Friday, February 28, 2020

Quick Sips - Tor dot com February 2020

Art by Eli Minaya
I keep on expecting Tor to decrease their short fiction offerings after a very busy January, but the hits just keep on coming with three new short stories and a novelette. The themes and the genres vary rather widely, from historical fairy tale to far future and far flung science fiction to a weird piece about a weird manuscript...and aliens. The works take on some wonderful settings and some fascinating characters, all while dealing with themes of loss and relationships. And there's plenty of fun and action to balance out the heavier emotional beats, so it's really a strong month of fiction. To the reviews!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Quick Sips - Fireside Magazine #76

Art by Carlota Suárez
The three stories and one poem in February's Fireside Magazine have a lot to do with family, and harm, and the possibility of escape. An escape that is complicated by a history of pain and abuse, exploitation and pressure. The stories range from contemporary fiction to fantasy to science fiction, all of them grounded on Earth. The action involves the complicated roles people have within their families, within the bounds of expectation and desire. It's a dense issue, and a careful one, and before I give too much away, let's get to the reviews!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/17/2020 & 02/24/2020

Art by Rachel Quinlan
February closes at Strange Horizons with two more issues featuring one short story and two poems. The work does not disappoint, though, with a story that really does some innovative things with cosmic horror, including rejecting one of the major tenants of what's supposed to make the genre so terrifying. Add on some poetry that manages to be affirming and strange and haunting, and the issues do a wonderful job of capturing some of that February feeling. Not the romantic vibes, but rather the chill just showing signs that maybe spring isn't too far off. To the reviews!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Quick Sips - Translunar Travelers Lounge #2 [Fruit and Cheese Platter]

Translunar Travelers Lounge is back with A Lot of new fiction. Like with last time, I’m breaking the issue out into three parts, based on the publication’s own tasting menu. First up this issue is the Fruit and Cheese Platter, which promises works that are juicy and quirky. And the stories certainly deliver there, offering up five pieces that are at turns funny and action-packed, full of magic, day jobs, and demons. And characters who have had enough of forcing themselves to be small, to be convenient. They are ready to break out of their cages and take on the world—sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. The issue oozes charm, and is lots of fun, while still making some deep points. To the reviews!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #43

Art by Jereme Peabody
The latest from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly brings two short stories, a novelette, and two poems that celebrate fantasy. Now, that celebration is a bit...dark this issue, thanks to a focus on some grim themes of redemption, debts, and revenge. Each of the stories features characters trying to make up for events in their pasts, trying to seek something like atonement, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. Not all of them are exactly successful. But in looking at their struggles the stories reveal settings dipped in corruption and prejudice, full of hungry jaws waiting for a moment’s weakness. To the reviews!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Quick Sips - Diabolical Plots #60

Art by Joey Jordan
The two stories of Diabolical Plots' February content deal with trials and struggle, though in very different ways. One is a contemporary sci-fantasy, an invasion story, about resistance and complicity. The other is a second world fantasy where winged people fill the skies, except for one youth who must deal with living more grounded. The pieces find characters who are faced with choices of either accepting a status quo that is stifling, or taking a chance and risking everything to fight for something different and better. The characters don't exactly all make the same decisions about what to do. So yeah, to the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "Where We're Going We Won't Need Categories" Sippy for Excellent I Don't Know What in Short SFF

Welcome to the final installment of the 2019 Sippy Awards! So far we've covered relationships, horror, making-me-cry, and action in short SFF. What does that leave? Well...the thing is, sometimes there are stories that just don't fit into a specific box. Especially with speculative fiction, where the rule is you must break the rules. It means that there are ample opportunities to be innovative, to do things that don't fall in line with the traditional or expected. And for that I have the...

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

So sometimes it's hard to look at stories that are doing something rather different. Because they don't always fit nicely into the same discussion as other, maybe more mainstream stories. Except that they stand out as doing something new. On first glance, maybe they just seem weird. Odd. Many of them might be dismissed as just that. With maybe a few words on the beautiful language, and maybe a few words on how they were different. But I really love stories that sort of blur the lines between form and message. Where the way the story is told is part of the impact of the story, even as that impact is difficult to define. There isn't a lot of connective tissue between the stories in this category--they are doing some very different things. But that is actually what holds them together here, that each is innovative and daring, that each takes chances and risks that, for me, pay of wonderfully.

