Saturday, October 23, 2021

Quick Sips - 10/22/2021

So when you all read this, I’ll technically be on vacation. Technically, because let’s face it, I suck at taking vacations, so you’re still reading this. But that aside, I’ve been very much pushing myself to get “ahead” far enough in my reading to take a week off from most reviewing activities. Most, because again, I suck. But I do plan on relaxing, spending time with my husband, and trying to maybe have fun. We’ll see how it goes, seeing as how covid hasn’t really…stopped. But I’ve packed in another full week of reviews. Perhaps not so many as last week, but I’m still covering the monthly Clarkesworld, Fireside, GigaNotoSaurus, and The Dark content, as well as quarterly Baffling, irregular Constelación, biweekly Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and two weeks of Strange Horizons. Be impressed! It’s a lot to get to, so buckle up for some serious short SFF coverage!

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!

Baffling #5 (8 short stories total)
  • “Men Against the Current” by Louis Evans (short story/flash) - A story about loss and grief, about a man wrecked by the death of his lover, and trying desperately to find a way to reach him, to bring him back or to travel to an alternate world where he still exists. Leaning into the supernatural and isosteric, Ambroso, the survivor, tries harder and harder, but it’s only when he stops for a moment that a way might open up. And I love how that happens, the sense that there is something circular that needs first to stop for things to drop into place, that the quest itself was in some ways prolonging the grief. It’s a quick but deep piece, with a lovely ambiguous ending that still I read as very hopeful, a breaking of a cycle and a joining that seems to defy death itself. A wonderful read! Studies, Portals, Gondolas, Alternate Universes, Queer MC. CW- Illness/Death. [c3 t3]
  • “One and a Half Stars” by Kristen Koopman (short story/flash) - A rather hilarious story about an artificial uterus and the rather sharply critical review one user posts about it. Because, well, it is pretty bullshit how the makers of this uterus decide to relay technical issues with the organ (pain), and how they require such a complicated and expensive process to get it seen to. And in that the piece takes direct aim at the ways that not only bodies are pretty fucked up sometimes, but the ways that uteruses especially are legislated, policed, and taxed in creatively terrible ways. And through it all the narrator remains wonderfully sarcastic and thorough in their review of this product. It’s an incredible read! Organs, Uteruses, Reviews, Customer Support, Queer Characters. CW- Medical Bullshit, Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t3]
  • “Mr. Marigold Reshells An Automaton” by Arden Powell (short story/flash) - This piece finds an artist recovering Da Vinci’s automaton, and finding that they’re not only intelligent, but rather pissed at the mistreatment they’ve received. Mistrustful because of how they’ve been violated. And yet the artist, Mr. Marigold, is patient and kind, working with them in order to find the body that they want. Giving them form and beauty that makes them feel alive in new ways. And I love the joy of the piece, the way that the automaton is able to express what they want, and the willingness of Mr. Marigold to work with them to truly express themselves, both of them collaborating on an art that leaves the world richer than it was. It’s a moving and wonderful read! Automatons, Creation, Art, Bodies, Non-binary Character. [c1 t3]
  • “The Sigilist’s Notes on the Fell Lord’s Staff” by Stephen Granade (short story/flash) - This piece unfolds as the notes and confessions of a sigilist, the person in charge of magically enhancing the staff of a great lord. One who might be kinda sorta evil, if the hints are anything to go by. That he doesn’t take off his helmet, that the title marks him as Fell. But for the sigilist he’s also something special. Magical in more ways than one. He is everything to the sigilist, who works to protect him, to empower him, to be able to be in his presence. And the piece follows this relationship in a gripping and wrenching way, a fated love that might be doomed, or might find a way through devotion and desire. And it makes for a fantastic read! Staffs, Magic, Sigils, Queer MC, Teleportation. CW- Imprisonment. [c2 t3]
  • “A Bridge Between” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard (short story/flash) - A moving and rather heartbreaking story about a person who has been hired to be the human actor behind an illusion that allows the bereaved to interact with a simulation of their dead loved one. And the narrator is good, knows this particular role very well, and yet when one of their role’s spouses comes to them seeking some sort of reassurance, some sort of comfort in the face of death and loss, it’s how good they are at their role that leads them to act outside the lines of their employment and deal a bit in the hard necessary truth. It’s a difficult and wrenching piece, but quiet and beautiful in its own way, powerfully understated and just wonderfully done! A great read! Relationships, Marriage, Poly Relationship, Simulations, Queer Characters, Employment. CW- Death of a Spouse/Grief. [c3 t4]
  • “Holding On” by Ryan Breadinc (short story/flash) - A tender and quiet piece that finds two lovers sharing an overheated moment in bed. Talking about dreams that they’ve had. Particularly, Charlie reveals his dreams of being a monster, which Drew assures him are probably nothing. Just normal kinds of dreams, even as Drew seems to have their share of secrets. And in that the piece shows this possibly grim situation where this relationship is fragile, built on something of an illusion, or a transformation, a spell that needs to be maintained and Drew is in the position where they must lie to Charlie, basically gaslight him, for a reason that the audience never really knows, but which doesn’t feel violating, doesn’t feel anything other than needed for Charlie and Drew, for their continued happiness together. A fine read! Relationships, Queer Characters, Dreams, Monsters, Spells. CW- Gaslighting. [c2 t3]
  • “Gastronomie Morte” by Gerri Leen (short story/flash) - A neat take on vampires as the narrator is a kind of burglar not interested in stealing anything so much as...smelling the food at a great restaurant. Because they can smell but not taste, the smells are what they’re after when they break and enter. They’re not expecting to be caught in the act, though. And expecting even less to be met and possibly understood by a chef who’s willing to give them a kind of private gallery of aromas. It’s a fun piece for all it centers this lack, this longing, this desire that isn’t the one typically paired with vampires. It’s a supernatural meet cute, though, and it’s very much worth checking out. A delightful read! Vampires, Restaurants, Smells, Queer Characters. CW- Lack of Senses. [c2 t3]
  • “Illusions Of Freedom” by Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe (short story/flash) - This is a wrenching piece that finds the narrator and their lover, Folarin, meeting each night in shadows and choosing forms to transform into. Birds. Snakes. And in those forms they are free to be together in all the ways that they can’t in the daylight. In their village where they would be burned twice over for their power to transform and for the love they have for each other. It’s a rending and difficult piece in that, finding the characters caught between so many dangers, always having to look out, always having to fear what will happen to them if they are found out. But needing what they have together too much to stop. There is that sentiment that they have to live, that even if it means they’ll die, they have to live, and there is a sense of freedom in that, of resilience and defiance. And it’s heartbreaking for the harsh reality it reveals but is no less heartwarming and beautiful as well. An amazing read! Birds, Transformations, Queer Characters, Villages, Snakes. CW- Death/Execution/Murder, Homophobia. [c4 t4]
A new issue of Baffling means eight new wonderful queer speculative flash stories, so really, we’re all winners this month. The piece move a bit but there are a few that deal with monsters and monstrosity in interesting ways, either complicating existing tropes or showing people who have been deemed monstrous but who are really surrounded by monsters seeming more “normal.” There’s also a bit about loss and longing, about people trying their best to be true to themselves and their desires, and just a lot of messy queer amazingness. So yeah, definitely an issue to really dive into!

