Friday, October 15, 2021

Quick Sips 10/15/2021

A new week brings me desperately trying to get ahead on reviews ahead of a planned vacation (of sorts). Taking time off has always been somewhat challenging for me not just because I couldn't afford to for a long time, but because short fiction never stops, and taking a whole week off of reviewing can mean the pile of work to catch up on is...intense. Given that I'm already behind on novellas and anthologies, I'm hoping that taking the time won't leave me absolutely buried. But we'll see. What I can say is that I got to a decent amount this week, finishing up September's work with the latest Mermaids Monthly. After that it's solidly October releases, and some large ones. Kaleidotrope had 14 works, and Fusion Fragment had 8. Fiyah had 7. The special Apex had 6. The only smaller release I'm looking at this week is Flash Fiction Online. And even with all that, October looks like it will be a doozy. But I will celebrate the work I did get done, even as I'll need to do at least as well next week to be in good shape for the month. Onward.

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

Mermaids Monthly #9 (7 short stories, 5 poems total)
  • “wildgirls” by Cislyn Smith (short story) - A piece about a woman who wanted to grow into a wild girl, a naiad in a world where magic has been rediscovered. Instead, she becomes a guide to the reservations the naiads are placed onto, and a co-conspirator in their plans to prevent their limited environment from being further encroached upon and reduced. It’s a quick but meaty story, full of want and recognition of a great harm against the natural world. But aware, as well, that resistance doesn’t look like only one thing. A great read! Naiads, Rivers, Tourism, Guides. CW- Pollution, Reservations. [c3 t3]
  • “Seaside Princess” by Jordan E. McNeil, illustrated by Kat Weaver (illustrated story/flash) - A neat little micro story about the place where land and sea meet and the princess who is at the heart of it, at the heart of the ecosystem there. It has a quiet, almost mythic feel to it, in some ways explaining a natural occurrence, the rise and fall of the tide, with the act of combing out the hair of this princess. And it makes for a short, lovely read, wonderfully paired with the art! Hair, Combs, Ecosystems, Princesses, Shores. [c1 t1]
  • “Send Feet Pics” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (short story/flash) - A creeping picture that finds a narrator enamored with a woman they meet through an dating app. Someone who works in conservation who might have the ability to predict a person’s death based on their feet and who may be a seven hundred year old mermaid. For all that, though, the narrator is drawn to her and her voice, her music, her fingers. They are awkward but attracted and want to be near her while she, for her part, goes along with it. Though not always in the expected way, and the ending opens up a chilling moment of recognition and insight, one that cuts away the possibilities for romance and reveals instead a damage demanding something, least of all blood. A wonderful read! Dating Apps, Flirting, Prophecy, Feet, Axolotls. CW- Death/Drowning, Habitat Loss. [c3 t3]
  • “Mermaids of Alabama: An Environmental Assessment” by Ellie Campbell (short story) - A story told as an assessment and proposal to the EPA to make changes to a river in Alabama to increase habitat for the Alabama mermaids. These aren’t the mermaids we’re mostly used to seeing, the creatures more closely resembling fish in size and manner, but it’s an interesting take on history and conservation as the assessment argues for reshaping the environment to try and encourage these mermaids to return to their historical waters. And for all the dry textual format of the piece, there’s a spot of magic to it as well, both in the allure and promise of the mermaids, and in the potential for humans to help fix some of the mess we’ve made in damaging the natural world. A great read! Mermaids, Conservation, Rivers, Dams, Assessments. CW- Pollution. [c3 t3]
  • “Puffin Queen” by Jordan E. McNeil, illustrated by Kat Weaver (illustrated story/flash) - Aww. A very cute little story that, like the previous one by the author and illustrator, provides a small scene that incapsulates a relationship between sea and shore. Here a mermaid isn’t physically a part of the natural ecosystem so much as she’s the protector of it, a queen in that she’s set to order what might have been disastrous, and through her deeds gained the loyalty and fealty of those around her. It’s another really fun piece, and the illustration is delightful as well! Mermaids, Puffins, Offerings, Sustainability. CW- Poaching. [c2 t2]
