Friday, September 3, 2021

Quick Sips 09/03/2021

So August is over but that doesn’t mean that I’m through all of its short SFF. I am getting to a number of August releases this week, and even getting to some September issues, but I am still a bit underwater when it comes to getting to things, so apologies that anthologies and novellas are something I’m really struggling to get to at the moment. Phew. Anyway, there’s a new Fusion Fragment out, which is cool, as well as a new khōréō magazine and Strange Horizons for me to look at from August. In September stuff, I’m looking at Fantasy and F&SF. I thought about doing Lightspeed and Nightmare instead of F&SF, but given the weirdness with dates for that publication, I opted to just get to that this week. So yeah, it’s roughly average in terms of number of works covered (slightly above where I’ve been at for the last few weeks, yay), so let’s rock.

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!

Fusion Fragment #7 (8 short stories total)
  • “It Begins in the Garden” by Maria Haskins (short story) - A story that walks the line between heartwarming and downright creepy, as a young girl discovers ladybugs that aren’t actually ladybugs. And along with her friend she becomes the first to let the ladybugs in, not just to her life, but to her body as well, and finds that they talk, give comfort, and help defend her and themselves. All this while she deals with a baby sibling and a grandmother who recently had a stroke and might also have dementia. It’s a heavy story not least because while the nature of the ladybugs might be benevolent, helpful, kind, it might also be something of a Trojan Horse, and the implications of that are chilling indeed. A great read! Ladybugs, Family, Aliens, Voices, Gardens. CW- Dementia/Strokes, Body Invasion, Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “Sister Martin of the Stars” by Heather Clitheroe (short story) - This piece finds four survivors of a deadly accident in space, where Martin in a nun but mostly because it was a way to keep doing the science she needed to be doing. And now it’s led her to a hopeless situation and a choice to make. One that she’s definitely not ready to make, despite knowing exactly how she would have made it if it weren’t now lie and death. And it pushes her to confront what is important. Science, surely, but in the face of death and destruction and the waiting for it, could there be other things just as important? It’s a moving and difficult read at times because of the tragedy of it, and because the ending doesn’t really leave room for miracles. Just the small compassions that might be just as powerful. It’s a quiet, beautiful, and wrenching read! Space, Science!, Nuns, Astrophysics. CW- Accidents, Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Wesley Evonshire” by Matt Cahill (short story) - A creeping piece about, of all things, a very old writing retreat taught by a successful author who had to fight very hard to succeed in the Victorian-ish times she grew up in. Now attached to a school, she teaches, and enjoys when she can nurture a small creative frame. And loathes when she comes across an entitled and mediocre bore like Wesley Evonshire. Except there’s also something about Wesley that is captivating to her, that makes her want to see what he’s capable of. A wish she at first fears is not to come true, until it just might, though in a terrible way. The piece is interesting, moody, and I love the voice, the strangeness, and the mysterious and lingering horror of it. A wonderful read! Writing, Schools, Workshops, Horses, Teaching. CW- Guns, Fire, Misogyny, Violence/Death/Cannibalism. [c4 t4]
  • “Sainte-Noyale” by Ranylt Richildis (short story) - A story about a small town in Quebec with a famous jam factory, one that makes the entire area smell of strawberries. And where lives a rather contrarian man who seems to resent the smell and the way it brings people to town for a particular festival. And how he responds to that, and how the rest of the town responds to that, in a cycle of hurt and disaster that shows the cracks in being tolerant of those who are themselves intolerant, who would ruin something for everyone for the sake of their own prejudice and outrage. It’s a quiet piece but one that creeps with something all too real, all too present, and all too frustrating and awful. A great read! Jams, Stores, Fragrances, Fruit, Neighbors, Festivals/Holidays/Celebrations. [c1 t4]
