Friday, April 30, 2021

Quick Sips 04/30/2021

So after a fairly large week last week, this one shaped out to be a bit lighter, though that’s not to say there’s not a lot to cover. The largest release I’m looking at today is the May/June F&SF, while also picking up April’s Diabolical Plots and new issues from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and Cast of Wonders. There’s actually a decent number of novelettes here, (3) as well as a novella. Throw in a decent amount of poetry and while the week might be below average for total works for me, it’s doing just fine in terms of words covered. And it lets me get more of a taste for the newer-to-me publications of F&SF and Cast of Wonders. And really there’s a lot of great stuff here, from haunted furniture to people with planets that orbit them. From a wrenching piece about losing a name to a person trapped in a dreamscape because of a bargain they didn’t make. Just lots of neat works!

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!

Diabolical Plots #74 (2 short stories total)
  • “The Day Fair For Guys Becoming Middle Managers” by Rachael K. Jones (short story) - A chilling story of corporate culture as one man tries to avoid being prey by becoming the a Brad, a corporate predator. Only when the whole system is rigged, even “winning” really isn’t something that feels good. It’s a sharp, satirical piece that’s bold and bloody and quite good! Corporations/Employment, Transformations, Interviews, Races. CW- Blood/Gore, Aggressive Capitalism, Body Modification/Mental Manipulation/Brainwashing. [c4 t5]
  • “For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell (short story) - A touching story about a woman with chronic pain and the couch that seems to take it away, to allow her to sleep. Except, of course, it’s not quite as benevolent as it seems, and the story looks at the balance that chronic pain demands, between needing relief and rest and the only real avenues to those being risky. And through that it’s just a charming read with some solid and fun world building. A great read! Monsters, Furniture, Sleep, Pet Stores, Chronic Pain, Roommates. CW- Mental Feeding/Vampirism. [c3 t2]
A great issue with two works that kind of both look at the costs of employment. Or, at least, with moving through a world that is full of pitfalls and pains. Where to function, where to work and have money to live, people have to give up pieces of themselves. And for some this is a bargain where they still hold onto who they are, and for some...not so much.

Strange Horizons 04/19/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Sandrine” by Alexandra Munck (short story) - A difficult and beautiful story about a relationship, about the view from inside and outside a person who is also a god, who struggles with the weight of her decisions, the depths of her mistakes, and the possibilities of her future. It’s intense and moving, the characters caught not quite fully connecting but still wanting each other, holding as they can to each other even when it all sort of goes to shit. Just amazing work. Solar Systems, Gods, Octopuses, Queer MC, School, Dating. CW- Genocide, Depression. [c3 t4]
  • “I was in a Constellation” by Patty Nash (poem) - A somewhat odd read but for me the piece speaks to being a part of something, a part of a group that might not seem at first to mean something together. The connections might be arbitrary. But they have a story, a history, and the connects of that are powerful, and it’s a rather interesting, almost nostalgic piece for me, of this space and time and these people, all making up something larger. A great read!
Two works in this issue and both have to do with celestial bodies. That...might also be rather terrestrial. That find characters linked by threads that are invisible but profound, that create experiences that are intense and alive and linger even years later. That hurt sometimes, but that also shine with a kind of beauty that is difficult to capture. A strong issue!

Cast of Wonders #451 (1 short story total)
  • “Unnamed” by Monte Lin (short story) - A wrenching story about names, and more specifically about a young woman who loses hers. Who finds one day that it’s just...gone, if she ever truly had one at all. It finds her in a spot between cultures, between places, having a Chinese name and an American name and, suddenly, neither, having to find what that means, where that leaves her. Complex and wonderfully done! Names, Family, Language, Clay, Eating. CW- Abuse, Bullying, Identity Crisis. [c3 t4]
The latest from Cast of Wonders is a rather intense read, full of worry and struggle as the main character is caught in a vulnerable place. Denied support from most of the people who could help her. But not fully abandoned, and the story is tender and careful and finds its way toward affirmation and identity. A fine issue!

