Friday, July 16, 2021

Quick Sips 07/16/2021

So no new publications this week. I swear I’m trying to reign myself in. We’ll see how well it goes. There’s still a lot to get to, and Flash Fiction Online is back on original fiction after taking June to focus on reprints. Uncanny and Apex both have their bimonthly issues, and Fiyah their quarterly (and themed this time!) issue. Which leaves The Dark as the other monthly publication I’m covering. I’m taking a quick break from weekly publications and will likely double up my Strange Horizons coverage next week and catch up on what I might have missed from the Escape Artists podcasts. We’ll see, though. Still a punch of issues to check out, including July’s Baffling Magazine, The Future Fire, and Kaleidotrope, and regular content from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Diabolical Plots, Mermaids Monthly, the Deadlands, and more. Also kinda expecting Translunar Travelers Lounge to drop a new issue. And catching up on Decoded Pride and ahhhhhhhh. Whoops, gotta bottle that back up. Anyway, I am determined! Next week will probably be a big one if life can stop getting in the way!

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!

Flash Fiction Online #94 (3 short stories total)
  • “Ember” by Anjali Patel (short story/flash) - Following a narrator who finds themself in a foreign and frozen land, the piece explores the allure of magic and attention for someone who is so often ignored and invisible. Only attention can be many things. Affirming and kind, yes, but also something more grim, sharper, something where someone notices the invisible not out of empathy or warmth but because they make good prey. It’s an unsettling piece there, bordering something terrible, but finds a strength and heat in anger to melt the cold hunger the narrator almost falls victim to. A great read! Carnivals, Jazz, Music, Dancing, Ice, Fire. CW- Assault/Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “The Wizard’s Book Tastes of Flight” by Jennifer Hudak (short story/flash) - The narrator of this story is an imprisoned parrot used by a wizard for her feathers. As an act of rebellion, she’s taken to eating pages from his book where he records his thoughts. More importantly, it’s also where he records his spells, and when she eats some of those, well, she might just find a way out of her current hell, and back into a freedom she’s been longing for. It’s a bit of a grim piece, but also resilient and freeing, and that’s one justifiably pissed off parrot. A wonderful read! Birds, Parrots, Wizards, Books, Spells. CW- Confinement/Prisons, Animal Abuse. [c4 t3]
  • “Breathe” by Adam Fout (short story/flash) - This piece finds a narrator sent into space, augmented, altered, drugged in order to build a tower. Exploited and used by the wealthy in order to make them rich, all for promises that might not matter as much as the need to get high, to escape. Only through that sometime starts to emerge, a voice that the narrator begins to listen to, that shows them an option they hadn’t considered, an ending to their story that might be a different and more profound kind of freedom. A strange but great read! Employment, Bargains, Space, Construction, Dawns. CW- Body Modification/Amputation, Aggressive Capitalism, Drug Use/Addiction, Death, Guns. [c5 t4]
An issue that really explore confinement and imprisonment, that finds characters in different situations where they are vulnerable, where they are being controlled/manipulated by a more powerful (or seemingly more powerful) force or person or persons. And all of them find different ways to break free. Often that involves violence or destruction but where the real focus is on the need and reach for freedom. A great issue!

