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!
Mermaid’s Monthly #3 (3 short stories, 1 graphic story, 2 poems total)
- “Mermaid” by Nivedita Sekar (graphic story) - A beautiful and slightly haunting story of a young woman who moves to a place with a fountain with a mermaid statue...and a secret. And the secret is layered, deep, and leaves a feeling both lovely and slightly...hollow. An amazing read! Mermaids, Fountains, Curses, Kissing, Queer MC. [c1 t3]
- “Til Human Voices Wake Us” by Jennifer Hudak (short story) - A story about a girl growing up in the breath of the sea, raised by her gran and slowly coming aware of why the water has such a pull on her, when her mother rejected it, when her gran can’t touch the water without breaking out in hives. A magical story about choices and transformations, and very good! Seas, Transformations, Family, Choices. CW- Body Shaming. [c2, t3]
- “Lament of the Love Struck Irish Fisherman” by Grainne Quinlan (poem) - A poem of longing, of desire, of a narrator watching a being who they know is dangerous but who still has them in a spell of sorts, who makes them want to give up all the things limiting them from joining this person. A wonderful read!
- “Underwater Panther” by Brigit Truex (poem) - This piece looks at the danger the narrator finds in one special place near where they live. That they check to see if the stories are true and they are, they are. A mix of horror and wonder, mystery and fascination, and a great read!
- “Siren Call” by David Bowles (short story) - Another rather wrenching piece, this one following one woman’s war against water, her knowledge, her paranoia that water will destroy the things, the people she loves. Only the more happens, the more she seems to not be wrong. Just maybe...mistaken about what it all means. A beautiful and ultimately freeing read. Family, Transformation, Water, Religion. CW- Death of a Spouse, Death of a Parent. [c2 t3]
- “How to Eat a Mermaid” by K. Harcia Ley (short story) - A visceral look at how two sisters have survived the end of the world, the nuclear war that has ended so much. It’s not a kind way, or a pretty way, but it’s all they have. Even after a sudden and strange transformation means that only one of the sisters might be eating after all. Grim and powerful work! Family/Siblings, Post-Nuclear War, Mermaids, Hunts, Transformations. CW- Body Transformation/Horror, Cannibalism. [c4 t5]
This issue seems themed around the transformative elements surrounding mermaids and their call, their allure both grim and wonderful for the people who listen. It’s an issue that wraps itself around loss and around family, too, that finds characters pulled away, leaving people who have to make peace with that loss, or try to fight against it. And above all, it’s a yearning and powerful collection of short SFF!
Fireside Magazine #89 (5 short stories total)
- “Sugar” by Ashley Park (short story) - A strange story of a girl chosen to carry sugar across an unforgiving and hungry desert as part of a ritual that will hopefully save her people. It’s tense and harrowing, tinged with horror and hunger both, and triumphant as much as it is unsettling. Sugar, Deserts, Rituals, Snakes, Family. CW- Poison, Cannibalism(?), Human Sacrifice. [c4 t4]
- “We Are Not Phoenixes” by John Wiswell (short story) - Unfolding in the second person, the story is a kind of how-to, advice from one pyromancer to another or to a wider group of pyromancers who might have something to learn to doing performances for people in the hospital/hospice. It’s wrenching but also keeps things positive, focused on the joy of the performance coming from both performer and patient, and how important to both that is. Fire, Performances, Advice, Joy. CW- Hospitals/Hospices, Death. [c2 t3]
- “Those We See at the Twilight Bridge” by Wendy Nikel (short story) - A being who helps people cross the bridge into the afterlife finds they can’t quite forget a series of murders, and the murderer it’s not their job to judge or punish. Short but densely packed and focused on whose comfort should be prioritized, whose vengeance. Bridges, Roles, Dancing, Afterlife. CW- Death/Murder/Assault, Revenge. [c3 t4]
- “Contract Witch” by Elizabeth Cobbe - A witch on contract for a big project at a larger corporation struggles to be heard when she discovers a fatal flaw in the language and structure of the spell. And, ultimately, struggles with her own responsibility in a setting where she has no power and has a lot to lose. An uncomfortable read very much worth spending some time with. Employment, Magic, Witches, Contracts, Spells, Flaws. CW- Misogyny. [c2 t4]
- “Phases of the Moon” by Alice Towey (short story) - A short and cute story about a person left behind on Earth by their girlfriend while she goes to the Moon for a year. It’s a sweet story dealing with anxiety, doubt, and resolution, and the ending is just the right kind of happy for me. A great way to close the issue! Space, The Moon, Relationships, Proposals, Sweaters, Queer MC. [c1 t3]
A great issue that deals a lot with connections and contracts. People in roles that come with expectations, with certain kinds of commitments. And the characters struggle with those. With the ways they don’t fit into those roles or the ways they do but they are difficult. Most of them, though, find ways to make it work for them, to reach for something affirming even in the direst of situations. Some great works!
