Friday, April 9, 2021

Quick Sips 04/09/2021

March is dead. Long live April! Or something like that. This week I am hoping to close out my March reads, at least (unless I have completely missed something, which happens). There was a bit of activity late in the month what with the release of a special issue from Strange Horizons, but mostly now I’m moving into stuff from April. Now that we’re entering into the second quarter of the year, it means that all the quarterly publications I’ve been following (many of them new to my coverage this year) will be putting out new issues. Luckily they seem spread out enough that I shouldn’t be too buried, but we’ll see how this goes. Yay. Anyway, I expect to stay busy, and I’m glad that I got to cover Baffling, because it’s fairly large and always amazing, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the month is going to bring!

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!

Lightspeed #131 (1 short story, 2 novelettes total)
  • “The Equations of the Dead” by An Owomoyela (novelette) - A lively story with a great voice that follows the second in command to a sort of kingpin on a moon falling for a stranger who can converse with distant clouds of AI. About decisions, about desires, about the different kinds of being smart and not-so-smart. Rather fun if also rather grim at times and a great read! Moons, AIs, Love, Soup, Queer MC. CW- Murder, Threats of Slavery/Torture. [c3 t3]
  • “Complete Exhaustion of an Organism” by Rich Larson (short story) - Jain and Stromile are leaving behind a controlled human environment, a fake kind of suburban ideal, to face the Waste together. Still helped by AI that want to give them what they need, without fully grasping what humans really need. A grim, wrenching read. Post-Disaster, Relationships, Love, Oceans. CW- Nuclear War/Radiation, Illness/Death, Murder/Gore. [c4 t4]
  • “The Giving One” by Ashok K. Banker (novelette) - A new story of warfare and supernatural abilities as part of the author’s Burnt Empire series, this one featuring a young man with a special axe trying to return a stolen cow and becoming a legend in the process. A neat tale. Cows, Warriors, Axes, Battle, Family. CW- Violence/Gore, Marital Violence. [c4 t3]
A bit of a departure from Lightspeed what with only three stories but as two of them are novelettes and one of those nearly a novella, it makes sense. Some interesting works here, most of them splashed with some rather extreme violence. But still worth checking out. Indeed!

Nightmare #103 (4 short stories total)
  • “The Family in the Adit” by A.T. Greenblatt (short story) - A stories of a terrible cycle, of people trapped in a Mine by their greed, trapped in roles because of the violence and corruption that greed bred. And one person maybe finally able to break out, but not cleanly, never that. Chilling work! Family, Mines, Wishes, Meals, Keys. CW- Drugs/Poisons, Violence, Slavery, Torture. [c4 t4]
  • “When the Snowshoe Hare Turns White” by Eileen Gunnell Lee (short story/flash) - A haunting tale of a young person growing up in a world impacted by climate change, by the collapse of so much global infrastructure. And experiencing a terrible accident that is part of this larger pattern. Another creeping read! Rabbits/Hares, Snow, Snowmobiles, Food, Family. CW- Death of Family Members, Death of Animals, Climate Change. [c4 t4]
  • “Paradise Retouched” by Marc Laidlaw (short story) - A strange story about a man’s prank that seems to take on a grim life of its own, his own cruel thoughts and fears perhaps tapping into something that grows, that hungers. An interesting way to make a nightmare out of a summer rental in Hawaii. Vacations, Family Pictures, Alterations, Injuries, Family. CW- Body Modification. [c2 t4]
  • “Step on a Crack” by Paul Crenshaw (short story/flash) - Short and more of an essay than a story, this piece looks at the sayings of childhood, the superstitions, and how they echo into the adult world in some terrible and shattering ways. Powerful work. Family, Superstition, Sayings, Luck. CW- Guns, School Shootings. [c3 t4]
An issue that swirls around family and the ways they can be torn apart. The ways that death can steal into a house, can take people, can make terrifying things that are meant to be familiar and comforting. All to the backdrop of a world ripe with corruption and problems. Climate change. Gun violence. Exploitation. A great issue!