  • “Witnessing” by Tiffany Morris (poem) - This piece speaks to me of change. Of joy and beauty. The imagery finds a queen mermaid watching the shore, watching something take shape, all the while singing. And there seems to be a kind of sinking going on, a retreat perhaps, a withdrawal, as the sing pulls under the water, away from the changes on land, the violence and the danger. And yet the song continues, and might still connect, might still sound for those who listen just so. For me, at least, it seems to still hold promise and magic, waiting, a place without regrets. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!
  • “Beyond the Blue” by Yuan Changming (poem) - This piece has an edge to it, for me, as it finds its images in the natural, in the spray of water into the sky. The shapes of mermaids darting and playing. A sense of energy and mystery and maybe magic. But the poem also pulls back a bit from this, reveals that the framing of the shot, the image, is one very consciously being manipulated and controlled to present a certain vision of this magic. One that doesn’t contain the very real modern calamities of the ocean. The trash vortexes and islands. The pollution and warming waters. Just everything, instead being curated to still seem a certain pristine blue that is more fiction than fact. A sharp and powerful read!
  • “A Mermaid Reports from Okeanos” by Pat Tompkins (poem) - This poem to me does a lot of dispelling. Of twisting away from the narratives that are put on mermaids from humans. Because humans have what might well be considered a twisted portrait of the planet in their head. One that centers the land, when really more of the planet is covered in water than dry land. So really who has the better claim to name the world? And I like how that plays out, an accusation that carries throughout that humans are too selfish and small minded to get outside their perspective and perceived supremacy. It’s another sharp piece, and fantastic read!
  • “Water Bites Back” by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu (short story) - This piece finds a narrator in charge of building a dam for his government, finding that progress is being delayed because of what he thinks is superstition. But that really isn’t. But that is actually something else, something older than his understand, something that requires respect. But he doesn’t respect what he finds, reacting with violence and hate instead, and he stirs up something that haunts him. That has patience and has cunning and has dominion over the waters of the world, which counts for more than the land. The piece is about connection, about a person attacking something, not aware that he’s really attacking himself. A great read! Dams, Building, Shamans, Family, Treaties. CW- Death, Guns, Child Abduction. [c4 t4]
  • “the hunter” by Jasmine Arch (poem) - This piece finds mermaids adapting to the encroachment of humans, the greed of them, the pollution and exploitation that they brind to the waters. Adapting not passively, not by trying to accommodate the human violations, but by pushing back against it. Using that greed as a line to reel humans in to their doom. To sink their boats, destroy their tools, and drag them into the deep, now a new source of food, exploited themselves. It’s a bit of a wicked piece but another great way of showing mermaids insisting on a world that doesn’t bend solely to human definitions and whims. A wonderful read!
  • “I Swim Up From Below” by Sarah Gailey (short story) - Mermaids aren’t supposed to attack humans. By compact, they’re supposed to help them, though the narrator of this story bristles at that. Hungers. Wants nothing more than to sink their teeth into that warm and yielding flesh. So when they scent blood in the water, and find a human in peril, things seem a foregone conclusion. Only there’s a few complications. And the piece is another wicked one, full of teeth and yearning, and accidental good deeds, and the right mix of humor and something sharper. A fine read! Mermaids, Treaties, Eels, Hunger, Non-binary MC. CW- Blood/Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “The Sirens’ Song” by Angela Gabrielle Fabunan (poem) - This piece for me acts as a kind of warning and reminder. That the things we think of as myths might not be, might be ready and willing to act on our transgressions and violences. Might be waiting to unleash something that we will not be able to weather. Might put their magic to use in violent ways, and for all our supposed power our powers are not those of the sirens, cannot easily stand to their song and their determination. It’s something we should keep in mind, unless we want to fuck around and find out. A great way to close out the issue!
A very strong issue that is connected to me by a kind of reframing of mermaids in the relation to humans. By centering mermaids as the inheritors of the greater part of the planet. A reminder that the world is mostly surfaced by water, not land, and that there might have to be an accounting there. That humans are not the majority species, not the ones fully in charge. And that the treaties between sea and shore have to be maintained with mutual respect, lest they become about who is the hunter, and who the hunted. A fantastic issue!

