Friday, December 31, 2021

Quick Sips 12/31/2021

The slowdown continues, though at this point it’s much more about the holidays than about my other deadline, which has now passed. There’s good news associated with it, too, but I’m waiting on word on when I can actually share it. Until then, more reviews! I’m doing my best to hang in there and not fall too far behind, but there’s a bit of a mountain of works to get through this month and this is already the last post that will land in 2021. Still, I did get through Nightmare, The Dark, and GigaNotoSaurus for monthly content, and the quarterly Future Science Fiction Digest, as well as some weekly/biweekly issues from Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Strange Horizons. Lots more to do yet, but I think I can I think I can I think I can.

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!

Nightmare #111 (3 short stories, 1 poem total)
  • “The Plague Puller” by Manish Melwani (short story) - Ah Keng pulls a rickshaw of the dead in a Singapore he’d hoped to become rich in. Instead he’s scarred and tired, doing work everyone else looks down on. But it has its moments, like when he finds an old friend in need of a final rest, and the story follows that journey, as mournful and wrenching as regret and loss. But beautiful as well, in its tenderness and care. A lovely read! Rickshaws, Funerals, Friendship, Queer MC. CW- Death, Disease/Illness, Injury. [c4 t4]
  • “The Mothers” by Laur A. Freymiller (short story/flash) - A creeping story about loss and abotu a presence that isn’t known until the narrator experiences a loss profound enough to make her able to see the hidden mothers of the world. And maybe join them. It’s sharp and full of feeling, grief, and a kind of freedom. Definitely worth checking out! Relationships, Family, Mothers. CW- Death of a Child. [c4 t4]
  • “To Rectify in Silver” by Steve Toase (short story) - A story about loss and archeology. About the narrator carrying this heavy, crushing weight following a traumatic experience. And how it sinks into her, into the world at large. The horror here is slow building, uncertain, and I like the way it takes the shape of a hallucination, a dream, an obsession. And how it shrugs that off when it needs to in order to become something else shadowed and active and grim. A wonderful read! Archeology, Pictures, Employment, Monuments. CW- Death, Accidents, Violence. [c4 t4]
  • “When the Wraith Smiles” by Ali Trotta (poem) - This piece carries with a feeling of fairy tales and the sharp edges of stories. Of a hunger and a death that is lingering, waiting, and the shattering realization that comes when realizing that hunger is for *you*. The piece carries that kind of balanced dread and discovery, a finding but a finding that reflects back a terrible conclusion. The closing of teeth in a bite, or a smile. It’s an evocative piece full of a haze that clears to reveal a waiting doom, and it’s well worth spending some time with. A great read!
Nightmare closes out 2021 with a handful of prose and poetry with some slow and steady chills. The works don’t confront with immediate violence or dread. Instead they work with care, almost tenderly, but still leading to someplace shadowed by death and loss, a haven that might also be a destruction. A nicely constructed issue linked by mood and feel, confinement and freedom. A great issue!

The Dark #79 (4 short stories total)
  • “And A Piece of Coal Where Her Heart Once Beat” by Suzanne J. Willis (short story) - A devilish Christmastime story that follows Krampus as he feels his age and seeks out a successor for his role. And finds one in a wicked child who has known hunger and cruelty both. The piece doesn’t apologize or recoil from the wickedness of monster or child, instead blurring the lines between them, painting a picture that isn’t lovely, but that holds a certain grim allure, a certain pull, a beauty that rests in the eye of the beholder, or in their coal-black heart. A great read! Krampus, Holidays, Inheritence, Transformation, Wishes. CW- Death/Murder/Death of a Child, Torture. [c4 t5]
  • “Missing Dolls Around the World” by Ai Jiang (short story) - This piece finds a narrator discovering dolls. Dolls in small coffins or without coffins, but dolls that represent missing people. Missing children. People who were vulnerable, who were abused, who are lost. And sometimes they are found, their bodies, without the stories that went with them. For the narrator, though, the dolls contain that story, and have visions about the lives of the lost people. The horrors they knew, the things they were running from. It’s a denser piece, the plot on the surface this narrator thinking about the dolls, but beneath that it’s about what’s been buried, and what needs to be unearthed. A sharp read! Dolls, Coffins, Employment, Family. CW- Abuse, Violence, Death. [c4 t4]
  • “Hunger” by Matthew Cheney (short story) - A strange piece that finds Eileen traveling back to her family home to visit her only surviving close family member--her father. Her father, who was never a very warm figure. And the piece finds hungers waiting there that Eileen discovers, that she confronts, that she might even take in to some degree. The piece is visceral and raw, unsettling in its implications and action. Haunting, both literally and figuratively. And it makes for a fantastic read! Family, Hauntings, Queer Characters, Food, Flavor. CW- Death of a Parent, Suicide (completed, intense), Guns/Violence/Violence to Animals (coyote). [c5 t5]
  • “The Last Sound You Hear” by Steve Rasnic Tem (short story) - Another strange story, this one center a young sickly boy, Connor, and his Saturdays with his grandfather. About the weird lessons that happen on those days, bordering the desert. About the sounds of the human heart, and the sounds outside of that, waiting to creep in. The piece finds Connor on a number of borders, adrift and wandering, and coming back to something familiar and warm, though the lingering implications are still chilling. It’s a neat piece with the touch of a haunting! Family, Lessons, Deserts, Sounds, Hearts. CW- Death of a Child, Blood, Animal Death. [c4 t4]
The stories in December’s The Dark seem to me to center people who go missing. People who are lost themselves or who know people who are lost. And for some, being lost is a kind of freedom, is a place in itself where they can belong. But for others it is a prison they are desperate to escape, an erasure that makes hungry ghosts of them. And it’s a nice and creepy issue!

