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!
Tor dot com 07/2021 (1 short story, 2 novelettes total)
- “Now We Paint Worlds” by Matthew Kressel (novelette) - Orna is an agent sent to investigate the disappearance of three planets from the universe, a mystery that has the various authorities in something of a panic. And what she finds is man who thinks of humanity as a plague to be eradicated, talking of gods and his own special importance. And the piece looks sharply at nihilism, at how filtering reality through that way of seeing makes for some very grim outcomes. But how it’s also a fragile way of looking at the world, cowardly and ultimately easy to see through, especially for those able to appreciate beauty and empathy. A great read! Planets, Space, Gods, Family, Travel, Communication. CW- Murder/Genocide, Nihilism. [c3 t3]
- “Black Leg” by Glen Hirshberg (short story) - A creeping story about an amateur filmmaker walking into something that they...really weren’t ready for. Passing randomly someone with a bunch of small stories that resonate one night, when the narrator’s been out of work and bored, and prompt them to travel in search of a ghost story, ultimately finding something much different...and much more terrifying. The piece mixes a kind of numb boredom and lack with a sudden presence and malevolence, and it accomplishes that shift well, so that nothing exactly seems too wrong until it all is, and very much so. It’s a nice bit of horror, effective and chilling, and I love the tone throughout, the casual shock on display. A wonderful read! Ghosts, Trials, Juries, Malls, Diwata, Filmmaking. CW- Bugs/Ticks. [c2 t4]
- “Skin Deep” by Alan Brennert (novelette) - This piece dives back into a more historical moment in the Wildcards universe, taking on the first generation of jokers by centering Tina, a woman who finds herself part of an effort to break through the blacklist of jokers working in Hollywood. Where? Well, on The Twilight Zone of course, on an episode that’s probably rather familiar to readers. But the piece gives that episode adding meaning, creating a moment that resounds even more, echoing the civil rights movements and moments of the time, and in some ways asking how far we’ve come, and how much farther we can go, in the here and now. A fun story that fits neatly into the larger setting and stands alone nicely. A fine read! Wildcards, Television, Civil Rights, Alt History. CW- Freak Shows, Slurs/Prejudice/Bullying. [c3 t3]
A nice range of stories from Tor in July, including a new Wildcards tale that steps back into some of the earlier history of the setting. The other stories mix horror and philosophical science fiction, for works that keep things rather intimate and feature a number of different kinds of loss, griefs, and hopes. Some fine stories!
Strange Horizons 07/26/2021 (1 poem total)
- “What Cacti Read” by Mary Soon Lee (poem) - A piece that takes on the age old thorny issue of...plurals. And it’s a fun read in that, imagining cacti trying to sort of figure themselves out in relation to other animals and plural formations. And in that bit of fun there’s also something a little deeper, something that does sort of ask how we draw lines in language, and what it might mean. How that might carry value, or express something we’re not quite sure we’re expressing. Whatever the case, though, it’s a cute piece, and well worth checking out!
A quick issue with just one poem that I’m reading, though there’s a lot of nonficiton I do recommend people check out. I’m particularly partial to the column that looks at old radio dramas. But yeah, a cute and light way to close out Strange Horizons’ July.
