Friday, March 26, 2021

Quick Sips 03/26/2021

A new week, and new reasons for me to once again add new venues to my reading. I mean, obviously. What could go wrong? Seriously, though, I’m adding both Future Science Fiction Digest and The Future Fire to my reading, both of which I’ve admired from afar for a while but couldn’t fit into my plans. The Future Fire issue is technically from January so oops there, but better late than never I hope. I’m also looking at some single-author stuff, including a new installment in Julie C. Day’s mosaic novel/story collection and a collection of speculative crip lit by Brian Koukol, whose work I enjoyed when it appeared in GigaNotoSaurus a while ago. But yeah, lots to cover today, even if it’s technically not a huge week numbers-wise. Cheers!

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!

Future Science Fiction Digest #10 (4 short stories, 1 novelette total)
  • “The Second Celeste” by Alberto Chimal, translated by Patrick Weill (novelette) - A story about a dying woman and the project to digitally copy her brain, to “upload” her so that she can live on, in some form, and the complex prospect that is. And the fragile and profound and powerful result it yields. Tender and quiet and very good. Uploaded Consciousnesses, Marriage, Translation, Poetry, Transformation. CW- Cancer, Assisted Suicide, Infidelity. [c3 t3]
  • “The Two Festivals that Cannot Exist” by Liu Cixin, translated by Nathan Faries (short story) - A story of an alien witnessing the trajectory of humanity and commenting on its trends. Rather harsh, ultimately, and perhaps cautionary, perhaps merely despairing the trends of technology. Aliens, Technology, Space, Celebrations. [c1 t4]
  • “The Office Drone” by Nic Lipitz (short story) - Hahahahaha. A great story about a literal office drone learning what it means to be an office drone and learning how to be the best office drone despite the discrimination they face. A somewhat wicked but incredibly fun and funny story! Drones, Offices, Employment, AI, Deliverables. [c1 t2]
  • “Perfect Date” by Jelena Dunato (short story/flash) - Short and sensual and complicated, looking at the distance between someone’s frustrations and their desires. I really like how in so short a space it takes on AI, sex work, fantasy, and safety. Really a lot to unpack here, and a really strong story! Sex Work, AI, Dates, Apps. CW- Forced Sex Work, Memory Erasure, Consent...Issues. [c3 t3]
  • “The Final Test” by Ti Sha, translated by Judith Huang (short story) - An interesting and nested story about an AI trying to pass a kind of citizenship test by being set up in a historical simulation to pass a different kind of test, a test to prove they have “free will.” It’s a challenging but well constructed story, complex but with a kind of simple elegance in the end, and it’s well worth checking out. AI, Tests, Humans, Simulations, Programming. CW- Violence/Torture/Slavery. [c2 t3]
Another publication that’s new to my coverage, and one that focuses on translated SFF as well as original English works. This issue leans heavily on the ideas of AI and the implications of AI, typically from the perspectives for those intelligences, and I really like the picture that forms through the different takes, the different explorations. The map that develops is one littered with pitfalls and landmines, but that’s still very much worth navigating!

Stories of Driesch #3 (1 short story total)
  • “Do Not Fragment” by Julie C. Day (short story) - A story that takes Jasie, desperately in need of funds to help with her splintering mind, into the belly of the beast as it were, to a kind of illegal hunt the wealthy put on to capture and rend an uploaded/copied consciousness in the digital corridors of the city. It’s tense and grim but for the determination that Jasie shows, the resourcefulness and the reach for something other than corruption and death. Great stuff! Uploaded Consciousnesses, Transformations, Money, Jobs, Clubs, Hunting. CW- Slavery/Captivity, Body Modification. [c3 t3]
Another in this collection/mosaic novel and I continue to enjoy the setting and the world building, the grim and slightly punkish feel of everything and the hope and resilience on display, the characters finding ways not to lose their souls even as they fight a losing battle for their minds.

