Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/29/2019

Well it turns out that Strange Horizons wasn't quite done with July despite already putting out five issues. This latest one contains what the publication is calling three poems, though the later two are graphic as well as text. Mixing art and poetry is always an interesting experience, and the two works on display (by the same author with different artists) do a fine job of showing how the two mediums can synergize, building off each other to be more than either of them would have been separate. It's a great way to close out the month and celebrate what Strange Horizons has managed to do with its Fund Drive, and what it always does with its mix of strange, speculative art. To the reviews!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #69

Art by Mary Haasdyk
It's another full month of content from Fireside Magazine, with five stories and one poem full of magic and family and cages. Whether the cage is more literal or figurative, though, varies from piece to piece. Sometimes the cage is a bargain there's no getting out of. Sometimes it's a future you're trying to avoid. Or a society's expectations that wrap tighter than chains. Or a promise made to a friend that takes on a life of its own. Whatever the case, the pieces show characters dealing with these constraints, these cages, and seeking perhaps to break free, to shatter the bars, to reach for freedom. To the reviews!

Monday, July 29, 2019

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #21: GO EAT WORMS

Hey, a new Goosebumps that has an exclamation mark in the title! For a while, I thought this might be code for the stories dealing with science and magic merging in some weird ways (beginning with the first example, Say Cheese, and Die! However, given that You Can’t Scare Me! really wasn’t about science (though it was awesome) and this book also really isn’t about science (not...really), I’m going to have to revise my theory. Maybe it’s this: if the title has an exclamation point, I’m going to hate the main character. Because yeah, Todd, this books “protagonist,” is literally the worst. Just...awful. To the point that I suspect this book is actually a sort of psychological test of utter brilliance. What it asks is simple: will we condone mental and emotional torture if the person being tortured is an asshole? Well, dearest readers, buckle up, because we’re about to find out!

Friday, July 26, 2019

4000 Reviews: An Introspective

A Look Back

Every now and then I get to check in with my reviewing, for a number of reasons.

1. I am tired, and if I don’t recognize my own milestones and achievements, it seems unending and impassable.

2. I think some introspection is healthy in order to avoid getting stuck in patterns that might not be working.

3. I genuinely like thinking critically about reviewing, about my methods, and about SFF as a field.

So that said, I’ll begin as I normally do with some background. I got into reviewing a while ago, probably in 2011 or so, with a personal blog that is luckily not on the internet any longer. I did all sorts of book reviews, D&D commentary, and whatever else struck me. I really wasn’t on social media and I’d be surprised if anyone ever visited or remembers it. But it captures a bit of my approach to blogging and being an internet person, meaning mostly that I've always liked the work for its own sake, and thrown it at the internet with some abandon even when I don't get much feedback.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons Fund Drive 2019

Good news! Strange Horizons has successfully funded for 2020! That means more excellent prose, poetry, artwork, and nonfiction! Wooo! As part of that celebration, they’ve released a special fund drive issue, including two short stories, four poems(!), and some special nonfiction as well. It’s all very much worth checking out, but I’m sticking to the fiction and poetry today, which shines with complex relationships, a few tarot complications, and a whole lot of longing and sex and resilience and family. If you want to know the kind of thing Strange Horizons puts out, this is a great taste! As an added aside, this marks a milestone for me, as well, because with these reviews I’m over 4000 here at Quick Sip Reviews since I began a bit over 4.5 years ago! Thank you all to everyone for making that possible (more to come on that tomorrow)! For now, let’s get to the reviews!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/15/2019 & 07/22/2019

Art by Vlada Monakhova
While the Strange Horizons 2020 fund drive is going on right now (and aiming for stretch goals!), it's also business as usual, with two new issues covering one new short story and two new poems. The work continues the long and proud tradition of the publication being, well, strange. Haunting. Kinda creepy. Oddly heartwarming. And amazing. There's perhaps a bit of a focus on death in some of these pieces, which is just fine, because there's also the focus on journeying into the unknown, in defiance and resilience, and there's a lot to be said about that. But first, let's get to the reviews!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #687 & #689