Clarkesworld #178 (5 short stories, 2 novelettes total)
- “Promises We Made Under A Brick-Dark Sky” by Karen Osborne (short story) - A story about a world coming to an end. A place where computer code is sacred language, prayers, and where one person, Liss, has killed God. Or at least the computer program that seemed to be god, controlling everyone’s actions, making sure nothing is wasted, that nothing happens outside its calculations. And the piece follows the revelations that come with haveing thrown down God, and the fear and the possibility that lives past that, as Liss works to find safety for her daughter, which means taking risks others might balk at. A tense and interesting read! Gods, Computer Code, Family, Ships, Angels. CW- Pregnancy, Death. [c3 t4]
- “He Leaps for the Stars, He Leaps for the Stars” by Grace Chan (short story) - A story about Yennie, a genetically engineered celebrity whose star is rising even as his life is not really his own, swapped between a grueling schedule and fans who can literally take up space in his mind. He works relentlessly for his fame and influence, but increasingly finds himself drawn to therapy, and the therapist who asks all kinds of unorthodox questions. And it turns out there’s more going on that he knows, and he gets involved with a kind of heist...of himself. The piece is beautiful and full of longing and I do love self-heist stories, so all the best. A wonderful read! Celebrity, Dancing, Freedom, Training, Queer MC, Songs. CW- Therapy, Confinement, Genetic Engineering. [c3 t3]
- “When the Sheaves Are Gathered” by Nick Wolven (novelette) - This piece finds Johnny and a world that seems to be falling away from him. Where people are disappearing, and his clan, his found family, is disappearing a person at a time. It’s a terrifying kind of descent, his world contracting, and the piece captures that, the hopeless progress of it, the way that it winds down, memory unreliable, full of holes. Everything sort of falling apart. And it ties it all together with a song, with a very early memory, and with a twist that brings things back together, that avoids tragedy even as the shadow of it still looms, in all the missing people, all the memories that stand to be lost as generations age and are lost. A fantastic read! Memory, Parties, Queer MC, Communities, Relationships, Songs. CW- Memory Loss, Loss of Loved Ones. [c3 t4]
- “Preserved in Amber” by Samantha Murray (novelette) - A lovely story about memory, and about a mysterious spaceship that appears over Australia, and the people pulled into its orbit. The researcher trying to decipher the message of the ship. The scientist farther in the future with a much different task. spending one last stretch home with her grandmother before making a venture into the unknown. The piece is heavy with the ideas of immortality and yearning, reaching toward something that will last forever while still recognizing the power of the transitory, the brief. And finding in memory and in connections something more powerful than even the end of the world. A fantastic and moving read! Spaceships, Science!, Language, Family, Home, Memory, Memory Transfer, Queer MC. CW- Death, Car Crashes, Loss of Fertility, Disaster/Apocalypses. [c3 t3]
- “I’m Feeling Lucky” by Leonid Kaganov, translated by Alex Shvartsman (short story) - A story where an invention that allows things (and people) to be sent forward in time ends up kinds wrecking the world, as people use and then abuse the technology to get out of dealing with the consequences of their actions. Hoping that the future is better and that they can skip the difficult parts of their life to live in paradise. Which, of course, fails when universalizing things as it means everyone is trying to get to a future, making the situation worse and worse until, well...the narrator here starts skipping forward and doesn’t stop for a long time, getting to see the rise and fall of a lot, and ending somewhere familiar, with a matured perspective on what happened. An interesting read! Time Travel, Science!, Family, Civilization. CW- Cancer, Death of a Grandparent, Apocalypse, Pregnancy, Blood/Injury/Violence. [c3 t4]
- “The Falling” by M V Melcer (short story) - This story explores falling, on a massive ship balanced trying to pull away from a celestial “monster” that is eating the solar system. And now engineers have to maintain the equations of life and death, mass and distance, having to sacrifice rings of their ship, and the people on board, in order to maintain distance from the monster. It means a structure to society where people, too, fall, as their utility dwindles, as they age, as they are pushed lower and lower on the ship. It’s a wrenching and difficult read, where the narrator becomes an engineer and discovers the full and terrible truth of what’s going on. And it makes for a lovely and challenging read that very much worth spending some time with! Space, Ships, Engineers, Math, Family. CW- Sacrifice, Death of Parents/Grandparents. [c4 t4]
- “Last Nice Day” by Rich Larson (short story) - A wrenching story about a “former” government operative who dissociates a bit by pretending that he’s a character in a story, a nicely meta way of capturing what happens to him when his subself, one essentially created to make him into a killer, takes over. He’s back at his childhood home, living with his mother and sister, though said sister has shut herself away. The whole thing swirls around the terrible things he’s done and the ways he’s tried to live with it, with actions that weren’t exactly his own, except they were. It’s messy and complex and an emotionally hammering story, sharp and with a lingering haunting bite. A great read! Family, Consciousness, Dogs, Soccer, Employment. CW- Mind Control, Murder, Blood/Violence, Trauma. [c4 t4]
A strong issue of, as usual, mostly science fiction stories that explore family and that explore choice in situations where that choice is rather loaded. Situations where there is no good option, or there isn’t one after a point that passes very early on. And having to still make decisions, still live, with all the weight of what comes next. Some great reads!
