Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Year-in-Review

I made it! Dear readers, I was not sure if I was going to be able to write those words, given what 2018 has been. Personally and globally, this has been a hard year, and there have been many times I thought I would have to pause or quit entirely with my reviewing. But 2018 is officially over, and as I release my recommended reading list for 2018 I also want to pause and look back at my own year, offering a few words and a bunch of stats.

First, a huge thank you to all of my patrons and to everyone who has contributed to my ko-fi or my partner’s GoFundMe. Without you, none of this would be possible. Running Quick Sip Reviews and doing so much in terms of reading and reviewing is not without cost, especially time and opportunities, and without the support I’ve received this year from so many people I just wouldn’t be able to continue. As it is, I think I’ve turned in a pretty solid year of regular and (hopefully) thoughtful reviews and genre commentary. The numbers by month and then overall are below, and I’ll touch briefly on the numbers and then move into a little bit of the state of the field, and then close on my plans for 2019.

The Quick Sip Reviews 2018 Recommended Reading List

Okay, so first a few disclaimers. This list is compiled from my reading, and I have a rather strict reading list. As such, there’s a lot that I’ve missed. You can find what I read here. Further, this list reflects simply my tastes when it comes to short SFF. I read a lot, and review a lot, but that doesn’t really make me an expert on what is “good.” As the title implies, though, these are definitely stories that I recommend everyone read, because they are awesome. I tried to put something of a restriction on the number of stories I’m listing here, so there are only 5 novellas, 20 novelettes, and 50 short stories (for a total of 75 works). Which means these represent something like the top 10% of the stories I read this last year. What’s more, you can find my reviews of these works by searching the site (in the top left of the blog but only if you’re not viewing in mobile mode). Most of these have also been featured in X Marks the Story at The Book Smugglers, so there’s that, too.

This is also just a gutting, incredibly difficult project for me, because I love so many stories. Needless to say there is A LOT of short SFF that appeared in 2018 that doesn't appear here that I would also recommend. In the interests of keeping the list manageable, though...I've done my best to not go overboard.

Okay, that’s about it. Without further delay, my 2018 recommended reading list!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 1-2]

So I’ve never really read a serial story before, but when I was approached by Serial Box to look at Ninth Step Station, a collaborative serial novel by Malka Older, Fran Wilde, Curtis C. Chen, and J Koyanagi, I just couldn’t resist. The premise mixes near-future politics with procedural driven police mysteries. Add a touch of cyberpunk, a dash of international tensions, and a pair of women interesting in both peace and getting at the truth, and it’s a recipe for a wonderful new project that will be launching in 2019. Because of the nature of the project, these early reviews are going to be out before the series is released (January 9), but as the series kicks off I'll slowly fall behind the schedule of the episodes. BE AWARE THERE ARE LIGHT SPOILERS IN THE REVIEW SECTIONS discussing some elements of the series. If you don't want any spoilers, please only read the No Spoilers sections and the Keywords. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Quick Sip Reviews - Fireside Magazine #62

Art by Clare DeZutti
Closing out 2018 in style, the December Fireside Magazine brings four short stories, including a few surprises that continue the publication’s tradition of taking chances with form and style and voice. Namely, it has a choose your own adventure-style story that is a complete delight. Online it’s presented as a hypertext piece, with links to the various parts. In print, though, as part of Fireside Quarterly, it’s a delightful piece woven through the entire work, a sort of treasure hunt of bureaucratic nightmares. And it shows the dedication to making the print book something to pay special attention to, what with the gorgeous fold out art and continuing dedication to pushing the envelope of what print short SFF can do. But before I gush too much about that, there’s a lot of other work to get to as well, much of it having to do with isolation, relationships, and cats. To the reviews!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #267

Art by Tyler Edlin
The last Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of 2018 brings a pair of novelettes defined by violence, age, and exhaustion. Featuring characters who have had a history of violence and fighting, and who want to make an end of it. Who want to find a way that doesn’t involve killing or spilling blood. And who are pulled back in regardless, because of what they are confronted with, because of the systems they live with that require blood and pain and exploitation. To the reviews!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #14: THE WEREWOLF OF FEVER SWAMP

[Merry Christmas! Today I'm releasing a new public Liver Beware! review, so I hope it finds you warm and well!]

