Friday, December 10, 2021

Quick Sips 12/10/2021

People might have noticed that I’m slowing down as I near the end of the year. Which is very true. It’s unfortunate and something I was hoping to avoid, but mostly it’s also a very good sign. Not in that I’m giving myself more time to process or anything like that. The opposite, in fact! I’m actually very hard at work on something that I can’t announce yet, but that I am very hopeful will be a thing I can talk about and squee about with you all soon. It’s just put a lot on my plate that’s just a bit…unfortunate for making it through 2021 stories in a timely manner. But worry not! I will indeed be getting that all done. This week I’m catching up on November’s Fusion Fragment and a special issue from Strange Horizons, and getting to December’s Hexagon. Not the hugest of weeks, but if only you knew what all I was getting through otherwise. The suspense!

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!

Hexagon #7 (5 short stories total)
  • “I Grow” by Addison Smith (short story/flash) - A strange piece told from the perspective of a being, seemingly once human, who becomes something else. Coral. A whole reef. And more than that, ever growing and transforming, their consciousness shifting, at first aware of what they were, perhaps what happened to them, and then aware of more than that. It’s a piece that for me speaks to change following loss, the narrator finding their world drowned, and so adapting to still survive and thrive. A fine read! Reefs, Seas, Docks, Growth, Transformations. CW- Military/Bombs, Death/Blood. [c3 t3]
  • “Undersea Lightning” by Uchechukwu Nwaka (short story) - In a future where climate change has claimed most of coastal Nigeria, Femi is a freshly trained member of a diving team responding to a distress call of one of the larger submersible ships. What happened is uncertain, but things don’t exactly look good, and despite this being her first mission, there’s really no guarantee she’ll make it to her second. It’s a tense and chilling story, grim but striking in the terrible beauty it finds in the deep shadows of the waters. It’s a wonderful read! Seas, Algea, Submarines, Diving, Fuel. CW- Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Akela” by Dom Cunningham (short story) - Akela is on a mission, and not an entirely happy one. One that will return him to where his life began, when he was a project of a malevolent scientist bent on domination. A project of replication, though Akela was saved from that fate. Now he’s back to close the book on the “doctor” who created him, and in doing so revisits his origins and his future. Everything swirls around the horrors he finds deep underwater, and how he tries to salvage from those horrors something warm and beautiful. It’s a lovely and carefully built story that comes together nicely and is well worth checking out! Seas, Tentacles, Mech Suits, Science!, Family, Flowers. CW- Unethical Experimentations, Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Epicenter” by Jennifer Lee Rossman (short story) - Val’s a crypto-seismologist, or at least she plays one in real life, as she’s been recruited to hopefully clear a corporation of blame concerning some recent earthquakes near a copper mine in Mongolia. Earthquakes that Val believes are being caused by...death worms. The piece is fun and quickly paced, moving Val through what might be a horrifying situation but with a sense of adventure and discovery that help to overcome the doubt and danger of what’s going on. It’s a romp of a story, and a very entertaining read! Mines, Deserts, Earthquakes, Corporations, Monsters. CW- Death, Ecological Damage. [c3 t2]
  • “Cephalopod Heart” by Lis Vilas Boas (short story) - This story follows a colonization effort of humans on an alien world completely covered in water. Things...aren’t going well, and Ava is part of an experiment that will use biotech to make her better able to survive. In the hopes of being able to find news ways that humans can survive on the planet. But there’s a lot more going on, and secrets that Ava can only begin to understand when she has a cephalopod heart. It’s a strange but compelling read with plenty of twists and danger to make for a rather breathless, exciting experience. A fantastic read! Seas, Cephalopods, Science!, Biotech, Family. CW- Wars, Human Experimentation, Death/Blood, Guns. [c4 t4]
The latest from Hexagon has a very aquatic feel for it, or perhaps is united by its focus on monsters. Or both, really. Seas and monstrosity weave through the stories, on Earth or under alien waters. There are moments of humor, moments of horror, and always an eye on transformation, change, and harmony, as people try to overcome human prejudices and violences to reach for something healing and whole. A strong issue!

