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!
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #343 (2 short stories total)
- “Deep in the Gardener’s Barrow” by Tobi Ogundiran (short story) - This piece finds Iná running for her life with her little brother. Through a forest that is suddenly silent. Into a forest that was once a garden. But stopped being controlled long ago. And now has desires of its own that mean that Iná’s family needs to go. The piece is tense and nicely paced with some nice action sequences and some gutting moments. The pain and challenge that Iná goes through is visceral and intense, but she shows how she is equal to it, how she has the power to win the day in her veins, in her blood. It’s a triumphant piece, if a bit bittersweet, and it makes for a wonderful read! Plants, Trees, Family, Fire, Gardening, Feasts. CW- Death of a Parent/Sibling, Torture. [c3 t4]
- “The Source” by Mattias Carosella (short story) - This story finds a narrator who is a kind of guide. A kind of magic user, a tangama, who starts the story just wanting to enjoy a meal. But who instead is approached by a man demanding assistance in reaching a special and dangerous place. One where he can get something he’s lost. And it’s up to the narrator to try and protect him as he goes, desite finding him infuriating. Because he is a man and acts like one in so many annoying ways. For all that, though, there’s still something that seems to draw the narrator to him, and it makes for a compelling, interesting read! Magic, Guides, Swamps, Boats, Birds. CW- Death/Violence. [c3 t3]
This issue deals with trips into dangerous spaces. Spaces full of trees and shadows, mists and mysteries. Where hungry things are lurking. And where the narrators of these stories are trying to protect someone. They’re not always successful. The works are interesting and magical and dangerous, the pacing tight and the action intense. It’s a solid and nicely paired issue!
Strange Horizons 11/15/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
- “Dragons” by Teresa Milbrodt (short story) - This story delves into the messy lives of the narrator and their partner, Mandy, and the game they play where they fight a dragon, and sometimes it kills them, and there’s the danger that somtime, when it kills them, they’ll die for real. And yet they’re addicted to it, not for the thrill exactly, but because there’s so little they seem to have control of in their lives. Only small things. Small kindnesses and rebellions. Small actions that make up something as big as love. As big as life. And it’s a beautiful and tender story of love and trying, about life and the way it can be grinding, can be depressing, but how it can be warm and kind and worth it, at least a lot of the time. Just a really great read! Relationships, Dragons, Video Games, Queer Characters. CW- Addiction, Death, Depression. [c3 t3]
- “The Giantess Angrboða Drowns All the Mirrors in the House When Her Husband Loki Leaves” by Madeline Grigg (poem) - This piece speaks to me of change, of relationships, of being in a place with someone where you see them one way and only through distance realize that’s not what was happening. That’s not who they were. Here it’s Loki the narrator is thinking about, and the way that the narrator related to him, to her, to them. The love that the narrator had, and the way that it has slipped into something else. Not hatred, really. But freedom. And waking up that has this power, this beauty, that I really like, the final part a way of keeping something of Loki but probably not in the way he’d appreciate. Tossing out what doesn’t work anymore and seeing freedom in something empowering. A great read!
For me this issue looks at some relationships that maybe aren’t always the “healthiest.” While at the same time tossing out the window some of those definitions of “healthy” because they’re built around false assumptions or values that don’t leave room for people to be their messy selves. And in recognizing the the world sometimes doesn’t leave room for “health” for everything, the works are able to complicate what relationships can be, and how they can work (or not) for the people in them. Some great reads!
GigaNotoSaurus 11/2021 (1 novella total)
- “Every Word a Play” by Meridel Newton (novella) - This piece takes a page from Shakespeare in looking at the Fae, beginning with a young attendant to Queen Titania. And the daughter whose birth kills her. And the promise the Queer makes after that. The story is framed as this child, grown, telling her history as a kind of warning about the Faerie. About their lies and their tricks and their traps. All the ways a mortal can blunder and almost be damned for it. The piece is interesting and magical and deep, spanning a great deal of Faerie and its Summer and Winter Courts. Where the narrator, Altea, must navigate and try to stay alive and lose most of what she gains. There are plots and plots, and the ending comes as a final warning but also a kind of relief, a rush of freedom. Which in the Faerie Realms is the greatest treasure of all. A wonderful read! Faeries, Bargains, Courts, Family, Stories. CW- Death of a Parent, Betrayal. [c3 t4]
It’s a novella at GigaNoroSaurus for November, and one that looks at the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, at the different Queens of the Faeries and the mortal girl who ends up as wards to both of them. Protected but imprisoned by them, and growing more and more frustrated with their lies and games the oldler she gets. It’s a sharp piece and a well built world of magic, bargains, and betrayal. A great issue!