Fantasy and Science Fiction May/June 2021 (9 short stories, 2 novelettes, 1 novella, and 4 poems total)
  • “A Father’s Hand” by Stephanie Kraner (short story) - A sweet and slightly heartbreaking story about a boy and his robot father. The boy, experiencing loss, experiencing a sudden exposure to a post-apocalyptic world where he’s intensely vulnerable, but still trying to reach out in love, learning some final lessons from the father who raised him. So that the heartbreak resolves into something heartwarming and hopeful. A great read! Post-Apocalypse, Robots, Family, Geology, Vacuums. CW- Death of a Parent, Loss of a Hand/Amputation. [c3 t3]
  • “Dontay’s Bones” by Danian Darrell Jerry (short story) - This story speaks to me of power and bad situations, a boy trying to navigate a place infested with predators, with dangers, pulled into something he doesn’t quite understand but doesn’t seem able to escape. It’s a slow, crushing, and complex piece, and it really shows how Dontay is caught in the web of something hungry. A powerful read! Rap, Friends, Family, Rats, Bugs. CW- Drug Use, Violence. [c4 t4]
  • “Goodwill Objects” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (short story) - A strange and rather self-aware and creepy story about a couple that recently broke up and the ties still between them, and a spark of magic that might not fix everything, but might do something. It’s short and it’s odd but it’s also rather fun and charming, with an edge that doesn’t quite go away, either. A fine read! Dolls, Relationships, Breakups, Apartments, Wishes. CW- Pregnancy. [c2 t3]
  • “Death’s Coachman” by Alan Dean Foster (poem) - The narrator of this piece defies Death, and seeks to remain when He arrives at the door. It’s an interesting piece, evocative, nicely moving, broken by the resolve of the narrator and the specter of Death. The narrator remains resolved, and there’s a hope in that, even as there’s for me a sinking feeling that that resolve will likely crumble, as Death seems to suspect, what with that grin. A fun read!
  • “The World, A Carcass” by Rich Larson (novelette) - A longer work about a girl, the daughter of a king, caught in the web of her uncle, underestimated but willing to do what she has to in order to save herself and her city. A nicely paced, nicely plotted piece, with a classic fantasy feel. The payoff in the end is well done and it’s a solid read! Family, Oracles, Spiders, Poison, Politics. CW- Arranged Marriage, Death of Parents, Violence, Murder. [c4 t4]
  • “Plumage From Pegasus” by Paul Di Filippo (short story) - A short but cute story about a movement to intentionally steer the “national narrative” in a way to promote general welfare. And one writer without a formal education who shows that sometimes it’s not about degrees so much as an enthusiasm and belief in the power of stories. Good stuff! Stories, Governments, Employment, Hurricanes, Descriptions. [c1t2]
  • “Severed Fruit” by Pan Morigan (short story) - A really weird story about a dying woman coming to terms with her past, her sins, her lies, and her family. Her legacy, and all that goes with that. It’s a bit of a haunting piece, about the ways she lived, how she’s dying, and what she leaves behind. Definitely worth spending some time with! Ghosts, Family, Memories, Resurrection, Lies. CW- War/Atrocities/Murder, Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Red Giant” by Derrick Weston Brown (poem) - A piece celebrating Octavia Butler, her skill and her power. The way that for some she was a guide to something larger, an interpreter and a prophet. And for me this piece is about her legacy, about the road she built, the paths she mapped to a future we are still reaching toward, and others we are trying to avoid. A wonderful read!
  • “White Dwarf” by Derrick Weston Brown (poem) - And this is a very short piece that looks directly at the passing of Octavia Butler. The immediate response. The feeling, not yet of gratitude and inspiration but rather just the sadness, the sense that a great light had gone out. It’s an interesting and powerful follow up to the previous poem, and both just really work well together. A terrific read!
  • “The Un-Awakened” by Linda D. Addison (poem) - A moving piece about people creating something, someone, to try and fix their problems. To try and make a guide. Or recreate one. To recreate Octavia Butler, perhaps, because of her vision, because so much of what she wrote seems to have come true. And finding that their premise might be flawed, that they can’t start from there. That they have to first understand the real problems before crafting a new, better world. A great read!
  • “Molly Whuppy” by Corey Flintoff (short story) - A piece that takes the shape and cadence of a fairy tale with Molly the Jack-like adventurer and a trusty magpie for a companion. There’s a grimness to a lot of the piece, but overall it’s a charming and fun read, one that finds Molly pitting her wits against a giant and against a king, trying to avoid entanglements, starvation, and death all at the same time. A wonderful read! Giants, Orphans, Kings, Dowries, Theft. CW- Death/Murder, Parental Abandonment. [c3 t3]
  • “Babylon System” by Maurice Broaddus (novelette) - A tightly paced story of Lij, a man incarcerated, stripped of his legal personhood, but not defeated. Not broken. Indeed, despite the hardships he faces, he’s still able to hold to hope and defiance, and start to work against the system that’s trying to destroy him. A great read! Robots, Family, Faith, Clones. CW- Prisons, Medical Experimentation, Torture, Violence/Murder, Racism. [c4 t3]
  • “Drunkard’s Walk” by James Enge (short story) - A story about a man visiting a town in search of a drink and finding instead a kind of curse, and having to pit himself against it (with the help of a local youth) in order to be able to seek out some proper booze. The piece slow and interesting, building the character into someone both drawn to people and resistant to forming connections. A fine read. Math, Probability, Villages, Dice, Magic. CW- Alcohol. [c2 t3]
  • “The Plus One” by Marie Vibbert (short story) - A murder mystery on Mars except, well, it’s not so much a mystery when it turns out good old fashioned capitalism is the being under the mask and the narrator, the only U.S. Marshal on the planet, has to navigate the frustrating and cruel realities of law, power, and the same old bullshit on a new world. A fantastic read that doesn’t stop reaching for justice. Mars, Employment, Governments, Laws, Homelessness. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Negligent Murder, Prejudice. [c3 t4]
  • “Refugees” by Robert Grossbach (novella) - This piece looks at a rather strange alien invasion and the trial that results from it. Where a trusting man has to answer for his lack of suspicion, and where everything is just sort of complicated, without easy answers. It’s a long, ponderous read, but charmingly told, and rather fun despite a bit of grinding feel as no one really finds a happy ending. A neat story! Aliens, Trials, Courts, Family, Business. CW- Reproduction, Drug Use. [c2 t2]
  • “When the Water Stops” by Eugen Bacon (short story/flash) - This piece looks at climate change and the reactions to it, the way the vulnerable are always the first offered up as sacrifices, as ways to resist changing what needs to be changed, their deaths a bandaid that cannot hope to stop the bleeding. It’s grim and it’s bracing, short and collected in these images of loss and death. A strong finish to the issue! Family, Sacrifice, Climate Change, Money. CW- Death of a Parent, Blood/Bleeding, Authoritarianism. [c4 t4]
A big issue that the editorial frames as being in part a conversation around Octavia Butler. For some of the poems, that conversation is explicit, but for the rest of the works it’s more subtle, and I love the connects to change, to loss, to people dealing with corruption and danger and vulnerability, powerlessness. The stories aren’t often funny, but they are bold and well imagined, and the issue as a whole holds together well, circling around the themes of decline, of pushing back against what some would call humanity’s “baser instincts” and remembering that we are social creatures, that caring and empathy are not in fact outliers. A great issue!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #328 (1 short story, 1 novelette total)
  • “A Stranger Goes Ashore” by Adam R. Shannon (short story) - A strange and rather haunting story about an island that supported a city, a people, but that is dying. And how people are now spreading out in ships trying to find a new home and finding instead that the magical adaptations that made their island home don’t work quite the same way everywhere. It’s a fascinating piece about belonging and hope. Trees, Ships, Love, Belonging, Islands, Seas. CW- Death, Body Transformation. [c2 t4]
  • “Traces” by A.E. Decker (novelette) - A story of dreams and dreaming, of bargains and a corrupt lord keeping the narrator, who has the ability to find anything, without his memories in the kennels like an animal. It’s a story touched by magic, revealed in beauty and frustration both as the twisted logic of the dreamscape acts as prison and canvas on which unfolds the story of love and loss. A wonderful read! Dreams, Bargains, Memories, Spiders, Night. CW- Slavery, Abuse. [c3 t4]
This issue features two stories that take place in magical landscapes. One where the world is full of places specially suited to specific people...though one where part of that world is dying. In the other, the setting is twisted by the magic of a greedy and jealous lord who makes bargains, but not at all fairly. The two works are somewhat grim and anchored by characters struggling under the weight of things they don’t fully understand. And it makes for some fine reading!

