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!
Uncanny #40 (5 short stories, 1 novelette, 4 poems total)
- “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde (novelette) - The Season is opening and Sera is a fashion student hoping to help her cousin look good at the big dances. A prospect that is complicated by the arrival of a strange dress shop that moves through space and time with a will of its own, that is at the heart of the mystery of what happened to Sera’s missing mother, and what Sera’s own future might hold. It’s fun with an edge of danger and longing, and I love the way it reaches for something just and freeing, a move away from corrupt and deadly bargains made in bad faith. A great read! Dresses, Family, Dress Making, Bargains/Contracts, Butterflies. CW- Death of a Parent. [c2 t3]
- “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte (short story) - A moving story about a man trying to solve a math problem with his father. The wrinkle? His father died, and so they’re collaborating now as a man and the Coda of his father, a kind of digital imprint that doesn’t retain new memories but contains the knowledge of the deceased. And it’s a wrenching story about grief and family, about success and satisfaction, and it’s well worth spending some time with! Family, Uploaded Consciousnesses, Math, Teaching, Tenure. CW- Hospitals/Death of a Parent. [c3 t3]
- “Thirteen of the Secrets in My Purse” by Rachel Swirsky (short story) - A piece that unfolds based on the strange findings in the narrator’s purse, circling around shades of lipstick and a missing girl. The piece seems to me about feeling stuck in one place, and finding the motivation and the means to do something else. Something new. To take a chance, try to right a wrong, and have an adventure. Which is a lot of fun, even as there’s something grim lurking at the edges of this one. Still, a fine read! Purses, Lipstick, Travel, Fruits, Pictures. CW- Missing Persons. [c2 t3]
- “How the Girls Came Home” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (short story) - A rather grim story about a young woman whose feet transform into those of different animals. While an Artisan crafts shoes meant to “cure” her of this. Only she doesn’t want to be cured, and the Artisan is hiding things behind the respect he’s given because of his craft. It’s a somewhat chilling but ultimately triumphant story about identity, chains, and freedom. Family, Animals, Feet, Shoes, Magic. CW- Exploitation/Abuse/Violence. [c3 t4]
- “The Hungry Ones” by Emma Törzs (short story) - This piece finds a man out for revenge after seeing his wife with another man, but twists that idea, that trope, in some interesting directions. It’s a story about magic, and desire, and people hurting each other. And it’s definitely a piece to spend some time with. Marriage, Magic, Bargains, Split Personas. CW- Violence, Infidelity, Abuse. [c4 t4]
- “Heart Shine” by Shveta Thakrar (short story) - A stunningly beautiful story that finds Komal, a young girl feeling invisible to her parents and all too visible to the bullies in her school, eager to escape through the magic of fireflies, to enter the realms of the Faerie. The Faerie, however, have other plans, and the piece is a careful and caring look at the power of art, the power of being seen, and the power of hope. It’s an absolutely wonderful read! Fireflies, Cats, Faerie, Magic, School. CW- Neglect, Bullies. [c3 t3]
- “Self Portrait As a Printing Press” by Nnadi Samuel (poem) - A strange piece that seems to me to imagine body as machine, a messy mix of imperfect tools designed to create as if by magic a finished whole but plagued by an almost overly-complexity that leads to a kind of release and relief when things go smoothly. Surreal at times but interesting and worth spending some time with!
- “Paqtasultieg” by Tiffany Morris (poem) - This piece blends feelings of the natural world--birds, trees, the sky and dawn--with the sense of reaching out through a more technologically dense space. Through the hum of planes, the noise of movement. Reaching for a time when things are quiet of those sounds, at least. And it’s a lovely use of languages, of space, of hope amidst danger. A great read!
- “Mona Lisa’s Abecedarian to Leonardo da Vinci” by Abu Bakr Sadiq (poem) - This piece speaks out with the voice of the famous painting, throwing off some common assumptions and taking space in an interesting way. I like the way the piece follows the painting to the present, as trends and opinions change, as the painting considers the truth behind their own popularity. Wonderful!
- “Collection” by Vivian Li (poem) - A poem that speaks to me of devotion, the narrator caring for someone, holding them, piecing them together only for things to end, anyway. Or at least transform, change, become something new and different, which is still filled with a kind of grief, but at least also with hope. A strong finish to the issue!
