Friday, August 6, 2021

Quick Sips 08/06/2021

I think I can I think I can I think I can. At least, I seem to be having a little bit of progress to catching up to where I want to be with regards to reviewing. It’s still a bit of a haul, but the big news this week is that I caught up on the amazing Decoded Pride project, which released a work a day back in June. So yay! I also cover the July Mermaids Monthly, and July issues of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Escape Pod, PodCastle, and Cast of Wonders. I’m not all the way caught up, though. Next week I’ll be finishing up the July reviews I can get to (Tor, Clarkesworld, and Strange Horizons), but there are some larger works (novellas mostly), that I’m still behind on, and at least one more large anthology I’d like to get to before too long. So…shit. But, I think I can I think I can I think…

NOTE: This will be a recurring note that will run with every Quick Sips. First, please note that I don’t necessarily mention every story or poem out in an issue. I am giving myself permission to either DNF stories, or else finish and just not comment on them. Please don’t assume it’s because I disliked the work! There are many reasons I might chose not to comment on a piece, and I reserve the right to do just that. Second, you might notice the notations at the end of the micro reviews and wonder what the [c# t#] is. These are for the Scales of Relative Grimness and a full explanation of them can be found through the tab at the top of the page or through this link. With that said, let’s get to the reviews!

Mermaids Monthly #7 (6 short stories, 5 poems, 1 graphic story total)
  • “seal bride” by Jennifer Mace (poem) - This piece takes on the nature of selkies, finds the narrator on dry land, in a secluded spot, but there is a sense of inevitability to it, from the title and the myths of selkies. That they are captured, that they are brought away from their homes. An act of violence and loss, this piece in short form seems to me to touch on someone looking ahead, perhaps knowing what might be in store, and feeling that isolation and distance even before it’s arrive. A moving read and great way to open up this selkie-themed issue!
  • “This is How You Make Selkie Skins” by Priya Sridhar (short story/flash) - A quick and rather sharp story with a great tone that captures for me a sense of weariness, a sense of having to hustle, of having to be a bit paranoid because of the dangers out there. Because of the trauma already experienced. It offers practical advice that cuts through any sort of romanticism about making selkie skins while not entirely throwing out the magic. The wonder of it. It’s a piece that simply recognizes the broken system and tries to help people move through it rather than offering any promises that the system is going to get better. It’s very practical, and a wonderful read! Selkies, Sewing, Skins, Business, Bargains. CW- Injury/Amputation, Violence/Loss. [c3 t3]
  • “The Land Wife” by Phoebe Farrell-Sherman (poem) - This is a difficult piece, and it speaks to me of love and toxic relationships. Ones that come out from two people who find in the other something they need, but where only one of them ends up giving up anything to be in the relationship. They are framed as the one who needs to change, the broken one, the one who worries the other, when really a relationship that operates on those absolutes can’t last, or can last only as long as the one person internalizes the idea that it’s their fault, that they aren’t doing enough, trying hard enough. And it’s a wrenching and careful look at that, and on the narrator, a selkie in a dry world, finding the strength to put her own needs first. A great read!
  • “Clutch. Stick. Shift.” by Tehnuka (short story/flash) - A story of family and freedom and all the things that can mean. A young couple yearning for a place to call their own, having a daughter, and raising her, never quite belonging in the place they call home. One of them a selkie, pulled back to the sea, leaving a half selkie daughter with her own issues, her own yearnings, her own idea of what freedom might be, might look like. And all of them caught by the winds of fate and history, tossed about, coming to rest but never quite, at least not yet, finding peace. A beautiful read! Selkies, Relationships, Family, Sheep, Cars. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Parental Abandonment. [c3 t3]
  • “Three Magic Seals” by Rhys Hughes (poem) - A piece that is full of whimsy, that for me seems to delight in wordplay and image, setting up these scenes where seals play and move, where the narrators imagine and daydream and dream and all around them is a sense of play and fun and magic. It’s an incredibly charming piece that moves through three different moments, three different images and seals, and all of them are warm, and fun, and fantastic!
  • “Moving In” by Alice Pow (graphic story) - A short and wonderful comic that finds two wives moving into their first house together. And finding out, in the move, something new about each other. And I love the way that happens, the way that both wives were taught to keep a secret they really didn’t have to, and now at least they can start making up for the lost time, the time they lost to fear of rejection and abuse. A really sweet short comic and so worth checking out!
