Friday, November 12, 2021

Quick Sips 11/12/2021

Well I can’t say I’m not firing on all cylinders this week, as my review load just to get through the October content I hadn’t covered already meant I had to do a lot of reading and reviewing. It also means that yeah, I only cover October content this week, despite it being decidedly November. But I did get through all the October Escape Artists original offerings (except the special, which honestly, I have no idea how to cover, so I might just skip that for now). But that’s three episodes of Cast of Wonders, two each of Escape Pod and Pseudopod, and a special flash fiction edition of PodCastle. Plus the Fund Drive issue of Strange Horizons and the latest from Samovar. Plus October’s Diabolical Plots, Tor, and Mermaids Monthly. And if all that weren’t enough, Omenana released a late issues as well, and seems to be planning to release another before the end of the year. So yeah, any hopes of breezing into 2022 are pretty much gone. Still, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. 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!

Cast of Wonders #467 (1 short story total)
  • “They Shall Find Home Once More” by Chelsea Obodoechina (short story)- A piece that finds an old woman, Ezichi, coming across the dying body of a boy poisoned by a strange poisoning infection that he had apparently been trying to purge from the land near where she farms. And despite the hostility and distrust in her community, she shows the boy some compassion, caring for him until he dies and burying him and, most importantly, taking his White Grimoire on a trip to try and return it to his family. But instead it opens a door that Ezichi thought was forever closed to her, and gets her engaging with things that she knows would get her into trouble. All because of kindness, and trust, and it’s a warm and fun read showing the power of compassion over paranoia. A great read! Farming, Books, Reading, Souls, Family. CW- Death/Poisoning. [c3 t3]
A fun episode that shows an older protagonist starting a new chapter of her life. Coming into a power she hadn’t really known about, and doing so out of kindness and compassion despite the fear and paranoia that bloom around her. It’s a neatly woven and beautifully realized story!

Cast of Wonders #468 (1 short story total)
  • “On the Tip of Her Tongue” by Ember Randall (short story) - Aquila is the Archivist for a magical library where books find a sanctuary. Autistic and non-verbal, she has to deal with the criticisms from those who don’t think her fit for her job and her self-doubts about her own abilities, especially when a power outage takes down her communicator, the device she uses to soothe and work with the books. Things seem dire enough without a story-draining lamia on the loose, and for Aquila it seems like it all might be too much. But the story shows the resilience of her as well as the way she faces the cruelty and prejudice of others. It’s tense and with a nice mixture of action and horror but it loses none of its heart, and the ending is warm and wonderful. A great read! Libraries, Books, Autistic MC, Communication, Dragons. CW- Prejudice/Bullying. [c3 t3]
A fantastic episode featuring a wonderful library and a great viewpoint. The piece plays with stories and with communication, with doubt and with hunger and desire. I love the setting, the tightly woven cast, and the layers of hope and pain. Just a brilliant story!

Cast of Wonders #469 (1 short story total)
  • “What If We Remembered?” by Amadin Ogbewe (short story) A story about a kind of magician, Osadolor, and the community he lives in, who are deeply suspicious of anything vaguely magical, and who are pretty ready to straight up murder him. Even when he turns his skills to trying to help people, to help everyone, even at the expense of himself. But the piece is also very much about it never being too late to learn new things. New skills or sciences, yes, but also new ways of seeing and being. New compassions that replace old prejudices. And it’s a fun and lively story anchored by a great heart. A fantastic read! Magic, School, Students, Shops, Family. CW- Fire, Prejudice/Bullying. [c3 t3]
A really fun piece that has a great heart and lots of charm. The choice of characters and the way that emphasizes that people can always learn new things, new tricks, new ways of being less hateful, is great and makes for a strong episode!

