Thursday, February 28, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: The Vela [episodes 1-2]

So do nothing halfway, I guess. In December I started reviewing Ninth Step Station from Serial Box, and this month I’m adding another of their projects, The Vela, which is almost out and is available for pre-order now (and you should really get on that, because wow). The project drops on March 6th, but I want to get out ahead of it and say loudly "It Is GOOD" so you all have time to clear your schedules. From near future to far future (or maybe even “second world science fiction”), this one looks at a solar system facing a decline, a destruction. Because while there was prosperity for a time, a general lack of water has led to over-harvesting of hydrogen from the sun, which in turn has led to cooling, which has made the outer planets uninhabitable. Refugees fleeing these dying worlds are finding most havens closed to them, even as they cannot stay where they are. The humanitarian crisis has produced many who have lost their world and their family, and in response one world has opened its arm to a large ship of refugees. A ship that has gone missing. So yeah, it’s a rather stunning premise, and a project I’m super excited about. Again, I’ll probably look at two episodes or so a month. To the reviews! 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/18/2019 & 02/25/2019

Art by Grace Fong
Well, say what you will about the fact that Strange Horizons publishes all varieties of SFF, because what it always delivers on is right in its name…a h*ckin’ strange experience. A prime example is the short story from the second half of February, which combines an almost dreamlike, nightmarelike feel with a quest for apples in a ruined landscape prowled by twisted doctors. It’s as creepy as the poetry here is at turns fun and devastating. The pieces here show that SFF isn’t just one thing, isn’t defined by plot or world-building elements, but can shine by the strength of their weirdness. Their lovely strange horizons. So let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Quick Sips - Terraform February 2019

Three original short stories mark another solid month of releases from Motherboard's Terraform (plus there's a reprint, something more rare for the publication, that's definitely worth checking out but that I am not covering here). The pieces as always look at what the future might hold for humanity, and the visions range from dire to something much more hopeful. And there's a thread that runs through these pieces of connection and isolation. Of relationships and loneliness. And the future seems brightest where people are able to make genuine connects and live freely. And looks bleakest where people are stifled and pushed to their breaking points. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!

Monday, February 25, 2019

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #16: ONE DAY AT HORRORLAND

Readers, can I share something with you? When I was a wee lad, I was very afraid of Ernest Scared Stupid. Like, I would leave the room during the climactic scene where...I think a troll is turning people into little statues and needs to be destroyed with...milk? Am I remembering this correctly? Anyway, a few years ago I went back and watched that movie again (there might have been drinking involved, yes) and...well, let’s just say that it didn’t exactly live up to my memories. Not that it wasn’ its own way. But that let’s be real it’s not what anyone should consider good. But why share this charming anecdote? Because ONE DAY AT HORRORLAND was one of my favorite Goosebumps books when I was little. Something about it just...well, I was a fan. But reading it through now is quite a different experience. Not that it’s terrible. It does a few things that aren’t the worst, but it’s a large step down from last month’s awesomeness.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #48

Art by Joey Jordan
February brings a pair of stories to Diabolical Plots that look at aliens and learning. That deal with difference and hope. In very different ways, mind you. And really, the stories are ones that carry with them a note of humor over a well of darkness, that handle some very real and heavy material with care and a slyness that's refreshing and interesting. The stories are fun without being crass, and they feature some great character moments and delightful voices. To the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "Where We're Going We Won't Need Categories" Sippy for Excellent I Don't Know What in Short SFF

Welcome back to the fifth and final category of the Fourth Annual Sippy Awards! It’s doesn’t have the history or prestige of the Hugos or Nebulas or...well, any other award, but I like to think the Sippys represent a much needed niche in the award season. For me, at least, it’s a chance to celebrate the stories I loved from the last and remind myself that not everything is about the Big Awards. Sometimes it’s rewarding to just love what you love, and make no excuses for it. In that vein, the Sippys were born, and I definitely encourage everyone: don’t be shy about celebrating the stories you loved. Make awards for them, write reviews about them—have fun and add a bit of joy into the universe!

