Friday, June 25, 2021

Quick Sips 06/25/2021

So this is technically my last review post for this year’s June, and so I’m about halfway through the year. As such, please, if you haven’t already taken this survey about Quick Sip Reviews, please do. It would help me out immeasurably. Otherwise, I’m catching up a bit on Beneath Ceaseless Skies after kinda missing an issue, and moving through the big issue of Shoreline of Infinity, the quarterly Future Science Fiction Digest, the June Fireside Magazine, and some weekly content from Strange Horizons and the Escape Artists. Pretty standard as weeks go.

But now that I’m halfway through 2021 (kinda sorta) I can look at my number a bit closer. Right now I’m sitting at 581 short stories, 51 novelettes, 8 novellas, and 181 poems I’ve covered (minus a few whose reviews I didn’t publish because I didn’t want to). That makes 821 on the year so far, which means if I maintain this pace I’ll hit…over 1600?! Shit. Well, I mean, I know I’m reading more. Still, that’s a lot. Over the life of QSR that means I’ve covered 5005 stories, 1061 poems, and 126 nonfiction works, for a total of 6192. Another big number. Never let anyone say it can’t be done, thoughtfully and relentlessly, for years. Not that it’s easy, but I’m okay with being walking, talking proof that it’s not impossible. Let that be only more clear the longer I do this.

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!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #331 (1 short story, 1 novelette total)
  • “The Woods Echo Back” by Tania Fordwalker (short story) - Shon is a young boy whose mother has just died, and who finds himself now in the silence of her passing, in the presence of a father who doesn’t really see him. A father desperate for a big break that suddenly appears in the shape of a fantastic beast who falls into one of his traps. That locks Shon into an injustice, but also give him a chance to take at least one good thing away from it. If he can stop his father from layering the tragedies and griefs. A story of longing and love, and a great read! Trapping, Forests, Pets, Music, School, Family. CW- Death of a Parent, Violence to Animals, Abuse, Blood. [c4 t4]
  • “Worth the Whistling” by Adriana C. Grigore (novelette) - A story heavy with the loss of life buried in shallow graves in a kind of magical space where the trees whistle. Where Agneta has been living her entire life, learning to carve the bones of those left in the woods, to reclaim them from the hell they’ve been damned to. Until she witnesses a fresh injustice, and meets a boy in need of assistance. The piece is quiet but tense, sharp and beautiful, looking at the weight people carry, what they choose to carry, and what they can eventually put down. A wonderful read! Bones, Carving, Forests, Whistling, Rituals, Trans Characters. CW- Murder, Abuse, Violence/Blood. [c4 t4]
It’s a fairly heavy issue at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with two stories that deal with family and with forests, and with different songs and silences. Both find characters who are struggling under the weight of their surroundings, the violence and cruelty of others, and how it makes them vulnerable, and how they seek to rise above it. But in both cases, passive resistance doesn’t end up being enough, and they show what happens when that gives way to something more active and freeing. A fantastic issue!

