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!
khōréō magazine #1.2 (5 short stories total)
- “Green, Yellow, Red” by H. Pueyo (short story) - A wrenching and rather devastating story about a person and their brother, who disappears at a protest. The piece looks at the suffocating march of anti-democratic violence and corruption, the way that it takes people who aren’t officially dead, who are just...erased. And the strange, liminal space that opens. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and so good! Family, Protests, Governments, Jobs. CW- Disappearances/Political Corruption/Violence. [c4 t4]
- “Love at the End” by Deborah Germaine Augustin (short story) - Another emotional and beautiful piece, this one told backwards from a time when climate change and rising water levels have made Liz’s home nearly unlivable. It focuses on a relationship, on two people amid the loss and destruction, always reaching out to each other in kindness and comfort. And it’s a wonderful read! Relationships, Cities, Wine, Cooking. CW- Climate Change/Flooding. [c3 t3]
- “Our Bones Were the Mortar” by Anjali Patel (short story/flash) - A powerful story that finds the narrator of this piece, able to sense and in some instances soothe and free the souls of forgotten ghosts, on a trip they’re not quite ready for. Confronting a bedrock of deaths and neglected dead that they’d rather avoid, walk away from, just not see. But there’s too much there to remain ignorant, and that leaves the narrator with a rending and destructive, but also freeing and compassionate, task to do. A great read! Cities, Ghosts, Family, Jobs, Monuments. CW- Death/Historic Injustice. [c3 t3]
- “For Future Generations” by Rachel Gutin (short story) - The story of a small Jewish community on a generation ship fleeing a ruined Earth, and a Rabbi who comes face to face with the younger generation of her students lashing out against the traditions that did nothing to prevent the loss of an entire planet. The piece looks at the conflicting feelings the Rabbi experiences, and the course she sets for moving forward, for everyone. Another fantastic read! Faith, Generation Ships, Holidays, Trees, Traditions. CW- Climate Change/Disaster, Destruction of Religious Items. [c3 t3]
- “Golden Girl” by A. M. Guay (short story) - The issue continues to take on difficult topics and themes with this story, where the main character is adopted from her living relatives into a white household that views her adoption as something of a novelty. The piece is sharp and visceral with the way it captures a loss of voice, a loss of culture, a loss of real family under the guise of charity. It’s at times difficult, but also a poignant and powerful take on erasure and the business of certain kinds of adoption. Family, Arts and Crafts, Dogs, Faces, Anger, Queer Characters. CW- Adoption/Loss of Family, Racism, Loss of Speech. [c4 t4]
The second issue of khōréō has landed and it’s got five new stories (and an original essay that’s very much worth checking out) that take on some rather difficult topics and themes. Climate change features prominently, but even more than that loss takes center stage. A loss of home, a loss of family, a loss of faith. But through all that, there’s a kind of hope. A grim kind, often, but one that stands as a warning. That we need to do something. That we need to do better. That there’s a lot of work ahead of us. And it’s a strong and bracing issue!
Diabolical Plots #75 (2 short stories total)
- “The PILGRIM’s Guide to Mars” by Monique Cuillerier (short story) - A quiet and sweet story about a PILGRIM, a robot sent to Mars to care for and recognize the other robots who had been sent to the red planet over the years. She finds them, cleans them, and pays her respects on behalf of the people who learned from their loss, and the whole thing carries a certain kind of melancholy for me, even as it doesn’t really give into sadness. Rather, it sees the beauty and power of the moments, that even as the machinery fails, the larger mission continues, aided by their contributions. A lovely read! Mars, Robots, AIs, Dust, Memory. CW- Death/Loss. [c3 t3]
- “Three Riddles and a Mid-Sized Sedan” by Lauren Ring (short story) - The narrator of this story is just trying to raise a daughter in a world where self-driving cars are more than a reality--they’re a nightmare. Violent and at times random, people have resorted to “the old ways” of talismans and charms, though there’s a bit more sophistication to them. What’s pretty ancient, though, is a contest of riddles, which is what the narrator gets into when their daughter is threatened. A great erad! Cars, Family, Riddles, Queer Characters, AI. CW- Car Violence. [c3 t3]
There isn’t too much that links the two stories in this issue of Diabolical Plots except that they both feature AI. Very, very different kinds of AI, though, reflecting the ways that they can be great helps and great threats to people and the mission of humanity. The works are at turns inspiring and terrifying, and I like the one-two they offer up in that way, especially because both are quite fun!