PodCastle #701 (4 short stories total)
  • “Catch” by Ally Chua (short story/flash) - A story that follows a son reporting to his parent about a monster under his bed. Not one that really does anything nefarious, but one that wants to be played with. Which leaves the son tired and sleeping during class. Instead of punishing the child, though, the narrator, the parent, decides to investigate, and comes up with a solution that pleases everyone and gets the son back on track. It’s a fun piece where nothing hurts and it makes for a delightful read! Monsters, Beds, Family, School, Sleep, Play. [c1 t1]
  • “How the Demigod Albert Einstein Stole Nuclear Power from the Physical Gods” by Aleksander Wittkamp (short story/flash) - A strange piece that acts as a kind of creation myth for a new world. One twisted by radiation and time. One where history has been likewise twisted, Einstein a figure like Prometheus, only in a much more kickass way. And the piece for me seems to look at the way that history is drawn, how time, long passed, becomes mercurial, crossed, people who weren’t really contemporary put into the same room, the same story for the sake of narrative and perhaps because everything was lost in war and in conflict, and what remains is only the charred shadow of what was. Whatever the case, it’s a fun and weird story definitely worth checking out! History, Myths, Science!, Stories. CW- Radiation. [c2 t3]
  • “When the Head Comes Knocking” by Sylvia Heike (short story/flash) - This piece explores the complicated relationship that is the headless horseman, his partner Trina, and his head. And the piece dives into the way that the head here is the one sort of overthinking things, doubting, running away and returning, putting a lot of stress on things in part because he doesn’t feel entirely connected to the body and the good that the body does. So there’s this friction that Trina, the narrator, witnesses and has to deal with, even as they’re not the real center of the issues, they still have to make room for their boyfriend to get his head together or on straight or what have you, and it’s a rather cute and funny story because of it. A fine read! Dating, Heads, Relationships, Drama. [c1 t3]
  • “Abby’s T-Rex” by Drew Czernik (short story/flash) - This story imagines the power to bring a drawing to life. And what a child might use that power for. Like drawing a dinosaur that breathes fire. Much to her mom’s dismay. As the piece progresses, though, we learn the rules surrounding the animated pictures and the particular way the narrator (said mom) has used this power to do something rather wonderful, though also something that has cost her a great deal. And in that the piece manages a lot of world building and character work in a short space, and is very much worth spending some time with. A great read! Dinosaurs, Drawing, Art, Family, Bargains. [c1 t3]
This episode includes four flash fiction stories, and each one is a mixture of heartfelt and charming, fun and strange. The piece range a bit, with touches of brashness, touches of tragedy, but by and large keep things fun and light enough that they don’t sink the collective energy and fun of the episode as a whole. A great issue!

Escape Pod #806 (1 short story total)
  • “Bright Lights Flying Beneath the Ocean” by Anjali Patel (short story) - This piece builds around an event that has closed borders. At least those around the United States. Framed as an unsent email, the piece finds the narrator a scientist separated from her sister. Yearning for a reunion that will dispel the fear that lurks in her heart--that her sister is dead. That what happened in the States has claimed her, as it seems to have been at least partly racially motivated, and I like how the scant details paints this utterly chilling but not utterly unbelievable idea of what might have happened, leaving to the reader’s imagination the full height of what it might be like, must be like, for the narrator to want to break the bounds of physics just to get her sister back. It’s emotional and sharp and beautiful, and definitely worth sitting with. A great read! Emails, Oceans, Science!, Sisters, Borders, Travel. CW- Death of Parents. [c2 t4]
An episode that knows how to use a light touch to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to world building. Setting the stage for an emotional and wrenching confession and hope from a narrator who just wants to find her family whole once more, or as whole as it can be. A fragile story of hope and science!

Escape Pod #808 (1 short story total)
  • “Win Again” by Lina Munroe (short story) - This story finds Zira at first losing a game of chance to an old rival (maybe an old something else, too). It’s not money she loses, though, but her voice. An entire language stripped from her mouth and mind. And it leaves her strangely anchorless until she finds that she hasn’t lost everything, that she has other legacies to explore, and that might have the key to something that will end up with her solidly ahead, as long as she listens to the voices of her family, and the uses the tools they left for her. It’s a fun piece, with a roguish and dangerous atmosphere and a jubilant, wickedly satisfying ending. Focused on the ride, the game, and the inevitable setbacks balanced by the possible payoffs. A great read!
A piece that has a lot of fun even as the narrator is in a rather grim place. Where she has lost something she never anticipated losing, and has to basically build herself back from a crushing defeat. She’s not dead, though, and as she learns, she has resources in herself and her family she hasn’t tried to draw on. A really fun episode!

Pseudopod #778 (1 short story total)
  • “Live from the End of the World” by Frank Oreto (short story) - Harriet Connors always wanted to be in front of a news camera. But a year after graduating and going to work at a station and she’s only been behind one, producing. Until a hurricane and the opportunity that no one else wanted comes along. In a last minute swerve, though, she decides she wants a man on the streets piece rather than a news report, and picks a bar to find someone to interview. Little does she know she’s stumbled into something dire and dangerous. And maybe something much bigger than a hurricane. The piece builds nicely, with a few nice twists to keep things interesting, and an ending that is almost hopeful, almost positive, except for, you know. It’s a wonderful read! News, Cameras, Rituals, Hurricanes. CW- Guns, Death/Murder/Blood, Apocalypses. [c4 t4]
A nicely creepy piece that contains some solid horror without putting the narrator through hell. Plenty of danger, but the piece itself refrains from going as grim and uncomfortable as it could, finding instead at the end of the world a moment of, if not hope, than at least fulfillment of a sort. A great episode!

