Thursday, March 4, 2021

Quick Sips 03/05/2021

Apparently I just keep adding new publications to what I’m covering. Case in point, I’ve got two new ones this week, with a slightly belated review of the inaugural Constelación and a review of the latest Fantasy & Science Fiction. I also finally remembered that Diabolical Plots exists (sorry!) and got myself caught up there. It’s still a mix of months, with works from January, February, and March all represented here, but hopefully you can keep it all straight. Next week should be all stuff from March, though, so I’m hopefully more or less caught up on what I’m doing. And there’s a lot to get to, so I’ll cut my intro there!

NOTE: This will be a recurring note that will run with every Quick Sips. First, please note that I don’t necessarily mention every story or poem out in an issue. I am giving myself permission to either DNF stories, or else finish and just not comment on them. Please don’t assume it’s because I disliked the work! There are many reasons I might chose not to comment on a piece, and I reserve the right to do just that. Second, you might notice the notations at the end of the micro reviews and wonder what the [c# t#] is. These are for the Scales of Relative Grimness and a full explanation of them can be found through the tab at the top of the page or through this link. With that said, let’s get to the reviews!

Constelación #1 (6 short stories total)
  • “My Mother’s Hand” by Dante Luiz (short story) - A beautiful and rather difficult story about a son returning home to perform last witch rites for a mother who has possessed one of his hands and never truly accepted him for who he was. I love the energy and the language, the voice of the Horácio, and the way it all comes to its powerful and quiet ending. Family, Trans MC, Witches, Rituals. CW- Abuse/Misgendering/Body Possession. [c4 t2]
  • “The Excruciating Beauty of Ephemera” by Keyan Bowes (short story) - A strange and almost mythological story of a volcano distressed about the destruction it authors, seeking a way to live and let live, and finding an answer from a mysterious source. Grim but also kinda cute. Frogs, Volcanoes, Research, Sleep, Evolution. CW- Death. [c2 t4]
  • “Imilla” by Vania T. Curtidor, translated by Monica Louzon (short story) - A wonderful story about grief and working through it, and the power that comes from even one connection in a world where everything seems harsh and sharp and unsafe. A heartwarming and fantastic read! Letters, Fire, Cleaning/Housekeeping, Language, Mountains, Spirits. CW- Death of a Parent. [c2 t4]
  • “The Badger’s Digestion; or The First First-Hand Description of Deneskan Beastcraft by an Aouwan Research” by Malka Older (short story) - A story about study and research and just jumping into something and finding the truth of it, messy and unexplicable and frustrating but no less true. About a woman becoming a part of a badger, if only for a time. Delightful work! Badgers, Beasts, Cohesion, Study, Travel. CW- Prejudice/Sexism. [c2 t2]
  • “Unforgettable” by Eduardo Martínez Báez, translated by Toshiya Kamei (short story) - A woman loses her husband only to find he’s arranged for his memories to be implanted in a surrogate, a young woman who finds herself suddenly full of knowledge, and some skills that might make her life...interesting. It’s a bit weird but nicely so, and I love the promise of the ending, the kindness of it. Memories, Cooking, Gardens, Spirits. CW- Death of a Spouse, Terminal Illness, Abuse (implied). [c3 t3]
  • “The Breaks” by Scott King (short story) - An achingly beautiful story about the things that break people--the ways that people break, and the ways that they go on regardless. And, sometimes, the way they take those breaks, those breaking moments, and make them into a source of strength rather than an open wound. So good! Vision, Stress, Queer MC, Employment, Feathers, Tattoos. CW- Trauma/Scars, Suicide (mentioned) [c3 t4]
And another new publication for me, this one that’s been out for a little while but I definitely wanted to make sure I didn’t miss. It’s a bilingual publication, running all the stories in English and Spanish, and it’s a wonderful inaugural edition. The original stories are magical, at times tragic, but also glowing with a kind of warmth and kindness, and the reprint and nonfiction are all worth checking out. Just a phenomenal opening volley from the publication, and I’ll definitely be following it going forward!