  • “Soulmark” by Brandon Crilly (short story) - A story about bargains where the narrator is Vic, a woman who made a supernatural deal (something that’s become fairly common) after her wife ended up in the hospital. Like a lot of deals, though, it has some unintended consequences, and she ends up throwing herself more into her work as security for a rock star. A rock star who might be gearing up to make his own ill-conceived deal. The piece looks at bargains, at regret, at communication and missed moments, and roles it up into an emotionally charged, wrenching, and lovely look at longing and desperation. A fantastic read! Music, Security, Rock, Queer MC, Bargains. CW- Attacks/Home Invasion, Death/Soul Bargaining, Violence. [c3 t4]
  • “Shake the Disease” by Tiffany Morris (short story) - This is a strange piece fueled by nightmare, by fear, by violence, by repression. It follows a Quin, a woman who is out to dance to hide her crying, and who ends up being pulled into something she doesn’t really understand, something hungry that is following her, that is reaching for her, that can tap into parts of her she thinks are good and buried. The result is a story that acts as a kind of infection, Quin being pulled into something like it’s a key unlocking her, letting out all the darkest bits. It’s intense and violent and twisted, and it’s definitely an interesting story well worth spending some time with! Dancing, Clubs, Performance Art, Dreams, Crying. CW- Nightmare, Non-Consensual Medical Treatment/Mental Control. [c4 t4]
  • “Live from Katahdin Hills” by Derek Nason (short story) - This piece unfolds in a post-disaster/post-apocalypse world where the narrator is trying to look after her brother. Her brother, who the collapse seems to have effected deeply, so that in some ways he doesn’t recognize what has happened, and in other ways at least he’s retained some measure of happiness as long as he has his music and batteries to play it through this headphones. Only the world really doesn’t want to allow that kind of happiness. That kind of joy. So it becomes the narrator’s mission to make sure that it does, to make sure that kind of emotion survives so that it can still be at the heart of anything that might build back after this ending, this transition. It’s a tense and rather harrowing read, but it’s also resilient and warm and wonderful! Family, Television, Music, Game Shows, Bears, Floods. CW- Death, Rape/Slavery, Blood/Injury. [c4 t4]
  • “Wednesday’s Child” by C.J. Lavigne (short story) - The issue saved it’s most visceral and unsettling read for last, as this piece finds a narrator who is done with fighting. Who has been scarred from fighting against an alien invasion, who has been tired and living in filth and who is just...done. So they give in and they join the aliens, a program that seems designed to breed more aliens on Earth. Something that the hosts don’t survive, except that the narrator is hoping that they can convince the one inside them otherwise. That there will be a bond. A love that will overcome. That they can actually still save humanity, and themself, and everything. And the piece explores how that belief is a kind of lie, a trick, something that doesn’t benefit anyone but the aliens, and how in the end there is no making up for the ultimately selfish decision the narrator makes. It’s a raw and uncomfortable read, sharp and damning, and it’s a great way to close out the issue! Aliens, Room Service, Family, Food. CW- Pregnancy/Hosting, Pain/Blood, Invasion/War/Death. [c5 t5]
The newest from Fusion Fragment brings eight stories that span a wide range of feels and tones but that each carry a rather heavy touch of grimness. Of loss and twisting transformations that leave people worse off than before. Not that there’s no hope, but that the hope comes through such pain and suffering that it’s not exactly even hope anymore. Which doesn’t make it less vital or beautiful, but it does make it rather difficult to reach for all the same. A great issue!

  • “Ode to Women’s Arms in SF Television” by Hannah V Warren (poem) - In some ways this piece speaks to me of desire, of thirst, of seeing and appreciating these arms that appear in SF shows. Of different sorts but often bared, often, well, rather hot. At the same time, though, there’s something almost polluted about the descriptions in the piece, the way it all is wrapped in image, captured in feel. There’s something glorious but perhaps also something grim right under the surface, the fates of those arms, the messages tucked behind their captivating presence, which don’t always live up to the promise of those muscled limbs. A great read, and definitely worth spending some time with!
Another quick issue from Strange Horizons, again I’m guessing because there’s something bigger coming down the line for the end of the month. And it’s an interesting poem tucked into a whole bunch of nonfiction that’s also very worth checking out. A fine issue!

