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!
Clarkesworld #175 (5 short stories, 1 novelette, 1 novella)
- “Sarcophagus” by Ray Nayler (novelette) - A story of a kind of explorer, the sole survivor of a mission seemed doomed to failure on a cold, mostly-barren world. They face a long hike over ice in freezing cold with dangers all around them and a suit that isn’t charging fast enough to save them. To say nothing for the being that seems to be stalking them. It’s a bracing, lonely read that resolves into something warmer, that finds some comfort even through the harshness of the planet’s cold. A fine read! Cold, Ice, Aliens, Exploration, Suits. CW- Death, Intense Cold. [c2 t4]
- “The Field Tiger” by Endria Isa Richardson (short story) - A strange piece about the distance between classes, the differences between what those at the “bottom” want and what those at the “top” want. For one, security and health. For the other, something less tangible, and perhaps impossible, and definitely unethical. A difficult and wrenching story, but also a great read! Tigers, Employment, Communication, Mapping, Classes. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Classism, Murder/Poisoning. [c3 t4]
- “Ouroboros” by Dean-Paul Stephens (novella) - A long and philosophical story about a group of AI siblings and their long journey, their long arguments, and what happens when one of them shatters the peace they thought they had. Gods, AIs, Space, Debates. CW- Death/Extinction/Murder/Suicide. [c3 t3]
- “The Sheen of Her Carapace” by Richard Webb (short story) - This story follows a person, a soldier, on a lonely mission that turns into something of a disaster for their ship, forced to set down an an unknown alien world to make repairs and refuel following an accident. What none of them expect is that there might be an intelligent race of insects there. What the narrator really doesn’t expect is falling in love with one. It’s a weird piece, not entirely happy but in many ways freeing and fun and definitely worth checking out! Insects, Aliens, Missions, Fuel, Accidents, Love. CW- Guns/Military, Murder, Bullying. [c3 t3]
- “Catching the K Beast” by Chen Qian, translated by Carmen Yiling Yan (short story) - A pair of beast trappers end up on an alien world trying to capture animals that can see into the future. After a fashion, at least. And as might seem obvious, it makes them rather tricky to catch, especially when the pair learn all the particulars of their powers, and their nature. It’s a really fun story, fun and just a bit absurd but it works and had me smiling throughout! Beasts, Trapping, Aliens, Precognition, Language. CW- Accidents/Crashes. [c2 t2]
- “Communist Computer Rap God” by Andrea Kriz (short story) - A strange but rather moving story about a YouTuber and his rise to popularity and the way that slips, the way that his world slowly erodes, especially after he accidentally creates an AI with some odd habits. For me it’s a lot about popularity, social media, monetization, and desire, and it’s quiet and aching and quite good. AIs, Music, YouTube, Videos, Popularity. CW- Bullying. [c2 t3]
- “A House Is Not a Home” by L Chan (short story/flash) - A short, sweet, and rather devastating read about a “smart” home and the level of care she gives to her Resident. Or...gave. The piece looks into the weight of police surveillance and violence in some chilling ways, but in a way too that leaves room open for hope, for something other than death. A wonderful read! AIs, Homes, Drones, Family, Art. CW- ACAB, Police Brutality/Violence/Guns, Surveillance. [c3 t4]
The stories in this issue seem to be split between those that explore people meeting new beings, either alien or AI, and those that are about the weight of capitalism and police states. Which is an interesting one-two punch and which provides some fun but a lot of tragedy and trauma as well. Most of which leaves some space for healing and joy but it’s an issue largely dominated by heavier themes and content. Still, very much worth grappling with!
Strange Horizons 04/12/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
- “The Giant with No Heart in Her Body” by Nike Sulway (short story) - A difficult and rather haunting piece that opens with an accident and a loss and then dives into something mythical and powerful, finding a giant who just wants peace being forced to confront what she’d rather avoid. It’s deep and it’s resonating and it’s very much worth spending some time with! Giants, Bones, Crows, Family. CW- Death of a Sibling, Dismemberment/Amputation, Grief. [c4 t4]
- “Dispatch from a Ruin in Mitla, the Town of Souls” by Morgan L. Ventura (poem) - A wonderful piece that for me unfolds in the voice of a place. A city. A being that is protector and sibling to so many. Mostly unheard now, their story appropriated, their body “restored” in a way they don’t approve of, but that they know is temporary. And it’s a fantastically delivered piece, that voice powerful and delivering something that for some might be a warning, but for others a promise of deliverance. Great stuff!