Shoreline of Infinity #23 (12 short stories, 6 poems total)
  • “The Spectral Horde of Jen” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (short story) - The narrator of this story meets a woman, Jen, who seems to haunt her. They have sex and then Jen disappears but the impression of her remains, and the narrator finds herself plagued by rubber duckies and the need to go out and try and rescue birds, reduce garbage pollution. And the piece looks at conservation and drive, the narrator struggling with the routine of her working life and the passion that Jen’s touch evokes. A wonderful read! Birds, Rubber Duckies, Trash, Dreams, Queer MC. CW- Pollution, Injury to Animals/Blood. [c2 t3]
  • “Starship Cybus” by Davd F. Shultz (short story) - A story of a spaceship, perhaps a generation ship, and the strange and maybe even sinister rules aboard. Where “shift changes” mean some people have to move. To where, or why, no one knows. Not even the main character, Shylah, a security officer who needs to help a friend relocate for a shift change. There’s a nice touch of uncertainty and dystopia in the piece, a mystery that isn’t answered but teased at, and I’d definitely read more. A fine read! Ships, Space, Family, Security, Movement. CW- Violence, ACAB. [c3 t4]
  • “Universal Friendship” by Michael F Russell (short story) - A story of cycles, as an AI ship departs Earth for a deep space mission and stops getting updates. As they find an inhabited planet out there to make first contact with. As the people on that planet are going through their own escalations of war, money, and corruption. As all of those things seem to be in a deadly, doomed dance, that might well damn them all. A nicely built and interesting read! Space, Ships, AIs, Communications, First Contact. CW- War, Corruption. [c2 t4]
  • “The Deadly Art of Laughter” by Michael Teasdale (short story) - A rather charming story about an attempt by aliens to use humanity’s greatest weapon against them--humor. Of course, the aliens might not...quite have a knack for it. But that doesn’t stop the story from being rather hilarious, as humor, even in the hands of newcomers to it, can be a powerful force indeed. A delightful read! Aliens, Comedy, Puns, Weapons. CW- Gore. [c2 t2]
  • “The Ghosts of Trees” by Fiona Moore (short story) - A story about damage as the narrator works on a project to terraform Mars even as they deal with the ending of a longterm relationship and finding that their test site might be haunted by some...ghost trees. The piece is weird but poignant, complicating the human push outward rather than facing what’s already there. And taking a stand against spreading a destructive cycle and mistaking it for sustainability. A great read! Mars, Terraforming, Trees, Ghosts, Relationships. CW- Nuclear Bombs. [c2 t3]
  • “The Cuddle Stop” by Laura Watts (short story) - A short and sensual story about, well, about sensation and space travel. About a narrator dealing with being alone so long and coming to a port, a rest area, where they can touch and be touched. Where they can be real, and can feel, and where they are reminded of why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s an interesting and intense read, quiet but full of barely contained emotions, and it’s a fine read! Space, Ships, Sensation, Cuddling, Isolation. [c1 t3]
  • “Cyber-squatters of 2021: A Thrilling Vision of the 21st Century!” by Ken MacLeod (short story/flash) - A very brief and rather cute story about the future of coffee, with a little bit of a jab at the way science fiction writers aim to “update” slang and terms in their works to make them seem more “future-y.” And in that it’s rather delightful, and I do like that it’s’ available in coffee mug form. Indeed! Coffee, Names, Futures, Trademarks. [c1 t1]
  • “Crossed Paws” by Marc A. Criley (short story) - An emotionally difficult story about a narrator trying to save something from their dog, Maisie, who is dying from cancer. An artificial dog offers some hope of maybe uploading her consciousness into a new body, but it’s something that’s already failed twice. Will the third time be the charm? The piece is heavy with tired grief, and beautifully done! Dogs, AI, Pets, Uploaded Consciousnesses, Nannites. CW- Cancer, Death of a Pet. [c3 t3]
  • “The Carry Oot” by Jeff Hunter (short story/flash) - Another short and fun story, this one featuring a thief, a kinda glitchy ship, and sixty million cans of Scottish soda. The piece is quick, with a rather charming and roguish tone and a punchline well worth a laugh. After the last story, it’s a much needed smile, short and sweet and quite good! Soda, Ships, AI, Pies, Transport. [c1 t1]
  • “Boy or Girl?” by Haruka Mugihara, translated by Toshiya Kamei (short story) - A strange story about O, living in a sort of virtual world ey control, being presented with a kind of hypothetical that might allow them a euphoria...or a death by exposure to heteros. And I love the way the story takes that, O going through all of these mental gymnastics trying to keep eir world affirming, and ultimately coming to a place where ey knows exactly how to do that, which isn’t at all what you might expect. A wonderful read! Gender, Virtual Reality, Thought Experiments, Relationships, Images, Non-binary MC, Neopronouns. CW- Heterosexuals (mentioned). [c2 t2]
  • “The Light By Which a Dying Warrior is Welcomed into Heaven” by Gary Gibson (short story/flash) - Another very short piece, this one focusing on an AI executioner ship and the target they’ve been sent to, well...execute. Only things don’t really go to plan. It’s a sharp and punchy piece about plans and pre-emptive strikes, and in that there’s some stuff that likely could have been fleshed out and complicated, but for what it is it’s quick and fun. Ships, Space, War, AIs. CW- Capital Punishment. [c2 t3]
  • “The Microwave Library” by David Tam McDonald (short story) - A moving little story of a world transformed by a kind of constant virus, and a little library that the main character, Olivia, wants to visit, to finally know what a book smells like. It’s a sharp piece, capturing the ways that fear changes people, and how easily things slip into a kind of dystopic state. Full of small, keen touches and with a powerful and joyous finish. Books, Libraries, Microwaves, Family, Neighbors. CW- Viruses, Pandemics. [c2 t2]
  • “Red Sonnet” by MJ Brocklebank (poem) - A strange piece that speaks to me of past and future meeting. A future where life is discovered on Mars, a past where it seemed inevitable, and an intervening time where it became something of a foolish wish. Repressed. Naive. And I love the way it’s captured, the longing and the magic, the nostalgia and the futurism. A wonderful read!
  • “Blue Sonnet” by MJ Brocklebank (poem) - A piece that to me speaks to the kind of push and pull between the feeling of agency and power and affirmation that comes with indulging in buying things that fit who you are and the material cost those things have on the planet. The weight in pollution, in waste. That doesn’t erase the need to be yourself, but that does require a certain amount of restraint. An interesting read and definitely worth spending some time with!
  • “It Wakes: the Madness of Whales” by Peter J. King (poem) - An interesting twist on the Cthulhu idea, here where it’s not focused on the “madness” of humans, but of the creatures that would probably notice such a rise first. Recognizing both the importance and dignity of whales but also the way that scale can be truly perspective shifting and mentally shattering, for the largest animals on Earth to be destroyed by seeing something so much larger. A fine read!
  • “Children of the Night II. Birth” by Peter J. King (poem) - A piece that seems to follow a transformation. A narrator changed by the exposure to something alien, made different and stronger and able to provide some defence of Earth, even if it means being something not wholly human. It’s a kind of creepy piece, for all that it remains resilient and empowered, and I like the way it straddles genres and worlds. A great read!
  • “hull breach” by Sadie Maskery (poem) - An intense piece that for me captures the kind of wild terror mixing with...something else that happens when things go terribly wrong. When a disaster happens and sometimes there’s no filter for the strange beauty of it, even as it’s terrifying and imminent and about to kill you. A beautiful and breathless read!
  • “Alien” by Sadie Maskery (poem) - This piece looks at the shattering of a kind of collective illusion. One where we can see the people around us as fellow humans and not the kinds of monsters they might reveal themselves to be. Selfish. Hateful. Dangerous. And the kind of helplessness that comes realizing that there are so many like that, and not much to be done about it. A sharp way to close out the issue!
So there’s a lot to get to in this issue, though I’m skipping the two stories I’ve already read and reviewed, as well as the excerpt from the graphic novel and creative nonfiction (though I do recommend checking it all out). By virtue of the issue’s bigness, though, it’s a bit difficult to pull apart common themes. Rather, the issues balances a wide range of tones, subjects, and perspectives, and does so with care and humor both. A great issue!

