Friday, July 30, 2021

Quick Sips 07/30/2021

Well I knew that this was going to be a bit of a smaller week for reviews compared to last week, though that doesn’t mean much given last week. I think I did end up slightly under average, but I did still get to quite a bit, rounding up a lot of the month’s releases. Luckily for my schedule, it seems like the Escape Artists aren’t doing many originals lately at PodCastle or Escape Pod, so that helped me catch up on Cast of Wonders and Pseudopod, as well as making sure I got to this month’s GigaNotoSaurus, which I would normally have read sooner. I also got to check out the new Diabolical Plots, The Deadlands, Fireside Magazine, and Omenana, as well at the latest week’s Strange Horizons, so a lot of ground I covered, all told, even if the total number of pieces covered isn’t huge. It leaves only a few things (I hope) to catch up on for next week (namely Mermaids Monthly, Tor, and another issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies). I am sort of catching up on reading, but also not. So it goes.

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 #3 (2 short stories, 4 poems total)
  • “Cause and Manner” by Jeanelle M. Ferriera (poem) - A piece that speaks to me of bodies and employment, of the people whose job it is to sort the dead, to open them up in the search for answers. At least, the title implies to me we’re dealing with medical examiners, with the search for the cause and manner of death, when it’s unknown. And the strange space that opens up, dealing with bodies, with corpses, with people that were, that are no longer. And I love the way it moves in cycles, touching on the way it keeps coming, new people on the same table, and the weight of that but also the call of that. A wonderful read!
  • “The General’s Turn” by Premee Mohamed (short story) - A captivating story that takes place around a ritual. A ritual killing, really, though it’s framed more as a game. Where a condemned enemy soldier must find which of the players around him on a clockwork stage is Death. The narrator is the game’s master, a general on the opposing side of the war, and tired of the atrocities they’ve authored. And they see in this last game maybe a chance to do things a bit differently. A vivid and wonderful read! Games, Clocks, Acting, Cheating, Rituals. CW- Murder, War/War Crimes, Execution, Torture. [c4 t4]
  • “the ending” by Gwynne Garfinkle (poem) - A piece that looks back on a man’s creative work, at a particular moment when a scriptwriter was made to rewrite an ending that changed the impact of the piece. And this look is complicated by the frame of the poem, a person looking at the work of a parent, where loss weaves into the way the narrator approaches legacy of their father. It’s complex and it’s wrenching, the exploration of grief and a kind of wondering at what might have beens. What might have been if the ending had not been altered. Or if a father and child had shared more, or...well, it’s a heavy and beautiful piece and very much worth checking out!
  • “Undoing” by Zin E. Rocklyn (poem) - A strange piece that speaks to me of possession, of passion. Where the narrator is speaking to someone that is drawn to them, someone they are set to devour, to feed on, though I’m not sure in a bad way. There’s a power here, a feeling of something huge coming undone, the narrator and the subject they are speaking to, the “you” of the poem, both caught in a kind of orbit, growing closer and closer, a wick and a fire, burning, burned, illuminated. A great read!
  • “Chernobyl Litany” by Gemma Files (poem) - This piece evokes disaster and radiation, a death by poison but one that acts from the inside out. One that acts slow at times, that sinks, that spreads, that is invisible but powerful, aging on a scales we can’t quite comprehend. The piece is heavy, too, speaking to a “you” that might be Chernobyl, that might be the Earth, that might be a lot of things, and in that the piece to me seems to explore harm, devastation, and a wound that isn’t really healing. A difficult and powerful read, and definitely one to spend some time with!
  • “To the (mostly) living” by J.D. Harlock (short story/flash) - This is an interesting piece framed as a kind of open letter from Death to...everyone else. It’s part confession, part announcement of a change of plans. A retirement, though what that means is complicated by the ways that humans have imagined Death in their role, assigning them a power that really has been humanity’s for a long time now. And it’s revealing that Death doesn’t have quite the impact they might have. It’s a fun read, for all that it’s also rather grim, and it’s quick and sharp and quite good! Death (person), Retirement, Gardens, Letters. CW- Death/War/Disease. [c2 t2]
A new issue of The Deadlands and some great explorations into death and Death and what it all is. How it means different things to different people and how humans have assumed some of the power of death (and Death). Cheating it or feeding it, either way creating a complicated web of hurt, loss, grief, and yearning. A solid issue!

