Friday, September 17, 2021

Quick Sips 09/17/2021

I swear I will catch up someday! Okay that’s probably not true, but at the very least I will make it through this year hopefully only a bit behind schedule. So I’m at least fully into September work this week, looking mostly at some monthly issues plus I managed to squeeze in the first Strange Horizons of the month. In full issues, I look at Lightspeed and Nightmare, which completes the triumvirate I started with Fantasy two weeks ago. I also look at Flash Fiction Online, The Dark, and the latest Uncanny Magazine, which features the single novella that was promised as part of last year’s funding campaign. So yeah, lots to get to!

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!

Lightspeed #136 (6 short stories total)
  • “JUDI” by Adam-Troy Castro (short story/flash) - A short and aching piece that finds the narrator suddenly losing their partner, the person that they explored the cosmos with. Without her, they are lost, adrift, wanting only to leave her behind, to escape the pain of the immediacy of that loss. Only what they find as they let their ship pilot them away is something they cannot escape, and it makes for a wrenching and emotional read! Relationships, Space, Ships, Distance. CW- Death, Loss, Grief, Suicide (mentioned). [c3 t4]
  • “Where You Left Me” by Thomas Ha (short story) - This story unfolds on a distant moon where human settlers have taken space from native worm-like beings who have a limited kind of precognition, something that humans can mimic by drinking a liquid drained from the worms themselves. A liquid that, on top of granting them vastly improved reflexes, is also addictive and destructive to humans. The result is a story that is framed as...not a confession exactly, but something like it. Not a letter. But a record, an explanation, and a hope, however grim and bleak, that while some futures can’t be avoided, some can. A great read! Family, Worms, Moons, Precognition. CW- Colonization, Guns, Addiction, Torture/Death. [c4 t4]
  • “The Revolution Will Not Be Served with Fries” by Meg Elison (short story) - This story finds a young woman working at a fast food restaurant under conditions that are increasingly normalized. Where corporate profit is much more important than treating employees well or helping them to flourish. Everything is about exploiting workers as much as possible, because it’s easier to replace them than to repair them, just like the machines the company uses. Machines that might have just kicked off an uprising, and are exposing the dirty secrets of their corporate overlords to try and create a union between human and robot workers. It’s a story that hits all too close to home, sharp in its look at employment and honestly not really dystopic at all given how close it hits to what we allow corporations to get away with now. A wonderful read! Employment, Fast Food, Robots, AI, Revolutions. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Exploitation/Slavery, Cancer, Death/Destruction. [c4 t4]
  • “Fanspell: Flowers in Spring (Rob Yung, NSFW)” by Anya Ow (short story) - A story that looks at magic and the communities that crop up to learn it outside the structures of the accepted institutions and organizations that police it. Magic as fanwork, and the narrator, a woman who learned magic through that same community of fanmagic, now on the other side of things, a sanctioned agent who has come across a case where a fanspell has turned fatal for the caster. For more than one caster. The piece is complex and keen when it explores how fan spaces collide with professional spaces, how marginalization compounds along axes of gender and class. And it takes a rather thorny moral issue and doesn’t reduce it to clear answers, to binary rights and wrongs. It’s a fantastic read! Fan Work, Magic, Spells, Shipping, Institutions. CW- Death/Transformation, Prejudice. [c3 t3]
  • “It Begins to Snow” by Adam R. Shannon (short story/flash) - This is a strange and brief story about a snow that seems to end the world. Slowly closing everyone in, burying their homes, while the narrator goes out each day to forage. But while that’s happening something is changing within them and, it seems, in their relationship with their partner. The piece is heavy and poetic, steeped in something that might be allegory and that is lovely as it is haunting. The feeling for me is personal, being well acquainted with snow, and I like the lingering cold of it, even as the ending imagines a break into sunlight. A fine read! Snow, Relationships, Family, Cold. CW- Apocalypses, Blood/Self-Harm. [c3 t3]
  • “Sía” by Lizz Huerta (short story) - This is a rather wild and raucous exploration of guilt and identity as the narrator works through a recent loss and a half-assed attempt at spirituality that actual bore more fruit than she had intended. That, despite the appropriative attitude of the spiritual “leader” she went to, opened a kind of door that allowed her to interact with her ancestors. But not the sister she lost. Not the person she most wants to see. The ancestors aren’t exactly a calming influence, though, given that all of them are also wild and sarcastic and stubborn, pushing her to find some justice that has been long coming. Pushing her to get involved in something that seems a lot bigger than just her and these particular spirits. And it’s a fun and vivid story, funny and poignant at the same time. A wonderful way to close out the issue! Family, Ghosts, Spirituality, Healing. CW- Death of a Sister, Death/Slavery/Violence. [c3 t3]
A nicely varied issue that does move around some heavy themes of death, loss, grief, healing, and revolution. The stories feature ghosts and robots, magic and snow, and they find characters who often have to hide themselves. Suppress parts of themselves. To fit in or to feel safe. Until they don’t. Until they can’t hide any longer. A great issue!