But anyway. I’ve shipped my favorite relationships, hidden under the covers from the scariest horror, wept rivers for the most emotional tear-jerkers, and drove fast and took chances with the most pulse-pounding action! Which leaves just one category to go, and it’s...

The “Where We’re Going We Won’t Need Categories” 
Sippy Awards for Excellent I Don’t Know What in Short SFF

So what's the deal? Well, the thing is, categories are tricky things, and no matter how I refined my original ideas for them, there seemed to be something...missing. Because what about those stories that just...don't fit? Part of why I love SFF is that the stories can be almost anything, can cover ground that's never been explored, can blaze trails and innovate in ways that other genres just can't. SFF is the genre of dreams, of strangeness, of uncharted stars. It's a place where things can get downright weird on a regular basis, and that's completely Okay! In fact, I love that! And this category is where everything goes that just doesn't fit anywhere else. They inspire, and they provoke, and they challenge, and they entertain. I don't know what else to call them, so I'll just call them excellent!

For venues, there's two making their first appearance in this year's Sippys. The Dark just managed to punch its pro-paying ticket, and though that might change with the recent updates at the SFWA, for now it's definitely a voice from wonderful (and as the name implies, certainly dark) SFF. And Fireside Magazine is putting out tons of amazing work. Though much of its content leans short, it's also put out novelettes and even novellas, and is (I hope) a rising star in the field. Returning to the Sippys are works from Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and Apex, who all definitely put out a lot of content that's often hard to quantify. So yeah, let's get to the awards!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #39

Art by Jereme Peabody
Feburary brings the first Heroic Fantasy Quarterly of 2019 and the publication is definitely sticking to its mandate to publish action-forward fantasy that’s very much concerned with what it means to be heroic. There are two novelettes, two short stories, and two poems to enjoy, and the fiction at least is largely about men dealing with honor and justice, trying to figure out what the limits are to trying to do the right thing, and what happens when you step too far outside what is right. It’s an issue full of gritty fights, eldritch horrors, and perhaps a little simmering desire as well. And before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action!!! in SFF

Welcome back to the Fourth Annual Sippy Awards! Some part of you might be wondering, “why?” The answer: to celebrate short SFF across different styles that make excellent use of various elements to shine as examples of why I love this field. There’s no panel of judges or voting population, just me and my inflated ego and love of short SFF. Given how most short SFF awards focus on length, I wanted to look instead at how stories use different elements to stand out and be powerful. This year I’ve already shipped some excellent relationship, cowered before some excellent horror, and bawled from the some emotionally devastating reads. Which means today it’s time to put the pedal to the metal with...

The “Time to Run Some Red Lights” Sippy Awards 
for Excellent Action! in Short SFF

These are stories that got my blood pumping, that made me want to run outside and punch an eagle in the face. Or, perhaps more accurately, they made me want to climb into a mech suit and punch the moon! I mean, come on, the moon is pretty smug up there, always looking down on everyone. Just saying. Anyway, the action doesn't always have to be traditional battles and brawls. Some of these stories are about a chase, or a race. Some are about war and the struggle of the individual against the weight of history and press of injustice. But these stories run hot, fast, and furious, and I think that stories like that deserve to be seen, because they do show how much fun and thrilling short SFF can be without sacrificing nuance or meaning.