Clarkesworld #181 (6 short stories, 1 novelette total)
  • “Paper of Elephants” by Brenda Cooper (short story) - This story finds two siblings trying to take care of a bunch of elephants in a sanctuary. And to that end, David has an idea that he’s counting on Eleanor being able to sell. NFTs featuring the painted art of one of the elephants, who specializes in simplified landscapes. It’s a longshot, and Eleanor isn’t exactly keen on having to hustle so hard when saving these animals should be an easy sell. When the alternative is watching them be brutalized and harvest for their tusks. The piece captures the frustration of that situation and the hope of it, the frustrating but powerful way that people can react to tragedy, to despair, to art torn from an open wound. And it’s a lovely read! Elephants, Conservation, Family, Siblings, NFTs, Art. CW- Poaching, Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t4]
  • “The Answer Was Snails” by Bo Balder (short story) - A somewhat strange story that find Robin trapped in an alien terrarium. And not one that really had humans in mind. They’re just sort of trapped, having to constantly move and avoid dangerous animals in order to survive. One of their few comforts is that their partner, Annie, is trapped in a terrarium as well. The one next door. And so they start to hatch a plan to bridge that gap, to not only escape their own terrarium but reach Annie so that, even if they can’t fully escape, they can be together. And it’s a tense, danger-filled adventure that unfolds, full of chills and spills, but never giving into despair. A fine read! Terrariums, Aliens, Snails, Relationships. CW- Imprisonment, Injury/Violence. [c3 t4]
  • “Legend of the Giant” by Fei Dao, translated by Ken Liu (short story) - This piece finds a giant robot deconstructing the cities of the world after humanity has been removed from the planet. How is slightly uncertain, but whatever the case the giant still lives according to his mission, breaking down the buildings and converting them into kinds of bricks. Over and over, enjoying the purpose it gives him even as he doesn’t really think about what he does or why he does it. Until he’s injured by a killer mech. Until he’s joined in his journeys by a kind of mentor. Until he’s turned on by the strange, mostly benign aliens who seem to be floating around. It’s an interesting piece about purpose and beauty, about work and life. And the ending is a mix of triumph and destruction, loss and defiance, that is strange and wonderful and terrible to behold. Definitely a story to spend some time with! Robots, AIs, Recycling, Philosophy. CW- Violence, Destruction, Extinction. [c3 t4]
  • “Love Unflinching, at Low- to Zero-G” by M. L. Clark (novelette) - A story of an intrepid SPAAAAAAACE! Okay, all joking aside, Doc is a vet who looks after the non-human companions people keep aboard a space station. And there’s quite a few, from dogs to animals that have come from other alien worlds. And those are the heart of this story--a possible political nightmare that shines a light on the ways that humans are not always the best when it comes to caring for animal companions. That humans are often capricious and irresponsible and, well, selfish a lot of the time, thinking of themselves and not the beings in their care. And the story shows the consequences of that, Doc stuck in the middle of it, trying to figure out how to diffuse everything without pushing anyone into doing something rash and drastic. It’s an intricately built and imagined story with some wonderful character work and a great ending. Definitely go check it out! Animals, Companions, Politics, Veterinarians, Space Stations, Queer Characters. CW- Genetic Modification, Animal Abuse (mentioned). [c3 t3]
  • “Rain Falling in the Pines” by Lavie Tidhar (short story) - A rather action-packed story that finds Neanderthal Geshem in possession of a Roc’s egg that is more than it seems, on the run from not one or two different concerns but a whole fistful of them, hunted and tracked and not really a fan of any of this, except that messy trouble is sort of what he does best. Or at least most frequently. It’s a fun piece, quick and punchy with a lot of chaos and out of it a slower kind of world building that throws a lot out there and trusts the reader to keep up. And while it doesn’t provide a lot of answers itself, it stands as a romp of an adventure and seems like it will fit into a larger story being told, so hopefully this isn’t the last ride of Geshem and his frenemies. A great read! Neanderthals, Space, Eggs, Rocs, Assassins. CW- Violence/Death. [c3 t3]
  • “Through” by Eric Fomley and Rich Larson (short story) - This piece takes place largely in a prison, but not the kind it seems at first. The narrator is a prisoner, The prisoner, and his punishment is intense and long lasting. But it starts to come apart when he gets a visitor, and when he starts to remember what happened to put him in the cell he’s in, and as he tries to escape a cage that was specially designed for him. It’s a bleak piece about grief and guilt, about the ways guilt becomes a cage that not only keeps a person in but that seeks to keep out everyone else. An interesting read! Simulations/Virtual Reality, Comets, Relationships, Space, Ships. CW- Death, Prisons, ACAB, Violence. [c4 t4]
  • “A Well-Worn Path” by Anamaria Curtis (short story) - This piece finds two sisters reunited after a time apart. Leona having gone off into space to help make planets habitable in the Explorers while Norami has stayed behind on their home world and become a forager. And there’s a lot between them in the different trajectories of their lives, a hurt and a betrayal that neither know the full depths of. And the two go out in search of a dangerous berry even as they start to reconnect, start to be honest with each other. It’s a wrenching and at times very raw story about family and hurt, about going and staying and the ways neither is ever perfect. And the ending is a mix of hope and gutting despair, depending on how you read it. A great read! Family, Planets, Berries, Foraging, Sisters. CW- Venom/Pain. [c2 t4]
Though it’s mostly short stories, Clarkesworld still is out with a pretty full month (two of the pieces are just shy of novelettes, and none of them are super short). And there’s a lot of loss in these stories, a lot dealing with different kinds of prisons. Those that people are forced into for crimes, or the cages that are meant for their own protection. The isolation that comes from feeling left behind. And the characters have to deal with their isolations, with their prisons or confinements, their sanctuaries and homes, in different ways, delving through adventure and guilt, hope and despair. It makes for a solid issue!

