Friday, November 5, 2021

Quick Sips 11/05/2021

So I’m back from vacation but I’m not exactly back up to speed yet. And my brain is apparently all over the place, because I jumped into November reads before realizing that there’s still a bunch of October stuff that I haven’t gotten to yet. Shit! But so it goes, I guess. This week I’ll be covering the October The Deadlands and Shoreline of Infinity and then jumping ahead to November’s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine. If I had been clever I would have done October’s Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Artist podcasts like I had planned, but alas, I did not. Those will have to wait as I scramble to locate my brain going forward. Good times!

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!

The Deadlands #6 (2 short stories, 4 poems total)
  • “Séance Rispetto” by Juleigh Howard-Hobson (poem) - This piece evokes a séance, a gathering to commune with the dead. A bit of magic, a bit of collective illusion perhaps, a con run by an experienced hand. Or not, as the piece finds this meeting striking a little close to home for at least one person. And I love the sensory details and the rhyme, the way that it captures something almost whimsical, but also almost dangerous, in all its mess and stress and possibilities. A great read!
  • “All the Open Highways” by Alexis Gunderson (short story) - This story finds a narrator being found by ghosts during nighttime car trips on lonely highways. The ghosts just sort of appear and talk, as the narrator to pull over, to stay, but the narrator always has places to be. And the piece unfolds in this quiet way, powerfully understated, and I like how a portrait of these ghosts is built through the fleeting touches. A set of rules governing the ghosts that begins to form even as they bend and twist, even as the ending offers up a kind of twist on what the narrator thought they knew, and a resolution they had never expected. A wonderful read! Ghosts, Driving, Cars, Family, Employment, Rabbits. CW- Death of an Animal (rabbits). [c2 t3]
  • “Rows of Houses” by Leah Bobet (poem) - A strange piece of desire and haunting, of a narrator and a house that yearns to comfort their tenant. The woman who lives inside them. The person they are trying to reach out to and nurture, though in the way of haunted houses. There is a sense of loss and retrieval, the unfinished business one partner trying to hold onto the other, both of them trapped in the aftermath, haunting and haunted both, and it’s a lovely and touching story of holding on and letting go. A great read!
  • “The Sole-Stitcher” by C.S.E. Cooney (poem) - This story builds up a connection between the living and the dead. The two walking opposite each other, foot to foot. The living on the outside of the world, the dead moving through it. And the narrator someone who is able to thread the two feet together, binding the living and the dead even more strongly together. An unnecessary act, perhaps, but also one that gives comfort, that gives something to the living (and who knows about the dead) that they crave. A sense of control, and a physical way to show their pain. A beautiful and haunting read!
  • “Invisible Motels” by Jeremy Packert Burke (short story) - This story finds the narrator living with their lover in a world that is falling apart. Where the holes and rot in everything are growing. Where the narrator is tasked with describing the journey they took to reach their lover in reverse, through the various motels they stopped at along the way. And it’s a strange and lonely piece, the motels a tour of a world that doesn’t exist properly anymore. A fallen world, halfway between living and death. Like the narrator and their lover. And it’s a weird and lovely piece about hope and all its fragility and all its power. A fantastic read! Motels, Holes, Travel, Relationships, Non-binary Characters. CW- Death/Illness, Post Apocalypse. [c3 t4]
  • “Seven Things You Have Helped Me To Remember” by A.L. Blacklyn (poem) - A tender and touching and nicely cycling poem that brings the narrator, a ghost, closer and closer to the person they are writing toward, the “you” that death has separated them from, though not wholly. And now, returning through the fog, they remember, and more than that they seem to see new things, new facets of their relationship, new reasons to be grateful and in love, and reach out to give and receive some comfort. A wonderful way to close out the issue!
This story is heavy on ghosts and on relationships. People who have returned through a strange and mysterious realm to make contact with the living. Sometimes in a sinister way but more often with a yearning and a need. To connect. To break from the loneliness that death might mean, a journey most people must take alone. But not always, and there’s a great sense of connection and hope to the issue, despite all the death and haunting!