Diabolical Plots #77 (2 short stories total)
  • “Along Our Perforated Creases” by K.W. Colyard (short story) - This story imagines a world where some people can fold. Half their size, typically to avoid danger, to try and cede space for safety. It’s something very encouraged for women, and the narrator at first bristles, declares that they’re not going to fold. The world has other plans, though, and the piece details how they end up folding to protect themself. How they try to survive small. While around them the atmosphere is changing. And a movement of unfolding and then Unfolding happens, and there’s a power and freedom in it. A fine read! Space, Family, Relationships, Role Models. CW- Abuse/Violence, Assault/Harassment, Body Changing, Gender Roles. [c4 t3]
  • “Kudzu” by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers (short story) - A story that finds the narrator in a future where climate change and unethical science have led to a world being choked by invasive plants and dangerous animals. A world where people in mech suit, like the narrator, are tasked with cleaning up. And I like the way the story explores the intersections of terrible capitalism and accessibility. Because the narrator, as a disabled person, finds freedom and empowerment in a mech suit that they can use, that allows them movement and safety. But it’s all still wrapped up in debt and utility in a capitalist sense, and I like that messiness, the way that the narrator prioritizes themself, embracing what they can, resilient and strong and defiant in their very survival. It’s a triumphant piece, joyous and fun, and a fantastic read! Mech Suits, Plants, GE Animals, Disabled MC, Non-binary Character. CW- Slurs/Harassment. [c3 t3]
A nice one-two of stories dealing with characters who have had to deal with bodies judged and controlled. Who have had to face situations where they are expected to make do with not being safe, with not being accommodated. And who find a freedom when something comes along that empowers them. That allows them to embrace new bodies, new sizes. It’s a great issue!

Fireside Magazine #93 (4 short stories total)
  • “Across the River, My Heart, My Memory” by Ann LeBlanc (short story) - A wonderful story told from the point of view of a pancreas. Or, well, kinda sorta. The voice is defiant and powerful, refusing to bend to corruption and injustice. And it’s a complex work, where the narrator is a set of memories, of Jenn, but filtered through someone else, through Michelle whose pancreas they lived in, through the vibrant and starkly divided city they both lived in, now residing in an affluent person who stole the organ. It’s messy but stunning in its construction and world building, all leading to a moment of reversal, hope, and grim resolve. Also I would totally be lured to my doom by special reserve jerky, just saying. An amazing read! Organs, Community, Cities, Queer Characters, Uploaded Consciousness, Memories. CW- Organ Theft, Surgery, Death, Aggressive Capitalism. [c4 t3]
  • “Forest Thing” by Endria Isa Richardson (short story) - A verdant story of change and corruption, where the narrator was a researcher trying to expose the poisoning of her environment, her home. Too late, though, as the pollution created an explosion that killed her family. That almost killed her. But that didn’t, that rather changed her and made her a part of a different neglected and mistreated community. But as the bridge between oppressed worlds, she gets a power that allows her to do something, to push back against the powers trying to destroy and prey on her. A sharp and wonderful story! Trees, Family, Transformations, School. CW- Explosions, Death of Family, Prejudice/Racism, Death/Guns. [c4 t4]
  • “Cruise Control” by Benjamin C. Kinney (short story) - An old man is faced with a strange decision in this story--stay in a nursing home he hates, with people who don’t want to be around him, or become a “driver,” an uploaded consciousness that works 8 hours piloting a car and the rest of the time doing VR or similar. For the narrator, this isn’t exactly a great choice, but I like what the story does with that, exploring the kind of misery that he seems to spread, and his path forward into a place where maybe he won’t make everyone around him want to flee. A fine read! Cars, Uploaded Consciousness, Family, Decisions. CW- Death/Dying. [c2 t3]
  • “T-E-E-T-H” by Imogen Archer (short story) - A heavy and complicated piece about expectations, societal pressures, and parenting, where Samena is the mother of Thea, a girl whose last baby tooth has fallen out and whose adult teeth are about to emerge. Which, in the perhaps-future of the story where the US is extremely isolated and apparently self-sufficient, means that Thea is about to get her teeth word, which will influence her opportunities and perhaps even her personality. It’s a neat concept and played with in some complex ways, all weaving into parenting, the pressures to conform, and the walls people build around them. A great read! Teeth, Words, Family, Parenting, Expectations. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth. [c2 t3]
A great issue featuring four short stories, all of them dealing with corrupt worlds and characters trying to find their ways through them. Through the dangers of illegal organ harvesting and rampant class divides. Through pollution and racist policymaking. Through aging and the prospect of uploading into an uber, basically. And through the pitfalls of parenting in a setting where people’s futures are somewhat based on an opaque and strange dental graffiti. All in all, some wonderful reads!

