Friday, May 14, 2021

Quick Sips 05/14/2021

Welcome to May proper, at least here at QSR. Yes, the month is about half over, but with all that came out in April I might be a little behind. Eep! Anyway, Not too much incredibly new about today’s post, as I’m covering venues that I’ve covered previously, and most of the ones I take care of first every month. Most of these are monthly, though Apex is bimonthly, Beneath Ceaseless Skies is biweekly, and Strange Horizons is weekly. There’s a lot to get to, though, including a lot of short stories, a few poems, and a decent amount of novelettes. The works skew rather grim for a lot of these, too, though I feel that Apex in a bit of a twist has a few really hopeful stories that were fun. Anyway, onward!

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 #132 (2 short stories, 2 novelettes total)
  • “Hypnopompic Circumstance” by Gene Doucette (novelette) - A yearning story about a man deeply unhappy with his life, but equally unwilling to do anything about it. And then an alien starts visiting him, and things get...well, even worse. But it’s an interesting and careful story about desire, stagnation, and action. A fine read! Aliens, Real Estate, Employment, Sleep. CW- Assault/Violence, Explosions/Bombs, Police/ACAB, Non-consensual hospitalization. [c4 t3]
  • “There Are No Hot Topics on Whukai” by Andrea Kriz (short story) - A complex story about a woman living on a world colonized and then turned on by Earth, having to hustle to try and live and support her parents’ medical care. When her main source of revenue is cut off, though, she has to take a part of the lies of a Terran fanfic author. The piece deals with a lot of intense issues, from appropriation to the pressures on authors to divulge personal information, and it explores this messy situation with some care. It’s certainly a piece to spend some time with. Fanfiction, Appropriation, Colonization, Family, Money/Employment. CW- Slurs, Harassment, War. [c3 t3]
  • “The Palace in the Moonlight” by Howard Andrew Jones (novelette) - A rather fun adventure featuring two friends set out from Baghdad to find a mysterious and magical city. Fortunately (or not), they find it, and find the grim secrets waiting for them there. It’s a classic-feeling adventure, tense but neat, and well worth checking out! Deserts, Quests, Cities, Immortality, Fruits, Gifts. CW- Imprisonment, Death. [c2 t3]
  • “Bones in It” by Kristina Ten (short story) - A story about a banya and a vedma who resides there, tucked into modern Chicago, running smoothly until the deaths of the owners and a “rebranding” that leads to a series of grim turns, all culminating in a rather fateful meeting between the vedma and a local professor and author with a weight of grim secrets himself. A chilling read! Bargains, Spas, Meat, Monsters, College. CW- Rape/Abuse, Violence/Gore, Eating Human Flesh. [c4 t4]
An issue that for me circles around how people make their living, make their money. How, for some, it leads them into depression, sadness, and how for others it’s what they live for, though for some of those the nature of their work, and the “perks” they take from it, are grim indeed. A fine issue!

Nightmare #104 (3 short stories, 1 poem total)
  • “Negative Space” by Tim Waggoner (short story) - A strange and rather haunting piece about a man who followed his wife along to keep her friend company following the death of the friend’s husband. The piece swirls around the man’s feeling of inadequacy. And interesting piece, and with a slow, drowning kind of feel. Family, Friends, Televisions, Hunting, Marriage. CW- Gore/Dead Animals, Death of a Spouse. [c3 t4]
  • “Taking Control of Your Life in Five Easy Steps” by P H Lee (short story/flash) - A creepy little piece framed as advice for, well, doing what the title says. And I like the way it plays with the idea of control, the way it reads like a paranoid delusion but taps into something deep and unsettling. A great read! Advice, Mirrors, Alternate Realities, Agency. CW- Murder. [c2 t4]
  • “The Cabbit” by Maria Dong (short story) - A grim piece about trying to please someone, the narrator locked in a rather toxic relationship as their self image suffers...until, at least, they find a strange animal that might be able to eat the unwanted parts of them. It’s an unsettling, at times difficult read, but one very much worth spending some time with. Great stuff! Relationships, College, Pets, Music. CW- Self Harm(?), Abuse/Infidelity, Violence/Gore. [c4 t4]
  • “Julia, Forever” by Eugie Foster (poem) - A creepy and rather skin-crawling read for both the romanticized light the narrator has cast their desire in, and the result, which might or might not be something like zombie sex. I will let you come to your own conclusions on that one, but it is a piece with a nice horror feel to it, though you might be overcome with the desire to bathe after reading it. A fine way to close out the issue!
This latest issue of Nightmare deals a lot with desire. With characters who are caught in relationships, either with others or themselves, that leave them wanting. That make them feel unseen. But that still have some sort of grim hold on them. One that might be obliterating and grim. A solid issue!