Fusion Fragment #9 (8 short stories total)
  • “Each Her Own” by M.C. Benner Dixon (short story) - A story about growing up, about not fitting into your own body, as Lora begins the piece on her dislike of her arms. More than that, though, the piece has a feel of yearning to it, a powerlessness that is captured in being a child and having to go to school, having to cope with a body that is changing and always judged. And I like the way the story plays with a kind of strange magic in the form of an angel that visits her. It’s a quiet piece, soft and gentle but moving around some large and thorny issues, and it makes for a lovely read! School, Family, Angels, Homework, Clothes. CW- Bullying. [c3 t3]
  • “We’re All Friends Here” by Michelle Ann King (short story) - This story follows a movie shoot, while in the “real world” of the story, humans are largely without war or crime...kinda. The story is supposed to be about dignity, about the futility of resistance and rebellion. but somewhere in there the lead actor starts thinking about the world, and what it means to resist, to rebel. Not even violently, but to acknowledge that not everything is okay, that some things, regardless of how inevitable they are, deserve to be recognized. It’s a piece that layers nicely, showing the trajectory of the character in the movie against that of the actor, and everything being complicated and messy and real. It’s a wonderful read, and definitely a piece to spend some time with! Movies, Acting, Coffee, Resistance, Rejuvenation. CW- Death, Dystopia, Guns, Cancer. [c4 t4]
  • “Katabasis” by Jay Harper (short story) - A strange piece about grief and loss, haunting and networks. Clove is a courier, and one who was a part of a secret program that seems to have killed the rest of the people in it. But maybe not. Maybe it only trapped them without bodies in a kind of afterlife. A kind of underworld. And maybe, like Orpheus, someone can go in and get them out. The piece is heavy and tense, strange at times and looking clearly at desperation and yearning, and a character very used to losing, and her meeting someone who always gets what she wants. A great read! Networks, Siblings, Couriers, Bargains, Orpheus. CW- Death/Loss/Grief. [c3 t4]
  • “Your Name is Annie” by M. Ian Bell (short story) - A story about memories and memory loss as the narrator tries to survive a world that has been decimated by a disease that causes people to forget. Everything. Each other. How to read. How to care for themselves. And amidst that she’s trying to hold on, trying to care for her father, trying to do what she can to remember, even as it’s all slipping away. It’s a harrowing read, anchored by a sense that things must get better, that humanity will come through, only for the proof of that to become increasingly and perhaps vanishingly thin. A difficult read, but a powerful one! Family, Food, Eggs, Journals, Memories. CW- Memory Loss, Disease/Pandemics, Death. [c4 t4]
  • “But I Want to Keep the Light Inside Me” by Pearse Anderson (short story) - A strange piece that finds a group of people chasing crashed alien ships for the lights inside that induce a feeling of love in humans. The lights are valuable, and the characters are scavengers of them, exploiting religious exemptions to enter the crashed ships to claim their prizes. Things aren’t straightforward or easy, though, and the piece moves from feelings of love to longing, an addicted need for something and the dangers love like that can create. A wild ride, and a fine read! Space Ships, Aliens, Lights, Love, Scavenging. CW- Violence, Guns, Blood. [c3 t4]
  • “Before We Drown” by Ewen Ma (short story) - Deko has returned to their home to try and save a friend. Full of a certainty that they can, because they went through the proper channels. Fought in a way that the authorities like. But, in the end, that doesn’t help them. No more than it helped their friends to try and rebel against the unjust Sea. They’ve all ended the same, and the story follows them as they confront that, as they try to preserve something against the weight and ferocity of a corrupt system. It’s a grim read, heavy and obliterating, btu it’s also resilient and stubborn, sharply examining what it is to live in a rigged system, where rebellions are undermined and coopted as quickly as they’re conceived. A great read! Records, Non-binary MC, Homes, Resistance, Islands, Seas. CW- Prisons, ACAB, Death/Illness/Pain. [c3 t4]
  • “The Pilgrims of Babble” by Alexandra Seidel (short story) - A story about a game and a surging problem. Players being struck by an aphasia that leaves them unable to communicate in the real world, but inside the game lets them interact with the environment and the others players. Told entirely in messages between people involved with tracking this outbreak of the aphasia, the story shows the possible emergence of something new. A language. A beauty that was unexpected but might be tapping into what the designers really wanted...a spontaneous development of language and art. A kind of raw intelligence perhaps trying to communicate. It’s a moving piece, and wonderfully told! Video Games, Virtual Reality, Messages, Communication, Languages. CW- Aphasia/Pandemics. [c3 t4]
  • “Not Poppy, Nor Mandragora” by Jane Sand (novelette) - Lev work in psychiatry at a hospital, and though he’s good at his job, the stress of it, the demand of it, have pushed him into self medicating using a kinda illegal implant that allows him fine control over his own body and brain. But that doesn’t take away the strain of what he’s doing. Only really masks it behind an illusion of control. One that, eventually, comes free. the piece looks at burnout in some interesting ways, the toll that medical professionals pay to try and help people. To lose people. To have to do the best under circumstances that are...less than ideal. And it looks at that, at not wanting to let down other people, not wanting to be sick, not wanting to break. It’s a painful and moving piece that traces the fracturing of a doctor. It’s visceral and difficult and brilliantly done. A great read! Implants, Employment, Pscychiatry, School. CW- Hospitals, Depression/Anxiety/Mental Illness/Illness, Addiction/Substance Abuse, Trauma. [c5 t4]
This issue of Fusion Fragment covers a lot of ground/ and for me the thematic lines that run through it have to do with memory and with loss. The works find characters who are struggling against great weights. The weight of time or corruption. Against the need to make things better, and the inability to do just that. The characters here are dealing with decline. With the unbearable cruelty of it, and the desperation to gain back something that’s been lost. But that can’t be. There’s some sharp work here, and on the whole it’s a powerful issue, if often a very grim one.