July brings two original stories to Escape Pod, both featuring families and very vividly drawn distant worlds. Of course, these worlds couldn't be more different from each other. On one, exploitation is the name of the game, everyone essentially being born into debt and striving to buy their way out and reach for a better life for them and their families. On the other, a majority-neuroatypical population has built a world that functions for them, where people have what they need and are protected from abuse. At first glance, from a neurotypical point of view, it seems almost dystopian. But digging deeper reveals the true nature of this world, and makes me really want to move there. It's a great pairing of stories that offer very different feels, and before I give too much more away, I'll get right to my reviews!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #282

Art by Artur Zima
The two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies have everything to do with war and survival. With people who have lived despite the horrors they have seen and, in some way, despite the horrors they have authored. And both characters find that conflict is finding them again, putting them back in a place where they will be witness and conduit for something large, something powerful and shattering. For something that could spark a new war, and stop one from reigniting. So let’s get to the reviews!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #53

Art by Joey Jordan
The two stories in this month's Diabolical Plots bring two very different moods and styles. One is a slice of the absurd, a satire of politics and social media and authoritarianism. The other looks at a situation no less corrupt, no less dominated by abuses of power, but with an entirely different feel to it. It's dark and it's visceral and it's rather disturbing, looking at punishment and justice and religion in some uncomfortable ways. Both do interesting things with their worlds, though, and work to expose hypocrisy of systems that don't lend themselves to introspection. Let's get to the reviews!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Quick Sips - Nightmare #82

Art by Rosario Rizzo / Adobe Stock Footage
The two stories in this issue of Nightmare Magazine feature monsters and characters not really satisfied with their lives. Aside from that, though, these two stories are about as different as they can be, one a thriller of a read where a man must navigate a forest and a storm populated by a living nightmare, and the other a much more sensual piece about choice and longing. They’re both told in first person, both feature nameless narrators, and both are very light on dialogue, but thematically they contrast nicely, asking what it means to be a monster, and exploring how people seek to take control of their own lives. To the reviews!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #29 [July stuff]

Art by Julie Dillon
This month’s Uncanny Magazine gets dark. From monsters and murder to abuse and death to magic and exploitation, the fiction features a number of characters facing their own demons. The dark places inside themselves, and the dark forces outside seeking to use them for further harm. Who are seeking to devour them, to corrupt them, to twist them. The works don’t have a lot of bright spots to them, and poetry gets in on the darkness as well, featuring doomed astronauts and haunting songs. The issue on the whole is difficult for me, visceral and tragic, though not entirely without warmth. To the reviews!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #154

Art by Axel Sauerwald
There’s A LOT to get to in the latest Clarkesworld, with seven new stories including three different translations (from Chinese, Korean, and Spanish). These are stories that tend to focus on relationships, on whether the world is worth saving, and on how to live in bleak times. The stories approach those ideas in many different ways, sometimes hopefully, sometimes...not. But they offer a lot of interesting worlds to explore and futures to imagine. Or pasts. Or alternate dimensions. It’s a nicely balanced issue that shows the beauty and tragedy and joy of humanity, and doesn’t really have any easy answers, but often finds comfort in the small connections people make with each other in the face of the giant and annihilating forces of the universe. There’s also an editorial on the state of short SFF that is well worth checking out. To the reviews!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/01/2019 & 07/08/2019

The Strange Horizons fund drive is going on now, but that doesn't mean the regularly scheduled fiction and poetry isn't charging ahead full steam. I'll be looking at the special bonus fiction and poetry at the end of the month instead of breaking it into the normal releases (an extra Monday helped make that decision, because I don't know what the end of July will bring for the publication). And these issues are, well, these stories are difficult, full of death and loss and grief and guilt. They examine what it means to survive, and what happens with that survival is threatened, and it looks at complicity and systems. And really it's a grim pair of issues, but ones still very much worth lingering on for their innovation, beauty, and power. To the reviews!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #281

