Friday, November 26, 2021

Quick Sips 11/26/2021

Still kinda struggling to catch up here, but that’s not to say I’m not getting to a lot. This week I’m mostly in November releases, though I do dip back to pick up an October issue I missed (October was really fucking full). First it’s two weeks of Strange Horizons, then the November Clarkesworld. Then back to pick up October’s The Future Fire. Then November’s The Deadlands, a Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Diabolical Plots. Alas, I’m not caught up on either Strange Horizons or Beneath Ceaseless Skies, to say nothing of the Escape Artist releases, but I’m trying. Well and truly. I’ll get there eventually.

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!

Strange Horizons 11/01/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “What Floats in a Flotsam River” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (short story) - A strange piece that finds the collective birth of a family. A group of beings who have come from some sort of beyond. But unsure of their purpose and knowing really only that they are a group, a collective, that they begin at least all the same, though they slowly discover ways they are different. These differences are punished, though, in the sake of conformity, in the sake of the family. Even that, though, isn’t enough to stand in the face of the toxic elements of the world. Sickness and decay. And for the narrator, an increasingly individual person, it’s a cage that they must contend with, with the feelings of guilt and betrayal as they try to figure out how to live, and why. It’s complex and wrenching, even as it unfolds like a dream. A wonderful read! Family, Collectives, Rivers, Secrets, Individuals. CW- Death of a Sibling, Violence, Pollution/Sickness. [c3 t4]
  • “Frame of Reference” by Liam Corley (poem) - This piece finds a narrator who is a writer, trying to explain in some ways what they’re trying to write. A science fiction novel. Only to find the person they’re explaining to, their friend, to misunderstand. In part. And to me the piece is looking at the ways that narratives and structures, that genres, bend to the wills of those who collectively define them. From the works that seem to invade and shift the public opinion and perception. That make the words science fiction novel mean something that the narrator can’t really break through. Not wholly, and especially not when trying to explain what they’re writing. It gets lost in the idea of what it means, and even the narrator goes from being certain of their work to being full of doubt. It’s an interesting and rather meta piece about the creative process and the complications of it. And it’s a great read!
A lovely issue that features one short story that’s nearly a novelette, and one poem. And the works look at uncertainty in some interesting ways. Look at collective work, both the work of a collective struggling with what their purpose is and should be, and the work of the collective in defining ideas and genres. In both, the individual struggles under the weight of the collective, bending while still wanting to set their own path. A solid issue!

Strange Horizons 11/08/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Campfire Stories” by Rachael Cupp (short story) - A story about three cowgirls telling stories around a fire in a world where cities have burned, where the world was eaten by violence and loss. And the stories center on choice, on magic, and on true hearts. Love and longing, connection and sacrifice. The piece weaves these nested narratives together, cyclical and moving, each feeding into the next until they’re pulled together into a strange shape that touches all of the stories, inside and out, and reaches further yet, reaching out to all stories, all hearts. It’s a beautiful and moving piece, fun and with touches of humor, and with a lot of heart. A wonderful read! Cowgirls, Horses, Stories, Cities, Love. CW- Post-Apocalypse, Death, Sacrifice. [c3 t3]
  • “Variational Sestinoid Spiral Seeds 281698895 and 510616808” by Allison Parrish (poem) - This piece comes out of work using a “variational autoencoder,” so poetry produced in part using an AI that produces the text from inputs. In two parts, the poem takes a starting point and then seems to work away from it and then back, the effect something strange but lovely, understandable as poetry by its feel, by its cadence, by its language and form. That the piece keeps the constructed, generated nature of the piece in plain view is interesting, gives it that extra level, the reader having to make a lot of calls with regard to interpretation. Can one get into what intent means when AI are involved? It complicates things and yet the pieces are still lively, still interesting, having a nice sense of repetition, having a kind of energy and fun to them. A great read!
This issue has some interesting takes on meta narratives, nested authors. And I really like the way that both play with that, the way they complicate author and intent, make the reader dig a little, work a little, having to confront themselves as a presence in the text, as that lens that brings out meaning. And the works are also just rather fun, and make for some fine reading!