Tor dot com February 2021 (1 short story, 2 novelettes total)
  • “Across the Dark Water” by Richard Kadrey (novelette) - A post-disease wasteland of a city is still populated enough that a thief seeks out a guide to bring him toward a hoped-for escape. It’s a grim, heavy read. Post-Apocalypse/Disaster, Guides, Thieves, Uploaded Consciousnesses. CW- Disease/Illness, Gore/Violence, Cannibalism, Death of Animals (dogs). [c5 t5]
  • “Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels” by Lavie Tidhar (novelette) - A new adventure featuring long suffering Jonathan and his vampire master on a new case of a murdered vampire. I do love the way these mysteries are filtered through Jonathan’s complete disinterest and desire for food. Good times. Vampires, Mysteries, Castles, Food, Rules/Laws. CW- Blood/Gore/Death. [c2 t2]
  • “The Tyger” by Tegan Moore (short story) - Jules is a boy whose parents are getting divorced because his dad cheated on his mom, and now he’s at the wedding reception of his favorite aunt, held in a museum exhibit he loves, and everything is suddenly strange and alive and dangerous. Weddings, Museums, Mannequins, Family. CW- Divorce, Abuse, Cheating. [c3 t4]
Not a lot of happy stories here, though through the grim settings and situations there are moments of hope. More, though, these find people just trying to get by, trying to live, trying to cope with the ways life hasn’t gone the way they’ve expected. That goes for if they’re the assistant to an ancient vampire or a young boy whose parents have just broken up. Some complex and rewarding reads.

Apex #122 (6 short stories total)
  • “Barefoot and Midnight” by Sheree Renée Thomas (short story) - A creeping and creepy story about injustice, loss, and one young woman willing to turn to unnatural sources when the workings of the natural world fail her in the wake of tragedy, all set in the historical context of recently post-slavery Memphis. Dolls, Bargains, Rituals, Rivers, Trees, Schools. CW- Murder/Deaths of Children, Blood, Slavery/Racism/Racist Violence, Sacrifice/Self Sacrifice. [c4 t4]
  • “The Amazing Exploding Women of the Early Twentieth Century” by A.C. Wise (short story) - A beautiful story of an actor in 1906 coming aware of a fire inside her. The piece unfolds in that past and in the present, bridging time and loss, passion and desire. Wonderfully told! Acting, Movies, Fire, Queer MC. CW- Harassment/Misogyny, Pregnancy/Abortion/Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Black Box of the Terraworms” by Barton Aikman (short story) - A strange and haunting story of terraforming, where the creatures set to the task find, devour, and remember three gods on a distant and otherwise lifeless planet. Full of a quiet yearning, and quite good. Terraforming, Spiders, Gods, Worms, Space. CW- Injuries/Death/Cannibalism(?)/Consumption. [c2 t3]
  • “If Those Ragged Feet Won’t Run” by Annie Neugebauer (short story) - A thrilling and shadowy story of a woman alone with her infant daughter, having to stay quiet lest they be found by a deadly nightbird. A race toward safety, full of fear and blood, and an exciting read. Birds, Sound, Family, Night. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Death of an Animal, Blood. [c3 t4]
  • “A Love That Burns Hot Enough to Last: Deleted Scenes from a Documentary” by Sam J. Miller (short story) - Framed as a documentary of an influential and controversial singer, the piece works its way around magic and love, music and pain, in some beautiful and wrenching ways. Music, Singers, Witches, Queer Characters, Documentaries. CW- Addiction/Drugs, Death/Suicide (implied), Religious Bigotry/Homophobia. [c3 t3]
  • “Las Girlfriends Guide to Subversing Eating” by Sabrina Vourvoulias (short story) - A fascinating and wonderful hypertext story that brings you on a driving tour of Philadelphia’s culinary resistance, all done in a mulit-media, mulit-lingual way. Fun, brash, and bringing together a number of different elements from the author’s other short works, it manages to tell a story and exist as an experience, and that’s an impressing feat. Plus, I mean, I love SFF food stories and this is a memorable one. So good! Food, Food Trucks, Immigration, Witches, Community, Family, Queer Characters. CW- ICE/Police/ACAB, Racism. [c3 t2]
A brilliant issue covering some rather difficult topics but done with care and grace. There are a lot of historical touches, throwing back to old injustices that have never fully been made right, that are still rotting, waiting. But there’s joy here as well, and a focus on bargains, however tragic, that act as a kind of cleansing fire to tear away the lingering pains still poisoning the ground and make way for something new, alive, and whole.

