anyone has ever experienced. In both, the characters don’t really choose the disasters that find them, but both have to find ways to wrest what agency they can from the situations in order to save what they can, and to still work for a better future. To the reviews!

Art by Veli Nyström

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Quick Sips - Nightmare #73

October brings a fittingly creepy issue of Nightmare Magazine, with a pair of stories very much focusing on families, on abuse, and on the need to escape the darkness that can seep in through the pores when living with abuse. Both stories show women who are trying to flee abusive parents, who find that even so something of those relationships is haunting them. Either literally, through the ashes of a dead mother, or metaphorically, through a new abusive relationship that very much mirrors the same old manipulations and hurts. And both stories imagine what it might take to break free, and what kind of moments these characters might need in order to realize that they need to take action. Let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Freshidea / Fotolia

Monday, October 29, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #113

October certainly brings a creepy batch of dark SFF to Apex Magazine, with three short stories delving into violence, voice, and transformation. In each of the stories, there is a woman facing violence from men. Not always of the physical kind, but always of an unjust kind. Misogynist. Racist. The men of these stories all know that they’re doing wrong, that they’re hurting women. And yet all of them justify it somehow. Because they’re a devil, or because of their ambition, or because that’s all they know. But it leaves women in the position where they must either ask men for what they want or, being denied, take what they need. That can come with a violence of its own, or it can come with a flight. With an escape. With a hope that there is a place beyond this corruption. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Vinz El Tabanas

Friday, October 26, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 10/11/2018, 10/15/2018, & 10/22/2018

The Strange Horizons fund drive is in full swing, which means extra fiction and poetry as they reach closer to their goal. Along with two regular issues, that means two novelettes and two poems to look at today, all of them building interesting worlds around hurts, around injustices. That might be the more mundane march of capitalism toward a future defined by its inequality and greed, or it might be a vivid world that has developed in the ocean, where those people who were cast away have built a society for themselves only to find the toxic influences of the very people they hoped they'd escaped lingering and infesting them. It's a dark collection of works but ones with sparks that cannot be completely extinguished, and there's a strong hope to themes on display. So let's get to the reviews!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #262 [part 2/2]

I think this is it for this year’s anniversary shenanigans from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with another two novelettes that explore corruption and tragedy, friendship and betrayal. And really, I think the pair do a great job of examining where friendships can fracture and break apart. They show the great pressure that comes from people growing and living and trying to pursue their dreams amid cruelty and corruption and violence. Tyranny and war. They show two pairs of women who begin the closest of friends, so hopeful of what the future will bring, and then follows the trajectory down into despair, into hurt, into betrayal. It’s a difficult issue, but very much worth grappling with. To the reviews!

Art by Mats Minnhagen

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

X Marks the Story October 2018

My latest guide to the wide world of short SFF is up today at The Book Smugglers, covering a bunch of stories that put me in the autumnal spirit. Go check out the full list and further X-plorations! For those who just want the main reviewed stories, that's included below. Cheers!

Coyote Now Wears a Suit”, Ani Fox (Published in Apex #112, September 2018)
Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”, Daryl Gregory (Published at, September 2018)
Shadowdrop”, Chris Willrich (Published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261, October 2018)
Ten Deals with The Indigo Snake”, Mel Kassel (Published in Lightspeed #101, October 2018)
Saudade”, Nelson Rolon (Published in Fiyah Literary Magazine #8, October 2018)
The Palace of the Silver Dragon”, Y. M. Pang (Published at Strange Horizons, October 2018)


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Quick Sips - Shimmer #45 [October stuff]

Don’t cry, people, but there’s only one more issue of Shimmer after this. Okay, go ahead and cry. I’m right there with you. For this penultimate issue, though, the publication pulled out an extra story, so I’m looking at three today that, perhaps appropriately, all revolve around death and loss. So yeah, might want to cover your feels in bubble wrap at this point, because these are stories that very much deal with violence and violation, with hope and with despair. They feature characters who have lost something. Someone. Who have lost lives, really, and where they go from there really comes from what kind of story it is. But there’s a palpable loneliness to many of the stories, and a sense change, and transformation, and entering into a new state. Which can be full of denial and acceptance, rebellion or ignorance. It’s a wonderful batch of stories, so let’s get to the reviews.

Art by Sandro Castelli

Monday, October 22, 2018

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #145

The October issue of Clarkesworld Magazine is all about survival. Or, I should say, about finding out what’s more important than survival. These stories take settings that are, well, grim. Where war and other disasters have created a situation where just holding onto life is difficult. Where for many it would seem obvious that it’s time to tighten one’s belt and get down to the serious business of surviving. And yet the stories show that surviving isn’t enough, especially if it means sacrificing people. That, without justice and hope beyond just making it to another day, surviving might not be worth it. But that, with an eye toward progress, and hope for something better (not just the prevention of something worse), people and peoples can begin to heal the damage that’s been caused and maybe reach a place where they can heal and find a better way to live. To the reviews!

