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!
Mermaids Monthly #5 (4 short stories, 1 novelette, 1 graphic story, 2 poems total)
- “An Interview with the Mermaid on Display at the National Aquarium” by B. Sharise Moore (poem) - A piece that finds an interview talking to a mermaid, asking about her life, her capture, what she feels about the pretty home that’s been built for her. And while the interviewer listens, they find that their own heart shifts, and they find they can’t frame the mermaid’s captivity as anything but a wound. It’s a wonderful piece, and a great framing and structure for the poem, landing with that lingering anger and hope like a revolution kindling inside a heart. Great stuff!
- “Fisherman’s Soup” by Kristina Ten (short story) - A cute and heartwarming story where Po is just trying to cook one of her grandmother’s old soup recipes to bring to a potluck. Only, she’s not having an easy time of it, and it’s made worse by the interference and mockery of some rusalki. And yet in time Po sees that what she’s inherited with her grandmother’s recipes is larger than the words on paper, and the piece does a great job of bringing that home. A great read! Rusalka, Soup, Cooking, Family, Inheritance. CW- Death of a Grandparent, Violence. [c2 t3]
- “Walk on Water” by Yvette R. Murray (poem) - This piece speaks to me of reconnecting with a heritage that has been stretched and severed. But that hasn’t been entirely forgotten, that is perhaps waiting dormant in the blood, waiting to be awakened, empowered, revived. And I love the energy, the way the piece sort of works down and then comes back, returning richer than before. A wonderful read!
- “How to Bind a Sailor’s Heart” by Jelena Dunato (short story) - A piece that’s framed as advice given to a desperate person wanting a recipe for a way to pull their lover’s heart from the sea. Their lover, a sailor who has been entranced by a mermaid. The person giving the recipe, who acts as the narrator, has a complicated how-to, though, and a rather unique perspective on the endeavor, touching on their own past, their own brush with the sea and jealousy. A grim and bracing story, but one that acts as a fierce warning, full of haunting beauty! Mermaids, Sailors, Recipes, Pie, Seas. CW- Blood/Violence/Self Harm/Murder. [c3 t4]
- “Sirens of the South” by Gee Pascal (short story/flash) - This piece speaks of transformation and bargains, where the main character is a beggar woman who doesn’t have much to hold her to life, or to the shore. So when she sees a siren beckoning her to the sea, she doesn’t hesitate. It’s a short, freeing story, definitely worth checking out! Seas, Sirens, Transformations, Songs. CW- Poverty. [c2 t3]
- “The Donkey and the Mermaid” by Panchita Otaño (short story/flash) - Another very short story and a bit of a wicked setup for a punchline, where a mermaid tries to warn a series of mermen to beware a certain danger only for them to dismiss her out of misogyny and racism. Their loss, of course. It’s a fun and sharp read! Mermaids, Warnings, Seas, Sharks, Tourists. CW- Death. [c2 t2]
- “Fat Mermaid in: Wardrobe Malfunction!” by Marie Vibbert (text) and Grace Vibbert (art) (graphic story) - This is a really fun story that finds Bernice, the titular mermaid, in search of a new locally source shell bra after hers breaks. Helped by her friend, Niki, she goes in search of some new clams, but is somewhat thwarted by invasive species and the needs for conservation. A charming, fantastic piece!
- “The Incident at Veniaminov” by Mathilda Zeller (novelette) - A tense story about an island of mer people who have lived in relative isolation for a long time. But when a cruise ship parks nearby and a man approaches with a strange allure and a lot of promises, it means that isolation is over, and for Elisapie, caught in the middle of the clash between ship and community, it’s a wrenching, distubring moment. One that reveals the grim hungers of the people on the ship, and the need to take some extreme chances to fight back. Full of action, magic, and limned with shadows, the work is powerful and so good! Do check it out! Mer People, Islands, Family, Cruise Ships, Hunger. CW- Violence/Blood, Cannibalism. [c4 t3]
It’s a new issue of Mermaids Monthly and while it doesn’t have a definite theme, I’d say that food and hunger plays a role in a lot of the stories. Where people are tempted by food, or find identity through food, or seek to ensnare a heart through food. The works can get rather grim at times but they’re also fun and full of the joy and freedom of the wide sea, though it also includes the danger of the sea as well. An excellent issue!