Fantasy #67 (4 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “Like Birdsong, the Memory of Your Touch” by Izzy Wasserstein (short story/flash) - A story about the end of the world, or the possible end of the world, as related by one person to the lover who has left them in a bid to survive. It’s a short piece, full of longing and acceptance of an end but also, just maybe, of an acceptance that it might not be the end, too. A great read! Plants, Vines, Growth, Relationships. CW- Apocalypse, Death/Extinction. [c2 t3]
  • “The Sweetest Source” by J. L. Jones (short story) - A strange piece about a boy seeking happiness, finding a man who can dip into something like the source code of reality to do just that. But instead of simply receiving happiness, the boy, Deron, does something much bigger, more profound, and changes a lot about how the whole system works. An odd but beautiful read! Family, Happiness, Candy, Coding, Bargains. [c1 t3]
  • “Disenchantment” by P.H. Low (short story/flash) - A story about a daughter holding the weight of all her parent’s expectations and needs for safety. Who tries to escape only to find the way isn’t how she thought it would be. Who has to find her own way all the same, or risk being crushed under her parent’s desires for her, under the lives they never lived, and want her to experience. A beautiful and ultimately heartwarming read! Family, Witches, Magic, Expectations. CW- Birth Defects, CW- Familial/Workplace Pressure/Bullying. [c2 t3]
  • “By Our Own Hands” by Anya Leigh Josephs (short story) - A story of a Jewish man finding an ancient scroll, and a secret that has been passed down, that has lost nothing of its urgency. It looks at the weight of cycles, of injustice, and the need to push back against it. Understated, powerful work with a wonderful finish! Texts, Translation, Golems, Justice, Family. CW- Prejudice/Nazis. [c2 t3]
  • “Self-Portrait as Wolf” by Louisa Muniz (poem) - This piece speaks to me of a kind of wandering impulse, a freedom that the walks hand in hand with a kind of isolation. The wolf in question seems alone, at least to me, moving through worlds, driven by some unspoken need or desire, and there’s something magical, almost haunting about it, that resonates as the piece draws that into the narrator. A great read!
  • “Visitor” by Kim Whysall-Hammond (poem) - Blasting the idea of a faerie bargain far into the future, the piece features a desperate situation and a woman, pregnant, who is faced with a rather impossible decision. It’s the arrival of the fairy tale in the midst of science fiction, a testament to the power of the later regardless of how far people slip from the classic roots of fantasy. A wonderful way to close out the issue!
Fantasy brings an assortment of fiction and poetry in this issue, a lot of it blending genres, showing that even when wrapped in more contemporary or science fiction trappings, fantasy remains powerful, potent because of the myths it taps into, the magic we all want to believe in, maybe need to believe in, given the harsh realities of the world. Some great works!