Strange Horizons 07/19/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “The Cataloguer of Deceit” by Ian Rosales Casocot (short story) - The story of a woman who has discovered a way to live forever, though at a number of costs. It doesn’t prevent her from aging, after all, and now at almost 150 years old she’s bent and sunken. It requires her to meticulously record sins, both her own and those she learns of others. They give her power, even as they lock her into a toxic cycle where she sins to have things to record, helping to spread the misery that surrounds her. It also robs from her the happy memories she has. All of which leads her to a moment of crisis, of change, and it’s a brilliantly captured thing, powerful and wrenching, complex and beautiful. And it makes for a fantastic read! Houses, Immortality, Records, Sins, Cupcakes. CW- Vampirism, Cruelty. [c2 t4]
  • “In the Witch’s House” by Nora Claire Miller (poem) - This is a rather wonderful piece, unfolding in animation, or at least animated text that appears white against a dark background, following a narrator inside a witch’s house, on a kind of tour. It’s weird and for me there’s a feeling of danger, power, uncertainty, as the narrator seems to want something and the witch shows them around, everything just a bit off, everything waiting, caught in the gravity of the place and its magic. And it’s just such a neat effect, drawing the reader in, maintaining a kind of tension that is sharp and delicious. Definitely worth checking out!
A lovely issue of Strange Horizons dealing with magic and characters who might be considered witches. Who have special ways of maintaining their power. The fiction is also a nice look at a kind of vampire, though that word is never used. Still, both works look at some classic grim topics and bring some new ideas and flourishes. Some fine reads!

GigaNotoSaurus 07/2021 (1 short story total)
  • “Missed Calls” by Nathan Tavares (short story) - A story in a world where the dead can phone the living, a situation that’s profound in an almost mundane sense, as the phone calls range from emotional to rather annoying. For Ron, the narrator, it’s a chance to hear from his dead brother, even if Ron’s always hoping to hear from someone else who died at about the same time--the same time that Ron’s life fell apart. But his brother, Richie, has a mission for him. To find Richie’s dog, who Ron had turned into the pound. What follows is a melancholy and wrenching look at grief and healing, and it’s a beautiful exploration of Ron’s life, his pain, and his hope as he seeks out a dog he might have let down and faces the things that so recently wrecked him. A great read! Phones, Afterlives, Family, Dogs, Queer Characters. CW- Death of a Sibling/Child, Grief, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Hospitals. [c4 t4]
A short story this month from GigaNotoSaurus, though one that packs a hefty emotional punch. The world building is subtle, the world very much like our own except for a way for the dead to contact the living. It’s a lovely piece, heavy and yet full of warmth, of characters trying to help each other despite the distance between them.

Cast of Wonders #457 (1 short story total)
  • “Just Like the Speeding Heart” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (short story) - A wrenching read as told by a narrator with a clockwork heart, with clockwork growing inside them, something that makes their mother stop viewing them as a person. That convinces her to ignore her child, treat her like an object, a thing, and look past her to the possibility of other children. And yet the narrator is transfixed, hoping for love that never comes. What comes instead is indifference, neglect, and it elicits first rage, and then a kind of deep despair. But a despair that leads the narrator into a new direction. To realize that she doesn’t really have anything to lose, that she can go somewhere else, and maybe find what she’s been missing. A complex and wonderful read! Clockwork, Wishes, Curses, Family. CW- Neglect/Abuse. [c3 t4]
A lovely issue circling around a mother/daughter relationship that really isn’t doing either of them any good. But it’s defined by the power imbalance--the mother denying her daughter love and affection, poisoning the bond between them, leading to this toxic and straining connection that cannot survive. For all that, though, it still finds something like hope, and it’s well worth checking out!