Kaleidotrope Autumn 2021 (8 short stories, 6 poems total)
  • “The Anthithesis of Virtue” by Aimee Ogden (short story) - A strange and rending story that finds Zsiuze returned to a world she was exiled from with betrayal and destruction on her mind. A desire to break down a stalemate of a structure by defying two gods, using them against each other to forge a new path that might not be the strict order of the one or the miasmic chaos of the other. It’s a sensual and strong piece, well worth spending some time with, and a wonderful read! Gods, Planets, Poison, Order, Chaos, Queer MC. CW- Violence, Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Sentinel Crows” by Tarver Nova (short story) - A touching and difficult story about Clara, a young sick girl, and the crows she’s befriended. The crows that bring her things in exchange for food and friendship. The crows who keep on getting in the way of a reaper trying to release Clara’s spirit from her body. And in that it’s a tender story about choice and about life, about the crows and Clara wanting more time together, recognizing the unfairness of her illness and her situation. But it’s also a story about release, and overcoming fear to embrace something that is freeing and joyous and wonderful. And it makes for a fantastic read! Crows, Imagination, Gifts, Rings, Horses. CW- Death, Illness/Terminal Illness. [c4 t4]
  • “The Best Conjecture” by David Barber (short story) - A somewhat strange story that unfolds in a bar with a time traveler. Which might sound like the wind up to a joke but is something else. That is something of an exploration of time travel, and change, and the push and pull of free will and predestination. It’s constructed moving backwards, as well, through time, and the result is a piece able to be understood forwards and back, predetermined but also requiring people conspiring to make it so. It’s circular and interesting and a fine read! Time Travel, Bars, Math, Phone Numbers, Fate. CW- Car Accidents/Death. [c3 t3]
  • “Somewhens” by Mari Ness (short story/flash) - This piece is quick and finds a narrator that is experiencing, it seems to me, multiple different realities. Iterations on a theme, all surrounding a person he seems to have lost. Someone he can’t seem to bring himself to approach in these alternate worlds or timelines. It’s a piece about longing, about distance, and about the changing of realities when the truth of a person, an individual, doesn’t seem to move at all. A deep piece, well worth wading into. Alternative Timelines/Dimensions, Watching. CW- Funerals, Loss. [c3 t4]
  • “Courtnée Luvs Rock Stars” by H.L. Fullerton (short story) - This piece finds the lead singer of a band enamored with a fan. A superfan. A woman who loves rock death. But even with the warnings the narrator doesn’t turn away, doesn’t try to avoid what’s coming. Because it’s part of the game for him, and he’s still high on his own immortality and the inspriation that this woman, Courtnée, brings to him. And it’s a story with its own gravity, a cannonball launched in a bleeding arch, getting ready to crash back to Earth. It’s a fun, rocking story, and a great read! Music, Rock Stars, Inspirations, Muses. CW- Death/Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “The Promise of Iron” by Benjamin C. Kinney (short story) - In an alternative history where mechanical soldiers were invented during the Napoleonic Wars, the story finds Eszter, a young Jewish woman in Budapest, where French forces are threatening to overrun the city. Curious about the automatons, Eszter works mostly to survive and to protect her brother, but when he goes missing, everything hits the fan in a chaotic but perhaps fateful way. Full of action and tightly paced, the piece looks at place and belonging, prejudice and violence and identity, and is very much worth checking out! Alt History, Family, Jewish MC, Automatons, Engineering. CW- War/Violence/Death, Prejudice/Slurs/Threats. [c4 t4]
  • “A Heavy Head, A Heavy Yoke” by Timothy Mudie (short story) - This story twists around the classic “horror aboard a whaling ship” by making the ship after a mythic beast able to turn people into stone and populating the ship with “Icemen” slaves, people with clear and hollow hair and blue skin used and abused by the dominant Captain and sailors And Corwinn is the captain’s steward, taught to hold the captain’s values and get to the bottom of a murder on board the ship. On that shakes Corwinn to his core. It’s a grim piece, full of hurt and prejudice, but it’s also got a hope to it, a longing and a desire waking up after a long time suppressed. A great read! Ships, Beasts, Stones, Mysteries, Queer MC. CW- Slavery, Death/Torture, Guns, Racism/Slurs, Rape. [c5 t4]
  • “And Miles to Go After I Sleep” by Robert Jeschonek (short story) - A story that finds two rival peoples listening to great stories of adventures from two seemingly rival explorers. But explorers who have a secret, and a secret love for one another that they can only explore and embrace when they’re away from the rest of the world, in a place they tell everyone else is barren and harsh but that is really lush and inviting, and home as well to a strange landmass that might be...waking up. And the piece is careful with that, incredibly fun and boistrous but also serious, a bit melancholy almost, and guided by love and compassion. It’s a wonderful read! Explorations, Birds, Love, Dreams. CW- Slurs/Prejudice, Accidents/Comas. [c3 t3]
  • “clove hitch” by Hester J. Rook (poem) - This piece for me speaks of a relationship between narrator and “you” complicated. That has a gravity to it like a fairy tale, all full of thorns and hair, edges and shadows. Bargains that seem to leave no room to breath at times, no choice but to assent, to go forward, to embrace. But for all that the relationship isn’t cast as evil or wrong, just complicated and possibly damaging to them both. Messy. And it makes for an evocative poem that’s definitely worth sitting down with. A great read!
  • “Pocket Change” by Jessica Cho (poem) - A quick poem about alternative choices. About branching universes swept up by a girl who seems to collect them. So that when the narrator is caught in a moment of speculation about what might have been, they get a glimpse instead of this girl, who acts either as a kind of custodian of the multiverse, a thief of discarded worlds, or a collector with a fascination for what people leave behind in their wake, all the choices not taken, lives not lived. And whatever the case, providing a needed service, prompting people to live the lives they have rather than looking back, grasping at things that can’t be reached. A fantastic read!
  • “Cold-Candled Windows” by Daniel A. Rabuzzi (poem) - This piece unfolds as a kind of warning, at least to me, about a court and the ruler of that court, a man who seems to call, to entreat people to approach, to sit with him. Only there is nothing good to come from following that call, only despair and death. And I do like the way the piece frames the cold as a building, with a kind of yawning hunger hidden behind a kind of stark beauty. Waiting, silent, and deadly. A fine read!
  • “Cosmic Cooking” by Gretchen Tessmer (poem) - Haha a lovely and fun piece that imagines the universe as a sort of culinary work in progress as the narrator, the chef of the cosmos, admits that things don’t really work out how they’re supposed to all the time. And it’s a delightful and very human piece about imperfection and power, about mistakes that become vibrant and wonderful successes, and some mistakes that just stay mistakes, but are still learning moments. A wonderful read!
  • “Nine Lives” by Brittany Hause (poem) - A poem narrated by a cat to a human. A cat who seems to be linked to the human through reincarnations, through lives, always helping them to rise, to gain prominence and wealth and power. The pair bonded in some strange way that is mostly down to a kindness that the human has within them. That showed through whenever they must first have met, and ever since has kept them true to each other, in this cycle of help and bounty. And it’s a fun piece, a history of these two through time, and into a future that always promises a human and a cat finding greatness and comfort. A great read!
  • “The Trick of Fire” by Alyxandra Harvey (poem) - This piece speaks to me of the cold. Of the winter. Personified in a way that speaks of loneliness, the way that people push them away, prefer the warmer weather, the summer and its seeming bounty. And yet the winter has a beauty of its own, something crisp and sharp and shattering. Something delicate and graceful and powerful. The winter has these things, and I like how the poem finds winter leaning into that in the end, not trying to be the summer, not trying to bend to the expectations of value, but rather asserting their own value, and the power that brings them. A lovely way to close out the issue!
A new Kaleidotrope brings out a lot of fresh works, ranging from dreamlike weird fantasy to time travel stories to poems about cats. The works and themes are varied, though some recur. Ideas about branching possibilities, about cold and warmth, about breaking free from confinement and slavery and forging a path ahead, free or at least more free than before. There’s a lot to like, and a great sampling of speculative feels and elements!