Mithila Review #15 (5 short stories, 1 novella, 6 poems total)
- “Arisudan” by Rimi B. Chatterjee (novella) - A thoroughly built story that imagines a whole timelines leading to disaster, focusing on two men from very different paths facing the end of the world, the ascension of a strange and corrupt new hegemony, and who knows what else. It’s fascinating, wrenching, and intricate, full of hope riding the razor edge of disaster and despair. A great read! Submarines, AIs, History, Family. CW- Genetic Manipulation, Pregnancy/Childbirth/Stillbirth/Birth Irregularities, Suicide, Misogyny. [c4 t3]
- “Of Castles and Oceans” by Nicole Tanquary (short story) - A story that follows a tourist in Ghana finding his own truths in and along the water’s edge. A strange piece about awakenings and ghosts and a fine read! Seas, Ghosts, Vacations, Family. CW- Slavery, Death/Murder, Drowning. [c3 t3]
- “Children Between Lines” by Soham Guha (short story) - In an India that has cracked down on dissent by altering citizens’ memories to take out the “unsettling elements,” the narrator of this story is a woman who has a lot to lose, but also a lot to gain from going in upon reaching adulthood to have the procedure done. It’s a complex and wrenching story of memory, security, and intolerance. Definitely worth spending some time with! Memories, Family, Immigration, Procedures. CW- Memory Erasure/Torture, Death of a Parent. [c4 t4]
- “The Knowing” by Neelu Singh (short story) - A story of rituals and the things people know, as experienced by a child growing up and finding that the stories she’s been told aren’t what she thought. That the prejudices taught are a kind of chain, and that they can be slipped out of. A nice read! Water, Lights, Family, Rivers, Chains. CW- Prejudice/Stoning. [c2 t3]
- “Our Bodies Sing the Stars” by Carlos Norcia (short story) - A moving story about conflict, about violence and the alternatives to it, about two peoples torn apart by war and finally reunited through dance, through a language they can communicate through. A sweeping, lovely story! Song, Dance, Ships, Language, Conflict. CW- War/Death of Family. [c2 t3]
- “Packing Tips for Time Travelers” by Michael Janairo (poem) - A wonderful and rather sharp bit of advice for time travelers going forward and backward, and a rather dire warning about the prospect of going to the far future and what you might want to take for the journey...and what you might lose. A powerful piece!
- “Colonial” by Sonya Taaffe (poem) - A complex piece that speaks to a past that can’t be touched, the connections to them broken by colonization and, more, by the breaking of that colonization, the scars still there, the narrator not sure how to deal with them, how to move forward or reach back. A great read!
- “We’re Refugees Who Found Love Searching for Atlantis” by Holly Lyn Walrath (poem) - A beautiful if somewhat haunting piece for me, full of cycles and repetition. The characters are seeking something lost, something that they might not be able to get back, but that doesn’t mean they won’t find something they need, that they haven’t found that in each other. A wonderful poem!
- “Harvest” by Sandi Leibowitz (poem) - A poem that finds an unknown We watching the relationship between a woman and a being We call demon. For all that we’ve cast that relationship as tainted, though, there’s something beautiful and aching about it, something that kindles in us a yearning for what they have, and it’s a strange but intriguing and fantastic read!