Cast of Wonders #458 (2 short stories total)
  • “Rosie’s Ghosts” by Srikripa Krishna Prasad (short story/flash) - A strange piece about a girl with the ability to see ghosts, though she’s told often to ignore them. To pretend that she doesn’t see. And the story seems to be leaning toward the moment where she drops that, where she embraces her sight, where she listens to the ghosts and sees them and is faced with a kind of temptation. An offer. And what it means and where it will lead...that’s difficult to say with certainty. But for me the piece is about that moment of sort of coming aware that a choice can be made, that she doesn’t have to deny a part of herself. And all the possibility that opens, the knowledge, the yearning. A great read! Ghosts, Family, Houses, Knowledge, Dancing, Queer Characters. [c1 t3]
  • “The Boy Who Feeds the Birds” by Aviel McDermott (short story) - A touching story about a young boy with a deep well of grief and little hope, reached out to by birds who manage to see him when no one else does. The piece finds magic in that, in that connection, as the boy finds the resolve to be himself, to tell his mother about it, to start embracing and living as he needs to. And through it all the birds are there, supportive and kind and sharp eyed. A heartwarming and wonderful read! Birds, Songs, Trans MC, Family, Bread. CW- Dysphoria. [c2 t3]
A nice one-two of stories, both of them touching on some queer themes, both of them heavy with grief. For one narrator, it’s the grief of losing a brother and a child. For the other, it’s the grief of not being seen for who he is. In both, the characters receive some perspective and help from outside, from voices reaching out either over the phone or through notes. And both are rather sweet stories, though they walk the borders of grimness. Some great stuff!

Pseudopod #765 (1 short story total)
  • “The Child Feast of Harridan Sack” by Kaitlyn Zivanovich (short story) - An unsettling story about a child abduction and a mother paralleling that with a storybook, a fable that she would read to her daughter. About a witch who stole children. And the piece looks at how fiction succeeds and fails, how it acts as a warning but misses a lot, simplifies a lot, to the point that sometimes it’s a trap all in itself, an illusion that we can recognize the “bad guys,” that things always turn out all right, and that there’s a lesson to be learned in the end that helps everyone. When in reality things are often a lot more complicated, and the piece goes to some very unpleasant and disquieting places, though it pulls back from the brink. It’s horror is not as much what happens as what might have, and it’s a powerful read! Witches, Family, Parenting, Food, Texting. CW- Child Abduction, Child in Peril, Child Molestation, Racism, Police/ACAB. [c5 t5]
This issue/episode is visceral and real, the plot splitting between a fairy tale about a witch and stolen children and a contemporary account of a mother dealing with the abduction of her twelve year old daughter. With that, the piece is very difficult at times, but it also is sharp, revealing the ways that stories can protect, and the ways they can make vulnerable. A fine issue!

