Friday, April 16, 2021

Quick Sips 04/16/2021

Well I’m now into entirely April publications, and looking a lot of interesting works this week. I think I can start to pin down some trends, though, for the year. And I mean keep in mind that I’m not reading everything, that I’m not seeing all works being put out, but I have been noticing a big return of stories focused on the act of survival and the different ways that people can resist, and the ways that can be effective, and the ways that sometimes there’s no win, no real way to fight back except in personal, often self-destructive acts. And I feel that it’s probably reflecting a lot but especially the pandemic and the lingering effects that authoritarian movements have made a bad situation so much worse globally, where almost every authoritarian/conservative government has fucked up their response and let their people die. And just…the weight of that. Mixed in to how some governments are going further right, using this as a chance to consolidate power, to the further detriment of their people. Though through a speculative lens, I am noticing that there are a lot of really heavy stories dealing with corrupt regimes, the desire to push back, and the enormous toll that takes on a person.

But anyway, that’s just one thing. I’m sure I’ll notice other things as the year moves on even more. For now, I’ll just keep my eyes open.

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!

Flash Fiction Online #91 (3 short stories total)
  • “The Samundar Can Be Any Color” by Fatima Taqvi (short story/flash) - A bit of a haunting story finding a girl, Durnaz, full of yearning for knowledge, for the world outside her small village and contained life. She’s been warned not to wish on the sea, and yet that yearning might be stronger than any fear, and the piece is slightly grim, but also finds a freedom for Durnaz all the same. A fine read! Wishes, Bargains, Seas, Mermaids, Transformations, Books. CW- Body Transformation. [c2 t4]
  • “Zhuangzi Dreams” by A M Hardy (short story/flash) - A wrenching story of illness, loss, and what remains afterward as a person and their husband deal with some bad news and a promise to stay for each other as long as is necessary. What that means, though, is a big part of the strange and heavy feeling that carries through the story. Richly emotional work! Relationships, Butterflies, Moths, Promises. CW- Death of a Spouse/Terminal Illness. [c3 t4]
  • “The Shoe Shopper” by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar (short story/flash) - A heartbreaking story about a man trying to buy shoes for his family, as seen and told by the shoe salesman. An understated and powerful story that might not be speculative, but is still very much worth checking out. Great stuff! Shoes, Holidays, Shopping, Family. CW- Death of a Child (implied). [c2 t4]
For me, this issue is held together by colors. A very appropriate theme, given the return of colors to the Northern Hemisphere after a winter of whites and grays. So here the colors have blossomed, in the form of light on the sea, of butterflies, of shoes. However, the stories carry a grimness as well, a weight that reminds that even in the Spring, there is still loss, and grief, and death. A strong issue!

GigaNotoSaurus 04/2021 (1 novelette total)
  • “Kuemo of the Masks” by Naomi Libicki (novelette) - A story of a group of wandering players and the trouble they get in when they’re beset by robbers, and the strange, epic, shattering events that follow. It’s a nested story, about gods and narrative and power, and it does a great job of holding a lot of threads together, of hinting, of implying, of keeping things a bit of a mystery while still being clear and intricately grounded in the setting of the world. A fascinating and great read! Gods, Plays, Family, Masks, Kings. CW- Death/Death of a Parent/Sibling, Afterlives. [c3 t3]
A really interesting story this month and one that has a neat structure, about plays and summarizing some of them while also telling the story of a traveler and their troupe, and the mess they are tossed into and have to get themselves out of. Certainly worth spending some time with!