Fireside Magazine #96 (4 short stories total)
  • “Congratulations, Clockholder!” by R.L. Thull (short story) - This piece looks at the economics of Hell with a special new offer! A clock that people can get that allows them to sell years of their life for riches and prestige. That monetizes the whole selling your soul thing in new ways, taking a page from some truly class act demons--credit companies. It shows that allure of the easy money, the delayed responsibility, the promise that even if things get bad you can just lean more into it to get out. Only not, and even at the bottom there seems to be lower still to go, all for the benefits of a few weeks, or months, for what would have been decades. A sharp story wrapped in biting humor and a delightful read! Bargains, Family, Time, Clocks. CW- Hell, Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t3]
  • “The Fifth Horseman” by Martin Cahill (short story) - This story imagines not exactly an apocalypse so much as what comes after. After the first four horsemen are done. And it imagines them all as a family, Death and her brother War and sisters Pestilence and Famine. And the youngest, who comes after and does what needs to be done not to end the world, but to preserve a seed of it. And it’s a story full of quiet yearning, the cycle of loneliness that plagues the family, that keeps them always apart. Except for the briefest of meetings, and then gone again. It’s sweeping and powerful and lovely, and a wonderful read! Family, Horses, Jars, Seeds, Planets. CW- Destruction/Apocalypses. [c2 t4]
  • “Of Honey and Grave Dirt” by Maiga Doocy (short story) - This piece finds a sorcerer’s apprentice finding out that her job isn’t really what she was expecting. Especially when she’s handed an infant and expected to care for it as it grows quickly and...dies. The piece looks at the cycle that the assistant gets in, the ways that knowing death changes her and changes her priorities, feeds an ambition that is nothing like the sorcerer’s, and leads her to a place where she might be able to push back against the sorrow and loss of the work she’s doing. That might be able to twist a magic that is cold and uncaring into something warm and loving. Though not without a cost. A fantastic read! Magic, Assistants, Children, Honey. CW- Death of a Child. [c4 t4]
  • “Not Quite What We’re Looking for Right Now” by Jana Bianchi (short story/flash) - A deliciously meta story framed as a rejection letter/email regarding a short story. A story that the staff found particular effective...except that parts of it literally tried to kill them. It’s a piece that imagines fiction’s power in a literal sense, characters coming out of the words, scenes and situations being felt directly and physically by the readers. In that, the rejection isn’t about the power of the piece but the harm it does, and in that I’m not sure I’d say if the piece is showing the responsibility needed to take on elements in fiction that can be particularly harmful to readers, or if the piece is critiquing that sentiment, showing that powerful fiction shouldn’t be gatekept by editors. Whichever the case, it’s certainly a piece to spend some time with! Stories, Meta, Rejections. CW- Violence. [c2 t4]
Fireside delivers four stories in the latest issue, and the works blend humor and horror, longing and love. There’s a nice mix here, and a rather interesting blending of genres, leaning perhaps toward the horror side of speculative fiction. Still, even with the chilling moments there are laughs and there are more tender feelings to explore and experience. And it all makes for a fine issue!