Works read this year to date: 423 stories, 125 poems (+18 stories, +5 poems)

So a rather subdued week in reviews, though mostly because I’ve been so busy otherwise. Also the first dip into May with the latest F&SF, though next week I expect to be fully back to April releases, which is weird but just how everything shook out. No new publications I’m covering here again, though I’ll be breaking that streak again next week as well. And I’m just shy of 550 works on the year so far, which means my pace is pretty furious given everything. I will admit that I’m settling in and I have more time for other projects than before when I wrote longer reviews, but I probably am adding publications to cover in part to fill back up that time. Sigh. Apparently reviewing stories is just a coping mechanism, and despite changing how I do it, I still need it to cope. Writing new fiction, at least, continues to be very difficult. I am working on a new poetry project, though, and maybe something will come from that. We’ll see.

I’m about news-ed out from the last few weeks, though. My debut collection and editorial debut anthology remain available for pre-order and are both amazing and beautiful. I continue to be a finalist in the Hugo Awards and Ignyte Awards (and would not mind at all if you wanted to vote for me in those if you’re going to/able to vote). I’ve been working on some stuff with my husband for our local queer resource center that I might get to share with you soonish, as it’s partly to do with writing. And…well, I’ve been trying to be. Below you’ll find that I finished the second season of The Umbrella Academy, and after that I’ve started The Frankenstein Chronicles. Quite the whiplash there, but so it goes. I’ll share my thoughts on the first season (and maybe the second, who knows) of that next week. So yeah, cheers!

Other Media:

The Umbrella Academy, season 2
Well, I liked this one better than the first. No creepy rape feel with Vanya (plus, bonus autism rep and super queer arc), no Hazel (wasn’t the biggest fan, no, nor the way Cha Cha was treated), less about the mystery of their dad’s shit. The family gets to go through some things on their own and then together and actually maybe start to come back together as a family, and that was wonderful to see. Some of my biggest frustrations in the first season were how they failed to really be a family, and I liked in season 2 how they kind of find each other again. Less emphasis on their shared trauma and a bit more about them relating to and caring about one another. I’d like more of that going into the next season, but we’ll see given the teaser. Villain wise, I did think that things improved here. It’s kinda hilarious that Five is always a quasi villain, and that’s played with nicely here, while the Handler gets her hands more dirty and the Swedes mostly show up to fail to kill people and die, though I like the cats. Anyway, it’s an improvement over what I felt was a so-so first season, and I’m more excited to see where things go from here. Indeed!


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  1. Author A. E. Decker here. Thank you for your nice comments about "Traces," as well as the critiques of other stories. I'll have to check several of them out myself!

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to write your insightful review of Fantasy and Science Fiction May/June 2021.