Fantasy and Science Fiction March/April 2021 (7 short stories, 3 novelettes, 2 poems total)
  • “Crazy Beautiful” by Cat Rambo (short story) - A strange story about AI and art, about transformation and freedom and learning, all to the backdrop of a police state that doesn’t mind disappearing dissidents. A neat piece! AIs, Art, Flying Whales, Message Boards. CW- Death/Murder/ACAB. [c3 t3]
  • “The Music of Siphorophenes” by C. L. Polk (novelette) - A story about a woman who brings tourists out to see giant space creatures in the outer reaches of the solar system, and her latest client, and the trouble they get into. An action-packet and wonderful adventure! Space, Space Creatures (not quite Space Whales), Queer MC, Telepathy/Collectives/Ansibles, Pirates. CW- Torture/Violence, Slavery. [c3 t3]
  • “The Bletted Woman” by Rebecca Campbell (short story) - A story of change and rot, fermentation and colonization. It features a woman facing dementia and an experimental procedure that might allow her to access a new frontier, but it might not quite be her that comes back from that journey. Creepy and lovely. Cats, Marriage, Science!, Islands. CW- Dementia/End of Life Care, Death/Grief. [c3 t3]
  • “Our Peaceful Morning” by Nick Wolven (short story) - A lovely and raucously fun tale about animal uplifting and the messy, complicated relationship between one man and his cat, and how it all comes to a shattering and strange conclusion. Cats, Uplifted Animals, Pets, Therapy. CW- Slavery/Abuse/Torture. [c2 t2]
  • “Whale Talk” by Akua Lezli Hope (poem) - A beautiful picture of a person and a sperm whale, the person transfixed, stunned almost, but suplicating all the same, wanting that feeling, the whale talk overcoming them. Lovely and evocative.
  • “Transcendent City” by Akua Lezli Hope (poem) - A vision of change in a city that grows, that shifts, but that remains in its core, its heart, the same, a home, a refuge, a hope. Short but wonderful.
  • “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” by Molly Tanzer (novelette) - A story about a lost Lovecraft story that never exactly existed. Except it did. Does. It’s...complicated, and makes for a compelling and strange mystery with a neat payoff. Lovecraft, Plays/Theater, Memories, Alchemy, Queer Characters. CW- Coercion. [c2 t3]
  • “Minstrel Boy Howling at the Moon” by B. Morris Allen (short story) - A man in a tiny town deals with his isolation, his lack of prospects, and a strange magic he taps into with his harmonica music in this lonely, yearning story. Music, Harmonicas, Employment, Bears, Wolves, Gods. [c1 t3]
  • “Speak to the Moon” by Marie Brennan (short story) - Immortality mixes with space travel as a man who has lived a long time seeks to make good on the promise that might be keeping him alive, or might be a dream, a myth, a fantasy. Beautiful, poetic, and just a tiny bit haunting. Immortality, Promises, Poems, The Moon, Astronauts. CW- Suicide. [c3 t4]
  • “Jack-in-the-Box” by Robin Furth (novelette) - A creeping and grim story about a noble house and the rotten heart at the center of it, all revealed by a woman researching for a story abotu the recently deceased Lord Blackthorn. An unsettling read! Secret Passages, Journalism, Medical Research, Family, Experiments. CW- Torture/Murder/Non-consensual Medical Experimentation, Rape, Mental Manipulation/Control, Gore/Blood. [c5 t4]
  • “Character” by Harry Turtledove (short story) - A strange and meta story that denies its own meta-ness, as told by a Character being written by an author who might not be doing the best job of things. A nicely layered piece. Meta, Stories, Characters, Ronin, Observation. CW- Suicide. [c2 t2]
  • “The Pizza Boy” by Meg Elison (short story) - Pizza is serious business in a future dominated by war across planets, and the narrator of the story is a proud pizza boy, spreading more than delicious pies and time honored traditions. It’s a super cute piece touched by a grim shadow but ultimately fun and hopeful. Pizza, Space, War, Recipes, Mushrooms. CW- Death of a Parent, ACAB. [c3 t3]
It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed an issue of F&SF but I’m officially adding them to my coverage starting with this issue. There’s a lot to get to, and a great mix of genres, from historical horror to far future science fiction, all with a great sense of yearning, mystery, and hope. The poetry adds a nice extra wrinkle and plenty of fun mixed in with some of the grimmer stories. Can’t wait to check out more!

  • “go agile” by Hal Y. Zhang (poem) - This piece speaks to me of the pressures of employment, of corporate speak that means nothing except to sacrifice for someone else’s profit and hope one day to be the one profiting. A great read!
Okay so this issue isn’t exactly the biggest but aside from the great poem there’s a lot of nonfiction and I have to say I love the conversations that Strange Horizons does and the Tales from the Radio are SO GOOD so please if you aren’t reading those please do. Anyway, another wonderful issue!

Diabolical Plots #71 (2 short stories total)
  • “Everyone You Know is a Raven” by Phil Dyer (short story) - A strange but intriguing story about loss and change, about ravens as mimics, as tricksters, as guardians too. About illusions and truths and stories and sorting all that out, or maybe choosing not to. Ravens, Post-Apocalypse, Mimicry, Sounds, Stories. CW- Nuclear Destruction (implied). [c2 t3]
  • “Unstoned” by Jason Gruber (short story) - A beautiful and haunting story of the last troll after a devastating war, working as a stoneworker for their former enemies, hoping one day to build a ship that means something like freedom, like hope. Difficult and yearning but also magical and powerful. Ships, Stone, Trolls, Elves, Building. CW- Bullying/Abuse, War/Genocide. [c3 t3]
Oops! I realized I had missed the first two issues of Diabolical Plots this year and better late than never because these stories are strong, dealing with non-human narrators following devastating conflicts and new status quos. Grim at times but also lovely and strong stories!