Constelacíon #2: Myths and Monsters (8 short stories total)
  • “Rat-tail Tea and Buttermilk Biscuits” by R. P. Sand (short story/flash) - This epistolary story is written one witch to another regarding the narrator’s/sender’s...situation with a new neighbor. Retired from the rough and tumble adventures of witching, the sender, Portitia, was concerned when another witch moved in next door to her. That concern didn’t really blossom, though, until Porticia visited her new neighbor with a small gift, and was sent how with a better one. I love the way this leads to this tense back and forth of competitive gifting, Portitia claiming to be an Evil witch and yet stuck in a cycle of doing better and better things for her neighbor. A delightful and rather hilarious read! Witches, Letters, Neighbors, Gifts, Cats. [c1 t1]
  • “Everyday Creatures” by Juan Diego Gómez Vélez, translated by Eliana González Ugarte (short story) - This story finds a family that raises both chickens and snakes. And follows the series of events that adds a rather interesting new creature to their residence. And I love the way the piece treats magic, as just something one deals with, a part of the world in its cuisine and in the things people might run into. Like a basilisk. Or pigmy mermaids. And it’s that tone the story manages, a sort of cheerful optimism in the face of some at-times rather drastic and dangerous events, that charms me. It’s fun and it balances the grim elements with a playfulness and sincerity that is wonderful! A great read! Chickens, Snakes, Basilisks, Family. CW- Sickness/Loss of Eyesight, Human Petrification. [c3 t2]
  • “Gnashing Teeth from the Deep and the Children Hang on Tight - A Checklist” by Adria Bailton (short story/flash) - This is a very quick story that unfolds from the point of view of a monster from under a child’s bed. A monster who knows a thing or two about being a monster, and how they wouldn’t exist, not in the same way, without children, without the imagination of children to imagine terrible things in the shadows. But what I love about the piece is how the narrator seems to understand that when there are real fears, bullies and human monsters, it diminishes those from under the bed. And so this monster is fighting back against that, targeting those who would hurt children to bring enough comfort to really be the stuff of imagined nightmares, and not just real trauma. A wonderful read! Monsters, Beds, Children, Nightmares. CW- Bullying/Abuse. [c2 t3]
  • “Women dreaming about love, while watched by an immortal being” by Gabriela Damián Miravete, translated by Paloma Marcela Carvalho de Castilho (short story) - A piece about a dream, and about a jar created to contain it, to explain it, to bring some meaning and reason out of the fear that it inspired. And it finds a focus on reflections and on people moving through the world, ancient and ageless but aged all the same, discovering themselves in the surfaces of mirrors, of water, finding other faces peering out and being shattered in some ways by that. Shattered, in that the reflections become many, or imply that the single image people see if in fact a collection of them, and that the distance between people might not be so great as it seems. It’s an interesting piece, dreamlike in many ways and moving to its own tempo and rhythm, and very much worth checking out! Dreams, Mirrors, Reflections, Jars, Art, Dragons. [c1 t3]
  • “Install new_sun” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (short story) - After Vida’s sister is murdered by a drug gang, all she wants is justice. But the gang seems to be protected by some luck that leaves prosecutors with nothing to go on. That is, until Vida is contacted by a strange electronic messenger who claims to be an ancient god. And as much as Vida doesn’t want to believe, what he says makes more and more sense as she dives into the grim world of gods, suns, and sacrifices. It’s a fun piece for all it’s built on tragedy, and I love the voices of the characters and their arc toward justice. A wonderful read! Gods, Jaguars, Suns, Computers, Siblings, Myths. CW- Blood/Violence, Death of a Sibling, Sacrifice, Gang/Gun Violence. [c4 t3]
  • “Sunk Cost” by Brie Atienza (short story) - This piece finds Anna investigating and studying a sleeping god in an ocean that might be full of dangers. As an Oracle, she is best able to communicate with the god, and yet for five years she hasn’t had much luck in making solid contact. Or so she thought. The piece finds her coming to the realization that the situation isn’t what it seemed, and there’s some creeping horror there but, beyond that, there’s also a sense of purpose and communion that cuts through that. That finds Anna not descending into a hell, but into a new partnership, and one that might deeper her understanding of the universe. A great read! Gods, Seas, Family, AIs, Submarines. CW- Violence, Deception/Mental Influence. [c3 t3]
  • “The Chicken Line” by Jendayi Brooks-Flemister (short story) - This story unfolds in the chicken line, where people from a small community go to receive their chicken from the Farmer. The piece is steeped in a kind of myth, the people fitting roles as much as they fit names. The Farmer, the Stranger--the roles set them up within the story and then aim it toward calamity when one of the residents and chicken liners transforms into a giant bird-monster. And I like the world building going on here, the sense of inevitable violence and bloodshed that, turns out, isn’t truly inevitable. Like the chicken line is one place where reason and order rule, even when some seriously Weird Shit goes down. A fine read! Chickens, Lines/Queues, Transformations, Monsters, Family. CW- Guns/Knives. [c3 t3]
  • “Apolo Licio, Apolo Veráva” by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría, translated by Arturo Sierra (short story) - Apolo is the child of a pilot who has left Earth for the promise and mystery of space, producing Apolo as a kind of cost for being allowed to leave. As such, Apolo has grown with some abandonment issues and anxiety, in a place where the ships take off, caught in the strange gravities of the place. And it’s a story that’s full of longing. For an absent parent. For an errant moon. For something to fill a void. And it’s dreamlike at times, haunted, hurting and isolated. For that, though, there’s also a feeling of return, and the mess of emotions that come with that. It’s a beautiful story! Moons, Space, Wind, Rabbits, Family. CW- Death of Animals (rabbits). [c2 t3]
A new issue of Constelación brings eight new stories, including three translations. As always, the stories appear in English and Spanish, and there’s a bunch of great nonfiction to check out as well. The theme of the issue is Myth and Monsters, and the stories heartily deliver on that. There’s stories of monstrous transformation and hungry gods. Of monsters in all their terror and their strange compassions as well. And there’s just a lovely feeling that follows through, that makes for rich and rewarding reading!