Strange Horizons 05/17/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
- “Balfour in the Desert” by Fargo Tbakhi (short story) - A deep and at times difficult read, the story starts off centering a man, Balfour, as he tracks an animal through the desert, hoping to kill it. He is English, a colonizer and tourist, hoping to find in the desert the cure to his desires. What he finds instead, though, is that the story he’s in is not his own, and I love the way the piece twists expectation, closing on an act of reclamation, of justice. It’s not an easy read, but it’s incredibly rewarding and definitely worth spending some time with. A wonderful read! Deserts, Hunting, Animals, Water, Cacti. CW- Death/Gore, Death of Animals (Horses), Soldiers, Racism. [c4 t4]
- “Consequences” by Shilpa Kamat (poem) - This piece seems to me to speak of a kind of mythic power. The action of the piece comes from a narrator speaking of tricking the sun from the sky so that it cracked, so that now there’s a line in the sky. It reads to me like a fable, a fantastical explanation for some natural phenomenon, perhaps as told by a trickster. It captures that mood for me, at least, in a concise and fun way, though the title and the piece as a whole leave me thinking there might be a grimmer reading of the poem that I’m not quite seeing. Whatever the case, it’s a great read!
A great issue and one exploring actions and their consequences. Characters finding that when they think they’re doing one thing, they actually end up doing something else. Something that isn’t necessarily great for them. And the works make for a great issue!
PodCastle #679 (1 short story total)
- “Pull” by Leah Ning (short story) - A heartbreaking story about a couple, John and Amy. Amy has dementia, and also has the ability to mentally pull people into her memories. Which isn’t exactly a safe mixture for John, who is finding himself pulled more and more into her deteriorating mind, even against his will. It’s a wrenching and shattering read that looking to the nature of care, especially when there’s no real hope of recovery. And it’s tragic and beautiful all at once, and well worth checking out! Relationships, Memories, Family, Phones. CW- Memory Loss/Dementia, Violence/Death of an Animal (Dog), Mental Manipulation. [c4 t4]
Not at all an easy read, this. But through the layers of pain and loss, grief and acceptance, there is a care and beauty that shine through. That show one man’s resolve not to let the person he loves be alone, even in a place that he shouldn’t be able to follow. That he can’t safely follow. It’s difficult but love work!
Tor dot com May 2021 (1 short story, 1 novelette, 1 novella total)
- “The Lay of Lilyfinger” by G. V. Anderson (novelette) - A beautiful story about Saaba-niszak, a musician from a far foreign land she can never return to, and her young apprentice Pom, a poor mix-raced boy from an occupied/colonized nation, being hired to perform a work of very high cultural value in a place neither has cultural ties to. The result is a complex but wonderfully rendered exploration of music and art, identity and grief. Tracing the wounds of diaspora, of intolerance, of the messy ways people try to heal from wounds that aren’t done being inflicted. Just a lovely and quietly powerful read! Music, Singing, Revolutions, Apprentices, Holidays/Ceremonies. CW- Racism, Violence/Self-harm, Colonization/Oppression. [c3 t3]
- “Blood in the Thread” by Cheri Kamei (short story) - This story takes a stark and aching look at two women with big dreams. Dreams they seem to be on the verge of realizing when they are turned against them, when fame becomes a hunger that they can’t seem to escape. That doesn’t want them to escape. The piece is often difficult, layering contemporary violence with fairy tale injustice, and it makes for a complex and beautiful read! Cranes, Make-up, Acting, Fake Relationships, Queer MC, Fairy Tales. CW- Abuse, Violence/Assault. [c4 t4]
- “Ripple Effects” by Laura J. Mixon (novella) - This is perhaps the longest single work I’ve reviewed at QSR (very nearly a novel), and it’s a dip back into the Wildcards universe, this time focusing largely on the Candle, an ace who is working as an art detective. The piece follows the attempted theft of a golden horn by a man out of the Candle’s past, and one who threatens to tear down much more than just the Candle’s life and support. It’s a wrenching read with plenty of twists, and for fans of the series it’s a nice highlight of the history, characters, and style that makes it enjoyable and entertaining. A fine read! Music, Art, Mirrors, Fire, Superpowers, Queer MC. CW- Burns/Scars, Violence/Murder, Abuse, Slurs. [c4 t3]
Taking a bit of a chance that Tor isn’t going to put out another story this month (or hasn’t, as I write these up ahead of time). But what’s here is quite interested, from a story of queer love and danger to a nearly-novel that covers trauma, betrayal, and revenge, plus superpowers. It’s a great tour of SFF stories that unfold in settings both strange and familiar, and the works are powerful and beautifully done.