Diabolical Plots #72 (2 short stories total)
  • “Energy Power Gets What She Wants” by Matt Dovey (short story) - Set in a virtual game that looks a lot like Doom, the narrator is having some guy trouble and turns to advice from a rather unconventional, but rather hilarious source. One that can’t solve toxic masculinity, but can offer a solution of sorts, or at least a suggestion. A rather fun read! Games, Relationships, Leaderboards, Demons. CW- Violence. [c3 t2]
  • “A Study of Sage” by Kel Coleman (short story - A difficult but lovely story about having to do the right thing and having it hurt so much, and feeling the distance between knowing you deserve better and having to work for that, having to stand for that. It’s an emotionally resonating story, and just wonderfully done, sharp and sweet and devastating all at once, messy and real and so good. Breakups, Simulations, Food, Queer MC. CW- Abuse/Insults. [c2 t3]
A nicely paired issue with two stories that deal with both simulated environments and relationships, with people having to face the bumpy roads of being with another person, though one of the couples here is just starting out, and one of them is finally coming apart. It’s a nice one-two punch of fiction, though!

PodCastle #667 (1 short story total)
  • “Clouds in a Clear Blue Sky” by Matt Dovey (short story) - A story of a factory town that’s lost one of its own, and a son suddenly missing a father, and the boy’s friends hatching a scheme to make him feel better, a scheme involving the factory that makes clouds that...well, doesn’t go to plan. A lovely read. Factories, Clouds, Funerals, Friends, Employment. CW- Death of a Parent. [c2 t3]
A somewhat heavy story of loss and grief and an attempt to cheer someone else that could have been thought out better but had its heart in the right place. Yearning and kind and a fine read!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #324 (2 novelettes total)
  • “Quintessence” by Andrew Dykstal (novelette) - The mysteries are layered on a high mountain where a company of miners find themselves cut off from the rest of the world and calamity heading for them, all kicked off with a murder and a strange magic that means the narrator isn’t alone in their own head. Difficult at times but interesting and neatly plotted, with a thin line of hope even through a lot of loss. Mines, Mysteries, Corporations, Betrayal, Witches. CW- Murder/Violence, Mental Possession, Pregnancy/Miscarriage, Sacrifice/Suicide. [c4 t4]
  • “Cleaning Up After the Blackout Boys” by Evan Marcroft (novelette) - A story of a man ground down in a city ground down by war and by corruption and greed. Desperate and forced into more desperate situations, his desire for piece is crushed beneath the hunger for blood all around him. Grim and relentless. War, Cities, Bargains, Painting, Family. CW- Murder/Authoritarianism, Blood/Gore. [c4 t4]
A grim but well paired issue full of people forced through corruption and greed into terrible situations, having to make decisions to kill or not kill to try and save those they care about, and having to live with the ways that violence rarely makes anything better, rarely solves anything, and the weight of that all coming home to roost. Difficult but nicely balanced story that have some action but much more have a palpable weight when it comes to actions and consequences. Good stuff!

Works read this year to date: 247 stories, 38 poems {+32 stories, +3 poems)

So maybe now I’m done with adding new publications to my rotation. Maybe. We’ll see. I obviously have something of a difficult time saying no. But I do want to try and find a balance that isn’t just me trying to read everything. Which…I’m bad at. I’m still not finding myself writing much but that’s probably more to do with general stress and exhaustion and caregiving. So it goes? Yeah.

In other news, my workshop last week on reading, reviewing, and writing I hope went pretty well. It might have been a little all over because part of it was talking about using reading and writing as a way to sort of learn writing and learn yourself but also I just talked about reviewing some and how that works out because well that’s what people asked. And it was lots of fun. But wow, it’s also something that was really new to me, and just I have lots of feelings about it because it was through Clarion West and I still have this weird feeling of loss that I never got to participate in an in person Clarion workshop and always wanted to but never could. Still, I’m grateful that I got to teach and thankful to Clarion West and all the people who showed up!

In other media, I’m getting close to being through with Agents of SHIELD season three so I’ll probably write that up soon. My very slow watch of Elementary just concluded, too, which has been what husband and I have been watching for the last few months. I don’t think I’ll do a specific write up about it, because I wasn’t doing season breakdowns and I feel that would have been useful given the way the series organized itself into seasons. I was frustrated by the ending but imagine that’s because it was cancelled midseason. Unless it wasn’t? Anyway, that’s that. Not sure what we’ll watch next. CSI: Miami again??? It’s our trashy favorite, not gonna lie, and husband is a full lab tech now so probably he’ll get more out of it. Hah. Anyway, that’s about it. Cheers!


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