Shoreline of Infinity #27 (4 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “Great Nothing” by Callum McSorley (short story) - A creeping story that finds a KGB agent dispatched to Antarctica to investigate a strange accident. What she finds instead, though, is a lot more...fucked up than she was expecting. And the piece does a great job of getting into the strange and dangerous nature of the area, amping up the action with plenty of blood, dream, and chills of all sorts. A great read! Antarctica, Spies, Snow, Lakes, Energy. CW- Blood, Murder, Death. [c4 t4]
  • “Shutdown / Restart” by Jo Ross-Barrett (short story) - A rather endearing story about a newly aware AI and a programmer who’s trying to help them not be erased by a reactionary mob. The piece is fun, the characters getting each other even as they have a bit to learn about each other as well. They attempt humor despite the stakes and despite the prejudice from the majority of the people around them, and they reach for understanding and compassion. It’s a short piece but it covers a lot, as the programmer uses their own experience being marginalized to help this new being find some safety and purpose. A wonderful read! AIs, Ships, Space, Programming, Jokes. CW- Prejudice/Attempted Deletion/Murder. [c3 t3]
  • “Requiem Played on a Decastring” by Jack Schouten (short story) - This piece finds a war on, and the android narrator wakes up to find herself a woman with a mission to complete. A target to approach, to seduce. Along the way, though, the narrator finds out more about herself, her body, the artificial backstory that is supposed to help her with her task. And it’s a lovely look at identity in that way, the narrator without a real life of their own, always pulling on and off skins that come with baggage and memories and emotions, all them constructed. But as a constructed person what is genuine and what fake is complicated, Messy. As is her mission. It’s a fascinating and well built story, and a fantastic read! AIs, Androids, Conversations, Missions, Music. CW- Unwanted Body Transformation, War. [c3 t4]
  • “Sometimes, What’s Right in Front of You...” by R V Neville (short story) - This piece follows Maeve through a world that has been rocked by alien visitation. Though no one really knows what’s going on, it’s brought everything to a grinding halt thanks to fear and caution. So Maeve isn’t exactly doing well, coping with the cold and her appliances breaking down. And now there’s a noise coming from her broken washing machine. Which...turns out to not be what she was expecting. It’s a short piece that looks sharply at falling expectations and narrowing options. A fine read! Aliens, Apartments, Appliances, Articles. CW- Aggressive Capitalism. [c2 t3]
  • “Solitude in Quotient” by Christopher Collingwood (poem) - A piece that speaks to me of a world resolved in numbers and the supposed fairness of them, when really numbers are some of the easiest things to fudge, to twist, to corrupt. And in the strange dystopia-feel of the world the narrator describes, they are brought up defined by numbers and injected with them, math a lifeline their parents hope will take them to a better life but it’s not really enough. Numbers aren’t, when the world is fixing the odds to favor only some. It’s a sharp and rather bleak piece, well worth spending some time with!
  • “Thought Experiment by Mathematica” by Christopher Collingwood (poem) - Another piece that dives into math and the way it merges with people, with the mind and personality, with what might be defined as human. And in some ways it seems to speak to a kind of demystifying of the mind, of sentience, of intelligence. In other ways, though, the piece almost sounds like part of a spell, the arcane here a mathematic one and just as strange and at times opaque. But it’s also a rather fun piece, quick and flowing, and I like the resonance between the poems and how they impact together. A great read!
A new issue of Shoreline of Infinity means a handful of new stories and poems and plenty to like. There’s a bit of a focus on apocalypses, perhaps, and a few pieces that explore machine intelligence in some interesting and often charming ways. It makes for a solidly enjoyable issue!