Strange Horizons 11/29/2021 (2 short stories, 3 poems total)
  • “Little Lila” by Susannah Rand (short story) - A story about growing up, and about fitting in, and about the pressures to conform. To conform when conforming means having money and the things that money buys. For Lila, her desire for friendship, for connection, for status, surrounds her lack of a Nat, an electronic device that can alter appearances, and her friendship with a wealthy neighbor, Macy. The piece is heavy and quiet as Lila wants more and more to have something she’s not even sure of. Something that will make her feel better, when everything just seems to make her feel worse. The piece looks at authenticity and vulnerability in heavy and moving ways, and while it’s not an easy read, it’s very much worth checking out! School, Appearances, Family, Trees, Friendship. CW- Violence/Blood, Aggressive Capitalism, Bullying. [c4 t4]
  • “Constellations Are Unrecognizable Here” by Andrew Joseph White (short story) - This story is set about a hospital ship sailing the galaxy, picking up people abused and injured and broken by war. Among them, who young trans men whose bodies have been incredibly injured. And the narrator, Amavon, trying to get treatment while still being seen only by his injuries. Being denied treatment because his caseworker thinks it’s better to wait. And the story really gets at the complex mes that is people making decisions about other people’s bodies. The ways that it’s allowed and encouraged. The ways that it all leads to this deep trauma and scars, even if they can’t be seen. And I love the relationship work here, too, the ways that the characters have these unreasonable expectations about each other. The ways that communication falls apart. Just incredibly good work, and a phenomenal story! Ships, Space, Trans MC, Queer MC. CW- Hospitals, Scars/Burning/Medial Experimentation/Torture. [c4 t4]
  • “The Mismanagement of Stars” by Holly Day (poem) - This piece looks at the...impracticality of imagining a field of stars unbroken and prestine. One that doesn’t account for the ways that they are actually viewed by people. Because in cities and other places that don’t get a complete view of the sky, where light pollution and just pollution muddy the skies, wipe out stars from sight, what use are the old constellations? It’s both a statement that might mourn the loss of stars but more for me seems to ask for constellations that work. That aren’t only accessible at sea or in pictures in books. That go back to the practice of just looking up at the sky and pointing out the shapes, finding stories in the lights there. It’s a poem that balances between showing what humans have lost from pollution, and asserting that people still deserve constellations wherever they are. A wonderful read!
  • “Where the Moon Smiles” by Maxwell I. Gold (poem) - This piece is a companion to the previous and takes on a much different perspective, giving voice to the moon as they look at Earth, noticing the passage of time and the movement from the days of stellar navigation to the present, where lights pearl the night all over the land masses. For me the piece speaks to change, the moon having perhaps their own constellations now to read in the lights they see on the surface. Connecting to a past that is gone but was filled with a yearning hope for the future. A future that might have arrived, even as it stretches forward. It seems to me hopeful while also holding an edge, the italicized “my friends” which seems almost cutting, it’s implication to me of a loss of connection between the moon and humanity. Between humanity and the celestial heavens. Definitely a piece to spend some time with, and a beautiful read!
  • “Are you a good witch” by Marisca Pichette (poem) - This piece for me speaks in defiance of the ways that witches have been portrayed and victimized. Made into villains and expected to melt at the touch of water. And for the witches this is something they’ve learned from as well, as much as everyone else was supposed to learn to fear and distrust them. They learned to make melting into something that isn’t a complete loss. That is defiant. That keeps in the world the magic that some people are so terrified of. Because it frees people from the mundane intolerances and prejudices and injustices. Because it’s not owned. And it’s a lovely read, full of power!
The end of November brings a special issue of Strange Horizons, the last special edition I’ll be covering in detail here at Quick Sip Reviews. And it’s all about friendship! The grim sides of it, ripe with jealousies and hurts, and the beautiful side of it, with the healing and tender and loving feelings. The works are complex, often messy, but are very much worth really diving into. It’s a fantastic issue, and from Strange Horizons, I’d expect nothing less!

