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!
Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction (Dark Ink Books, edited by Rebecca Rowland) (16 short stories total)
- “Sweet Dreams” by M.C. St. John (short story) - A story that at its core deals with fear. Fear of the dark. Fear of home invasion. And how fear can sneak into a person, gain power, transform. The piece is largely heartwarming and charming, and then twists into a chilling and powerful ending. A great opening! Sleep, Fears, Witches, Stuffed Animals, Family, Queer MC. CW- Dread/Danger to a Child. [c2 t4]
- “Night Follows Night” by Greg Herren (short story) - A visceral and creeping story that finds Zane in a grocery store buying food and dealing with his trauma and anxiety. It’s a story that explores an incredibly grim upbringing and the prospect of being returned to it, and it’s difficult and unsettling and very effective in its horror. A chilling read! Grocery Stores, Family, Organization, Lists, Queer MC. CW- Trauma/Therapy, Abuse/Rape/Cults. [c4 t5]
- “Flawed” by Felice Picano (short story) - This story looks at the draw of money and luxury, how it pulls the narrator into a place where he denies himself and his past, living a flawed reflection of himself hiding grim and dangerous impulses. All surrounding a magic mirror and a relationship built on a lie. A great read! Relationships, Mirrors, Antiques, Money, Queer MC. CW- Murder, Rape. [c3 t4]
- “When the Dust Settles” by Sarah Lyn Eaton (short story) - A story of bodily autonomy as the survivor of a cave-in adjusts to a new robotic arm and leg that don’t seem to be integrating well. The piece is intense and looks at the line between the human machine and less biological machines, and the feeling of invasion and disconnection that comes from traumatic injuries. A fine read! Mines, Queer MC, Physical Therapy, Prosthetics. CW- Death/Medical Experimentation, Amputation, Blood/Gore. [c4 t4]
- “I Can’t Wait to Become a Man” by Thomas Kearnes (short story) - A strange and wrenching story of addiction and deep trauma, where Wes is a man trying to make good on a promise, trapped by his habits and his cycles of destructive decisions. The piece is at times difficult and always complex and unflinching. It’s a grim look at a life built on abuse, watered by it, and what grew from that. A powerful story! Family, Sex, Queer MC. CW- Abuse/Rape/Incest, Drug Use/Addiction/Rehab, Violence/Assault, Slurs. [c4 t4]
- “Open Up and Let Me In” by Laura DeHaan (short story) - Another creeping story where the main character, who just got through with a trial where a man was convicted of her wife’s murder, is dealing with the aftermath and the haunting that follows. The piece explores a kind of betrayal and a kind of revenge, to brutal and devastating impact. It’s not an easy read, but it’s one that knows just where to plant the knife. A great read. Marriage, Trials, Hauntings, Queer MC. CW- Murder, Wrongful Convictions, Infidelity, Therapy, Blood/Gore. [c5 t5]
- “The Red Candle” by Louis Stephensen (short story) - A story that finds a person in the midst of loss coming into herself. And in that it shows the freedom and power that she gets from that. On the other hand, it hits some things that...make the reading for me a little more complicated and messy, because of how they link physical transitioning and murder. So...be warned. School, Rituals, Candles, Trans MC. CW- Murder, Death of a Parent/Grandparent. [c3 t4]
- “Razor, Knife” by Elin Olausson (short story) - A story of longing where two cousins, their mothers dead, both live with their aunt and speak a language only they can hear, one dripping with blood and need. When a new boy moves to town, it awakens something in the narrator, Tommy, but it also draws the circle of tragedy and violence closed around him, as his loss and bond with Bell, his cousin, define his actions. A fantastic read! Cameras, Family, Queer MC, Churches, Graveyards. CW- Death of a Parent, Murder, Self Harm. [c3 t5]
- “The Procedure” by Daniel M. Jaffe (short story) - A story of contagion as Harry recovers from a future strain of Covid only to find a rather horrifying wrinkle in its mutation. The piece looks at isolation and disease as it intersects sexuality, and it’s an unsettling and creepy read, well worth checking out! Virtual Reality, Isolation, Queer MC, Drones. CW- Disease/Illness/Covid, Doctors/Medical Treatment/Needles/Surgery/Eye Trauma. [c4 t4]
- “Moi Aussi” by Christina Delia (short story) - A story told by a ghost about the tragedy of her life and the way she and her love were abused and died. And what they eventually decided to do in the afterlife, haunting the home where they died, where they were hurt. A rather fun piece, which is a nice turn, and the ending is wicked and wonderful! Silent Films, Queer MC, Acting, Hauntings, Ghosts. CW- Rape, Murder, Suicide. [c3 t3]