Pseudopod #782 (1 short story total)
  • “The Halloween Parade” by Alasdair Stuart (short story) - A strange piece that is framed as a procession of nightmares. Of figures and feelings. Of horror, all walking out and making their appearance after last year’s event was canceled. Back now, and perhaps even sharper, hungrier, for all that the normalcy is a forced one, one that isn’t normal at all. And the parade reveals horror after horror, tropes and figures out of the genre but vague enough to be personal, distinct enough to leave their marks. The piece is haunting and reveling in it, touching on scene after scene, float after float, the parade moving leisurely and sure, and reaching an end that is a triumph as much as a shiver. A fine read!
A special extra spooky episode to close out what might essentially be the horror fiscal year. Imagining a parade of horrors, all embodying and exploring the holiday and what it might mean. What horror might mean, and how it might look personified. A strange and effective read!

Strange Horizons Fund Drive Issue 2021 (2 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “Thread Count” by Cynthia Gómez (short story) - This piece follows a strange series of deaths. Of very wealthy people, who just drop dead, from their mouths always a strange and astringent smell. But never the same smell, and never any evidence. All that links them is the pattern of wealth and the sheer lack of evidence. That makes the wealthy panic, little good that it does. That seems to be moving in a punishing wave. That seems to be rising from the misery they caused, the death that they had steeped in, rising back against them. It’s an interesting and compelling piece, and I love the way it leaves so much unknown, unanswered, letting the reader put together the final pieces and wonder at what it all means. A wonderful read! Wealth, Patterns, Investigations, Insurance. CW- Death, Atrocities. [c3 t3]
  • “Harun” by Ryah Aqel (short story) - A piece that finds the narrator part of a family, part of a people who grow flowers from their bodies. Who bathe in the sea every week. Who have overthrown an oppressive system with the sound of their pain and the strength of their bodies and who now have gardens in themselves. Of themselves. The piece is strange, almost dreamlike, though not necessarily the narrator’s dream. Rather, they almost seem to be looking in on their grandmother’s dream, on a story and a history that flows through them but that they might not feel entirely connected to. Until their own flowers might bloom, until that beauty erupts from them and shows them their colors. A warm and wonderful read! Flowers, Seas, Bathing, Prayers, Family. CW- Rape (implied?). [c2 t3]
  • “The Evolution of Whales” by Michael Meyerhofer (poem) - This piece speaks to me of time and scale and scope. A narrator fleshing out a hypothetical meeting between a “you” and the evolutionary ancestor of whales. A ground-bound animal that doesn’t really resemble what it might become. And the piece follows that thought to revealing to the ancestor, the pakicetus, its grand fate, the whales, the beauty and the grace and the size. Only the pakicetus doesn’t seem entirely impressed. Seems instead to look at its own lot, its own place, which isn’t exactly nothing. For me it speaks to the numerous ways people value themselves and the world. Some seeing hope in a kind of destiny, in change and a beauty they honor and appreciate, while others find a kind of contentment to their own life, to the moment they are living. And it makes for an interesting read, and one well worth spending some time with!
  • “To Disappear into a Song Wide Enough to Drown” by Wale Ayinla (poem) - This piece speaks to me of distance and time. Of memory, and the depths of it. How some things sink and become lost in the dark and the pressure. How faces can recede, and people, who are important, who are supposed to be foundational, can be missing. The narrator recounts an absent father, circles around music, a line perhaps to the missing, to the lost. The music a memory in itself, part collective, that the narrator might be touching to try and connect, to feel that connection. But there is a danger there, as well, the drowning in the title, the desire to go deeper and deeper after someone who cannot be reached, who cannot be dredged from the waters. A great read!
There’s more to the Fund Drive Issue as well, including some great nonfiction to check out, so definitely don’t miss that. And I’m super happy that the Fund Drive was successful and fully funded the publication and will allow for a lot of bonus content via the stretch goals. Lots to celebrate!

Diabolical Plots #80 (2 short stories total)
  • “Audio Recording Left by the CEO of the Ranvannian Colony to Her Daughter, on the Survival Imperative of Maximising Profits” by Cassandra Khaw and Matt Dovey (short story) - A piece that looks at the grim side of cusine, revealing a planet that is trying to reinvent itself after being a failed mining endeavor abandoned by its corporation. Survival means change, and change means trying to market the unique foods of the planet as upscale dining and delicacies. Even when they might not really be all that special. It’s about marketing, and about power, and about wealth. And the piece dissects that nicely, with the sharp edge of a chef’s knife, looking at the costs of power, the ruthless push of capitalism and colonization, and the hunger that creates abuses and atrocities. It’s a stark and grim piece cunningly and seductively told, and it makes for a wickedly wonderful read! Food, Planets, Marketing, Family, Animals. CW- Cannibalism, Amputation, Abuse/Torture. [c4 t5]
  • “It’s Real Meat!(TM)” by Kurt Pankau (short story) - A descent into a nightmare hellscape of meat, as told in a back and forth of emails between an executive of a “fake” meat company and a genetic chemist. Said chemist is just being onboarded into the company and finds that things...aren’t really what he thought they’d be. They’re...much much worse. Especially when he learns what this “fake” meat is made from, and how it’s been growing, and what the results from all of that has been. The piece creepys into horror, slowly and then with increasing zeal, and it’s a wild and rather fun ride, fun and funny while still being rather horrifying. But it keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek and delivers a piece that draws toward an ending that is part punchline, part chilling terror. So good times all around and a fabulous read! Food, Employment, AIs, Movies, Emails. CW- Aggressive Capitalism, Cannibalism, Death/Murder, Slavery. [c4 t5]
A nice one-two punch of creepy stories involving food this issue, and it makes for a decidedly well paired experience and one that’s very appropriate for October. It’s a lot of fun, too, while also managing some genuine chills, and a double dip of cannibalism. So yeah, a great issue!