Fiyah #18 (4 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “The White Road; Or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River” by Marika Bailey (short story) - A wonderful story about a crow who wants to earn herself a great name, and so sets out on an adventure and finds one that ends up leading to the boundary between life and death being cross by a whole army. It’s a moving piece about doing the right thing, being guided by that, and never really going wrong as a result. And for all it has some grim elements, its fun and freeing and so good. Do go check it out! Crows, Bones, Stars, Death (personification), Family. CW- Death, Slavery, Erasure of identity. [c3 t3]
  • “Fatal Conditions” by Chris Campbell (short story) - A healer grapples with the cost of their gifts and a plan to make the most of the time they have left. It’s a piece about resolution and what it means to be a healer, how part of it is taking a pain, a hurt, onto yourself instead, here very literally, but figuratively as well, and it’s beautifully captured, all the care that is put into this work, this sacrifice. A great read! Healing, Bargains, Vampires, Family. CW- Death/Terminal Condition, Injuries/Trauma, Death of a Child (avoided). [c3 t3]
  • “Rememory” by Kristen Reynolds (short story) - A wrenching story of a woman on a mission to find the child that was stolen from her, unfolding in an America ripped apart, fragmented and toxic. The piece centers grief and the need to process, the need to sort out the past, to pull strength from its stories, to survive, to push for a better future. A stunning read! Memories, Family, Tears, Trains, Post-Disaster. CW- Theft of a Child, Radiation/Illness, Pregnancy/Childbirth, ACAB/Police. [c4 t4]
  • “Blood Ties” by Jade Wilburn (short story) - Another difficult story, this about a town of people who bind themselves to the earth, only to find that after generations their earth is going to be drowned to profit some white people. And for one young girl, what comes next is only tragedy tinged with blood, making a bad situation even worse by spreading violence for its own sake rather than wielding it to push for justice. A fine read! Ancestors, Water, Family, Ghosts, Revenge. CW- Death of a Parent, Murder/Abuse, Ritual Sacrifice, Pregnancy/Childbirth. [c4 t4]
  • “A Demon at My Window” by Aigner Loren Wilson (poem) - This piece speaks to me of lines, of a child going through more than they should have to crossing something grim and dangerous and cruel. And it complicates in my opinion the implications of the title, questioning perhaps who the demon is, and how that matters. A great read!
  • “in which my grandma departs this realm for three hours” by Praise Osawaru (poem) - A strange pice that circles death and the quiet arrival of it, the power of it, and the even greater power of a person pulling herself back from it, coming back after going out, and how profound, and how almost unsettling that is. A nice way to close out the issue!
Though there doesn’t seem to be a stated theme for this issue of Fiyah, one that really does hold it together is, well, Death. Pretty much all of the stories deal with it in some profound ways. A crow carrying it across a river. Women dealing with the death around them, the deaths forced on them, the deaths denied them, the deaths they choose and those they do not. The issue is very aware of death and the different masks it wears, and it makes for a thematically resonating and powerful issue!