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #50 (5 novelettes, 3 poems total)
- “The Reprieve” by Darrell Schweitzer (novelette) - A strange story that finds a prince being told a story by an intruder, and a plot unfolding that brings that prince far outside the bounds of his expectations. Into the realm of dreams, bordering the land of the dead. Away from his home and back again but always moving in the same direction. Downstream. Toward a fate that he already knows, but isn’t really able to avoid. It’s a neat bit of work, deep and well built, and worth spending some time with. A great read! Family, Nobility, Dreams, Gods, Prophecies, Stories. CW- Death/Murder. [c3 t4]
- “The Lost Prince” by Milton Davis (novelette) - This piece follows a boy fleeing for his life from the usurping violence of his father. Losing everything. Or almost everything. Not his life, at least, and with that he is brought up, protected, even loved by a new family. But his past is not something he can hide from, and eventually it catches up with him, and things get a bit hectic again. The piece is well paced and nicely action-packed, the world building interesting and the character work solid. It’s a story that sets up a larger narrative, that acts as the opening for what one hopes is the boy’s, Zakaria’s, education in his legacy, and his move to set right the wrongs that were done by his uncle. A wonderful read! Camels, Family, Powers, Royalty, Deserts. CW- Death/Death of a Parent, Violence/Blood. [c3 t3]
- “The Carnival Job” by Mark Finn (novelette) - Larcen is in a bit of a bind. Prison, specifically. And in order to get out he needs to agree to a heist on behalf of the man whose terrible assassination plan landed Larcen behind bars to begin with. But, lacking options, he agrees, and begins to put together his team. The piece is quick and fun, light hearted and nicely sarcastic, and the character work pops as each of the characters has personality and style. The plot is at the same time straight forward but manages a few twists and turns so that the reveal of what “really happened” is fun and clever. All told, a romp of a story, and a delightful read! Heists, Teams, Treaties, Magic, Bargains. CW- Prisons/ACAB. [c2 t2]
- “Father-of-Rivers, A Tale of Azatlán” by Gregory Mele (novelette) - This story finds pirate captain Sarrumos leading his men from disaster to distaster. Away from pursuit but into thirst and hunger and, perhaps, the waiting jaws of some monsters. Both of the kind that might be hunting the rivers they’re on, and the more human monsters looking to take advantage of just that. The piece balances its action sequences with mystery as Sarrumos and his first mate Ollad work through the dangers around them and come out, if not exactly unscathed, then at least still alive. A thrilling and great read! Monsters, Rivers, Pirates, Gods. CW- Murder, Death, Violence/Blood/Mutilation. [c4 t3]
- “The Orb of Semerkhet, or Sathano the Wanderer” by Jeremy Farkas (novelette) - This story finds Dalia on a mission to steal an ancient orb as part of her innitiation into a group of desert bandits. Things go pear-shaped, though, when the orb’s theft awakens an equally ancient terror, one that isn’t going to stop until it gets back what was stolen. Add in death and betrayal, and Dalia is luck to come across Sathano, a man on a journey of his own but handy in a fight and willing to help, for a price. The piece is another that handles its action well, weaving a story of near misses into a breathless misadventure that nearly ends in tragedy, but instead finds something a little more hopeful. A fantastic read! Theft, Queer MC, Tombs, Orbs, Monsters, Camels. CW- Death/Undeath, Violence/Blood/Murder. [c3 t3]
- “Shaft Tomb” by Ann K. Schwader (poem) - This piece imagines a history that stretches back further than ancient Egypt. Where under even those ancient monuments there are truths and horrors that have been covered and, now, lost to time. Lost, when they should not have been, for in the rediscovery there’s the risk of unleashing something truly horrible into the world again. Long buried, but never fully erased. It’s a creeping read, with a great sinking feel, a waiting for a moment of folly and catastrophe. And a great read!