Fantasy & Science Fiction Nov/Dec 2021 (6 short stories, 4 novelettes, 1 novella, 3 poems total)
  • “Broad Dutty Water: A Sunken Story” by Nalo Hopkinson (novelette) - Jacquee is living in a world ravaged by climate change, having lost a family to floods and ocean surges and found a new one through the same thing. Now on her way back how to her floating and moving home after a wetware surgery, she’s taken some chances she probably shouldn’t have and ends up with a lot of reasons to be grateful for her pig, Lickchop, who is with her for much of her...misadventure. The world building here is wonderful, the chosen family aspect strong, and the implications of the story are large and intriguing. More Lickchop! More strange eco-sci-fi! I’m definitely on board for learning more about this world and these characters! Pigs, Planes, Queer Characters, Seas, Diving. CW- Climate Change, Crashes, Surgery, Infection. [c3 t3]
  • “A Dime” by Megan Lindholm (short story) - This piece centers a payphone that the narrator always uses to call home. Even years after they stop being in use, she finds a way to hook it up and make a call to her parents. Even when she’s very sick and not telling anyone. The piece is heavy with what’s not being said, with the mix of nostalgia and change, the sense of constancy that comes from her idea of a home that is solid, that remains just like she remembers it even as she fears she’s changed too much to reach back to it. It’s a bittersweet story but heartwarming for me in the end, and beautifully written. A great read! Phones, Family, Employment, Change, Dogs. CW- Addiction, Illness/Terminal Illness. [c3 t4]
  • “What Makes You Forget” by Victor Pseftakis (short story) - Marta wants a better life for herself. For her children. Wants to earn a living with her violin, and not in the mines. And there’s a force that might be able to grant her wish, if she makes it right. A wish into a Hole. The problem is that the forces keeping Marta down are powerful indeed, and the piece shows the gravity of them, dragging Marta down, making it so that her dreams are used against her, used to feed something that’s always hungry. But there might be a way to win, after a fashion. Maybe. The piece is grim, wrenching, and haunting. It’s a lovely and caring picture of hope and despair, and it’s very much worth checking out! Family, School, Bargains, Holes, Music, Violins. CW- Abuse, Addiction, Death, Debt. [c4 t4]
  • “A Vast Silence” by T. R. Napper (novelette) - Jack’s on the run following a very strange mugging and the death of his best friend, who is now a voice in his head, trying to tell him which way to go. How to avoid the police that are hot on his trail. Along with him for the ride is a young woman he’s lied to in order to get a ride, and it’s a drive that neither are going to forget any time soon. A tense, action-packed misadventure! Cars, AIs, Travel, Voices. CW- ACAB, Guns/Violence/Death/Murder. [c4 t4]
  • “The Reckoning” by Alexander Glass (short story) - A story of bargains, of immortality, of William Shakespeare appearing to Kit Marlowe to offer him a kind of eternal life, and how that conversation plays out. It’s a fun concept, the flip of a different story I’ve read recently, and with a much different feel and outcome. It’s an interesting piece, and the characters are strongly drawn. A fine read! History, Time Travel, Bargains, Immortality, Plays. CW- Death. [c2 t2]
  • “Castellia” by Graham Edwards (novelette) - A story about an old woman and a sentient castle moving across a mostly empty world, headed for something the castle, at least, doesn’t know or remember. For both of them it is a return, a waking up after a period of sleep, and having to come to terms with a changed world. The character work is lonely and wonderful, the world building magical and stark, and the piece opens a room for hope through hardship and endurance and loss, finds strength in trust and community, and makes for a great read! Castles, Magic, Senses, Travel. CW - War/Battle/Violence, Amnesia. [c3 t3]
  • “Laki” by Eleanor Arneson (novelette) - This story finds a family in Iceland contending with a series of volcanic eruptions that force them from their farm and on a trek into the unknown, where they meet, among others, a family of trolls. The framing of the piece and the tone are almost dry, coming as they do from a historical background and a narrator who wasn’t prone to super expressive prose, but it’s also earnest and charming, the piece looking at a magical world not mysterious so much as real and dangerous in a more mundane way, and I am all about the weather-wise goat. A fun read! History, Volcanoes, Family, Livestock, Goats, Trolls. CW- Death of a Child, Traumatic Injury, Poisoning, Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “How to Hear the Stars” by Mary Soon Lee (poem) - This piece speaks to me of the noise of stars. A background noise that might not seem like a lot to some people, but that is music of its own, music of the galaxy, or a voice speaking out, waiting for someone to hear it. The piece is short, six couplets only, and I like how that gives the feeling of space on the page, like that noise, that orchestra, playing where most can’t hear it, but playing all the same, and when revealed, transforming and beautiful. A great read!
  • “How to Count Astronomically” by Mary Soon Lee (poem) - I really like the feel of this piece, which is partly mathematical and very astronomical. Which treats science and knowledge as a process of basically losing certainty, of reaching for a truth but distrusting any claims to know it. That, essentially, the more one learns, the more one discovers there is to learn, the “answers” as it were becoming more and more complicated, but not less meaningful for that. It’s a lovely piece, again told in couplets, leaving that space again for the things that we cannot know, that we cannot grasp, that elude until they can be revealed, only for larger mysteries to endure. A wonderful read!
  • “Ways of the Multiverse” by Vincent Miskell (poem) - An interesting piece that explores a multiverse where the narrator can sometimes slip into someone else’s reality and experience a world where climate change hasn’t fucked the world. Where things are still green and growing the seas never rose. Not that they get to stay there, but like a fantasy that can inspire them to act, it’s a nice break from the harsh reality of their situation. And it speaks to me of the need for breaks, and for hope, for a reminder of why the work needs to be done, and how it’s not so easy as the flip of a switch. A great read!
  • “Mad Milk” by Natalia Theodoridou (novella) - A shattering story about war and about love, about devotion. About schemes as a warrior and general is sent to subdue a foe who broke a peace agreement and killed her lover. Her friend. The piece swaps points of view between the general and her advisor, her other lover, one who’s hiding a huge secret. But nothing stays buried in this story, and the piece shows the price of lies and love mingling. It’s a tragedy, and by the end there is a sea of bodies to wade through, and a few survivors, and a whole lot of damage. For all that, though, it’s beautiful in its visceral rending, in the blood and the sex and the loss. Beautiful and difficult and messy and quite worth checking out! Queer MC, Travel, Treaties, Deserts. CW- Blood/Battle/War, Torture/Death of Civilians/Children, Drug Use. [c5 t5]
  • “Lajos and His Bees” by K.A. Teryna, translated by Alex Shvartsman (short story) - A story of Lajos, a whisperer, a kind of hermit who communes with nature, with the bees themselves, and produces amazing, almost magical honey. And the piece follows his life and the stories told about him, even years later. And how he came to fall in love, and the outcome of that. The piece moves in a matter-of-fact manner, relating the stories without embelishment. And the magic of the story seems to hover all around, to lurk under and around the words like a swarm. Hinting at answers that can never be known about what really happened with Lajos and his bees. A wonderful read! Bees, Villages, Marriage, Hermits, Honey. CW- Death/Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “The Black Dog Gone Gray” by Hayley Stone (short story) - This is a touching and careful look at trauma and care, where the narrator is given charge of a young person that her parents don’t really understand. Inside the story, it’s a look at werewolves and the urge for violence, and the way that the narrator is able, as someone personally familiar with the process, the urges, and everything else, to help this young person through her own growing up and coming to terms with herself. Taken outside the story and there’s a number of parallels to be drawn, but the core is this of people helping people, of patience and empathy, and of leaving being narratives that focus on cures and fixes. And it’s a lovely piece and a great read! Wolves, Art, Expression, Baking, Chosen Family. CW- Abuse, Violence/Thoughts of Harm/Self-Harm. [c3 t3]
  • “A Demon’s Christmas Carol” by Jennie Goloboy (short story) - An absolutely delightful and heartwarming story about a demon summoned by a girl wanting to protect her younger foster brother. And finding, instead of vengeance, just what she needs. Which is what the demon in question needs, too. A bit of safety, and an escape from Hell, at least for a while. And it’s just a super cute story, with just the right amount of edge to be fun and funny while still being warm and perfect for the holidays. A fantastic read! Demons, Summoning, Bargains, Angels, Time. CW- Child Abuse. [c3 t2]
It’s the last F&SF of the year and brings a wide range of works. For me it’s hard to draw too many connective lines through the entire issue but there is a lot to do with memory. With loss. And with people making their own families, their own networks of support and care and love. Which sometimes work out great. And sometimes...don’t. And the works are at turns cute and heartwarming, bleak and shattering. There’s a lot to enjoy, though, and some wonderful works!

