Thursday, March 18, 2021

Quick Sips 03/19/2021

Just go ahead and ignore me whenever I say I’m done adding publications to cover. I’ll stop saying it, because I apparently can’t resist having a bit of time and immediately going to track down more to read. Just the way I am, I guess. And this week I’m adding some more…again. Both Hexagon Magazine and the Future Fire and new to my coverage, though neither are terribly new to me personally. It’s nice to be able to add them to my reading, though, and already I’ve found a lot of great stories in them. Further, here’s the first time I’m adding stories from a single author collection, but I do plan on continuing that trend, so that while I’ll only be covering the original stories, I’ll still definitely be able to keep up with some that might otherwise have slipped by. Otherwise not too much to report.

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!

Hexagon Magazine #4 (4 short stories, 1 poem total)
  • “A Gift, a Witch, and a Wakening of Honey” by Elou Carroll (short story) - A lovely story about a swarm of bees with a problem and a reluctance to apologize. Something the need help with from the local witch, to warm and wonderful results. Bees, Witches, Riddles, Gifts, Gardens. [c1 t1]
  • “Serpentine” by Rebecca Fraser (poem) - A celebration of a familiar by a magic user or witch, this one captures the danger and beauty and power mixed into the snake, into the history and grace of it, and it’s a fun and rising read. I love the interesting rhyming and flow!
  • “How Do You Grow?” by Jennifer R. Donohue (short story) - Callie has lost her baby teeth and needs to go to the dentist to pick out a new set, a creature-as-teeth that will grow with her for the rest of her life. And the experience is...well, creepy as fuck. It’s an unsettling but effective read. Teeth, Growing Up, Family, Dentists, Fears. CW- Parasites/Symbionts, Dental Trauma, Abuse/Torture, Mind Control/Influence. [c4 t5]
  • “Our Nomadic Forest” by J. S. Alexander (short story) - Framed as a letter by a parent to their child, the piece follows an invasion, a slow cultural suffocation leading to a battle, a war, and a lot of death. It’s a vividly imagined and well built story with a strong emotional core. Trees, History, Voting, Family, Queer MC. CW- Genocide, Blood/Battle/Murder, Racism. [c4 t3]
  • “Wings of Light” by Anna Madden (short story) - An insectoid warrior is pulled from the battle she longs for and given a very different mission in this story of destruction and hope. It’s tightly paced and nearly apocalyptic, at least for Ochre, the main character, but from that she begins to see a way forward, a new reason to live. A great read. Insects, Queens, Colonies, War, Worms, Eggs. CW- Violence/Battle/Death. [c3 t3]
So I guess the new publications aren’t done for me yet, and for my first issue reading Hexagon the connective tissue of is based on spring, on growth and rebirth, on the natural world and its many strange creatures. On insects, snakes, and plants, all often overlooks and maligned, all here shown in a new light. A great issue!

Pseudopod #747 (1 short story total)
  • “Keeping House” by Sarah Day (short story) - A chilling story of a couple, Lydia and Matt, moving into a house and finding that it’s not quite what they thought. That it might already be home to a hunger that could consume at least one of them. Sharp and claustrophobic and crushing all at once. Houses, Hauntings, Chores, Relationships. CW- Abuse, Misogyny. [c3 t5]
This is a creepy issue and looks at the distribution of labor in a relationship, both physical and emotional, and how when things are balanced there’s a kind of danger that can grow, where one person, most often a woman, is expected to take on more and more, to give up herself, to serve the hungers that demand her sacrifice. Some sharp horror!