  • “Fish-Fish” by Cherry Potts (short story) - A lovely story about a server at a restaurant who has lost something vital. His partner, and their child. But also a memory of who he was before that, a memory of th sea and the skin he gave up for love. Until a couple comes into his restaurant and her remembers, and it’s a delightful waking up of a story. Finding this character who is not in a good way, who has lost a lot of himself with his partner, finding in this couple a spark that lights his internal fire again. That saves him in an important way. An amazing read! Selkies, Skins, Fish, Restaurants, Seas, Relationships. CW- Death of a Spouse/Child, Pregnancy/Childbirth. [c3 t3]
  • “Ocean’s 6” by Elsa Sjunneson (short story) - I love the title and the implications of it, and really like this story that’s kinda a mini heist tale. Except this isn’t about robbing a bank or casino or anything so mundane. Rather, it’s about repatriating some paranormal items from the British Museum after a fucking awful curating used online dating to find, seduce, and steal from a number of women--witches, vampires, werewolves, and in the case of the narrator, kelpies. And it’s a fun piece about recovering from betrayal and banding together with other survivors to fight back. it’s a neat story with a lot of personality and it’s very much worth checking out! Selkies, Vampires, Werewolves, Museums, Dating, Queer MC. CW- Theft/Intimate Partner Betrayal. [c3 t3]
  • “Fluke” by Jennifer Bushroe (poem) - I love the formal element of the poem, the shape and the way it resembles an aquatic tale, the way the wides of the back fin meet up as the character, the merrow and the selkie, finding each other near the sea and finding in each other something that they were missing, that they had mistaken the want of for something else. And having found each other feeling that much more whole. It’s a warm and lovely read, for all the world they move through is often cruel and cold and smells of rotting fish. It’s a moving piece, wonderfully caught in form and imagery. A great read!
  • “Selachimorpha Selkie” by Cislyn Smith (poem) - This piece unfolds as the narrator describes a kind of shark-selkie who joined the business world, while the narrator admits that not really their speed. They like calmer waters, slower change. And they seem to be speaking to someone they were in a relationship with, but who they are leaving, and who doesn’t seem to want them to go. And I like the way the piece twists expectations, the way the narrator rightly offers up that the other person be the one to change, to shed their skin, to live outside of their environment. For me it speaks to balance, and what it might take to form more whole relationships. A wonderful read!
  • “Below Salt-Heavy Tides” by Andi C. Buchanan (short story) - A story heavy with longing, featuring a selkie who has burned their skin and moved with their wife and children to another world. One that they hope to help build better. Not ruining what was ruined on Earth. And yet through it all they still feel drawn to the seemingly-dead sea of the planet, pulled by something they don’t understand until they give into it, and at that moment they change the world, and it’s a moment filled with beauty and trauma both, as they slowly trace what it is they’ve done and what it means. It’s a story with some big complex tangles and I love that it goes there, messy and impossible as it is, because the result is something careful and aching and amazing. Go check it out! Selkies, Colonization, Seas, First Contact, Queer MC, Family. CW- Climate Change. [c2 t3]
  • “Girlfriend Jacket” by Benny Kim (short story/flash) - This is a short but really cute story about a selkie coming to in her best friend’s skin. Her best friend’s body. A pair of selkies who don’t hold to the advice to hide away and rarely go on land, the two like to party, to go out, and yet for all the fun the story eludes to, there’s a deep and resounding heart as well, as the narrator realizes how much they trust and care for their friend. It’s a warm and wonderful read and a great way to close out the issue! Selkies, Parties, Friendship, Skins. CW- Drinking/Alcohol, Body Swap. [c2 t2]
An entire issue of Mermaids Monthly devoted to something other than mermaids. But only kinda. Selkies often get put in the same, same...pond? Submarine? In any event, they get lumped together because they are part marine, part human magical beings, and I love the various takes on the myths, from solidly fantasy to off world sci-fantasy. It’s a robust and amazing issue, and I definitely recommend checking it out!