Fiyah #20: Love, Death, and Androids (5 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “The First of Us: The Geordonn Story” by K.S. Walker (short story) - A complex and intriguing story about alien contact, politics, and science. That finds humanity contacted by the Collective, a technological species who seems to have plans for Earth. And who took an orphaned child, leaving the politicians on the ground to decide what to do about it, and now, much later, leaving the planet in a strange place when that orphan returns changed. It’s a story that captures the very different ways people react to authority and power, and ways that this situation is likely deeper than it seems, promising hidden dangers that many recognize but that few know what to do about. And the interview structure of the piece gives it a wonderfully messy and human feel, and makes for a fantastic read! Aliens, First Contact, Interviews, Queer Character, Family, Politics. CW- Death of Parents, Alien Abduction, Government Corruption. [c3 t4]
  • “Smiley Faces With Blackberry Jam On Toast” by Cynthia C. Scott (short story) - This is a moving story about loss and compassion as a family deals with the final malfunction and breakdown of their nanny AI robot, who they’ve been living with for five years. More than even the child who spent so much time with Nana, it’s the narrator, Rochelle, that seems to have the hardest time adjusting, balancing her own feelings about the AI with the way that AIs are treated. As appliances, as machines. And the piece looks at how it can matter not algorithms decide an AI’s actions, but what an AI does and goes through that makes it more than just an appliance sometimes. More than a machine. And I really like the exploration and touching way the story reveals the characters in mourning. A beautiful read! Robots, AIs, Family, Nannies, Employment. CW- Death/Breaking Down. [c2 t4]
  • “Performance Review” by Maryan Mahamed (short story) - Aww. A heartfelt and slightly heartbreaking story about Slip, a robot assistant who is designed to answer questions asked by his owners. Only most questions that aren’t straightforward trip him up and cause him to pause, because he doesn’t really know how to handle them. Because he’s lacking context. So he’s returned. A lot. Until he spends a long time with a Muslim family who he gets to know better, and who don’t return him the first time he fumbles, but rather appreciate the way that he learns and cares. Except, of course, the one he spends the most time with, the family’s grandmother, stops being there at a certain point, and wow, this story really does tug on the old heartstrings, crafting an experience that is lovely but wrenching and tragic, with an ending that is gutting and very much worth checking out. An amazing read! Robots, AI, Questions, Facts, Family. CW- Death of a Grandparent, Death. [c3 t4]
  • “The Trumpet Player” by Nicole Givens Kurtz (short story) - A story about a robot just trying to find a place where he doesn’t have to live with human bosses, human masters. Where he can find accommodation for what he wants without having to justify himself endlessly. Where he can just be a robot musician, free and clear. And it explores the delicate and messy space that opens up when having to live alongside and among people who don’t see you as having a soul. The drain and the pain of it, for Jazz the trumpet player, to bein a place that’s supposed to be free, but isn’t free from those who see him as property, as an object. It’s heavy story about prejudice and yearning, and one that isn’t interested in arguing the point or fighting any more battles. That just wants sweet freedom, and isn’t settling for less. A wonderful read! Robots, Mars, Music, Jazz. CW- Prejudice/Slurs/Violence. [c3 t4]
  • “The Body of Theseus” by Emir G. Park (short story) - A piece that finds Malik in employment hell in a world that has been rocked by the rebellion of androids, and left employers wanting the same kind of loyalty and attitudes that robots had, but in humans. Enter Permits, implanted devices that track and enforce compliance in employees. That those employees have to pay to implant and maintain on wages that don’t cover it. And for me the piece really asks why people are loyal to jobs that aren’t loyal to them. That shows the ways that these androids and humans should be standing in solidarity against exploitation instead of fighting each other. And it’s a piece that has a very familiar kind exhaustion and hustle fighting for a bit of comfort and safety that those in power could easily afford to give but don’t. A powerful read! Androids, Employment, Implants, Debts. CW- Guns, Coerced Body Modification, Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t4]
  • “Explaining Bo Fights to Bhabi” by Abu Bakr Sadiq (poem) - This piece speaks to me of struggle, of a mixture of brutality and yearning, the narrator literally explaining about what bot fights are but only partly the mechanics of them. More, for me at least, is the feeling of them, the feeling behind them, urges that make people invest in something like bot fights, where destruction is so clos, where at the press of a button the bots fight to the death. And wondering perhaps what might be pushing our buttons, what keeps us coming back to the edge of destruction. A desire, a burning desire, that the narrator seems to understand all too well. A fantastic read!
  • “When I fell apart my mother put me back together” by Renee S. Christopher (poem) - A strange piece that for me plays with the title, with the implications of it, which for me speak to a kind of gratefulness. At a parent who helps put a child back together, to pick them up when they fall. But the piece itself seems to defy that, to show a mother who isn’t necessarily doing what her child wants. A mother who doesn’t really know what her child needs, or what they want, who has a child that doesn’t seem able to speak exactly, and so there’s this disconnect, this harm that seems to be done in both directions. Mother against child, child against mother, the two of them caught in this moment, this relationship that is strained and strange but vibrant in some way, and the ending leaves so much open, a tilt toward the beautiful. And it’s definitely a piece to spend some time with, and a great way to close out the issue!
A new issue of Fiyah and a new theme: Love, Death, and Androids. And I love how the stories and poems explore AIs and computers and how those elements are complex mirrors for humans and employment, family, and freedom. There’s so much here, and so many wonderful pieces to sink into. Some of them fun, some of them heartbreaking, all of them with something vital to say. A stellar issue!