Fantasy #71 (4 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “Sounds for Crustaceans” by Addison Smith (short story/flash) - A quiet story about a narrator who is changing, transforming into a crab. And who is worried what it will do to their relationship, how it might push their partner away. How it will break them, leave them alone, and how that makes them want to fight against the transformation, deny it, even as it’s hurting them, even as it means not embracing what might be a more whole situation for them. And the piece is powerfully built in a short space, emotional and raw and joyous, looking at the fear give way to understanding, to sharing something new and wonderful. A great read! Crabs, Transformations, Relationships. CW- Body Changes. [c2 t3]
  • “What is Mercy?” by Amal Singh (short story) - This story finds Nanda, a young girl hoping for the birth of a baby sister, sent to fetch water and returning to find her life destroyed. Saved by a woman out for justice, a woman with the power to change people, give them power, Nanda must try and protect herself and her family with strange new abilities and a growing resolution that something has to be done about the men who prey on whoever they please. The story is visceral, difficult at times because of the ways these men are allowed to violate and kill. But Nanda has a power within her that can push back against the gravity pulling her toward destruction, if she can make the step to embrace and use it. A gripping read! Family, Water, Sight, Magic. CW- Death, Blood, Animated Dead. [c4 t4]
  • “Lost Portals” by Mark S. Bailen (short story/flash) - A quick story that focuses on, well, what the title says. Portals to fantasy realms that have been lost. Paved over or shattered. Broken or shifted. Missed out on in some way, while in the background a man who was never able to gain entry into a portal realm rejoices at the loss. And in that it’s a bit of a grim read, showing perhaps a loss of something more than portal fantasies. That there might be something being taken from people’s hearts. That there is a cruelty and a selfishness that some rejoice in, but that should rightly be mourned instead. And while I wish the loss of these worlds was placed at the feet of something other than lost innocence, I do still think it’s a fine read and well worth spending some time with! Portals, Tea, Oz, Wonderland. [c1 t4]
  • “An Arrangement of Moss and Dirt” by K.P. Kulski (short story) - An incredibly grim take on a faerie bargain, where an ill woman watches her daughter play outside through a window. Watches her daughter do something that she shouldn’t have, that has some grave and visceral consequences for the narrator. It’s a difficult read for how it shows the twisting of care into a kind of hell, a kind of torture, the narrator not saved for all her daughter’s intentions, and the result is rather horrifying, rather devastating, without much in the way of hope or release, and the implications of the title drive that deeper still, into a nightmare, a reminder that some bargains are not to be made regardless of the circumstances. A wonderful read all the same! Bargains, Faeries, Family, Soup. CW- Illness, Pain, Vomit, Consumption/Transformation. [c4 t5]
  • “The Herbalist” by Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe (poem) - An interesting piece that speaks to me of service. Where a grandchild remembers their grandfather, remembers his advice and wisdoms about giving to the gods, to the earth. In order to avoid some sort of punishment, one that finds him when he forgets to feed the earth one time. And it’s there the piece really sticks the ending, hinting and complicating this service by, for me at least, implying that the kind of service the grandfather did in some ways led to his death, that he wouldn’t have been killed had he not already been servant to the gods and the earth, that it was because he was slave to them that his forgetting was fatal, when for everyone else it isn’t. And it leaves just an interest space, a balancing of devotion with a different kind of wisdom, one that sees the dangers in devotion to fickle beings who kill on whims. A great read!
  • “The Forbidden Path to Forgetting” by Daniel Ausema (poem) - A strange and rather magical piece that for me speaks to a kind of trial. A process, a place. A desire to forget. And I like the broad strokes of world building here, the mystery of the piece, the questions of why a person would want to forget so much, what they want to forget, and why there’s such a taboo around it. Whatever the answers, the piece seems to set up this transformation, the person embarking on the quest existing apparently unchanged and yet changed, as if the process rewrote them and they truly weren’t touched by whatever it was they were trying to forget. It’s captivating and well rendered, and a lovely way to close out the issue!
This issue continues the trend of the relaunched Fantasy leaning a bit grim. The magic is there but it has sharp edges, and plenty of pitfalls. There are recurring moments of loss, of bargains that don’t really turn out to lead to happiness, that might lead toward justice but never easily. And sometimes twisting into a wholly different and dark direction. It’s a great collection of works all the same, though, with moments of hope and resilience through the pain and loss.