Another fabulous issue from Strange Horizons, with a story and a poem that blend myth and a desire for release. Release from guilt and from the weight of other people’s dreams and burdens and requirements. Not that there is always an escape, but there is still a reaching, a yearning, a striving that is compelling in both works!
Cast of Wonders #450 (2 short stories total)
- “Three monsters that are not metaphors” by Dani Atkinson (short story/flash) - A charming and poignant story about a narrator reminding themself that not everything is a metaphor for their issues, for their struggles. That not everything is a reminder of them, that not everything reinforces those same restrictions. That sometimes, there is comfort and joy to be found in quiet moments, and it makes for a rather cozy and warm read. Definitely go check it out! Mythical Creatures, Magic, Tea, Rain, Metaphors. CW- Anxiety/Depression/ADHD. [c2 t3]
- “This is not my adventure” by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez (short story) - This story gives an interesting insight into portal fantasies, where Kevin is a man whose life post-portal hasn’t gone to plan. And now, emptying out his mother’s old house now that she’s died, it all sort of comes crashing back, but is complicated and resolved in a careful and comforting way that I love. A fantastic read! Portal Fantasy, Family, Adventures, Quests, Beavers, Satyrs. CW- Death of a Parent, Depression/Grief. [c3 t3]
Technically my first review of a Cast of Wonders episode, mostly because I think these are the first original stories of the year there. But they’re nicely paired, looking at the weight of grief and the ways people try to sort of crawl out from under that weight. And the way that, most often, they need some help to really get anywhere. Some really great, short works!
PseudoPod #752 (1 short story total)
- “It Rises from Between My Bones” by Donna J. W. Munro (short story) - A difficult and creeping story about cancer and about something...else. About what, for the narrator, is waiting underneath and inside that cancer. A presence. Or, really, presences. Waiting for a door to open. The piece is obliterating and painful but also full of beauty and the relationship between the narrator and Matt is just wonderful. A great read! Relationships, Doctors, Doors, Family. CW- Cancer/Chemotherapy, Decay/Death/Poison, Invasion/Body Parasites. [c4 t5]
This issue/episode of Pseudopod is a rather quiet one but also a rather profound one, one that unsettles and upsets because it’s raw, because the pain of it is so real, and because the final images of it are so difficult and shattering. Powerful work!
Omenana #17 (4 short stories total)
- “No Ordinary People” y Kingsley Alumona (short story) - A story of a girl growing up with the power to read minds, unsure of how to navigate that and all the anger directed at her for speaking the truth. The piece is a lot about finding understanding, and learning to push past the surface fears and insecurities to try and use a gift like telepathy for good instead of only defensively. A fun and rather touching read! Superpowers, Telepathy, Family, Secrets. CW- Therapy/Religion/Abuse. [c3 t3]
- “Jimmy Black” by Sea O. Weah (short story) - This story unfolds from the point of view of a killer, one who has a keen interest in one particular police woman. He’s arranged a lot to go into what he sees as a “date,” but that is something much more grim and unsettling. For all his faults, though, the cop, Tshidi, remains dedicated to saving lives, and has some hard decisions to make. An interesting read. School, Magic, Barriers, Movies. CW- Stalking/Harassment/Hostages, Police, Murder, Bullying, Suicide. [c4 t4]
- “Green Fingers” by Vernon R.L. Head (short story) - A difficult story about a doctor faced with a deadly condition, pushed to the edge trying to keep up with an overwhelming surge of cases, and finding eventually that it might not be quite what she thought. I really like how the story imagines growth, and transformation, and how there’s something like hope, though an almost creepy and chilling kind, that comes with the ending. Doctors, Gardens, Trees, Branches. CW- Disease/Hospitals, Death/Body Transformation. [c4 t4]
- “A Pall of Moondust” by Nick Wood (short story) - A moving story about trauma and healing, as seen through a botanist on the moon who survives a rather harrowing accident. The piece is quiet but deep, really looking into the guilt and pain the narrator feels, and the way they slowly start to get to a better place, emotionally and mentally. A careful, wonderful read! The Moon, Plants, Family, Space Suits. CW- Accidents/Death/Trauma, Therapy. [c3 t3]
New Omenana! This issues is themed around African Futurism. And the stories do indeed seem to play out in the future, finding characters using tech that seems almost like magic. For good, for not-so-good. To push the limits of human exploration and understanding or to transform humanity entirely. The works are interesting with strong world building and complex character work, and it’s a reminder that every issue of Omenana is a gift to be savored.