Apex #124 (6 short stories total)
  • “Without Wishes to Bind You” by E. Catherine Tobler (short story) - A story of search and wanting as Michael and the leprechaun Pudgy travel through a broken world seeking treasure. But different definitions of the world, as the two come to see what’s important to them, and what they need. As they draw closer and put aside the magic coercion linking them and instead create a different kind of bargain. And maybe form a magic stronger than wishes. A wonderful and heartwarming read, for all its grim setting. Leprechauns, Wishes, Travel, Treasures, Letters. CW- Post-Disaster, Pollution, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Death. [c4 t3]
  • “How to be Good” by R. Gatwood (short story) - Renward does his best to be good. He’s an employee of the government, an agent of something called the Catalina Operative. And throughout the story he’s calm and collected. Polite. Kind, even, after a fashion. Except what he does, what he wants to do, gives the story a profoundly grim and sinking feel, a creeping unease that doesn’t quickly dissipate. A powerful and unsettling story! Employment, Videos, Information, Governments. CW- Interrogations/Torture, Animal Abuse. [c3 t5]
  • “What Sisters Take” by Kelly Sandoval (short story) - A story about Jessi and her twin sister Claire. A twin that shouldn’t have been. A twin who wasn’t quite human. And Jessi isn’t alone, is one of three girls all to have mysterious twin sisters who shouldn’t have been there. All of them being fed upon by those sisters. Some of them cruelly, though Claire seems to love Jessi, to want to take care of her, even as she’s feeding off her. It’s a complex and messy piece about love and abuse and violence and freedom, and it’s a fantastic and shattering read! Sisters, Feathers, Links, Dances, School. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Abuse, Guns, Violence/Murder. [c4 t4]
  • “Survival, After” by Nicole J. Leboeuf (short story) - Told in the second person, you are a person taking a break from college to figure yourself out. Only that takes something of a backseat when a strange light unleashes all sorts of weird chaos. Things Change, and with the change you have to adapt, have to move, have to survive. And the story follows you through that change, mapping just how profound it is, just how total. And it’s a creepy, action-packed story about what happens next when what’s happening now is weird as hell and constantly shifting. A fine read! Transformations, Lights, Cars, Houses. CW- Quarantine, Body Transformation, Death of Parents, Animal Death, Guns/Military. [c4 t4]
  • “Osu” by Kingsley Okpii (short story) - Ike is an Osu, a person sacrificed to the powerful alusi, deities who used to wage war on each other, ravaging the world. Ike is new to the position, desperate to return to his parents and family despite the rule that he’s not allowed outside the Osu settlement. The truth of his situation, though, and the depths of what it means to be an Osu, are something that Ike has to come to terms with on his own, and the story does a compassionate and interesting job of that, with a great world building and a kind, resonating tone and voice. A great read! Gods, Powers, Rains, Rituals, Family. CW- Imprisonment, Sacrifices, Death. [c2 t2]
  • “Eilam is Forever” by Beth Dawkins (short story) - This story follows a ship long after Earth has ceased to be. A generation ship where leadership is passed down based on personality profiles and a compatibility with the ship’s nanites. But there’s an ambitious young man who wants to overturn the system, and in the attempt sets in motion something that leads to a great shift in the ship’s fate. A grim piece, heavy with shadows, but with a great sense of time and space. A haunting and lovely read! Ships, Space, Succession, Nanites, Generation Ships. CW- Death/Murder. [c3 t4]
Apex is back with six short stories today, covering a nice range of genres. From science fiction to fantasy, from weird to mythical. The pieces do a nice job exploring what dark SFF can be, and how characters deal with oppressive situations, dangerous environments, and generally plenty of fucked up shit. A fine issue!

The Dark #74 (4 short stories total)
  • “The Spelunker’s Guide to Unreal Architecture” by L Chan (short story) - Two friends share a hobby of exploring unreal architecture as well as a guilt and secret in their past. It brings them to their biggest exploration yet, a whole unreal building that seems to be waiting for them. Where the two will confront what’s been driving them for so long, as well as the true nature of the building, and the wider implications of what unreal architecture means, and how to keep it at bay. A strange and wonderful read! Architecture, Friendship, Family, Buildings, Time Travel. CW- Violence. [c2 t4]
  • “Eating Bitterness” by Hannah Yang (short story) - This story imagines a world where at least most women grow a second mouth on their necks, one that allows them act as sin eaters, taking in the negative emotions of their family, though it becomes a pain for them, and can become bursting wounds if the emotions are too much. The narrator is just going through the growth of her second mouth, dealing with all the expectations around it and the roll those with mouths play in the world. It’s heavy and careful, raw and sharp, and doesn’t flinch away from showing the toll this takes, the way the second mouth is a gift and a prison. A great read! Mouths, Family, Growing Up, Scarves, Emotions. CW- Misogyny, Wounds/Blood, Depression/Abuse. [c4 t4]
  • “Divine in the House of Hunger” by Dare Segun Falowo (short story) - Divine is a housekeeper come to Lagos, the big city, to work for Mrs. Arowolo, whose husband has been kicked out of the estate for having an affair with the houseboy. Divine works, and is victim to the growing instability of Mrs. Arowolo, her descent, her greed and rage. The piece shows Divine struggling under the weight of it, pushed to endure when enduring isn’t possible, not in the face of the entitled hunger that Mrs. Arowolo has, and the violence that travels in its wake. A chilling and wonderful read! Housekeeping, Employment, Cleaning, Parties. CW- Abuse/Groping/Violence, Aggressive Capitalism, Murder/Cannibalism. [c4 t5]
  • “The Other Side” by Ifeanyichukwu Peter Eze (short story) - A story narrated by a woman who wanted to provide a better life for her mother, interrupted with letters from her birth father, who left her and her mother when she was four. The piece paints a rather grim picture of the narrator’s life, caught in debt and what amounts to sexual slavery before going more into her own sex work. The job is dangerous, though, and the results rather tragic as the letters go unanswered and the narrator speaks to a mother she just wants to make happy. A gutting and powerful story! Sex Work, Family, Letters, Ghosts. CW- Rape/Sex Slavery, Abandonment, Assault/Violence/Death, Police/ACAB. [c5 t5]
An issue that revolves around the past. Characters caught in situations that they had little control of. That have formed because of childhood traumas, losses, and entries into toxic and dangerous situations. The works find people trying to survive, doing what they can, but always slipping into violent and draining patterns. Expected to sacrifice themselves for sins that aren’t sins at all. It’s an unsettling and difficult issue, but that’s rather on point for this publication. Some great reads!