Omenana #19 (7 short stories total)
  • “A Cloak” by Ubong Johnson (short story) - This piece finds Obi a changed man from when he was taken from his home to a strange “school” that didn’t really teach him so much as it experimented on him, trying to meld him with machine, to make him into a weapon. The first of many, it is hoped. And a tool to exploit more Black people, to get them to agree to be experimented on while those with the real power manipulate things in the background. And the piece looks at bargains, ignorance, and power. How Obi comes to fit into this corrupt system but how there might still be hope. In freedom, in first breaking some chains so that other chains can be broken. But it’s still a careful and complex story, and well worth checking out! Cyborgs, Schools, Family, Relationships, Bargains. CW- Human Experimentation, Racial Injustice, Pain/Blood, Rape/Coerced Sex. [c4 t4]
  • “Baartman” by Nick Wood (short story) - This story joins the reclaiming of Afrixa as its mission nears its end. A group of people led by a trio to try and evict previous invaders and colonizers. To take back the land that foreign corporations and entities had stolen. Sometimes just to rent it back to those same entities, but on better terms, and with full ownership of the land. But FuelCorps’ last property is a hold out, and a small army has gathered to finish things. Not that they could stand against the tech and ordinance of FuelCorps. But they have something up their sleeve. Justice on their side. A history calling out to be heard. It’s a tense and moving piece, with action but with an emphasis on healing, on hope, and on harmony. A fantastic read! Land, Ownership, Drones, Negotiations. CW- Colonization/Colonialism, Violence/Death, Racism. [c3 t3]
  • “Bodies” by Chisom Umeh (short story/flash) - A story of a man living two lives in two different places, awake in one body while the other is asleep. And trying to make that work, despite how strange it makes everything. Despite how suspicious it makes people. So it’s entirely a surprise when he goes to sleep in one body and finds that in his other one people in that life have decided to get a little...drastic. The piece looks at body hopping in an interesting way, and I like the way the narrator just sort of wants to be left alone, to read and to take things easy, when his life seems destined to complicate matters. A great read! Body Jumping, Sleep, Employment, Family, Dogs, Rituals. [c1 t3]
  • “The Inheritance” by Virgilia Ferrao (short story) - A story set in a future where things...aren’t so great. Where people can be hit by the Manifest at any time, a kind of sickness brought about by the changes humans have made to the world. There’s a treatment for it, but the treatment is limited to those with an Inheritance, with a kind of ancestral karma that will allow them to be treated. Without it...well, whatever the case, no one ever leaves the government center where the revelation happens. Either they are treated and pass through into what might be an immortal paradise, or they die. And the piece finds the narrator, who has always been afraid of the Manifest, facing those fears directly and the emotions and realities that come with it. A fantastic read! Inheritance, Immortality, Friendship, Family. CW- Death of Family, Death, Illness. [c3 t4]
  • “Odudu’s Gambit” by Albert Nkereuwem (short story) - Joel Odudu is mostly a passenger in his own life, trapped in a city where nothing ever happens. At least, not until he gets a strange set of bracelets at a market stall and an alien invasion begins. After that, it’s all he and the AI in the bracelets, a kind of interdimensional weapon, can do to try and save the Earth from being destroyed entirely. The piece is heavy on action, finding the narrator in a situation where he has to try and save the planet but also break the cycle of stalemate that has allowed this conflict to spread from world to world, dimension to dimension. It’s fast and it’s fun and it’s a great read! Bracelets, Aliens, Parallel Dimensions, Ships. CW- Battle, War, Violence, Death. [c3 t3]
  • “Warrior Mine” by Masimba Musodza (short story) - This piece finds four scientists and professionals working together to make reality something before thought only science fiction. Reanimating a human body. More than that, though, resurrecting a person, their mind and body both. And enhancing that body in the process to be something superhuman. The whys and the hows are interesting enough, but I’m most drawn to the ways the group knows the literature, the stories and the realities that come before them, and still make so many of the same mistakes. Leading them down the same paths, to the same disasters. It’s a complicated and powerful read! Frankenstein, Resurrection, Family, Warriors, Science! CW- Violence/Murder, Corpses/Reanimation. [c3 t3]
  • “Inhabiters” by Kingsley Okpii (short story) - A piece that unfolds in the deadly conflict between two neighboring populations, each with their own history that mirrors the other. A history of death and hunting, cycles of violence without end. And each side is seeking to take out the other, to cleanse them through death and killing. Anya is in the middle of it, a hunter who has the gift of blood juju, and who is ready to use it. But who turns out to be a pawn both of her people, who have erased a part of their history, and the people she thought of as her enemy. The piece is layered and complex, Anya in an impossible situation and taking her own path. Not one toward reconciliation, either, but through hate and through violence to her own shattering conclusion. An interesting read! Blood, Magic, Family, History, Rebirth. CW- Death/Murder, Blood, Pregnancy/Childbirth/Death of a Child, Forced Impregnation. [c4 t4]
A new Omenana and seven new stories to check out. They move from fantasy to science fiction and back again, touching on horror in some profound and powerful ways. The pieces often imagine a push toward unity, reconciliation, and a united Africa, but acknowledge the deep wounds present, the ways that alternate stories and histories can keep people apart, and the ways that the lingering presence of colonization makes true healing perhaps impossible. A wonderful issue!