Escape Pod #777 (1 short story total)
  • “The Dame With the Earth at Her Back” by Sarah Pauling (short story) - A lively story about a comedienne named Maryellen on the fringes of human’s space civilization, working at a club and enjoying the relative freedom of not having to worry too much about a crackdown from the fascists in charge of the government centralized on Earth. That is, until she accidentally draws attention to a sensitive situation and exposes someone, and herself, to added scrutiny. I love the way it takes place in a future full of a kind of noir atmosphere and language. Nicely done! Space, Comedy, Clubs, Queer MC, Spies. CW- Drug Us, ACAB/Totalitarian Governments. [c3 t2]
A really fun episode and one that blends science fiction with an older kind of look and feel. Which is neat, dipping not really into nostalgia but rather reframing the aesthetic into a place that can be less steeped in the issues and prejudices of the time and giving it an updated feel, complete with that feeling of history repeating in the form of fascist assholes coming back into power again and again, making it subtly timely, too. Great stuff!

Strange Horizons 03/29/2021 (4 short stories, 6 poems total)
  • “The Center of the Universe” by Nadia Shammas (short story) - A story about Fatima, who is seemingly an AI in a simulation of Abigail’s past life. A false version, maybe, but one centered on Abigail, where everything else barely exists without Abigail’s direct attention. Which makes that attention something Fatima will take drastic action to get and keep. A wonderfully sharp and powerful read about privilege, pain, and audiences. Simulations, School, AIs, Coffee. CW- Injuries/Burns/Self-Harm. [c3 t4]
  • “Native Country” by Karim Kattan (short story) - Noor is being sent out to finish his education is potion brewing, a prospect that he’s not entirely against, but that he’s also silently dreading. And the story shows the complex web of familial ties Noor has, the various hurts and betrayals, the cruelty and the desire to step outside it all. It’s a poignant story about systems, about the weight of expectation, and the transformative nature of death. A great read! Family, Swamps, Potions, Rituals. CW- Death/Ritual Death/Assisted Suicide, Abuse/Beatings. [c3 t4]
  • “A Day in the Life of Anmar 20X1” by Abdulla Moaswes (short story) - A story about a man in a kind of castle, isolated from the people he has authority over, counting victories that exist only on paper or in his small bubble of comfort, not seeing the damage he’s allowing and authoring with his decisions. A sharp take on the ways that corruption can destroy so much. Presidents, Negotiations, AIs, Illusions, Bureaucracy. [c1 t3]
  • “Wills” by Wadih Haddad (short story/flash) - A strange and rather surreal piece, this one for me speaks to the nature of consumption, the way that materialism feeds a fire that burns homes, cities, that feeds the fire of desire and hatred both. All told in a very short space with skips of disappearing and reappearing, of destruction and confusion. Definitely worth spending some time with! Fire, Stores, Consumption, Flight. CW- Aggressive Capitalism. [c2 t4]
  • “PALESTINE IS A FUTURISM: THE DREAM” by Fargo Tbakhi (poem) - This piece speaks and speaks loudly, told in all caps and exclamation point, shouting perhaps to get across a kind of desperate need. A defiance. Contrasting the hope that is flowing from the piece, of a future where things are better, with a future that makes that tries to drown that dream. So it must be shouted to keep it alive, above all the other noise trying to stamp it out. A fine read!
  • “Queer Arab Dictionary” by Nada Almosa (poem) - A beautiful exploration of language and how it shapes and impacts queerness. For the narrator it is personal, it is real, the walls that language builds around the concepts, the way it is treated by society, by speakers of the language. But also how language can change, how people can claim it, reclaim it, bend it to be something other than a weapon, a threat. A wonderful poem!
  • “Dream Particles” by Layla Azmi Goushey (poem) - This piece speaks to me of the conflict of living in a country that is actively engaged in killing people, and probably killing people like you, maybe in places where you have roots. And seeing those roots severed, seeing your children celebrate perhaps in ignorance because how to carry that weight so young? A beautiful, short, and powerfully understated read.
  • “art exhibition: west bank girl on fire” by leena aboutaleb (poem) - The piece seems to me to be about this relationship, this possible or supposed love, between people separated by culture and violence. The narrator here is full of desire, but also torn apart, hurt and brutalized, for what she’s done, who she is, waiting to be freed, waiting to be destroyed rather than kept in a state of performative horror. It’s a complex piece and definitely worth checking out!
  • “Bethlehem” by Najah Hussein Musa (poem) - This piece speaks to me of how people value places. Cities. Histories. How they erase that which they don’t see themselves in, strip magic from those they want to keep powerless. And it’s an aching but still hopeful piece to, because it finds the magic and value in protecting places, even if only in memory and words. A fantastic read!
  • “we Inherited Trees” by Iman Alzaghari (poem) - A piece that for speaks to the complexity of inheritance and movement, people uprooted, replanted, repeated, and still finding ways to keep going, to connect back to the memories of the original trees, the original tastes of home. It’s a short read but a great way of capturing the resilience of people, of culture, of spirit. Do go check it out!
You know, it’s a bit easier to deal with these late-dropping giant issues as a reviewer when I’m not trying to make sure I finish all my March reviews before I start my April reviews. Which means I get to sit back and really enjoy this extra-big special issue on Palestinian SFF from Strange Horizons. It’s got lots of fiction and poetry and it’s sharp, powerful stuff, looking at the frustrations of being trapped, of having to shout to be heard, and even then sometimes being ignored, crushed, cut away from a place that has been home. It’s a resonating issue, and I highly recommend checking it out!

