Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Year-in-Review

Lots happened in 2019. SO MUCH! And, as it seems I report every year, I am a bit tired. But might as well celebrate as I can. Quick Sip Reviews will be turning five years old in less than a week. And 2019 saw a lot of good, including 2 Hugo nominations for Best Fanzine and Best Fan Writer! So thank you so so much for reading and following and everything!

I already went over a bunch of stuff from 2019 in my eligibility post, so I'd suggest starting there for a general update on me. Otherwise, I also posted the Quick Sip Reviews 2019 Recommended Reading List today, so there's that. Anyway, I won't dally too long (I have to go shovel snow...boo). Below are the stats for 2019 plus some thoughts and updates. Cheers!

The Quick Sip Reviews 2019 Recommended Reading List

2019 is dead! Long live 2020! Well, perhaps not quite. Before I officially pronounce 2019 over and done, there's some business to get to first, namely looking back and taking stock of ALL THE AMAZING STORIES that I read over the year. Hence, the Quick Sip Reviews 2019 Recommended Reading List! Below are 106* works spanning the entirety of the year. I admit, I kind of cheated. This is pretty much a collation of all my weekly recommendations, which I do on my Patreon as my Sip of the Week column. Every Friday I give one Sip of the Week and one Honorable Mention, with a review of the former and brief note on the later. These are patron-exclusive, so if you want to get in on weekly recs (plus lots more), I'd recommend joining.

That said, the Sips and this list have two MAJOR caveats to them. The first is that they reflect my tastes and opinions. I'm not trying to give you the best stories, but rather the stories I liked the most. Secondly, these stories are ONLY taken from venues that I cover in my reviews. This incredibly narrows my field, regardless of how much I try to read. The field is vast and I would totally read more if I could, but circumstances restrict me in what I can get to. I regret not being able to read more and wider, but I do feel that what I read now allows me to get to as much and as wide a sampling of the field as possible. I own that, and while I do make apologies for it, I also stand behind it. This is what I do. This is what limits me. I still think and hope that this list will have value to some, and might help people find some stories they might have missed. The good news is that I have reviewed all of these stories right here at Quick Sip Reviews. You can put the title into the search (at the top left of the screen on desktops...if you're using mobile you can toggle on the desktop mode by going to the bottom of the page and finding the button there). So if you're curious to know more, there will be keywords and notes and all sorts of info. Plus more if you check the posts on my Patreon.

Next some brief stats. These 106 stories came from 26 different publications and 101 different authors (7 authors have 2 stories on the list). Strange Horizons placed the most on the list with 9; followed by Uncanny and Clarkesworld with 8; Beneath Ceasless Skies, Fireside, and The Dark with 7; Lightspeed and Terraform with 6; Apex with 5; Anathema, Fiyah, Nightmare, Tor, and Flash Fiction Online with 4; Diabolical Plots and PodCastle with 3; Escape Pod, GigaNotoSaurus, Glittership, Lackington's, Omenana, Augur, and Translunar Travelers Lounge with 2; and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Mithila Review, and Samovar with 1.

My many thanks to all of the authors, editors, and other people involved with bringing these stories into the world. They are amazing. So, without further delay, the list! Cheers!

Quick Sips - Tor dot com December 2019

Art by Audrey Benjaminsen
I'm actually surprised that Tor had two stories out in December, as in at least some years past they've taken the month largely off. Not that I'm complaining. The two stories here are interesting and find people coming up against some strange and perhaps-unexplainable things. One woman is facing a broken mirror that has effected all of time, that has rewritten reality itself. Another finds herself working for a government she knows better than to trust in a strange place that will push her to her physical and mental limits. Both deal with alternate realities, with dimensions, and both are haunting and cold, well suited for the winter. To the reviews!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #710 & #711

The two stories from Escape Pod's December both deal with space, and isolation, and loneliness, and cooperation. Given, they do so in two very different ways, one unfolding on a station that is (now) devoid of human life, but which has also seen the "birth" of something new. The second is very much filled with humans. Too many, perhaps, for the colony they're on, given the series of accidents that threatens everyone. Both find people reaching out to people, though, despite the risk and despite the people involved largely being people who sought a kind of solitude. And the works are at turns heartwarming and wrenching, with a great holiday touch for at least one of them that makes them very appropriate for the season. To the reviews!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 12/16/2019 & 12/23/2019

I'm not actually sure if Strange Horizons is done for the year with this short story and two poems, or if there's a surprise waiting for me on Monday (*puts head in hands, weeps*). Maybe there will be a new Samovar! Or a special issue! Or maybe this is it. Whatever the case, the works are wonderful and focus on conflict and division, at governments and change and devastation. The works find characters dealing with their worlds being torn apart and (maybe) put back together again. But always with a price, a cost in human lives. These are some bleak-at-times works, but they reveal the beauty of the human spirit, and hope, in the face of even the worst situations. To the reviews!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #293

Art by Alexey Shugurov
At first blush the two stories in the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies don’t share too much in common(a rarity for the publication). But digging a little deeper, though, finds stories featuring characters dealing with some systemic problems. Very different ones, but ones that still seek to make them complicit in evil and corruption. And that almost succeed. They’re both quiet at first but rather quickly ramp up, and their ends are both rather bloody, rather messy affairs. To the reviews!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Quick Sips - Anathema #9