Nightmare #108 (3 short stories, 1 poem)
  • “Chanson D’Amour” by Orrin Grey (short story) - This is a rather strange revolving story, a nesting doll of a piece that finds the main character, the “you” of the second person story, caught in a kind of loop. One that’s bringing them back further and further. Into their past. Toward perhaps an event that they’re trying to forget. Trying to avoid. One that the story doesn’t exactly reveal, only walks around, focused elsewhere. On everything but what might have, what must have happened, where the horror is what is lurking, and the tension between suspicion and the confirmation, so very very close but never quite bridging fully. It’s a creeping and effective piece, and a fine read! Film, Movies, Relationships, Queer MC(?), Time Loops, Memory. CW- Addition/Alcoholism, Blood. [c3 t4]
  • “Frost Bloom” by Gillian Daniels (short story) - An unsettling story of not-exactly-vampirism as the narrator, Tara, struggles both with alcoholism and the strange, destructive attraction she feels for the person who keeps visiting her and drinking her blood. And that relationship is a draining thing, not just blood but pushing Tara to dig deeper into her more destructive tendencies, to consume more in an attempt to fill a lack she feels to her very core. The piece carries with it a kind of chilling love, one that’s more obsession than anything, where Tara flits from eager submissive to torturing captor with stunning ease. It’s a grim tale, but moving all the same, full of yearning desire, and it’s certainly worth spending some time with! Vampires, Relationships, Gold, Chains. CW- Blood/Blood Drinking, Alcoholism/Addiction. [c4 t5]
  • “Still Life with Vial of Blood” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (short story/flash) - I do like me some stories that are framed as nonfiction detailing art, and this one does a wonderful job of capturing the work of an artist whose works seem a kind of portal. A kind of hole into which a person might trip, and out of which deeper shadows might leak. The result, especially with the footnotes, is a clawing story, one that brings readers along the edge of something hungry and waiting, something obscured by shadow but many, and approaching, revealed only in hints by the paintings and by the text, but breaking through. A wonderful read! Art, Paintings, Fire, Portraits, Shadows. CW- Blood, Death, Fire, Violence/Acid Attacks. [c4 t4]
  • “Ode to My Brother’s Sadness” by Franklin Ard (poem) - A moving look at grief and lost as the narrator reflects on their brother’s death. The imagery is at turns tender and stark, the recurring gun a promise that the poem brings to a rather shattering fulfillment. The piece isn’t too short, moving between short and long lines, the pacing for me relaxed but with a sense of inevitability. And It’s a rather beautiful look at how the narrator struggles with what happened, with memory and with the strange disconnect between the world as it was, the one with their brother in it, and one after, without him. It’s an emotional and effective read, and a great way to close out the issue!
Nightmare lives up to its name here with three stories and a poem that look at loss and death, hunger and destruction. Beauty, because all of these stories deal with beauty, with joy, with love, and the sharp edge that can sever that love, leaving only tatters, only an absence that can’t rightly be filled, that might leave room for something grim and dangerous to enter. A fine issue!