Flash Fiction Online #97 (3 short stories total)
  • “Litany in the Heart of Exorcism” by Sarah Pauling (short story/flash) - This piece takes place as a woman and her demon are being forcibly parted. Only it’s not like a “normal” exorcism, in that the woman is the one holding on, desperate not to lose her power, her way of fighting back against the life being forced on her. The marriage being forced on her. The piece is sharp and crying, pained and defiant, trying so hard to avoid that fate, wanting so much to have a chance at something different, something more, something free. And finding that to get there might be a harder road. Not just one paved with good intentions but set down with purpose and grim resolve. It’s a stirring, creeping read! Demons, Bargains, Rituals, Marriage. CW- Forced Marriage, Abuse, Misogyny. [c4 t4]
  • “Like a Sunday House” by Linda Neihoff (short story/flash) - A strange piece that finds a child approaching a forbidden and foreboding little house that at least at one point housed her grandmother. But what it houses now is uncertain, and the piece plays with that uncertainty, that fear, in the form of a child’s daring against what has been outlawed. The piece is tense and there’s an air of something almost magical that infuses it for me. A light that might be warm and enchanting, or might be something dangerous. At it’s core, though, the piece speaks to me of grief, and the strange things that can provoke in a person, as captured by the unflinching curiosity of a child. A fine read! Houses, Steps, Family, Dolls. CW- Death of a Grandparent, Violence/Parental Violence to a Child. [c3 t3]
  • “AITA for Using My Side Hustle to Help My Boyfriend Escape the Clutches of Death?” by Aimee Picchi (short story/flash) - A rather cute and rather wicked story that takes its framing as a reddit AITA post, where the OP is an herbalist/witch whose side hustle is raising pets from the dead into a weird kind of undeath, and who kinda brings back her boyfriend after he accidentally drinks something that kills him. The situation is ripe with drama and I like the way that it evolves, the edits and updates in the comments telling a progressing story about sustainability and love in a ridiculous but endearing all the same. It’s a great tongue-in-cheek fantasy/horror that keeps things light and funny. A great read! Potions, Pets, Relationships, Advice, Sustainability. CW- Undeath, Death of Pets. [c3 t2]
October brings some spoopy stories to Flash Fiction Online, though not all of them are exactly horrifying. Rather, they explore some classic elements of horror. Demons and exorcisms. Forbidden, possibly haunted houses. The undead. But each brings something fresh to the old tropes, and it amkes for a delightful issue!