- “How the Rose Princes Came to Life” by Elizabteth R. McClellan (poem) - This poem tells a story about witches and their powers, and their provinces. How they are responsible for the mistreated children. Stealing them in the night to deliver them to better fates than abuse and death. And how they have to take action when two princes are on the verge of being so treated. Have to take them and weave the illusion that something else happened. To keep the boys safe. More safe than those who would have harmed them, and who earned themselves the anger of witches. A neat concept and well captured, the wiles and wisdoms of witches, the ways they are kind, and the ways they are sharp. A wonderful read!
- “The Bowsprit Mermaid and the Stemhead Dragon” by Katherine Quevedo (poem) - This piece acts as part cautionary tale not for humans for for ship’s figureheads that yearn too much to be like humans, to kiss, to touch, and in that touching find disaster, crash, and loss. The piece is quick and cyclical, giving it a feel like a fable to me, and the moral is all to clear as the poem details the desires and folly of the figureheads. And still there is something there, something that speaks to the beauty of yearning, that even in the disaster, they might not regret the choice. It’s a fun piece, and a lovely way to close out the issue!
It’s a special anniversary issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly with five(!) novelettes and three poems. The pieces range but do manage a pretty good thematic cohesion, with issues of inheritance and theft being front and center in almost all of them. This might take the shape of a Shakespearean tragedy, an uncle usurping a throne, or might be more of a romping heist, but whatever the case, the stories keep things moving quickly, with plenty of action, a bit of humor, and a touch of heart. The poems nicely round out the offerings, and it’s a very strong issue worth checking out, and a wonderful celebration for a publication reaching its fiftieth issue! Cheers!
khōréō magazine #4 (5 short stories total)
- “Tomatoes” by Eugenia Triantayyllou (short story) - This story finds a village where two families of witches grow empowered foodstuffs--one corn, and the narrator’s family’s tomatoes. It’s more than just growing them, though. The witches become roots for the plants, become a source of power for the magic of their produce. And the narrator is trying to avoid that, wants to escape the cycle of sacrifice and death that the produce requires, and is convinced that they’re not the sibling who is the true inheritor of the tomatoes. The truth, though, is more complicated and more difficult, more full of loss, and there’s still a sense of breaking cycles, but not in the way the narrator might have thought. It’s a lovely and wrenching story, and a wonderful read! Tomatoes, Produce, Witches, Family, Payment. CW- Death, Sacrifice. [c3 t4]
- “Más chileno que...” by Lily Raphaela Philpott (short story/flash) - This work finds a narrator pulled to the country of her birth, to Chile, carrying with them the name of their mother as a string of pearls clutched in their mouth. And the piece explores the ways that they relate to that name and to their homes. It shows a vulnerability and fear in the narrator surrounding the name, the pearls, but also a strength. It’s a secret their keep, a weight, but it gives them resolve and connections, makes them a part of something they can belong to, even as it brings some insecurity as well. It’s a lovely and powerful read! Family, Travel, Names, Pearls. [c1 t3]
- “My Mother’s Samosas” by Malavika Praseed (short story) - This piece centers desire and relationships. A daughter who suspects that there is some magic in her mother’s samosas that bewitches her father. And through that she comes to confront her own feelings about her mother, the layers of feelings that make her secretly wish her parents would break up. And I like how the story sort of shows how this desire is a form of self-rejection and internalized prejudice, and brings the narrator to a place where she can see more and appreciate more her mother, and it makes for a complex but incredibly rewarding read! Food, Family, Samosas, School, Relationships. CW- Racism/Microaggressions. [c2 t3]
- “Review for: Izakaya Tanuki” by J.L. Akagi (short story/flash) - This story, framed as a rather glowing review of a Japanese Restaurant in New York, is a warm and enthusiastic journey for the reviewer as they relate their first time at said restaurant. And I like the way the story handles world building, these small details that imply a world very similar to our own but also very different. One where the undead walk among humans and where magic isn’t so unusual a thing. The piece is fun and the framing is wonderful, all of it making for a delightful read! Restaurants, Food, Undead, Queer MC, Reviews, Memories. [c1 t1]
- “Sorry We Missed You!” by Aun-Juli Riddle (short story) - A beautiful story about family and travel as told through a mother and daughter running a restaurant space ship, aiming now for Earth and perhaps the last meeting with the narrator’s grandmother, who isn’t doing well. The piece moves through them preparing meals and moving through their memories. The chance they took launching their own floating potato restaurant, the freedom of space, and the nostalgia that food can tap into. It’s warm and it’s vividly rendered, and though it walks the edge of tension and fear and loss, it remains full of hope and love. So good! Family, Restaurants, Potatoes, Foods, Memories, Space. CW- Illness, Death of a Parent. [c2 t3]
The latest from khōréō is officially a food themed issue and it looks at the ways that food and flavors can tie people to place. To people. To family. To memories. How food is an important--sometimes subtle, sometimes not--part of cultural and identity. How it can bring people together and threaten to tear people apart. Some stunning works!