Clarkesworld #182 (5 short stories, 2 novelettes total)
  • “Mom Heart” by Will McIntosh (short story) - A wrenching piece about a man dealing with the death of his wife. Children dealing with the death of their mom. And one of those children, an autistic girl, retreating into herself. In a last ditch attempt to help her, the narrator, the father, decides to do something rather...unorthodox. Pretend to be the soul of his dead wife inhabiting a cleaning robot. It’s a surprising choice, and even more surprising is that it seems to work. Except, of course, it’s really not a solution, and the story follows that to a warm and bittersweet ending. A great read! Family, Robots, Games, Schools, Autistic Character. CW- Death of a Parent/Spouse, Lies/Deceit, Children in Peril/Animal Attack (dog). [c4 t4]
  • “Dark Waters Still Flow” by Alice Towey (short story) - This piece finds NEWT, a waste treatment AI, dealing with a series of alarming malfunctions. Or what are being passed off as malfunctions. All while revealing NEWT as a character, and their friendship with one of the Water Sages, Jerafina. The piece looks at prejudice and how it manifests, and the layered betrayal of NEWT by someone they trusted. It’s a piece with some action, a lot of heart, and a rather touching and beautiful ending. Just so good all the way through! AIs, Water Treatment, Friendship, Reading, Poetry. CW- Racism/Prejudice, Violence/Blood. [c3 t4]
  • “This Stitch, This Time” by Anna Martino (short story) - This piece circles a haunted sewing machine. One trying to tell the narrator of the piece something important. Something vitally important about the mission to Mars that she’s a part of. That she’s helping through her work as a seamstress. And the piece unfolds a bit like Cassadra, this prophecy that no one wants to believe, that they’d rather condemn even as they walk the path to fulfill it. It’s grim, but it’s also a sharp look at life and death, prophecy and doom. A wonderful read! Family, Sewing, Morse Code, Ghosts, Mars, Prophecy. CW- Death, Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t4]
  • “City of Eternity” by Pan Haitian, translated by Carmen Yiling Yan (short story) - A piece that looks at time as the narrator flees from an invading force with a woman, a princess, hoping to find the means to make her safe. And finding it, after a fashion, in a place where time is something to be contemplated and bent, slowed into something slower than a crawl. The piece looks at perspective, at lives spent fast and slow as the narrator discovers a way to hide and be safe, by transforming, by entering into a different way of experiencing time. The piece is strange, slightly haunting, but interesting and deep and lovely all the same. A fantastic read! Time, Transformations, Fruit, Cities. CW- Death, Invasion. [c2 t3]
  • “The Language Birds Speak” by Rebecca Campbell (novelette) - A story about language, and a mother, Gracie, trying to help her son, who has some problems vocalizing. Who also seems to have a power with a language that doesn’t exactly have words. A power to hurt, among other things. A power that scares her. And there’s a program that might help. Only...only it’s not what it seems, and as Gracie discovers the full truth about her son and herself, she has to make some decisions to save them both. A tense and interesting and moving read about language and need. A great story! Family, Parenting, Language, Genetics, Studies. CW- Manipulation/Mind Control, Violence/Blood/Experimentation. [c4 t4]
  • “Between Zero and One There Is Infinity” by Shari Paul (novelette) - A story set in a solar system where humans have expanded only to run into alien invaders who are, in turn, fleeing a force from their past. All the while death and destruction spread. For Nil, human but raised by aliens, dead and uploaded into a computer, the piece begins as she comes aware...inside a body. And from there the piece is ripe with pirates and scoundrels, people out for a buck and some just trying to help. Like Immanuel, the man who saved her from her home and prison on Mars. The piece juggles a lot of factions and conflicts but does so with ease and style, with a flashy action feel and an ass-kicking sense of action and adventure. The stakes are high, the character work is solid, and the blows, when they come, are powerful and intense. It’s a roller coaster of a story from beginning to end and it’s one hell of a ride. A fantastic read! Uploaded Consciousnesses, Pirates, Aliens, AI, Ships. CW- Violence/Death. [c3 t3]
  • “The Death Haiku of the Azure Five” by L Chan (short story) - This piece looks at a huge, galaxy-spanning war fought with AI as footsoldiers. As ships and systems used by both sized to further the violence. And it leaves those AI, and especially the second Gen AIs, in a position where they don’t have great options. Fight on one side, fight on the other. Die, and in dying create a flash of poetry that might go on. For the narrator, this is a cycle that can be broken. But not without cost, and in this case nothing without a rather terrible cost. One that will see a lot of poetry spilled. The piece is interesting and nicely built, focusing on a cluster of AIs. A family of them. And it’s a bit heartbreaking, but makes for a lovely read! AIs, Poetry, Strategy, Ships. CW- War, Battle/Violence/Death. [c3 t4]
The latest Clarkesworld brings a bunch of new works into the world, including one new translation. The pieces look at poetry and distance, conflict and disaster. They feature ghosts, or kinds of ghosts, and losses that are aching and real and can’t really be recovered from. But can be survived. Some wonderful works!