Strange Horizons 10/04/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Night Shift” by Max Franciscovich (short story) - A piece that unfolds in the aftermath of tragedy as Mal, a trans man, deals with life after the loss of his child. His wife, Livia, a trans woman, is also devastated by the loss and also maybe transforming into a bird, and the piece is steeped in a kind of haze of pain and exhaustion. As Mal tries to go about his day, his work, his life, as if there is a future that he can work toward even when everything seems blasted to hell. As if he’s not taking on a grim side hustle that may or may not involve murder for hire. The piece drips blood and yet has this fragile and beating heart that comes through loud and clear. It’s not an easy read by any means, but the character work is solid and tender, and there’s a compelling brokenness to the situation and the closing images. A fantastic read! Family, Employment, Trans & Queer Characters, Birds. CW- Death/Murder/Blood, Death of a Child, Pregnancy/Childbirth (mentioned), Scars. [c5 t5]
  • “Insomnia” by Anthony Okpunor (poem) - This piece speaks to me of want, of need, of a narrator who has dreamed, who has traced the shape of this dream and tried to will it into the world but found that it’s a trap of sorts. And that the price of dreams is always everything, used and leveraged and kept just out of reach. So that people fight and struggle, kill and hate for want of it. And for me the piece has this deep repetition because it seems to be a chorus building, an echo passed from person to person, that the dreams never stop, the want never stops, and there is a serious problem there. Something dangerous and imminent. And it’s a lovely piece well worth spending some time with!
Not an easy issue of Strange Horizons by any means, but a very powerful issue all the same. It’s full of loss and dreams shattered, dreams stalled, and people willing to do anything to reach for them again. Stunning works!

