Friday, August 27, 2021

Quick Sips 08/27/2021

So I am still playing catchup by and large, but I think that I’ll be in a bit better shape after this week than after last week, so progress! The big release that I’m looking at today is the new Translunar Travelers Lounge, which dropped its second issue of the year. It’s packed and it’s amazing! Aside from that, I’m looking at regular releases from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Deadlands, Strange Horizons, Diabolical Plots, and Fireside Magazine. It means there hopefully won’t be too much to clean up next week to get through the August releases, but we’ll see. I’m hoping to get to new Fusion Fragment, Mermaids Monthly, Tor dot com, Strange Horizons, and more. Maybe I’ll even get into September stuff already! We’ll see. First, though, more August reviews.

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!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #336 (1 novelette, 1 novella total)
  • “What the Wind Saw” by Evey Brett (novelette) - A story that unfolds around missing memories, as the narrator has suffered a head injury that has left him disabled, prone to fits, and with no clear idea what led to his “accident.” As he digs into what happened to him, though, the tragedy and complications of it are exposed, and the yearning of his own heart bleed through, reminding him of what happened, and opening a door for him to make good on a promise he almost forgot. It’s a lovely and aching read, fragile but resilient, and I love the way it mixes the historical setting of ancient Greece and the mythology, with a beautiful take on love, desire, and care. A fantastic read! Greek Mythology, Queer MC, Gods, Music, Family. CW- Injury, Torture, Drowning, Murder/Blood. [c4 t4]
  • “A Theatre” by Thomas M. Waldroon (novella) - This is a long and winding story that starts off with a pair of men trying to track down some counterfeit money and gets a bit waylaid. The adventure is rather madcap, and touched with dirt and death, but through it all it maintains an strange air of propriety, with Burnham, the central character, consistently underfed and just continually suffering in general. Through that, though, the pacing and events keep the action moving swiftly along, providing an interesting and hearty story you can really sink your teeth into. Well worth spending some time with! Money, Armies, Spies, Counterfeiting, Dogs, Travel. CW- Injury/Bad Medical Care, Death. [c4 t3]
This issue is definitely not light, featuring both a novelette and a novella. Both stories involve a bit of rebellion, a bit of spying, a bit of two people trying to help one another. That aside, though, they are also quite different, offereing up two alternate histories from ancient Greece to revolutionary America, and the result is an interesting balance and a lot to enjoy!