The Future Fire #2021.59 (3 short stories, 2 novelettes, 4 poems total)
  • “The Avlina Flower’s Magic” by Jamie Lackey (short story) - A very cute story that finds Kitty on the verge of getting married to someone she doesn’t love in order to make sure her mother and aunt are cared for. And yet the magic of the ceremony that bonds two people...doesn’t go the way everyone expects it to. Rather, And I love how it works, and the warmth of the story, the sense that things are going to get better, that there’s a happy ending in the offing, and it’s all just a delightful read! Marriage, Cakes, Rituals, Love, Flowers, Queer MC. [c1 t2]
  • “A Luxury Like Hope” by Aimee Ogden (short story) - This story finds Dix living in a future that’s pretty bleak. Resource scarce and hard to find work for someone with dyslexia. She lives with her sister and niece and they mostly make things work, though the sisters fight. And then it’s just Dix and her niece, and things aren’t so great. The piece looks at hope, the fragility of it and the resilience of it. The different ways people can hope, and the different ways people can break. Not always permanently, though, and hope can grow again, even out of hardship and difficulty. The piece is stark and the setting wrenching, but there’s a warmth to it. Something struggling through the dirt and dust, reaching for the sun. A great read! Family, Sisters, Employment, Queer Characters, Travel, Lemons, Cake. CW- Death of a Sibling. [c3 t4]
  • “The Abridged Excerpts from the Diary of a Corpse” by Naethan Pais (short story) - A story about a corpse and a king and a game they play of stories and riddles. And the way the corpse uses stories to set the king up, using the king’s wisdom and honor against him, to rather devastating results. The piece is about honor, about a man who would not betray a trust, would not break a promise, and how that can undo a person. Kill them, even. But not break them. A lively and wonderful story! Stories, Riddles, Kings, Promises, Bargains. CW- Corpses, Death. [c3 t3]
  • “The Devil Hunters of Fawn Street” by Clark Lewis (novelette) - A story about a hunt. A grim hunt, and one that’s not exactly about justice, not exactly about revenge. That’s about doing what has to be done, after two attacks. Two rapes. The piece finds a narrator, a hunter, a monster, who knows exactly what to do. And it’s framed as a story she tells to someone else. A story that’s also an offer, a choice. It’s a grim read but well paced and tightly woven, with moments of humor and action and horror and very much worth checking out. A great read! Monsters, Bargains, Family, Siblings, Hunts. CW- Blood/Violence/Murder, Rape, Suicide (attempted). [c5 t4]
  • “Archive of the Inexplicable and Dangerous” by Alexandra Grunberg (novelette) - This piece finds Cassandra, a student at the Archive, having dreams about a series of killings. Dreams she attributes to her research into monsters but which turn out to be something else. Something real. And something that is coming for her. And the piece has a great cast, a chilling monster, and some solid world building, crafting a world that feels lived in and where paranormal academic research is very much an important thing. There’s some nice action, some nice horror, and it makes for a great read! Research, Dissertations, Dreams/Nightmares, Monsters, Visions. CW- Death/Blood/Murder. [c3 t3]
  • “Armor” by Devin Miller (poem) - This piece finds the narrator getting ready. To step into the unknown. To move in a way they haven’t before. And to do that they need their armor. Not steel or chain, but the clothing that makes them feel confident and in control. That makes them feel good enough to act without fear, or not governed by fear. It’s clothing that doesn’t really fit the place. That is impractical, perhaps even impossible to wear out and about. But that they can still slip on when they need to in order to get the magic they seem to hold. A wonderful read!
  • “he kindly danced for me” by J.D. Harlock (poem) - Riffing on Dickinson, this piece imagines a narrator who is entranced by Death, by his dance, by his movements. Who is struck by them, caught by them, but also inspired by them. For the narrator, the dance becomes a provocation to live more fully, to take part in the elegance of the dance without reservation, without fear or revulsion. For them, it’s a moment when they can see clearly the links between people, the way that Death levels everyone, and takes from that an urge to participate in the beauty and pageantry of life and its varieties. A great read!
  • “You Are Whole” by Anshritha (poem) - This piece looks at a person in parts, spending time taking apart each body part of them. Critiquing it and criticizing it before moving onto the next. And the next. Building a picture of a person that seems almost grotesque in how they’re described--how they body is described. And yet in that the person, the “you” of the poem, seem to step into that body. For all the ways others say it is imperfect. There is power in it as well, and purpose that you give it, that you find. There is defiance and there is something that could be joy. And if not joy, than at least stubborn survival, and that’s still something. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!
  • “How to Tell Your Husband You’re a Werewolf” by Katherine Shats (poems) - This piece does what it says in the title, giving some advice on how to “come out” about being a werewolf. And offering that advice is a kind of key to a lock. A way of escaping the doubts and the guilt about it. Pushing the “you” of the piece to be bold, to announce loudly, to demand equality not from a place of inferiority but as an equal. Because if he doesn’t accept that then he doesn’t deserve the wonder and power that is being married to a werewolf. A monster. It’s a sharp piece, and a delightful read!
Almost missed this one with all the releases in October. Glad I checked in, though, because it’s a wonderful issue that works around some heavy but important themes. About loss and grief, about work and purpose. About monsters. And yeah, it’s got some stellar works and is very much worth checking out!

