I do care about trying to get to as much as I can in short SFF. And as wide a coverage as I can give. And that means stepping outside what most consider the “core” of short SFF in part of question what the core really is. Or, more likely, to try and destroy the idea that there is a core at all. Short SFF is vast, yes, and subject to far too many people trying to narrow it because they want to feel that it should be “manageable.” Which in some ways I understand. As someone with a collecting urge, there’s certainly a part of me that wants to be comprehensive. That wants to read Everything. And I know I can’t, so it might be tempting to say that something doesn’t count as a way to claim that actually I do read Everything. But that’s bullshit.
The short SFF I do not read or review still exists, and I’d likely enjoy a whole lot of it. It’s my loss that I don’t read it. But I do have limited time, and I have to decide what I read. There’s no real “fair” way to do it, but I try my best to be inclusive and eager. I’m not saying that the stories I don’t read aren’t worthy of my time or attention, just that I have to make the call what to cover, and I’ll own that. I’m adding Zooscape because I like furry media, and because I do think it often gets overlooked and pushed out of SFF because people are embarrassed about it. I’m excited that the publication is looking to raise its payrates to become an SFWA qualifying market, and I wish them all the best in that. And I’m happy to add them to my short SFF coverage. Onward!
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!
The Deadlands #2 (2 short stories, 4 poems total)
- “Unselving” by Greer Gilman (poem) - A strangely beautiful piece about death and dying, and passing yourself, slipping loose of something, crossing a kind of barrier between life and death without really touching anything. It’s a piece of short lines, long and thin, a fall or a river or both, a tree and a distance and the sense of approaching, of movement toward an unknown and shadowed shore. And a great read!
- “Shuck” by G. V. Anderson (short story) - A story where Bridget is the survivor of a crash that killed her friend. Or, well, not exactly her friend. Her...it’s complicated. And now Bridget is dealing with the aftermath, trying to process her trauma and find who she is on her own, who she might be. Except, of course, there’s a shadowy dog following her that might be Death itself. A tense, grim read, emotionally resonating and well worth spending some time with! Dogs, Relationships, Family, Friends, School. CW- Death of a Friend/Traffic Accidents, Bullying, Guns, Accidental Shooting, Gore/Blood. [c5 t4]
- “Oppenheimer in Valhalla” by Marissa Lingen (poem) - This piece speaks to me of battle and grief, about a man finding something releasing perhaps in the simplicity of battles with swords and muscles. But who still takes something away that’s not a glory in battle. Who sees through that, his own reflected role in destruction, and seeks to reject it, to reject order and chaos both, and embrace only the role of observer, the penitence of witness. A fine read!
- “The Thing That Doesn’t Disintegrate” by Kate Lechler (short story) - Without a label or editorial, it’s a little difficult actually to tell if this is fiction or nonfiction. It circles around the collecting of bones, the dissolving of a marriage. The movement of the narrator around death, endings, and change. Finding balance and peace amidst the bones, walking to the rattle of teeth inside a glass jar. For me it’s a piece about seeking, about being full of desire and not needing to know how to satisfy that, exactly, but still going out to try. A lovely read! Bones, Teeth, Marriage, Growth, Change. CW- Divorce, Corpses/Gore. [c3 t3]
- “Astynome, After” by Mike Allen (poem) - This piece speaks to me of fate, of a character trapped by the elements around her, by the men who seek to control her, to barter with and for her. And her own determination to sort of learn how to weave her own life. To seek out those who would be fates and find out how to free herself from what they might have imagined. It’s a piece that looks at mythology and the often tragic, powerless positions women characters are imagined in, and yearns for a breaking of that system, a revolutionary explosion. A great read!
- “The House of Ill Waters” by R.B. Lemberg (poem) - A beautiful and empowered piece that gives voice to a world, to a power, to a presence that at one time welcomed people, poets into their realm, gifted them with inspiration, with song. But who has been betrayed through long eons, damaged and violated again and again, gaslit and degraded, and who has had enough. Who is not going to accept hollow words in the place of the action necessary for atonement and healing. It’s a wonderful, vibrant, alive poem that packs a hell of a punch, and stuns with its call for action. A phenomenal read!
Issue 2 is out at the new The Deadlands and it's even more poetry and fiction than before, plus some extra fun with an advice column. I "accidentally" reviewed one of the non-fiction pieces as if it were fiction (the website makes the distinction clear but I didn't see that in the pdf, so... Anyway, there's a lot of great stuff to get to, and it's a wonderful issue!