Future Science Fiction Digest #11 (4 short stories, 1 novelette total)
  • “Knights of the Phantom Realm” by Wanxiang Fengnian, translated by Nathan Faries (novelette) - A story about a young boy who finds the world as he knows it isn’t as he knows it, and from one revelation the laws of physics, the laws of everything, are shattered. And he has to make the decision to follow his curiosity, and a helpful cat guide, Snowball, on a perilous journey that might only confirm that humanity has lost its hold on the Earth. Or might offer a kind of hope that no desolation can snuff out. It’s a wonderful read! Cats, Guides, Cities, Phantoms, Illusions. CW- Post Disaster, Child in Peril. [c2 t3]
  • “The Jellyfish” by K.A. Teryna, translated by Alex Shvartsman (short story) - A story of a woman caught in a kind of virtual reality social media nightmare, where people needs likes to survive, and where catching a fabled jellyfish means a windfall. For Kalinka, that windfall is all that’s standing between her and becoming a number, one of the lost in the Socium. But when a jellyfish finds her, it threatens to awaken something more than her stagnant likes. I love the take on despair, and the soft and persistent romantic elements, though it’s still a grim and fairly sad story. But also a great read! Social Media, Contracts, Jellyfish, Sensations, Karma. CW- Slavery, Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t4]
  • “Artificial Zen at the End of the World” by Gunnar De Winter (short story) - A story of a robot and the end of the world. Philosophical and quiet, the piece finds this robot discovering purpose on a planet devoid of humanity. Or so it seemed at first. And I like the way the story moves in cycles but not necessarily in circles, finding ways to revolve forward, ushering in something new and beautiful. A lovely read! Robots, Philosophy, Stories, Reclamation, Seeds. CW- Apocalypses, Contamination/Pollution. [c3 t3]
  • “Unredacted Reports from 1546” by Leah Cypess (short story) - A young woman has gone back in time to research a poet she found affirming, subversive, especially for living in the 16th Century. But when she arrives there, the study gets complicated, and the assumptions of the narrator get shattered. Framed as a series of letters from the woman to her academic supervisor and mentor, the piece seems to find in the past something affirming to take forward, even if it’s not the contemporary affirmation that the narrator was expecting. Even so, it offers her a way to say things she otherwise couldn’t, and make a move she otherwise wouldn’t have. An interesting read! Time Travel, Poetry, Schools, Research, Nuns. CW- Misogyny, Assault. [c3 t3]
  • “Follow” by T. R. Siebert (short story) - Following an experimental procedure with nanobots, Anna is caught in a kind of chase with her love, Neda. Trying to catch up to the woman across space, trying to stop her as she visits world after world and the nature of their nanobots...changes things. The piece is heavy with grief and longing, with Anna trapped by the mistakes of the past, trapped by her desire for Neda, trapped by the tragedy they’ve authored. It’s deep and moving and definitely worth checking out! Space, Ships, Ghosts, Nanobots, Queer MC, Science! CW- Death/Extinction. [c3 t4]
The latest from Future Science Fiction Digest brings five stories from all over the globe, including three new translated stories. The works cover a lot of ground, from virtual reality to altered reality, from deep space to the Renaissance past. The works can be at times happy, at times full of a sad longing, but they’re all interesting, and the issue is well worth spending some time with!