The Deadlands #7 (3 short stories, 4 poems total)
  • “The Plutocracy” by Maya Chhabra (poem) - This piece speaks to me of death, of the underworld, of the way that wealth works between the living and the dead. The conventional wisdom states that you can’t take wealth with you, and yet the poem sets up the underworld, the afterlife, as full of wealth. Gold. It’s just that it stops really being meaningful. And the poem captures that in a powerful and profound way, the idea that death is full of gold, each person freed from the material poverty they might have known. But that in this underworld, at least, it brings no comfort. It’s hollow, as wealth is in many ways, without a human element to make it vital. Without life to make it important. A wonderful read!
  • “From the Ashes Flew the Ladybug” by Alexandra Seidel (short story) - A haunting story that finds Féli near death at the opening. Abused and broken. But not dead. And able to make a bargain with a strange being who appears to her. For revenge. For life. For so much more. The piece is aching in its movements, sharp in its decisions, and beautiful from start to finish. The work moves through eras, through lives, through art, in interesting and piercing ways, and I love where it goes, where it ends, a song drifting. A fantastic read! Songs, Inspiration, Art, Hel, Bargains. CW- Rape, Death/Murder/Torture, Suicide. [c4 t4]
  • “Dead Man’s Session” by John Paul Davies (poem) - A strange piece that for me follows a man murdered in plain sight and taken for a kind of ride by his killer. By Drink, who is a person or a personification. Who is the ruiner of life, the serial offender, the lurking murder. The piece takes its time through the streets, the shadowed corners of the city, the places where Drink pauses and lingers. Told in short lines, the space of the piece speaks to me of the world outside the bars, outside the thin lanes leading to sleepy taverns. Where Drink is waiting, always. A fine read!
  • “In the Window” by Patrick Lofgren (short story) - This piece finds the narrator looking at a man on their porch. A man who stands in the rain but isn’t wet. Is the inverse of wet. And there’s something sinister about the man, about the whole situation, even as the narrator is caught in inaction, hoping that through not doing anything it will mean the man will do likewise. The nature of the man, though, and how it relates to the narrator’s child, isn’t exactly clarified. The piece, with its repetitive, cyclic prose, simply recounts what happens. This visitation or vision. An omen, perhaps. A touch of something uncanny. It’s a nicely creeping piece, short but well structured and with that lingering touch to it that makes for a great read! Houses, Family, Rain, Doors. CW- Home Invasion. [c2 t4]
  • “The Sausage Makers” by Amelia Gorman (poem) - This piece seems to re-imagine the Fates not as weavers but as sausage makers. Where each life is a sausage of different lengths, each awaiting the butcher to bring them to market. The piece speaks of blood and viscera, the ugly side of things, the parts of life you don’t really want to witness. Because people don’t want to see the sausage being made, but they want to eat the sausages. Because they are delicious. At the same time, though, the piece seems to be saying something about how live and death is treated, wrapped in meat, and governed by a butcher. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s well worth spending some time with!
  • “I Had Never Been a Candle” by Fredís Moon (short story) - This piece unfolds from the perspective of a dead person, Emilio, who died of a illness (a pandemic, and one that caused his body to be burned rather than buried). And the piece treats faith and family in tender and complex ways, showing Emilio drifting through the lives of those who survived him, staying mostly in a candle, though not always. The story is moving and careful, touching on ceremony and belief, faith and loss. And I love the way it centers transformation. Change. Death not as a horror but as a shift, and one that holds beauty and potential even as grief persists. It’s a wonderful read! Family, Candles, Food, Transformations, Faith. CW- Death, Illness/Pandemic. [c3 t3]
  • “Moonwalk on a Night Sky” by Nwuguru Chidiebere Sullivan (poem) - A piece told in couplets, space breaking lines and thoughts. For me the piece seems to trace around conflict, the feel serene but something about it for me seeming to cover over a tragedy, a violence. The narrator is speaking to another, a “you” and they seem to mean so much to each other even as they also seem now to have been separated. By death? If so, whose? Whatever the case, the piece for me seems to be searching for a place to host their reunion. A place more secure than the Earth proved for them. Where they can be together. It’s a yearning piece, beautiful and with a touch of haunting, and it’s a great way to close out the issue!
A new The Deadlands and it’s full of death! Which really shouldn’t be a surprise. Death here is occasionally personified, embodied either in a creepy way or a more compassionate way. It’s experienced in different ways by the various characters and narrators. As a release from something terrible. As a separation from family. As a strangeer visiting. Each take on death weaves together, showing the many faces of something that all people will know. The great leveler, which is not to say everyone experiences it the same way. A great issue!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #342 (2 short stories total)
  • “No Say” by Jonathan Louis Duckworth (short story) - This piece finds a community on the border of the strange and dangerous. The Fold, an authoritarian place where Masters have extreme control over their families and where “sin” is met with Unsaying, a literal unmaking that renders a person like a ghost. For Tadie, it all itches, something that has grave implications. And when she’s taken by her father, her Master, to track down her errant and queer brother, things come to a head in the wilderness around the Fold. People are lost. And Tadie finds her way toward a resolution. It’s a grim and tense piece, difficult and wrenching, but ultimately one about resistance and resilience, and it makes for a wonderful read! Family, Community, Queer Characters, Magic, Bees. CW- Violence, Abuse, Blood/Death. [c4 t4]
  • “The Black Rainbow” by Denzel Xavier Scott (short story) - This is a grim piece that finds the narrator not really like everyone else. Powered in a way that isn’t impossible in her land. Auspicious. But more than that. Born from a corpse and with a hunger insider her that can’t be contained. That takes from the living and makes them...not. And the piece circles her tragedy and her origin, weaving together this story about where she came from, the strangeness and horror of it, and the powerlessness she feels in the face of her hunger and the call to kill, from voices she doesn’t really understand, but can’t resist. It’s a piece that really dives into the pulls to be “normal” when that’s not possible, and the tragedy of this specific case. It’s unflinching in its detail, and a great read! Orphans/Orphanages, Family, Seas, Powers, Boats. CW- Death, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Death of a Parent/Family, Violence/Murder/Removing Eyeballs. [c5 t5]
Both stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies are grim and difficult. Feature familes being torn apart, killing each other. And feature narrators who want to escape from that cycle, from death and love, and find something like freedom. But who keep on being pulled back into situations where they might be hurt, or hurt others. A strong issue!