Samovar 10/25/2021 (1 short story, 1 novelette, 1 poem total)
  • “Scissors” by Anastasia Bookreyeva, translated by Ray Nayler (short story) - A piece that finds a single mother struggling with what she thinks is the overactive imagination of her son. Stories of terror designed to force her to work less and be home more, something that would thwart her own dreams of upward mobility. Well, further thwart them, as her dreams have already been cut back time and again. And the piece shows how adults can fail to really think about their own childhoods, fail to remember what it’s like, and fail to understand that some fears are more than jumping at shadows. The piece is creeping and unsettling, and the ending opens up a bit of hope for the family, for their peace and happiness. A great read! Employment, Family, Monsters, Memories, Parenting. CW- Child in Peril, Abuse/Neglect. [c3 t4]
  • “Another Place” by Clelia Farris, translated by Rachel Cordasco (novelette) - A piece that finds five people in a hotel. Five artists of sorts, working on theory and pushing themselves to do something special in a place where all of their needs are met by mysterious and invisible Benefactors. Only things aren’t quite that simple, and a new person arrives in the hotel, and there’s a death. Things are pushed into choas and people are pushed out of the cycles them have fallen into. The piece explores energy and change, systems and finding connections, but also breaking them. And it’s a deeply strange piece, the world building vague and the character work strong, the events bordering on dreams but with a sense of weight and substance. Definitely a story to spend some time with! Hotels, Cars, Energy, Relationships, Schools, Art. CW- Death/Murder. [c3 t3]
  • “Transformations” by Bolesław Leśmian, translated by Anna Taborska (poem) - A moving look at transformations as flowers become animals, animals become emotions, everything flowing in cycles and the narrator, along the edges of it, wondering about their own life, their own actions and mysteries, the secrets that they might not know about themself. That the flowers might know, or suspect, but aren’t telling. And I like the ending, the strange sort of questions being asked, the doubt and uncertainty striking from the sight of flowers. The rich depth of their imaginings and changes, and the narrator, caught grasping at the mercurial nature of self, and time, and being. A wonderful read!
It’s always wonderful to find a new Samovar filled with translated works, and this latest issue finds a nice variety. All strange, all dreamlike in their ways, though some border more on nightmare. There’s a sense of transformation, though, and growth, and movement, and it’s all very much worth checking out!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #341 (1 short story, 1 novella total)
  • “A Manslaughter of Crows” by Chris Willrich (novella) - New Shadowdrop adventure! And, well, a new novella! So there’s a lot of wheeling and dealing in Shadowdrop’s city to get to. And this time the action centers on politics, drawing up the strange but interesting swabocracy that the city has, and how it’s being gamed by some nefarious people trying to enrich themselves and steal power at the expense of most everyone else. It’s cleverly constructed and intricately plotted, with nice twists and turns and enough of a mystery to keep things compelling, plus lots of humor, puns, and at least one good dog. It’s cute, and it’s another delightful romp with Shadowdrop and her compatriots. A great read! Cats, Politics, Dogs, Birds, Voting, Magic. CW- Corruption, Violence/Death/Blood. [c3 t2]
  • “The Last Days of Summer in the City of Olives” by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko (short story) - This piece finds Luzetia trying to avoid her past. Her heritage. The fact of her birth and the reality of her family. But that doesn’t stop that very thing from announcing itself loudly in her new city, interrupting her teaching job as a doctor and surgeon and putting more than her life in danger. And I like how the story finds Luzetia wanting so badly to not have the baggage she does. But having to face it all the same, the weight of it and the ugliness of it. And having to take a stand. Not to do what’s expected of her, but to try to do what is right. Which is different. And the piece is defiant and complex while managing some world building and great character moments. Moments I’d like more of. A wonderful read! Schools, Royalty, Teaching, Medicine/Surgeons, Family, Assassins. CW- Blood/Injury, Medical Treatment/Trauma. [c3 t3]
This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies very much hinges on politics, and finds characters who would very much rather avoid being mired in those political machinations. Who want to be free agents, to do what is right, and who rather hate being pulled into situations where they have to untangle impossible moral dilemmas. But who have to anyway. A solid issue!