Fantasy #73 (4 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “Lessons” by Billie Cohen (short story/flash) - A strange piece about a teacher who has been stuck in the same place for a long time. Bound by a bubble-like barrier that keeps him in and static. Endlessly teaching and endlessly trying to escape and failing. It’s a cycle that seems destined to go on and on, until one day. And for me the piece looks at teaching, at cycles, at not feeling like one is making a difference, when maybe one is, it’s just hard to tell but at the times when things dramatically change. A lovely read! Teaching, Bubbles, Barriers, Cycles. CW- Imprisonment. [c2 t3]
  • “The Petticoat Government” by Kehkashan Khalid (short story) - This piece follows the rise in influence for a woman who begins as a cocubine and becomes the power behind an empire. Trying her best not only to increase her own station but that of women in general, and in doing running into the institutional prejudices and dangers. Having to rely on feckless men who can’t really be relied on. And so it all sort of falls apart, a tragedy not of ambition but boundaries that run deeper than one lifetime can unravel. Though there remains a grim sort of hope, and a resolution not to let everything unravel. A sharp and piercing read! Empires, Family, Royalty, Dragons, Potions. CW- Death, Violence, Death of a Child. [c4 t4]
  • “Shouty Lads” by Charles EP Murphy (short story/flash) - A very short piece that finds the narrator dealing with the titular shouty lads interrupting their need to sleep. Normally it’s just something one lives with, that one ignores, and the story reveals why that is. Not because the city makes people lazy, but that confronting the noise brings about a different kind of awareness, one better left, perhaps, unknown. A great read! Noise, Fights, Shouting, Sleep, London. CW- Battle/Violence. [c2 t3]
  • “Girls Have Sharp Teeth” by Genevieve Mills (short story) - A story about a high school and an event that happens. A girl getting hit by her boyfriend. A change she makes, that serves as an inspiration for others. And a narrator, watching all, damaged herself, wondering what to do. The piece is short but captures so much, and really gets into this situation in all its intricacies and delicacies. In high school things aren’t simple, and especially things like abuse and violence, and the story moves around it all with insight and care, creating a compelling and interesting situation and a wonderful voice and vision. A great read! High School, Fangs, Phones, Family, Queer Characters. CW- Abuse/Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “Unfinished” by Eugen Bacon (poem) - A strange piece that picks up on a fragility and a resilience both, both expressed in a time of chaos and struggle, a time of conflict. The narrator is a bystander and a protester, an artist and person caught in a moment of danger and possibility. The form is interesting, dense blocks of text broken by much shorter lines, the result for me being a feeling of movement and momentum, a narrowing and an expanding, a flash and the waiting for the sound of thunder to follow. It’s a recognition of loss, too, to me, of people missing, people pulled under by the moment and movement. And it makes for a wonderful read!
  • “After the End” by Jessica Cho (poem) - This is a lovely piece that speaks to me of fairy tales and happy endings. That finds in those promised endings of power and fortune something grim and rotten. Dangerous, best avoided. And so these children who already survived the stories that brought them to power survive again by escaping those endings that would bring them to bad ends, into the bellies of worse than wolves or turn them into wolves themselves, and no thanks. It’s a great piece, a shrugging off of the expected and the valued life to embrace something free and freely built on a foundation of caring and love. A fantastic read!
Another solid issue from Fantasy Magazine, with a number of works that dip into the grim and strange, but with a great sense of reaching out of confinement. Of finding ways to escape, to reach a place of community and trust even after bad experiences. And it’s a fun issue with some lovely reads!