Kaleidotrope Spring 2021 (6 short stories, 5 poems total)
  • “Art, and Wit, and Changing” by Dafydd McKimm (short story) - A story told from a kind of magic user, a witch, to a would-be victim who managed to transform himself into something new, something just maybe powerful and clever enough to survive her wrath, her passion. It’s a strange and compelling read, full of a mix of desires, grim and otherwise, pushing toward an ending full of life but also of transformation and dissolution. Magic, Transformations, Potions, Chases. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Cannibalism, Abuse. [c3 t3]
  • “I Shall Bathe in the Mating Pond” by Emma Culla (short story) - A tense and political story about a place divided by zodiac houses and a servant, never expecting to rise higher than that, thrown into the middle of a deadly ploy. It’s a grim read and a rather devastating one but not entirely without hope, as the ending leaves room for change, for a way perhaps to tear down a corrupt system and find something new. A fine read! Zodiac, Servants, Politics, Castes, Family. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Death of a Child, Suicide/Poison. [c4 t4]
  • “The Salt Cure” by Eden Royce (short story) - A story about magic and the cost of it, and a witch who thinks they are the last getting ready for the fight of their life as their home is surrounded by hungry demons. It’s a tense and beautifully rendered piece, powerful and tempestuous, with a heavy cost but a wonderful flavor and finish! Food, Salt, Demons, Magic, Battles. [c1 t4]
  • “The Wet Nurse” by Rob Francis (short story) - A boc, a kind of created humanoid, faces a loneliness they were never designed to handle following an accident on a desert world. And they must make some hard calls about what to do, and how to try and survive. A wrenching and difficult read, but also a good one! Deserts, Pangolins, Family, Loneliness, Adaptation. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Body Transformation, Death/Grief/Loneliness. [c3 t4]
  • “Stag Night” by J.S. Veter (short story) - A grim and unsettling work about a group onboard a ship that was meant to exploit an asteroid but that instead has been slowly falling victim to a strange and terrifying disease. Intense and laced with the way the characters have been trying not to face what they’ve been doing, it’s claustrophobic and visceral. Space, Parties, Asteroids, Mining. CW- Viruses/Death/Gore, Murder/Drawing Lots, Alcohol/Drug Use. [c4 t5]
  • “Spindles” by Samantha Mills (short story) - A story that blends genres very well, imagining an alien invasion of a rather fantasy-tinged world where Callisto is a little girl, a princess, trying to fight back, trying to find her missing mother. The truth behind it all, though, is more complicated, more wrenching, and the ending is sweet and wonderful even as it can’t quite dispell all the layered sorrows. A great read! Invasions, Aliens, Bears/Teddy Bears, Family, Ships. CW- Accidents, Violence/Horror. [c2 t4]
  • “Warning in the Crossroads” by Hester J. Rook (poem) - This piece speaks to me of augury and danger, the We of the piece supernatural beings, beings of water who can see something coming, a future that for the You of the poem is alive with tragedy, with pain. It’s a piece full of anticipation, sight, the flow of water, and the feeling of a hard current coming. A great read!
  • “I know that I can hear a hint of mint...” by Mikal Trimm (poem) - There’s a sense of loss that I read in this piece, the narrator looking back, reaching for something they don’t have anymore, a goodness that they can’t seem to get back to but in dim memory. Or perhaps that they’ve been taken out of context, stripped of everything good and left as just a single note, a single flavor, lacking subtlety. An interesting and complex read!
  • “Poisoned Conscience” by WC Roberts (poem) - A strange piece that for me points to a kind of taking in of toxic elements, having those things twist your expectations, your worldview, your, well, conscience. Dragging down into the dark your thoughts, your mind. A rather creepy read!
  • “Grandmother Spider” by Jessica Cho (poem) - A wonderful piece about storytelling and generational inheritance, where the narrator is comforted and inspired by their grandmother only to find that the old stories are showing age, and I just love how they approach that, how they take up this power and this art in such a moving way. Definitely check this one out!
  • “Heavy Meta” by MA|DE (poem) - This piece advises people to avoid the lab if looking for the heaviest metals, and for me that speaks to a kind of figurative challenge, that those who want to discover things, that want to push boundaries, can do so not just in the controlled and scientific settings, but through art, through expression, through radical examination of the world. And that’s pretty amazing. A great way to close out the issue!
A new issue of Kaleidotrope and a rather grim one, full of loss and birth. The stories especially deal with some very heavy issues, some very impossible situations, characters faced with annihilation, with death, with loneliness, with distance. And not all of them really do great with that, while others manage to find ways to cling to hope, and community, and love. A great issue!

Strange Horizons 04/05/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “We Broke Nairobi” by Noel Cheruto (short story) - A story of change and disaster, where a climate nightmare ends up empowering the worst sorts as only low lives can survive out in the sun for any amount of time. A weird piece that pulls downward, that shows the descent of people as the weight of their actions (and inactions) drown them. Cities, Climate Change, Heat, Deliveries. CW- Lying/Murder/Fraud, Death, Climate Change. [c4 t4]
  • “city girls” by Caroline Dinh (poem) - A poem that for me acts as a kind of warning, a reminder that people have to be careful not to let having things corrupt. That change can be wonderful, can bring a lot of good, but also can erase what came before, and it’s important to remember, to not forget the past even when it’s uncomfortable, painful. It’s an interesting and complex piece, and love how it all comes together!
A great issue as always that seems to me to revolve around corruption, around people getting power and what that does to them, or what that might do to them. How they might forget themselves and start doing some rather awful things!

Escape Pod #778 (1 short story total)
  • “The Machine is Experiencing Uncertainty” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (short story) - A story that manages to balance being rather adorable with also being rather grim and emotionally deep. It finds Caliban, a cyborg being exploited by an asshole ship’s captain, stuck in a time loop, finding in the looping repetition an AI ship drifting in space who might be the reason why everything is stuck. And it’s a warm look at friendship, hope, and healing. A great read! Space, Time Loops, AI, Cyborgs, Friendship. CW- Slavery, Abandonment, Death/Murder. [c3 t4]
This issue/episode stars a cyborg who is really, really tired. And seriously, who can’t relate to that, to the frustration with being exploited, controlled, looking forward to a life narrowed by a death hastened by the work you have to do for someone else’s benefit. And just when you decide to do something about it bam! Time loop. So annoying.