Decoded Pride #2 (22 short stories, 2 novelettes, 6 graphic stories total)
  • “Re: The Abomination That Sprung From My Mind” by Jennifer Tran (short story) - A lovely story told in an email exchange between a professor of summoning and a student who accidentally manifested something like an abomination. And the piece looks at what that means in this setting and for these characters, and in the back and forth there’s this picture of insecurity and pressure, of care and teaching. I do love that the professor here is understanding and kind, patient and helpful, and it’s a great progression to watch that at work, coaxing the student to really learn from what’s happened. And it’s really a warm and wonderful read! School, Summoning, Magic, Cats, Abominations. [c1 t2]
  • “Suga and CC” by Maurice Moore (short story) - This piece takes on oral storytelling and magic, nesting a narrative about two people facing the return of a beast that must be faced. The story seems to fit into a larger setting and storyline but works well on its own, a taste of this long history that is being uncovered, pieced together where it’s been broken by violence and prejudice. The voice of the piece is vibrant and the action is vivid and tense. I love the way that the nesting lends both an uncertainty to the work, an air of fiction, while also coming across as entirely genuine, revealing truths that people want and need to see. A fantastic read! Oral Storytelling, Governments, Magic, Trans Characters, Queer Characters. CW- Violence, Death, Slurs. [c3 t3]
  • “Neck and Neck” by Hay Mulholland (graphic story) - A lovely comic following a couple separated by death, or undeath, where they meet every so often where one of them is confined on special nights where they can talk and be close and reconnect. In that sense there’s a bit of melancholy to the piece even as the characters try to keep things light, try to keep the spark that still exists between them going. And yet even as their love is evident, so is the strain that this ritual has on them, the time that they can’t spend together, the yearning they have for a way to share more. It makes me want more of their story, even as the comic is whole and complete and very good!
  • “Love, Satan” by J.D. Harlock (short story/flash) - A short and sharp piece that looks at the retirement of a...prominent figure, thanks in large part to humanity being its own worst enemy. The piece takes the form of a resignation letter, which is a nice touch, already rather out of date and almost reaching back. And there’s a great sense of almost wounded affront as well, a sly twisting of what this is into a call for attention and care and it’s petulent but in almost an endearing away. It’s a fun read, basically, bitingly sarcastic and a delightful experience! Satan, Letters, Resignations, Relationships. [c1 t3]
  • “Anomalous” by S.E. Fleenor (short story) - A story about two people in a simulation. One of them a prisoner unaware of what’s being done to him, the other a captain traveling through space trying to save people from a nightmare scenario none of them signed up for. It looks at freedom and illusion, the characters trying to break free from a system designed to break them, and only some minds react so strongly that they can break the hold the illusion traps them in. It’s a messy and tense read that’s difficult at times but that’s also ultimately triumphant and freeing, and it’s a fantastic read! Simulations, Virtual Reality, AIs, Trans Characters, Space. CW- Confinement/Imprisonment/Slavery, Forced Pregnancy/Surgery, Death. [c4 t4]
  • “Home-Bodies” by Arwn Meereboer (graphic story) - Another really cute comic, this one featuring a vampire and a werewolf living together and trying to navigate their different schedules, needs, and boundaries. It’s quick and domestic and just really fun, showing the two very much in love but also kind of annoyed with each other and how they’re different, having to have a conversation about that and figure themselves out some more. A really great read!
  • “Sisters of the Whispering Inferno” by Kayleigh Hearn (short story) - This story finds a young woman in a convent dedicated to preventing the deaths of prominent nobles and figures. How? By linking those “important” lives to those of the sisters, who burst into flame when their shadow self is killed, allowing the shadow self to live while the sister is the one to actually perish. For Verity, though, being the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter complicates matters, allows her to dream into the mind of her shadow self, and maybe fall in love with her. Which is lucky then that the bond might work both ways, and that the two women together might find a way to defy their proposed fate. A tightly paced story with some wonderful world building and fantastic characters! Convents, Nuns, Bonding, Dreams, Queer MC. CW- Imprisonment/Prisons, Mental Intrusion. [c3 t3]
  • “Delan at the Shrine” by Dora Dee Rogers (short story) - This piece follows Delan as she protects the priestess Runa on a pilgrimage to a sacred shrine. Unfortunately, they’ve being followed by bigots who don’t like that Runa’s goddess (and all her priestesses) are trans women. Delan faces her own doubts, though, as she strives to protect Runa while also drawing closer to her, the two of them bonding in ways they hadn’t quite anticipated, at least not in this way, in this situation. And I love the aching heard of the story, the romance and the action paired perfectly, the result a story of sword and faith, a fantasy story should should definitely check out! An amazing read! Goddesses, Bodyguards, Religions, Shrines, Trans MC. CW- Violence, Slurs, Prejudice, Blood, Injury. [c4 t4]
  • “Volcanic Glass” by Kai Hudson (short story) - A story full of longing that finds Hephaestus toiling in his forge, visited every now and then by Hermes, who bears gifts. Who doesn’t judge. Who is patient in a way that Hephaestus thinks he understands, but doesn’t quite. It’s a very slow burn romance here, but it’s also lovely and alive, beautifully captured as the two move through history, past the end of the world, or what might have been it, if not for hope, and love. A wonderful read! Gods, Greek Mythology, Queer MC, Forges, Gifts. CW- War/Death, Nuclear Bombs. [cc3 t4]
  • “Not Alone” by Nireleet (graphic story) - Another really cute comic, this one featuring a witch out to get water, having the rather acute realization that everyone around them seems to be paired up. And the piece really drives home that sense of maybe loneliness, how she sees that and feels a bit bad, a bit lesser. How she gets home and there’s a cat but how that still feels perhaps not what she wants. But how that feelings dissipates with a magical call from someone, and I like that aspect of it, that it finds this brightness in that connection, regardless of the nature of that relationship. They aren’t alone, as the title suggests, and that’s really nice.