Fusion Fragment #8 (8 short stories total)
  • “Giving Up The Quale” by Avery Becard (short story) - A complex story about an academic research project and the asshole in charge, all in a world where people lived with symbiotic “quales” in their stomachs, at least until the trend recently to remove them and live quale-free. The leader of this expedition, however, has a quale and holds a lot of antiquated notions about gender roles, work, and...well, just about everything. And the picture of the relationship between the narrator and this team leader evolves as the piece moves, as his quale sickens and might die, and the whole thing is strange, almost haunting, but beautiful and fragile as well, never stopping to fully explore the world building it hints at but never really needing to either. A great read! Quales, Academia, Research, Artifacts, Colleagues. CW- Harassments/Abuse, Self Surgery/Blood, Symbionts. [c4 t4]
  • “A Star On Earth Is Always Lonely” by Maria Dong (short story) - This story finds Byeol-Won at a crisis point in his life. In a relationship with an addict he can’t trust but also can’t seem to break away from. Convinced that he’s a synthetic but lacking any sort of proof for it, like once it was a thought he was introduced to it became viral, attacking him. And it leads him down a rather toxic, obsessive path, one that mirrors his relationship with Chase, the addict. One that might lead him back to family, to something like stability, or might pull him back into the dangerous and unhealthy cycles that have plagued him. It’s a tender, wrenching read all the same, and wonderfully done! Synthetic People, Family, Relationships, Queer MC. CW- Death of Parents, Traffic Accidents/Drunk Drivers, Addiction. [c4 t4]
  • “Side Effects May Vary” by Avra Margariti (short story) - A piece that finds Lydia a struggling single mom supplementing her cashiering wage with cash money from sketchy medical drug trials. Trials that might result in changing size or becoming a literal cloud for a while. And the piece looks at parenting in a real and compassionate way, with its messy mistakes and attempts at communication that come off like attacks. And it shows how poverty further complciates things, makes it so that everyone is a bit more on edge, a bit more desperate for something to distract them, comfort them, work for them for once, and how it compounds the hurt when it doesn’t. A fantastic read! Parenting, Family, Trials, Clouds, Transformation. CW- Drug Use. [c3 t4]
  • “The Yoni Sutra” by Priya Chand (short story) - In this story, Delhi is a city where many people get chipped, a process that leaves men unable to touch women outside their families without a severe electric shock. Shalini has done “everything right” and just gotten married. Her life seems to be getting better, and her future promises more still. Promotions. A family when she wants it. Two things, though, cause her to contemplate her life and the world she lives in. The first, an unchipped woman who joins her department at work. The second, an unplanned pregnancy that could ruin her work prospects. And what follows is a careful look at limits and morality, joy and safety. And it’s an interesting and deft piece that makes for a powerful read! Touch, Marriage, Employment, Sex, Abortion. CW- Rape (attempted, mentioned). [c2 t3]
  • “Miss Delete Myself” by Andrea Kriz (short story) - This piece finds a suicide streamer, Ruri-chan, who specializing in making streams of her jumping off of high places to her supposed death. Only it’s not her that falls. It’s staging and acting, and she’s drawn to it in a world rocked by the explosion of a huge exploratory ship that included on board her sister. That has since given rise to strange Kami, beings who pass through the world like spirits. Ruri-chan is getting more popular in her streams, and might be on the cust of “leveling up” with the help of a celebrity in the field. One who has a kind of offer. It’s a heavy story about loss and despair and loneliness, about feeling and expression, and it’s definitely a piece to spend some time with. A great read! Streaming, Friendship, Family, Space, Lightspeed. CW- Suicide, Death of a Sibling, Accidents/Explosions. [c4 t4]
  • “Shards” by Michelle Mellon (short story) - This piece finds a future where humans are...fragile. Where they’ve been designed to be fragile and needing protection. Padding. Both in the physical sense and in the intellectual one. And Daija yearns for more than that. Yearns for something dangerous, which brings her to her partner, Nathaar. And it brings both of them to some rather drastic choices. To live in the protected bubble that has been built around them. Or not. And the results of those choices are extreme, violent, but perhaps reaching that yearned for freedom. A fine read! Fragility, Relationships, History, Texts. CW- Suicide, Violence/Blood, Control/Genetic Engineering. [c5 t5[
  • “Sitka Spruce” by Michelle Kulwicki (short story) - In the world of this story, everyone spends their 24th year transformed. Into an animal or plant, they become human again after a year, or when their new form “dies,” whichever comes first. And more than anything, Jess has wanted to be a tree. Not just for a year, though. For her, this transformation is meant to be forever, and the story follows that, finds her in that space, wondering if she’ll turn away in the end. Scared but also excited. Ready to become a tree. And in that the story has a lot of power, and I love how it sets Jess up as moving toward a being she wants, not really worrying about what she’s leaving behind so much as embracing the truest part of herself. It is what it is, and it’s a beautiful and engaging read! Trees, Transformations, Queer MC, Relationships, Family. CW- Cancer. [c2 t3]
  • “The Last Bookstore” by Tam Eastley (short story) - This story finds a bookstore in Berlin after a series of declines and conflicts have made life in the area sporadic and largely nomadic. But the bookstore remains, a landmark and a refuge from the storms. For the new employee there, helping the old owner, this is literal and figurative. Sheltering them when the storms come, and offering them some stability in a life that hasn’t known it. And there’s a magic to the place as well. A magic that seems to be seeping into the new employee, the “you” of the story. Something that’s not exactly sinister, but rather that seems like sinking into an embrace, into a home, though there are elements that seem like they could be a bit grim. It’s a lovely piece about belonging and the magic of books and bookstores, the wonder and the warmth they can radiate. And it’s a great way to close out the issue! Bookstores, Employment, Books, Storms, Cold. [c1 t3]
It’s a big issue of Fusion Fragment with eight new stories. And there’s a heavy sense of longing in a lot of them. A yearning for an escape from the confines of the worlds the characters find themselves in. The escapes can take the form of refuges or transformations, or even death itself, but the works play with what it is to want to be free, to want something so bad it resonates with the world, with the universe. There’s a touch of something lonely there, occasionally eased by human contact and connection but not really solved by it. And it’s a great selection of stories!