Strange Horizons 10/11/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Surat Dari Hantu” by Lisabelle Tay (short story) - This is a ghost story narrator by the ghost, by the hantu, to the mother of a dead young man. A young man who had an unfortunately reincarnated soul, one that this particular hantu had been waiting centuries to find and punish. And the piece moves around the cycles of death and loss, bereavement and monstrosity. The cycles kicked off by death, completed by death at every stage. For me, the piece shows not how cycles end, but how they are so easy to continue. How loss and grief become toxins that lock people into a trajectory toward violence and death. There’s a certain grace to it, and something deeply understandable about, but it’s still a tragedy that unfolds, that the story brings to its seemingly inevitable ending. A great read! Ghosts, Hantu, Relationships, Family, Reincarnation. CW- Death of a Child, Death/Murder/Eating Humans. [c4 t4]
  • “sunday funnies” by Stella Wong (poem) - This piece seems to move through colors, examining the ways that they run together, the way that they come to mean more than just shades and hues. And from the title and the language of the piece, I’m in the mind of newspaper comic strips. The ways that they often reflect so many different ideas, simplified and obfuscated at times, but still there. The racism and the nationalism, the prejudice and the hate. Especially during times of national conflict. The wars, including the cold one that might still be going on, though in a different form. All the while the absent color in the poem is the one that people don’t talk about. The whiteness. The assume whiteness of everything, so that it’s considered the default, the normal, something we don’t talk about because it would make too obvious the white supremacy everywhere, here existing in blank space but also looming large. A fascinating read very much worth checking out!
Another Strange Horizons that engages with some grim themes and elements. Monsters and murder. Racism and justice. The ways that people get caught in cycles of violence and hate. And how sometimes these isn’t an escape from those. Not an end except for the tragic one. But it still makes for some insightful and wonderful reading!

GigaNotoSaurus 10/2021 (1 novelette total)
  • “Julissa’s Haunted Rodeo” by Mireille Farjo (novelette) - This story finds the narrator, a high schooler named Julissa, in something of a social down spiral. Her plans for a class barbeque...didn’t go well, and she’s not exactly finding much solace from her father or brother. Which might not be a huge surprise, given her dad is chill and respects her space and her brother is a ghost who claims that she devoured him in the womb. And the piece plays with that, with the way that Julissa is rather desperate for connection, the way she doesn’t exactly trust this supposed brother but also does because she wants to. Because she wants something that makes her special and also wants a bridge to her dead mother. But this brother has his own agenda and when all is said and done Julissa’s social issues were really just getting started. A wrenching and wonderful read! Ghosts, High School, Family, Parties, Cowboys, Exorcisms. CW- Death of a Parent, Violence, Bullying. [c2 t3]
An interesting issue that blends the line between contemporary fantasy and horror. Where high school social standing and the need to find acceptance and belonging are mirrored in interesting ways between two characters willing to take some chances to try and get ahead, though with two very different scales and quite striking results. A solid ghost story!