PodCastle #673 (1 short story total)
  • “Jenny Come Up the Well” by A.C. Wise (short story) - Emily is a young lesbian who feels alone in her town, alone and desperate to see that people like her really exist. What she doesn’t want or need is the creepy priest and his revival coming into town, especially because something seems about him. But at least it also brings a woman looking for her lost girlfriend, and a hope that maybe Emily isn’t so alone after all. A wonderful read! Libraries, Cars, Stories, Water, Porn. CW- Religion/Religious Intolerance, Drowning. [c3 t3]
A rather creeping story from PodCastle, but definitely fitting, with a touch of magic and teenage need. The action is intense and the whole thing underlines the power of seeing stories, of writing stories. Some great work!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #327 (2 novelettes total)
  • “Every Breath a Question, Every Heartbeat an Answer” by Cat Rambo (novelette) - A story of Callyn, a survivor of a disastrous campaign that left her unit starved and her captain, her lover, dead. Now convalescing in a hospital, she must face the weight of what she’s been through, as well as the question of what she’s to do next. Questions that a strange resident of the hospital might be able to help with. A complex and wonderfully rendered story, deep and yearning and wounded, but with the hope of healing, and change. War, Birds, Flowers, Messages, Queer MC. CW- Trauma/PTSD, Starvation, Death of a Lover, Hospitals/Medical Care. [c4 t3]
  • “Concerto for Winds and Resistance” by Cara Masten DiGirolamo (novelette) - A story about music, and an orchestra trying to perform a piece in the midst of political unrest and the fear that any number of them might be disappeared. For who they are, for where they’re from, for what they believe. It’s tense and wrenching but draws into the magic that music can be, the power of it that is revealed brilliantly here. A great read! Music, Orchestras, Instruments, Family, Resistance. CW- Authoritarianism, Political Violence/Gun Violence, Natural Disasters, Death of Family. [c4 t4]
A great issue that revolves around resistance, that unfolds in settings where tyrants are in control and where the characters have to find smaller ways of resisting and fighting back. Have to find different ways to speak to each other, to be heard, without being silenced for speaking out. As always, the pairing here is amazingly done!

Fireside Magazine #90 (4 short stories total)
  • “Strange Music” by Nicole Bade (short story) - A story about resistance, about a young woman growing up in a repressive place, her language criminal, her prospects bleak. And it shows the audacity of her embracing something joyous, a dance, a music that subverts and twists away from corruption. A wonderful read! Music, Schools, Clubs, Language, Dancing, Queer MC. CW- Authoritarian Government, Cultural Suppression, Abuse, Bombs. [c4 t4]
  • “Deadlock” by Aimee Ogden (short story) - A story of destruction and a war that humans don’t seem to understand they are waging. It’s a difficult piece because of the focus on extinction, on capitulation, on the way that surrendering to the overwhelming force here doesn’t really work, doesn’t save anything, despite how that’s supposed to work. A heartbreaking read, for all that it leaves some hope in the end. A fine read! Animals, Surrenders, Humans, Conflicts. CW- Extinctions, Death, War. [c3 t4]
  • “To Hear Them Sing” by Rebecca Burton (short story) - A rather charming and lovely story about a would-be arbitect, a person who can grow buildings using trees, having her final exam. And connecting with something that opens up the world around her, that becomes part of a song that she becomes more aware of, and it’s a great take on magic and on this way of building, this way of experiencing the world. Indeed! Trees, School, Exams, Buildings, Music. [c1 t2]
  • “Lesser Things” by EJ Sidle (short story) - This story follows a phoenix, a humanoid Preternatural who wakes up at the start of the story having just died. And having no memory of it, which is a first. And the story is tense and mysterious, resolving into something wrenching and difficult even as it’s still charming throughout, and has a wonderful dynamic between the narrator, Eds, and Bex, the hellhound who comes to help. A really fun read! Magic, Phoenixes, Resurrections, Mysteries, Hellhounds, Queer MC. CW- Death/Suicide. [c3 t3]
There’s a nice rhythm carrying through this issue of Fireside. It’s not just that music is a central theme in a couple of the stories, it’s that there’s a nice flow to everything. Something rather poetic at times, conversational at others, but always with a quick feel that goes grim at times but resolves into something joyous and fun.