Works read this year to date: 1237 stories, 357 poems (+15 stories, +3 poems)

As I said, it was a pretty short week. Eighteen reviews isn’t nothing, but I’m really prioritizing this other something at the moment, and will continue to do so. Which means I’ll be pushing December 2021 reviews well into January 2022. Oh well? Given the circumstances, I’m okay with it. Hopefully other people will be, too. Next week I hope to at least get through November’s last offerings, from Mermaids Monthly to Tor to any of the Escape Artists stories that came out. Then more deeply into December, but we’ll see how that goes. Indeed!

In other news, I’ve been watching some Doctor Blake Mysteries and still mostly enjoying it. Certainly it has its charms, though I wish all the queer stuff wasn’t tragic. At least it’s not villainous. Also watched some Hilda, which is a really cute show, lots of fun and heart and enjoying that quite a bit.

In reading, I’ve made it to the Mutant Massacre and this stretch of Uncanny is one I haven’t read too many times. It really is striking, and it’s interesting to see the team so fundamentally altered by Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty being removed from the board for a time. I also read the Nightcrawler and Longshot miniseries, and both are weird, though the Longshot one does a lot more interesting things. I do think that he makes a strong character, for all that he’s basically a mystery. But he’s bouncy and fun. Dazzler is a great addition, too, and Psylocke brings a lot as well. Just some good reading there at the moment.

Not too much to report otherwise. Just trying to get through the year and find time to do all the reviewing I want before easing into something new and exciting. Stay tuned for that, and cheers!


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