It’s the last Liver Beware! of the year, so it’s time to send the year out with style! Which means, of course, with werewolves and incredibly bad science! Are you ready? Just let me introduce my drink of choice today—Hop Freak, a particularly appropriate Double IPA from MKE Brewing. It comes in a tall can and is delicious and the picture of the Hop Freak is this giant hop monster with the most unimpressed/grumpy expression it is perfect, just perfect. So yeah, with that out of the way, to the story!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Quick Sips - Anathema #5

Art by Maria Nguyen
Well I wasn’t really planning on reading or reviewing this issue of Anathema Magazine. I’ve known about it for some time and been excited about everything I’ve seen it do, but as my reviewing queue has been full, I’ve been hesitant to start. Well, thanks to a slow December I decided to just fucking do it. I cannot guarantee right now that I’ll be able to continue reading and reviewing the publication, but with a range of stories like this issue I really hope I do. The work here is challenging, often gutting, but shines with a beauty and a power that cannot be denied. These stories are sharp and focused and for me focus on magic and on change. On bodies and transformations. On betrayals and a hope for a better future. So yeah, a bit unexpected, but let’s get to the reviews!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Quick Sips - Apex #115

Art by Ronnie Jensen
It’s beginning to look a lot like winter in this latest issue of Apex Magazine, with three short stories that capture the feel of decline, loss, grief, and a desire to escape. The stories look at place, both in terms of physical location (a city, an island) but also in a more psychological sense. They look at people who feel trapped by their own thoughts and feelings. By the sense of loss or grief or decline around them. And they all yearn for escape, for release. How they go about working for that, though, is very different, and often quite dark. To the reviews!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Quick Sips - Shimmer #46 [part 2/2]

Art by Sandro Castelli
It’s happened. Shimmer Magazine has put out its final issue. And though the stories will be coming out on the site through April, I’m closing out my look at the giant final issue today. There are six stories, from authors old and new to the publication. And I have to say, for a publication that has always leaned toward contemporary fantasy, these stories show that Shimmer has always been into science fiction as well. Because a lot of these stories take on some classic sci fi tropes, from time travel to resurrecting dinosaurs to space exploration. These are stories full of ghosts, which is wrenching but appropriate. Firstly, because Shimmer has always been interested in ghosts, in hauntings. And secondly, because the publication might be gone, but its presence is going to be felt for a long time to come, a ghost full of words and worlds to revisit. A memory and a promise of magic and stars. And okay I’m not crying you’re crying. To the reviews!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

X Marks the Story - December 2018

The end has come to X Marks the Story. The final installment is up at The Book Smugglers now. Super proud of the work I've done on the project, and looking forward to seeking what the Smugglers get up to next year. The full column is only at their site, but here's a quick look at the stories covered.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Quick Sips - Nightmare #75

Art by Chainat / Fotolia
The stories in Nightmare’s final issue of 2018 is focused very tightly on violation. On women who are targets and who have been hurt. Who have been put into a situation where they don’t really have many choices left. They can fight or they can submit, and often that choice is rather loaded because there’s so rarely an expectation of victory. And loss can be so terrible. But the stories both take on this idea in very different ways, one of them featuring a woman fighting against the pressures to give in and the other…not doing that. Which makes for two stories that could almost not be any more different, but that provide an interesting contrast. To the reviews!

Monday, December 17, 2018

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #13: PIANO LESSONS CAN BE MURDER

Welcome back, dearest readers. I have good news! This book is LOADS BETTER than the previous two. I also have bad news! It’s probably because the main character is a boy. That said, we’re a bit more on track for what I remember Goosebumps to be—ridiculous plots, interesting visuals, and endings that just make no damn sense. Plus, this book dips back into one of my favorite parts of Say Cheese And Die! Namely, evil mad scientist magic! Because just some of that would be too boring. WE MUST HAVE IT ALL! Oh, before I forget—I’m once again drinking Voodoo Ranger from New Belgium (it’s been really cheap here for some reason). But before you start telling me that’s what I always drink, wait! This is the regular IPA Voodoo Ranger. Totally different from the Imperial IPA or Pumpkin Ale I’ve had previously. Because branding! But enough of beer. Let’s get to the Goosebumps!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Quick Sips - Samovar 12/03/2018 & Strange Horizons 12/10/2018

Art by Caroline Dougherty
December brings a new Samovar to the world, as well as a new issue of Strange Horizons. Between them, they feature two short stories, a novelette, and two poems. And the works as a whole are strange ones (perhaps not so surprising, given the name of the publication), featuring ghosts, post-apocalyptic horrors, and a rather shocking take on prophecy. They reveal characters who think they know what they’re about—inventors, judges, inmates—who find that the shape of their worlds, be it a tiny cell or a vast and untamed world, are not what they thought they were. And they have to deal with the changing definitions as best they can. Some find it easy to shift, to edit the rules of their existence. Others find it much more difficult, if not outright impossible. So let’s get to the reviews!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #25 [December stuff]

Art by John Picacio
It’s a month of ghosts, cyborgs, and mages at Uncanny Magazine this December, with three stories and two poems fleshing out a vibrant range of short SFF. The pieces very much represent a wide swath of genre work—one contemporary fantasy, one near-future science fiction, one mix of fantasy and horror and science fiction. The poems look at language and at loss and rebirth. And together there’s an interesting take on family and vulnerability, showing characters trying to find ways of dealing with a new and possibly destructive present while changing their assumptions and focusing on adaptation and perseverance. It’s a great bunch of works, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #147