- “The Other Boy” by Laramie Dean (short story) - A story of a boy growing up in a small town, internalizing a toxic masculinity that leads him to act in some destructive ways. All swirling around another boy who he meets, an impossible boy who represents something buried and grim, something he doesn’t want to face even as he’s desperate for him. It’s strange and haunting, with an edge that cuts deep. A great read! Growing Up, School, Teaching, Queer MC, Family. CW- Abuse/Rape, Murder. [c3 t4]
- “Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Race” by J. Askew (short story) - As humans expand past Earth, young women are required to participate in a Colony Breeding Project, where they will birth three children and then be freed to pursue their lives and careers. For Harper and Scarlett, lovers, it’s a bit of a crap shoot, but they’re willing to go along with it. At least until they run into a snag, and uncover a very unsavory secret. It’s a tight and tense story, defiant and strong, and definitely worth checking out! Mars, Colonization, Governments, Queer MC. CW- Pregnancy/Forced Pregnancy, Aggressive Capitalism, Self Harm, Slavery. [c4 t4]
- “For The Gods” by Robert P. Ottone (short story) - This story finds DeAndre growing up in the closet, though he’s not really alone, visited by a creature borne from his desires, a friend, a love. Only the world DeAndre moves through is one that isn’t safe, and his road to acceptance, even from himself, is a difficult one, one that takes time. It’s a beautiful story, though difficult at times, and just a phenomenal read! Family, Closets, Pools, School, Acting, Drag, Queer MC. CW- Rape/Assault, Family Rejection, Slurs. [c4 t3]
- “Some Kind of Monster” by Azzurra Nox (short story) - A story about nightmares and a woman finding one aiming for her. A recurring dream that might just be a kind of premonition. It’s a story full of passion but drawing into horror, and the piece is sexy and grim all at once, about appetites and monsters. A fine read! Monsters, Dreams, Crows, Bars, Queer MC. CW- Nightmares, Being Eaten. [c3 t4]
- “1,000 Tiny Cuts” by Veronica Zora Kirin (short story) - A creeping story of domestic abuse as the narrator of the story thinks she’s met the woman of her dreams only for their relationship to become a nightmare. Visceral and violent, the story doesn’t shy away from the horror of abuse and stalking, and it’s by no means an easy read. But it’s a sharp and moving piece all the same, showing the brutal and harsh reality of the relationship and the shattering way it all falls apart. Marriage, Family, Queer MC, Adoption. CW- Abuse/Torture, Violence/Blood, Death of a Spouse. [c5 t4]
- “Blessed” by George Daniel Lea (short story) - A strange way to close out the anthology, but a fitting one, as a nameless narrator brings a man on a kind of journey. Slick with sweat and the promise of sex, or something even more intimate. A kind of obliteration, but one that’s also a kind of transcendence. The piece carries chilling implications around a kind of ritual that promises a lot but that might be more than it seems. A fine read! Rituals, Clubs, Taxis, Queer MC. CW- Death/Murder, Blood/Torture. [c3 t4]
In some ways I wasn’t fully prepared for this anthology. The title made me thing that perhaps it would be a push back against the “bury your gays” trope that exists everywhere, especially in horror. But that’s not exactly the case, as a number of the stories do deal with queer characters being murdered. Rather, I think the project is a bit more about reclaiming queer horror in a way that doesn’t tokenize or marginalize the queer characters. That allows them to be gloriously and sometimes messily queer, but is still very much grounded in the traditions and possibilities of horror. Of grim stories that drip blood, that envelope with shadow. And it brings these queer perspectives and lives into the light. Digging them up not to present a “clean” look at queerness, but to show the decomposition and horror of what’s been done. What continues to be done. Queer horror as a kind of zombie digging itself up from the grave, ready to shuffle to its own beat. And it’s a great bunch of stories!
Strange Horizons 05/24/2021 (1 poem total)
- “The Bunny Man” by David Simmons (poem) - This is a creeping poem that takes on urban legends, child disappearances, and music, tying them together in a chilling and effective way. The touch is light, despite the rather blatant call to pay attention, the horror coming from the implications tied together in the piece, most of them referenced in footnotes. And it’s a great way to bringing this strange figure into a larger and more visceral scale, rendering something strange and horrifying on the fringes of this place, this city. A great read!