Fusion Fragment #5 (7 short stories total)
  • “Starship Solitaire” by David F. Shultz (short story) - Sera and Karyn are working toward a future they might have already lost, trying to mine from their sector of space enough to live, to retire on. But their losses are already so much that it might be impossible to make up for it, in more ways than one. Deep, wrenching, and powerfully told. Space, Mining, Queer MC, Family, Ships, Accidents. CW- Death of a Child. [c2 t4]
  • “Animal Hour” by Ian Donnell Arbuckle (short story) - Students at a university are witness to a strange kind of crisis, one where corpses start simply...disappearing. Set against the uncertainty of college graduation and the ache and trauma of loss, it explores forgiveness, possibility, and memory in some interesting ways. A great read. College, School, Relationships, Family, Music, Dance. CW- Death/Death of a Grandparent/Sibling. [c3 t4]
  • “Otherwhen” by Zandra Renwick (short story) - Elizabeth has had a traumatic incident, one where a time traveler, a Displaced, appeared right in front of her car. After, Elizabeth is caught thinking about time, about moments, and trying to make sense of everything. It’s a slow story until it isn’t, complicating time and causation, and it’s a fascinating read. Time Travel, Dogs, Cars, Neighbors. CW- Hospitals, Car Accidents/Crashes, Therapy. [c3 t4]
  • “Desert Animals at Night” by Jess Koch (short story) - A rather strange and haunting story of two friends going out into the desert for spring break and...only one coming back. Which one does, though, and which one doesn’t, is a weird and captivating question. Deserts, Friends, Reflections, Snakes. CW- Murder/Death of a Friend. [c4 t5]
  • “Winter’s Song” by Spencer Nitkey (short story) - A young boy learns the magic of transmogrification as his family flees Earth and the destruction there and looks to space and distant worlds for hope, even as he is taught by his grandmother to remember harmony and balance. A touching and beautiful story! Transformation, Music, Family, Generation Ships, Colonization. CW- Destruction/Planetary Ruin, Death of a Grandparent. [c3 t3]
  • “The Stumblybum Imperative” by Christopher Hawkins (short story) - A spiraling story of exhaustion, pain, and desperation as a woman who has been abandoned by her husband tries to raise her daughter and ends up slipping into a pit of drugs and a strange and haunting television show. Wrenching and unsettling, the horror is visceral. Television, Family, Parenting, Money, Chores. CW- Depression, Drugs, Violence, Coerced Sex/Sex with a Minor. [c4 t5]
  • “A Vial of Electric Blue” by Vanessa Fogg (short story) - The narrator of this piece is in a kind of prison, though one in a pastoral setting. But she is being kept, being “fixed” at the request of her parents who insist she deny her anger and accept the injustices she sees around her. Her anger in the mean time is being removed by those holding her. Or so they think. A bracing and ultimately hopeful read. Anger, Memories, Houses, Families. CW- Imprisonment, Memory Erasure/Control, Needles/Blood. [c3 t3]
This issue leans heavily into some grim themes and moments, showing failures in parenting tinged with anger and loss and abuse. Relationships, be they marriages, friendships, or other romantic entanglements, strained and perhaps broken by grief, by stress, by loss. Through that there are some moments of clarity and hope, but certainly not everywhere, and for much of the issue things remain heavy, dangerous, and destructive. Still, it’s a great issue!

Strange Horizons 03/15/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “According to Leibniz (maybe this isn’t what he meant); or, Rasharelle Little: Goddess of Postal Worker NBs” by Isana Skeete (short story) - An adorable story about a person, a Monad, and their Duad, who happens to be a headless chicken. Not exactly the most useful kind of ethereal animal companion, and made more awkward that it seems to get loud to manifest their anxiety, but slowly they start to understand it more, and understand themself as a result. An amazing read! Chickens, Animals, Queer MC, Postal Workers, Parties. CW- Anxiety/Depression, Bullying. [c2 t3]
  • “Where Did The Cockerel Story Start?” by Patricia Omozele Sukore (poem) - A strange piece about a man and a kind of haunting, a story that is carrying around the baggage of loss and trespass. And the story, and the way it manifests, has a power that the man cannot escape, cannot banish, even as he cannot satisfy it by giving into its demands. Definitely worth a read!
A nice issue that features birds! Chickens, to be specific. And ones that aren’t exactly wanted. At least, not at first. The works feature characters at least attempted to make peace with the chickens plaguing them. Not all of them manage to do it, though, and the works are nicely balanced with strangeness and with interesting and innovative moves in style and voice. A fine issue!