Clarkesworld #174 (5 short stories, 1 novelette, 1 novella total)
  • “Mamaborg’s Milk and the Brilliance of Gems” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (short story) - A story of a mother trying to do anything, everything she can to find a better life for herself and her child. Scavenging in a setting highly automated and highly corrupt, where there isn’t enough of anything but love and hope. Family, Exo-suits, Drones, Dreams. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth/Breastfeeding, Detention Centers, Pain/Injections. [c4 t3]
  • “Homecoming is Just Another Word for the Sublimation of the Self” by Isabel J. Kim (short story) - Told by a woman who has instanced during immigration, who traveled to America from Korea as a child but left behind a version of herself, a copy, that has been living distinct ever since, this story features the narrators return to Korea for her grandfathers funeral, meeting her instance for the first time, and having to make some impossible decisions. The world building is amazing, the emotional beats resonating, and it’s a fantastic and slightly shattering read. Copies/Instances, Immigration, Family, Cats. CW- Funerals/Death of a Grandparent, Forced Loss of Body. [c3 t4]
  • “The Orbiting Guan Erye” by Wang Zhenzhen, translated by Carmen Yiling Yan (short story) - A fun story about two people on a space station, finding some strange debris floating nearby that yields some...interesting additions to their lives. A nice slice of life with low stakes and a warm feel. Good stuff! Space Stations, Fish, Luck, Birds, Debris. [c1 t2]
  • “Submergence” by Arula Ratnakar (novella) - A complex and wrenching tale of memory and murder as Nithya, an investigator, takes on the memories of Noor, a scientist, to untangle a mystery involving sponges that might be sentient and loads of corruption as humanity stares down the barrels of its own possible extinction. Layered, interesting, and with a great web of relationships and characters. Sponges, Cures/Treatments, Family, Relationships, Queer MC, Music. CW- Diseases, Enslavement/Experimentation on Sentient Beings, Murder. [c3 t3]
  • “55 Plaque” by Isabel Lee (novelette) - A churning story about teaching and about truth, about belief and the dangers of twisting a belief toward self-importance and self-righteousness, all from the perspective of a teacher waiting for a new contact from space, from an alien people who have contacted Earth eight times before. It’s tense and it’s tightly-paced and just hits in all the right ways. A great read! Aliens, Teaching, Spirals, Lights, Family. CW- Extremism/Religious Fanaticism/Suicide/Cults, Abuse. [c3 t3]
  • “Comments on Your Provisional Patent Application for an Eternal Spirit Core” by Wole Talabi (short story/flash) - A short but interesting story about a possible invention and two people communicating only through the comments on a shared patent application. The framing is great and I love the two distinct voices combining here to give the piece it’s conflict and heart. Inventions, Patents, Family, Brain Scans/AIs. CW- Death of a Parent. [c2 t3]
  • “To Study the Old Masters in the Prado at the End of the World” by Sarah Pauling (short story/flash) - A story of alien invasion and art, and I like the progression and the human elements to it, the narrator and the dire situation they are in, and where it seems to go from there. A nice way to close out the issue! Aliens, Relationships, Art, Museums, Tours, History. CW- Invasion. [c2 t4]
Lots to get to in this issue and as usual for Clarkesworld and most of it science fiction, though there is a great contemporary fantasy thrown in for good measure. There’s a mix of aliens and memory scans, family and sacrifice and mysteries. Some interesting uses of form, too, including a patent application as story that works pretty well. A fine issue!

Strange Horizons 03/08/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Bathymetry” by Lorraine Wilson (short story) - A bracing story about unrest and fear, vulnerability and bravery as seen by a woman sent away from a roiling city and a disappeared mother to stay with her uncle, but finding no escape from the choices haunting her--to fight, or to accept what’s happening. Nicely done, and I love the way the Manifests, literal manifestations of feelings, are used to further the conflict and stakes. Manifestations, Emotions, Unrest, Resistance, Family, Seas. CW- Political Imprisonment, Refugee Endangerment. [c3 t3]
  • “Locally Sourced” by Gerri Leen (poem) - A heartbreaking story about people on a different world and an artist, trying to be resourceful, accidentally doing something terrible, and carrying that burden, that guilt, ever after. Wonderfully built and I love the clear turn, that center break, where it all goes terribly wrong. A great read!
A wonderful issue that grapples with some very large things, with fear and with regret. In both works, the characters are facing feelings that loom as large or larger than people. That seem to become physical things, manifestations of things that cannot be contained, that have slipped free of the incorporeal and become more. Some fantastic work here!