Flash Fiction Online #98 (3 short stories total)
- “The Dog Who Buried the Sea” by Andy Oldfield (short story/flash) - A story told as a kind of myth that does good work with the ways that corvid’s pass on information, remember people and faces, and seem in general to tell stories. Here that’s made into the myth of the Bone Man and Bone Dog, who essentially just gave some birds scraps of food, but who become these epic figures, prophetic and worthy of being immortalized in bird memory. It’s a fun read, warm and touching as it remembers, and as it passes along some hope to future generations. A wonderful story! Birds, Stories/Myths, Dogs, Food. CW- Death. [c3 t3]
- “The Days on Europa Were Long” by Kyle Richardson (short story/flash) - A wrenching story that finds some sort of AI/android sent out to learn the ways of terraforming Europa from the man in charge. Only the narrator, this android, isn’t aware that it’s a mission complicated by the way they were made, to resemble a child that this man lost. The piece moves through the process of his anger and his acceptance, his decline and his sorrow and the ways that taking the narrator into his life sort of breaks him open again. It gets the job done, though, and I like how the narrator is left with that, left with the wounds of what they’ve done, left with their own grief at the role they played--a role they ended up leaning into and inhabiting much more than they were likely supposed to. An emotionally heavy but love read! Terraforming, Space, Europa, AIs/Androids. CW- Death of a Child, Death. [c3 t4]
- “A Time There Was” by Hastings Kidd (short story/flash) - This story features a kind of standoff. Between a composer and a dog. A hellhound. An omen of his death. Recovering from a bypass, the composer yearns to cut through the shadow darkening his work, and I like how that happens, how it teeters so close to destruction and death. How he has to turn and face it, and see that it’s not what he expected. It’s quiet and it’s a beautifully worked scene, personal and symbolic while working strongly in the real sense that the composer and this dog meet, and see each other. A fantastic read! Music, Dogs, Queer MC, Seas. CW- Surgery/Illness/Death. [c3 t3]
The editorial to this issue of Flash Fiction Online hits the thematic ties rather nicely, noting the presence of death in all of the stories. Of mourning of a sort. Grief that mingles with something else. Purpose. Joy. The sense that though someone is moving out of life, they are leaving something behind. It’s a beautifully resonating issue!
Strange Horizons 11/22/2021 (1 poem total)
- “The First Perpetual Motion Machine” by Natasha King (poem) - This piece speaks to me of energy, and the way that people expect it, and take it. In some ways I feel there’s something being said about the exploitation of mothers, the way that children, that everyone, expects so much and gives back perhaps so little in that relationship. Claiming that it’s this inexhaustable resource when, really, the mother in question is probably pretty fucking exhausted. And yet at the same time the piece seems to me to speak about love, and the infinite love that can exist, that doesn’t have an end or a limit. And in those two veins there’s a lot going on with my reading of the piece, and how it imagines energy, and love, and people. And it’s a wonderful read very much worth spending some time with!