Just a poem in this latest issue of Strange Horizons (well, and a bunch of very good nonfiction I do recommend checking out). But it’s an intense and nicely horrifying poem, which is something! And it’s just another weird look into the SFF lurking all around us, connecting dots that create a grim and terrible picture indeed. Good stuff!
Anathema #12 (5 short stories, 1 poem total)
- “Before Whom Evil Trembles” by Nhamo (short story) - Told in the second person, this is a story of a ballerina whose mother was murdered, who became a dancer despite the racism plaguing the field, marking her as different and unwanted. The piece finds you in that place, come to New York for an opportunity you dreamed of, and finding instead the blooming power of the gods, a justice that will wait no longer. A wonderful read! Gods, Hotels, Ballerinas, Dancing. CW- Racism, Violence/Death/Murder. [c3 t4]
- “Cirque Mécanique” by Kel Coleman (short story) - A lonely story about a mechanical ringmaster and an automated circus playing a show a year...after the destruction of humanity. The piece is full of longing, full of a quiet and sad hope that’s a little heartbreaking even as the piece finds room for hope. Maybe not of a return of humans, but also maybe of something new and different. A great read! Circuses, AIs, Machines, Bugs. CW- Post-Apocalypse/Extinction. [c2 t3]
- “Witch is Another Word for Wild” by Donyae Coles (short story) - A visceral sotry about a woman, Sina, who takes great pains to keep her body hair hidden. Shaved. Knowing that she has to put on the appearance of perfect femininity. But her body gets to the point where it’s tired of being controlled, and Sina might just find that in her body’s hair there’s also a power, a magic that will set her free. A wonderful read! Hair, Phones, Pictures, Doppelgangers, Family. CW- Body Horror, Blood, Self Harm. [c3 t4]
- “Come to Me” by Aigner Loren Wilson (poem) - This is a strange but delightful piece that speaks to me of distance, of astrological time and space, a voice calling out to another, looking forward to a meeting that might be a destruction. That might be something rending and obliterating. But that might also be a kind of relief from the loneliness of space otherwise. Something more permanent than the brief passes of two celestial bodies in a vast sea. It’s a compelling read, and definitely a poem to spend some time with!
- “Lady Fortune” by Archita Mittra (short story) - A rather stark and difficult but ultimately beautiful story of resilience and strength. One that finds a fortune teller meeting someone she has a connection to, and a message for. The piece looks at the need to escape a dangerous situation, and see the lie that women in abusive situations need those abusing them. It reveals the true work and dynamic and value of those women, and put the importance on their survival and freedom. It’s not an easy read, but it is a great read! Fortune Telling, Tarot, Family, Carnivals. CW- Abuse. [c2 t4]
- “To Rise, Blown Open” by Jen Brown (short story) - This story finds the narrator, Kendra, a superhero who’s been removed from superheroing because of a trauma brought about by the villain who has no opened a hole into who-knows-where and is breaking the world doing it. The piece looks at healing, at trust, at love, at family. And it brings it all together in an intense, action-packed way that is thrilling and satisfying. It’s a powerful and poignant read and I highly recommend checking it out! Superheroes, Family, Queer MC, Poly Relationships, Alternate Realities. CW- Traumatic Injury, Death of a Parent, Violence. [c3 t3]
A wonderful first issue of 2021 for Anathema, bringing a number of stories and a poem, all of them sharp, all of them powerful. With perhaps a feel of performance running throughout. From the dance stage to the circus, from social media to a fortune teller, most of the characters are involved in various performances. Ways of presenting to the rest of the world. Or to themself. And it’s just a wonderful collection of speculative works, and stunning issue!