Strange Horizons 05/31/2021 (3 short stories, 7 poems total)
- “The Chicken House” by Jenny Fried (short story) - A beautiful and haunting look at a young trans girl struggling with a curse, a memory, a weight that plagues her. The piece takes on the Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty fairy tale and twists it nicely, finding a house heavy with shadows, with dead birds and the smell of rot. It builds slowly but powerfully, ending in a shattering as well as a making whole. And it’s so worth spending time with. A wonderful read! Farms, Family, Trans MC, Birds, Thorns. CW- Self Harm, Blood. [c3 t4]
- “Women Want Me, Fish Fear Me” by Paris Green (short story) - A wonderfully messy story in a world where people seem to splice their genes with DNA from other animals. Where the narrator is part salmon, which doesn’t really have anything to do with being a sex worker except in the ways they play off one another. And really for me it’s a story about the longing to belong hitting up against the fears and insecurities and strange little quirks that might just be god making sure there’s something entertaining going on. A delightful read! Fish, Genetics, Sex work, Queer MC, Relationships. [c1 t3]
- “A Welling Up” by Natalia Theodoridou (short story) - Another rather haunting read as the narrator and their mother go in search of the narrator’s brother, who the mother abandoned in the past. The mother who is causing floods and forgetting. The narrator who doesn’t seem to know what to do with everything. There’s a feeling of approaching the deep drowned hurts of the past, of trying to understand parents, family, and finding instead a kind of flood, overwhelming and uncontrolled. A lovely and poignant read! Family, Lakes, Floods, Searches. CW- Abandoned Children. [c2 t4]
- “Themself” by Amari Low (poem) - This piece seems to speak to me of the ways that language and especially the language surrounding gender is policed and gatekept. The way that people teach words, denying people ways of expressing who they are out of fear, out of prejudice, couching those in “correct” lessons of linguistics and history as if they aren’t full of it. it’s a sharp and intimate piece, and well worth checking out!
- “I see you too” by Lu Christófaro (poem) - A poem that for me deals with the feeling of being recognized, truly seen, and the power and danger that comes with that. The power from being at once observed and accepted, validated, and the danger that comes from being different, othered, at risk. It’s a piece that moves through time, through place, through memory, and captures something raw and yearning and beautiful. A great read!
- “Do not say a boy’s body is a taboo” by Emmanuel Ojeikhodion (poem) - This piece follows a narrator who is being policed for his desire. For the fire that burns within him. But who is also able it seems to largely shrug off the concern his mother has for him. To recognize the fire in him as something that he doesn’t have to hate. That is just a part of him. And it’s a defiant and wonderful piece!
- “How to Adult” by Brooke Abbey (poem) - I really like the take I read here about adulthood, about the sort of proto-place its’s become. Defined by artifacts that don’t really mean much, and that don’t seem like a reward. Like adulthood is a carrot that no one wants but is still told to run toward, and I like how that all comes together, the doubt and anxiety if it’s being done “right.” The spell trying to be cast to...become an adult? And it’s a piece that speaks to me, and that I definitely recommend checking out!
- “Luna” by Alexander Te Pohe (poem) - This piece takes on the policing that can happen to people who are different. The ways that gets internalized, so that in the piece, Luna, winged and prejudiced against because of it, hides beneath clothes, trying not to be different. But they dream of flight, and when they find a place to try they also find the joy that they’ve always denied themself. A beautiful and moving poem!
- “the chrononaut” by M. Darusha Wehm (poem) - A strange little piece that skips through time with a steady if erratic rhythm and a great sense of empowerment and freedom. The narrator escaping the general rules of space time and having their own adventures, their own life, free from the constraints that might have otherwise found them. It’s a really fun and flowing piece, and a great read!