Fantasy #70 (4 short stories, 2 poems total)
- “Shapeshifter” by Vanessa McKinney (short story/flash) - A short and lovely piece that finds the narrator and their partner, Destiny, dancing in a gay club, enjoying the music while the narrator knows they can’t put off their confession any longer. That they’re not quite what they seem. That they’re, well, what the title says. And one from space, to boot! And I like the tension of the moment, the angst, and the lovely joy that the story finds in the reassurance and acceptance of the couple. It’s cute and sweet and heartwarming and definitely worth checking out! Dancing, Clubs, Queer MC, Shapeshifters, Relationships, Confessions. [c1 t2]
- “The Failing Name” by Eugen Bacon and Seb Doubinsky (short story) - A strange and rather haunting piece that finds Jolainne sent half across the world from her parents to an aunt and a life that’s supposed to be better and more full of opportunity. But that robs her of a childhood, that doesn’t shield her from abuse or pain. Where she has to take on roles she doesn’t want, always wary, always wearing masks for others, unsure even of what she wants, what she desires. It shows the fault lines through her life left by what’s happened and leaves them in uncomfortable view, beautiful still but demanding something. Something like justice, or relief, or... And it’s a wonderful read! Travel, Family, Creation, Art, Transformation, Memories. CW- Abuse, Rape/Assault, Racism/Bullying. [c4 t4]
- “My List of Bedtime Bogeyman Blues” by Sarina Dorie (short story/flash) - Okay wasn’t exactly expecting to come across some monsterotica in my reading this week but I am not complaining! It’s a rather delightful dive into the attempts of the narrator to...well, to make all of her naughtiest fantasies involving a bogeyman come true. Not that things seem to go to plan, as her desires for the encounters to go a certain way tend to turn off the bogeymen for the very reason that they are desired. That the narrator can’t quite fake the fear for the horniness. And it’s really fun if a little sad. Still, a fantastic read! Monsters, Bogeymen, Beds, Lists, Desires. CW- Monster Fucking. [c2 t1]
- “Ghost Riders at Hutchinson’s Two-Pump” by Inez Schaechterle (short story) - A strange and slightly ridiculous story about a Old West gang that rode into a gorge to their death and now, a very long time later, have ridden out. With a purpose, it seems, to make one last, final, peaceful robbery. Only, as ghosts, they can’t quite manage the feat. They need an intermediary. A medium. And they find one on the side of the road in the form of George, who was fixing to kill himself. It’s a slightly absurd but rather heartwarming story of purpose and change, and it’s a lot of fun. A great read! Ghosts, Gangs, Robberies, Horses, Cars. CW- Suicide, Death, Guns. [c3 t2]
- “The Reality of Ghosts” by Yilin Wang (poem) - A piece that speaks to me of the strained relationships between the living and the dead, the way those relationships are informed by colonialism, by racism, by distance and immigration. The narrator sees ghosts everywhere, sees the familiar and familial touches in their outlines and features, and there is something unsettled about it, about the dead. A sense that they are not entirely safe, and most certainly not tamed, and how evoking the dead, drawing up the ghosts, is something easily and perhaps foolishly done when the full implications aren’t considered. A great read!
- “i find my body and my body” by Shaoni C. White (poem) - A piece that speaks to me of discovery, of fracturing, that things a narrator discovering themself but...dual in some ways, and messed up in any event. For me it seems to speak to a kind of trauma, a violence perhaps, the narrator finding themself as part of something different now, perhaps through death, perhaps always as part of the natural world, but now a tree and a sea and different, certainly, but strong, seeking, and active. A wonderful read!