A great collection of works from Uncanny this issue, with many of them dealing with other worlds, with people making bargains or wanting to make bargains with magical forces in or on the borders of their worlds. The piece find characters pushed to desperation and finding in the magic from outside a nudge. Not always in the “right” direction, but in a direction that will give guidance and clarity and, perhaps most of all, results and change, for better or worse.
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #48 (2 short stories, 3 poems total)
- “Intrigue in Aviene” by Steve Dilks (short story) - A piece featuring an out-of-work soldier trying to make a little extra money through assassinations but who ends up being drawn into a plot to presumably unbalance the power of the city he’s been living in. The soldier, Bohun, is a mercenary through and through, and it’s a piece that leans on action and fighting to move things along. As such, it’s an energetic piece, though its take on racial tensions and recurring descriptions of Bohun as “savage” was uncomfortable to me, especially given the events of the story itself. Soldiers, Assassinations, Bars, Swords. CW- Racism, Slavery/Slave Auction, Violence/Gore. [c4 t3]
- “A Night in the Witherlands” by Daniel Stride (short story) - A piece that follows a man on a rather dull guard job through a strange, blighted landscape. He thought boredom was the worst of his problems, until the ghosts showed up. It’s a tense and action-heavy story, showing the narrator learning a rather hard lesson, and trying to do so without losing his life. A fun read! Ghosts, Journeys, Silver, Guests. CW- Violence/Gore, Mental Manipulation. [c3 t3]
- “Wight, Lonely Weep Thou” by Oliver Smith (poem) - A story of conflict, and those who hid away from it, and were twisted, transformed, become a lonely presence that cannot find satisfaction. The piece has a mythic feel to it, touching on death, Death, and a kind of waiting that doesn’t seem to have an end. A great read!
- “Lessons in Spellcasting” by Colleen Anderson (poem) - This piece follows a narrator as they go through some misadventures when it comes to magic. Brushing closer and closer to death as they try to learn how to control the power they have access to. As they strive to make it not just a series of accidents. And I like the way that it winds up, the way it seems like it will continue only to find an abrupt and fitting ending. A wonderful read!
- “Thirty-Ninth War Between Innis and Meqing: Commencement” by Mary Soon Lee (poem) - A grim and rather brutal piece about a war just beginning and the man ordered to carry out the provoking action. Not something he relishes, but at the same time the poem doesn’t cast him as noble. The action is ugly, the men bound by codes that value only the wills of the powerful. And the piece packs a great feeling of history and cycles here, a moment that could have been avoided that instead will plunge two nations into war. A great way to close out the issue!
Another issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and something of a short issue for the publication (though in part because there’s a rare reprint that I’m not covering). But there’s still plenty of high fantasy action, and this is a rather grim and bloody issue, full of characters having to find solutions through the sharp parts of their swords. Some nice action and adventure fantasy!
Fireside Magazine #91 (4 short stories total)
- “The Census Faces Unusual Challenges on Audvarn-3” by Jo Miles (short story) - This is a delightful story about a census-taker in a galaxy where a despotic order has been overthrown, but that doesn’t mean the resulting Union has the trust of the people. Through some goodwill and earnest desire to do good, though, that might not be an impossible future. Just so much fun, cute, and heartwarming. Go read it!!! Aliens, Census, Customs, Dancing, Swamps. [c1 t2]
- “Empty Space” by Sidney Maris Hargrave (short story) - A much grimmer piece here, about teleportation and the cost of it, the price that the narrator/subject of the story pays in order to move about. The way that they become something like addicted to it, and then lose themself to the forgetting that it brings. It’s a tragic and wrenching read, but beautifully done and well worth spending some time with. Teleportation, School, Relationships, Split Consciousnesses. CW- Memory Loss, Death/Accidental Murder, Self Harm. [c4 t4]
- “Weaving” by Ry Adams (short story) - A wonderfully messy story about relationships. About them starting, and the rush of hope and affirmation they can bring. About them ending, and the pain and the doubt and the regret they can bring. And for the narrator, it’s tied up with bodies, with their gender, and with finding a way to be comfortable in their own skin. A wonderful read! Ribbon, Relationships, Cheesecake, Pizza, Trans MC. CW- Prejudice. [c2 t3]
- “Ren of the Thousand Faces” by M. Elizabeth Ticknor (short story) - A story of a performer, Ren, who was cursed so that xe could never take on xyr true form, nor remember xyr previous life. Which, for Ren, isn’t exactly the worst punishment, as xe makes a living traveling around, entertaining. Until xe impersonates the wrong person, and gets drawn into a situation xe really didn’t anticipate, one that might touch on the past xe isn’t able to remember. It’s quite fun, quickly moving, and I love the voice and energy of it. A fantastic read! Performances, Costumes, Shape-shifting, Non-binary MC, Neopronouns. [c1 t2]
A wonderful issue of Fireside Magazine here, with mostly stories that are on the lighter side (with one very good exception). The works explore some interesting and messy spaces, featuring characters who are mostly just trying to be, though some are trying to forget, some trying to remember. There’s fantasy and science fiction, and works that blend the two, and it’s an energizing issue all told, beautiful and fun and warm!