Clarkesworld #176 (6 short stories, 1 novelette total)
- “Best-Laid Plans” by David D. Levine (short story) - In this rather cute story, Dr. Yan is a scientist working in a space station using mice for experiments into learning and genetics. It’s pretty standard stuff, really, until a micrometeor hit means the station will have to be evacuated in a hurry unless someone can find and patch the hole. Which isn’t going well, and puts Dr. Yan in a place where all the station’s mice might be euthanized. Except, there’s a plan. A long shot. And it makes for a fun and thoroughly entertaining read! Mice, Space Stations, Neopronouns, Science!, Learning, Rewards. CW- Animal Experimentation/Death. [c2 t2]
- “A Home for Mrs. Biswas” by Amal Singh (short story) - A lovely story about life and luck, told across lives as humanity reaches out beyond Earth and to Mars. As characters meet and find ways to extend life, and circle memories of past lives, past loves that have remained strong connections. It’s a quiet piece even in its moments of tragedy and destruction, and I like the way it moves, weaving together a feeling of hope and adventure, of people looking back but also moving forward. A great read! Mars, Space, Extended Life, Relationships, Luck. CW- Death, Accidents. [c2 t3]
- “The Force Exerted on the Mass of a Body” by Bo Balder (short story) - A story about Sifan, woman on a higher gravity world overseeing the growth of trees that will help develop a new kind of rocket she designed. On that, however, might do a lot of damage to the universe, which it turns out might be sentient. Or...something like that. The piece is heavy both from the physical gravity and the weight of these discoveries, all circling around Sifan’s pride, stubbornness, and imagination. A great read! Gravity, Planets, Space Travel, Communication, Trees. [c1 t3]
- “Vanishing Point” by Robert V.S. Redick (novelette) - A stunning story of time and place, a family fleeing a war and finding loss, tragedy. More war. Carrying with them just a lens through which they can see the truth of things, the present and past and future unfolding. A dangerous power, and one that can’t necessarily help protect from more tragedy, more loss, more war. It’s a sweeping story that follows over fifty years of exile, diaspora, but that finds a peace and beauty through it all the same. Just a fantastic read! Travel, Lenses, Family, Queer MC. CW- War/Violence, Illness/Death of Parents, Infidelity, Drug Use, Suicidal Thoughts, Torture. [c4 t3]
- “Dancing with Ereshkigal” by Sameem Siddiqui (short story) - This story dances between planets, from the Moon to Earth to Mars. Finds the narrator speaking or writing the story to their spouse, Pyn, taking them through the life they’ve had had together. The beauty and the joy but also the ways that the narrator has felt trapped, controlled, unable to express. And finally, after certain things come to light, able to start moving again, to the steps a goddess taught them. It’s a story heavy at times from the weight of fear, but also freeing, shaking free extra gravity and embracing a lighter dance. A fine read! Planets, Low Gravity, Family, Queer MC, Marriage, Arts. CW- Infidelity, Pregnancy/Childbirth. [c2 t3]
- “Spore” by Tang Fei, translated by Andy Dudak (short story) - A story that looks at legacy, at the wounds left over from violence and how in some ways that violence can sublimate into cycles of trauma, reject, and hurt as families form and pass it on. The piece focuses on the child of a massacre’s survivor, a person unable to really get out of the shadow of their father’s hurt and desire for justice. Who embraces a kind of mercurial existence in a strange, almost haunting way. Deep and difficult at times, the story is still very much worth spending some time with! AIs, Tattoos, Nanoscience, Tourists, Family. CW- Massacres/Violence, Death of Family, Torture, Slavery. [c4 t4]
- “A Star for Every Word Unspoken” by Kai Hudson (short story) - A story of longing and loss as Na-Yeong struggles to process the loss of her mother, the one person who seemed capable of making the world around her less harsh. Likely autistic in a place where that’s not well understood or accommodated, Na-Yeong has found a purpose in seeking to undo her hurt, but in doing so she has definitely put herself in harms way, and is stuck in a loop, a series of jumps in an experimental craft she hopes might help her reclaim what was lost. Harrowing and powerfully done! Ships, Space, Autistic MC, Family, Science! CW- Loss of a Parent, Self Harm, Misogyny. [c3 t4]
A great issue from Clarkesworld, focusing perhaps on travel and family. Diaspora and the need to escape something traumatic and shattering. The works often involve disasters, sometimes contained, sometimes out of control and massive. And the characters caught in the wakes of those disasters, trying to hold to something, if only each other.