- “inherited battlefield” by Elliott Dunstan (poem) - A heartbreaking piece that traces a life lived in war, born into a place that isn’t safe, where just being is enough to be at risk. Being trans and wanting to be safe, wanting to walk away from the fighting, and just not being able to. Because families are fucked up. Because the world is fucked up. Because sometimes there’s no better option, no place the war hasn’t touched, or won’t follow. A powerfully rendered and fantastic poem!
The fifth Monday of May brings a Trans Special Issue to Strange Horizons, with three short stories, seven poems, and a bunch of nonfiction. I’m looking at the fiction and poetry, which cover a lot of ground and move from resilience to hope to pain to transformation. The works deal with people exploring their vulnerability, caught being policed, not being in control of their bodies or selves, and having to figure out how to live. It’s not simple, or easy, but it makes for a fantastic issue!
Fusion Fragment #6 (7 short stories total)
- “Gravel” by Steven Genise (short story) - A post apocalyptic story that finds the narrator haunted in some ways by a daughter they never had, a vestige of a life they never lived. Now living off the land, hunting goats, risking death from things that might have been relatively minor once. And the piece explores hope and change, damage and loss, and it’s a beautiful story and a great read! Goats, Family, Dreams, Stars, Water Non-binary/Queer Characters. [c2 t3]
- “The Women Who Didn’t Win Novels, and How World Trees Are Not a Substitute” by Octavia Cade (short story) - A deep and ultimately rather chilling story about history and about science. About a narrator that is visiting the Norns, or maybe becoming one of them, all the while contemplating taking a very aggressive approach to fighting back against climate change. It’s a wonderfully researched and imagined story, and the ending is sharp and powerful and very worth checking out! Science!, History, Mythology, Fate. CW- War/Genocide, Torture, Misogyny, Guns/Murder, Climate Change. [c4 t4]
- “The Cameraman Loves Her” by Fatima Taqvi (short story) - The expectations surrounding weddings and bride prices end up having a huge and devastating impact not just for the narrator of this story but for all of Pakistan and perhaps the world as water scarcity creates the opportunity for something new and terrible to emerge. Though, given how this problem came about, the terror has the potential to shift to something hopeful, even as the hope is grim and aimed more at a clean slate, a new beginning. A wrenching and wonderful read! Weddings, Algea, Family, Gifts, Photographs. CW- Misogyny, Illnesses/Infections. [c3 t4]
- “Home, and Hollywood” by Katy Madgwick (short story) - A story of a difficult journey that Delilah takes following nuclear war, travelling across the country pregnant while losing almost everything. And finding something in Canada that she didn’t expect. A chance to belong. A chance to heal. Though there are some things, some hurts, that never really go away. A difficult but powerful story of resilience and love. Travel, Motorcycles, Family, Hollywood. CW- Nuclear War, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Sickness/Death. [c4 t4]
- “The Orbital Room” by Eileen Gunnell Lee and Christi Nogle (short story) - Told as a series of letters between an astronaut on a mission to trace the origins of life on Earth and her mother, who is recovering from a kind of dementia thanks to a new experimental treatment. The letters find the two kind of reversing roles as the mission in space finds a number of complications. A careful, messy, and great read! Space, Memories, Family, Bacteria, Letters. CW- Abuse, Dementia, Sickness/Illness, Infidelity. [c4 t4]
- “Babies Come From Earth” by Louis Evans (short story) - A strange and rather difficult story about colonization on a distant world and the ways that it’s complicated birth, where people can’t really have children there but still are made to try to further the science. Despite the trauma, despite everything. It’s a bit of a harrowing read, one that doesn’t flinch from the kind of desperation that finds these people living far from Earth, tethered by this limitation on human bodies. A fine read! Space, Colonization, Family, Travel. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Miscarriage/Surgery/Drugs. [c4 t4]
- “How the Carrion Crew Stopped Courting Death, and Other Methods of Lost Hope” by Jordan Kurella (short story) - Another wonderfully messy story featuring a generation ship and a family at the center of a great many lives. And a narrator hungry for something, chasing after shadows, after a heat they’ve never really known. The piece finds the careful balance of the ship shattered, and the twisted web of hurt that comes unravelling, that might leave ruin in its wake...or might reveal a kernal of hope yet undiscovered. A nice way to close out the issue! Space, Generation Ships, Sewing, Family, Queer MC. CW- Death of a Parent, Murder, Corpses. [c3 t4]
It’s a rather heavy issue of Fusion Fragment, where the seven stories all seem to spring out of destruction and loss. Earth becoming a place where people can’t live. Through climate change or nuclear war or something else not revealed, the works all look at characters losing a home, losing a family, having to find new ones and new hope in a harsh and unforgiving environment. Some great SFF!