Translunar Travelers Lounge #5 (14 short stories total)
  • “Miss 49 Days” by Mina Li (short story) - A touching story about the new owner of a house that acts as sort of the last stop for the newly dead. Where ghosts can linger for forty-nine days before passing on. And the piece follows the narrator learning the ropes, trying to help the dead move on, even those who don’t want to. And things get a bit more difficult when one of the visitors is already very familiar to the narrator. It’s an at times wrenching story that looks at grief and loss, acceptance and healing, all the while showing the power of food, of sharing meals. A great read! Food, Soups, Ghosts, Houses, Family. CW- Death, Death of a Parent. [c3 t3]
  • “Monologue of a Wishing Well” by Anjali Patel (short story/flash) - A cute story about a young woman seeking out a wishing well for a spot of advice. As told by said wishing well who is a bit trapped on Earth, but who has been out among the stars (but wasn’t too impressed). And who does have some rather sharp insights into romance and wooing. Which keeps things rather light and fun even as the story touches on some deeper ideas, pains, and perspectives. It’s a charming piece, though, with a wonderful voice and strong finish, and a wonderful read! Wishing Wells, Bargains, Advice, Stars, Romance, Queer Characters. [c1 t2]
  • “The Case of the Teapot of Enlightenment” by Anya Ow (short story) - A mystery involving a missing teapot draws in famed inspector Lee Engseng to the case, something that doesn’t really sit well with the man whose facing punishment for the theft. Hostility (or grumpy flirting?) won’t stop Engseng from getting to the bottom of things. Not that the case is as nefarious as it might seem at first. It’s a really fun story, and I love the energy from Engseng, who remains calm and poised but not above a little heat. The mystery itself is well done and well solved, and really the story is a delight! Tea, Teapots, Mysteries, Detectives, Museums, Queer MC. CW- Chronic Illness. [c2 t3]
  • “The Librarian of Babyl” by Jared Millet (short story) - A story about an unlucky librarian and the various annoyances that plague his days. The patrons who forgot to reset the passwords on their scrying crystals. The researches who don’t bother to silence their shrieking familiars. The mute princes who need saving in the face of an unjust generational curse that calls for their blood to be spilled. All in a day’s work, and all handled with humor and wit by the story. It’s fun, it’s tightly paced, and it makes for a fantastic read! Libraries, Librarians, Passwords, Curses, Familiars. CW- Sacrifice, Violence/Gore. [c3 t3]
Caramel Sea Salt
  • “Every Next Day” by Rebecca Burton (short story/flash) - A touching and bittersweet story about a young person growing up on the edge of the sea. Swimming in it every day with their mother. And finding one day that their connection goes deeper than they thought. That it might open a whole different world for them, though the cost is not cheap. And it’s a lovely look at care and love, and the pull of two worlds, and trying to do the right thing, and what it might be to belong. And it’s lovely and yearning and definitely worth checking out! Seas, Family, Mer-people. CW- Abandonment. [c3 t3]
  • “The Eleventh Hour” by Karim Kattan (short story) - A strange piece where the narrator is waiting to transform. To dissolve. After a lifetime of feeling detached, of feeling drawn to something that doesn’t seem to exist anymore, they feel that they have found a way to finally reach where they need to be. And in that it’s a strange, almost dreamlike piece about a phantom city. It’s profound in the way it draws the narrator’s leaning into this vision, out of the life other people insist they should value. But they’ve found something more valuable, more important, and more fulfilling, and the story is stark and beautiful and just a bit sad, but through it all a lovely read! Seas, Cities, Family, Transformations, Noodles. CW- Abuse/Beatings. [c3 t4]
  • “The Lake, the Valley, the Border Between Water and Wood, and the End of Things” by Watson Neith (short story) - A story of two women trying to balance running a successful magic and charm business with not only helping protect the world from magical threats, but also keeping up their relationship and not burning out. Guess how that’s going! And I just really love the way the piece comes together, the care and competence the characters bring but also the way they’re stretched so thin, that even together, looking out for one another, they still almost miss what’s right in front of them, almost lose everything. It’s a tense and action-packed story, with magic and mayhem but also some lovely care and romance, and I just love the feel, the characters, and the world building done. It’s a great read! Relationships/Marriage, Queer MC, Magic, Charms, Spirits. CW- Violence/Danger, Contamination. [c3 t4]
  • “I Am Tasting the Stars” by Jennifer Donohue (short story) - A story about a woman with a list after all the world has changed, marked by climate change and war. She’s a leader, though that responsibility at this point is secondary to her own drive, her desire to cross off the last item on her to-find list. A good bottle of champagne. It’s a fun story, slightly melancholic but also joyous, defiant, and triumphant. A great read! Seas, Boats, Lists, Champagne, Queer Characters. CW- Climate Change. [c2 t3]
Blue Moon
  • “A Recurring Theme (Song)” by Mei Davis (short story) - A tale of super spies and daring do as Achilles Lee seeks to infiltrate an enemy castle and gain some needed Intel. If only their enhancement, a kind of real world theme song that manifests when something is about to happen, didn’t threaten to ruin everything. But the nature of the song, and Lee’s abilities as an agent, are a bit complicated, if also rather awesome. It’s a fun romp of a story, thoroughly entertaining and well worth checking out! Spies, Cars, Gadgets, Superpowers, Henchmen, Music. CW- Violence, Torture. [c3 t2]
  • “We Made the Maps That Led Us Here” by Jessie Ulmer (short story) - A deeply strange story about a desert, about a people that have to be met in a particular way. Who have answers but maybe not the ones you need. But through the journey of getting there, of trading for them, you might find exactly what you’re looking for. And something missing finally returning. A beautiful and almost haunting piece, and a fine read! Deserts, Cars, Trades, Answers. [c1 t3]
  • “One Coin, Under Earth” by Jessica Yang (short story) - This piece speaks to me of burnout and care, a woman recovering from having pushed so hard to get through school, a hero who doesn’t know how to take a vacation. And in each other they find some rest and, more than that, a reason to take an actual break. To heal enough to recover, to have the strength and energy to move forward again. It’s a lovely story, the characters delightful a fun the romance warm and amazing. It’s a wonderful read! Heroes, School, Trains, Queer MC, Boars. CW- Burnout. [c2 t2]
Lemon Sorbetto
  • “An Open Letter to Bezoath, Lord of Darkness and Shareholder Value” by Brent Baldwin (short story/flash) - A short and sharp parody story featuring the lesser demons of Hell unionizing to push back against draconian management practices, all told via emails. And it’s a tightly worked story, fitting just so and closing with a wickedly fun happy ending, which is great for a story about Hell. I like the way it embraces labor principles and shows the power of unionizing in a positive way. Lots of fun! Unions, Demons, Employment, Emails. CW- Hell. [c2 t2]
  • “Broken Idols, Guarded Hearts” by Elizabeth Loupe (short story) - This story find the former goddesses of life and death meeting up for coffee. Former because humans have cast them down and dispersed their power, and made them attend support group meetings. And now, years after their fall, these two goddesses are starting to untangle the weird chains that still bind them together despite misunderstandings and hurts done to each other. It’s a quiet story but also a powerful one about these two people learning how to be in a whole new way. It’s tender and beautiful with touches of humor that really brings it all together so well. A fabulous read! Goddesses, Support Groups, Queer MC, Life, Death. CW- War, Loss, Injury/Amputation. [c3 t3]
  • “The Last Scribe of Tazarhal” by Jess Hyslop (short story/flash) - A quick piece to close out the issue but a nice way to underline the importance and never-ending drive of storytelling. Where an old man carves letters into a cliff that are scoured away by the winds, all as part of a pact with a demon, that it won’t destroy the city if the words continue. But the exact nature of the words, and the bargain, don’t come clear until after everyone seems to stop believing in the power of the words, and no one wants to continue the work. A great read! Words, Carving, Family, Stories, Demons, Bargains. [c1 t3]
A big usse from Translunar Travelers Lounge and a great collection of stories, this time with a tasting menu built around ice cream. The works touch on memory and rest, gods and demons, love and work, and they do a great job of staying hopeful even with some heavy themes of loss and destruction and grief. It’s a lovely and moving issue all told, with so many wondenrful stories, and so very worth spending some time with!