Uncanny #41 (6 stories, 4 poems total)
  • “The Wishing Pool” by Tananarive Due (short story) - A creeping story about Joy, a woman who is visiting her father almost exactly a year after they’ve lost her mother. And her father is...not well, and it’s something where joy, having been the one to do all of the emotional heavy lifting for her mother, can’t really deal with it. Doesn’t want to have to bear that weight again, and is being pushed to. And there might just be an easier way, one that involves a wishing pool whose wishes really do come true, though not always in a great way. A great read! Family, Wishes, Cabins, Dogs, Memories. CW- Death of a Parent, Dementia, Chronic Illness/Cancer. [c4 t4]
  • “The Graveyard” by Eleanor Arnason (short story) - In this nested narrative, the narrator hears a story from a curator of an Icelandic museum about a man and his ghost problems. The piece is fun and cute, exploring how people can approach the supernatural, with a healthy dose of practicality and a bit of skepticism. The piece moves nicely, blending humor and cycles nicely, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read that’s well worth checking out! Ghosts, Graveyards, Bargains, Iceland, Museums. CW- Death. [c2 t1]
  • “Diamond Cuts” by Shaoni C. White (short story) - The story introduces a world where magic is kept alive based on the repetition of a play, the participants in it having to perform the exact same thing every night, a story of magic being harnessed, of people sacrificing for magic, going through pain and loss and even death. It’s a cycle the narrator has been trapped in her whole life, and when she loses her former acting partner/fellow prisoner, it threatens to break the cycle, which might drain magic from the world. Or might simply break the toxic cycle of pain, cruelty, and death. A fantastic read! Acting, Plays, Magic, Stars, Gems. CW- Imprisonment, Abuse/Torture, Blood/Violence/Death. [c4 t4]
  • “Presque vue” by Tochi Onyebuchi (short story) - This story finds Sam growing up with something like a voice in her head. One guiding her, one interested in math, one trying to show her what to do, how to be. Not a conscience. Not an intuition. And not exactly an invasion. Rather, the story explores what this voice might be, and what role is plays in her life. How it shapes her and how she in turn pushes back or embraces it. And the end of the piece brings it all together in an interesting and intricate way. A great read! School, Voices, Growing Up, Queer MC, Family. CW- Therapy/Mental Health, Death of a Parent. [c2 t3]
  • “Immortal Coil” by Ellen Kushner (short story) - This story finds a certain playwright named Will being approached by an old (and presumably dead) friend with something of a proposition. A deal, though not with the Devil. Not exactly. Still, the bargain is a tough one, one that at first Will is loathe to entertain. As the story progresses, though, the allure of the offer comes clear, and I like what the story does with that, and how it imagines it progressing. A very fun and rather delightful story that unfolds almost entirely as a conversation and quasi seduction. A fine read! Plays, Writing, Bargains, Immortality. CW- Violence/Death. [c2 t2]
  • “From the Archives of the Museum of Eerie Skins: An Account” by C.S.E. Cooney (short story) - A story that winds around a violation and a violence, where the narrator, the interviewee, was a wolfcaster whose pelt was stolen, abused, and broken, stripping her of her power and her future. But through her community and her actions, through her art and her determination, she manages to make something even out of this terrible thing, manages to turn what was supposed to be a fatal blow against her into a tool to make the system that allowed that wrong more just. It’s a well built and emotionally powerful story, and a great read! School, Witches, Werewolves, Cats, Law. CW- Violation/Stalking/Assault, Prejudice, Police/ACAB. [c4 t3]
  • “Sonnet for the Aglaecwif” by Minal Hajratwala (poem) - A piece that speaks to perspective and the erasing violence of roles. Where the subject of the poem is a mother, loving and loved, and yet she becomes cast into the role of monster for all that she’s mostly mourning. For all that people understand her anger, her need for justice. That’s repressed as they find ways to instead justify what is done to her, what was done to her child. It’s a short but sharp piece, moving and with a sense to me of shaking its head at the situation, the presumption of They, the whole bloody thing. A great read!
  • “Hitobashira” by Betsy Aoki (poem) - A strange piece and one that seems to me to deal with injustice and loss. With some wrong that takes on a kind of power of its own, that reaches through the earth itself seeking something, seeking a strength to let itself be known and seen. It has the feeling to me of something buried but remembered still by the land, where anger stokes a dangerous presence waiting to erupt. A fine read!
  • “After The Tower Falls, Death Gives Advice” by Ali Trotta (poem) - This piece speaks to me of reclamation. Of a narrator pushing back against the idea that something that is broken can’t be beautiful and strong and still whole. Because being broken in a person can mean a lot of things, and the cracks and faults can be story of strength and resolve and yes, beauty. Finding in the imperfections a truth that sings and shines. A lovely poem!
  • “Radioactivity” by Octavia Cade (poem) - A piece that springs up around the history of Marie Curie, whose life was touched not only with the tragedy of her death, the poisoning at the hands of her own research. No, there were other losses that stained red on the pages of her life, other griefs immortalized or almost so, with a very long half life indeed, and that cast a shadow over what she did. It’s an interesting piece that looks at history and digs in, finds a flowering ripeness, and presents it beautiful and bleeding to the reader. A wonderful read!
Another great issue from Uncanny, with a bunch of fiction and poetry to enjoy. There’s a lot of grief on display here, and people trying to make sense of it, make something useful and just from it. Not that it’s always possible, but occasionally there are ways to spin injustice into justice, and the process is magical and awesome to behold!