Mermaids Monthly #6 (5 short stories, 2 graphic stories, 4 poems total)
- “La Voce to Me” by Jennifer Lee Rossman (poem) - A powerful piece about media, about Disney movies and identifying with characters, about bargains and prices, and the drive to transform. The piece speaks to the ways that The Little Mermaid can resonate across narratives, touching on something that might help the narrator understand a bit the journey that Ariel goes on, and the journey the narrator goes on as well. It’s an intimate and moving read!
- “Not the Brightest Starfish in the Sea” by Rod M. Santos (short story) - An absolutely delightful story about a soldier on the road to try and tell the betrothed of his friend and fellow soldier that he’s died in battle. Only things don’t go to plan at all. First, the betrothed is a merman. And second, said merman doesn’t understand euphemisms at all. There’s a third complication, as well, but one I encourage you to discover on your own, because it’s super cute and a wonderful read! Battles, Mermen, Marriage, Euphemisms, Queer Characters. CW- War/Death. [c2 t1]
- “Shoretune” by Brandon O’Brien (poem) - A piece that to me shines with possibilities and freedom, with a narrator who has found a happiness that was unexpected. Unexpected because the possibility for it was never stated, never hinted at, not outright suppressed but ignored, as if hoping if it was never given voice or shape it wasn’t real. For the narrator, that was something like wasted time, though now that there’s finally words and song for the desire they feel, it seems they’re all about making up for lost time. A fantastic read!
- “At the Mouth of the Sea” by Tamara Jerée (short story) - A story of a ritual of sorts, where generations of humans mermaid meet for a brief time, in love but destined to part, to remember, to yearn. The piece is raw with hurt and need and I love the premise, love the emotion that is explored, the desire and the awakening and the grief. There is a commentary, I think, on growing up, on the passage into adulthood, and it’s a difficult, complex, and utterly beautiful one. An amazing read! Mermaids, Rituals, Queer MC, Growing Up, Family. CW- Blood. [c2 t3]
- “Queer as the Sea” by Sarah Peploe (graphic story) - A single page comic that is sexy and fun and features two people exploring each other and finding places where they blur. Mainly, places where they’ve inked themselves, marked themselves with touches of the sea. But there’s an ambiguity to the final touch, a hint that this could be art but it might be something deeper, a reflection of something just under the skin, coming clear with intimacy and trust. A wonderful piece!
- “Life as a Twenty-Something Mermaid in Vancouver” by Emily Deibert, illustration by Inkshark (short story/flash) - This piece imagines the mermaid rental market, which isn’t exactly ideal. And really it speaks a bit to me at least of the ways that housing is leveraged against people, forcing them into places where they’d rather not be, stuck having to imagine the stink and sound of sewage is actual the touch of the sea. Quick and sharp and quite good! Sewers, Mermaids, Renting, Subways, Smells. CW- Aggressive Capitalism. [c2 t3]
- “Mergays” by Elizabeth Burch-Hudson (graphic story) - Another single page comic, this one built around a pun, so obviously I love it. It’s a really fun piece, full of little nods and bits of humor. And really, the pun is rather amazing, and the piece on a whole is well worth a laugh. Do go check it out!
- “our translucent bodies” by Devin Miller (poem) - A lovely piece that speaks to me of change, of uncertainty, a narrator finding themself translucent and unsure of what to do, how to be. But willing to learn from those who have always been translucent, who know the wisdom of the water. The patience and the resilience and the joy taken when it can be found, an embracing of a journey however long. It’s a poem that sings with a kind of deep wisdom, and it makes for a wonderful read!
- “Dissolution” by Emily Deibert and Inkshark (illustrated short story/flash) - A somewhat haunting but ultimately intriguing story about a woman who had an accident at sea only to wash up on shore a week later with no memory of it. And now a seagull has said something to her, something that resonates, that sticks with her, but that she doesn’t really understand until later. And I love the interplay of art and text here, the way it all ties together. There’s the feel of a larger situation, too, which I really like, the mystery of the missing time and secret message, and I would gladly read more. A great read! Seagulls, Seas, Water, Words, Mirrors. CW- Drowning/Accidents. [c2 t3]
- “Riparian” by Seanan McGuire (short story) - Molly is a fat girl who just wants to swim like a mermaid, something that her parents finally get for her when it’s framed as helping her get exercise (and still, it takes five years). It’s a dream Molly seems on the verge of grasped, until it’s yanked away, only for a new kind of opportunity to open, one tinged with magic. The piece is grim at times with its content but manages to capture a upbeat and hopeful tone with Molly, who is a kid just wanting to be a kid, free from all the prejudices people have about her because of her weight. At times difficult, it’s still a fantastic story about acceptance and freedom. Mermaids, Swimming, Rivers, Transformations, Family. CW- Abuse, Drowning, Bullying. [c4 t3]
Another fantastic issue and one with an all-queer table of contents in honor of pride. The works are wonderfully varied (something the publication should get lots of credit for, given that the premise of the magazine is limited to mermaid stories) and I love the ways the works look at identity and yearning, freedom and found family. Some really amazing works here!