The Deadlands #1 (1 short story, 4 poems total)
- “Psychopomp” by MJ Cunniff (poem) - This piece speaks to me of distance, the narrator imagining the infrastructure of a land of the dead, the speedy means by which they need to be transported, acting as a sad statement on the conflicts of people, the failures to prevent death on scale. And in that, a more intimate, personal note, a single person, and the narrator, struggling to capture it all, still awash in the cycles of life and death. A great read!
- “Peristalsis” by Vajra Chandrasekera (short story) - A strange and haunting piece told at least in part as a kind of discussion in the fandom of the Show, where the audience might all be dead, and is divided on interpretations of what the Show means, and how to interpret the four season story of the characters Annelid and Leveret. Characters without real names, without real substance, but maybe more real than the audience, and maybe breaking through into something new and ominous. Beautifully told, I love the metafictional touches, and the commentary all swirling around the idea of life inside death. A wonderful read! Television, Fandom, Demons, Jungles, Family. CW- Violence/War/Murder. [c2 t3]
- “Paalai Anju” by Shweta Narayan (poem) - This piece finds a narrator who has had to stifle and bend themself to fit the desires of someone else. Shaped by expectation and stereotype and a harsh will that puts them in a role and won’t let them free. But the narrator speaks of a mask that they have worn, cracking now, and from under which they’ve already slipped, leaving only something hollow in their wake. It’s a stark and moving poem, powerful in the way it shows the cost of survival, the path littered with bones. A fantastic read!
- “Later the Loch, Sooner the Lack: The Lifecycle of a Horrid Man with Horrid Plans” by s.j. bagley (poem) - A strange piece that for me seems to follow the life of a man, tracing the forces that push people into not despair, but a kind of anger and hatred. That curdles people, that makes this man something sharp and, well, horrid. That might have been avoided if not for everything else, the pressures pushing toward the horridness. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!
- “Death Opus” by Romie Stott (poem) - A long and strange piece that speaks to me of the way we distance ourselves from death even as it walks with us. Even as it is something of an inevitability in any sort of scale, because of the damage done to the planet, to each other, to everything. Because people don’t want to recognize the injury, much less take action to try and really survive. So that even as the narrator is not ready to die, that’s a poor defense from death, and that’s an interesting turn for me because it speaks so true to how people handle difficult things. A fantastic read and great way to close out the issue!
So it’s the first issue of a new venture, The Deadlands, a publication that looks at, well, Death. Death, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Which many shy away from. But that here, in these stories and poems, is confronted in interested and varied ways. Explored in each piece, and the result is an often difficult but ultimately beautiful issue about death and how we approach it and run away from it. Great stuff!
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #330 (2 short stories total)
- “Hassan the Executioner Walks Out of Jawasar for the Last Time” by R.K. Duncan (short story) - A story of a man who served a sorceress queen, to make true her vision for a city unlike they one they grew up in, full of corruption and debt and death. In order to make that happen, though, she sold some things she might shouldn’t have, and the results were often brutal, if also often just. The story opens with her death, though, and the fallout, and the way it’s all reflected in the conflicted emotions and thoughts of the narrator, who had been her friend and her sword. A nicely paced, action-packed read! Magic, Shields, Bargains, Cities, Swords. CW- Assassinations, Murder/Violence. [c4 t4]
- “To Crack the World” by Kurt Hunt (short story) - A story about Daum, a magehandler, in a rather impossible situation following his failure to, well, handle the mage he was transporting on behalf of his (rather terrible) government. There’s a war on, and Daum, rather than transporting nice, safe, biscuits, is in the thick of things, and all seems lost when he might just get tossed a lifeline he needs, though from an unexpected person. The piece is quick but careful, and builds a compelling picture of Daum and his situation, and the thin hope he’s holding to. A great read! Mages, Travel, Biscuits, Non-binary Character. CW- War/Battle/Gore, Slavery. [c4 t3]
The two stories in the latest Beneath Ceaseless Skies both deal with men and the wake of magic brought on by women close to them. Both deal with war, the ways people try to go about “solving” it. And, it’s about the armor people wear, either the physical sort that protects them from harm or the mental sort that allows them to ignore things they don’t feel they can change. It’s a fine issue!