As to the venues, there's perhaps less surprises here as they have been in other categories. All the venues are pro-paying and rather high prestige. Uncanny and Strange Horizons are both making second appearances in this years Sippys, and Lightspeed punches its ticket along with both Clarkesworld and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It's not that, in my opinion, any of these publications are more action-focused, but when they choose to go for it, they do brilliantly. So let's get to the awards!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #271

Art by Flavio Bolla
The stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies show once again that the publication (and editor) does a great job in pairing stories by theme and feel. Because here are two pieces that take place in vastly different worlds, but where gender roles and societal outlooks do a lot of harm in how people relate to one another and how they handle loss and grief. Both stories find people desperately trying to push forward their craft, to cheat death. And, well, that rarely works out so well. Through it, though, there are moments when people have the opportunity to push through the prejudices and problems of their times and cultures...and sometimes do, and sometimes don’t. The result is the difference between tragedy and hope, between life and death. So let’s get to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

The 4th Annual Sippy Awards keeps right on moving! That’s right, the SFF awards that no one asked for and few pay attention to is back! I’ve shipped my favorite relationships, and I’ve cowered in fear before my favorite horror stories. Which means that it’s time to reduce myself to a small puddle of tears somewhat resembling a functioning human being. yes, it’s time for...

The “There’s Something in My Eye” Sippy Award 
for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

I’m something of an emotive reader, which means that there are times when reading that a story just hits me right in the feels and I need to take a moment to recover. These are stories that, for me, are defined most by their emotional weight. By the impact they have, the ability to completely destroy all the careful emotional shields we use to keep the rest of the world at bay. These are the stories that pry open the shell of control I try surround myself in and leave me little more than a blubbering mess. So joining me in smiling through the tears and celebrating this year’s winners!

When it comes to venues, it's once again a rather eclectic mix. I'm so happy to include a Shimmer story here, in part because it was the publication's final year and they've definitely given me a lot of stories over the years that have made me weepy. And there's the second story from Omenana to receive a Sippy, too. Seriously, if anyone is missing this magazine, reconsider. There's so much amazing work. Tor makes its first appearance in the Sippys this year, as does Terraform, two publications that are part of larger publishing bodies that definitely flex their reach to bring in some awesome stories each year. And the winner here is from what was probably my favorite publication of 2018, Strange Horizons (at least, it definitely led the pack with stories that made it to my recommended reading list). So yeah, a diverse bunch. To the awards!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Quick Sips - Nightmare #77

Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia
The two original stories from February’s Nightmare Magazine deal with death and life, hunger and desire. And the ways that those forces are corrupted and twisted so that they become prisons. So that a family is caught in the web of poverty and place as their town goes to the ghosts. So that a woman is caught in a marriage she doesn’t really like but that she’s unwilling to give up. So that all the characters end up making choices and hurting people because they just want what they were promised—security and safety—that might always have just been a carrot to keep them in line with a society that doesn’t actually benefit them. These are some dark and layered horror stories, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "I'm Sleeping with the Lights On" Sippy for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

The 2018 Sippy Awards keeping rolling on! For those just joining, the Sippys are the "coveted" awards no one really asked for, celebrating short SFF across five categories grouped by theme, as picked by me. Last week I revealed my favorite relationships in short SFF, and this week I’m going in a much darker direction. So make sure you've brought your noise-cancelling headphones, all creepy doors to the basement are chained tight, and get ready for...

The “I’m Sleeping with the Lights On” Sippy Award 
for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

For me, horror is all about fear, about feeling. And certainly 2018 has been a year ripe with horrors great and small, global and personal, for probably most people reading this. It's probably no surprise that a number of the stories I've chosen to celebrate here focus on the climate and natural world, the ways that humanity it driven by exploitation that is unsustainable, cruel, and ignorant. But there are other horrors still. Some that dress themselves in the guise of virtue. Some that hide in the pillars fo society, in its laws, customs, and media. And some that can only be heard through the static hiss of a recording, waiting for someone to press play.

As for venues, Nightmare Magazine (as might be expected) had a very strong 2018, and comes away with two of the five spots this year. Apex, another publication devoted to dark SFF, also walks away with one. And the Book Smugglers and Fiyah both make the list as well, because while neither of them focuses specifically on horror, they certainly do a great job of it when their attentions draw in that direction. Many thanks to all the people who helped bring these stories into the world, from the authors to the editors to the people behind the scenes. So, to the awards!