Omenana #18 (9 short stories*, 1 novelette) (*doesn’t include the story in French)
  • “The Diviner” by VH Ncube (short story) - A story of technology and the pressures of success, as the narrator tries to launch the Diviner, an immersive system that would allow people to connect with the digitized avatars of their ancestors. It’s production has been rushed, though, and now the public launch needs to go perfectly if the narrator is going to stay above water. When the Diviner seems to malfunction, though, the deep implications of that threaten to do more than screw up the launch--they might unbury the skeletons that the narrator thought put to rest. An interesting and well built story, and I’d be quite keen to know what happens next! Ancestors, Family, Technology, Politics. CW- Murder, Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t3]
  • “Eating Kaolin” by Dare Segun Falowo (short story) - A piece that looks at the changes colonialization forced on communities, women faced with dramatically altered situations, bled and pressed to give and give, cut away from their traditional supports and aide and left intentionally vulnerable to make them easier to exploit. Here, though, they decide to push back, helping to birth leopards from the earth to empower them to fight, to reclaim what was taken from them, and to build a better world for their children, for everyone. It’s a wonderfully built story, moving between characters, revealing the dangers, and the way through. A fantastic read! Rivers, Chalk, Family, Queer Characters, Leopards. CW- Colonization, Violence, Harassment/Threats. [c4 t4]
  • “Upgraded Versions of a Masquerade” by Solomon Uhiara (short story) - A piece that follows a young performer and perhaps apprentice, Atu, through the magical steps of his practice. The dangers of exhibition, where he dances and performs and almost dies. The dangers of his studies, where his handler is playing with forces that are huge and strange. And the dangers of a new procedure that might open Atu up to even greater possibilities, forging him into something nearing on indestructible. And the piece is evocative and fun, not offering up much in the way of explanation but drawing the reader into a well built and mystical world where magic and technology mingle and play. A wonderful read! Dance, Rituals, Magic, Spells, Healing. CW- Injury/Blood, Guns. [c3 t3]
  • “Arriving from Always” by Nerine Dorman (novelette) - This piece follows Jen, an operative for a huge communications corporation, as she visits her hometown following the death of her mother. It’s a future world grim but very recognizable, where disease and viruses have made travel unusual and where corporations are in something like open war with one another. And what starts as a rather heavy look at someone dealing with loss and grief and disconnection from her home becomes something more tense and fast paced as Jen’s world is suddenly turned upside down. And she has to decide what to do when the world as she knew it is shattered and she must look to protect what, or who, is important to her. I like the world building here and the build up and it’s another I’m left wanting more of. A great read! Quarantines, Family, Employment, Communications. CW- Death of a Parent, Blood/Violence/guns, Explosions/Terrorism. [c4 t3]
  • “The Jini” by Wangari Wamae (short story) - A quick jaunt of a story that finds the narrator on his way for a bit of fun on the coast, remembering the warnings from his mother about not picking up anything from the beach or the ocean because it might contain a jini. Of course, he didn’t really think the idea of picking something up extended to the...relational kind of pick up. The piece is fun and quick, the ending humorous but with a lingering grimness, too, the reminder that this isn’t all fun and games, and that more than just the narrator’s ego might have been impacted by what happened. A great read! Vacations, Beaches, Oceans, Clubs, Bars. [c1 t2]
  • “Shandy” by Gabrielle Emem Harry (short story) - A fun story about a young woman who discovers that the ancestor she summons to help with her problems...isn’t quite like most people’s. Mma Asa is loud, forceful, and not at all subtle about what she thinks Ibi should be doing to get ahead. Which mostly suits Ibi, who’s also rather stubborn and proud. When Ibi is set to get married to man who also has a rather persistent ancestor, though, things come to something of a head, and everything seems poised on the edge of ruin. And I just love the energy and heart of this story, the care that everyone has and the interesting ways they have of showing it. It’s an at times raucous but also very charming and wonderful read! Ancestors, Libations, Marriage, Advice, Family. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth. [c2 t2]
  • “Self-Destruct” by Stephen Embleton (short story) - This story is about a pandemic and the ways that isolation can prime a person to be twisted. Through boredom and resentment, make a person more open to manipulation. For the narrator, his situation seems dire. But mostly it’s dissatisfaction rather than danger that plagues him. He wants more, doesn’t want to deal with isolating or not having work. It puts him in a place where when he gets contacted online by someone who seems to have the same frustrations, he’s led into conspiracy. It’s a creeping piece that shows the shadows that grow with people being cut off from others, and it’s a chilling and effective story! Apartments, Unemployment, Isolation, Social Media. CW- Pandemics, Disease Conspiracies. [c3 t3]
  • “Germination” by Tiah Beautement (short story) - A heavy story of a woman whose body sprouts plants of all sorts. Plants that she uses to make medicinal treatments for people, though she can’t seem to help those closest to her, and can’t seem to help herself with them either, as she experiences miscarriage after miscarriage. The piece looks at her resolve and her damage, her life in this array of flowers and plants, and yet amidst it all is the pain of what’s happened to her, the wounds that don’t heal. It’s a beautiful but difficult piece for me, full of gutting moments while still reaching for something better. A fine read! Plants, Relationships, Family, Queer MC. CW- Pregnancy/Miscarriage, Rape, Death of a Parent, Death. [c4 t4]
  • “The Third Option” by Jen Thorpe (short story) - A story about a system held in place by a kind of eugenics, by designing people to be a servant class. For the narrator, a surgeon, it’s something she’s just a part of, distant from. Separated from by the gloves she always wear that prevent her from being copied. Except she must have made a mistake because she meets another her. Another who who represents a threat to her way of life, because if people know she slipped up and got copied, there will be trouble for her. So she needs to decide if she’s going to confess, try to ignore it, or take the third option. And it’s a nicely paced piece with a grim twist. It’s sharp in the way it sees how this system operates, and the conversational, casual tone makes it all the creepier. A great read! Cloning, Employment, Restaurants, Social Classes. CW- Murder, Non-consensual Medical Procedures. [c3 t4]
  • “Machine Learning” by Ayodele Arigbabu (short story/flash) - A very short piece but a punchy one featuring a robotic domestic worker and a man who gets what’s coming to him. The piece is a compact look at justice, finding a narrator who has been mistreated, and who doesn’t snap because of a violence or an dramatic attack. Rather it’s the casual dismissal of their personhood that builds too great, and pushes them to assert their rights, and change the meaning of machine learning. A quick fun read! AIs, Robots, Televisions. CW- Violence, Harassment/abuse. [c3 t3]
The latest issue of Omenana might be the largest for the publication yet, with eleven different stories, including one in French! As I do not read French, I cannot review that one, but I will be looking at the nine short stories and one novelette in the issue, and it’s a great range of stories, from creepy to joyous, from grim to quick and action-packed. I’ve been reading the publication for almost seven years now, and it continues to be a break source of vividly imagined and wonderful short SFF!