Art by Pat Presley

Friday, October 19, 2018

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus October 2018

October brings a fittingly creepy fantasy novelette to GigaNotoSaurus—one that blends magic and mundane, horror and memory. It looks at identity, and what it can mean to be effectively cut off from what’s supposed to define you, what’s supposed to give you meaning and depth. And instead having to find that yourself, build it up in the place of what might have been. It’s a slow and strange and often painful journey that the story describes, and it definitely keeps the month focused on the dark and wrenchingly hopeful. To the review!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #262 [part 1/2]

The anniversary offerings continue with a second special double issue from Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Again, for the sake of my sanity, I’m going to break this out into two parts. The first features a novelette and short story that for me deal very much with narratives and with learning. They both have the feel of engaging with fable, with magic, and with characters learning lessons that they weren’t really expecting to. Whether that lesson is about the nature of growing up or of becoming a better person, in both there’s a focus on people seeking something that will give them power and answers and then, ultimately, wondering if that’s what they really want. Both carry a sense of strangeness and wonder, as well, and are warm and cozy at the same time. Before I give too much away, though, let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Mats Minnhagen

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Regular Sips - Between the Firmaments by JY Yang

Okay, so I always appreciate the hell out of the serial projects that The Book Smugglers come out with. Two years ago it was the Spindle City stories, and last year it was Hurricane Heels, and now there’s the serial novella, Between the Firmaments. And it lives up to the fragile beauty and persistent will that drove the previous worlds. Here a planet has been subjugated and stripped of almost all of its gods, their divinity used for the wealth and comfort and grandeur of the alien invaders. And one god, laid low but uncaptured, must walk the line between annihilation and lust, between hope and despair. Through a gauntlet that seems impossible to survive he has to run and hope to fate and luck and the strength of the bonds he’s built between those he loves that when the smoke clears there’s still something left to salvage. So yeah, let’s get to the review!

Art by Reiko Murakami

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #24 Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! [October Poetry]

Four poems close out Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! And most of the poems share a theme of expectations and recovery. Featuring characters who are being pushed in certain directions because of their bodies, because of their injuries, because of what other people want. And who, in defiance, decide to embrace what they want. And they do show the rather revolutionary act that self care and affirmation can be for disabled characters, when everyone wants to control the narrative of what being disabled is, to make it into something broken and wrong in need of fixing. These are some wonderful pieces, and I’ll just get right to the reviews!

Art by Likhain

Monday, October 15, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #24 Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! [October Fiction]

It’s the second month of Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! As before, I’m breaking October’s offerings into two parts, the fiction and the poetry, and starting out with the six new stories exploring futures near and far. This month’s pieces definitely focus on some grim realities—hospitals and universities and families and cities where disabled people are not exactly the priority, or at least not in the ways they want. The stories look at characters trapped by circumstance and (largely) by tragedy, brought to a crisis because their situation is getting worse and worse. And in each case, they must make decisions either to sit down and be quiet or to fight back, to try to follow their own hearts. The works are often dark, often difficult, but ultimately I feel reaching for healing and for peace, for a space that the characters can have as their own, which is much more about freedom than confinement. To the reviews!

Art by Likhain

Friday, October 12, 2018

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 10/01/2018 & 10/08/2018

Two stories and two poems open up Strange Horizons' October issues. And they are filled with yearning, with family, with hurt, and with the hope of healing. In all of the pieces, though, that healing looks very different. For some it's a personal thing that comes with freedom from other people's expectations. For others it's a societal thing that comes only through a collective effort to work for justice and against the pull of authoritarianism. In all of them, though, there are characters seeking to come to terms with their lives and the tragedies that have found them. Dark but glowing with a persevering light, they are difficult and beautiful, and I'll get right to reviewing them.

And fyi, the Strange Horizons funding drive is on, so get on that and help this amazing publication continue!

Art by Galen Dara

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261 [part 2/2]

I don’t think I was expecting another novella in this anniversary issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but it seems like the issue is holding nothing back with a new novelette and novella on offer that explore resistance and corruption. Both stories, after all, focus on people who are drawn into seeing the system they are a part of as standing in the way of progress and justice. Both settings unfold in a sort of wounded state, the people weary after war and loss and flight. And yet in that weariness they have allowed complacency to lead them into tragedy and abuse and folly. And the main characters are out to change that, against all the power and pressure to stay silent, to go with the flow. They risk everything for what they believe, what they know to be right, and to try and save those they love. It’s a pair of beautiful if brutal stories, and I’ll get right to those reviews!