The Dark #72 (4 short stories total)
  • “Crooked House” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (short story) - A chilling piece set in the Great Depression, featuring a boy and his younger sister, or her ghost, and the events that brought them to where they are. It’s tragic, unsettling, and deals viscerally with the weight of desire, the need to escape, and the dangers lurking in the world. A powerful and unsettling read! Ghosts, Family, Music, Singing, Poverty. CW- Rape/Child Molestation, Suicide. [c4 t5]
  • “Of Claw and Bone” by Suzan Palumbo (short story) - A story of abuse and cycles of violence. Of safety and how people reach for it. Told in the second person, You are a girl growing up in the shadow of your father’s violence toward your mother. And I love the world building, where people internalize traits of bones around them, and how that shapes how parents try to protect their children, complicated by gender roles and injustice. A resilient, defiant piece that finds hope in the face of danger. A great read! Family, Bones, Animals, Rodents, Tigers. CW- Abuse/Spousal Abuse. [c3 t4]
  • “Water Child” by Frances Ogamba (short story) - A gripping story about a pharmacy worker and a tragedy that follows her, that she in part authors. Centering the death of a boy, and her own desire to escape the poverty that weighs her down, that narrows her future to nothing. A sinking, sharp look at life and death and justice, and a wonderful read! Pharmacies, Employment, Homes, Ghosts, Water. CW- Death of a Child, Corruption, Death/Drowning. [c3 t4]
  • “The 21 Bus Line” by Gabriela Santiago (short story) - A deeply strange story about a narrator getting on what turns out to be the wrong bus. And being drawn into a story by a kind of trickster that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and having to face what comes next (even if they don’t exactly have a face at that point...). It’s grim and unsettling and nicely placed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. A chilling and fantastic read! Raccoons, Buses, Transportation, Comic Books, Queer MC. CW- Gore/Violence. [c3 t4]
A powerful issue that deals a lot with hauntings, with animals, with the hurts people do and try to undo. for my money I think I would have switched the order on the first two stories because the issue opens at its most visceral and disturbing point, but I guess that does offer some space after to recover. Still, there are some very grim and uncomfortable moments in these stories, captured well and carefully by the authors, and it’s all great work!

Flash Fiction Online #92 (3 short stories total)
  • “The Ecology of the Engineered Oyster” by Andrew Kozma (short story/flash) - A rather strange piece about a rather innovative form of punishment, one that forces those who inadvertently caused an ecological disaster in the oceans to have to fix the problem themselves. Not in the lab, but in the water, with some special explosives, risking life and limb to help push back against what they helped created. It’s a tense story, with some nice world building. Oysters, Oceans, Invasive Species, Science!, Teamwork. CW- Death/Gore. [c3 t4]
  • “I Wrote to My Queen” by Saswati Chatterjee (short story/flash) - A grim yet freeing piece about a young girl confined, bound, forced to live in a way that doesn’t embrace her own power and nature. She’s a spider girl, desperate to communicate with her people, her real family, even as the humans around her abuse and restrict her. A spine-tingling piece, and one with a wonderful ending. Definitely go check it out! Spiders, Houses, Family, Letters. CW- Abuse, Confinement, Murder. [c4 t4]
  • “My Lakeside Graveyard” by Peter S. Drang (short story/flash) - A creepy piece about the owner of a graveyard and his less than honest practices when it comes to...making room. The piece ends up looking at the vulnerability of those without connections, and how sometimes then the only way to hold power and agency is to band together, an army of the unmourned, able to finally exert some justice, applying the narrator’s corrupt rules in a way he didn’t expect. A great read! Graveyards, Lakes, Coffins, Family. CW- Desecrating Graves, Death/Drowning. [c3 t4]
This issue definitely brings a touch of horror with it, featuring three original stories that all lean toward the grim. They are characters of people who are trying to find freedom. For some of them, that means going through a harrowing ordeal. For others, that means finally being able to strike back against their oppressors. Whatever the case, it makes for some fine reads!

GigaNotoSaurus May 2021 (1 novelette total)
  • “Just Enough Rain” by P H Lee (novelette) - A lovely story about a woman, Anat, and her relationship with God. Not just the spiritual being, though, but rather God the being, the person, and His strange, rather awkward ways. Oh, and also Anat’s romance with a literal angel. It’s a strange but cute story about language and intimacy and all the different kinds of relationships people have. Family. Friends. Lovers. A quiet but profound work, and definitely worth spending some time with! Angels, Gods, Languages, Translations, Relationships, Family, Non-binary character. CW- Religion/Trauma, Pregnancy. [c2 t3]
This month’s GigaNotoSaurus is a novelette that takes on religion and relationships through the lens of one woman’s connection to God. Well, in certain ways her mother’s relationship with God. But it’s a deep and careful take on knowledge, language, and sex in an angel. Which is not a sentence I anticipated I’d write. So yeah, a great issue!