- “The Echo Chamber” by David Memmott (poem) - A rather weird but moving piece about voice, about appeal, about a narrator who wants to be a part of something larger than them, something old and huge, a part of something that they could be lost in but still integral to. The whole process is mired in process, in permission, and it has the feel of taking on gatekeeping, art, voice, and permanence. A great read!
- “Ceramics” by Anne Carly Abad (poem) - This piece speaks to me of expectations, standards, and how unrealistic those can be, fueled by cultural values, fads, and systemic misogyny. At least, for me, the piece follows a woman, a celebrity, ultimately broken by trying to be flawless, human in her flaws but also demonized because of them, no longer uncanny, no longer an object. A powerful read!
A triumphant return from Mithila Review, which has been quiet since June 2020. It’s a big issue (as usual) with six stories and six poems plus lots of great nonfiction to check out. What’s less usual is that it opens with a whole novella(!), and one that sets the stage for a lot of stories dealing with preconceptions, with prejudices, with ignorances, and with people coming up against those, and sometimes breaking them down. Some really strong works!
Strange Horizons 03/22/2021 (1 poem total)
- “Excerpts from Sign & Grudge” by Holly J. Schaeffer-Raymond (poem) - This piece swirls around the past, different sections marked a bit like diary entries but out of order. All surrounding something...strange. A visitation, perhaps, or a conspiracy theory, something dangerous and visiting. And the fragments, broken in time, point to death, decay, cycles, and perhaps the longing to find something fantastic, amazing, when there might be a mundane explanation mired in human error, corruption, or random chance. A poem to spend some time with, definitely!
It’s another issue of Strange Horizons and being the fourth Monday of the month that means just a new poem and a bunch of nonfiction (including a short SFF review/recommendation article that features a story by yours truly). Lots of great stuff to check out, including a deep dive into a great novella from last year, so yeah!
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #326 (2 short stories total)
- “The Captain and the Quartermaster” by C.L. Clark (short story) - A wrenching and complex story of war and love, with two women brought together at the beginning of a prolonged civil war, held together by their resolve and commitment, their hope and resilience. And finding, as the war might finally be nearing its end, that they have changed, and that they have to face that. Beautiful and powerful and messy and so so good. Definitely go out and read this one! Civil War, Armies, Supplies, Queer MC, Marriage. CW- Violence/Death. [c3 t3]
- “The Colors of Sand” by Anna Winterstein (short story) - In Shahanan people live waiting for an attack, for history to repeat itself. Only this time will be different, and Bas’hai is a lookout waiting for sign of the return of that threat. When it seems to approach, though, questions clash against the conviction of time and tradition, and violence and loss might walk hand in hand despite the best preparations of her and her people. Wrenching and well built with a bittersweet and poignant ending. Deserts, Sight, Voices, Traditions, Queer MC, Color. CW- Violence/Battle/Death of a Lover. [c3 t4]
Another well paired issue, and not just because both stories feature queer love between women. They’re also two stories that are very much about conflict, about war, and what being a warrior does to a person, how that can take someone out of step with what is required to maintain a more romantic relationship. And while both stories find the main characters embarking on a mission full of hope and resolve, there’s also a fair share of sadness, of loss, of tragedy. But it makes for an emotional and stunning issue!
Fantasy #66 (4 short stories, 2 poems total)
- “Single Origin” by A.Z. Louise (short story/flash) - A story of two women seeking the coffee of the bog witch and finding it, in the end, and more besides, though the lingering implications of the ending leave a strange and almost haunting aftertaste. Still a great read, though! Witches, Coffee, Memories, Queer MC. CW- Memory Loss/Manipulation. [c2 t3]
- “The Woman With No Face” by Alice Goldfuss (short story) - A story of resistance, possession, and violence, and a girl with a gift/curse to be able to jump into other bodies is captured on her way to an important meeting. It’s a messy, wrenching piece, with no easy answers, and an ending that is complex, shattering, and rather grim, but it still makes for a fine read! Resistance, Memories, Coming of Age, Virtual Reality, Family. CW- Death/Death of a Parent, Colonization/Genocide, Mental Parasitism, Trauma/Imprisonment. [c5 t5]
- “So. Fucking. Metal.” by Shane Halbach (short story/Flash) - In a setting where some people have powers, the narrator of this story feels a little...out of place as a metal fan who can make rainbows. Except that metal is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. A fun and cute and quick read! Concerts, Music, Rainbows, Metal, Bands. CW- Undead. [c2 t1]
- “How I Became MegaPunch, Or, Why I Stayed with Dylan” ‘by Y.M. Pang (short story) - A story about a superhero and the man she’s with, the complicated and messy dynamic they have, and the guilt and shame at the heart of them still being together. It’s an interesting piece, not least because I’m not sure the characters staying together is a good thing, but it does reveal something deep about them, and it’s a neat read! Relationships, Superpowers, Money, Books. CW- Relationship Fighting/Threats or Attempted Physical Violence, Insults. [c3 t4]
- “Appeal to the Doppelgänger” by Terese Pierre (poem) - This piece speaks to me of identity, destruction, crisis--full of a kind of danger, a push and pull of attraction and repulsion, the appeal feeling like something grim and violent to me, a need for escape perhaps, or release. A fine read!