Cast of Wonders #452 (3 short stories total)
- “Porch Light for the Lonely” by Alyson Grauer (short story/flash) - A lovely piece about a special porch where the animals of the neighborhood, from cats to deer, gather to remember and to honor a woman who used to live there, who was one of the only humans to show them kindness. And the piece leaves off with a heartwarming and enduring statement on how that woman lingers for those still around. A great read! Cats, Deer, Porches, Afterlives, Ghosts. CW- Death. [c2 t2]
- “Bony Bonnie Dead Horse” by Shane Halbach (short story/flash) - A beautiful and only slightly creepy story about a girl and her horse. Her...skeleton horse...but still. The piece looks at the power of acceptance, the power of having something that affirms your dreams, drives, and ambitions, especially for someone who often has to adjust her expectations down in the face of a harsh reality. A wonderful and heartwarming read! Horses, Skeletons, School, Wishes. CW- Death. [c2 t2]
- “The Scribe’s Garden” by Reed Mingault (short story/flash) - This story follows a magical garden that produces caterpillars that transform into hope and peace, into bounty and joy. Or, and this is the tricky, troublesome bit, once in a great while into a Wish. Which leaves the gardener, Kelebek, with the question of what to do with the Wish, and all the people who will come asking for it. A lovely read! Gardens, Caterpillars, Wishes, Apprentices. [c1 t1]
Cast of Wonders is back with the three winners of this year’s flash fiction contest. The works are incredibly cute. They are also, though, touched with moments or elements of danger, or creepiness. A ghost. A skeleton. A Wish. Things that might often bring trouble, but that the characters here find joy and affirmation through instead. It’s a fantastic issue/episode!
Escape Pod #785 (1 short story total)
- “Death, the Universe, and Everything” by Sherin Nicole (short story) - A story about a person labeled “genius” as an infant, carrying the weight of that but also the actual ability, it turns out, to enter into an out-of-body state and help people transition from living to dead. Which is a complex and difficult thing but handled well by the story, with gravity and a little humor, and I love the way the character struggles with this, with their designation, and just with everything. It’s a warm, intricate story that doesn’t lose sight of the human element amongst the big science ideas and quantum physics. A wonderful read! Science!, Geniuses, School, Afterlives, Quantum Physics. CW- Death/Dying, Murder. [c2 t3]
A rather charming issue/episode, though one that is heavily concerned with death (not really surprising, given the title). It’s a story with some interesting moving parts and a lot of big ideas balanced by the human drama, anxiety, and desire to do good and help people. Some strong work!
Works read this year to date: 520 stories, 161 poems (+19 stories, +5 poems)
It seems I often fluctuate between having weeks where I review a lot of things and weeks where it’s…not as much. This week is actually kind of odd in that I’m looking at a lot of different venues, but overall not a huge amount of works. Lots of small releases, I guess, which is nice in that it gives me the chance to sample more editorial tastes. And there’s a brand new publication, bringing my total of those to…some sort of ridiculous number on the year. I swear I’m probably mostly done with adding venues but sometimes I just can’t resist. So it goes.
In me news, there’s not a whole lot to report. I’m working on a number of interviews about my collection and just in general as I try to do promo as I can. Those will be rolling out over the coming weeks and months, and I’ve been really enjoying them so far. Not just because it’s an excuse to talk about myself, but because it’s fun to be asked questions about stories in general, about fiction, about queer fiction, and about organizational aspects of my work. Because I do a lot of reviewing, I don’t do a whole lot of personal essays and such, and it’s just been rather fun to be able to indulge a bit more.
No other media this week. Husband and I are still watching Vera, which is a great show, and I’m not sure what’s up after that. I haven’t had as much time to watch things on my own, as I’ve been running a Vs tournament against myself (it’s a CCG featuring Marvel and DC characters). I have way too many Vs Cards but there’s actually a new version of the game that husband has is getting me into as part of my birthday present. So I got out my old decks and decided to have a tourney. Good times. Anyway, that’s me. Cheers!