Flash Fiction Online #96 (3 short stories total)
  • “Echo Echo Heartbeat” by Beth Goder (short story/flash) - A story featuring a narrator who lost their heart, and is faced with three roads, at the end of which are three different hearts. Ideal hearts in many ways, ones they might have yearned for, might have dreamed about. But not their own, and the piece looks at that, the power of a heart that is wholly a person’s. The power of be comfortable with that, seeing the beauty and the fulfillment in that, and not necessarily spurning it in favor of something that seems better. It’s a poignant piece about resisting other people’s values and making sure that decisions about who to be come from within rather than without. A great read! Roads, Hearts, Fishing, Forests. [c1 t2]
  • “A Girl Forages for Mushrooms” by Ruth Joffre (short story/flash) - A story about a daughter and father traveling together. Hiking. Harvesting mushrooms as they go. It’s a piece where the divorce of said father from the girl’s mother looms large, shadows everything, and its in that shadow that strange things happen. Where mushrooms flourish outside of direct sunlight. And it’s heavy with the secrets that the daughter must keep for her father. A lovely piece, and a great read! Mushrooms, Hiking, Swimming, Family, Secrets. CW- Divorce. [c2 t3]
  • “When the Trees Spoke Back” by Taylor Rae (short story/flash) - A wrenching story about a child and their mother, who know the language of the trees. Who sing to the trees in a forest that’s supposed to stand forever in memory of past wars. But that is in the path of a crawling city that eats everything, that leaves nothing unspoiled. And the piece looks at that, the relentless push of the city, the devastation in its wake, the bleak future it leaves for the narrator, who sings on regardless, hoping all the same that the forest will speak to them as it did before. A beautiful and haunting read! Forests, Cities, Family, Language, Songs. CW- Pollution, Death of a Parent. [c3 t4]
A nice issue of all speculative stories, with a focus perhaps on loss, on people trying to hold onto something. A past that slips through their fingers, a person who seems leaning toward loss. In all of them, the attachments the characters have isn’t always “healthy.” But they are connections all the same that they refuse to let go of, that they refuse to abandon. And the result is often shattering and unsettling. A wonderful issue!

The Dark #76 (4 short stories)
  • “Send in the Clowns” by Kali Napier (short story) - A strange story about parenting where Beth just wants to be normal. Wants to raise twins, Jack and Lucy-Ann, wants to give them what she never got. Her life has been a series of escapes, into the pages of books and into endless education, btu she wants them to be children and have adventures. So she made a deal, and she got twins. But the story follows what happens one fateful day at the circus, and it’s full of a quiet longing and a persistent, haunting hurt. A desire to redo the past, when that’s impossible. And it’s a wrenching piece about life and sacrifice, about living, and it’s a lovely read! Books, Family, Circuses, Clowns, Bargains. CW- Abuse. [c2 t3]
  • “In Whatever World You Choose” by Maiga Doocy (short story) - This story finds Minna with a power she discovers in school. A power to not only read people’s futures with her tarot deck, but to actually change people’s futures. To give them what they want most. It’s a skill she mostly hides after a while because of how people come to treat her, but when she meets Aubrey things seem like they could change. That making Aubrey’s dreams come true might also make Minna’s. Only that not how her powers work, and that’s not how the world works, and it’s a careful and aching story about living and loving and the mess of it all. A wonderful read! Tarot, Prophecy, Music/Bands, Queer MC, College. [c1 t3]
  • “Nails” by Phoenix Alexander (short story) - A creeping story of captivity and desire. Where the narrator is a Ghhrblin captured and harvested for their nails, which are used by humans as an aphrodisiac. The piece unfolds in the hurting and angry voice of this person, the pain at being exploited, used, the anger at being betrayed by someone who should have known better. The story captures a sense of injustice, showing a supernatural world where humans can be just as monstrous as those beings living in the margins, in the shadows. Not that those creatures are by any means tame. A great read! Goblins, Harvesting, Nails, Queer Characters. CW- Captivity/Confinement, Torture, Blood. [c4 t4]
  • “Yǒngshí” by Ai Jiang (short story) - A piece narrated by a being who can grant time with the stroke of a brush. But who has been burned before (literally) by the greed of humans, by the betrayal of a lover. And who now is just preparing to paint themself out of the world. To let their power fade away rather than passing it along. And then a young woman visits, and it sparks something in the narrator. Memory. Desire. And it’s a wrenching and tender story about the nature of time and connection. A wonderful read! Painting, Time, Relationships, Magic. CW- Death/Fire. [c3 t3]
This issue in some ways lacks some of the visceral shivers that I often expect from the publication, but that doesn’t mean the stories are in any way lacking. Rather, they seem to take on a different aspect of horror and “darkness,” looking at shadows that lie over people. Relationships that cause people to err. And the messy fallout from when those relationships inevitably end. Some really good works, and a nice thematic line between them!