Lightspeed #133 (3 short stories, 1 novelette total)
- “Different People” by Timothy Mudie (short story) - A man finds a woman at his door who, in a different universe, was his husband. And it starts a cycle of destruction, of people missing each other, that resounds with the death rattle of reality. Or a reality. The piece is yearning, lonely, and leaves just the barest room for hope in the cycles of loss and betrayal. Alternate Realities, Marriage, Travel, Science! CW- Apocalypses, Infidelity. [c2 t4]
- “Do Nothing” by Endria Isa Richardson (short story) - A complex and strange story about a doomed Earth and the decision needing to be made whether or not to accept alien help to shrug off corporeal existence to live as energy in a larger collective. For the narrator, it’s a question informed by what people will bring with them, what they’ll choose to carry away from the planet. And it’s a wrenching look at freedom and all it means, cages, memory, and possibility. And it’s a great read! Aliens, Decisions, Protests, Bodies. CW- Prisons, Violence, Guns. [c3 t3]
- “When You Die on the Radio” by Adam R. Shannon (short story) - A beautiful and wrenching story about a firefighter lost in the line of duty and his friend and officer who is rather desperate to save him. Save him, because she’s approached with the means of doing so, though it will mean losing something herself. The piece is carefully and powerfully done, the solution, such as it is, not a cheat so much as a bargain, a making peace with the past, present, and future. A great read! Firefighters, Radios, Transportation, Alternate Realities, Time Travel. CW- Death/Death by Fire. [c3 t3]
A strong issue featuring a strong connective tissue of alternate realities, of doomed situations. Of people having to see something happen and being somewhat powerless to prevent tragedy, but finding others ways to be empowered. The works are at turns stark and heavy with longing, with moments of beauty tucked into grief and loss. A fine issue!
Nightmare #105 (4 short stories total)
- “Empty Houses” by Caspian Gray (short story) - A creeping story about a couple moving into a new house that has a lot of mirrors. And the narrator sees things in the mirrors. Small things but wrong things as she tries to stay positive and imagine a house full of her friends, even as time moves on and her dreams seem in danger of washing out into standard domestic coupleness. The piece is deep and sharp, about the way hope can flounder and be devoured, how houses aren’t always the freedoms they’re billed as. A great read! Houses, Mirrors, Queer Characters, Relationships, Friends. CW- Drug Use. [c2 t4]
- “Let Me Be Clear” by E.K. Wagner (short story/flash) - This piece is more creative nonfiction than short story, but whatever the case it’s a moving look at intrusive thoughts, at hypervigilance, at the weight a person has to carry because of that, haunted by the things they haven’t done, don’t want to do. It’s a powerful and fantastic read! Churches, Groceries, Mental Health, Twitter. CW- Intrusive Thoughts. [c3 t3]
- “Cake Between the Teeth” by Steph Kwiatkowski (2158 words) - A strange piece about a person working alone at a hotel at night when a woman brings in a man she found by the side of the road. An innocent enough beginning, for all things quickly slip into a grim sort of nightmare. One that the narrator has to face, in all its chilling weight, when she goes to check in on the woman during the night. Tense and sharp and a fine read! Hotels, Baths, Hair, Cocoa, Television. CW- Death/Assault. [c3 t4]
- “See with Your Eyes, Not with Your Hands” by Monte Lin (short story/flash) - This piece closes the issue on a bit of body horror as the narrator deals with an...unsettling skin condition where eye’s erupt from the skin on his finger. It’s complicated by familial pressure, racism from his friends, and the general terribleness of growing up, and the whole thing is understated but deep in its implications and sharp in its conclusion. A wonderful read!