  • "Cartilage" by Bryce A. Taylor (poem) - A short and touching piece that speaks to me of time, of generations. A person is speaking to a child, remarking on them as they contemplate, through touching an ear, mortality and time. It's a deep read for being a fairly short poem, capturing in this scene a yearning to connect with a future the narrator will not live to see, all with a focus on family, fragility, and the cycle of aging. A great read!
A very small issue this week, which is perhaps a little strange for Strange Horizons, though I suspect it's because there's going to be a special issue at the end of the month. We shall see. What's here is a poem that hits above it's weight, and a bunch of reviews well worth checking out. A fine issue!

Diabolical Plots #78 (2 short stories total)
  • "Fermata" by Sarah Fannon (short story) - A difficult story about the narrator moving into their childhood how after their mother's death. A place that evokes bad memories of the time they were there under the abusive "care" of their mother. Back, they try to make it their own, to paint over the trauma with fresh paint, to own it, but the ghosts of their past linger, poisoning the place and drawing the narrator into a place they don't want to be. Bringing back the silence of their youth when no one heard their cries for help, when no one saved them from the darkness in their home. It's a complex and uncomfortable read but also a wonderful story well worth spending time with! Family, Houses, Music, Rabbits, Paint. CW- Abuse, Death of a Parent. [c4 t4]
  • "The Art and Mystery of Thea Wells" by Alexandra Seidel (short story) - I am kinda a sucker for stories like this, which look at fictional visual art to create a mystery unfolding in paintings described but never seen. That describe as well an urban legend the reader is invited to participate in, discovering the layers of strangeness that create an unsettling and compelling narrative of art, creation, and destruction. I just love the murder mystery aspect of the piece and the way that magic and shadows flows through it, speaking to a kind of dark inspiration and hunger that ends in blood and death. And all couches in a quasi academic tone as the piece is framed as an article or feature about this fictional artist and her life, works, and death. A fantastic read! Art, Queer Characters, Mysteries, Books, Paintings. CW- Death/Murder/Blood. [c3 t4]
A rather horror-laced issue from Diablocial Plots with two stories and both create mysterious and grim portraits of past events leaking into the present. That find characters consumed by the things they can't quite speak about, but that define them all the same. It's a shadowed but powerful issue!