Million-Year Elegies by Ada Hoffmann (40 original poems total)
- “The Late Heavy Bombardment” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A beautiful opening that frames itself as a voice from the very distant past, from the first survivors, the first life on the planet that would become everything else. Observing. And maybe also offering a warning. That for all things were cataclysmic once, that doesn’t mean they will never be again. An amazing read!
- “Fracevillian Biota” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - The collection as a whole seems to be moving forward in time and so this second poem shows some of the first life to evolve after the chaos and the cooling, and it’s a somewhat terrifying piece for all that it’s about cycles and evolution, these creatures changing and doing so through devouring something. Great stuff!
- “Cloudina” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Another poem about evolution and survival and another almost creepy one but also defiant and resilient and quite good! I like that some of these seem to be in conversation with one another, and it makes the collection really satisfying to read through.
- “Shankouclava” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And now we have a spine! But! I really like that it’s not framed exactly as progress, not that just it’s something we recognize of ourselves and so it’s better. The spine is something of a mess here, discarded, and that’s a fascinating idea, that the whole path forward, evolutionarily, is so wibbly.
- “Trilobita” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A short and really fun piece celebrating everyone’s favorite ancient bug. The first more formal poem and I love the energy of it!
- “Euthycarcinus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A great look at the push from the water to the land through one of the first beings who started to go between. Another short poem but it captures this big moment really well, and I like the understated way it presents it all. Great!
- “Shimenolepis” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - An almost wicked piece as jaws have now appeared and the narrator isn’t sorry at all. I like the almost playful tone here, challenging and brash and just a great voice to give the poem life.
- “Tiktaalik” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Aww. Hands make their appearance and this is another really cute (if that’s the right word) poem about a creature finding land almost by accident. Having the world change around them and finding that hey, this might be okay. And that go with the flow attitude makes for a rather delightful read.
- “Cystoidea” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And a turn, as things get a bit more grim, as all this life(!) moving to the land has some consequences, especially for the narrator here, who tries to adjust to the changes being wrought but ultimately cannot. A sharp piece.
- “Lepidodendron” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And now on the land proper a poem about a tree and its strength, its transforming ability, its endurance and value. In shaping the world. In changing it. In remaining steadfast and true even now, even so transformed itself.
- “Archaeothyris” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Another piece about loss mixed into this tale of new life and change. Evolution leaving holes and ghosts as extinctions happen, as cousins (genetically speaking) are separated, not to be reunited. A lovely and powerful read!
- “Dimetrodon” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And closing out the first section is a reminder that we humans have a way of compressing the past, of presenting things as if they were connected simply because they all predated us. And there’s a community in that, perhaps, and I like how that’s explored here. A wonderful read!
- “Proterosuchus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A poem of persistence and patience, the unappreciated getting a voice to speak their truth, tired and true. Unglamorous perhaps except for their ability to remain, to live when others die. After a time of great change, they can wait, are waiting still.
- “Scleractinia” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - From more resigned and patient to a poem with more of a bite despite the lack of teeth. About in many ways being erased, and living and dying that way, trying to impart something, trying to seen, to give warning, and still being ignored. A strong piece with an edge of bitterness that I quite like.
- “Staurikosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And this one shifts things yet again, moving quicker, getting into the more traditional feel of dinosaurs. Fast and sharp and dangerous, for all that here they’re still small. Things are changing, though, and this is a nice way of signaling that (with more great art!).
- “Protoavis” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Another piece that brings the creatures to modern times, interpreted by the present (or more recent past) and misrecognized. I really like that these poems are their own kind of archaeology, revealing the bones of the creatures, giving them their own elegy, laying them back to rest seen, recognized. Great stuff!
- “Plateosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Another nice piece about misunderstanding, about casting this creature as something very against its nature. Indeed, I like the feeling that those expectations and interpretations are part of the weight pushing the creature down.
- “Stegosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A poem in reply and my memory of Fantasia is a bit iffy but I like the feel of this, the sense that here the narrator is defiant, choosing life, refusing the ritual, their own sacrifice, instead dancing their own way, trusting themself, choosing to reject the mockery and values that others place on them. A lovely work!
- “Brontosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Beautiful and rather heartbreaking, this one looks at (I think) the way that the brontosaurus isn’t really a trusted dinosaur, isn’t exactly scientific fact, despite the popularity, and how there might actually be some power in that, some grace, because of how it can free them to have a story that is purely fictional, but fitting, and happy.