Mermaids Monthly #10 (9 short stories, 1 graphic story, 5 poems total)
  • “The Ossuary at Ocean’s End” by Marisca Pichette (poem) - A piece about death and the accepting arms of the ocean. Where things can go to be released. To be taken in when they won’t come back out again. And the piece for me is full of the relief that represents. The way that freedom, that terrible and erasing freedom, is a peace and a gift as wel, an embrace and a care that endures. And it makes for a striking and lovely read!
  • “Elemental” by Marlane Quade Cook (short story/flash) - This story finds a being becoming the ocean in storm, the rage and swell, the passion and the freedom but also the damage, the destruction, the devastation. And, feeling the remorse afterward, she tries to undo some of that damange. Tries to save a life that she nearly took. And I like the way the piece move in cycles, the remorse and guilt sharp but also not enough to make her not rejoin the ocean. Embracing the dual sides of her nature, the give and take, ebb and flow. A wonderful read! Oceans, Storms, Ships, Transformations. CW- Death/Injury. [c2 t3]
  • “portrait of a girl in water” by Ashley Bao (poem) - This piece finds a voice in the water. A song, that acts as a call to all who hear it. But most so for the narrator, who hears the song and is entranced, who comes and embraces thsi girl in the water, this being who exists in the cold brine of the sea. And the narrator goes willingly, seemingly aware of what fate is waiting for her, but wanting it all the same. Perhaps as an escape and perhaps just because that siren call is too strong. A slightly haunting but beautiful read!
  • “The Ghosts of Mermaids” by Coral Alejandra Moore (short story/micro) - So this issue has two pairs of Each to Each, which I normally consider illustrated stories only here it’s not an accompanying illustration but a second piece, and I’ll consider them separately but also probably comment on them together. Anyway, this is a very short piece, mircofiction or a poem, that describes mermaid ghosts. Just two sentences, and yet it captures a kind of captivity, a kind of hell, a needful waiting where these ghosts exist and float without motion of their own, without a voice, with only watchful eyes that convey a sense of need. And it’s a striking image, and a somewhat grim piece, but very much worth checking out!
  • “The Answer Atop Mermaid’s Rest” by Cathin Yang (short story) - This piece finds Bethany hoping to end the years of mermaid attacks on ships and open a once-open and now closed sea route. She has the rituals down, and thinks she’s ready to soothe the mermaids, to put their ghosts to rest. The truth, though, is more complicated, and the piece looks at betrayal and the ways that there need to be justice before there can be peace. Taken alone, it’s an interesting piece with some solid world building and great arc for Bethany, from ignorance to seeing what work really needs to be done. Paired with the previous, and it shows the stakes more clearly, the way that the mermaid ghosts are waiting, betrayed, and how Bethany is moved to try and help them. Some wonderful reads! Rocks, Negotiations, Lore, Ghosts, Mermaids, History. CW- Murder/Death/Mutilation. [c3 t3]
  • “Awoken” written by Elyse Russell, art by Miranda Leyson (graphic story) - A tense and quick comic that finds a grandmother and grandchild (who are merpeople) rushing toward the surface of the ocean. The piece manages to a whole lot with a little space, setting up a conflict where what’s happened to the rest of their people/family is unknown and probably grim, where there’s this huge past that has been largely lost and buried, and where our own myths and legends have got some big things wrong about Atlantis. It’s a really fun and mysterious read, and I’m very interested to see what would come next, though even so it stands on its own quite well and quite creepily. A great read!
  • “The Abyssal Architect” by Ori Jay (short story/flash) - A rather grim piece that descibes a siren, a mermaid who lives in the depths and who witnesses the drowned. Who watches their bodies fall and whose only recourse is to build monuments to them. Monuments that others might not understand, but that they are compelled to make all the same, to express the grief and mourning that runs through them. It’s a somber piece, beautiful and wrenching, and well worth spending some time with! Oceans, Mermaids, Monuments. CW- Drowning/Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Merfolks as a Passage from My Thoughts and Doings” by Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto (poem) - A strange piece that seems to dive into the narrator’s thoughts, into their body and their history, their past and scars. That probes wounds and stitches them back closed, that wanders through the depths of them as they consider everything, their art and creation next to the greater creation of the world around them. All of it linked, all of it caught up in poetry and imagination, in metaphor and knowledge. And the piece surfaces near where it started, changed in some profound ways, and it’s a deep and compelling journey the poem describes and leads the reader through, very much worth taking and experiencing. A great read!
  • “This is Your Home” by Stefan Slater (short story/flash) - A rather heart wrenching story about a couple where one of them carries a curse. Where they will transform into a merperson when they’re in their thirties. It’s something that they’ve long known and that the couple and the person’s partner, the narrator, have been preparing for. Thinking they were preparing for. But the piece shows that some things can’t really be anticipated, and it’s a heavy and emotionally difficult read that looks at desire and change and ends on a note that could be ambiguous but feels to me rather tragic. It’s still a lovely read, though! Transformations, Family, Moving, Relationships, Curses. CW- Unwanted Body/Mental Transformation. [c2 t4]
  • “Mermaidsong” by Csilla Kleinheincz, translated by Bogi Takács (short story) - The narrator of this story remembers summers with Uncle Marlon rather fondly. At least, rememhers the lighthouse fondly. The uncle, maybe not so much. But when Uncle Marlon calls wanting the narrator to bring audio equipment to the lighthouse, the narrator doesn’t refuse. Fresh from a breakup, it’s a distraction, especially when the trip yields up something very unexpected. The piece is full of longing and loneliness, desperation and need, and the ending is a grim statement about people pulled by desire and obsession, wanting to force it on others. A chilling but powerful read! Mermaids, Lighthouses, Family, Music, Recordings. CW- Abuse/Control. [c3 t4]
  • “‘a sea-like condition’” by Felicia Martinez (poem) - This piece finds the narrator leaning into the things people call her. Monster and majesty, all encompassed in her body, her person. She is a mermaid and she is more than that, and to me the piece is saying that acknowledging any part of that is like acknowledging it all, that it all creates this whole picture the the narrator is embracing, demanding, embodying. This is her declaration, the space she is taking, and it’s formidable, alive, and glorious. A wonderful read!
  • “This is You” by Kathryn Kania (short story)- A sharp piece that follows a group of people born to resemble mermaids over a three month period thirty years ago. The mermaid children. Now, just mermaids. Inexplicable, and facing their own issues and challenges, they’re a community now that helps each other out as much as possible. So when they’re all invited to an exhibit about them at an oddities museum, a lot of them, including the narrator, show up. And though they’re used to keeping their head down, by and large, this is a situation where they can’t stay silent. The piece is sharp in how it looks at how disability is treated, how humans are reduced to oddities, to something less than people. And it’s a powerful and definat read, finding strength in community and identity. Fantastic reading! Mermaids, Disability, Museums, Communities, Queer MC. CW- Prejudice, Ableism, Death/Torture/Corpses. [c3 t3]
  • “Before You Go in Search of Spirits” by Cathin Yang (short story/flash) - Another each to each paired with another story so this one first. This is a piece that offers advice to those looking to approach sunken spirits. Looking to free them from their place between life and death, but for something in return. It’s a dangerous prospect, one requiring care (and gold), and the piece reveals how to approach it, with the hope of coming back alive. A great read! Bargains, Spirits, Seas, Gold, Dives. CW- Death. [c2 t3]
  • “The Truth They Hear in My Heart” by Coral Alejandra Moore (short story/flash) - This piece builds nicely on the last, now a narrator who was brought up with those warnings, and when their parent died, chose to ignore them. The piece shows the magnetism of this cycle, the way that people can fall into the trap of grief and loss, making bargains that will cost them everything. And maybe they will find a way to break free, and try to teach those that come after to do better, but it doesn’t mean those people will. Because of the pull. Because grief is such a powerful thing. A lovely and moving piece, expertly paired with the previous story! Bargains, Spirits, Seas, Gold, Family. CW- Death of a Parent, Death/Murder. [c3 t4]
  • “Dreams of Another Life” by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers (poem) - This piece speaks to a yearning for me, the “you” of the piece being drawn to a person and a place outside of their own experiences. In a different space, a different world essentially. One that offers for you a change from--an escape from--the blankness and frustration in their own life. The illness that seems to be weighing them down. And so despite the call not being as seductively framed as it could be, it’s still seductive enough. And they are drawn to it, to that embrace that will change them. There’s excitement, a sense of freedom, and the piece balances nicely the grim elements and the more hopeful ones, the finding of something where finally flesh feels okay, feels right. A great way to close out the issue!
This issue of Mermaids Monthly seems to me to center sirens. Music. The call of the sea, and the bargains made there. As such, there are plenty of rather grim stories and poems here, though also some that find comfort, freedom, and joy in that call, in that music. It’s an interesting and diverse issue in its forms, feelings, and themes, and it makes for some great reading!