This issue of Nightmare Magazine keeps this all fiction (with a bit of creative nonfiction perhaps), as the stories feature people caught in quiet horror. Situations that aren’t all about the loud killers pounding on the door. Aren’t about monsters or even ghosts, really. But more about hungers, about hidden rot, and about people dealing with the shadows cast over their lives. Some great horror works!
Fantasy #68 (4 short stories, 2 poems)
- “Dos Coyotes” by Catherine J. Cole (short story/flash) - A story of guilt, violence, and were-coyotes. Brief but with enough world building and character focus to capture an interesting and compelling snapshot that leaves me wanting to know more about the adventures these two might have. It’s the start of something raw and messy, but I am definitely here for it. A great read! Shifters, Coyotes, Prayer, Transformations. CW- Violence/Murder, Guns, Disease/Transmission, Abuse. [c3 t3]
- “Your Ticket to Hell” by Rajan Khanna (short story) - Told in the second person, this story visits Hell as the narrator walks through the long and torturous process of punishment, all the while slowly remembering what you did to end up there. The reveal is slow and earned, and complicates the idea of Hell as Divine Punishment by looking at the ways that some people might punch their own ticket to eternal damnation. A fine read! Afterlife, Family, Boats, Tickets. CW- Torture, Hell, Cancer, Death of a Parent. [c3 t4]
- “The Port of Le Havre, NIght Effect, 1873” by Christine Tyler (short story/flash) - This piece finds a narrator struggling with a decision. To stay or to go, and the implications of that stretch wide and sink grimly into the idea of captivity, freedom, and belonging. For me, the piece looks at imperfection and longing, the narrator not a mermaid, not a selkie, but also out of phase in some way with the rest of the world. Never home. And it makes for a poignant and moving read! Selkies, Mermaids, Seas, Stories, Decisions. [c1 t3]
- “A Gift from the Queen of Faerie to the King of Hell” by Cara Masten DiGirolamo (short story) - A wonderful story that find Mav the narrator, falling into an orbit with Luc. The two meet because of their tattoos, but are drawn to each other for more than that, and the piece is a wonderful exploration of identity as the two deal with the chains that bind them in a city where the Faerie and Hell are actual forces to be considered. A beautiful and powerful read! Parties, Tattoos, Queer MC, Faeries, Hell. CW- Self Harm/Suicide, Slavery.
- “Echidna” by Donyae Coles (poem) - A wrenching look at the myth of monsters and the mother of them all. A mother with choices to make, none of them good, but still needing to, even knowing the tragedy coming. It’s a wonderful complication of myth and legend, and a rather heartbreaking and familiar look at a motherhood informed by the intolerance and violence of others. A fantastic read!
- “Magic Carpet” by Colleen Anderson (poem) - The issue closes on perhaps a light note with a poem that defies gravity a bit and warns people about the dangers of cleaning magic carpets improperly. It’s a fun piece, with a kind of whimsy balanced with an edge of danger and mischief. A wonderful way to close things out!
The latest issue of Fantasy is something of a grim one, with a concentration on dire choices, punishments, and hells. But through that there appears at times a hope of community, of togetherness, that breaks through the despair and leads back toward something healing and good. Not for everyone perhaps, but for some. And there’s a lot to like in the fiction and poetry!
Escape Pod #786 (1 short story total)
- “The Steel Magnolia Metaphor” by Jennifer Lee Rossman (short story) - A beautiful story about an autistic child dealing with her mother’s cancer and, more broadly, with the ways the world refuses to make literal sense at times. The ways that metaphors work and don’t. And the power of respect and love. I just love the dynamic between the characters, and how Astrid, the child, copes with what’s happening around her and within her. Just a wonderful read! Robots, Insects, Autistic MC, Family, Metaphors. CW- Cancer, Death of a Parent, Blood. [c3 t3]
*Sniff* Okay so this is one that might make you tear up a bit if you’re like me. The latest Escape Pod is an emotionally powerful and sharp piece, all about love and what that can look like. It’s careful and it’s poignant and fuck it is good. Go read it!