Lackington’s #23 [Battles] (6 short stories total)
- “A Sleepless Hunter’s Wanton Fruit” by dave ring (short story) - This story finds Rook, a warrior who has been preparing to fight the dreaming beast plaguing the area, saying goodbye to his companions and entering into the final stage of his journey. Or what he thinks is his final stage. The piece is grim and bloody, steeped in a feeling of classic fantasy tropes but also sexy, queer, and drawing down to a transformation begun when Rook doesn’t understand that he doesn’t have to do this alone. An intense and wonderful read! Beasts, Hunts, Battles, Queer MC, Transformations. CW- Violence/Blood/Death, Ritual Harm. [c4 t4]
- “The Partisans” by Kyle E. Miller (short story) - A story of a rivalry between a red and white wizard, and their diverging takes on the presence on their land of strange creatures. And as their opinions drift apart their friendship twists into violence. It’s a neat story highlighting the way that competition can poison systems, can leave lands barren and empty that were once beautiful and full of light. A fine read! Wizards, Debates, Fireworks, Competition. CW- Violence/Murder. [c3 t3]
- “The Last Stanza of General Pfeil” by H.L. Fullerton (short story) - A beautiful story about war and poetry, where the two are connected by magic and intent, where Pfeil is a now-retired general who fought in a bloody struggle and has tried to keep the peace since. But war is something that comes in circles, and she feels it might be creeping back, and she has to make her own kind of peace with the past and her part in it. Aching and raw and quiet and profound, it looks at legacy and art in some wonderful ways. A great read! Poetry, Museums, Vultures, Family, Arrows. CW- War/Violence/Death. [c3 t3]
- “Synesthesia” by Devin DeMarco (short story) - A tightly paced and action-packed story about teams of synesthesic...athletes, basically, who manipulate their various abilities to try and score points off the opposing team. It’s physical, it’s a little bit brutal, and it’s incredibly fun as the narrator can turn sounds into colors (and sometimes physical force) to try and help their team against some dirty players from Chicago. Just a fantastic read! Sports, Teams, Synethesia, Colors, Sounds. CW- Violence, Vomit. [c2 t3]
- “Nights of the Swollen Moon” by Cristina Osmeña (short story) - A hard turn from the last story as this one looks at the wounds of abuse, of rape, in a small island community where a woman, Carlita, arrives with the best of intentions, overcoming suspicion and doubt, only for her past to catch up with her. It’s a difficult read at times, grim despite Carlita’s resolve, revealing the ways that people can see injustice and enable it through their inaction. Definitely a piece to spend some time with! Islands, Houses, Carpets, Dogs. CW- Rape/Abuse, Imprisonment/Slavery. [c4 t4]
- “Sir Balin the Savage and Good Sir Balan” by Craig Hinds (short story) - A great take on the Balin/Balan story, viscerally told as the brothers move through their exile, pointed toward the cursed moment of dual fratricide. I love the feel of it, how it captured this strange, haunting situation, the nightmarish gravity of their actions, the final graceless brutality of their deaths. A stunning read! Knights, Arthurian, Brothers, Family, Kings, Swords. CW- Violence, Blood, Death of a Brother. [c4 t4]
The theme for this issue of Lackington’s is “battle” and these stories definitely explore the different ways people can battle. In duels and wars, in competitions and rivalries, in games and in relationships. The many different ways that people can fight, can rage, can seduce. People against beasts and against themselves. And all drawing down to conclusions that alternate between triumph and tragedy. Some great stories!
Works read this year to date: 554 stories, 163 poems (+34 stories, +2 poems)
Really not much in the way of poetry this week, huh? But a lot of fiction, so on balance I’m still up from where I was the last few weeks. And mostly still playing catch up with May. It’s still something of a frustration, dealing with months when there’s a lot of late releases, and wow May certainly fits that description. Despite working my reviewing ass off the entire month, I still have a really busy week ahead of me to finish up May so that I can start the June releases. Which…okay. There’s still a Mermaids Monthly, Fusion Fragment, and special trans issue of Strange Horizons. All of which I am very excited for, but with everything else I’m going to have to log some serious hours getting caught up. So it goes, though. This always seems to happen around the middle of the year. I’ll manage. Or we’ll see. This might be partly the amount of things I decided to add catching up with me coupled with trying to do things like the anthologies I want to cover.
In personal news, I’ve been doing some promo for the upcoming book releases. A few interviews that I am very excited to share. And just other things here and there. All while polishing up my poetry chapbook to go on submission and probably get rejected. But even then, I’ll have over ten new poems to shop around, so that’s definitely something! I am determined to crawl my way back into being more active publishing short SFF. This will be a great start.
In other media, I’ve finished watching Vera with husband (it’s wonderful and we love it) and we have restarted Death in Paradise, an incredibly frustrating show that still has a lot to recommend it. I rather wish they had just cut out the British dude and done something with an entirely local detective force, but of course that’s not what people want I guess. We’re nearing the end of the second season, though, so at least we get to enjoy the first detective getting murdered. Yay! Then the long slog through the second guy, though. We never got to the fourth guy the last time we watched, though, so I’m curious about that. With the longer seasons, though, it’ll likely be some time before we get to him. Anyway, that’s about it. Cheers!