Tor dot com 03/2021(2 short stories total)
  • “#Spring Love, #Pichal Pairi” by Usman T. Malik (short story) - A tender and moving love story between a journalist and an activist who is also a pichal pairi, a supernatural creature whose feet are pointed backwards. And their relationship is deep, complex, and beautiful, even as its promise is damned by a twist of fate, by chance, by a disease that burns through the world. What remains is sweet and still holds to a kind of hope, and is definitely worth checking out! Monsters, Relationships, Marches, Activism, Journalism. CW- Disease/Pandemics. [c2 t4]
  • “Masquerade Season” by ‘Pemi Aguda (short story) - A heavy and rather melancholic story of a boy growing up and finding his masquerades, beings who follow him, who can dance, who can bring him some wonder and joy. But which become a sort of resource to exploit, twisting his joy into sorrow, into expectation, guilt, and shame. A beautiful read! Childhood, Family, Dresses/Fashion, Masquerades. [c1 t4]
March brings two short stories to Tor, and both dealing with the weight of poverty and the ways people cope. The ways people try to hold to something even in the face of corruption and loss. And how sometimes that weight becomes too much to bear. A pair of wrenching and at times difficult stories, but both beautifully revealed!

The Dark #70 (4 short stories total)
  • “Forward, Victoria” by Carlie St. George (short story) - A story of a murdered young woman and the cycle of violence and revenge that she is part of, but not trapped in. The piece takes a look at that distinction, the hope and the tragedy of her death and the power of her undeath, the way that she becomes a kind of movie monster, but one that audiences might definitely root for. A wonderful read! School, Family, Dating, Dances, Queer MC, Reunions. CW- Murder/Gore, Abuse. [c4 t4]
  • “A Study in Ugliness” by H. Pueyo (short story) - Basília doesn’t really fit in at her boarding school, and that’s before the strange new girl shows up, the one who everyone thinks has been going to the school for years. Only Basília knows different, and for her, what might have been horrifying is instead enticing, showing her how she doesn’t belong, yes, but also showing her where she might. A sharp and fantastic read! School, Mirrors, Clocks, Cats, Queer MC. CW- Boarding Schools/Abuse/Bullying, Body Transformation/Horror. [c4 t3]
  • “Worm Blood” by Octavia Cade (short story) - A chilling story of a village beset by a kind of plague, by otherworldly worms that arrive and catch fire, that have all the farmers going without sleep to try and save the harvest, all the while turning on each other as their paranoia and fear run loose. And the true horror isn’t the worms, but the cause of them, and the cure. Difficult work but well worth checking out! Farming, Family, Worms, Portals. CW- Burning/Injury/Scars, Blood, Abuse, Murder of a Child. [c5 t5]
  • “Hello” by Ai Jiang (short story) - A strange and slightly surreal piece that looks at a creature named Hello and a child who seems to be the only one who wants to see Hello fully. It’s odd but compelling, dreamlike at times and unsettling, about transformations, corruptions, and change. A fine read! Greetings, Treasures, Meetings, Hearts, Gold. [c1 t3]
This is certainly not an easy read, the whole issue sort of ending up circling around abuse of children. About those who have been left out, targeted, controlled, where the world or adults are trying to make them into something they’re not. The result is often grim, often tragic, though sometimes it can be freeing as well, offering a kind of escape that, while imperfect, can still be empowering at at times beautiful. Indeed!