  • “An Offering to the Sun” by dave ring (short story/flash) - An incredibly horny bit of werewolf fun, featuring Danny, a werewolf who’s just found a pack. Who’s just entered into something larger than himself, and finds that he wants it. That he wants more. It’s a short piece but full of a kind of timid hope giving way to a rather carnal joy, and I love it. The speculative elements here are light, the werewolves pretty much in human form, but beneath that there’s a great feeling of world building and community, an implied culture that Danny is just breaking into. A wonderful read! Werewolves, Packs, Sex, Queer MC. CW- Alcohol. [c2 t2]
  • “The Hunting Ground” by A.J. Hartson (short story) - A story of danger and chase, where the narrator is a Native woman caught on the side of the highway by a truck full of white assholes. Who decide that she is prey. But who is hunter and who hunted is twisted by the piece as the narrator leans on their own technological superiority and the power of the land itself, finding some measure of justice when those who seek to make her a victim end up running into a much more powerful force. It’s a tense piece, shaped around an all too real tragedy, but imagines a way of pushing back against that and finding safety and joy instead. A fantastic read! Highways, Plants, Earth, Forests, Queer MC. CW- Attempted Rape/Murder, Death. [c3 t4]
  • “The Other Boy and the Lake” by Leon Locke (short story) - A story heavy with longing as Salt moves through a world struggling under the strain of climate change. Heat that makes moving outside in the sun not just a chore, but dangerous. And Salt, eager to be somewhere else but also without a whole lot of prospects. Everything crowded, suffocating. And his dreams alive with the feel of a river. The call to something he doesn’t quite understand, even as the dreams invade the waking world, leak into a lake that seems to be following him. It’s an almost haunting read, but lovely and magical all the same, and a great story! Lakes, Water, Merpeople, Dreams, Family. CW- Climate Change, Blood/Violence. [c3 t4]
  • “The Beacon of Influencership” by Monika Estrella Negra (short story) - A Black artist deals with a toxic friendship that’s lasted far too long, that finally breaks when her “friend,” Marjorie, steals some of her art to fuel her own influencer status. The story takes the shape of a revenge arc, but not quite as expected. Though the narrator just wants a genuine apology, wants Marjorie to *feel* sorry, what happens instead goes a bit beyond that, thanks to an unintended intervention. The piece is grim but fierce, finding in the narrator someone coming awake to the nature of this relationship, and finding a kind of peace in what comes next. A fine read! Art, Social Media, Friendship, Betrayal, Parties, Queer MC. CW- Disappearances. [c2 t4]
  • “Vivicus” by Shaya French (short story) - A strange story about a mysterious illness released from the thawing permafrost, that finds a couple strained when Sierra gets it and Remke doesn’t. And Remke has to see the disease progress, to try and take care of Sierra, even as everything kind of falls apart. It’s wrenching and a bit heartbreaking, the way it keeps the two distant, the way it hurts their relationship, but even so there are moments of beauty, even as the illness progresses, and spreads. A difficult read but also a lovely story! Relationships, Queer MC, Foxes, Illusions, Transformation. CW- Illness/Infection, Loss. [c3 t4]
  • “Agents of C.L.A.W.” by Jeffrey Brown (graphic story) - Another really fun comic, this one finding three superhero-esque character on a mission to recover a very special...mixtape? And I love the art style and the energy of it, the color and the way the characters bounce off each other, all of them rather brash, all of them giving their all to get to the end of the mission. It’s a wonderful little one-shot, full of personality and definitely worth checking out!