Apex #123 (6 short stories total)
  • “The Life & Death of Mia Fremont: An Interview with a Killer” by A.K. Hudson (short story) - A story that unfolds as an interview between a police detective and a young woman, a villain, a killer. Of sorts, at least. But what is revealed in the interview (which is really one sided), is much different from the reality so many around the characters believe. It’s complex, grim, but also freeing. And it reflects something buried in so many hearts, a sharp something waiting for a bit of warm flesh to cut into, and out of. A fine read! Interviews, Family, Transformations, Confessions. CW- Abuse/Harassment/Bullying/Gaslighting, Police/ACAB. [c3 t4]
  • “This is the Moment, Or One of Them” by Mari Ness (short story) - A gutting and visceral story about a person trying to change their life. Their present, by shifting their past. By making decisions there that will lead to a different outcome. Because what happened is too painful to bear. And I love teh way they go through their memories searching for elements to shift, terrified at the same time that they’ll change something and make it all worse. It’s a gripping, shattering read that’s powerfully and beautifully told. Memories, Relationships, Queer MC(?), Dating, Art Classes. CW- Death of a Partner, Pandemics/Viruses, Grief/Loss. [c4 t4]
  • “Throw Rug” by Aurelius Raines II (short story) - A wonderful story that follows the main character, Umi, from a youth where he is scrawny, picked on, through adolescences and into young adulthood as he channels the gifts his family gives him. Which is a kind of magic, though also kinda just hard work, and builds beautifully through his time as a wrestler, moving through a world that is eager to serve him defeats and thinking its truly won. I just love the way it unfolds through the perspectives around him until finally setting into his point of view and revealing the full truth. Just a fantastic read! Wrestling, School, Relationships, Family, Hair. CW- Bullying, Racism, Pregnancy/Childbirth/Premature Childbirth. [c3 t3]
  • “Mishpokhe and Ash” by Sydney Rossman-Reich (short story) - A young woman, Magda, builds a mechanical Golem in a slightly alt-historical World War II-era Hungary. What was meant to be a help to the family, though, only underlines the impossibility of living under the conflicting and dehumanizing laws put on Jewish people at the time. And as Golem struggles with the rules she is told to follow, tragedy stalks ever closer. A difficult but poignant read! History, Golems, Automatons, Family, Rules. Cw- The Holocaust, War/Violence, Death of Family Members, Prejudice/Bigotry. [c5 t5]
  • “All This Darkness” by Jennifer R. Donohue (short story) - A story told in the collective first person, where the “we” are a group of children growing into adulthood in the shadow of a mountain that is no longer being mined. That was going to be their fate and now...not. Until they decide to embrace it anyway, and see what welcome the mountain has for them. A creepy but also freeing story about being out of options, but taking them anyway. A great read! Mines, Towns, Family, Moons, Mountains, Coal. CW- Poverty, Death. [c2 t4]
  • “Demon Fighter Sucks” by Katherine Crighton (short story) - A story that unfolds as the description of a vlog where the host debunks magic from a Supernatural-esque show that she once loved and now hates because its magic failed to save her mother. This episode focuses on a summoning spell and the piece is well constructed, emotional, and pulls down to an ending that is both grim and hopeful all at once, shattering in more ways than one. A wonderful story! Vlogs, Magic, Spells, Television, Family. CW- Death of a Parent, Terminal Illness. [c3 t3]
This issue does a nice job balancing the grim themes that Apex is known for with moments of hope and unexpected joy. The stories circle a lot around family, around loss, around change. The characters trying to shape their lives in a proactive, positive way, often waylaid by grief and loss, tragedy and pain. There’s a weight to a lot of the stories, but also in a lot of them a laying down of weight, a relish in freedom, and it makes for some great reads!