Fiyah #19 (5 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “To Rest and To Create” by LA Knight (short story) - The narrator of this story is autistic and chronically ill, which on top of not being white means the world doesn’t really work for them. Instead, they are expected to bend themself to fit the world, to meet the expectations of job interviewers and everyone else. And when they can’t, it’s all their fault. Their fault too that they were never Chosen, pulled through a magic door into another world. Too poor, too disabled. Only the story finds them finally being found in a way that offers a new freedom and empowerment, showing their immense gifts and potential that can blossom only when taken out of the harsh environment actively trying to kill them and put somewhere nurturing. A fantastic story! Non-Binary Character, Neopronouns, Autistic Character, Portal Fantasies, Job Interviews. CW- Ableism, Racism, Allistic Bullshit. [c3 t3]
  • “Meditations on Sun-Ra’s Bassism” by Yah Yah Scholfield (short story) - A story of sisters separated by time and space, as Constance works as a sort of mapper of stars, writing back to the older sister, Adut, who was more like a mother to her following the deaths of their parents. And the piece explores the galaxy, the universe, as it also explores the messy relationship between the sisters as framed by this one side of a correspondence. And through it all it’s a beautiful and powerful tale of longing, hurt, and family. A wonderful read! Family, Sisters, Space, Exploration, Alternate Dimensions. CW- Death of Parents, Climate Change. [c3 t3]
  • “Lungs” by Lily Watson (short story) - This story unfolds amongst a chaotic orchestral performance, the musicians all young, the music unpracticed, the timing complex, the conductor a hot mess. And yet it’s striving for something, putting all that energy and hope and talent and cramming it into the smallest space possible, forcing it to life by willpower and sweat. And the result is something strange and fun, something that does come alive with power, a god being born or waking up, pulled into being by the joy of music and a group of people suddenly becoming one song, one set of lungs breathing. A great read! Music, Orchestras, Instruments, Gods. [c1 t2]
  • “Morning” by Diane Russell (short story) - A story that finds two siblings on a distant world, trying to salvage a terraforming colonization effort that has largely failed. And...the extent to which they are even siblings now is kind of in the air, as the narrator struggles with how their sibling died in transit and has been replaced by a clone meant to make sure the efforts don’t run short of people/workers. The situation is tense, loaded, as the maybe-but-maybe-not-siblings are teamed up and sent to look for somewhere life might be coaxed to grow. What they find is a strange understanding with each other, and maybe something like hope on a not-quite-barren world. A powerful read! Colonization, Space, Cryo-freezing, Family, Songs, Caves. CW- Injury/Accidents, Death of a Sibling. [c3 t3]
  • “Where the Sky Becomes Milk” by Jamie McGhee (short story) - This story follows a dead boy in a sort of backwards journey tracing back his race to find his soul. Steeped in old myths and modern violence, the piece unfolds as soldier kill boys before they can in turn become soldiers, and the narrator is caught in the middle of it, tasked with making a long journey to reach a better afterlife, to reclaim something from the chaos and brutality that took him. The path is not easy, though, and the ending far from certain. It’s a difficult story at times, stark and violent, but it’s pushing toward a kind of hope, a kind of healing, and a home that offers rest and safety. A wonderful read! Bodies, Souls, Afterlife, Cats, Ashes, Cities. CW- War/Violence, Blood, Guns, Murder. [c5 t4]
  • “Astral” by Aliyah Curry (poem) - A bit of a strange piece for me, the poem opening space with the slash (/), which speaks to me of possibility and alternates. The piece is built in short stanzas, quiet but building and evocative. And for me the piece is about the narrator and the subject of the piece, the You, and their relationship, their love, the way they seem to nurture and feed (on?) each other, the way they inspire, the way they give and unleash. And between then a possibility seems to open, the great open canvas of space, welcoming them. It’s a lovely read and definitely a piece to spend some time with!
  • “Home’s Threnody” by Olaitan Humble (poem) - This poem comes in a dense paragraph, part story and part painting in words. It captures a narrator recounting their attempts at magic, a father distant and harsh but also touched by that same sense of power and awe. The piece for me looks at the complex portrait of the narrator’s father, the distance but the tenderness as well, offering it up without pulling it apart, giving all the mess and leaving it there whole. For me, that’s a lovely marriage of form and function, and it makes for a great read!
A new issue of Fiyah is always reason to celebrate and this issue has a theme. Sound & Color play into all of these stories in interesting ways. As does family and growing up, and the characters by and large are dealing with the ways that families are complicated, that hurt and pain run deep. That violence seems to be ever lurking. But that, through it all, victory is still possible, and wonderful, and beautiful. A fantastic issue!