  • “The Door Knocker” by Christopher Luis-Jorge (short story) - A story of a man, Diego, who moved away from his family and friends to be with a guy who then...dumped him. Now lonely in the city, Diego finds himself adrift and unsure of what to do. He bounces around, his decisions strained, his outcomes increasingly poor. Until, that is, an evangelical vampire knocks on his door, and Diego gets something like a lifeline. It’s a piece full of insecure yearning and I love it for that, for the way that Diego is trapped, and the way that he finds some empowerment and decision. A great read! Vampires, Employment, Relationships, Yoga, Cats. CW- Violence/Murder. [c3 t4]
  • “More Efficient Than a Guillotine” by S.D. Edwards (short story/flash) - A quick story narrated by a trans woman piloting a spacecraft that’s supposed to take Earth’s wealthiest away from the husk the planet has become and to a new life on Mars. Only she’s not about to let them off the hook that easily, and the recording she makes chronicles a different trajectory for them, one that she’s locked in and is willing to give up everything for. To make sure that the cycle that destroyed one planet doesn’t just get recreated on another. A sharp and punchy read! Space, Mars, Piloting, Spaceships, Trans MC. CW- Climate Change, Corruption, Murder/Suicide. [c3 t4]
  • “Soil and Starlight” by Gio E. (short story) - A fragile story that finds two women shipwrecked on a moon, waiting for possible rescue or possible...not. Left with a single apple and only the other’s company, the rest of the crew dead. But they’re more than colleagues, and the story explores the new gulf this tragedy has opened between them, a familiar distance they crossed before but that has now reasserted itself. It’s a quiet and wounded piece, lovely and beautiful and definitely worth checking out! Space, Queer MC, School, Apples, Moons. CW- Crashes/Accidents, Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Necessary Evils of Survival” by Yuna Briggs (short story) - A story about survival and the shapes it sometimes takes, as told by a woman half snake, a woman in love with a village chief. It’s a romance beautiful and quiet and kind, but also in some ways doomed, as the village will not permit them to be together, and will kill the narrator is she leaves her hole in order to feed (though she doesn’t feed on humans). A solution presents itself, though, in a rather unexpected way, and the story looks at how both the narrator and their love need what they have to live, how the village represents a threat to that survival, and how they end up finding a joy and triumph together. A wonderful read! Snake-people, Queer MC, Food, Cuddling, Hunger. CW- Starvation, Prejudice, Violence/Blood. [c3 t3]
  • “Slipping But Not Falling” by Sara Century (short story) - A creeping story of a woman, Jessica, fleeing an abusive marriage, stopping at a strange and beautiful hotel on her long cross-country trek to her sister’s. Her drive has been plagued by rain, by water, and even at the hotel it rains as her body reacts to the punishing drive she’s putting herself through and the stress of leaving her wife. It’s a combination that might make her vulnerable to a shadowy presence stalking the hotel, a hunter waiting for the right prey. The piece is atmospheric and tense, claustrophobic with a growing sense of dread and horror, and I love how it moves relentlessly to its end. A fantastic read! Hotels, Relationships, Driving, Rain, Queer MC. CW- Divorce, Abuse, Drowning, Violence. [c4 t4]
  • “Doctors, Mothers, Soldiers, Ghosts” by V. Astor Solomon (short story) - This story imagines a world invaded by gods who use humans for entertainment and sport, who seem to feed best on human joy, human smiles. And so the narrator of the piece doesn’t. Shields themself from it using the shield of their lost child and wife. The story finds them moving through this ruined world, doing what good they can but not really feeling it. Having to constantly beware lest they feel too much joy and are claimed by the feral gods. It’s a difficult and heavy piece, drawing down to the inevitable moment of defeat, but it comes, it has notes of triumph as well. A great read! Gods, Family, Assistance, Smiles, Cats, Queer MC. CW- Loss, Mind Control, Blood, Possession. [c4 t4]
  • “Emma, Vick & Mary” by Silena Nikolopoulou (graphic story) - This short comic dips into horror as a couple (Emma and Vick) prepare to take part in a horror classic--summoning Bloody Mary. It’s something that Emma especially doesn’t want to do, as she believes and fears, though Vick teases and presses her. And the piece slips so nicely from warm and almost sexy to nicely creepy fast and hard. It’s a great twist and I love how that drop happens, the final panel just so great. A wonderful read!