Love, An Archaeology by Fabio Fernandes (4 original stories total)
  • “Seven Horrors” by Fabio Fernandes (short story) - A strange opening volley for the collection, spoken to you, the reader, and revealing a structure of time and time travelers, a conflict between two immortals that has already happened but can still maybe be stopped. Lightly bizarre and definitely intriguing, it gets the collection off to a weird but compelling start. Time Travel, Family, Immortality, Disasters. CW- Suicide, Extinctions, Murder. [c3 t3]
  • “WiFi Dreams” by Fabio Fernandes (short story) - Another deeply strange piece about a man trapped in an artificial dreamscape, asleep and awake all at once and plagued by a giant black duck with a Bowie knife. For all the oddness, though, it carries a definite plot and a building action as the narrator works to free himself and his friends from this twisted trap they’ve fallen into. Nicely paced and with a great ending. Dreams, Games, Artificial/Virtual Reality, Ducks, Weapons. CW- Suicide, Violence/Guns. [c3 t3]
  • “Nine Paths to Destruction” by Fabio Fernandes (short story) - A story about the obliteration of humanity and one person’s retreat from it into meditation and waiting, wanting to survive but also working against something enormous and ravenous for destruction. And yet through that there’s still hope, and maybe a way to stop the destruction they’ve been running from. A great read! Meditation, Buddhism, Sanctuaries, Travel, Time Travel, Queer Characters. CW- Destruction/Death/Murder, Drug Use. [c3 t3]
  • “Love: An Archaeology” by Fabio Fernandes (short story) - Two sisters use Devices that allow them to search through alternate realities to try and find a father that has been absent for both of them. And as the piece progresses, the full scope of what’s going on emerges, and a kind of sadness and possibility seeps in. It’s a lovely and yearning story about distance and desire, about family and time, and it’s a wonderful piece both to title the whole collection off of and to close it out. A wonderful read! Alternate Realities, Family, Disappearances, Investigations, Travel. CW- Suicide, Infidelity. [c2 t3]
This is a strange and wonderful collection moving through themes of time, desire, family, and possibilities. There’s a dreamlike quality to much of it, especially toward the beginning, but also lingering throughout, with characters trying to claw their way through, to survive, to strive for a better world, sometimes able to take control of their lives, sometimes not, but always revealed beautifully by the author. I definitely recommend checking out all of the stories in this one!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #325 (2 short stories total)
  • “Dead at the Feet of a God” by Izzy Wasserstein (short story) - A story about a Seer who can see the future, though it brings them no comfort. Their home subjugated, their faith criminal, they see and they relay and yet for most it doesn’t prevent the tragedy. But that is something that the Seer comes to understand very well, after their own latest devastating loss. Emotionally resonating! Prophecy, Bones, Relationships, Daggers, Gods. CW- Death/Blood/Hanging, Invasion/Subjugation, Death of a Lover. [c3 t4]
  • “Parchment Sky” by Stephen Case (short story) - A story of a narrator and their brother, who work at where the sky comes out of the ground, who work to write the names of god on the sky as it rises so that she might see and know she is remembered. But who find that, after a traumatic accident, there might already be writing on the sky when it reach them, and that it might be unsettling indeed. A strange and rather chilling read. Gods, Writing, Messages, Family, Rituals. CW- Injury/Blood/Gore, Religion/Eating God Flesh. [c3 t4]
A nicely paired issue (as always for the publication) centered around gods and loss. In both, the narrators have had people lost to the whims of the gods. To their cruelty or to the specter of their inaction. And in both the characters, though they have been taught that things are certain, are gripped by doubt and the need to do something, to act, even if it means risking everything. Some strong works!

The Future Fire #2021.56 (1 short story, 2 novelettes, and 4 poems total)
  • “Gendered Anatomy” by R.E. Andeed (short story/flash) - A story that looks at the joys of body modification when it comes to gender, a sort of wish fulfillment that here is messily tied to economics, to marketing, to making money, and the result is fascinating and powerful and a mix of emotions. Complicated and short, it hits and it lingers. Bodies, Gender, Exhibitions, Marketing, Transformation, Queer MC. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Gender/Body Transformation. [c3 t2]
  • “k.a. (birthright)” by Lam Ning (novelette) - A strange story of two broken people living in the aftermath of a war they were conscripted into and used during and then discarded when things fell apart, now on probation following time in prison working for the forces they lost to, medics patrolling a border filled now mostly with death. And the piece mixes love and mourning, hate and pain, all in this messy soup of desire, trauma, and war. Beautifully rendered prose and a great read. War, Medics, Drones, Relationships. CW- War/Trauma, Child Soldiers, Violence/Death. [c4 t4]
  • “The Listener” by Sim Kern (novelette) - Jane is a woman who grew up in a restrictive, conservative home and also just so happens to be able to listen to trees, a skill that gets her into some trouble. But it also brings her on a journey that gives her a unique perspective on her life and the shape it takes. Beautifull told, achingly real, and an amazing read! Trees, Voices, Employment, Family, Queer MC, School. CW- Abuse, Ecological Torture, Homophobia/Slurs, Drug Use. [c3 t3]
  • “Rumors of Women” by Laura Cranehill (poem) - A piece that seems to explore the ways that women can be destroyed by rumors, can be killed for desires. And the narrator here is speaking to that, to their own resolve and strength and need. A great read!
  • “The Risk of Embarking” by Lynne Sargent (poem) - A piece on the shape that gender dysphoria takes to the narrator, caught in inaction because finding a better place means such a risk, such a journey. A strong look at inaction and yearning.
  • “Rain on St Andrew’s Night” by Ana Gardner (poem) - Another powerful piece about the dangers that women face because of fear and paranoia. And how they can push back against the stories and traditions that would make victims of them by finding strength instead, and maybe a bit of magic for good measure.
  • “How to Dismantle a Defective Sex Droid” by Ashley Bao (poem) - A slightly unsettling poem about the brutality of taking apart a robot, the violence of it, the emotional distance of it, when that distance is pointed, is grim. And I like how it confronts the reader with this moment, so loaded and so layered. A nice way to close out the issue!
So this is my first time covering an issue of The Future Fire, and there’s a lot of good to find. The fiction is a mix of sharp and powerful and yearning, and the poetry is bracing and confronting and all about power and powerlessness. I really like the way the stories all look at aftermath and the challenges of moving through broken situations, even armed with new powers, new perspectives. How some things can’t be returned to, can’t be fully healed from, even as it doesn’t mean the future will be defined by pain and loss forever. A great issue!