khōréō magazine #3 (5 short stories total)
  • “Cultureship” by Esther Alter (short story) - A complex piece that follows a Cultureship, literally carrying bits and pieces from Earth’s distant terrestrial past, as overseen by a group of people who have drifted a long way from those days. Who are physically different, and who have lost in many ways the actual culture of Earth, but who travel on regardless because of what Earth represents. A common core. A link that binds everyone together, so that humans regardless of what they look like remember they are all part of the same people. And it draws the messy line between curator of human community and con artist very well. Just a wonderful and complicated read that deserves some close attention! Ships, Space, Humanity, Sex, Culture, Books, Queer MC. [c1 t3]
  • “Nine-Tailed Heart” by Jessica Cho (short story) - A beautiful story about a woman who had become trapped without knowing it. Broken without completely understanding why. Hunted now by a creature out for her heart, though not in the way she first assumes. The piece finds the narrator numb after the loss of a relationship that was more a cage, one that stripped her of an older fire, and the creature now who has found her, who is coming for her heart, is a spark perhaps to reignite what the narrator has lost. It’s a story that for me speaks of discovery, of waking up, of losing something and then learning that it wasn’t what it seemed. That there’s a wild and welcoming freedom long mistaken for something else. And I love the wildness of the piece, the heat of it, and the joy that comes with the ending. A fantastic read! Foxes, Relationships, Hearts, Queer MC. CW- Blood, Therapy. [c2 t3]
  • “tragedy of the sugarcane ghost” by Desirée Winns (short story) - A story about a man murdered over twenty years in the past, crossing an ocean to find the man who killed him, and the woman he lost. The piece unfolds from his perspective as he possesses the man’s son. The woman’s son, as well. And struggles with having spent so long wanting something and finding that it’s not there. Not the reunion with his former love. Not the revenge on his murderer. The title fits so well, the story a tragedy on so many levels, the violence and pain of that one act cycling forward, inspiring nothing but a numb desire for something that can’t be retrieved. A life that was ended. It’s difficult at times, but it’s also a stunning and wonderful read worth spending some time with! Ghosts, Family, Travel, Revenge. CW- Murder, Death, Possession, Rape. [c4 t5]
  • “You’ll Understand When You’re a Mom Someday” by Isabel J. Kim (short story) - Continuing the theme of possession, this story finds a couple...changed following the traumatic birth of their daughter. And the main character, a being who is not really the Annalise she seems to be, explores this strange life she finds herself in, with the terms of the contract keeping her there stiff and chaffing. Trying to fit a space that she can’t, that she was never meant to inhabit. And yearning, ultimately, for a home that she was taken from. The piece is difficult at times but looks at the confines not just of bodies but of the roles people play in relationships, the gendered bullshit that not-quite-Annalise ultimately can’t really embrace. A great read! Contracts, Relationships, Family, Scissors, Aliens(?). CW- Childbirth/Traumatic Birth/Death, Possession, Blood/Injury/Scars. [c4 t4]
  • “Evelina, My Tentacles!” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (short story) - A deeply strange story told via one side of a letter exchange, where the writer, Rosaura, has left their partner, Evelina, behind. Has gone to a place they thought was going to be better, and yet for all their hope Evelina didn’t go with them. And the piece unfolds from there, through that pain of separation, Rosaura alternating between boisterous and melancholy, remembering a fateful trip the two of them took together, and the distance between them only growing larger. It’s a piece that speaks of tragedy to me, something almost like betrayal on all sides, none of them able to speak plainly anymore, only able to communicate at all through these strange, impossible means. And yet the story possesses too a compelling magic to it, a voice quick to hurt and be hurt, longing for so left, left with an uncertain and lonely future. A fantastic read! Letters, Relationships, Vacations, Jellyfish, Tentacles, Queer MC. CW- Injury/Scars, Pollution, Death. [c3 t3]
A new and wonderful issue of khōréō magazine, with a lot of stories about distance and about possession. About care and about the line between care and harm. Full of characters who are trying to reach out to others. Who are healing from trauma. Who are hungry for something. Revenge. Adventure. Something. But who might find that there is something lacking in what they’re doing. That they need to examine their lives in new ways, all while moving forward, while reaching beyond. A great issue!