The Dark #77 (4 short stories total)
  • “Hundreds of Little Absences” by Aimee Ogden (short story) - This story finds Amanda growing up in a world where cutting off pieces of a child is just sort of standard parenting. Perhaps especially for girls. It’s something that Amanda experiences with various emotions. Dread and pain, but also at times with desire, with yearning, hoping that through the cutting she will be more accepted, less bullied. But when she’s older, looking back, with children of her own, things take on new dimensions, and her feelings about what was done to her, what she wanted to do to herself, change and evolve. It’s a deeply uncomfortable story at times about the pressures, internalized or not, to fit into a mold at the expense of a person’s happiness and body, and it’s a visceral and unsettling read, but one very mcuh worth checking out! Family, School, Sports. CW- Self Harm, Abuse, Cutting/Blood, Medical Care, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Bullying. [c5 t5]
  • “There’s Nothing Left Without the Smoke” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (short story) - Badmus isn’t having a great time of things. Unemployed years out of school, his future doesn’t seem the brightest, though he seems to have a very cool girlfriend/partner. What he also has is something of a secret. About a fire and a bunch of deaths. About a voice or voices that he can hear all the time. About a hunger and a flame that’s burning inside him. That doesn’t leave him in a good way. The piece is tense but quiet, a slow burn (sorry) that delivers a shattering and creeping ending. A fine read! Relationships, Forests, Whispers, Dancing/Parties. CW- Fire/Death/Burning, Self Harm. [c4 t4]
  • “The Hide’s Effect” by Frances Ogamba (short story) - Tega wants a better life. More money, better friends, and a bigger penis. And the easiest way he can see to maybe get all of that is by purchasing a hide, flesh that can be wished to, for things great and small. And it works. At least, it seems to. But it also seems to have a limited amount of energy, of charge, after which...well, the piece operates on a kind of monkey’s paw system, one that feeds into the very industry of hides that keeps them selling. A nicely humorous and slow descent, and a great read! Bargains, Hides, Wishes, Money, Employment. CW- Transformation/Imprisonment. [c2 t4]
  • “Fiat, Fiat, Fiat” by Eliot Fintushel (short story) - This story finds Benjamin reflecting on when he was young, when he was the only friend of a boy named Albert, who everyone had picked on. Until, at least, Albert began killing things. Small animals at first, then larger ones. Finding the way of things, and then finding a way to use the killing to get something more than just satisfaction. The piece is tense and horrifying, Benjy trapped in an impossible situation and convinced in some ways, years later, that it couldn’t have been true. Perhaps to cope with what happened, and how it touched him. Perhaps to convince himself that it was truly over. A wonderful read! Friendship, Family, Magic, Levitation, Exorcism. CW- Death/Murder, Death/Abuse of Animals. [c4 t4]
The latest The Dark deals with a lot of hauntings. People being haunted by memories and absences, by voices, by their own desires, or by a person who seems to be pure evil. And each character handles those hauntings differently, some accepting them, some fighting hard against them, some unable to do much of anything as their haunting pulls them down and down. A great and chilling issue!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #340 (1 short story, 3 novelettes)
  • “The Burning Girl” by Carrie Vaughn (novelette) - So if I said it’s like the X-Men but set against the Norman invasion against the Saxons, would that sound like, amazing? Because it is. Amazing. And also basically about a group of powered individuals brought together by Sir Gilbert, a man loyal to William the Conqueror, to fight but also to protect each other from the prejudices and fears that lead many to the fire. People like Jane, who people tried to burn, except the fire loved her too much. So she was shut away in a convent until Gilbert negotiated for her release, and she becomes the latest recruit, seeing his efforts with fresh eyes, and slowly fitting in to the family that he’s surrounded himself with. It’s an incredibly fun and warm story, powerfully and epically built and really you should check this one out immediately. So good! Superpowers, Fire, Convents, History, Chosen Family. CW- War/Battle/Injury, Attempted Murder, Prejudice/Abuse. [c4 t3]
  • “Stronger” by K.J. Parker (novelette) - This story finds the narrator rather bereft after his love is taken in a kind of deadly lottery where a certain number of people each year are taken and sacrificed to a monster in order to ensure everything in the area runs smoothly. And the piece looks keenly at power and privilege and the way that everyone tries to cheat everyone, and the way that everyone at the same time might try to do what they feel is right. But how power changes that, and in what directions cheating works, and benefits. All while this narrator is scheming to try and get his love back. And the piece is conversational and rather charming even as it’s rather grim, the ending a tragedy, the whole thing showing this system that sorta works, but also is deeply corrupt. An interesting read! Bargains/Trades, Ships, Minotaurs, Mirrors, Family. CW- Death/Murder, Human Sacrifice, Aggressive Capitalism/Mercantilism/Corruption. [c3 t4]
  • “Nemesis and the Sorcerer” by R.K. Duncan (short story) - This story finds a young man, Nikanor, of Thebes, on a desperate mission to retrieve a sorcerer who seems to have vast powers. Not vast enough to cleanly escape from Spartan territory, though, and along with a small band, they have to shelter in a small tomb waiting for the patrols to allow them a chance to escape. The piece maintains a tight pace and blends Greek mythology with a military mindset quite nicely. Full of action, and with an ending that’s mostly satisfying. A fine read! History, Greek Mythology, Queer MC, Sorcerers, Gods, Ghosts, Tombs. CW- Death/Blood. [c3 t4]
  • “Song So Pure and Cruel” by March McCarron (novelette) - A beautiful story of love and loss with the faerie, with a pooka named Crash and an incarnation of the goddess of the moon, Bitta. And how they meet and how they play and how their love grows. And how they heal each other in ways that they hadn’t really understood they were hurting from. And I just love the gentle way it unfolds, the joy and the mischief. It’s lovely and warm and so all the more rending when the grim and capricious faerie realm reasserts itself, when what had been becomes something else. And it’s a wonderfully built story with some stunning character work. A beautiful story all around! Faerie, Pookas, Love, Relationships, Transformations. CW- Death/Injury. [c2 t3]
It’s a special anniversary at Beneath Ceaseless Skies and that means an extra-big issue and some extra-good stories. It’s difficult for me to know exactly how these stories are linked all together. Easier perhaps if you split the issue and say two are very much about doomed love, and two are about teams of warriors fighting for each other. But all together there are links as well, as they all deal with gods in some way, with the Way Of Things and how that’s unfair, how it’s broken, and how often people fighting against it are ground to dust...though not always. A really good issue!