  • “Determined” by Ciko Sidzumo (short story) - A strange but lovely piece about Ndenu, a person traveling through different universes, and Okhila, the person they are drawn to through it all, the person that they also feel betrayed by, because of who she is, and what she does, and her role in the multiple dimensions. And I love the world building here, the vastness of it, as well as the careful character work, the messy paranoia that Ndenu has to work through, that is keeping them from the person they want to be with. It’s playful and fun and a great read! Alternate Universes, Travel, Relationships, Non-binary MC, Coffee. [c1 t3]
  • “Deepest Chinatown” by Emmalia Harrington (short story/flash) - A short but really fun story about a young Black woman trying to find a way to get to a video store that sells anime and that might contain other people like her, kindred spirits who could end the social isolation she finds herself in. The piece is cute and magical, capturing a time before the internet really caught on, when nerds still had to go to weird places to find the good shit. A delightful read! School, Anime, Video Stores, House Spirits, Clothes. [c1 t1]
  • “Two Strong Arms To Defend Myself” by Peter Vulfranc (short story) - A story that finds the narrator, a young person in Idaho living in a fairly oppressive home, sneaking out late to investigate an explosion at a neighboring farm. And finding...a lot more than they expected. The piece moves nicely, mysterious but with growing (and kinda terrifying) clarity, and I love the way the story leaves a lot open, the lingering questions on how the narrator and the person they meet are connected. For me, the piece looks at hope and time, the narrator finding strength in the possibilities of the universe and how they might escape their current situation in time. A wonderful read! Spaceships, Monsters, Growing Up, Farms, Repairs. CW- Scars/Blood. [c2 t3]
  • “In a Place Like This” by Robin Quinn (short story) - This story finds Amanda going with schoolmate Lucy out into the woods to investigate a cryptid or supernatural being who might have attacked a girl from their college. Lucy claims to have seen it, and Amanda is curious enough that she gets over a bit of her introversion to take the leap...and lands right in some trouble as the excursion ends up being more real than she wanted, though with the excitement comes a few revelations as well as an invitation, It’s a fun piece with a great voice, and I love the way it finds the characters in something of a dangerous and awkward situation, making the most of it. A fantastic read! College, Cryptids, Message Boards, Queer MC, Monsters. CW- Injury/Chases/Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “Molt” by Elijah Marrone (novelette) - A haunting and rather harrowing story about Erica, who has after two months seemed to get over her long-term relationship ending. Now it’s time to burn the old photos and get on with things. But the story explores how Erica feels hollowed out by the breakup, and how that manifests, despite her apparent numbness, and the damage that she goes through because of it, the deep issues that she still needs to face, and that surface in some violent and unsettling ways. It’s a difficult piece at times, visceral and grim, but it’s also a powerful look at living and survival. A great read! Break ups, Relationships, Compulsions, Runnings, Queer MC, Mirrors. CW- Violence/Blood/Self Harm, Hospitals. [c4 t4]
  • “The Iliad, Improved” by AriadneTzn (graphic story) - A very different telling of the inciting incident of The Iliad, the judgment of Paris. The youth looks to the three goddesses to try and pick, and the three, instead of offering gifts, extoll the virtues of the other goddesses, revealing their love and admiration of one another and leading to, instead of war, a bit of divine fun and leaving Paris to probably just eat the apple. It’s wild and sexy and very very fun, and especially for those rather tired of the implications of that moment in mytholgy, a vast improvement, just as advertised. A fabulous read!
  • “A Murder of Crows” by Akil Wingate (novelette) - A complex work that finds Geronimo a kind of Chosen One, inked with power and now experiencing visions about the past, and perhaps about the future. A bad omen that only compounds other bad omens, and runs along with a recent trauma/abuse that he’s suppressed, sealed away. All unfolding in a world where magic societies hide rather in plain sight, and where there might be something toxic in the community waiting to reveal itself. The piece introduces a lot, and in many ways feels like the opening to a longer work, but for what’s here there’s a lot to enjoy, a great sense of magic and family and yeah, pain. There’s so much going on and the scope is both intimate and epic. I do hope the story continues, because it’s a great read! Family, Magic, Dogs, Visions, Organziations, Burgers. CW- Abuse/Child Molestation, Memory Suppression, Violence/Pain. [c3 t4]
And wow, there is a LOT of works to enjoy in this issue/anthology. And for those looking for some queer short SFF, this is a treasure trove of stories and art. I love the very different kinds of stories that are told, from a whole host of genres, exploring a lot of different situations and identities. It’s hard to point to any single theme that works throughout, but then, queer SFF is kinda its own theme. These stories are allowed to the joyous or sorrowful. Triumphant or defeated. Happy or horrifying. And sometimes many of those at once. Because queerness isn’t really defined by one thing, one mood, or one aesthetic. It’s a lot of different things, and this project reflects that with so many works that are beautiful, fun, and a balm during these difficult times. If you’re interested at all with queer short SFF, I do definitely recommend giving this a read, and supporting the project going forward! Phenomenal works!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #335 (1 short story, 1 novelette total)