Works read this year to date: 293 stories, 52 poems {+22 stories, +6 poems)

Well my reading is still going pretty well. At least, at this point I’m already through almost 350 works read (the vast majority of those reviewed as well) and normally I wouldn’t have hit that milestone until May/June. It means my goal of getting to more is definitely within reach. I’m sort of all over the place on where I’m reading, sure, but that’s also mostly the plan. It might have played out a bit different if I had heard back from Asimov’s but as it is I’ve just been adding different venues I see or knew about or look awesome. Some pro rate paying, some semi-pro, and some token (and maybe one that doesn’t pay). Part of this is trying to get as wide as I can for We’re Here purposes, and part is just that I do think that some exciting stuff is happening at all levels of the field and I don’t want to pretend it’s only at the biggest venues that the best work is being done.

In me news, the first two X Marks the Stories of the year are now out in the world, and I’m turning in my March column soon. I have a novelette coming out soonish, in Lethe Press’ Burly Tales, an anthology that queers fairy tales with bears (the gay kind). My work, “A Giant Problem,” is my take on Jack and the Beanstalk and is low stakes campy smut. It’s actually one of the few things that I managed to write last year and I do quite like it. The anthology is available for preorder now. So is my collection! I’m in the last stages of getting things together for it and I am so excited! Yeah! Uh…that’s about it? I’m still a mess in general but I am poking at a fiction project that I might eventually get to talk about. And I’m hoping to start another soon. Spring is in the air and I’d love to feel more alive again. Cheers!

Other Media:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 4
So time for a change of pace, right? I do like that the series has moved much more into a kind of comic book arc structure. Instead of a season being one story with a midpoint and an end, we’re getting a bit more into things being divided by thirds (or even quarters). At least in this season, the first third is all about Ghost Rider, the second is much more with the LMDs, and the last one explores the Framework, tying it all together in the last couple of episodes in a way that felt mostly balanced, if not quite so elegant as the earlier seasons. But you know, I still dig it, especially because I’m a big Ghost Rider fan and love that he just shows up and messes shit up. His uncle makes for a nice villain, though one that it’s kinda hard to see, because it ties anti-racism anger and trauma as being seeds of villainy. Luckily it doesn’t show the white scientists as good, nor does it set Robby up as some sort of model minority figure. Of course, all that’s dropped very quickly, with the uncle stuff ultimately being resolved off screen, which is eh. The Aida/Framework stuff was interesting if also a little conflicting at times, because again Aida is a victim but also isn’t, and her weird love of Fitz is…fucked up, ngl. Oh, and Mace! Completely forgettable! I actually liked the way the Framework brought back Trip and Ward, and the way it shows how much being around abusive assholes can really fuck you up. The Ward/Fitz mirroring was fascinating. Anyway, this was a weird season and turned things up to 11 a few times. Brain-in-a-jar guy is I guess still around, so it’ll be interesting to see how that and the Watchdogs evolve from here. Indeed. Looking forward to the next season!


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