Fireside Magazine #92 (5 short stories total)
  • “Gender Reveal Box, $16.95” by John Wiswell (short story) - A sort of creeping story subverting the idea of a gender reveal party. Revealing instead the ways that gender isn’t something to be assigned through a cake or even an explosion. It’s a neat twist on the idea, a commercial way of rejecting the urge behind gender reveals of the forest-fire-starting variety and finding something more meaningful and true. A great read! Products, Boxes, Food, Gender, Memories. CW- Death/Gender Essentialism (mentioned) [c2 t3]
  • “The Middening” by Allyson Shaw (short story) - A heavy story about a pair of girls growing up near the sea, sneaking off together, surrounded by a shadow, a power, a myth that they stoke in part to escape the seemingly bleak trajectory of their lives. And then something happens, and their lives are changed, but not necessarily for the better. The piece is grim and captures well the kind of disillusioned yearning that can come with being on the cusp of entering the “adult” world. It’s defiant and tragic all at once, magical and shattering and a wonderful read! Pools, Cliffs, Water, Friends, Horses, Monsters. CW- Drowning, Assault. [c3 t4]
  • “Papa’s Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird” by Julian Stuart (short story) - A story of a virtual sex worker being contacted by an ex about a rather urgent problem--one that the narrator, Druzy, knows more about than they want to admit. The piece is messy with the shrapnel left over from the characters’ breakup, and complicated by the dystopian world they contend with, choosing how to sell themselves but always in debt. And now working together to try and reclaim one small thing, to save a life. And I love the weight and impact of it, the ending that offers something like hope even as it promises nothing but further hardship. An amazing read! Employment, Virtual Reality, Computer Chips, Advertisements, Trans Characters. CW- Surgery/Blood, Aggressive Capitalism. [c4 t4]
  • “As I Wait for the Killing Blow” by M. Shaw (short story) - In the world of the story, grandparents transform into Ancestors when their grandchildren are born (or, at least, that’s when the transformation begins), so that when those grandchildren turn seventeen they go out to hunt the monster their grandparent became. It’s a strange and grim ritual, but not one that the narrator is avoiding. Indeed, there’s a power and a beauty there, and a defiance for those who can find it, and I love the mood and the world building, the focus on family, growth, and transformation. A wonderful read! Family, Transformations, Birds, Feathers, Traditions. CW- Death of a Grandparent/Spouse, Injury/Murder, Body transformations. [c4 t4]
  • “How to Haunt Your Local Forest” by Kate Lechler (short story) - A wrenching story about a narrator who comes face to face with something ugly and transforming when their dog is shot by a hunter. The piece follows the magic they turn to and the grim consequences, though it also finds a kind of empowerment in that transformation, in the way the narrator doesn’t turn away from what happened, but faces it as best they can. It’s a difficult read at times but also a beautiful one, filled with defiance and anger but also love. A great way to close out the issue! Dogs, Forests, Magic, Curses, Sound. CW- Violence to an Animal, Hunting/Guns, Corruption/ACAB. [c4 t4]
A wonderful issue of Fireside Magazine, which recently announced some further restructuring plans and editorial changes coming. The stories themselves are often rather grim, but show a strong connection to affirming identities and empowering people to push back against the corruption and violence surrounding them. It’s an issue with some stellar character work, memorable settings, and haunting finish. Definitely check it out!