F&SF Sept/Oct 2021 (8 short stories, 2 novelettes, 1 novella, 3 poems total)
  • “Haunted Hills Community and Country Club” by Lincoln Michel (short story) - I love the layering of this story, on one hand a rather funny piece about realty and haunted houses, on the other a damning look at capitalism and being an adult. Ingrid is weighed down by student debt, pressured into applying for a job selling haunted houses shipped in from all over the country. Sold cheap to people who can’t afford to go elsewhere. Selling a dream that quickly turns into a nightmare, all for the almighty dollar. Worse, she’s good at it, and in this haunted horror show she actually finds a kind of happiness and safety that she never knew before. But one twisted turn deserves another, and when an even more aggressive form of capitalist exploitation shows up, the true despair rolls in and the illusion of what she was doing falls away, leaving only death and loss. A great read! Haunted Houses, Ghosts, Queer MC, Employment, Realty. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Death, Murder/Murder of a Child. [c4 t4]
  • “The Scorpion and the Syrinx” by Brian Trent (novelette) - A procedural story about a Greek working for the Romans as a supernatural investigator in a very different North America. The case surrounds the death of a man by scorpion stings, and the narrator quickly works through the various leads, taking him to a rather dramatic and tense confrontation and conclusion. All the while the piece pokes at idea of belonging, of sides, of war and family and loss. And all the while building a neat little mystery with some fascinating world building and sold character work. I might be a little confused as to the particulars of the world, but there’s enough to whet the appetite, and it makes for a fine read! Scorpions, Family, Magic, Investigations, Bridges. CW- Death, Insects, Blood/Gore/Battle. [c3 t3]
  • “Ice Fishing on Europa” by Erin Barbeau (short story) - Despite unfolding on a frozen icefield on a harsh and unforgiving moon, this story is rather warm, finding Theo not quite as along as they thought, struggling with employers who don’t seem to care much for their safety and a depression that is nearly impossible to manage without the meds that have crash landed thousands of miles away. Help comes from an unexpected source, though, and the piece is very much about kindness, trust, and support, with Theo finding a connection they weren’t looking for, but one that might, along with their meds, make the stay on Europa a lot more enjoyable. I love the character work and the perspective is wonderfully captured, and it’s all a fantastic read! Aliens, Moons, Ice, Medication, Cooperation. CW- Depression. [c2 t3]
  • “The Forlorn” by Matthew Hughes (novelette) - This piece finds Cascor, a kind of fantasy private eye called a discriminator, hired to track down a young woman whose also a powerful mage working at the behest of a mirror that is actually a powerful entity/god. And the complications of the story are part of what make it rather fun and charming, the threads all twisted around each other, appearing a mess until the story gives the proper angle and it all comes together, revealing something intricate and interesting. The world building is strong and while it takes a bit of exposition to get through the hows and whats, it’s still a nicely paced mystery that winds and reaches a satisfying conclusion. It also leaves the door open for future adventures, which is always a good thing. A fine read! Investigations, Spells, Gods. CW- Violence, Mental Manipulation/Forced Forgetting. [c2 t3]
  • “Seedling” by Octavia Cade (short story/flash) - A creeping story about cycles, and a wicked twist on an already rather grim fairy tale. This one finds a Hansel left in the woods, finding a Gretel who he thinks was similarly abandoned. But the truth is something else entirely, is part of a string of hungers and devourings that makes for some decidedly grim reading, though I really like how the story plays with the original, drawing something deeper and sharper than a story of witches and houses made of gingerbread. A quick read but an unsettling and wonderful bit of horror! Trees, Family, Fairy Tales, Hansel and Gretel. CW- Hunger/Starvation, Cannibalism, Murder. [c4 t5]