The fantasy on display in this issue of Fantasy Magazine is a mix of fun and shadow, grimness coupled with a bright and airy charm. There’s a bit of naughtiness, a bit of mischief, and a bit of haunting pain and loss. All told, there’s a lot to get to, and a lot to enjoy!
Lightspeed #135 (4 short stories, 2 novelettes total)
- “Before the Haze Devours You” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (short story/flash) - Yunuen is on Titan trying to complete a mission...by breaking protocol and going out alone to try and retrieve a giant methane tank. Which isn’t so good when she crashes, damages her suit, and can’t seem to get a signal back to the rest of her team. And the piece explores what led her to cut corners, to rush, and how that ultimately goes. It’s a difficult and wrenching piece, but a beautiful story all the same and a great read! Space, Suits, Communication, Queer MC, Explosions. CW- Crashes, Injury. [c3 t4]
- “Now You Feel It” by Andrea Chapela, translated by Emma Törzs (short story) - Rivera is very good at what she does, and what she does is...mental manipulation at a fundamental level. Going in and changing people’s memories, their very feelings, in order to get information or leverage on them for her boss, or in order to help people evade the memory-reading technology of the police. After a disaster a year ago, though, she’s not expecting work when it arrives, a job concerning a rich young man and a case of revenge porn. One that she is tasked to fix so that he doesn’t face legal consequences, though the true impact of what she does means it’s not something he just walks away from. A wonderfully built story around memory and feeling, consequence and justice. And a fantastic read! Employment, Memories, Feelings, Affluence. CW- Revenge Porn, Car Crashes, Memory Manipulation, Suicide. [c4 t4]
- “Anything Short of Death Is Survivable” by David Anaxagoras (novelette) - This story finds Olive a rat, an indentured child working to pay off a debt passed down over generations, forced to have body augmentations that help her dangerous work salvaging old ships near fissures in time and space. She’s already lost everyone close to her, but that doesn’t mean she’s lost all of what makes her human, what makes her hope that things can get better. So when she discovers a strange boy in the wreckage of a very old ship, she has to decide if she’s going to be party to what will make her boss richer, or if she’s going to try to do the right thing. It’s a tense, action-packed story about the resilience of hope, and it’s a wonderful read! Space, Salvaging, Flowers, Robots, Debts. CW- Slavery, Body Augmentation, Violence, Death. [c4 t4]
- “Now You See Me” by Justin C. Key (novelette) - This story finds a trio of white friends visiting a BLM art installation, and finding...that the experience is not what they were expecting. It changes them and, more, it changes the world around them, and as they move away from the exhibit they find their own lives being pulled of the privilege they had, and themselves completely unused to not having it. The respect, the power, the unconscious bias that works in their favor. Without it, they find the jaws of the world drawing down on them, ready to bite sharply. It’s a visceral, uncomfortable read, but also a powerful and sharply built story that’s very much worth checking out! Art, Employment, Friendship, Bias. CW- Racism, Hospitals/Medical Treatment, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Death, Trauma, Police/ACAB. [c5 t5]
- “The Tale of Jaja and Canti” by Tobi Ogundiran (short story) - A lovely story about Jaja, a wooden boy, who eventually goes in search of the woman who gave him life. His mother. Who turns out to be a being more powerful than he anticipated, though the clues were there for him to guess. And the piece looks at his longing and love, and the quasi tragedy of their second meeting. The nature of her, and of him, and the mythic quality of the situation, the prose powerful and playful, the ending heartwarming if a little bittersweet. A fantastic read! Trees, Wood, Family, Dolls, Toys. CW- Death of a Spouse, Death. [c2 t3]
- “My Sister Is a Scorpion” by Isabel Cañas (short story/flash) - A quick story heavy with grief, as the young narrator is convinced that her sister has become a scorpion. The explanation that she died of cancer simply makes no sense and must be a lie, and all she needs to do is find the scorpion her sister has become in order to be reunited. It definitely breaks out the heavy emotional artillery with that, and it’s a rather gutting story, looking at the power of the narrator’s imagination and need, but also the grim shadow it casts, allowing things to scuttle in the darkness there that are dangerous indeed. It’s a great read! Scorpions, Family, Sisters, Transformations. CW- Death, Death of a Sister/Infant, Child in Peril. [c4 t4]
This issue is another big one from Lightspeed, with two novelettes. And the works lean on the grim side, with a lot of heavy themes and intense action. People drive to the brink by oppression, by prejudice, by loss. Having to navigate where to go when sometimes the only way to go is in a sharp descent toward a solid and approaching ground. A fine issue!