  • “The God Skrae Eats Death” by Stephen Case (novelette) - An emperor’s legate is sent on a dangerous and desperate mission to retrieve the last deathmage from exile in the hopes of saving the emperor and empire from a series of increasingly deadly attacks. And the deathmage isn’t at all what the legate is expected, nor is the mission nearly so straightforward as he might have hoped. The piece is well built and intricate, the stakes incredibly high and the character work classic and sharp. The action is visceral, and the final sequence is huge and epic. A great read! Magic, Death, Life, Gods, Emperors, Resurrection. CW- Castration, Death, Violence/Blood, Murder. [c4 t4]
  • “Faithful Delirium” by Brent Lambert (short story) - This story finds a holy army on the move, the leader a self-appointed servant to a goddess who suffers, who needs an elixir to heal her. And this servant, the leader of her armies, has been seeking it, destroying everything in his path to get it. Coming at last to a city that must house it. The piece looks at fanaticism and prejudice, and how toxic they can be, making something that should be devotion violent and hateful. And it’s a sharp piece, using the vileness of the main character and his mission to show how this kind of greed and hate can stand against even a rebuke from the highest authority, and what a joke tha tmakes of any attempt at moral superiority. A difficult but wonderful read! Gods, Elixirs/Healing, Religion, Armies, Cities. CW- War/Battle/Violence, Religious Bigotry, Racism. [c4 t5]
A nicely paired issue where both stories deal with gods and magic. People with great powers who are striving to search the gods, only to find out that what that means isn’t what they thought it. Either because something has changed with the gods, or because their understanding of the gods’ wishes has been flawed from the start. They are not easy reads, both grim and with plenty of death and violence, but they’re tightly-paced and nicely fleshed out worlds, and the result is a strong issue!

Escape Pod #794 (1 short story total)
  • “The Deflection of Probability” by Premee Mohamed (short story) - Harriet is taking part in a...kind of science-based reality contest show. Or...maybe a *mad* science-based reality contest show, given the rate at which contestants blink out of reality and are never seen again. And how, in the middle of one challenge, everything goes a bit pear shaped when someone’s device threatens to unravel reality itself. And it’s down to Harriet and her “pluck” to set things right. It’s a fun piece that looks at expectations and pressure, and I love Harriet’s approach to it, her insecurity but also her drive to succeed, to do Science! A wonderful read! Reality Shows, Competitions, Science!, Reality, Wormholes. CW- Accidents, Death. [c3 t3]
I really fun issue that finds a reality show that’s also a science competition, one where the stakes might traditionally be low but can skyrocket rather quickly to being a lot more than just winning the prize. Like, saving the unvierse. And yeah, it’s a really neat story and a great take on reality shows and the ways they move with societal prejudices and preferences. Some good stuff!

PodCastle #689 (1 short story total)
  • “Gitl Schneiderman Learns to Live With Her In-Laws” by Rebecca Fraimow (short story) - A rather delightful adventure told in a letter between Shaina and her friend back home as she visits her cousin and stop in on a different friend, the titular Gitl, who has just lost her husband and sister-in-law. And, it turns out, the sister-in-law might be the loss more keenly felt, though also the one that might be able to be remedied, as a phantom fiddle in the village suggests. The piece is fun and warm, showing the pain that comes from parents rejecting their children’s dreams, and finding strength in chosen families and love. The piece never quite comes out and says that the relationship between Gitl and her sister-in-law is queer, or that the rabbi who the Shaina considers a know-it-all is trans, but for me that’s part of the charm of the piece, the light obliviousness of the narrator. It makes for a great read! Dybbuks, Jewish MC, Queer Characters(?), Family, Leters. CW- Death of a Spouse, Parental Rejection. [c3 t3]
An issue told in epistolery form detailing an interesting adventure involving death, love, and some dybbuks. The piece unfolds with a chatty tone and style, though also one that might be just missing a few details that readers might pick up on. For me, it’s a really cute story, with an ending that’s joyous and triumphant, valuing chosen family and follwing your dreams. A fine issue!

Cast of Wonders #460 (1 short story total)
  • “More Than One Zodiac in High School” by Eliza Chan (short story) - A story where everyone gets a paired animal spirit based on the zodiac, though not necessarily the Western one. For Amy and her dragon, it’s another way that she’s marked as different, singled out for racist bullying that never seems to get any of the bullies in trouble. When Tegan moves in next door, it seems like it might just be more of the same old cycle, btu as the two become friends they’re able to see each other, and themselves, in new and more complete ways, and appreciate the things that make them both who they are. It’s a heartwarming story, though it has to get through some rather difficult territory to get there, and it’s a powerful and beautiful read! Zodiac, Dragons, Friendship, School, Family. CW- Racism, Slurs, Bullying, Animal Abuse. [c4 t4]
This issue takes on a lot of difficult subject matter, from internalized racism to bullying to the intricacies of family and identity. And through that it builds a world where animal spirits accompany people and of course capitalism works in there as well in some messy and shitty ways. It’s a wonderfully imagined and executed issue!