  • “The Abomination” by Nuzo Onoh (novella) - A long piece that follows an intersex woman who is rejected by her birth family and her village, adopted by a woman who has lost everything, including some of her sanity. And this young woman, dubbed Abomination by the village, grows up without much of an identity of her own, at least until a strange and fateful meeting, one that leaves her passing eggs every month. One that will eventually lead to a moment of betrayal, a moment of power, and a moment of choice. The piece balances the marginal place of the narrator with a split point of view, bringing in her sister as well, who acts as the voice of prejudice, resentment, and fear, and whose poison the story is seeped in. A great read! Gods, Communities, Family, Rituals, Intersex MC. CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth/Laying Eggs, Abuse, Violence, Ritual Sacrifice/Murder, Blood/Gore. [c4 t4]
  • “To the Honorable and Esteemed Monsters Under My Bed” by E. A. Bourland (short story) - A whimsical but at the same time rather heartbreaking story told as a series of letters, correspondences between a boy and the monsters living under his bed. Monsters who want to eat his toes but also prompt him to remember a traumatic event that he’s largely blocked from his memory, and to maybe start to question some things he’s been told. It’s beautiful and careful work, the monsters in some ways less monstrous as they could be, the boy in a lot of ways older than he should be. And all of them surrounded by other hungers, other violences, other mysteries that need to be explored. And it’s a moving and wonderful read! Monsters, Beds, Bargains, Family, Birthdays, Bears. CW- Abuse, Death/Loss of a Sibling, Bullying, Amputation/Self-Harm. [c2 t4]
  • “Plumage From Pegasus” by Paul Di Filippo (short story) - A humorous diversion here, though perhaps grim in the sense that it takes place in a future where all writing is done via AI, and the only remaining human authors have secluded themselves on an island that has become cut off from civilization. At least, until a show revives a craze for human authorship and an expedition sets out to make contact with this island of misfits, hoping to bring back a prize curiosity for the waiting masses. It’s a fun spoof on King Kong poking fun at writers and the society that commodifies them, and it’s a cute read, funny with a splash of adventure. Well worth checking out! Islands, Expeditions, Authors, AIs, Parties. [c1 t2]
  • “The Conqueror Worm(hole)” by Linda D. Addison (poem) - A strange piece that seems to imagine a humanity locked in gray mundanity, mindless masses just sort of passing time, until the arrival of a wormhole, a conduit, from which falls destruction, death. Change. The piece closes on some rather big images of death and possible extinction, but it also frames it as something that seems to need to happen, the tragedy human but the hero this wormhole come to knock humanity off its tracks. To maybe break a toxic cycle. And hopefully not leave nothing behind. It’s an interesting piece, sharp and cutting, and well worth spending some time with!
  • “Sonnet — To Meta-Science” by Linda D. Addison (poem) - This is the second poem by the author and both come away from works by Poe. This one takes aim at science, at “meta-science” and in some ways on the way that science can seem to steal from imagination and creativity, giving “correct” explanations to things that could otherwise be explained with stories, with myths, with truths that aren’t the metaphysical kind. It looks how science can seem to make dull things that were once full of wonder and awe and, for some at least, be a bane. A wonderful read!