Works read this year to date: 1115 stories, 325 poems (+21 stories, +11 poems)

Not a huge week of reading, though not really nothing either. A decent amount of poetry, which each of the four venues I covered having some. Plus the four novelettes and one novella from F&SF, which means that there were plenty of words to cover as well. I almost tried to push and squeeze in some more venues to this week, but then remembered that I have lots to do right now and didn’t want to punish myself too much. Still, I’m hoping that next week will allow me to catch up on Strange Horizons, Samovar, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Escape Artists, as well as hopefully Mermaids Monthly, which would clear out October (I think). Beyond that, November is lurking as my penultimate month of short SFF to comprehensibly cover. So there’s that.

In media, I had taken a break from my X-Factor read at X-Cutioner’s Song to dip back into X-Force (which picks up after New Mutants closes). I then decided that when that got to the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover that I wanted to go back and reread all of Uncanny X-Men and X-Men to that point. So I’ve gone back to the Uncanny run starting with Giant Size #1. It’s interesting going that far back, to the new team, to the really foundational runs by Claremont. There’s some really strong stories, even as there are some really odd moments. Mostly, Claremont’s transitions could use a lot of work. He likes to just sort of start the next thing without really giving any time to unwind. There are exceptions, but then there’s how the X-Men are just teleported from Earth to fight the Shi’ar.

There’s also just a sense that the characters aren’t entirely fleshed out yet. Not that they just haven’t had the chance to develop and reveal their characters yet, but that they don’t have much going on. There are hints of depth over time, but it does very much have the feel at times that it’s all being made up as they go along. Which might just be the nature of comic books, or those at the time, where characters have maybe one or two traits that have to be hit on every issue but that’s it. They’re costumes, and it takes time for them to really become more. In this early run, though, it’s Kurt who for me most often shines, getting to be the heart of the team, the fun of it, while everyone else have to come into themselves later.

Anyway, that’s about it. As said, I’ll try to get more done next week! Cheers!


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