Baffling Magazine #3 (8 short stories total)
  • “Earl Grey” by Jae Steinbacher (short story/flash) - A story of the flavors of love. The wonderful vibrance and sweet and savory and everything delicious, yes, but also the moments of rot, of bitterness, of revulsion. And the piece does a great job taking the reader through that, the progression, capturing this love, this relationship, in a beautiful and powerful way. Relationships, Romance, Taste, Queer MC, Synesthesia. CW- Breaking Up. [c2 t3]
  • “Bandit, Reaper, Yours” by Jen Brown (short story/flash) - Retwa must decide between her duty and her desire as she’s sent to interrogate and punish the person she’s grown passionately close to. it’s a quick and fast-paced romp full of spies, danger, and kissing, all told with style and an irresistible charm. So good! Spies, Kissing, Relationships, Battle, Queer MC. CW- Violence/Death. [c2 t2]
  • “A Lamentation, While Full” by M. L. Krishnan (short story/flash) - A strange story about a kind of possession, the second person You invaded by a great-grandmother at her funeral, her voice pulsing in your head, in your veins. The piece is about flavor, taste, and the press of family and ghosts. It’s a little creepy, and well worth checking out! Food, Ghosts, Queer MC, Family. CW- Possession. [c3 t4]
  • “Duppy” by Bendi Barrett (short story/flash) - From ghostly possession to a different kind of haunting this story also unfolds in second person and here you are being pursued by a Duppy, a being who wants you, who desires you, who you in turn might want and lust after. The piece really seems to focus on what you want, what you really want, and how the Duppt might expose that, and satisfy that. A sensual and wonderful read! Hauntings, Desires, Love, Lust, Queer MC. [c1 t3]
  • “The Heron-Girl” by Mari Ness (short story/flash) - A wrenching story about a woman and what she does in the fall, the magic of going to a lake and pulling out a heron-girl, spending months with her before ushering her back. But it’s not a portal fantasy. Time only stands still for the heron-girl, and Angela, the woman waiting for her return, ages and grows, though maybe doesn’t change all that much. A fantastic read! Relationships, Transformations, Birds, Lakes, Queer MC. [c1 t3]
  • “Horoscopes from the Trappist-1 e Gazette” by Tessa Fisher (short story/flash) - A wonderfully framed story told as a series of horoscopes that reveal a world facing a rather daunting invasion, and people preparing at least to go on with as much business as usual as they can. It’s subtle but does a great job with world building, connecting here and now to this far planet, this intense situation. A great read! Space, Horoscopes, War/Invasion, Advice, Aliens. CW- Humans being eaten. [c2 t2]
  • “Brother One Wing” by Maggie Damken (short story/flash) - A beautiful and wrenching fairy tale retelling, focusing on the brother who doesn’t fully return to human, who remains part swan, and his yearning desire, and the relationship and peace he finds later. It’s a wonderfully realized, powerful, and shattering read! Fairy Tales, Swans, Transformations, Queer MC, Curses. CW- Loss/Body Transformation. [c2 t3]
The third issue of Baffling Magazine is out and it features eight stories all wonderfully told and most of them a bit bittersweet. Full of monsters and people stuck in situations and relationships that consume them, that drive them, but that might not be what they fully want. But the stories feature characters reaching forward all the same, following their stars and their desires toward an unknown but hopeful future. Some great works here!

Works read this year to date: 366 stories, 71 poems (+26 stories, +6 poems)

Well things I think are starting to smooth out as I get my rotation down and settle into maybe not adding too much more going forward. I mean, I’ve added a lot! Which has definitely helped me widen my pool of stories for looking for my favorites. Some people know that I do weekly recommendations (that turn into my year-end recommended reading list) on my Patreon, called Sip of the Week. Well, looking at my recommendations so far, it looks like I’ve really liked 26 stories at the time I write this. Those have come from 22 different publications. Which sounds about right! I mean, likely the number of stories now is going to increase much quicker than the publications number, because I’ll mostly be reading publications I’ve already covered, but I’m still rather happy with the way I’ve been able to keep things diverse when it comes to publications. It’s something I’ve always tried to be conscious of, because I feel that sometimes reviewers develop something of a barrel focus in their coverage and especially in their recommendations. And I want to make sure I’m considering from about as many different places as I can. So far, so good in that at least.

In other news…uh…not too much. The dog continues to settle in and is cute but can also be a butt. She’s fine as long as we keep her tired with lots of walks. Such is the dog life. As expected, I haven’t really gotten to watch more Agents of SHIELD, so the review of the final season will have to wait. Not really done much outside of that. I turned in a blurb for Ada Hoffmann’s The Fallen, sequel to The Outside, and really liked it. I had to rush a bit to get through it because I’m bad at time management so my plan is go back and read it again before trying to review it or anything, but it’s really good. Uh…been playing Animal Crossing a bit. That’s about it. Cheers!


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