Strange Horizons 06/14/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Scoria” by Liza Wemakor (short story) - A story of exile where Scoria has been kicked out of the city only to find a community and belonging outside of it, in the company of people she meets in the place of her exile. And in that place, cut off from the technology of the city, she finds the perspective and the peace to finally allow her art to bloom, for her voice to be heard. It’s a beautiful and tender story, one that weaves myth and meta fiction into a statement on art, gatekeeping, and joy. So good! Plays, Shadows, Exile, Cities, Forests, Queer Characters. CW- Drug Use, Corruption. [c2 t2]
  • “Supergirl’s Last Will and Testament” by Leslie J. Anderson (poem) - This piece speaks to me of loss, of power. It’s framing is laid out in the title, and I love the kind of commentary that gives what follows. How it sets up the narrator taking control of the framing of her own death, at least so far as she recognizes how fragile Superman might be about this and is effectively shielding him from the power of the loss of her. She’s telling him essentially to make peace however he can, but that it’s done. It doesn’t change what she did or how she died but he can’t be broken by it, because of who he is, because of what he needs to do and be. It’s an interesting and complex poem, and definitely one to spend some time with!
A fabulous issue that speaks of exile, where in both works someone who has lost the home they’ve known deals with finding another one. One that they would die for...or live for. It’s a nice one-two punch from the publication, and a great read!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #332 (2 short stories total)
  • “A Flower Cannot Love a Hand” by Aimee Ogden (short story) - An at times visceral and difficult piece that follows a being created from flowers and gifted as wife to a brutal man. The story is about the need for freedom and the question of the soul, where the narrator wants desperately to know the order of things, wants to know how to escape their torment, and finds through time and experience (and pain, yes) the answers to their questions. A gutting but powerful read, uncomfortable and grim but very much worth checking out! Castles, Marriage, Flowers, Mages, Transformations. CW- Abuse, Rape, Death, Prisons. [c4 t4]
  • “My Mirror, My Opposite” by Y.M. Pang (short story) - A beautiful story that takes a new twist on the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid. That focuses here on a prince who always wanted the sea. Who is confronted by a young woman who gives up the one thing he always wanted. I do love the way the story complicates the older tale, and how it weaves a much more complicated and compassionate picture of the prince. It’s a fun piece, though grim, and the ending is a lovely mix of happily ever after even as that was never really an option in this situation. An excellent read! Mermaids, Seas, Transformations, Family, Bargains. CW- Abuse/Violence/Beatings/Whips, Blood/Knives. [c4 t3]
A great pair of stories that focus on transformations. On people who are born into situations that don’t really suit them, but that they can’t easily escape from. Where they face abuse and cruelty and end up a little cruel themselves as a result, in their push to be truly free, even if that’s a thing they can’t ever fully embrace, only get closer to by degress. A great issue!