Monday, February 18, 2019

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2018! The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF

It’s 2019! Which means that I’m already behind on reviews (I will keep saying this until it's not true)! But it also means that it's time for me to put on my Serious Critic Hat (hahaha) in order to host THE FOURTH ANNUAL SIPPY AWARDS! That's right, I've been doing these things for four years already, and the formula hasn't changed. For those wanting to learn a little more, you can check out this recent post where I go through the basics. And I know, I know, I'm normally the first to hesitate about awards and attempts to be objective and all that, but keep in mind that these are just my subjective favorites, coming just from those venues that I cover here at QSR. There's a lot more out there, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate the stories that I loved from 2018. So let's begin, starting with the...

“I’d Ship That” Sippy Award for Excellent Relationships is Short SFF

I'm a sucker for a good relationship story. They don't have to be romantic. Or sexual. Though most of these stories do feature romance and sex, they also feature characters that interact and orbit each other in intensely beautiful ways. For some of the stories, the connections are between just two people, lovers or friends or something else. For others, the connections flow between more people, or did, and were severed. They feature people striving to find comfort and meaning in their own skins, knowing sometimes that takes help, and understanding, and compassion. And occasionally it takes kicking some ass. Whatever the case, the relationships explored in these stories have stuck with me through a very hard year.

In terms of venue, there's a bit from all over on display here, from the stalwarts publications of the genre as well as from some that are a little newer or less well known. But that's part of why I love reading outside just the publications that tend to get nods come awards season. Because Omenana and GigaNotoSaurus and Fiyah all produce stunning short SFF. So too do Strange Horizons and Uncanny, and it warms my reviewer heart a bit to be able to include pieces from all over here for your enjoyment. To the awards!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/04/2019 & 02/11/2019

Two short stories and two poems open up February’s Strange Horizons offerings. The fiction at least focuses on history and fairy tales. On the injustices that people layer onto those who don’t have power. On the children and peasants of the world. But how the truth and the dark realities that the powerful author and ignore have a way of coming back, of being felt in strange and haunting ways. The poetry mixes the wonders and chaos of creation and universe-exploding potential with…the wonders and chaos of day to day life and partnering and cohabitating. And it keeps in perfect harmony with my own feelings about the publication—often lyrical, often heartbreaking, always Strange. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #26 [February stuff]

Art by Julie Dillon
It’s a full February at Uncanny Magazine, with two poems, two short stories, and a novelette to round out this shortest month of the year. The fiction is broken situations. People who have been abused and are looking for a place to belong. And yet finding that place isn’t always easy—often what might seem safe could be a new abuse in disguise, a sort of pitcher plant designed to lure in the desperate. For those who can avoid the traps, though, the pieces also focus on the joy that can be found in finding a place, and a people, who make you feel at home. With a purpose that rings true and the ability to live, even if it will always be tempered by the ways the world is broken or corrupt. So let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #149

Art by Arthur Haas
Clarkesworld hits February running with five short stories and a novelette, all taking on some big issues. From genetic manipulation to colonialism, from empathy to divinity, the stories tackle some Big Ideas, with some mixed results. The joy of reading SFF is that it can often make literal circumstances that would otherwise be purely figurative or philosophical. What if the world worked quite differently? What if people could experience an alien afterlife? It allows us to explore moral and ethical concerns without test subjects, but that’s not to say that means no harm is done. Though often careful, I find myself hesitating around many of the stories here this month, that seem to bring up some Big Ideas without fully examining how those ideas are in conversation with real world injustices and harms. But before I get too much into that, let’s get to the reviews!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Quick Sips - Apex #117