Local Star from Interstellar Flight Press (1 novella total)
  • Local Star by Aimee Ogden (novella) - This is a tightly paced mix of politics, action, family, and romance, as Triz is thrown into the deep end of a conspiracy/jail break that threatens not just her job, her relationships, and her home, but might have dire consequences for the whole solar system. And it’s a story that shines most with its characters and the web of relationships they form. The messy ways that Triz connects to those around her, never quite comfortable, never quite sure of anything even when people are trying their best to reassure her. Because, well, shit happens (and boy does it in this book!). But I like that the focus is on her starting to find ways to connect, to trust, to really believe in herself and stand up for what she wants. The romance is fun and flirty and poly, the action is intense, the plot is twisty enough to stay fresh and interesting, and the whole thing just hits its points and takes its bow. Fast, joyous, and really worth checking out! Space, Ships, Relationships, Queer MC, Family. CW- Prisons, Battle/Death. [c3 t3]
Poly queer space opera? Yes please! It didn’t take long to decide to accept the review request on this one and it’s a lot of fun. Not exactly light, as there’s a lot of heavy things and angst going on, but that’s fine bi me. It’s still a lot of fun and I like the world building and especially the romance/relationship stuff. A really good read!

Works read this year to date: 390 stories, 79 poems (+24 stories, +8 poems)

I technically read the same amount of works this week as last, but I covered a lot more publications, probably because a lot of them were singletons. I think I’m mostly settled into my routine for the year, though, which is nice, and I’m probably more or less set on what publications I’ll be regularly following, though I’ll be throwing in anthologies and collections and things like that fairly regularly. Luckily a lot of places are now sending me review copy and sometimes even early review copy and it does make my life easier because sometimes I swear I lose my own head and completely miss that an issue came out. And I’m at the point now where things feel pretty manageable for the most part. Want a peek into my process?

Okay, so as it is now I take the weekends largely off of reading for review, unless it’s a physical book that I’m also reading for leisure. I’m at the point now where most of my short fiction reading and reviewing happens from Monday to Thursday, and I get somewhere around 30 works read and reviewed in that time. Friday I try to take off a bit more, though also not really. Because Friday is my public post day, and it’s Sip of the Week day, and it’s also when I usually write up this information, the pre and post review sections of my weekly Quick Sips. Because I post these for Patrons on Tuesdays, I like to have them all done and ready to go on Friday the week before so I can just worry about link wrangling the day I post to Patreon. That just leaves…well, everything else. So far, that’s meant a lot of participating in awards juries and/or submitting stories for consideration for juries. Plus editing We’re Here. Plus doing my monthly X Marks the Story posts for The Book Smugglers. So yeah, a lot. But actually less work than what I was doing before, and it’s very nice not to have to post and tweet every day. So while I still have to work on getting to the place where I can work creatively again, I think I’m slowly getting there, and that feels okay. Cheers!

Other Media:

Agents of SHIELD, season seven
So it’s over. There’s a lot to process in this final season, from the absence of Fitz (which I think was mostly well done) to the time jumping, the alternate timestream, the everything. Making Coulson an LMD was an interesting choice, and one the show actually showed him and everyone else struggling with over time. May becoming empathetic but not being able to control it was an interesting turn for her character. Deke was actually a lot of fun, and everyone else got to shine in their own ways. Bringing in Sousa from Agent Carter was neat, and I think he and Daisy work pretty well together. There are some things to say about how disability is handled in the show, but I’m not sure I have all my thoughts together on that and it’s largely outside my lane but I do think that the show is sensitive about it as well. Just…it gets messy. The biggest problem I had with the season really was Nathaniel, who just makes an underwhelming villain. The Chronicoms are all right, but they sort of get back-seated to Nathaniel being all uber-villain and just ehhhhh. Like, I almost wish he wasn’t so transparently evil. They set him up as almost an anarchist but it’s clear to everyone he’s just evil and wants to be a dictator. If he’d actually been more complicated about wanting to save people “done wrong” by history I think that might have been more interesting. No Garret but maybe a return of that Gravitonium scientist. Freeze powers kid. Some of the other people who really were victims as well as villains. Instead it’s just meh on that front and it’s kinda disappointing. Not to say that the plot is weak or the character work isn’t strong. It’s still a fun and compelling show to the end, and the ending itself was satisfying and joyful, if slightly bittersweet. But that works, and I do think the whole thing stands up pretty well, especially when it really starts to embrace the weird and get outside of just filling the space between movies. A wild ride!


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