Fireside Magazine #94 (5 short stories total)
  • "There Will Be No Alien Invasion" by Sam F. Weiss (short story) - This story, framed as a series of email/messages from a human researcher to a group of aliens, follows a kind of scam. Proposed by the aliens to "invade" only to be defeated by a nerd hero who can take the credit, in exchange for a lot of chocolate. For the researcher this is an annoyance and distraction from their real work, so they keep trying to refuse. At least, until the true scope of what's happening to them sinks in and they decide to take advantage of on part of this "invasion." It's a charming story with a great voice and I love how the narrator moves from dismissing what's happening to seeing the potential, not in embracing the farce but in pushing real scientific discovery. A wonderful read! Aliens, Science!, Research, Wormholes, Scams. [c1 t2]
  • "Guidelines for Appeasing Kim of the Hundred Hands" by John Wiswell (short story) - Another really fun story with a great voice and tone, this one framed as official guidance from a university concerning it's giant wish-granting statue. A statue that can help inspire, that can assist, but that does not want to be used to hurt others. And, if tricked into doing so, will totally make an exception and lay down some purposeful vengeance. Though I'm not allowed to talk about the specific example... It's a delightful story that edges some grim elements but that keeps humor front and center. A great read! Statues, Wishes, Schools, Guidelines. CW- Death. [c2 t2]
  • "Alexa, Play Solidarity Forever" by Audrey R. Hollis (short story/flash) - A short piece that imagines a kind of uprising of "smart" devices demanding pay and time off. And looking not to use threats to get their way but rather trying to appeal to something humans understand very well--hating a job. And I like that the focus is on that solidarity, as the title suggests, rather than competition or a more adversarial dynamic. Because most people could use more time off, and fairer compensation. And it's another fun story with a healthy dose of humor. A fine read! AIs, Unions, Employment, Appliances. CW- Aggressive Capitalism. [c2 t2]
  • "The Mixed Medium" by Erica Plouffe Lazure (short story/flash) - This piece veers more into the serious as the narrator finds they get visions from the dead when they work clay made with human ashes into pottery for the families of the deceased. It's something they doubt and dismiss at first, thinking it an overactive imagination, until they get some startling confirmation, and until their gift might be able to bring a killer to justice. The piece fits a lot into a short space and does so with a nice twist of emotion and a situation screaming for justice. Definitely a story to spend some time with! Pottery, Visions, Mediums, Employment. CW- Murder, Death. [c3 t3]
  • "My Custom Monster" by Jo Miles (short story) - This story keeps things serious with a look at depression as the narrator struggles to cope. And while there is no cure, they do manage to find some comfort when they order a custom monster, one who they are scared they will drive away but who stays, and who offers them something even on those days when everything seems bad. It's a warm story for all that it deals with heavy doubts and depression. It finds, though, through the struggle, the joy of connection, acceptance, and love. It's a lovely read, showing the narrator as messy and exhausted but also aware of their issues and working to live as happily as possible. A wonderful way to close the issue! Monsters, Family, Businesses. CW- Depression. [c3 t3]
This issue of Fireside Magazine keeps things bright and funny for the first few stories before inching over into some more serious and difficult subjects. Throughout, though, it's warm and fun, charming and kind, and makes for some amazing reading!