Art by Julia Griffin
February’s Apex Magazine is a little shorter than usual, with only two short stories (though there’s still over 12,000 words of original content), but the pieces definitely don’t feel small. Indeed, they’re about people who are tired of being forced into boxes too cramped and confining. Roles laced with pain and abuse. Situations where hope seems hidden behind a veil. They are done being expendable, being victims, and they are fighting back. Both pieces balance action and heavy emotional lifting, blending wonderfully realized and magical settings with careful character work that doesn’t make light of what they’ve gone through or where they’re going. So let’s jump right into the reviews!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online February 2019

Art by Dario Bijelac
February brings a batch of short SFF to Flash Fiction Online featuring a sense of longing, community, and the threat of loss. In each of the stories, characters deal with a fragile connection to someone else. To a child, or a student, or a part of themself. And in each that connection is under attack, is threatened in a way that makes any action dangerous. That makes any movement perilous. And in each story the characters’ movements are explored—their hesitation or their determination to keep going or stand still. And it makes for a rather quiet, rather wrenching month of stories, with a delicate but resilient hope that shines even in the darkness. To the reviews!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Quick Sips - The Dark #45

Art by Peter Polach (Apterus)
February brings a pair of stories to The Dark Magazine that center energy in different ways. Ghosts, in different ways. Exploitation, in different ways. But both look at women moving through a world where it’s dangerous to exist. Where it’s dangerous to be competent and independent. And where they can’t really maintain what they have without a little help. Now, for one of the characters that help is freely given, a form of justice and strength and hope. For the other...well, for the other it is something taken from those with less power, with less rights, and with less ability to fight back. And both are great dark fantasies that look at the abuses of society and show how hard it is not to be pulled under by the currents of societal roles and expectations. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #105

Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia
The February issue of Lightspeed Magazine runs a little long with two novelettes and two short stories that look at confinement in a lot of different ways. That look at freedom and what happens when people’s freedoms are taken away, by an outside force, by nature, or by fate. Each piece finds people struggling with systems that limit them. That might mean man-made systems of criminal justice, or social convention, or something a bit more divine, like fate or death itself. The stories show how characters either try and fight back against these systems (where they are corrupt) or learn how to accept or embrace them (where they are just). It’s an interesting bunch of stories with a slower, more ponderous feel to the issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Ninth Step Station [episodes 5-6]

I’m looking at another pair of episodes from Serial Box’s Ninth Step Station. The whole look and feel of Serial Box mirrors television, with projects coming out in seasons and taking on tropes and genres that feel TV-ish, but in a way that television might not be able to really pull off. Which is something of a shame because I would watch the hell out of this show. Still, coming in fiction form is just as good, and I love how each episode comes alive a little different for each of the serial’s authors. Today marks the halfway point in the first season, and so it’s rather apt that the focus (while still featuring individual mysteries) grows a bit broader to look at the setting and just where Emma and Miyako might be headed now that they’ve come to a better place as partners. They’re beginning to trust each other at lost last. Which means it’s time to throw a wrench (or a few Chinese detectives) into the works at see how it plays out. To the reviews!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #270

Art by Flavio Bolla
The second Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of January brings with it two stories about war and conflict and the women, reaching for each other, who are pulled apart by conflict, death, and grief. It follows two women in two very different situations, but both of them hurt by war, by what it has taken from them. And they both have to figure out what to do and where to go when what was familiar and relatively safe for them is taken away. Is made not an option. And it leaves them struggling to snatch something back from the jaws of war, from the gravity of sorrow. So let’s get to the reviews!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #63

Art by Galen Dara
There's some big goings-on at Fireside Magazine in 2018, and January kicks off with five original stories plus an original poem. The pieces can be rather short (the poem might be longer than a number of the stories), but that doesn't mean they pack less of a punch. The pieces range from deeply dark to lighter and so so cute, from epic and unexpected to unsettling and tense. The relationships that the pieces introduce, though, are complex and interesting and enlightening. From a father desperate to give his son a better life to a spouse unsure how to talk about what's happening to them without draining those they care about. The piece looks at impossible situations, or situations that seem impossible, and shows how people move forward regardless. To the reviews!