Apex #126 (6 short stories total)
  • “Security Breach at Sugar Pine Suites” by Pamela Rentz (short story) - A piece that finds Birdie, a housekeeping worker on a giant space station, bending some rules to clean out the rich rooms instead of her normal assignment. For her the job is a debt she’s paying as part of the terms of the station’s contract with the various Native Tribes who run it. It’s work but, as she discovers, for some other people at the station, it’s something more than a cage. And I like how the story finds that things aren’t always how they appear, and puts Birdie in the middle of a kind of scheme that she probably approves of, but definitely wasn’t expecting. I like the mischief of it, the reaching for freedom, and the way it all comes together. It’s an incredibly fun story, and a great read! Employment, Security, Celebrity, Keys, Debts. [c1 t2]
  • “Happy Trails” by Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr. (short story/flash) - Coyote has been drinking during St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Chicago, going from bar to bar, not remembering how to take human form. He’s remembering, and letting his feet guide him, and for Coyote that’s not exactly a safe prospect, especially when he feels like dancing in the middle of an intersection. The piece mixes joy with loss, capturing this fucked-up-ness in Coyote so well, irresponsible but responsible really only for being himself, for doing Coyote things, and in that he’s wildly successful. He’s a reminder, and he plays the part, trickster and chaos rolled into a kind of alcoholic mess. It’s a quick and fascinating piece, well worth spending some time with, and it’s a great read! Coyotes, Parties, Chicago, Dancing. CW- Alcohol Abuse, Traffic Accidents, Death. [c3 t3]
  • “Marked By Bears” by Jessie Loyer (short story) - A story about a girl entering into a compact, a bargain, a ritual that binds humans and bears in a world after human’s dominance has ended. When humanity has to not only find balance with the animal nations they wronged for so long, but atone for those wrongs. And part of that is this ritual, and part of it is a giving of certain children for the bears to take. To be a part of the giving and taking of life, a balance that humans had long forgotten, and now get fresh reminders of, with the help of their animal allies and friends. Still, it is a difficult piece at times that really looks at humanity’s place in the natural world and what we owe to it, how we can show our commitment to not falling into the patterns of abuse and exploitation that have been the norm for so long. It’s haunting but beautiful, and opens a new way of seeing humanity and animals, a kinship and obligation that is harrowing but sacred. A wonderful read! Bears, Animals, Bargains, Rituals, Family. CW- Sacrifice/Death of a Child/Eating Humans, Post-Disaster/Apocalypse, Scars/Blood. [c4 t4]
  • “Spirits of the Broken Lands” by Kevin Wabaunsee (short story) - Set in a second world fantasy setting, Gwisen is a Shawdese visiting a city of the Empire that colonized his homeland and pushed his people into a wasteland. An Empire that wrote a history of genocide and murder. Now he hopes to get a little back through some performance swindling, but despite being careful things go wrong, and he finds himself face to face with one of the magical elite of the Empire. One who wants something from him. But one who definitely bit off more than he could chew when he singled Gwisen out. It’s a piece about power, about energy, about old wrongs being given voice. Not righted exactly, but avenged, and the piece is tightly paced with a sense of rising hope, that the spirits of the land aren’t dead and gone, but waiting to fight back. A great read! Spirits, Magic, Bargains, Performance. CW- Colonization, Genocide, Violence/ACAB, Slavery/Torture, Racism/Slurs. [c4 t4]
  • “When Evening Arrives” by Tiffany Morris (short story/flash) - This piece finds Stella part of the remaining human population waiting for a visit from the stars. On Earth things are much changed, and Stella’s people help to steward and care for an old marsh, one that Stella is afraid these visitors will disturb and harm, the memory of transgression from distant travelers still fresh. And I like the worry of the story, the fragility of meetings like this where so much can go wrong even with good intentions, and it’s hard to always assume good intentions. But it’s a quick and heartfelt piece about home and exploration and meetings, and it’s a lovely read! Aliens, Nature, Swamps, Stewardship, Meetings. CW- Post-Apocalypse. [c2 t3]
  • “An Incident at Hellpoint Prime” by Norris Black (short story) - This piece finds Vahla the newly appointed sheriff of Hellpoint Prime. And, as luck would have it, he also has his first major case--four bodies, skinned. Which leads Vahla into a history that has been buried, a genocide that has been covered up, and a deadly truth that has been lurking on the planet ever since. One that has been learning, adapting, and might be aiming for him. It’s a tense piece and a solidly horrifying story, playing with the fear not only of a new world, but of the return of the past, the rising of what has been buried into something new and seeking retribution for a great and terrible wrong. It’s a chilling and fantastic read! Employment, Mining, Moonshine, Colonies, Aliens. CW- Violence/Blood/Mutilation, Genocide, Murder. [c5 t5]
Apex is back with a special edition featuring Indigenous Futurists. The pieces are a mixture of Apex’s normal dark speculative fiction with some more upbeat and hopeful stories mixed in for good measure. There are post-apocalyptic stories, yes, but some very interesting takes on that, as well as stories about space, colonization, responsibility, and healing. And really it’s a wonderful issue with plenty of laughs and chills, heartwarming moments and heartbreaking histories. Just some phenomenal works!