  • “Split the Baby” by Carl Taylor (short story) - This piece continues the trend of stories with almost whimsical features walking the line between tragedy and adventure. It finds a young boy at the heart of a custody battle between divorcing parents. A battle that has just found a truce, though one that essentially sacrifices the boy himself. It’s a piece that contains a kind of future filtered through the futurism of the past, one with easy cloning and an open solar system. And one where the boy, Harrison, must take some rather drastic measures to survive on his own terms. It looks at family and the responsibility parents have, and how terrible parental selfishness can be in a society where children have no real rights. A great read! Family, Cloning, Uploaded Consciousnesses, Bargains, Robots. CW- Abuse, Divorce, Human Sacrifice, Death. [c4 t4]
  • “The Changing Season” by Ali Trotta (poem) - This piece seeks to set the record straight about what happened to Persephone in the underworld, and what her agency was with that. It’s a powerful piece in that, setting up her own desire, her own power, her own song and voice. And an interesting way of framing that, as her asking Orpheus to take this song to the surface with him. Because does he? Is the implication of the poem that Orpheus refuses to release that song, that he in effect reinforced the song that cast her as victim, as side character in her own enthronement? For me, that brings such possibility to the piece, a depth that sings with the layered wrongs done to Persephone. Not the ones most popularly attributed to her, but the ones that the poem highlights, the “true” story that has been suppressed and erased. A fantastic read!
  • “And in Rain, Blank Pages” by Lora Gray (short story) - This story finds a narrator who is escaping an abusive relationship and maybe running right into a new one when they meet a man who communicates with words that appear on and above surfaces. Who can’t speak, but who seems desperate to have the narrator. To possess them. And the piece looks at that, the way the relationship develops, the ways that it’s different from the last one the narrator was in. But how that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, doesn’t mean that they’re really safe or in control. The piece is tense, dangerous, complex, and emotional, and it makes for a resonating read! Relationships, Words, Poetry, Queer MC. CW- Abuse, Manipulation, Violence/Blood. [c4t4]
  • “Her Dragon” by Amal Singh (short story) - The story of Misha, a young woman training to be a Maker with her grandmother, who warns her against Making creatures she doesn’t intimately know. That are outside her experience. But Misha is filled with desire to Make all kinds of creatures, and especially dragons, and it’s a desire that might become reality, though tinged with grief, when she inherits the Maker title. But the piece looks more at the dangers of imagination and the power of it. The way it can easily be twisted to war and violence. But also the freedom and joy of it, especially when Making creatures who aren’t for battle, who are strange and wonderful. The piece is bittersweet and warm, hopeful and with a strong emotional core. And it’s a lovely way to close out the issue! Dragons, Creation, Family, Training, Imagination. CW- Death of a Grandparent, War. [c3 t3]
It’s another large and wonderful issue of F&SF! Through it I feel a few different strains running. One is a sense of wonder and whimsy. There’s a lot of stories that have some lovely strangeness to it, an almost child-like imagination and heart. But those are often balanced with grim shadows that fall over characters, over situations. That make things more dangerous, more loaded. That twist the innocence of the characters and fantasies into something hungry and often unkind. But from that there is still a kind of assertion of joy over tragedy. Of triumph over corruption. Of young protagonists finding a way forward that doesn’t leave them sacrificed or dead. A wonderful issue!