Cast of Wonders #456 (1 short story total)
  • “Armed With Such Stories, I Roamed Into The Woods” by Evan Marcroft (short story) - A grim and rather creeping story about a boy, Atticus, and the monster he finds in the woods. Or the monster who finds him. Brought up on stories of talking wolves, Atticus thinks he knows what to do, and finds instead that things are more complex, dangerous, and magical than he ever knew. And with his mother sick and in need of his help, the piece follows the shadowed path through a deadly wood. A tense and wonderful read! Wolves, Monsters, Medicines, Villages, Family, Stories. CW- Slurs, Violence/Gun Violence, Burning. [c4 t4]
A sharp issue/episode, and one with a healthy dose of horror, though that’s not really where the story ends. It’s a piece about the ways that stories are sometimes warnings, but they don’t really take the place of actual education, and I like how the story circles that, complicates that, and underlines that. It’s a really effective and grim read, but also fun and triumphant!

PodCastle #683 (1 short story total)
  • “Three for Hers” by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko (short story) - A story about power and abuse, about a ruler who weaponizes anger at the injustice he is the author of, and how for all the people who have to play that game, there is no winning. Unless they make up their own rules. And Vida, recently sent to serve, is someone who might be about ready to make some new rules. It’s a difficult read at times, for the blood and the torture the ruler likes to serve, but there is a grim satisfaction to it, as well, finding a release from the hellish cycle. A great read! Anger, Chores, Weapons, Family, Bargains. CW- Torture/Blood, Murder, Slavery/Colonization. [c5 t4]
A rather grim episode/issue, but one that finds some strength in the resistance against a corrupt and terrible ruler. The piece doesn’t flinch away from showing the full weight of what a colonial rule means for some, but neither does it let that power have the final word, and the piece is about breaking systems, ending cycles. Definitely worth checking out!

Works read this year to date: 640 stories, 181 poems (+29 stories, +7 poems)

Quite a few interesting takes on fairy tales in this week’s coverage, including a really interesting retelling/reimagining/complication of the Little Mermaid, and a few that really just look at fairy tales in general and how they work, and how they fail at times when there are real monsters out in the world. It’s a bit of heavier week, too, up ten reviews from last week, mostly because there are some larger issues, and I think I just had a little bit more time. For reviews, at least. Personally, I’ve had a bit less time because of some adulting style things like refinancing our mortgage and trying to set up some routine healthcare. Sigh.

Which means once again that I don’t have too much to share, media-wise. We are deep into the Humphrey run of Death in Paradise and I’m looking forward to seeing the back of him. Florence is a welcome addition but I do kind of wish there could have been more with Camille, as I liked the two of them together and am a bit less sure about the need for always having the only one girl rule. Still, the support cast makes up a bit for the lackluster lead and the colonial eye-roll that sees most of the drama being from tourists coming to the island to get murdered. So it goes I guess…

Anyway, that’s about it for now. Busy busy, as it were, but not too much to show for it at the moment. I hope things are going well with all you wonderful people, and that you had a lovely Pride month!


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