So where did these stories come from? Well, from a number of rather unconventional places, as one might guess. From Fiyah, whose mandate has always been to publish black voices who might fall outside the conventional (which is often viewed as the very white "classics" of the SFF canon). From Escape Pod, which innovates not just with what it publishes but by how it publishes, as a podcast for science fictional stories. From Strange Horizons, which in many ways has led the push to innovate the field as a non-profit and as a champion for stories that do something different and new. From Tor, who as one of the largest publishers in the genre is still invested in not falling behind the curve when it comes to experimental and challenging works. And from Lackington's, whose voice and style set it apart, a publication that knows what it likes and doesn't care if that falls outside what is often more popular or mainstream. The stories are dazzling and different, strange and haunting and good. So let's get to the awards!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #297

Art by Rytis Sabaliauskas
The two stories of the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies deal with nobility. In one, the ruler of a very small nation explains the nature of justice. In another, a boy who might have been king struggles with having all that taken away. Both deal with events that might be too much for the main characters to handle, events that might break them, leave them forever after altered, different. It’s a fascinating pair of stories, drawing on the historical real world, though with their own fictional flourishes. To the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy for Excellent Action!!! in SFF

If you were around for the first Fast and the Furious movie, you might remember the news articles about how people coming out of the movie were more likely to make risky driving decisions. Not that they were just copying what they saw in the movie, but that it left them amped! Well, rounding out my categories that are primarily about an emotional response (horror=pain, ugly-cry=pain), this category is all about EXCITEMENT! FUCK YEAH!!!! So hold onto your butts and get ready for the...

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

As I said yesterday, I'm a bit of an emotive reader. Which means when a story hurts, it hurts. And when a story scares, it scares. But it also means when a story pumps it up, it makes me want to punch the sun in a mech suit the size of a planet! You know, like a normal person. Heh. But I love stories that really make me want to stand up, to run, to arrive somewhere breathless, alive. And these stories do just that, featuring characters fighting with all they have against what seems like an overwhelming situation. A threat to destroy their city, their world; a tournament where dreams are made or broken; an attempt by the actual devil to take the one person in the world you kinda tolerate--these are stories with some high stakes and some intense action.

As for where they came from...kinda all over. From the sadly-on-hiatus Apex Magazine, and from the always defiant Fireside Magazine. From Fiyah, from Tor, from GigaNotoSaurus (which came back from a bit of a hiatus this year). These are often sources for stories that get the blood pumping, the mind racing, the muscles twitchy and electric. So let's get to the awards already!!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Machina [ep01.03 & 01.04]

The drama continues and DevLok and Watchover continue their competition to see who will win the bid to help get humanity established on Mars. It’s Machina time! And there haven’t been any huge snags yet. That’s before scores got involved, though. And there’s almost no way better to make humans freak out than to grade them and assign them a number, tying that number to something they want, something they might need. It’s a tense web of people and interests that can’t really exist in harmony, at least as they are now. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someones, most likely. But who, when, how, and why? Let’s get to the reviews

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "There's Something in My Eye" Sippy for Excellent Making Me Ugly-Cry in Short SFF

The 5th Annual Sippy Awards show no signs of slowing as we move past horror and settle into a whole new emotional destination. That's right, people, it's time to bust out the tissues, because this category is taking aim directly at your feels! I might be something of an emotive reader, but I feel that comes with trying to approach fiction openly and engage with it deeply. I tend to let stories in to where they can hurt the most, because while that can often backfire and leave me hurt and angry, it can also lead me to some amazing emotional connections with stories, which I'm honoring with the...

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

Following horror with this category makes a lot of sense to me, because for me both are about evoking emotions. With horror, that emotion is fear. With these stories, it's probably a bit more about...pain. Which might seem a strange thing to value in fiction. But it's not that the stories are about making the reader feel sad. There are plenty of ways that people seek out pain. Through exercise, through sport, through food--pain is about more than telling person that they've taken damage. It's a powerful experience, one of the most primal things, and a story that can hurt in the best of ways is rare and precious. Because it allows people to experience in a controlled way something they'd probably never want to experience in their own lives. It gives perspective, and it mingles pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, despair and burning hope. It takes a great deal of care, and requires a bit of trust, but these stories I feel earn it and then some.