Tor 10/2021 (1 short story, 2 novelettes total)
  • “Sand” by Jasmin Kirkbride (short story) - This piece imagines a world where everyone is given sand in their mouth when they are born. Sand they have to live with, speak through, filter their food and drink through. For the narrator, it’s always something they hate. Something they’re ashamed of until they find out that everyone is the same way. But that doesn’t settle her. Nor does the prospect that if she has a child, she’ll be expected to do the same thing. The piece looks at the social pressures surrounding culture and family, the baggage that gets passed down, but also the way people don’t talk about some of the most important things in life out of fear and shame, and how that fucks kids up. A wonderful read! Family, Growing Up, School, Relationships. CW- Pain, Eating Disorders, Abuse. [c3 t3]
  • “Small Monsters” by E. Lily Yu (novelette) - A story about a monster who, upon birth, becomes prey for their parent. Limbs eaten, with increasing frequency, with the sole platitude that they’ll grow back, that they owe the parent this. It’s a system that poisons the monster when their sibling is born, and that eventually leads the monster into a series of toxic relationships very similar to their parent. Until they come to a shore and meet a strange little clawed creature who’s also an artist, who begins to decorate their shell. After that, things change for the monster, and the story is a powerful triumph for them, as they grow defences to protect themself, survive, and thrive with a little help from a friend. Often grim and difficult, it’s still an amazing read! Monsters, Family, Art, Crabs, Seas. CW- Abuse/Torture, Death/Blood. [c4 t4]
  • “Baby Teeth” by Daniel Polansky (novelette) - This piece follows Graham, a high schooler who’s not exactly popular. He’s in band and plays D&D and is rather good at being passive. And he accidentally steps right in the middle of a vampire murder spree and gets essentially deputized by the man hunting said vampire, helping out by looking up information and acting as bait. The piece places Graham in the role of witness to what happens, and it’s an interesting and rather chilling series of events. One that sort of asks what heroism is, who heroes are, and what any of that has to do with a world where vampires are real and actively killing people. It’s a complex and careful read, anchored by tragedy and yearning. A great read! Vampires, D&D, School, Family, Po Culture. CW- Death/Blood/Murder. [c3 t4]
Some fairly grim stories from Tor in October, so fitting for the season. They feature monsters and vampires, and more than that they feature family, and they feature cycles of abuse and people trying to figure out how to get through worlds that are so hurtful, so edged with pain and suffering. And there are some amazing stories!