GigaNotoSaurus 12/2021 (1 novelette total)
  • “Worn” by Ada Nnadi (novelette) - Awww. This story opens to a rather grim situation. A young woman in a coma following an attempted suicide. And inside her, different Cloths, different versions of herself that tried to help her navigate the world, all wait for a possible ending. And to fill the time they decide to remember. The pain of their Owner’s life, yes, but also her joys. And the result is a moving trip through Owner’s life, her hopes and her loves and her disappointments, and a tenuous future that was almost lost. It’s beautiful and slow, the speculative element these manifestations of different moments in Owner’s life that stay with her, sisters who are able to support one another, love one another, even when Owner can’t seem to love herself. It’s warm and queer and so so so good! Definitely check it out! School, Family, Queer MC, Relationships, Clothes. CW- Suicide (attempted), Bullying, Abuse, Prejudice/Homophobia. [c4 t4]
The last GigaNotoSaurus of 2021 closes the year with a bang. With a powerful and stirring story about love and loss. Stress and anxiety. Fear an, ultimately, acceptance. it’s wonderfully drawn and emotionally resonating and I highly recommend give it a read!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #344 (2 short stories total)
  • “The Fox’s Daughter” by Richard Parks (short story) - Yamada has been a bit bored in his duty as lord, and so a favor from an old friend (and fox) to watch over her daughter (also mostly fox) is something of a needed diversion (not that he doesn’t grumble about it). And it proves to be just as much an adventure as he feared. As he hoped. It’s a fun story, quiet and capturing Yamada’s role, his distance from action and violence, but his reluctance to fully retire from the magical and dangerous worlds he’s moved through. A fine read! Foxes, Family, Governing, Illusions. CW- Illness/Demons. [c2 t2]
  • “Fall To Rise” by David Tallerman (short story) - A much more action-packed piece, this one deals with a kind of contest between condemned people as they are all put into a kind of sloped pit dotted with ledges and told that only one of them can survive. But Toro, a betrayed assassin, has a different idea of how to get through the trial, hopefully intact and free. The piece is meticulous and shows the anxiety and push of the contest, the different approaches people take, and how Toro moves towards his goal. It’s tense and tightly paced, with a nice finish, and makes for a great read! Contests/Games, Bargains, Governments, Weapons. CW- Violence/Death/Murder, Corruption, Assassins/Assassination. [c4 t4]
This issue deals with governments, though in two very different ways. One sees a man who cares about his people and wants to protect them. The other finds a city where corruption is rampant and the ruler is more interested in watching his subjects die. So the two stories might not seem similar at first glance, but are also representing two sides of a coin, and it makes for a solid issue!

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #345 (2 novelettes total)
  • “Letters from a Travelling Man” by W.J. Tattersdill (novelette) - A quiet and touching story about Horviss, a traveler on a quest of sorts. Told as a series of letters to a dear friend as he tries to find a home she left years and years ago, the story is a travelogue and series of misadventures as Horviss deals with his own embarrassment at being a bumbling outsider making his way across some large distances. Aided by magic and by people to try and do something for himself and for his friend. It’s a beautiful piece, full of warmth and compassion, and makes for a fantastic read! Letters, Travel, Magic, Friendship. CW- Death. [c2 t3]
  • “The Age of Swirling Mist” by J.F. Gleeson (novelette) - A strange and twisting story that finds Lis and her father almost completely isolated in their forest. Making art out of wood. And for Lis it’s...not exactly enough. Not always, with no changes, with only hints of the outside world and promises of escape, of freedom, for transcendence. The story is mostly quiet, interior, almost claustrophobic at times despite the open space of the forest. It narrows because Lis needs more than she’s getting, hungers to be around other people, and can’t seem to. It’s a moving and shadowy piece, with a heart fracturing under an intense yearning. A great read! Family, Forests, Carvings, Swimming, Portals. CW- Isolation. [c3 t3]
This issue is another that works well with contrast rather than similarity, with two stories about the urge to travel. About time and the desire to go somewhere. In one piece, though, the action involves a character leaving their home to connect with something far away. In the other, the character wants desperately to go, but can’t. Both stories are on the quiet side, but still echo loudly. A nice issue!