Works read this year to date: 909 stories, 255 poems (+28 stories, +6 poems)

So a few milestones this week, including passing 900 stories on the year and 250 poems. It’s not the first time I’ve said it but that’s a lot! And still a quarter of the year to go. So there’s bound to be a lot more. I mentioned above but the mixing of August and September Content is partly a fitting and timing thing. I could have probably fit more of August’s releases in but it just worked out better to get a little into September as the end of the month rolled around. Next week I’ll be going back for Mermaids Monthly, GigaNotoSaurus, Tor, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and any of the Escape Artist stuff that I missed, and probably getting to at least one or two other September releases. Mostly I’m just a mess, and rather impressively burned out at the moment.

I kind of wonder if this is a point that gets to a lot of people. I seem to recall Rocket Stack Rank stopping regular reviews at about this time of year, though I’m not going to speculate on the full reasons of why people step away from short SFF reviewing. I imagine part of it is just balance. It’s a lot of work, especially with reading widely and reviewing it all, even in the smallish chunks that I’ve been doing this year (and that RSR tended to do throughout). I mean, it’s not like it’s no amount of words written. I still have over 150,000 words in reviews this year. That might be down some from previous years, but still!

For me personally, it’s a lot of things. Part of it is that my life is in a different place than it was at seven years ago. Or even two years ago. My schedule in some ways hasn’t changed, because I still work roughly the same hours, have roughly the same hours at home. But then, my husband has a completely different schedule, working third shift, and it means that the way I spend my time at home is a lot different. And in a battle between reviewing more or spending more time with my husband, he wins. Sorry, short SFF, you’re great and all, but he’s better.

I’m also aware that I could just keep doing this indefinitely and that, at this point, that’s holding me back. If it was my job, if I could make $600 a week at it, that would be something else. But I can’t. I do more than anyone can reasonably be expected to do, I hustle as I can, and I can make $200 a month. Which I appreciate and which, for a long time, I absolutely needed to live. But now the desperation is a little less, and I have to weigh what the fuck I want to do. I’d love to keep doing this, but I just need to be real and admit that I can’t, not and do anything else. Not write fiction or poetry. Not try to write a novel. Not do any other personal or professional projects. I still love reviewing. But…sigh…here we are.

I keep thinking about what comes next. I’ll probably still read a whole lot. I’ll still run my Sip of the Week recs, and my Queer Short SFF lists, and maybe even some sort of monthly review thing like X Marks the Story. But that’s something I’ll work out closer to the new year. For now, I’m still looking to close out the year. What was an experiment in changing how I review has become something of a swan song. I will go out on top, having reviewed more in a single year than I ever have. I will do that, and then I will…scale way back. Way back. I will write more. I will get my life in order.

I say this now in part because I fear that if I don’t, if I just keep pushing through this, that I’ll get to the end of 2021 and everything will seem more manageable. Some venues will close or something will happen that suddenly it will seem like I can find a happy balance. And it’s a trap. That was what I was already supposed to be doing, and I’ll just…add more if I don’t step away. Because that’s how I am. Anyway, so what I’m saying is that if I seem ready to redouble my efforts in 2022, someone please slap me. Thank you.

In other media news, I’ve finished watching the recent Carmen Sandiego show and quite liked it. I don’t know that’s I’ll write up a formal review of it. It was fun. Could have been gayer. But then that’s about everything, and there was some good rep in the show that was essentially canon so I will forgive a lot. I’m not really watching anything else at the moment aside from rewatching the Inspector Lynley Mysteries with Matt. They’re all right, though they’re no Vera. We joke that we’re reaching the part where a certain character is going to die and how it’s unfair because the actor who plays her this season is actually fun and likable and not the actor who played her before, who we both still can’t really stand. And Havers should have been a lesbian there I said it. Anyway, instead of shows I’ve been reading comics through Marvel’s Unlimited program, which is a heck of a deal. I’m in New Mutants right now and wow, yes, nice!

Aside from that, our house is sort of falling apart. Our AC has been leaking this year but it got bad with enough we needed to call someone in. Plus the roof developed a leak so we’re now looking into maybe getting a new roof (I did however manage to patch the leak, proving that despite hating heights I am not completely useless in the home repair department). So…yay? This after refinancing our mortgage. Shit. Adulting. Anyway, that’s me at the moment. Cheers!


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