Works read this year to date: 1154 stories, 333 poems (+39 stories, +8 poems)

So 47 is a busy week, especially when one of those is a novella and three are novelettes. A decent amount of flash, true, and some poetry, but still just a lot to get to, and I am tired. It does mean that next week I’ll most likely cross 1500 reviews this year, and it means that by the time I’m done with 2021 content, I will have over 7000 total reviews here on QSR. So yeah, there’s that. Not too shabby. I hadn’t want to be so behind at this point, though. October really threw a lot out there, and I guess I’ll have to keep chugging away as November and December will probably both bring their share of short SFF. Next week I’ll be back into regular November releases, and I already have review copy of the new Uncanny, Apex, Lightspeed, Nightmare, The Dark, and maybe more to check out. I’ll be busy.

But I will also hopefully be making time for a November tradition…Suikovember! Many of you probably know of my strange obsessive love with the Suikoden series, and November marks the time when fans start making their fanworks to honor the games. My goal is to do a little fic a day, and collect them up on AO3. It’s good times, and so far I’m mostly holding my own. Last year I managed to write over 30k words of fic, even while reviewing, but honestly I wasn’t doing as much then as now, so we’ll see how I can do this year. If you’re a Suikoden fan, though, do check out twitter for the #suikovember tag.

In other news, I don’t know why I’m still watching Wallander, which is pretty awful despite having some fairly big stars. But ugh, the titular character is a brooding boorish man and the plots go from ugh to fucking the worst. This is technically a rewatch for me but I didn’t remember how bad some of these episodes are. Yeah. Looking forward to something better after this. I did manage to watch the first part of the Masters of the Universe cartoon that had Kevin Smith involved (and Mark Hamill!). It’s an interesting project and I do like that everything gets revisited while staying largely true to the old show (which I enjoyed when I could rent VHS tapes of it from the video rental place as a kid).

In reading, I’m still working my way through Uncanny X-Men. I’m now in the part where my older physical comic books are (I think my oldest in #161). Just got through Wolverine’s not-wedding, and this all still holds up pretty well. I’m struck by how ballsy it was to have this book spend so much time in outer space. Already something of a SF book, it jumped wholly into that for the whole Brood saga, which was interesting and I’m laughing a bit that it all ended with cloning Professor X’s body to give his mind a new home. Fucked up! Also they never really on panel kill Professor X/Brood Queen so I’m left wondering if that ever comes back. I honestly don’t remember. Anyway it’s good times and I’m enjoying having the added context from New Mutants overlapping with the “main” book.

And that’s about it. I’m working to try to catch up on a lot, but I’m as always a mess in general, so apologies and cheers!


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