Works read this year to date: 1056 stories, 312 poems (+37 stories, +13 poems)

So numbers wise I did manage to cross the 300 line for poetry. And then some, really, because between Mermaids Monthly, Fiyah, and Kaleidotrope I packed away a bit of it this week. Stories didn't slouch either, though, and all told it was one of the busiest weeks I've had this year (ranking third, maybe?). Next week promises a lot more to enjoy, too. I'll try to get to Baffling, Clarkesworld, GigaNotoSaurus, as well as catch up on Strange Horizons and the special anniversary Beneath Ceaseless Skies. There's more, too, but I'm not sure what I'll be able to get to without, you know, just sort of collapsing. But I'll give it my best!

In other news, Centaurworld has been put on pause so that Matt and I could watch some Shetland. It's a very slow burn mystery series, though I do like the way that it moves, and the DI, Jimmy Perez, is a pretty solid character, constantly having to deal with the way that the area is rather insulated and how that can lead to xenophobia and prejudice in some frustrating ways. Seriously, though, it's a slow pace. Good music. Really we just continue to wait for Vera to have the full new series up. Probably we'll watch whatever is available while we're on vacation. As one does. We'll have to decide at some point on a new mystery to watch after that. Or maybe see if we can't find something else. A TNG rewatch? Who knows.

In reading, I'm now into the Peter David run of X-Factor, which is rather delightful, though I'm not quite made up on the art. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of the series at the moment, but I do wish it were a bit clearer at times and less angular. My own bias showing through I guess. The new team is compelling, though, and Guido is a gem. I actually am struck by how far Peter David is taking a rather offhand joke that Guido makes during the team's first press conference, and it's making me want to write an essay on media interactions within the X-Men comics. Anyway, a lot of is that Guido is having a bit of fun with the press and says that he doesn't like the term "mutant" because of how it's portrayed in media (Mutant Menace and such). So he makes up a term that is more "politically correct": "genetically challenged" or "geecee." And the media LOVES IT.

And really this got me thinking about identity politics in X-Men and the importance of terms when it comes to identity. But how messy those terms can be. Anyway, it reminded me of the really awful speech that Havok gives in Uncanny Avengers waaaaay later, where he rather earnestly rejects the identity of mutant and says he doesn't want to be defined by his minority status. Given that Havok was also present for this geecee thing, I'm wondering if Rick Remember was playing with it at all in his Uncanny Avengers gaffe, but who knows? Both speeches, though, do very different things. Because, first Guido is trolling the media, basically trying to point out how awful they've been with mutant issues. And then don't get it, assume he's earnest because they want mutants to reject the term. It's so much safer than the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants or the Mutant Liberation Front who have leaned into the political and personal identity and power of being a mutant. "I'm not a mutant" is what the dominant media wants to hear as much as they'd revel in a high profile queer person rejecting "queer" or "gay" and saying that they're just "normal."

And especially in a setting where the Mutant Massacre is a thing, well, there's a lot to unpack. And I don't really have time to write a whole article at the moment, so I'll just file this away and keep my eyes open as I continue reading. Definitely look for some of this commentary to bleed into my drunken X-Men reviews set to start next year. But anyway, that's probably enough for now. Cheers!


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