Uncanny #42 (5 short stories, 1 novelette, 1 novella, 4 poems total)
  • “Mulberry and Owl” by Aliette de Bodard (novelette) - A story that finds Thuỷ on a mission to meet with a murderous decommissioned sentient space ship. An executioner of rebels, when Thuỷ was a rebel themself, when they lost friends to this particular ship, who they are now offering to rearm, though not to free. But they’re after something bigger than revenge, something rare and fragile in the strangeness left behind after war and peace. Atonement, if not an escape from guilt or grief. And it’s a lovely and moving story that explores the mess left behind in the push to survive when surviving is its own rebellion, its own crime. A fantastic read! Space, Ships, Non-binary MC, Rebellion, Family. CW- Death, Guns, Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “On a Branch Floating Down the River, a Wren is Singing” by Betsy Aoki (short story) - A complex story of a future where AIs are definitely in control but haven’t quite edged out humans in everything. Art remains something where humans stand a chance, and for the narrator of this story it’s her only hope to avoid not only death, but a kind of obliteration she refuses to give in to. So she takes the resident AI up on a kind of competition, a battle of poetry, where winning means finally having enough to eat, and losing means certain death. I love the layered backstory here, the way that human feeling and innovation and self is something valuable, something that AIs might have a hard time learning. A wonderful read! AIs, Poetry, Noodles, Battles/Contests, Art. CW- Death, Illness, Hunger, Poisoning. [c4 t4]
  • “Onward” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (novelette) - A strange and tender story about love and exploitation. One that finds Iris, a young woman who has never wanted to give up her work for a traditional family, tempted all the same into a new kind of marriage, one that offers her great happiness, but also opens her up to a deep dissatisfaction. One that causes her to leave her world, to stray, but not in a way that means leaving or even betraying. And I like the look at progress and strength, about getting out of old patterns and creating better ones, with eyes open and with full knowledge of the stakes and of history. A great read! Employment, Constructs, Marriage, Queer MC, Portals, Magic. CW- Climate Change, Servitude. [c3 t3]
  • “If the Martians Have Magic” by P. Djèlí Clark (short story) - A wonderful take on a world recovering from multiple Martian invasions. Three years apart until the third, which humanity beat back with the help of newly recovered magic and magic beings. And Minette is a researcher who has spent the last years trying to figure out the Martians left behind when the last invasion retreated. Finding what makes them special, how they work, and ultimately opening up a can of worms by showing that Martians can also use magic, had their own a long time ago before losing it. The piece is quick and punchy, the core dilemma of trust versus fear, with the ending a triumph of sorts, or at least a step in the right direction. A wonderful read! Martians, Alt-History, Magic, Share Consciousnesses. CW- Violence/War, Prejudice/Slurs. [c3 t3]
  • “Down in the Aspen Hollow” by Kristiana Willsey (short story) - A wrenching story of loss, of injustice, of the life of a girl, Annie, who grows up among the aspens. And who eventually, through tragedy, joins them. The piece is heavy, drawing on some deep and difficult corruptions and rots, the twisting of hope into something annihilating. And the framing is sharp and effective, playing with time in an interesting way, iterating out the way that stories do, the way that aspens do, hiding their shared roots deep and spreading when and where they can. A great read! Trees, Family, Relationships, Hauntings, Watches. CW- Pregnancy, Murder, Hanging. [c4 t5]
  • “Six Fictions About Unicorns” by Rachael K. Jones (short story) - A touching and lovely story that follows a woman who as a child is chosen by a unicorn. And looking at what that means and what that’s supposed to mean. Moving with the second person “you” as she ages and changes and deals with the work and difficulties of caring for a unicorn. But also the magic of it, that she discovers anew every year, every day, through discovering her own power and worth. And it’s a warm piece, though it carries something heavy with it. It’s still reaching for something bright and free and magic and it makes for an incredible read! Unicorns, Growing Up, Employment, Relationships, Queer MC. CW- Bullying/Slurs. [c3 t3]
  • “The Giants of the Violet Sea” by Eugenia Traintafyllou (novella) - This piece finds the narrator returning to her childhood home following the death of her brother. Returning to the life she ran away from, that she was pushed from. Back to the mother she feels she’s disappointed, to the place where she’s now part outsider, she’s drawn into a mystery involving poaching, murder, and coverups. The piece is long enough to really explore the world and it’s particular situation, and to give the characters room to move and breathe. It’s a moving and complex work, a look at loss and healing, poison and hope. And it’s definitely worth spending the time to check out. A wonderful read! Seas, Poisons, Family, Tattoos, Rituals. CW- Murder/Death, Poaching/Animal Abuse. [c3 t4]
  • “amorous advice for the ocean-oriented” by Chiara Situmorang (poem) - This piece speaks as a warning, playing with a legend about a goddess who might take people who aren’t careful. And I like the way the piece frames itself as advice when the most important thing, the thing the poem leads with, it then seems to spend the rest of itself showing is rather impossible. Don’t fall in love. But, of course, that’s not something a person can do in the face of the woman waiting on the water. It’s a beautiful and sinking piece, and a great read!
  • “The Captain Flies” by Avi Silver (poem) - A piece that takes on the complicated mess that is Peter Pan, looking at Captain Hook through a lens of disability and find a new depth to the old story. One that casts the captain as the presumed narrator of the poem, faced with the mockery of a child, with the draw of immortality just out of reach. The piece doesn’t excuse the anger, the villainy of the character, but rather provides a different angle from which to view him and get a more compelling picture of his character and his motivations. The strange and difficult position he is in, the way the story makes him a monster, a foil, a fool, an Adult, embodied of all things toxic to childhood, and how that might feel. And it’s certainly a piece to spend some time with, to sit with, to explore. A fine read!
  • “Áhàméfùla” by Uche Ogbuji (poem) - This piece speaks to me of the power of names, as the narrator seems to speak of a breaking apart of matter, a dissolution of body into the universe. Yet as the body goes the name remains, resilient, and it’s an anchor. For me, at least, the piece seems to find that name a way of standing against the expanse and cold distance of the universe. A promise, a defiance, that it will not be lost, that it will remain, perpetual, that despite what happens there is something that remains, something that can’t be washed away, a truth that space cannot conceal. A wonderful read!
  • “Map-Making” by Kristan Macaron (poem) - A kinda strange piece that features two siblings--the narrator and their sister--separated by distance. The sister is on her way to the narrator, and yet the trip is long, the situation seemingly dire, the world perhaps ending. Though for me the piece is a lot about what isn’t being said. The reason for the drive, the way the siblings seem to be grounding each other, communicating during this time, one moving one stationary, filling the distance between them with adventure, or perhaps just anything to distract from how boring much of the country is to drive through. A lovely way to close out the issue!
Well there’s a lot on offer at Uncanny this month, with no reprints it seems and a whole novella to check out on top of the regular fiction and poetry. And there’s a line throughout about returns, about distance, about movement. People having to revisit the past and all the loss and pain there, in order to move forward, to do something with their time, to live. It’s a solid issue!