Cast of Wonders #453 (short story)
- “Langsuir” by Nadia Mikail (short story) - This piece finds an owl possessed by the vengeful dead, a langsuir, a woman who dies in childbirth and searches for her lost child, killing nearby infants in the body of the owl. It’s a monster story except that it’s not. Rather, it’s a story about anger, about hurt, about loneliness and finding a way to break through that loneliness. And in breaking that, also breaking something else, something more profound. It’s a grim but freeing story, and definitely worth checking out! Monsters, Owls, Souls, Curses. CW- Possession, Death, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Slavery. [c4 t4]
A moving story about ghost stories and the complicated truths behind them. The way they wrap around harms, injustices. Angers that exist for a good reason. The piece manages to be very grim but also lifting, working toward healing and freedom rather than despair. A great episode/issue!
Cast of Wonders #454 (1 short story total)
- “The Fairy Queen” by Lynn Buchanan (short story) - A heartbreaking but beautiful story about loneliness and Mab, the queen of the fairies, trying to cut through the loneliness inside her. The piece is magical, building up Mab’s world of a large, impoverished family and the escape she finds in crafting fairies. Fairies that are real, for all they (and she) are ignored despite escalating cries for attention. The piece rings with tragedy, a loneliness that becomes a kind of hunger, and one that, one unleashed on the world, isn’t about to go quietly. A shattering and fantastic read! Family, Dolls, Faeries, Creation. CW- Poverty, Neglect. [c3 t4]
This episode/issue things a kind of creepy horror to the mix, as a young girl faces a family and life where she’s overlooked. Ignored. Where she has to make her own fun, which she does, but as she does the magic of that takes on an edge, and one that might sever an awful lot. The piece is subtle, building, and grim, and definitely worth spending some time with!
Works read this year to date: 587 stories, 172 poems (+33 stories, +9 poems)
So like I said up top, it was a busy week of reading and reviewing. A decent amount of poetry, thanks mainly to the trans special issue of Strange Horizons. And a decent amount of fiction, as well. I’m still making up my mind on whether or not there are any bigger trends within SFF as the year sort of settles down. Except that, of course, the year isn’t really settling down. That might be because of the State of Things, where media runs off constant crisis, but the sense of relief I’m sure a lot of people were hoping for…doesn’t seem to have hit. Maybe it will as the year turns if COVID vaccine distribution actually reaches a widespread state, if outbreaks stop happening, if on a global scale we are able to be seeing an end to it. If there weren’t also the constant shadow of fascism. But…well, in the fiction it’s meant largely a focus on more grim themes and situations, even at publications that tend to lean more hopeful and fun. Not a complaint, but certainly there an observation. The world is grim, and it’s reflected in how we frame the past, present, and future. Bee haw.
In other me news, I am having all the interviews. The first of them, with the amazing A.C. Wise, is up now and I really love all the questions I was asked. I’ve been a fan of A.C.’s since before I did Quick Sip Reviews and a fan of her writing since forever so it’s a huge honor and bonus points she asks me about SO MUCH. From my collection and We’re Here to Liver Beware!, employment, and even Garak! So yeah, do check that out. I’ll have another interview out next week, too, I think, so definitely staying busy.
In media, not too much to report. Watching Death in Paradise still with husband. I have started playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses, though, which is pretty awesome so far. I suck at writing at the moment, or else I’d be writing fic about it because everyone is so pretty and queer. Really enjoying things so far. I also got a new card game for my birthday, Marvel Vs, and busted it out to play a game against myself (Guardians of the Galaxy Vs. X-Men). It’s a lot different than the original Vs, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. In some ways it takes longer to play, and I’m intrigued by it, really. Can’t wait to get more into it. Indeed! That’s about it, though. Stay awesome and cheers!