Works read this year to date: 811 stories, 237 poems (+42 stories, +5 poems)

So in terms of publications, this is something of a small week, with just 6 different publications, most of those with only one or two stories. Two of the publications, though, push the week into Almost Too Much land. Namely, Mermaids Monthly has A Lot of stuff in it. I wasn’t expecting when the project launched that there would be so much every month but they’ve managed to create some sharp and well collected issues (thematically resonating and very well constructed not to mention pretty and gay), so I am definitely not complaining. And of course Decoded Pride put out a work of queer short SFF every day in June, which means it was over 250 pages of works to consider. I loved reading it, though, so again, not complaining. I am, however, tired. My mission to try and find a balance with my reviewing is currently a bit skewed, but at least I’m reading a lot of work I love.

In personal news, I did not win the Outwrite poetry chapbook competition (all congrats to the winners), so that means I am officially back to submitting original work again, though it’s poetry and not fiction. Still, I’ve already submitting nine poems out into the world, and I’m feeling all right about that. A little itchy, perhaps, but it’s something. We’ll see if I can get back into fiction, which has been something of a brick wall for a while. Also, Burly Tales launched on the 1st, which includes my novelette, “A Giant Problem.” It’s a big gay twist on the Jack and the Beanstalk story, starring a vegetarian giant and the sexy exterminator who comes to (nonlethally) help with a…human infestation in a castle in the clouds. Also there is a terrible goose who lays golden eggs. And a dance rave. It’s a lot of fun, and I do hope people like it.

That’s about it, though. I’m playing FE3H still and Matt and I are just into the latest season of Death in Paradise. Neville remains…a chore. He’s so autistic-coded in a lot of ways but also very not autistic, because what he’s okay/lazy about and what he’s Not about just don’t always line up. It unfortunately frames his “annoying” (often autistic-coded) qualities as faults that he should be working to “fix” and sighhhhhh. Jack was so much better as a character. Also the season so far is missing Ruby, who made a nice replacement for Dwayne. Without either of them, the Commissioner steps up and I do love the Commissioner but it does leave something of a hole in the team. Florence returning is welcome, though, as I do like her a lot. So yeah. And I’ll actually do a write up for Mystery Incorporated now that I’m done with it, because yeah.

Other Media:
Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated
So they tried to do a lot with this show. First, they built a mythology around it, and aimed for doing more of a continuing story rather than a strictly episodic mystery set-up, though for most of the first season they kept it to a monster of the week kind of thing. The series gets a lot of things pretty right in that regard, though the larger plot is kind of weird and I’m not sure how well I ultimately liked it. Before I get into that, though, the characters. The show updates the characters and changes a lot. Shaggy and Scooby are no longer vegetarians like in What’s New Scooby Doo, but rather back to be omnivores. Shaggy and Velma also start the show off in a secret relationship while the “romance” between Fred and Daphne is built up slowly with a lot of false starts and complications. I actually don’t care for the relationship arcs in the show, from the weird love triangle between Shaggy, Scooby, and Velma to the more traditional Fred/Daphne stuff. Just…well, the stuff with Scooby being jealous was messed up. That Shaggy chooses Scooby over Daphne is weird, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The show then kinda pairs Velma with Marcy (aka Hotdog Water) and while I like the pairing, I also just…dislike how the show treats Marcy. I also don’t like Daphne’s fixation on Fred, nor where that eventually leads. It’s just…not great. Similarly, I love Fred as wanting an ace/aro polycule where “the gang” are a family. That’s really sweet and wholesome and the dude loves his traps. That the show pushes him toward a single relationship is disappointing, especially when the plot of the show ends up valuing them as a team, as a family. It’s something that the ending completely whiffs, and it’s a shame, because this interpretation of Fred is probably my favorite through all media, while most of the other characters languish toward the bottom of the barrel. Ugh. Anyway, the show also actually veers into supernatural territory, something that I’m rarely a big fan of, because the nature of the show is, well, people in masks. And having an interdimensional being be the true evil corrupting people instead of people just being…greedy, is meh to me. I thought that could have been done a lot better, especially the ending being…a fucking travesty. Like for real, no. It basically erases everything and gives people a squeaky clean bow while also somehow making Harlan Ellison a hero and nope. Sorry. Gonna have to say there’s a lot of good, and there is some satisfaction at having gotten through it, but ultimately I way more let down at what might have been than happy about how this one went. Blarg.


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