Prismatica #16 (4 short stories, 4 poems total)
- “entomo/philia” by Fox Auslander (poem) - This piece takes the idea of butterflies in the stomach to an interesting and evocative place, imagined rather literally. Skin crawling but somehow not in a disgusting way. Because like the sensation there is something desirable to it, an anticipation and hope that can’t be fully quelled, that holds on regardless. And I just love the way the piece draws that, really getting into that sensation, that longing, that state. It’s a wonderful way to open the issue!
- “Trancension” by Diana Nnaemeka (poem) - A strange and almost haunting piece that for me speaks to a kind of movement and transformation. A welcoming and a taking in. It’s a short poem but full of a kind of offering, images of people going into a place open and waiting to be filled, and finding just that. It’s an evocative read, and well worth spending some time with. Great stuff!
- “TODAY, I AM THINKING OF YOU AS YOU FILL THE NOON WITH YOUR BACK SPLAYED ON MY BED” by Diana Nnaemeka (poem) - This piece captures a kind of languid aftermath. A feeling for me of a day heavy, movements slow, except for the strange violence in the background, the almost cast away imagery of blood and canvas. But for me the piece holds something other than that, the violence something strange and artistic rather than fatal, a longing and a release the narrator is seeking in the “you” of the title. Or, I mean, there are many ways to read it, but I like the idea of this slow day, caught in amber, caught up in the the yearning the narrator has. It’s a fine read!
- “Smaller and Smaller Cages” by Ismim Putera (poem) - A piece that speaks to me of containment. Confinement. A kind of stifled quietude. One that the narrator is caged by, frustrated by, but unable to really break free from. Until, at least, something happens to change things. To destroy the cages. What happens after is unknown but for me there is a feeling of possibility from it, a sense that maybe things are bounding open, that there can be freedom, and more. A great read!
- “Breath” by S. A. McKenzie (short story) - A story about a clockmaker, Oreste, who helps to make automatons using people’s last breaths, and the swordswoman she starts a relationship with. A swordswoman with a dream of getting away. And the piece is cute and heavy, unfolding in a place ripe with corruption and touched by tragedy. But the story refuses to let these things define it, reaching for freedom and happiness and love in an interesting and fantastic way. I love the romance and world building, and it’s an amazing read! Automatons, Employment, Artistry, Queer MC. CW- Death of a Partner, Blood/Traffic Accidents, Corruption/Abuse. [c3 t3]
- “Allegory of the Man” by Alix Perry (short story) - A story about a trans man named Brady going on a very strange hike. One that seems to want to ensnare him in something, as he finds things that make the hike easier, more comfortable. As he finds his very body changing to make him a more experienced and robust hiker, something he doesn’t know how to handle, or how to resist. The piece captures that strangeness nicely, weaving a story that might be about him capturing something that might have been, something affirming, or might be about a hunger that’s waiting to swallow him if he gives into it. An interesting read! Hikes, Transformations, Trans MC, Food, Nature. CW- Nonconsensual Transformations. [c3 t3]
- “Someday My Prince Will Come” by Briar Ripley Page (short story) - A wrenching story about a man, once a bird, and his journey, and his relationship with someone else like him (just not the bird part). And it’s a messy situation, a story that explores a lot of the messy issues surrounding transition, desire, bodies, and hope. There’s a lot going on despite the actual action of the story being fairly light, and it’s certainly a piece to spend some time with. Indeed! Birds, Witches, Trans MC, Relationships. CW- Edge Play/Blood, Slurs/Transphobia. [c4 t3]
- “The Wolf at the Door” by Anthony Raymond (short story) - A quiet and rather dreamlike story that finds the narrator caring for an injured coyote who turns into a man who learns English in a single night. The piece swirls around loneliness and need, asking the narrator what he needs and pushing him to make a move toward it, only for the dream to shift again, into something sad and touching and fragile and beautiful. The piece feels a bit haunted to me, the ending something of a conclusion but also perhaps a step forward, as the narrator emerges wiser and better in touch with himself after the whole ordeal. A great read! Coyotes, Baths, Books, Queer MC, The Moon. CW- Injuries, Death. [c3 t3]
A new issue from Prismatica in time for Pride means lots more queer stories and poems. I actually have already read one of the stories in this issue, the amazing “You Can’t Grow Corn on the Moon by Brendan Williams-Childs, which I heartily recommend, but have already reviewed it so will not be revisiting at this time. Otherwise, yeah, it’s a wonderfully varied, often messy issue in the best of ways. Go check it out!