Future Science Fiction Digest #13 (2 short stories, 1 novella total)
  • “A Mountain of Dust” by Wangxiang Fengnian, translated by Judith Huang (novella) - This story finds a reporter tasked with tracking down the son of a very wealthy man in a setting where the amount you eat effects not your health exactly but your size. So the wealthy are physically huge while the poor are increasingly small, tumbling through the sizes as they become smaller and smaller faster and faster. It’s a long journey for the reporter, and one that brings with a complex resolution. One that sees that for some problems there are no technological answers. Some things can only be fixed through working against inequality and working to raise up even the smallest of the small. A great and moving read! Employment, Height/Shrinking, Food, Family, Wealth. CW- Income Inequality/Corruption, Violence/Death. [c3 t4]
  • “Echoes of a Broken Mind” by Christine Lucas (short story) - Kallie is working under a heavy debt after what she thinks was a near-fatal birth of her daughter left her with a mental implant and a haze of memories and ghosts that slip into her vision. Poor and living off scavenging, everything seems bleak until she happens upon a payday that might let her contact her daughter, taken away from her for her protection. And it sets in motion events that have been coming to a boil for some time, awakening things that she cannot ignore. It’s a moving and neatly plotted piece, tight and with an ending that is weighty and satisfying. A wonderful read! Memories, Queer MC, Space Stations, Jupiter, Scavenging. CW- Debts, Violence, Memory Loss, Brain Surgery. [c4 t4]
  • “Three Times Dad Saved the World, and One Time He Didn’t” by P.G. Galalis (short story) - A man faces the death of his father--a father who was also a famous superhero--and the legacy left behind for him. A legacy of power and well as a bit of wisdom. The wisdom of when to act and when not to act, and how to find value in things beyond a life of crime fighting. It’s a bittersweet piece that’s part origin story and all around warm and fuzzy. A fine read! Superheroes, Legacy/Inheritance, Aliens, Family. CW- Death of a Parent, Violence. [c3 t3]
It’s not a slimmer issue of Future Science Fiction Digest despite featuring just three original stories, thanks in large part to the publication’s first ever novella, a translated work that looks at inequality and wealth. The other works are fascinating as well, moving from personal discovery on a distant space station to a closer to home take on superheroes and family. Plus some great nonfiction that’s definitely worth checking out!

Strange Horizons 12/06/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “Coiffeur Seven” by Kiran Kaur Saini (short story) - This story finds a haircare AI, Coiffeur Seven, taking the task of styling the hair of a hospice patient, about whom the hospital knows little about. But the patient isn’t as unresponsive as she seems, and Seven discovers that, to their surprise, there’s a whole world that they weren’t aware of. Levels to their programming that they never considered, because they weren’t designed to be sensitive in all ways. And it’s an often difficult story about the racism and the prejudices and the violence done to those who are different, to those whose beliefs make them vulnerable. For all the story reveals the stark bigotry this woman was faced with, though, it’s ultimately about empathy and compassion, tenderness and care. And it’s a fantastic read! Hair, Hair Styling, AIs, Family. CW- Hospitals, Illness/Cancer, Prejudice/Racism/Microaggressions, Violence. [c4 t3]
  • “Werewoman” by C. S. E. Cooney (poem) - A piece that for me speaks of desire, the narrator toward the titular werewoman, the lines passionate, energetic. The subject the “you,” the werewoman, the desired, all power and non-human beauty. A beast and a body made for tearing and rending. A heart for beating and perhaps pursuing. Or being pursued, as the narrator seems to be, hunting this “you” with an intent that doesn’t feel to me to be violent, exactly. But bordering on it, maybe, drawn to that world, that power, that design. It’s a nicely weird piece, kinetic and alive, flattering and charming and just all around fun. Definitely a piece to spend some time with!
Strange Horizons opens up December with a story about hair and identity and a poem about desires and monsters. Both carry with them a touch of the brand strangeness of the publication, and both are beautiful in their own ways, and a bit haunting. A great issue!