Works read this year to date: 769 stories, 232 poems (+24 stories, +5 poems)

I made it over 1000 review on the year! Wooo! Or something like that (the numbers are a little weird because I’ve skipped reviewing a few stories). But we’ll just say that I am now over 1000, which is something of an accomplishment for me, a feat that I’ve never managed to do previously, and I did it in seven months! That means the numbers on the year are probably going to go well north of even my optimistic goal of 1500. Though of course things could change. Still, I do admit that I like hitting milestones like this, because I do an awful lot and having that tangible thing to point to is…nice. Not that many will really I guess know what it means, because at these numbers it gets a little difficult to really conceptualize. But that means in just over 200 days I’ve read 1000 works of short SFF, or almost 5/day for the year so far. It’s a lot!

Unfortunately, it means I don’t have much to report. At the time I write this I am eagerly waiting a rejection (at the time this goes fully public, I will have probably received it, so be gentle with me). I’m pushing toward the end of the month and will have my queer short SFF list and Liver Beware! review done I hope. For future plans, I’ve changed the name of my drunk X-Men review column I’ll be starting in January, and am looking for an artist to commission helping out a bit with that (recreating part of Giant Size X-Men #1 but the characters are alcohol bottles). And I’m settling into my new role on the board of the local queer center. Lots doing.

In media, I’ve been playing a lot of Fire Emblem: Three Houses and have now gone through the time warp. Most people are even more queer than before except Ignatz and ngl I like his big boy voice less than his nerd voice. But a small complaint. It continues to be a very fun game that I’m enjoying. Matt and I have continued to watch Death in Paradise, and are now in Season 9, where Neville replaces Jack as the detective. It’s a sad thing for us, as Jack has been our favorite of the detectives. Especially in his later seasons, he really settled into being a supportive and caring character, and it’s a little sad to see him replaced with someone who is basically Richard from the first two seasons again. But then, maybe Neville will improve (he at least seems fairly autistic, which would be nice if they made canon, and if the story weren't about the victory of him being able to mask more...). But yeah, I continue to be your very tired friendly neighborhood short SFF reviewer. Cheers!


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