Works read this year to date: 719 stories, 204 poems (+24 stories, +6 poems)

So I’m technically down a little from last week (especially when you consider all of the stories in this week’s coverage are short stories where there were six novelettes last week). Part of that is down to the holiday, which I did not use to read or review. Part of that was down to some personal mess that lost me about half of another day, too. Still, thirty reviews is not too bad, and I’m really glad I could get to the works I covered. As I said above, no new publications to me here (in fact, I’ve reviewed all of these either since they launched or since I launched QSR). But still a whole lot of great short fiction and poetry.

Which brings me to the numbers, where I’ve passed both 700 stories and 200 poems on the year. I’m fairly close now to passing what would be my most prolific year for reviews in terms of works covered (953). Not in terms of words written about those works (that would be last year and I doubt I will ever top that). Still, it’s something of a milestone. And it means I’m getting closer to passing 1000 reviews in a single year, something I’ve never done before on QSR (I technically managed it in 2015 if you include my reviews from Tangent and Nerds of a Feather, though). I’m quite excited about hitting that so early in the year, though. It means 1500 (my unofficial goal for the year) is definitely going to happen unless I just completely stop, which I doubt will happen.

Let’s see. Well, my August is getting busier. Aside from my books coming out, I also have a few readings. On the 18th I’ll be reading as part of a Canadian series, and on the 19th I’ll be doing a reading for Neon Hemlock. Lots of excitement about that! I think I’ll also have a novelette out in Burly Tales, which is getting some nice early reviews. Just sort of trying to try.

In media news, I’m continuing my watch of Mystery Inc and finding it the same mix of annoying and okay. There was a hodag! It was kinda…not great, but still. I’ve also being playing a bit more of Fire Emblem: Three Houses and really enjoying it. Normal and casual mode, because why not. It’s my first Fire Emblem but I do like the mechanics and it does play into my play style of leveling up a lot and collecting characters. Golden Deer, if there was ever any doubt. Not very far into the plot yet (there were some possessed villagers and the librarian just turned evil). I am confident in my murdering abilities. Anyway, that’s about it for now. Hope things are going well with you! Cheers!


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