- “Blattodea” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Departing for a moment the large creatures, this one looks at something small, on a bug, a roach, a survivor who is widely despised but who is also impossible to fully destroy, and there’s a power in that even as there’s something of a loneliness as well, that survival comes with its own costs, though that doesn’t mean they aren’t well worth paying. A great read!
- “Magnolia” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - This poem is again focused on something small, but for me it’s really a love poem between flower and pollinator, and the dual lines of their evolution, their dance, the way they are so closely intertwined. An evocative and beautiful read!
- “Iguanadon” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Back to the larger scale and again with the ways that modern scientists have struggled with framing dinosaurs, with the idea of these enormous creatures, and trying to fit them into categories--often ones that don’t really fit. A fine read!
- “Hadrosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A story of two men falling out around the discover of bones, about the skull of the titular being and the spark it causes, the destruction it leaves, all because of a longing, a song that is never really answered. Which leaves a distance that is still not closed, and makes for a slightly haunting, but strong read!
- “Bactrosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - An examination of dinosaur bones, yes, but more also an examination of the ancient origins of illness, of cancer, of the things that are with us that have roots as far back as us. The poem unfolds in a short space, almost matter of fact, but there’s a lot implied, a depth that hides our fears of illness and the long shadow of their presence. Great stuff!
- “Velociraptor” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Another response poem, this time to Jurassic Park, and I love the commentary, the way the poem looks at how we made villains of some of the creatures, and the raptors not least, how they had this cunning malevolence, and how that reflects back on us, and how in some ways it calls on us to be judged for it. Another wonderful poem!
- “Therizinosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A kinda creepy poem about a creature who seems one way while insisting on being another, upset or indignant that they would be perceived according to how they seem, all the while hiding something that feels sinister in their actions. A nice piece that seems to take on a bit about gaslighting and abuse in a complex way.
- “Quetzalcoatlus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A very short piece that looks at the titular creature, capturing a moment of their life, an image and a feeling of their flight, their drive.
- “Capitalsaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - This one seems to blend historical erasures and the weight of time, a dinosaur taken almost completely out of context being made to fit into a spot that real people who lived and were murdered should be filling. Difficult but carefully and powerfully done.
- “Osmunda” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A rather harrowing piece, one that looks at the aftermath of shock, of destruction, at a calamity so immense that it seems to break the rules of death, if only for a moment. And what’s left there is something shattered, something numb and hurting all at once, and it’s a great way to cap off the second section of the collection.
- “Ptilodus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A new section and a new change. The dinosaurs mostly lost and something small and soft to take the place, to survive with the memories of trauma, with the hope of love and warmth but still wounds and scars and it’s a really touching piece, one full of tenderness and longing and it’s just a wonderful read!
- “Plesiadapis” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - The new section is complicated here, where the line between survival and domination is now explored, with humans looking back with ownership on the past, trying to trace their dynasty over creatures who were still just living as they’d always done. It’s a bit of a chilling read, for all that it reads true, because of how we tend to view history, and the idea of “missing links.” A great read!
- “Azolla” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A rather sad and yearning poem to me, of the fall of a giant, the world becoming a smaller place as these creatures pass out of it, even as they might not seem as glorious as the dinosaurs. Still there were wonders everywhere, and some are worth mourning. All are worth mourning.
- “Basilosaurus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A piece that for me might feel like a retreat, the reptiles moving back into the water after having ruled the land, but really it doesn’t feel like a loss. Just a movement, a discovery of sorts, and I like the energy of it, the kind of contentment that the creature finds, or rediscovers. A fine read!
- “Baluchitherium” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Another piece that seems to take on loss, of lost giants, the world shrinking further, everything kind of pulling back, being drawn, tapered to the point of humanity. I like the voice, though, looking back, seeing childhood wonder and ignorance and noting in that something rather profound, and more than a little sad.
- “Megalodon” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - After the spectacle that megalodons have gotten in recent years, this poem looks at the mystery of them, that there’s so little left of them, that still they captivate and terrify perhaps in part because all that’s left is their teeth, and without any other context, those are aggressive and deadly and scary. A great read!
- “Hippario” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A poem that for me really captures a sense of freedom in change. The proto-horse, discovering what space is, and how to move through it with a kind of wild joy. And I just love the way it sets that up, short but wonderfully done.