Diabolical Plots #81 (2 short stories total)
  • “Forced Fields” by Adam Gaylord (short story) - This story follows Abi as she falls into a kind of trap meant for people who are out in public without a personal forcefield, something that is illegal and, apparently, rather dangerous. Because skinners are waiting, hoping to catch people violating the law. The piece is short but uses the space to reveal this setting that’s ripe with corruption, with laws designed to squeeze people of time and resources in the guise of safety. A familiar thing, and handled with some action and just a bit of mystery and maybe even romance, in the end. A great read! Force Fields, Laws, Chases, Queer MC(?). CW- Aggressive Capitalism. [c2 t3]
  • “Lies I Never Told You” by Jaxton Kimble (short story) - A beautiful and touching story told by the daughter of a man who can write the future. Only write it, though, and it’s in notes that he’ll warn her about what to avoid. How to skirt around problems, how to find fortunate circumstances. And as the story moves the characters are revealed as more complicated, the father having a history that he’s not really said, that he can only write, because it’s there he can capture the truth. And I love how the piece looks at truth, the truths that are written on hearts. That can’t always be said because sometimes it’s too hard. Sometimes only by writing it down can it be properly captured. And it’s just such a warm and lovely story about family and identity. Wonderful work! Family, Growing Up, Prophecy, Trans MC, Queer Characters, School. CW- Misgendering/Deadnaming (implied/institutional), Death of a Parent/Spouse. [c3 t3]
This issue of Diabolical Plots features two very different stories. One fast and furious, featuring a chase. One slower and weaving together a look at identity and family. One near future science fiction, one contemporary fantasy. Quite different, but with a nice contrast and balance to them. One tense and brash, one careful and emotional. A really nice issue!