Publication wise, it's another rather eclectic mix, though Strange Horizons does appear twice. Really that's no surprise for me, as the publication really does a great job at reducing me to a small puddle of tears on the regular. What's doubly appreciated is that Strange Horizons offer ample warnings for people who might not want to take the emotional plunge into a work that deals with such heavy themes.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Quick Sips - Nightmare #89

Art by Hwitte / Adobe
The two new stories in February's Nightmare Magazine peel back the masks that people wear, the facades of decency that adorn the faces of a lot of people, and reveal the ready hate and violence waiting there. What the stories do with that is what makes them different, in one story that revelation coming with an almost scientific distance, an interesting survey question but no meaningful action. In the other, that revelation is followed by a kind of retribution. Either way, the focus is strongly on the horror of the reader realizing that many people wear masks, and that some, even some very nearby, might be covering over some heinous thoughts and actions. To the reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 2019! The "I'm Sleeping with the Lights On" Sippy for Excellent Horror in Short SFF

Day 2 of the 2019 Sippy Awards takes something of an abrupt turn from relationships to look at stories that I felt excelled at something a bit...creepier. Now, some people try to separate SFF and horror, treating them as two entirely different things. But like peanut butter and chocolate, I often feel like the two do so well together. And there's no denying the horror elements of some SFF stories, and no taking out the SFF elements from some horror stories. So call them what you will, but today I'm celebrating 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 there's no denying that in 2019 there was plenty of that to go around. But even as fear is often used as a tool to divide, to instill hate and bigotry, to inspire violence, I feel it can also be a tool to unite, to build empathy, and to inspire hope. Often horror is a genre where uncomfortable and disturbing themes and content come out to play. The inclusion of those elements confronts readers with things that they often might feel like ignoring. And through those confrontations, some readers must face the weight of the real-world horrors going on all around them, made personal and poignant in the fictional spaces these works open up. From toxic relationships to cosmic insignificance, the works range in their focus, but all tread carefully and powerfully amidst pain, predation, and abuse.

Probably coming as no surprise, the stories here came from two of the biggest SFF horror publications around, The Dark and Nightmare magazines. Not that other publications don't also do horror well, but these two had some incredibly strong years, and the stories here represent by favorites, full of creep and cringe, dread and unease. They also, though, aren't afraid to be funny, and don't hesitate use a bit of gallows humor to get their points across. They are turns beautiful and repulsive, sensual and terrifying. So let's give out these awards!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Quick Sips - Uncanny #32 [February stuff]

Art by Nilah Magruder
Two short stories, one novelette, and two poems round out the February offerings from Uncanny Magazine. And in each of the stories there is a strange encounter. A meeting that will end up having some large implications. A magical creature meets a small boy. A woman meets a younger version of herself. A youth tries to convert a vampire to Christianity. From there, each story takes it’s own road, though all of them are into shadow, and loss, and death. It’s something of a grim issue, for all that the works come in what is generally thought of as a romantic month. And there’s just a lot to see and experience, so I’ll get right to my reviews!

THE SIPPY AWARDS 201! The "I'd Ship That" Sippy for Excellent Relationships in Short SFF

Welcome, dear readers, to the FIFTH ANNUAL SIPPY AWARDS! For those uninitiated, the Sippys are the SFF short fiction awards that no one asked for but I'm giving out anyway! The rules are simple: of all the stories covered by QSR over the previous year, I'm selecting my five favorites in each of five categories. That's 25 stories in total, with 5 that walk away with the prestigious and coveted Big Sip Award. This is obviously the literary achievement that people wait their whole lives to reach, yes? Anyway, these posts will go up, one a day, for the next five days. As is tradition, I'm kicking things off 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.

The stories come from all over, and it's probably no surprise that most of the relationships read as queer. But it's not just that which speaks to me. These are stories about people dealing with some crushing situations. And reaching out to each other, and helping each other, protecting each other, boosting each other. Surviving. Thriving. They're beautiful and fierce and I'll just get out of the way and let them speak for themselves.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #12 [part 3]

Art by Theobald Carreras
It's time to finish up my look at the latest issue of Mithila Review, this time covering a short story, a novelette, and four poems. The pieces get a bit weird here, looking at different cities that carry inside them different rules and different dangers. In both of the stories, characters seek to navigate these spaces looking for answers, looking for safety, and find instead hungry jaws snapping at them. The poetry delivers a slew of speculative ideas and feelings that show why this publication is one to watch, offering up resonating SFF from all over the world.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 02/03/2020 & 02/10/2020

A flash, a novelette, and two poems round out the first half of Strange Horizons' February releases. And the works look closely at homes and at cages, and how the two can overlap, and how the two can seem similar but be worlds apart. The stories here are very different, one contemporary fantasy, the other off-world science fiction, but both feature narrators who don't really fit in to larger society. Who struggle at times to be understood, and who want to live by their own values. The poem reinforce themes of intent, cages, and damage, and all together it's another great two issues of the publication. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #161