Pseudopod #748 (1 short story total)
  • “The Infinite Error” by Jon Padgett and Matthew M. Bartlett (short story) - A story of bathroom humor gone terribly wrong. A creeping piece of psychological and scatological terror. The question of who the “you” of the story is is an interesting one. Toilets, Podcasts, Philosophy, Employment. CW- Defecation, Torture. [c4 t5]
An interesting issue and one that revolves around one man just wanting to poop in peace. It’s strange, it’s almost random, it works a bit like a confession, though one filtered through a fracturing psyche.

Diabolical Plots #73 (2 short stories total)
  • “Boom & Bust” by David F. Shultz (short story) - Set in a time and place of aggressive, militarized capitalize and stock trading, the piece follows a small firm trying to stay ahead of the game during a crash, desperate and often moments away from disaster, always looking for the angle that will bring them back from the brink of ruin. Neat, fast, and rather fun. Stocks, Investments, Money, Art, Employment. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Blood/Gore/Violence. [c4 t4]
  • “The Void and the Voice” by Jeff Soesbe (short story) - A man and his father find themselves in a rather dire situation after an accident, and what unfolds is wrenching and complex as the two have to face their lives, their relationship, and their griefs. A powerful and quiet story! Family, Space, Ships, Accidents. CW- Death of a Parent, Injury/Trauma. [c3 t3]
A nicely balanced issue, with some fun and some brash action weighed against a slower and heavier take on grief and loss. Death plays a role in both stories, though, and it’s interesting to see how different they are portrayed, how cheap and expensive at the same time money and capitalism make human lives. A nice issue!

Mermaid’s Monthly #2 (4 short stories, 1 graphic story, two poems total)
  • “Leaving to Exist” by Ivis Whitright (poem) - A beautiful dream of a poem about people leaving a planet behind to build one where they can write rules based on love and respect. The piece is yearning, lovely, alive with belief that this place isn’t wholly a fantasy, just a destination we haven’t arrived at yet. Amazing work.
  • “Andromeda” by Stephanie Nina Pitsirilos (text) and Seth Martel (illustration & lettering) (graphic story) - A piece that imagines a visitation to Earth in the past, a kind of spark of longing and loss that kindles innovation, and a reach up and out, toward space, toward something not quite understood but felt deeply. Aliens, Space, Seas, Transformations, Technology. [c1 t2]
  • “Surinla” by Amanda Saville, art by Joyce Chng (short story/flash) - This piece finds a fallen being accepted into an aquatic community, taught that there is more to the universe than war, but that war might threaten all they’ve gained. Touching and fierce. Space, Seas, Transformations, Names, Community. CW- War. [c2 t3]
  • “In the Sky, an Ocean” by Amanda Saville, art by Joyce Chng (short story/flash) - A triumphant story of aquatic people too stubborn to accept that they should just accept being limited to the ocean. So they start a project aimed at the stars, and despite everything, and in spite of everything, they try to find a way. Beautiful work! Relationships, Spite, Space, Travel, Seas. [c1 t2]
  • “Diamond Sharks” by Floris M. Kleijne (short story) - Brian has transformed himself, has become basically a mer-person, all to follow his first love to a distant planet that requires that kind of extreme surgery. Only what he finds what he gets there isn’t what he expected, though it might be what he needs. A wonderful read! Mer-people, Space, Diamonds, Diving/Scuba, Relationships. CW- Surgery. [c2 t3]
  • “Space Needs Mers” by Fran Wilde (poem) - This piece follows a mer through the disappointments of their sea, the garbage around them, the way they don’t quite fit in. Until, that is, they realize that they might not have to be bound to their sea, that there might be a bigger one waiting above and all around them. A great poem!
And there’s the second full issue of Mermaid’s Monthly, which is once again filled with some amazing works. I love the way that it’s short, basically a zine in electronic format, full of art and fun while still managing some deep and emotional moments. It comes together nicely, and here the theme definitely seems to be space, with all the works blending mers and the wider galaxy, to great result. A fantastic issue!