Works read this year to date: 1094 stories, 314 poems (+38 stories, +2 poems)

So technically this is ten less reviews than last week, but I still managed to read more stories (37 vs 38) and given none of the stories last week were longer than shorts and this week I’m looking at 5 novelettes, I’d say there’s a good chance I read more words this week. It brings my 2021 total reviews over 1400, too, so that’s nice. Looking at how that number breaks down, I can start to guess at where my year-end numbers will be, if this continues. I should pass 1000 short stories read this year very soon (currently at 989). It’ll take a little longer to pass 100 novelettes, but that too is close (currently 91). Novellas are lagging (currently 14) but I do expect to get close to or over 20 by the end of the year. Poems are already over 300 (314 in fact), but I doubt I’ll get over 400. Maybe to 350. Probably somewhere around there. So yeah, it’s going.

In other news…shit, I don’t even know right now. I have a new poem out at Eye to the Telescope. Uh…I’m nearing completion on a solicited story (my second ever!) for a charity antho that I’ll talk more about later. Just sort of trying to cram things in before this vacation, honestly. I’m a mess. Haha.

In media, I’ve been watching more of Shetland, aka the BBC mystery with the slowest fucking pacing in the world. When the mysteries were two episodes each they were slow. When they got kicked out so the entire six episode season is one mystery…oof. I actually have also vaguely seen people from the area throw some shade at the show for a number of reasons (there have been no murders in actual Shetland since the show began and for five years before that, too) and for how it sort of exoticizes the area. Which, BBC mystery for you (hello Hinterland!). Not that I don’t like the show. Just…less a fan than some other (might watch whatever Vera I can this vacation!).

In reading, I’m still working through X-Factor under Peter David and it’s a neat run. A little all over the place but the humor is interesting (if often dated). Still, I like the team dynamics and thorny position everyone finds themselves in. I feel like Guido, Rahne, Polaris, and Jamie are getting the best treatment while I’m waiting for more from Alex and Pietro. Alex is such a weird character and imo rarely used well so I’m just waiting for what’s going to happen with him. But yeah, it’s going. And that’s about it. I’ve been really busy with nonprofit stuff lately, so that’s my life right now. Maybe by the time you read this I’ll have a new roof, though! Excitement! Cheers!


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