Just covering the poem in this issue of Strange Horizons, though there’s a lot of nonfiction to enjoy as well, including a new old timey radio review which are always a delight. The poem is really interesting, though, and stands nicely on its own, so definitely check that out!
Neon Hemlock 2021 Novella Series #3 (1 novella total)
- & This is How to Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda (novella) – I was fortunate enough to get to blurb this book, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give a bit of a review as well. When I began reading it, I was actually struck by some serious déjà vu, and realized only later that this is an expansion on a story that appeared at Fantasy Magazine (which I very much liked at the time). It follows a young woman, Nyobaki, after the death by suicide of her brother, Baraka. The piece jumps between the characters, between past and present, between possibilities, to deliver an emotionally wrenching and powerful experience. And where the shorter work ended in one place, this novella does a lot more with the added room, complicating the ideas of grief and guilt, hope and healing, in some profound ways. It’s not an easy read by any means, but it is beautifully told and innovative, using form and voice in some very sharp ways. A brilliant read!
So this makes three out of four of the Neon Hemlock 2021 novellas that I’ve read and covered this year. Only one to go, and if it’s anything like the other three, I’ll be in for a treat. Also just as a weird aside I never quite get used to seeing blurbs by me appear on works. Honored to get to say some nice words about this stellar novella, though. Indeed!
Works read this year to date: 1222 stories, 354 poems (+18 stories, +5 poems)
So a lot of this week was curtailed by a number of things, mostly the holidays, where I just couldn’t get myself to do much aside from recover during my “days off.” Plus, as said above, some projects that I can’t really talk about, but which have added some extra work load. Boo. But, despite only getting to twenty three works this week, that includes two novellas and five novelettes. So I mean we’re moving right along. For numbers, I’ll probably break 1600 works for the year covered next week. Not sure if I’ll hit 1700 this calendar year but even if not I’ll be breaking 7000 total and really anything after that is just gravy. Close to twenty novellas, over 100 novelettes, over 350 poems, probably around 1200 short stories all told. Just a lot, okay.
In other news, I did spend some of the break watching some shows. I finished my rewatch of Cowboy Bebop, and I think for the most part it holds up quite well. My main issues with it isn’t anything in its execution. The writing is good, the visuals are amazing, and it really is a strong bit of storytelling. No, my main issue is that it’s so bleak, and in a way that I just didn’t particularly like. It does make sense, given everything, but it falls into a very fatalistic place, a Chosen One narrative where Spike feels unable to just let things go because he’s the only one who can kill Vicious. And yawn, Vicious is a boring villain. I do not like him. I would have preferred if the show had done something a bit more revolutionary, like had Spike and Julia return to the ship and leave with Jet and Faye, picking up Ed and Ein on the way to somewhere better. Have Vicious fall because he really is the worst, and after all the blood spilled I’d think someone is going to succeed in taking him out. Have it be a nobody. A random bit of violence to close the book on him. Just…eh, that’s it. I do get why it went where it did. I just would have preferred a different ending, if that makes sense.
I also watched the second part of the Masters of the Universe cartoon that has Kevin Smith involved. I think it’s a pretty neat show, for all it’s largely an exercise in nostalgia. But it’s challenging that nostalgia in some interesting ways. I’ll be interested to see where the third part goes, but I think it’s tapping into that feeling of frustration with storylines that rely too heavily on inheritance and the status quo. So yeah, enjoying that.
Still reading through the Uncanny X-Men title, though taking some time to catch up some related mini-series. I did catch up on Alpha Flight, then went back to Uncanny, then got distracted with Secret Wars II and now the Nightcrawler and Longshot miniseries. Living the dream, obviously. The Beyonder is a mess of a character and the Secret Wars II series follows that. Not a huge fan, but probably not a huge surprise. Meanwhile, in the main X-book, we get the trial of Magneto, lots more with Rachel, and Storm returning to the team. Still grumpy they retconned Storm’s victory over Cyclops as magical intervention like Storm couldn’t beat him. But there it is. Anyway, that’s about it for now. Just trying to hang in there, and I hope you all are hanging in there as well. Cheers!