Nightmare #107 (3 short stories)
- “Where Things Fall from the Sky” by Ally Wilkes (short story) - A story of whaling and mining as David is part of an expedition into the severe cold on the track of a meteorite. One that his captain finds, but not without cost. And not without tipping the crew into a nightmare of cold and loss. The piece is clawing, building slowly like a limb going slowly numb, that frostbite setting in until there’s no real choice except... It’s an increasingly intense and gripping read, with some touches of warmth gone far too soon. A great read! Cold, Ships, Meteors, Queer MC. CW- Whaling, Death, Suicide, Blood, Frostbite. [c4 t4]
- “Now Will You Listen” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (short story/flash) - A quick story about a young person and their fascination with boys who spend their time reading. Boys their mother tells them to avoid. But they seem pulled, caught in a gravity, until they are confronted with a choice, and...well, that would be telling. But I love how the story sets up that pull, that mystery, and how the narrator is able to sort of walk a delicate line, recognizing the truth in the warnings even as they also know that it might still be something they’ll decide otherwise in the future. A fine read! Books, Employment, Boys, Family. [c1 t3]
- “Cadaver Dogs” by B. Narr (short story) - A visceral story about something taking children in a village, leaving only teeth to be found. The nature of these beings, though, is a mystery, something that the narrator only gets a glimpse of, though that might be enough. Enough to complete a picture that shows how the relationships between children and parents are being strained, how it might not really be children that are being taken, but rather children that are transforming in a way that they hadn’t before known to be possible. It’s a bloody, but perhaps ultimately freeing, story, and a wonderful and intense read! Forests, Kids, Growing Up, Family, Teeth. CW- Blood, Injury/Self-Harm, Funerals. [c4 t4]
A creepy issue of Nightmare, with three stories that take different looks at horror, at a feeling of hunting and being hunted. Of being in pursuit of something only to find that it’s more and different than it seemed. And the tables might be turned, the atmosphere deadly, the situation dire. A great issue!
Works read this year to date: 834 stories, 240 poems (+23 stories, +3 poems)
What this week wasn’t light on was novelettes, as there were six of those sprinkled throughout. It means that while the number of review might be a little below average, the amount of words I read to get there was probably still rather above average. Or about average? Anyway! I’ll just tell myself that if I stopped today it would likely still be more than the most prolific reviewers managed to cover in a year. That will make the little voice in my head telling me I don’t review enough quiet itself, yes? Sigh. Ah well.
In me news, there’s not too much new to report. I am super happy with the way the art turned out for my upcoming drunken review project, Drun-X Reading Comi-X. Artist Matthew Spencer did an incredible job with the idea for it and I am so excited to start this. First up for the series is Wolverine Origins, which I plan to tackle over 9 months. It should be fun!
In media, I’m a bit all over the place to be honest. I had a date with my husband where we got supermarket sushi, sake, and started watching Samurai Cat, which is absolutely adorable. Not through the first season yet but it’s a lot of fun and CATS! We continue to watch Death in Paradise despite kinda hating Neville and also missing Ruby. Marlon is all right but Ruby was amazing and a fitting replacement for Dwayne, who is also missed. We’re at the point where they seem to be seeding romance between Neville and Florence and I’ll just hope that’s a red herring. Oh, but it’s nice to see Camille back for an episode. Maybe she’ll stick around. Who knows? That’s about it, though. Hope things are going well with you all. Cheers!