Strange Horizons 05/10/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
- “The Golden Carrot” by K. S. Shere (short story/flash) - A wonderful and quick story about a place where vegetables are grown beside jewels and gems, where one family’s harvest seems at first to be incredibly lucrative, only for the realities of the world to sink in. I like how the piece plays with expectations through world building in that way, looking at value and assistance amidst insecurity and taxation. A great read! Vegetables, Gems, Gold, Family, Taxes, Neighbors. [c1 t2]
- “None of the Star Trek Ships are Named After confederate Generals” by Arden Eli Hill (poem) - This piece speaks to me of the promise of science fiction, of a futurism that can imagine a better world, a world where Black people steer their own lives, own their own present. And the frustration that comes when the future becomes just another stage for white colonization, a refuge not for Black people from persecution, but for white people from having to deal with the realities of racism and justice needing attention now, today. A great read!
A short issue but a sharp one that looks at perspective, that looks at the ways things are. That sees that in a world of gold and gems, it’s food that becomes truly precious. Food that is taxed. Just as when imagination becomes precious because of its power to see a better future, forces pressure that imagination away from justice and toward exploitation. A strong issue!
Shoreline of Infinity #21 (3 short stories, 2 poems total)
- “More Sea Creatures to See” by Aliya Whitely (short story) - A strange and rather haunting story about the end of the world. Or rather, the end of Humanity, as they are slowly replaced by alien beings who can replace them, so that the remaining humans have no idea what’s going on. And at an amusement part, the narrator is an alien spending a little time with one of the remaining humans, to wrenching and beautiful results. A wonderful read! Aliens, Amusement Parks, Rides, Seas, Impersonation. CW- Sickness/Death, Genocide. [c3 t4]
- “Al/ice” by Robert Runté (short story) - This story combines a kind of sharp whimsy with a dense ethical dilemma as Fami has to decide what to do when Julia wants to use his AI to help create a fully aware artificial, organic person modelled after Alice (of Wonderland fame). What follows is a wild and rather fun ride, with implications rather dire indeed, and it’s keeps things quickly paced and solidly entertaining. A great read! Alice in Wonderland, Genetic Engineering, AIs, Watches, School. CW- Genetic Manipulation/Mental Anguish/Dysphoria. [c3 t2]
- “Infinite Runtime” by Laura Duerr (short story) - A rather grim story about a group of computer scientists who accidentally created something that destroyed their world. That killed them. But not before they found a way to be reborn, to try and fix the problem through space and time. Which...hasn’t exactly been working out. And it’s a deep look at grief, loss of hope, and the relentless need to find an unbroken world, knowing that the breaking could have been avoided. A poignant read. AIs, Alternate Realities, Weapons, Giants. CW- Death. [c3 t4]
- “Garden of Earthly Possibilities” by G. Toro (poem) - A strange piece that speaks to me of change, of perception. Of people entering a kind of vision and emerging from it changed. Altered. And not probably for the better. The piece deals with some difficult and visceral imagery, violence, and a sense for me of it seeping into people, so that the ending feeling sharp, electric, and grim. A fine read!