Works read this year to date: 1204 stories, 349 poems (+21 stories, +10 poems)

So I made it to 31 reviews this week, which isn’t super high but also I am tired. Profoundly profoundly tired. Part of that is trying to keep up with Suikovember and finding it difficult to do around my reviewing (go figure, writing 30k+ words on top of the amount of reviewing I do is difficult). Part of it is that I’m still somehow having housework done for the new roof despite having thought that was going to be done in a week. Haha no. More like two months. Sigh. Plus nonprofit work and having a relationship and pets and glob. And I’m not even out of the woods for unexpected releases, as there’s a huge Augur issue that must have landed recently that I need to cover. Or should. Indeed.

Next week is going to be mostly covering what I can that I know about. Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, maybe the new Augur or khōréō. Some Escape Artist stuff. Anything I can heading into December. December. My last month of dedicated reviews. The light at the end of the tunnel. Shit.

Anyway, I’m hanging in there. In media, I mercifully finished Wallander and hubs and I checked out Maigret (a bit of a departure for Mr. Bean but he does well in the role). It’s a bit of a dry show, and not really concentrating on the deductive powers of the titular inspector so much as on his process and procedure. Not bad, all told, though also nothing to really drop what you’re doing to check out. After that, we’ve started a rewatch of the Doctor Blake Mysteries. It’s Australian! And it’s a show we’ve seen a bit of before, though I’m not sure we saw all of it. It’s good so far, though Dr. Blake himself is a strange character, seeming both a rebel and establishment at the same time. Anyway, it’s all right so far. We’ll see if there’s something terrible waiting here like there was with Wallander. Hopefully not.

Reading-wise I haven’t gotten much further in Alpha Flight. Reading the stuff with Talisman, Shaman’s daughter. Some solid work, and some rather creepy sequences well pulled off by writer and artist John Byrne. And that’s about it for me. Cheers!


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