- “Phorusrhacos” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A rather nice poem about the evolution of birds. With the rise of mammals, the birds, part the inheritors of the dinosaurs, are diminished, but here definitely not gone, and I like the power that the poem gives to these creatures, to their heritage and their bodies, and it’s another solid piece!
- “Smilodon” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - Another rather creepy poem, and not just because it’s about apes being stalked, killed. But also because it’s about the apes wanting to change their fate, to be on top, to be the killers, and we rather know how that one goes. An excellent read!
- “Homo Habilis” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And here now we have the invention of more conventional (read human) tools, and the world is changing yet again. Becoming much more how we recognize. Not all the way there yet, but soon. Things are definitely reaching toward the present in unsettling ways.
- “Megatherium” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And here again the rise of tools. The rise of humans. The fall of giants not because of climate but because of human predation. It’s the start of a new age of extinction, and it’s one where the disaster is kinda us. A sinking feeling is intense and so well done here.
- “Ursus” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - And a shattering close to the section, a reminder that cycles can be toxic, can be incredibly hard to break. But that giving in to them is a kind of failure, and surely won’t lead anywhere except to where it always goes. Extinction. Death. Loss. And if we have a choice to change, then we should, to break the cycle, unless it’s already too late. A gripping and poignant warning.
- “Memento Mori” by Ada Hoffmann (poem) - A fitting and powerful close acknowledging the harm that humans do but also seeing our place in the greater cycle of the planet. Not apart from the creatures that came before us but creatures ourselves and not above those that will come after us. Just a part, which is not freeing or even comforting exactly, which is not an excuse or a justification. But which is still something and here we are, with whatever time we have. Here we are, until we are bones someone else is digging up from the ancient ground. A great way to close it all out!
What a collection! I didn’t think I was going to look at each poem at first, but here we are. It’s a fantastic book, and just so well put together, flowing through time, finding our place in all of that, in the bones and the fossils and the everything. Just really, really good stuff. For fans of poetry, this is a phenomenal read that I cannot gush enough about. Go get yourself a copy!!!
Works read this year to date: 405 stories, 120 poems (+15 stories, +41 poems)
Well the name of the game this week is poetry! Poems! I added a full third of the poems I’ve read for review this year in the last week and well, most of that is because I read a collection of poems (that was awesome). I do not regret this at all, because I have been meaning to look at more poetry. It means that the fiction is a little light this week, but that really just balances out. It’s still a huge week for reviews. And, really, it’s just been a rather huge week (or two) for me in general. I mean, where to start even?
I suppose I could start that my debut short story collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (from Lethe Press) is now available for preorder! It looks like it’ll be out in early August, so get excited about that!
Oh, and We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020 is also available for preorder! And also will be out in August! Shit! SO MUCH! The cover reveal and table of contents are available now and it’s just been so amazing to be involved with this. I hope people like the selections!
Then there’s the fact that I’m a Hugo Finalist! Twice! I’m once again a finalist in the Fan Writer and Fanzine categories (my third time in both). Thank you so much to everyone who nominated me! It’s such an honor!
And it was just announced that I'm also an Ignyte Awards finalist in the Critics Award category! SO AMAZING!!!!
And with that, I’m going to go collapse somewhere. Sheesh. Cheers!
The Umbrella Academy, Season 1
So I started this one as my follow-up to Agents of SHIELD and…it’s an interesting show. The character work is fascinating and I do love me some subversions of the classic superhero tropes. Not gonna lie, the whole spontaneous pregnancy/birth thing in the first scene probably would have thrown me out hard enough that I wouldn’t have continued if I hadn’t been drinking at the time, so some CWs for that as well as for a lot of stuff, really. It’s a lot more grim than SHIELD but also trying some really interesting things. Instead of an organic chosen family we have a forced family of orphans. Who obviously care about each other but in some fucked up ways and all around their shared trauma and abuse. Which is handled pretty well. The whole Vanya being manipulated thing was hard to watch, too, and just lots of ick, but I do think in the end I liked what the show was doing. It’s pretty good at sort of giving the characters chances to interact in pairs and trios to work a bit more the various dynamics and I do like that. I want more of that, because there’s still a lot we don’t really know. And…well, I’m going to continue with the show. There’s only one more season at the moment so I’ll have to pick something different soon but I hope they sort of start to find their way, start to maybe help each other heal. Probably wishful thinking. We’ll see. A mixed bag and ymmv, but also rather fun and definitely messy in a way that I’m finding compelling. Indeed!