Strange Horizons 05/03/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Shi Shou” by E. A. Xiong (short story) - A quiet and lovely story that follows a pianist moving toward a new body with the help of a kind of body design studio on Mars. The piece imagines a peopled solar system, humans spread throughout the inner (and outer) planets, and a growing technology that might unlock new sides to human art and achievement. And really it’s a beautifully rendered piece full of music and passion and drive. A terrific read! Music, Bodies, Pianos, Queer MC, Mars. CW- Body Modification. [c2 t3]
  • “Bat Mitzvah” by Cecelia R. (poem) - This piece speaks to me of growing up, going through the transforming dance of adolescence, full of worry, fear complicated by place, by movement. Hoping to hold at least to something from the time before, the place before, the body before. A voice, waiting to emerge, to sing. A person, finding that even as they grow and change, some parts of themself are the same, intact, and there’s beauty and comfort in that. A lovely read!
Another beautiful issue from Strange Horizons, featuring a rather striking story that looks at a future where bodies are being transformed, where an artist is looking for a new way to express. And a poem also dealing with change, with transformation, with movement, but in a much different and much more terrestrial way. But both are lovely, musical, and well worth checking out!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #329 (1 short story, 1 novelette total)
  • “Oak Apple Night” by Marie Brennan (short story) - A story about a girl, Jane, during the time of the enthroning of William and Mary in England, in a family still loyal to the Catholic kings, to an idea of kingship that they feel has been lost, that they mourn every year in a strange vigil that Jane is now being taken on. But Jane’s takeaway from the sight, from the magic she witnesses, is different from the rest of her family’s, and it’s a careful and sharp take on the allure, and limitations, of having a king. A great read! Family, Kings, England, The Wild Hunt, Stags. CW- Abuse. [c2 t3]
  • “The City of Kindness” by Jonathan Edelstein (novelette) - A story of faith and mysticism, where Isaac is a blind Jewish sorcerer tasked with tracking down the missing son of an important noble. Whose disappearance could spell big trouble for alt-historical Tuluz, though that might just be the tip of the iceberg on how bad things could go. The story looks at historical injustice and prejudice, the ways that small actions can lead to large massacres of those falling outside the power structures of the time and place. It’s a story reaching for peace, acknowledging that sometimes that means building using bricks of sorrow and the bones of the unavenged as reinforcement. A great read! Cities, History, Faith, Magic, Math. CW- Intolerance, Anti-Semitism, Massacres/Genocide. [c4 t3]
This issue (as always well paired by the editor) deals with the idea of kingship. The complicated and often disappointing realities that come with having rulers. The ways they fail, the ways they give in to prejudice and violence. The ways they aren’t the answer to any question, any problem. The stories explore characters to come to see this rather sharply, and how they seek to cope, however they can, with the worlds they live in that still so highly value kings. Great stuff!

Works read this year to date: 485 stories, 146 poems (+28 stories, +4 poems)

Kind of an average week when it comes to numbers, though in some interesting news this does bring my total reviews on Quick Sip Reviews over 6000! Which…wow! Probably I won’t do a specific post about it just because I’m still recovering from all the news of late and adding another post on top of that probably isn’t a great idea. But yay! Inside of that 6000, I’ve also passed 1000 poems reviewed, and am getting pretty close to 5000 stories. Go me!

Not too much else to report. There’s still a week left to vote on the Ignyte Awards, so for those who might not have done that yet, do make sure to vote for your favorite SFF works and people (which hey, might include me). Otherwise, there’s no other media to report on this week. I’ve been watching a lot of Vera with husband but other than saying that Vera is awesome I’m not sure I’m up for doing a specific look at each season (especially because the seasons are only four episodes long). I still can’t decide if I like Joe or Aiden better. Hmm…

In other me news, I did a photo shoot for a profile in the local arts magazine, Volume One. Not sure when the feature will run, but I imagine soon. I’ve got some other things in the works as well, but otherwise just trying to keep my head above water and catch up after last month kicked my ass. The work continues. Cheers!


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