- “The Knitting Bowl” by Tristan Beiter (poem) - A poem that seems to guide the making of magical bowl. One that not only holds yarn but that knits all on its own, creating things as needed, as requested, creating a sustenance some need. Interesting and lovely work!
The latest from Fantasy brings a mix of lighter and heavier stories, with some that are rather cute and some that lean more heavily into death, violation, and violence. Some very different takes on fantasy, too, from second world to contemporary, superheroes to witches. It’s another solid issue!
Works read this year to date: 340 stories, 65 poems (+21 stories, +11 poems)
So I keep on chugging along with my reading and reviewing. I think I might actually be coming to something of a crunch point where I’ll have A Lot to get to in early April, but so it goes. March is over but there were some big releases at the end, including the special Strange Horizons Palestinian SFF issue that I’ll be looking at next week. Plus regular quarterly releases are coming in the first week of April from Fiyah, Baffling Mag, and probably more. So I’ll have my hands full with all of that.
Speaking of having my hands full, I might also be a bit tired because we just got a new dog. Leia is some sort of foxhound mix and has a lot of energy for being 8 years old, so we’ve been trying to keep her a bit tired with lots of walks. She’s super happy about it, but we might be a little tired ourselves. Which, I mean, was part of the plan, to help us get back outside and walking. So it’s been an adjustment but also great. She’s our second adopted dog and fourth adopted animal from the local shelter and she’s super sweet. So yay! Alas, it means I don’t have too much to report otherwise. Right before we picked her up, though, I did get through the penultimate season of Agents of SHIELD, so my thoughts on that are below. Cheers!
Agents of SHIELD, season 6
So the big change for this season is that it’s only half as long as previous seasons. Which means there really isn’t the same level of juggling plotlines, though that still happens some, especially with the Chronocoms. But I digress. The season opens with a big status quo shift. The team split. Coulson dead. Daisy, Simmons, Davis, and Piper in space (I do love how Davis and Piper have slowly grown to be more prominent). Fitz and Enoch also in space and on the run. Mac the new director with May and Yo-Yo and a SHIELD being rebuilt. A new Coulson doppelganger with a bang of killers. There’s a lot to take in and it’s interesting stuff that does pay off well. Here we see what the show was always capable of when it dropped having to tie in to the movies so directly. There’s space, time travel, magic, all with a nice sense of humor and heavy emotional beats. Some general observations: shit they decimate the agents like every season. Like all of them. Piper’s the only one to maybe stick around alive through it all and glob I wish they’d make the queerness more explicit. They did that with Benson, and it’s nice to see older gay rep, but they also made it a tragic gay love thing with lots of emotional baggage and alcoholism and while that’s not like unrealistic it’s also like fuck, maybe some happy gays. At least the metal melting guy just got written off. Deke is annoying but kinda grows on you. The writers love the whole Fitz and Simmons are cursed thing. Evil Simmons and Evil Fitz getting together was great. The whole Coulson doppelganger thing was ehhhh. Overall it really was a strong season. Mac and Yo-Yo are frustrating but great. Fitz and Simmons finally got back together. Daisy and May are pretty badass. I’m worried as hell about the next (and final) season. Indeed!