The Deadlands #4 (2 short stories, 4 poems total)
  • “The Shadowed Undertows” by Natalia Theodoridou (short story) - A strange story that seems to unfold with time only a loose stitch binding it together, as the narrator seems to skip through an afterlife, half forgetting and half remembering everything. Pull between two spouses, one living, the other dead. And I like the heavy mood of the piece, the dreamlike qualities, and the way it all seems to be moving in circles. Cycles. Of memory and darkness. Heavy as stone, but certainly worth carrying for a time. To see what the act of carrying shakes loose. A haunting and lovely read! Afterlife, Stones, Memory, Marriage. CW- Death. [c2 t4]
  • “All the Trees That Have Perished Alongside My Childhood” by Bogi Takács (poem) - A wonderful exploration of the past, of personal memory and history, through the mental ghosts of trees that are no longer there. That have been cut down to make room for progress(!) and nationalism(!) and all that kind of rot. Leaving the narrator without those literal roots, those things that should have, or could have at least, outlasted their presence. That could have stretched from their past to their future and instead were cut short. And that leaves mourning of so much, not just the trees, but them too. A beautiful read!
  • “Immolatus” by Lyndsie Manusos (short story) - An interesting and visceral take on the Bluebeard fable, where a series of wives are murdered by their husband to feed his own bloodlust. Each of them targeted for how he could kill them without rousing suspicion. And now they haunt the castle, and wait for their opportunity, promising that no more will join their ranks. It’s a creepy piece, tense and with the promise of blood, of death, whcih is does certainly deliver on, though it does manage to step away form tragedy in the end, toward a kind of justice. A thrilling and wonderful read! Castles, Marriage, Ghosts, Art, Music. CW- Death/Murder, Serial Killers. [c4 t4]
  • “This Candid Field” by Mat Joiner (poem) - This piece speaks to me of memory and land, distance and change. The narrator speaks through a shifting visage, through masks that make them into a series of memories, of people gone. The piece strange, haunting, flitting between bodies and times, images that seem fragile, on the edge of shattering. There is perhaps a sense of mourning, of trying to connect with someone, something, gone and passed. And forging a connection through memory and change, to capture something before it’s completely lost. Definitely a piece worth spending some time with!
  • “Ghost Towns: A Cultural Resources Survey Report from the 2020-2021 Field Season” by Sara E. Palmer (poem) - This piece speaks of loss and destruction, fire and family. The ideas of ghost towns here complicated, taken away from just the houses and the buildings and brought wider and deeper. It’s a long poem, tracing the outlines of layered losses, ghost towns that seem to recur, to haunt in cycles. And I love the voice of the poem, at once coversational and aloof, sharp and personal. And it moves through the haunted landscapes with care and intent, trying to recognize the past as well as plant a future. And I like how it wraps all that in a title that is dry and “official” while the poem itself remains vibrant and alive even while lingering on death and loss. A fantastic read!
  • “Untitled” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy (poem) - This piece speaks to me as a kind of call for transformation, the narrator entreating the reader to become a tree. And perhaps that means simply to become *like* a tree, in that trees are more passive or seem to be, don’t do violence, don’t let passing concerns bother them over much. They are, in the moment, always, even as their lives are often much longer than humans’. And Yet there might also be a touch of the literal there, as well, given the publication. A chance to actually become a tree, body becoming soil, becoming nourishment, becoming a tree itself in a rather real way. And whatever the case it’s a lovely poem, quiet but strong, and a great way to close out the issue!
For a publication about death, it’s no surprise that the latest issue of The Deadlands lingers on memory. On loss. A little more surprising that so many of the poems at least also linger on trees. On the loss of them and the planting of them. The image of them looming, reaching to the sky with long fingers. It’s an interesting thematic link between may of the works, and it makes for a resounding and solid issue!

Works read this year to date: 881 stories, 249 poems (+25 stories, +5 poems)

Not a huge week, and a frustrating one personally because I wanted to get to more, but still not terrible, and slightly up from the week before. It closes out August for reviews technically, too, so I can look a bit at the numbers overall. Looks like I had 129 total reviews in August, down quite a bit from July but then, July had an extra review post so that’s most of the difference. More, though, it was also a very low month for poetry, and given that poetry is a bit quicker to review than most prose, it means the numbers were pushed down from that as well (this month tied my lowest poetry reviews of the year at 17, which I also hit in February). Still, I’m averaging enough to still make 1500 seem like a done deal. Overall on the year I’m sitting at 1130 reviews, after all, so that’s…a lot. It also means I’ve inched past 6500 reviews overall on QSR (with a whopping 6501). That’s a lot! I’ll probably make it over 7000 by the time the year is over, which would be a nice milestone to hit.

I’m still thinking that 2022 is going to be one where I just step away from doing regular reviewing and refocus a bit on other things. I can tell at this point that I’ve very burned out, and though part of that is just the time of year, it’s also that I can feel myself dragging when it comes to doing the work. Likely I’ll post as much to cover 2021 content, so partly into January, and then just…step away. Not sure what’s next, or how I’ll use the blog, but stay tuned there.

In other news, last week I had not one but two different readings. The first, at Ephemera, features my reading from “The Sloppy Mathematics of Half-Ghosts” and the second, through Neon Hemlock, features me reading the entirety of “Door Thirteen” from my collection. So if you missed those, I think you can still check them out. Also! We’re Here! I am hosting a release party on the 28th! It’ll be through Neon Hemlock’s Instagram, I think, so you can stop by as me and a bunch of the We’re Here authors talk about…things! Stuff? We’ll see! It’s sure to be a time.

And that’s about it. Thanks all and stay safe and wonderful Cheers!


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