Strange Horizons 12/13/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
  • “An Array of Worlds, as a Rose Unfurling in Time” by Shreya Ila Anasuya (short story) - This story has the feeling for me of waking up. Where two people, fated lovers perhaps, or people just wanting the chance to find that out, fall afoul of the prejudices and systemic oppression of their home because of their feelings for one another. Because of their religions. Because of what side of a wall they are from. The piece is dreamlike at times but I love the sense of alternate realities, of these two people searching for a world they can be together without fear or shame. Following a hope and a love through the terrors of hate toward something better. A happier dream. It’s a beautiful and moving read! Family, Relationships, Cities, Walls, Dreams, Doors, Prophecy/Fortune Telling. CW- Prejudice/Hate, Violence, Prisons. [c3 t4]
  • “NAMED THINGS” by Freydís Moon (poem) - This is a quick and sharp piece that speaks to me of the power of language, of naming. Playing in some ways on the idea that names for power. Not just “true” names, though, but also the names that become labels that people assign to others. That mark them as different, as dangerous, and needing control at any means. That make some beings okay to be violent toward, or take ownership of. The piece looks at that, warns against it, and seems to speak beyond names, to a kind of solidarity against oppression, to a cherishing of that inner truth that doesn’t need language, and that can bind people together. A wonderful read!
Another issue from strange Horizons and one that looks closely at the labels people apply to others. And how those labels can put people at risk. When such value gets given to them, or taken from them. That creates divisions among people so that something and amazing as love can be seen as something deserving punishment and violence. It’s a very strong issue!

Works read this year to date: 1288 stories, 365 poems (+17 stories, +3 poems)

Technically December has been my slowest review month of the year despite having five posts in it. But, given that I probably read upwards of seventy-some additional stories that I am not reviewing for QSR, that’s a little misleading. Still, I did still manage to break one hundred, if exactly. It brings my 2021 reviews published in 2021 up to 1653, though I’ll continue to add to my “2021 reviews” until I finish up December content. Next week? Who knows! There’s new issues of Omenana and Zooscape, plus specials from Apex and Fiyah, plus regular content from Clarkesworld, Flash Fiction Online, plus more from Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and…so, I’m sure I’ll have plenty. But we’ll see what it actually brings.

Otherwise, I’m trying to reach toward the end of the year, which means putting together about a thousand posts. And okay, that’s a bit much maybe, but also true. I have this post, plus my December Some Queer Short SFF post, plus my year-in-review and recommended reading posts. Plus anything else I can get to. It’s a lot. All of this while working on some new stuff (that announcement will be in my year-in-review post) and trying to wrap up my 2021 coverage. Plus I finally went to the doctor for the first time in a while (thank hubs for insurance!) and also finally getting the gutters put on our house and holidays and yeah.

In reading, I’ve been mostly sticking to Uncanny X-Men, and finally got through the last of the Australia era (interesting stuff) and to the point, post-X-tinction Agenda where the teams consolidate and split into Blue and Gold teams. Through all this, though, there’s the whole thing with Storm being de-aged by Orphanmaker and Nanny, Gambit’s first appearance, Colossus becoming a painter with amnesia who falls in love with Calisto, the whole Shadow King thing on Muir Island that is wrapped up in a weird Annuals crossover, the Reavers almost killing Wolverine, Jubilee coming into her own, Psylocke swapping bodies, Dazzler being stalked, Rogue going to the Savage Land to get friendly with Magneto, a bunch of X-Men being shot into space to take on imposter-Prof-X and his War Skrull buddies, and…it’s a lot. The Gold/Blue era means that I’ll also have to decide how I want to handle the Uncanny/X-Men split. I stopped X-Force and X-Factor at X-Cuitioner’s Song so I’ll also probably pause in Uncanny there as well, then do X-Men do that point. Not sure if I also want to pause to look back at the Wolverine ongoing, too…we’ll see.

Really I do like how te Australia era went, but I’m afraid the Blue/Gold issues are falling a little bit to the aesthetics and styles of the time, which are big on grit and explosions and burly dudes. The split of the teams means that Uncanny got Storm, Archangel, Iceman, Jean Gray, Colossus, and Bishop. It’s…a weird dynamic, especially because so far they’re not doing much interacting as a team. Colossus is an afterthought who gets to meet his long lost brother. Warren and Bobby don’t get much time to shine. Storm has the baggage of Forge to deal with and Jean is mostly dealing with Scott’s new infidelity with Psylocke. Bishop is interesting but also not, a man out of time who is mostly there for mysterious reasons. I think the blue team faired better with characters but I’m enjoying that this is all basically new to me, as I don’t remember these issues at all. More thoughts later, I guess. Cheers!


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