Art by Mats Minnhagen

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Quick Sips - Fiyah Literary Magazine #8 [Pilgrimage]

October brings a new issue of Fiyah Literary Magazine, and with it four new stories and two new poems exploring the theme of “Pilgrimage.” For the fiction, the theme tends to move around action and movement, flight and escape. From astronauts fleeing destruction and death to young women navigating a post-apocalypse, the characters find themselves cast adrift, unmoored what they expected their lives to be. What their lives could have been if not for the violence that chases them, the corruption and injustice that hounds them. If not for their own dreams and hopes, reaching toward a future where they can be powerful and free. These stories feature characters dealing with isolation, trying to make connections, even if it’s with themselves. And the poetry takes the theme is a bit of a different direction, showing a pilgrimage not just of moving through space but through narrative itself. The pair of poems explore being cut off not from a place but a literary and narrative tradition that keeps the narrators out or else pushes them to conform to the way things are. It’s a deep and complex issue, so let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Edge

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online October 2018

October’s Flash Fiction Online seems to me to focus on some strange and dramatic resolutions. Whether it’s from a living dead woman to finally be buried and done, or a supervillains deciding that it’s time for villainy (and heroism) to be snuffed out, or even a father who seems ready to battle the entire universe to solve a mystery near to him and his family, the stories all focus on moments of strangeness that come amidst other strangenesses that people have already accepted. Being dead and hollow while still alive. Heroes and villains fighting for dominance in an endless cycle. Ethereal gorillas watching everyone. And the stories represent a moment of change, and attempt to cut through the strangeness and re-establish a status quo that’s more...well, more normal. It’s an interesting issue and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Monday, October 8, 2018

Quick Sips - The Dark #41

The two original stories from The Dark Magazine’s October issue occupy the thin and nebulous space between the “normal” world and what lurks beneath and around that. The world of dark magic and death, of beings willing to make bargains, even if those bargains are always made in bad faith. And they feature characters made desperate because of the plight of their families, their parents or children. Willing to do something but not exactly sure how to start. And the stories are tragic but not crushingly so, sharp but with enough hope to smooth some of the rough corners and make for an interesting and entertaining issue. To the reviews!

Art by Gloom82 (Anton Semenov)

Friday, October 5, 2018

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #101

October brings something of the spooky to Lightspeed Magazine, with a novelette and three short stories that examine the darker sides of humanity. From muses and obsession to lust and monsters, the works all show people trying to find happiness in (perhaps) all the wrong places. Finding instead addiction and decay and a deterioration of their relationships. But at the same time, these disasters also break down the walls that they’ve built to keep their true selves hidden and safe. They are revealed even as they are threatened with complete destruction, and it’s a beautiful and haunting experience. To the reviews!

Art by Reiko Murakami

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Quick Sips - Terraform September 2018

I'm closing out my September reviews with a look at Motherboard's Terraform, which brings four new looks at rather terrifying possible futures. As usual, the stories range from predictive to outlandish, but all of them lean toward warnings. Signs for people to read and pay attention to. Turn back now. Avoid this possible time when humanity has lost respect for our world and our selves. These are pieces look at the way things could be with an unblinking gaze and invite readers to look into that abyss. It's a nice range of works, too, from far future space extinctions to much more grounded political sci fi, where corruption and injustice are only a step or two beyond what we have now. It makes for a strong month of stories, which I'll get right to reviewing!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261 [part1/2]

It’s another stuffed anniversary issue, this time from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and once again I’m breaking out my review into two parts (mostly because half the stories are being released in September and half in October). The first pair of stories are an interesting mix, one an invigorating adventure with a cat protagonist and the other a much darker and more difficult look at the ways that misogyny perpetuates tragedy. For their many differences, though, they are linked by a connection to what lurks under the surface. Under the surface of the earth, where gems and sleeping dragons lie. And under the surface of people, where reputation can seem to mean much more than what’s truly lurking in the hearts of people. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Mats Minnhagen

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Quick Sips - Tor dot com September 2018

September is a bit of a...light(?) month from Tor dot com, with only two novelettes released. But given the weight and power of the works, I don't think light is exactly the word for it. Instead, these are stories that look at myth, that look at harm, and family, and abuse. Featuring characters who are not defined by the traumas they've endured, the broken world they have to live through, but have certainly been touched by them. Who, despite everything, are still trying to find a way to make the situation better, to make a better life for themselves and their families. These are difficult stories about inheritance and about hope, and they pack quite the punch. So let's get to the reviews!

Art by Keith Negley

Monday, October 1, 2018

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #59

The four stories from Fireside Magazine this month deal with violation and consent, with connections and deceit and fate. There’s a good mix of fun and serious, fantasy and science fiction. There are alien sharks and magic curses, spirits trying to reach out and friends trying to keep each other safe. It’s hard to pin down a possible unifying theme, but I think they all come together in how they reveal the societal pressures at work that try and leave people open to harm. That try to keep people from banding together, from helping each other. And how individuals can push back against that, though often don’t, or often still fall against the pressure to conform, to accept the values and taboos and corruptions of the way things are. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Michelle Wong