Strange Horizons 09/06/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “All Us Ghosts” by B. Pladek (short story) - The story centers a narrator who works as a ghostwriter. Not of books, though. Of lives. Or a life. A life surrounded by lies, written as part of a project by a person’s parents to further control their life. Jude, the narrator, writes the lies. And they’re good at it, for all they’re never fully comfortable with it. For all that they’re also working an angle, trying to build a class-action lawsuit with the other ghostwriters to get protections and better pay. And it’s a deliciously complex and messy piece about lies, about desire, about illusions and reality, and I love how the story offers no easy answers. How so much of it is about how comforting illusions of simplicity can be, when the weight of the full labyrinthine mess is often so unbearable, because it can’t be waved away with one lawsuit, one “victory” regardless of how big. And the character work is careful and wrenching, the whole thing a beautifully layered experience of masks under masks, lies nested in lies. A fantastic read! Virtual Reality, Writing, Employment, Lawsuits, Queer Characters. CW- Abuse, Aggressive Capitalism. [c2 t4]
  • “Funeral for a Star” by Yuna Kang (poem) - This is probably one of the shorter poems I have tried to review, and for me there’s a lot going in that small space. It’s a poem that seems to set up this moment, this scene. A literal funeral with lanterns flowing, the moon overhead, a sense of slowness, of time stretching out. For all the languid feel for me, though, the poem also captures a sense of finality. There is a finishing here, a set endpoint, a burning away until there’s nothing left. And it’s such a compact image that pulls out to this vastness, to the death of a star, and I just really like how so much is managed in this very concise poem. A wonderful read!
A story and a poem in this issue of Strange Horizons and both are quite good (plus new art to go with the story!), though beyond that I’m not sure I can see much that binds the two works together. Being good is certainly enough for me, though, and I’m thankful to close out the week on a high note!