  • “Useless Eaters” by Brian Koukol (short story) - A story about a group of disabled buskers trying to make a little money but not at the expense of their dignity. For me it has a brash, punkish feel to it, fun with a jagged edge and a triumph despite the poverty and filth around the characters. Toilers, Faces, Queer MC, Busking. CW- Scars, Slurs. [c4 t3]
  • “Cry Havoc” by Brian Koukol (short story) - A sharp twisting of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, told from the perspective of a man betrayed and abused, disabled through torture but able to reclaim himself and his power while rejecting the tools of power that led to his own pain and exploitation. A fantastic read! Fairy Tales, Family, Diamonds, Rats, Prosthetics. CW- Torture/Amputation, Murder. [c4 t3]
  • “Dedition by Subtraction” by Brian Koukol (short story) - A quick look at the travails of a man in a wheelchair just wanting some space to be, stuck in a store not big on accessibility and betrayed by the person he thinks will help him. But when one door closes, another might open, and the piece works with the idea of a portal fantasy in a wonderful way. Stores, Relationships, Portal Fantasy, Accessibility. CW- Ableism. [c2 t3]
Though I’m only specifically covering the original fiction in this collection, it’s all rather amazing. It’s got a power to it, a brashness that the author captures well in his intro, that doesn’t really invite or comfort the abled gaze. That rejects centering ableism and that claims power and agency for the characters and their situations. Not often without a fight, but these characters are resourceful and determined, and often find ways to take strength from community, to build structures that allow them to succeed on their own terms. It’s a fantastic bunch of stories, and I highly recommend checking it out!

Works read this year to date: 319 stories, 54 poems {+26 stories, +2 poems)

So yeah, mostly fiction this time through, though not entirely without poetry. I should probably be keeping track of just how many individual publications I’m covering but, you know, that’s just more work at the moment and I’ll just leave off saying it’s a lot. Though I was meaning to add both of the ones I added this week (though I forgot The Future Fire when it dropped in January, oops). Future Science Fiction Digest actually has been sending me review copy for a while, and I was sad not to have room during my longer review period, but I left that call to my patrons at the time and neither do I regret it. It just was what it was. But I’m glad to add it now, and it’s got some nice works in it. I’m adding more single author projects as well, following the collection I covered last week. This format, looking at just the original stories, is suiting me well and I think I’ll continue that for the time being. Still sort of figuring things out, which might be weird to say given we’re already through March, but there it is.

Speaking of, that’s about a quarter of the year done and I’ve read 373 works (a bit more, really, because I read a bit ahead of my reviews. But that means I’m on pace to read well over 1000 works and maybe closer to 1500. Heh. Shit. Well, that’s part of the plan, though. I’m working on my editorial/intro to We’re Here now and part of what I want to improve on from this year to next is how widely I’m pulling stories and considering stories, because while I don’t think I did a poor job of that, I can always do better, and I do want to look at what’s being done even outside of where I’ve vaguely curated myself over the past six years. More reading. MOAR!

That’s about it, though. It’s Sippy Season and that’s exciting. Sorry that they’re so late this year but I hope they are worth the wait. It’s just been A LOT and I’m trying my best. Cheers!

Other Media:

Agents of SHIELD, season 5
And now for something completely different. The series continues to lean into its comic book roots here, this time taking most of the series regulars and shooting them into THE FUTURE! Which, all right, here for it. The transition is abrupt but ends making some amount of sense. The future sucks, as it normally is, here because the world was destroyed and apparently Daisy was to blame (though it should have been more obvious that this wasn’t the case). The team is split up in multiple ways, fights, loses people, is reunited, people are resurrected, it’s all a lot. The villains here are pretty okay, messy and desperate with daddy issues and I like how that all plays out. The team manages to both save the dystopia future and return to the past (plus one), though through that it’s revealed that Coulson’s deal to kill Aida has left him dying. Which in turn becomes a huge part of the second half of the season. The second half, which shows the return(ish) of Hydra, and the string of villains, culminating in the evil-ing of an old ally of the team. Which I do think is well done, because that character was always something of an ass and while he doesn’t really deserve what happens to him, it makes sense. What I think was most surprising here and most interesting was the way the team splintered, with Fitz, Simmons, and Yo-Yo forming a bit more hardline splinter while Mac tried to always to the right thing and May, Coulson, and Daisy sort of flip around. And it hit nicely in the end with what Coulson finally decides to do and how Daisy and the rest of the team react to that. The Battle of Chicago is something of a disappointment, but only just. Again, the show knows how to tie all its lingering threads into a powerful moment that looks like a knot before it comes into shape. The promised death is rather shocking but not exactly surprising, and makes a lot of sense given what happened with the timeline. It’s weird to see the show really hit a stride like this in the fourth season on, but things have finally felt a little freer, with more emphasis on the character drama and for that it’s quite quite good. We’ll see if they screw that up next season!


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