Strange Horizons 06/21/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
- “Temporal Slider” by Blaze Forbes (short story) - A story about employment, with a young homeless narrator finding their way into work, through the decision to “slide” (a process by which you sort of turn off your conscious brain to do menial tasks) or not. The piece really hits a lot of the culture around work and how it’s such a toxic space, where those working often would rather do so without being conscious because of the nature of the work and the lack of compensation. It’s sharp and tender all at once, and wonderful look at hope and joy under the weight of corruption. A fantastic read! Employment, Consciousness, Biking, Karaoke. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Homelessness. [c3 t3]
- “TREAT ME EARLY” by Palimrya (poem) - A strange piece that have a great flow and energy to it, for all there is a touch of nonsense, of randomness. But it feels to me pointed, a narrator trying to express, to be understood, and to do that not really focusing on making literal sense but rather expressing as they can through exclamations, through demands, through commands. And it makes for a fascinating read, and I love the impact of it, the final entreaty and desire, to go, to escape the rigid confines of the Earth, to find something beyond. A great read!
A fine issue featuring a story and poem that each take a look at characters kind of struggling with the world and their places with in it. Wanting to break free but also not sure how. Wanting to express but pressed in by the pull of oblivion. It’s an interesting pairing, and I definitely recommend checking them out!
Diabolical Plots #76 (2 short stories total)
- “One More Angel” by Monica Joyce Evans (short story) - A short look at the afterlife in a world where transporters are fairly widespread and spreading farther every day. For the narrator, suddenly arrived in Heaven, it’s something of a revelation finding out that each trip through constitutes a death and copy, and I like how the story plays with that, mostly in good fun but with something a little more grim as well, an implication about technology and the unseen costs of it. A great read! Transporters, Afterlife, Heaven, Copies. CW- Death. [c2 t2]
- “We Will Weather One Another Somehow” by Kristina Ten (short story) - This is a wrenching and heartbreaking story about a narrator whose partner, Benj, is literally made of stone. That doesn’t make him more durable, though. Rather, it makes him more prone to erosion. And with that comes a unique take on life and living, one that the narrator finds terrifying and painful but one that they have to come to accept, for themself, for Benj. It’s a beautiful story but a difficult one, and it’s carefully explored by the author. A fantastic read! Stone, Erosion, Relationships, Family, Wind. CW- Death of a Partner, Injury. [c3 t4]
A pair of stories that offer something of a balance, in that one is a but charming and funny, and the other rather emotionally devastating. Both of them explore living and dying, though, in some interesting and profound ways. And both are well worth reading. A great issue!