Works read this year to date: 949 stories, 280 poems (+24 stories, +6 poems)

So close to hitting that 950 story mark, though as far as milestones go I did pass 1200 total reviews on the year. Which I mean isn’t nothing, especially when it puts me at 6600 reviews since starting QSR. By and large I’d say it’s a fairly average week for coverage, though I did it in one less day than normal so for me it was rather packed (for those wondering when I write these, this was written the week of Labor Day in the US, and I took the holiday off). Almost surprising to not find more novelettes this week, too, with only one from Uncanny. Normally Lightspeed is good for at least one, but not this month. Ah well. Next week I’m hoping to put a good dent in the rest of the review copies I’ve received recently. That will likely include reviews of the latest Hexagon, Future Science Fiction Digest, Apex, and Fireside. That alone would be a full week, but I’ll probably also try to sneak in some Escape Artist content, the latest Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the second Strange Horizons of the week. With five days I might just pull all that off. We shall see.

In other news, home repairs continue to be the bane of my existence and my constant companion these days. We’re still looking into getting the roof replaced, so $$$ I guess. Other things that should probably happen sooner rather than later: replace flushometer on the upstairs toilet so we don’t have to run downstairs after flushing to turn the water to the house off to prevent it from constantly flushing; get a new dishwasher so I don’t have to manually click it through its cycle over the course of like 2 hours; get the downstairs bathroom sink fixed so it doesn’t constantly drip; fix the leak in the utility room near the cat boxes we’ve just stuck a bucket under and empty every month or so; trim the branches that are overhanging the roof and driveway; mow the lawn; and on and on. We were rather poor for a long time so we got really behind on home maintenance. Having less money worries hasn’t sunk in yet, though, so we’ve been slow getting things fixed/replaced/etc. Sigh.

In other news, I have now finished reading through the original 100 issues of New Mutants (plus the Annuals and crossovers). I actually miss how they used to do more mini-events using the annuals that was neat. Overall, I appreciate the series a lot, though it deserved better than the ending it got. Liefeld’s work has not aged well at all and I am salty that he got rid of all but Cannonball and Boom-Boom from the previous cast. Also gone is really any attempt at characterization, replaced with bizarre and constant making out and guns. Ah, the 90s. Anyway, instead of jumping right into X-Force, I decided to step back and start reading the original Excalibur run, which is pretty fun so far. It helps that it has Kurt, Kitty, and Rachel, who are all wonderful. The art’s not bad either. Anyway, that’s me for now. Cheers!


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