Art by Grace P. Fong
December is full of presents, it seems, with Anathema giving the gift of more SFF short fiction and poetry to all the nice (or naughty, bc yolo) people of the world. The stories and poems are solidly strange and haunting, the mood rather appropriate for winter, which is where I’m reading them. They are cold, distant, and dominated by isolation and loneliness. They deal with ghosts, with gods, with loss, with transformations, and with hope. The characters here are dealing with feeling silent, with feeling cut off from needed support. From being able to truly inhabit and express themselves. To the reviews!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Quick Sips - Lackington's #20 [Birds part 2]

Art by Kat Weaver
And I'm back looking at the most recent and oversized Bird-themed Lackington's #20! Apparently I kinda went out of order when I read the first "half" so my apologies there. It actually rather worked out, thematically, though, as this "half" of the issue really holds together thematically, involving kinds of hauntings, kinds of festering historical wounds that need to be addressed and healed. Often those wounds are brought about by abuse, maintained through silence and contempt, and made worse by time and the constant pressure and pain those wounds cause. But in standard Lackington's fashion, these situations are rendered in lyrical, vivid prose and a sense of surreal beauty that make it all a joy to explore. To the reviews!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #58

Art by Joey Jordan
Two stories round out the SFF offerings from Diabolical Plots this month, and they cover some interesting speculative ground. Both pieces establish themselves in a rather clear literary tradition. The first looks at the idea of utopia through a statistical lens, tracing the ways “good intentions” might curve into some decidedly unjust shapes. The second takes a more noir approach, using a speculative flourish to flesh out a situation involving a domestic dispute, aliens, and rapid aging. And both offer interesting takes on these more classic elements, building two solid worlds readers can sink their teeth into. To the reviews!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Quick Sips - Nightmare #87

Art by Rodjulian / Adobe Stock Footage
The two stories in the December issue of Nightmare Magazine focus on the relationships that men or boys have with other men or boys. In one, two brothers are the focus on the piece. In the other, it’s two best friends. In both, the characters have secrets they are keeping from one another, jealousies and angers that have warped their relationships. That threaten to make them something poisoning them rather than enriching their lives or helping them to deal with their problems. In one of the stories, the boys are young enough that there might yet be time to change things, to understand each other and grow. In the other, it’s possible too much time and bitterness exists for the men to ever come back from where they’ve gone. To the reviews!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #12 [part 1]

Art by Theobald Carreras
Despite a rather length pause between the last two issues of Mithila Review, the latest comes right on the heels of the previous, and it’s even bigger! Eep! Well, for me that means breaking it up into smaller, more managable chunks. As the issue will be releasing for free through February, I’ll be doing three parts of my review, start with two short stories and four poems. The works definitely look at loss and vulnerability, the fiction featuring women who have lost a lot already and stand to lose more, both of them willing to trade their own safety for that of those they care about. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #159

Art by Derek Stenning
The December Clarkesworld closes out the year with some rather long short SFF (the shortest piece being over 6500 words). And the stories are rather melancholy, are rather full of longing and loss. Not that there aren’t moments of joy, moments of victory over despair and oppression. But that the moods of the story are decidedly dense, thick, at times like walking through a fog of difficulty. It’s a fitting feel for where I live, where the month is already cold and snowy and heavy. And there’s a glimmer of something like hope to reach for, however dim it might seem. Some future where maybe things won’t be as harsh, even if it’s a future that requires a lot of work to get to. To the reviews!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Quick Sips - Uncanny #31 [December stuff]

Art by John Picacio
December brings three short stories and two poems to Uncanny Magazine, including two flash fictions. The pieces do a great job of mixing fun with some much darker elements. From superhero academies where a young girl is struggling with an enormous power to a market where the people going in are not always quite the same people who come out, to a very interesting kind of cosmic horror detective tale, the works blend fear, desperation, and vulnerability to amazing effect. Add into the mix the poetry, which looks at grief and monsters, expectations and fear, and the issue as a whole hits hard. And the main balm is that the works are also a joy to read, at turns wrenching and funny, sexy and tense. So let’s get to the reviews!

Friday, December 13, 2019

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 12/02/2019 & 12/09/2019

Art by Arturo Lauria
Two issues of Strange Horizons bring two short stories and two poems to kick off December's content. Tonally, the issues cover a lot of ground, from a slow, wrenching examination of oppression and expression, family and safety, to a more action-oriented adventure in deep space featuring twisted gods. The poetry adds to the diversity of the works and the moods, painting pictures both creepy and resilient. All in all, it's a wonderful look at just how different short SFF can be, building fascinating new worlds peppered with classic touches. To the reviews!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #292

Art by Alexey Shugurov
It’s no surprise that the two stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are incredibly well paired—it’s just sort of what I expect from the publication. And they are, both dealing intimately with names, and with flowers, and with violence and expectation. With ignorance, and characters dealing with that ignorance. Because without knowledge they can’t make informed decisions, can’t give informed consent. Being asked to take everything on faith, they see how that system allows for their exploitation and unhappiness, their marginalization and, ultimately, their death. It’s not an easy issue, and both stories deal with gaslighting and abuse in some visceral ways. So definitely be mindful the content warnings. But there’s also a power and a beauty to them that’s worth sitting down with. To the reviews!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus December 2019