Zooscape #11 (6 short stories total)
- “The Sewers of New York” by Elinor Caiman Sands (short story) - A story told as something of a CYOA where you are an alligator living in the sewers of New York, desperate for a meal. It’s a premise that’s approached with a tone that borders on cute, filled with mentions of “fishies” and the like, but for all the juvenile language the impact is much more grim, much more profound and sharp. Because the piece explores hunger and need, fear and the inability to find sustenance. It looks at loss of habitat, and injury and indignity, and it does so in a way that’s rather subtle, letting the final moments linger in the beauty, yes, but also their terrible implication. A wonderful read! Alligators, Sewers, Family, Fish, Hunger. CW- Police/ACAB, Violence, Starvation, Blood. [c4 t2]
- “The Tech” by James L. Steele (short story) - An intense and rather grim story about a rat that goes by Tech as he’s the tech guy for a pack of wolves who specialize in making snuff films promoting the idea that predators need to hunt and kill to be happy. The piece takes aim at employment, really, and the allure of stability, even when the cost is unconscionable. And it’s an unsettling read, about grooming and murder and a lot of rather grim things, with an ending that’s sinking and slick with blood. Cameras, Videos, Packs, Rats, Wolves. CW- Murder, Torture, Abuse. [c4 t5]
- “Puss Reboots” by Rachel Ayers (short story) - A needed tonal shift in the issue to something a lot more charming, this story takes the shape of a kind of modern (even futuristic) fairy tale where an AI cat helps his hapless master to find a Happily Ever After (patent pending). And the getting there is fun, cute, and full of warmth and humor. I love the voice of the piece and the clever twists that lead Puss toward helping his master (and hey, if he’s also helping himself in all of that, who’s to argue). A wonderful read! Cats, AI, Dating, Business. CW- Harassment. [c2 t2]
- “Persinette” by Elizabeth Walker (short story) - A story of loss and confinement as a dragon who was stolen as an egg is brought up by a witch who only wants their power for herself. The piece follows the dragon through an interesting twist on Rapunzel, and I love how it all comes together, how it resolves in a reunion and its own kind of happily ever after. A nice follow up to the previous story, and another fun read! Dragons, Witches, Towers, Rapunzel, Princes. CW- Confinement/Prison/Slavery, Injury, Eating of Humans. [c3 t3]
- “Him Without Her and Her Within Him” by Aimee Ogden (short story) - A rending and heartbreaking look at loss and grieving from the point of view of Lincoln, a boy who can turn into a crow. A boy who is losing his mother to cancer. A crow who is in love with another crow. Both of them dealing with trauma and the brutal realities of life. For all the hard moments, though, the story resolves into something softer, tender, compassionate and kind and beautiful. There is a raw power to it, and definitely prepare yourselves for an emotionally devastating experience, but it’s also so well done and so worth checking out! Family, Crows, Transformations, Queer MC, Food, Sound. CW- Cancer, Death, Gore, Cannibalism(?). [c4 t4]
- “A List of Historical Places Frequented by a Boy and His Dog” by Eleanor R. Wood (short story/flash) - Fucking ouch. Told from the point of view of a dog, the piece carries at first a bright and loving tone, one that doesn’t exactly slip, but rather is pulled down into a grief that is heavy and obliterating. The piece takes aim at the feels and it does not miss, offering up a read that is brimming with tragedy and a hope that almost makes it hurt worse. That does make it hurt worse. Just fuck. Definitely go read this one, but be careful because owwwwww. A powerful read! Dogs, School, Family, Travel. CW- Death of a Child, Chronic/Terminal Illness. [c4 t3]
My first look at this publication and not exactly what I was expecting. The issue starts in a kind of cute but kind of grim place, gets much more grim, then lightens up into some cute takes on fairy tales before plunging into illness, grief, and loss. And after all that I’m a little shaken. A powerful and balanced issue that definitely hits above its weight.
Works read this year to date: 662 stories, 193 poems (+22 stories, +12 poems)
So a bit more poetry this week, with new stuff coming out from everything I covered except Diabolical Plots and Zooscape. For those counting, I really do like publications that mix and match fiction and poetry. Varies length and style and can keep things moving pretty nicely. I actually extra appreciate places like The Deadlands and Mermaids Monthly that integrate the works together, moving back and forth across the different forms. That I don’t like the approach that lets there be a fiction section and a poetry section. Just that I like the integrated approach even more, because of how it allows certain themes to resonate and echo. So having some of that this week was nice.
In other news…well, both of my books are that much closer to launch. So I’m terrified of that. But also excited! I’ve also taken on a formal role in the local queer resource center, doing media related things, which is interesting. First time being on a board of a non-profit. But I do want to make more connections locally and do what I can to help out in the community. I’m quite excited to start a gaming guild (our first one shot will be using the Thirsty Sword Lesbians setting/system) and a reading club. That aside, uh…well, I’m just sort of a mess in general.
In watching things, I’m still watching Death in Paradise with my husband and Scooby-Doo: Mystery Inc by myself. The former is still in the Humphrey era (we’re on season 6 now, I think) and there’s a lot to like even as I can’t really stand Humphrey himself. In Scooby-Do land, I really question the decision to make there be connective tissue and have there be an overarching storyline. Just…kinda weird. And now Fred and Daphne are dating and I just have questions. Anyway, I’ll try to stay sane and soldier on. Hope things are going well with all of you. Cheers!