Art by Artur Zima
It’s another well paired issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with two works (one short story and one novelette) that very much involve bargains, bodies, and children (or at least the specter of them). For all that they go very well together, the stories diverge strongly on how they approach children and child bearing. Both characters are looking to make bargains, to find a way to get what they want, but what exactly they want is very different. Freedom and relief mean different things for them, but both know that they’re willing to do just about anything, pay just about anything, for what they want. If you want to know what that entails, though, you’ll have to follow me to the reviews!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Quick Sips - Fiyah #11

Art by Seth Brown
Four stories and two poems breath life into a rare unthemed issue of Fiyah Magazine. Despite the lack of theme going in, though, a theme might just develop after the fact. For me, at least, most of the pieces deal with traditions, with storytelling. Most of them are about facing a future, whether it’s a future of conflict or movement or rebirth. And they circle around questions of how to honor the past while pushing for something new. Something better, perhaps. But one that builds on the foundations of the past and present. One that takes strength and resilience and integrity. And it’s another beautiful issue from a publication that’s once again having a magnificent year. To the reviews!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online July 2019

The editorial in July’s Flash Fiction Online says that the stories of the issue are linked by their focus on choices, and I agree with that. These are stories where the characters are faced with a decision of how to react to a situation. Of how to move forward in a place where their options are not infinite, and in many ways where their options are not even very good. They are being limited by loss, by the malice of others, and by systemic corruptions. And it leads the characters in very different, and interesting directions that speak to how people hold to hope when their worlds seem to be pushing them into impossible choices. To the reviews!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Quick Sips - The Dark #50

Art by Tanya Varga
It’s a special anniversary issue of The Dark Magazine as the publication turns 50! 50 issues, that is, and to celebrate there are all new stories, four in total, to terrify, unsettle, and maybe inspire. It’s a nicely paired issue, as well, with the stories looking at complicity and injustice, each one finding characters dealing with how to live in a world that is dangerous, where there are forces that want their destruction. Do they slink back, try to hide? Do they run? Do they try to fight back? Are they crushed all the same? The works show how complicity works in many ways, how it’s often nearly impossible to reject completely, but how sometimes people can resist allowing injustice to continue, and by standing up to it can begin to work towards a world where it doesn’t play as huge a role in society. To the reviews!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #110

Art by Sam Schechter
Two short stories and two novelettes make for a fairly substantive issue of Lightspeed, with a return to some old friends and a focus on tricksters of various sorts. For some this means literal trickster gods part of a great diaspora. In others this means people just trying to get by with a little graft and gumption. For others still it means meeting a vast and strange universe with energy and a true neutral outlook on morality. Whatever the case, these feature characters trying to make it in environments maybe not designed for them, but where they can make a home for themselves all the same. And before I give too much away, let's get to the reviews!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Alternis [s01.05 & s01.06]

With the two episodes of Serial Box’s Alternis I’m looking at today, the series’ first season passes the halfway mark in impressive style. Though the project has been largely dominated by false starts and level grinding, the kid gloves come off and all bets are off as Tandy and the team deal with trying to learn to trust each other just as all hell breaks loose. It’s an impressive turn in the direction and pacing of the project, and if you weren’t absolutely invested before this, you will be after. To the reviews!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Quick Sips - Terraform June 2019

There’s four new speculations on possible futures in June’s offerings from Terraform. As always, the pieces cover a range, unified by their focus on the future, mostly the near-future, and what might be in store for humanity. It’s…well, it’s not always bleak picture. Some, indeed, seem to focus on what might be considered accidents. Some happy, some not-so-happy, and all of them leading the characters in unexpected directions where they have to make a choice of what to do, where to go, and how to balance survival and living. To the reviews!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Quick Sips - Tor dot com June 2019

Art by Gregory Manchess
Two short stories and two novelettes make for a fairly full month from Tor dot com. On top of yet another Mongolian Wizard story, there are works about inter-dimensional airships, torture in the name of psychological research, and a group of young women camping in the woods. The pieces lean on the dark side, highlighting drain and the stress of living in situations where exploitation is the law of the land. But some also find people trying to break free of the cycle, even as others show people being consumed by it. A nice range of stories, which I'll get right to reviewing!