Art by Colie Wertz
February is often seen as a month devoted to love and romance, but at Clarkesworld things are a bit more...bitterly tragic than that. And okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the stories here are not easy, are not exactly light, and tend to focus on violence, survival, and oppression. Sometimes that means highlighting resilience and hope in the face of an overwhelming force. And sometimes it means speaking the language of the oppressors and embracing violence and murder, at least in part in self defense. So go into this issue fully ready to confront some difficult things, and let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus February 2020

I’m not going to sugar coat it, people. The February short story from GigaNotoSaurus hurts. Like, a lot. It’s a gutting near future science fiction story where people’s consciousnesses can be saved even when their bodies die. Which might seem like a pretty positive bit of medical technology. But like with all medical tech, it’s only as positive as people have access to it. As people aren’t made to suffer and pay and go into debt just to afford necessary medical care. And well, it’s not the world we live in now and it’s not the world of this story. But it’s also just a fantastic story about two women put in an impossible situation, and their love, and their pain, and just everything. Fuck. To the review!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online February 2020

February might be a month for romance but as Flash Fiction’s maybe a bit more a month for lost love. Which still involves love! But, well, the love is rather bittersweet here, as each of the original stories features characters to have lost and who aren’t willing to accept that. Who want to push back against the pain they are feeling. Who want to reconnect and who would do almost anything to have what they have had taken from them. And how they deal with that defines their arcs, their trajectories and these aren’t necessarily the happiest of reads, but they are about love, and that’s still kinda in the spirit of the season! To the reviews!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Quick Sips - The Dark #57

Art by Vincent Chong
The second The Dark Magazine of the year brings two new stories that explore, among other things, the messy dynamics between parents and children. Both find children trying to distance themselves from their parents, trying to live in a way that they find free and beautiful. Their individual visions of what they want are very different, but (given the nature of the publication) both of them find that there are monsters without and within waiting to stand in their way. These aren’t exactly easy stories, but they carry their own sense of beauty and resilience, and they’re both rather shattering. To the reviews!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #117

Art by grandfailure / fotolia
February brings the normal amount of fiction to Lightspeed Magazine, without too much of a unifying theme. The stories are stark, often featuring people or beings dealing with complex systems that have been built. The main characters tend to be those set outside of these systems, not centered, their desires and needs expected to be suppressed for the good of the dominant. How they handle that, and how their struggle ends up impacting those systems, varies by piece but gives an overall feeling of defiance even in the face of certain defeat and death. Not the brightest of issues, but some provocative works. To the reviews!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Regular Sip - Conversation Pieces #72 (Aqueduct Press)

I’m back looking today at a new Conversation Pieces long novelette from Aqueduct Press. I’m a big fan of the series, which has been coming out for quite some time, and especially like that it takes chances. This is a story that does not hold back, that embraces its themes and characters and isn’t here for any of our cis nonsense. It’s careful and measured and compassionate but also angry and so very tired. It takes a sharp look at the ways that society seeks to cut people off from their true selves and deny their own realities, and it gives hope that maybe some toxic systems can die mad. Anyway, let’s get to the review!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #716 & #717

Escape Pod kicks off the new year with a pair of original stories that explore futures were...elements of our world that are perceived as increasing productivity (but which also might lead to rampant burnout and misery) are embraced at a governmental level and expanded. Making sciences more (yes, moar!) competitive, making listening to people's issues a job where compassion isn't allowed. These stories reveal times and places where people are ignoring the toxic costs of their corrupt systems and instead push forward because it's what "get results." Only the end results might be much different than the hoped-for outcomes. To the reviews!

Quick Sips - PodCastle #611

Just a single story this month from PodCastle, and it’s a fun take on fairy tales. The mood and the tone are a mix of brash sarcasm and genuine desire for a kind of freedom that has nothing to do with knights coming to the rescue. It takes the tropes of the genre and twists them, embracing some (talking cat dragon! Time Wizard!) and dashing others (what it means to have a HEA). It’s a vibrant, refreshing read, and I’ll get right to my review!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #296

Art by Rytis Sabaliauskas
Two stories of queer romance, guilt, and redemption round out the latest issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The characters here find themselves in difficult situations, forced out of love to contemplate betraying everything they stand for and believe in. Tempted into thinking that maybe it could be right to do something they know is wrong. And both end up rejecting that idea (at least in part), embracing instead the idea that through resilience and cooperation and love they can resist the corrupt systems pushing them toward betraying those they care about and maybe save them instead. To the reviews!