Don’t let the fact that it’s December trick you into thinking all the best fiction of the year has already come out. Because people, the new short story from GigaNotoSaurus is probably going to end up on a number of my lists. It’s bold and kind and completely out of fucks and I love it so much. But then, a story about a punk rock band and the end of the world via alien invasion is probably going to be hard for me to dislike. And this story has an amazing cast, a sort of gallows humor that is charming and poignant all at once, and you should just read it already. For me, it’s time I got to the review!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online December 2019

It’s not an overly speculative issue of Flash Fiction Online for December, with only one science fiction piece and two literary ones, but the stories are all solid and explore themes of family, relationships, power, freedom, and success. The characters are often stuck in situations that feel oppressive, their desperate wish just to be released from the constant pressure on them. To ignore the issues in their marriage. to accept the stifling atmosphere of their father’s home. To churn out content for fans that might turn on them at any moment. It’s a great handful of flash stories, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Quick Sips - The Dark #55

Art by Miranda Adria
The Dark is closing out 2019 with two stories that treat with horror in very different ways. In one, a young woman deals with social isolation and trauma while trying to both solve a mystery and navigate a very fragile space within her family. In the other, an artist deals with a much more physical isolation as he finds himself in a remote house where his inspiration has taken a rather sinister turn. In both, though, the characters are up against supernatural threats alongside emotional and mental ones. The baggage they carry is a weight on them, and they've effectively been thrown into the deep end with it. Can they shed it, or build it into something they can use to steer a course to safer waters, or will they be dragged down to the depths by it? To the reviews!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #115

Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia
The last Lightspeed Magazine of the year is a rather challenging one for me, full of settings defined by exclusion, oppression, and conflict. These stories are grim, and unsettling, and for me personally mostly upsetting. Not that they don't have hope, or moments of beauty, or skill in wordcraft. But perhaps because I'm in the start of what already is a rather trying winter, I found it hard with some of the pieces to achieve the distance from some of the stories that would have been required to enjoy them more. Still, there are some definite bright spots in the issue, and I'll cover it all in the review.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #708

Not all futures are so bright you gotta wear shades, and that's certainly the case in November's lone Escape Pod release, a story that explores how technology can make some wonderful things possible (printing life saving organ transplants and reviving extinct species), but in the grips of our capitalist system those wonders will always be tainted by corruption, inequality, and abuse. It's not perhaps the rosiest vision of the future, but it is a call to perhaps take the sunglasses off for to better see in all the shades and subtleties the road we as a people are speeding down, and how we might exit toward something better before it's too late. To the review!

Quick Sips - Terraform November 2019

I wasn't actually sure if there would be a release from Vice's Terraform this month, as their publishing schedule has gone rather erratic of late. But they did indeed drop a story toward the end of the month, and it's certainly on brand for near future science fiction that walks a rather dark edge. The piece looks at the future of medicine, not just in the ways that things like nanobots might be used to keep people healthy and prevent illness and damage, but also in the way that technology will effect legislation and the law. The piece is framed inside a courtroom, where the question put the court is where religious objections to medical technology meet criminal actions up to and including murder. To the review!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Quick Sips - Tor dot com November 2019

Art by Red Nose Studio
I was actually anticipating Tor to start to slow down, given their tendency to take most of the end of the year off of new releases, but November actually saw three original stories from the publication. The stories mix a sense of almost child-like wonder with some grim realities. In each the main character is sheltered in some key way, locked away, and is waiting for their moment to escape. Some of them don't know it yet, are convinced of the completeness of their isolation, their prison, but as time goes on they all find reason to see that their lives are only being partly lived, kept back from exploring the universe and all its secrets and magic. And what they do about that defines their arcs and their stories. To the reviews!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Quick Sips - PodCastle #600 & #602

November was a month to be thankful for at PodCastle, which saw the release of the 2019 Flash Fiction Contest winners. The four flashes put the total stories out from the venue at five, which makes it the most original releases of the year. And the stories do certainly show what can be done in a very short space, most of them walking the careful line between hope and despair, humor and hurt. The works do a wonderful job of boiling fantasy down into bite-sized pieces, so it's perhaps extra appropriate that they deal with food and magic, stories and fire. Before I spoil your appetite for the amazing fiction, though, let's get right to the reviews!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Quick Sips - Mithila Reviews #11 [part 2]

Art by Edward Hicks (1848)
I’m finishing up my look at the most recent issue of Mithila Review, today checking out two short stories, one novelette, and four poems. The pieces cover a lot of thematic ground, from transplanted mythology/folklore to sea monster hunting, but I think there is a sense of resonance for me with an examination of how to live in an oppressive world. Of how to navigate the tricky and sometimes impossible landscape of capitalism or other corruption. How to exist while being near powerless, and how to try and keep hold not just of yourself and your family, but your soul as well. To the reviews!