Art by Pascal Blanché
December brings a whole lot of fiction to Clarkesworld Magazine, with well over forty thousand words spread over three novelettes and two short stories. A lot of the stories focus on corruption and pollution and people trying to find happiness and freedom in situations where great harm has been done both to the planet and to human rights. Where people have become cogs in the machine of human exploitation. It’s not exactly a cheery issue, but some of the stories at least reach through the fog and smog of pain and isolation to show the strength and necessity of human connection to push back against the tide of crushing corruption at work in the world. Let’s get right to the reviews!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #266

Art by Tyler Edlin
As the year nears its end, Beneath Ceaseless Skies takes a moment to step into the dark forest in these two short stories from the penultimate issue of 2018. The pieces follow characters who are compelled to enter the woods, to revisit old feelings and old fears as they face the unavoidable and often unjust rules that draw a wide line between the natural world and the civilized one. Both main characters travel not so much because they want to, because each has their own reasons to want to avoid the shadows of the trees. But they go, because of their devotion to those they care about, because of their ties to their families, and for themselves as well, to prove that they can, and to make a stand. They’re two rather bittersweet stories, full of hope but also an acknowledgment of issues that cannot be easily defeated, shadows that linger among the tall trees of the forest. To the reviews!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus December 2018

GigaNotoSaurus closes out 2018 with a novella, a military science fiction about trauma, growth, and healing. And while it might walk the border of a sort of inappropriate humor and a heartbreaking tragedy, it manages to resolve into something that isn't quite either. That, out of the horrors that the story reveals, something new and delicate and beautiful can grow. And it's by no means an easy read, but it does a lot of really interesting things with naming and with memory and with hope. Plus it has an awesome alien goat slug thing. Let's get to the review!

Also, this month marks a new transition for GigaNotoSaurus, with the arrival of new editor Elora Gatts. Rashida J. Smith has done a stellar job with the publication, and I'm saddened to see her go, but also excited what the future holds for the this awesome venue!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online December 2018

It’s a month of literary original stories at Flash Fiction Online, focusing on family and more specifically on dysfunction and the breaking of familial roles. Because, as the stories show, those roles can become prisons. They can become suffocating with how little seems possible, how little the future offers for them. And yet when people try to push outside they face the specter of violence, of coming up against the expectations and investments of parents who rely on their children at times to give meaning to their own lives. Which is difficult and real and well handled in these stories. So yeah, to the reviews!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Quick Sips - The Dark #43

Art by Anna Mei
Christmas comes a little early with a special all-original issue of The Dark Magazine, featuring four new short stories. The pieces go a bit weirder and meta than I am used to seeing from the publication, but there’s no question that they are indeed dark. From the end of the earth to a storm that twists reality, from death and revenge along the highway to a family with a dark legacy, the works find characters who really never expected to find themselves in the situations they are in. Who couldn’t really prepare for the darkness they walked into. But who are hell bent on not giving in to the gravity of their destruction. Not that they can always do much about it. But there is a resilience I feel in these stories, and will to keep going. So let’s get to the reviews!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #103

Art by Marcel Mercado
December brings a somewhat dark collection of short SFF to Lightspeed Magazine, though in some unexpected ways. Women seek to thrive following the collapse of nations. A scientist goes looking for answers deep beneath the waters and finds some she did not expect (or want). A river goddess desires a man but has some very strange demands for their relationship. And baking with grandma takes on a positively wicked edge. Many of the stories feature women stepping out of their expected roles and navigating a landscape defined by misogyny and violence. Some find ways to flip the script, while others are pulled down under the weight of history and injustice. And it’s a wonderful collection of stories that I’ll get right to reviewing!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Quick Sips - Terraform November 2018

Three short stories anchor Terraform's releases in November, as well as a strange video thing on Cyber Monday that I won't be looking at. The fiction, though, looks at identity and disaster and, ultimately, isolation. In all of the stories, characters fight for their lives, or what of their lives they can have any control over. The worlds revealed are ones of narrowing futures, where technology or climate or a combination have made it so only the ultra rich have the freedom to do as they want. For everyone else, life is navigating the thin spaces left to them, trying (and mostly not succeeding) to save what they can to the creeping loss effecting the globe. To the reviews!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Quick Sips - Lackington's #18: Magics

Art by Carol Wellart
Lackington’s gets magical this issue with six new short stories circling the theme of magic. It’s not exactly wizard duels or hidden schools that populate the worlds the stories reveal, though. Rather, the magic is often much thornier, and more subtle. Concentrated into witches, or gods, or lovers trying to make the world a better place. And in good Lackington’s fashion, the pieces all have a rather heady style to them with an emphasis on language. The stories evoke tragedy and romance, comedy and philosophy. It starts off weird and really only gets weirder from there, flowing seamlessly from one experience to the next. Each one might take a little bit of care and deliberation, but these are some fantastic works to wade into, that come alive with resolve and tenacity and, yes, magic. To the reviews!