- “The Cows of Fukushima” by G. Toro (poem) - Another strange and rather haunting read, this one looking at animals left in the wake of disaster, a landscape poisoned by nuclear radiation where the human population might have been evacuated, moved on, but other beings were not. And the piece acts a but like a wound, unhealed, a memory of something twisted into an unsettling and gutting read.
It’s my first time covering Shoreline of Infinity and it’s an interesting issue, showcasing science fiction that runs from rather fun to very grim indeed. That remains aware that the most dangerous thing to humans is most often humans themselves, and their own lean toward not taking responsibility for their actions. Our actions. It makes for some weird and harrowing moments, and it’s definitely worth checking out!
Works read this year to date: 501 stories, 156 poems (+16 stories, +10 poems)
In me news, there have been a few things locally that I got to do. First, I talked with Al Ross of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Spectrum West about what I’ve been up to, including my upcoming books and Hugo nominations. Which was also what I talked about for this profile piece from the local arts magazine, Volume One. As always it’s weird to be talking about myself but this is the year for it, I guess. I have some other things percolating, trying to line up interviews and reviews of my projects and vaguely just trying to do this whole author thing. It’s tiring!
I’m also trying to figure out how to come back to approaching my work in queer romance. For those not aware, it’s an area where I’ve been fairly prolific, at least where short fiction is concerned, but that hasn’t exactly worked out well for me. I started out selling short stories to Torquere Press, and was in five different anthologies there before they closed without paying me for the majority of those stories. That sucked. I had better luck with Circlet Press, where I was published in one anthology (and later reprinted in a Best Of), though that experience was also set with delays and the press reorganizing over the course of years. I sold two novellas to Less Than Three Press, which went smoothly, but after a year those disappeared as the press closed (though not to my knowledge owing anyone money). I’ve also been in a few anthologies from Lethe, which went mostly smoothly, and one from Flash Fiction Online, which they haven’t tried to dip back into. And then there’s Dreamspinner. Where I published quite a bit and that went through a very public shitshow that it seems to have mostly just shrugged off. But long story short they stopped paying people for their work. And eventually I asked for and got my rights back for all the stories they had published. They, too, still owe me money. Whee.
So it’s been hard to come back to romance, despite the fact that it’s something I really like writing. There’s a lot of frustration with it, especially because it’s a field that isn’t always the best about queer men, despite the heavy emphasis on m/m. That’s not something I really want to get into here, but it’s also part of what’s made this frustrating, and why it’s been so long and I haven’t really gotten my work back out into the world. I think I will. I’m starting to look at what I have. Looks like enough for two short fiction anthologies and two novellas. I’m considering putting them out under penname, just to give myself some emotional distance from it, though likely I’ll make no secret the connection. I’m leaning toward Pritchard Yates, as it’s both 100% British Private School Gay and also a family name (Pritchard was my great-grandfather and Yates is my middle name, after a great-uncle). So look for news about that as I finalize my plans to put my smut back out there. So yeah. Cheers!
Good Omens, season 1
Okay, so I snuck this in because I was on Prime and had some time. It’s strange in some ways, because in practice it seems like a mini-series is big enough to handle a book’s worth of content, but the whole thing still felt rather rushed to me. The Aziraphale/Crowley stuff was well done, built nicely, and I feel stuck the landing, but everything else…ehhhhhhhh. Like, the Adam stuff was also not too bad, though I feel like everyone kind of forgives him right away in a hand-waving fashion, and the showdown with the horsemen wasn’t exactly satisfying to me. I did like his ultimate decisions, and it’s a neat twist, making his reality-altering powers open the door for a miraculous solution. I just also imagine if we checked in much later with Adam his life would be…well, that he would have given up on a lot of things and that just makes me a little sad. Restoring the status quo is ultimately the moral of the story, and that’s always just a little sigh to me. The stuff with Newton and Anathema is hot trash, though. Sorry. I have no idea why it’s even there. Aside from breaking the computers at the one moment, I just…well, I found them frustrating. Overall, I wasn’t entirely won over by the series. I did like the way that the core duo related to each other and ultimately broke off from their respective sides and embraced something new. That I liked. I mean, the acting is fine throughout. There are some neat visuals and cute moments. Just…mostly disappointing for me, sadly. So it goes.