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 12/20/2021 (1 short story, 1 poem total)
- “Blood We Cannot Wash Away” by Karina Ko (short story) - This is a creepy piece that finds the narrator and her daughter, Cathy, living with a secret. The mother with a terrible illness that seems to be consuming her. Her daughter with a plan--one that involves cannibalism, it seems. The piece is moody and slow, the strange nightmare that the pair are living in touched by fairy tale, distorted with a mirror of familial love and responsibility. And from that the terror and unsettling truth of the story spring in all their gory implications. A great read! Family, Care, Fairy Tales, Bandages, Hunger. CW- Cannibalism, Death/Murder, Illnesses. [c5 t5]
- “Mother” by Merie Kirby (poem) - A piece about care and bodies, the narrator imagining themself as a ship named mother, trying to save the humans aboard from the monsters hunting them. Unable, however, to stop the monsters, only to slow them, redirect them, keep them in check sometimes but not always. To the humans it’s a failure, even as the monsters still view them as the adversary. But the narrator needs to win all the time in order to win, whereas the monsters can chip away, and it’s a wrenching situation and familiar sinking feel. A wonderful read!
This issue seems to look at familial relationships. Between children and mothers. And how that bond can break down. And how it can be twisted. And how from it there can come a horror and monstrosity. From pressures within and without. From the way the world seems so broken, and so hungry. A horror-filled issue!
Samovar 12/27/2021 (2 short stories, 1 poem total)
- “Ensign” by Soyeon Jeong, translated by Paige Aniyah Morris (short story) - This is a tender and moving story about a colony world in decline and the deal the settler employees reached with the corporation to give them and their ancestors the choice of relocation. For Yuna, that’s been the plan from the start. Getting to a world where everything isn’t breaking down. Where there’s plenty and she can grow crops. It’s the plan even though she’s found love. For her girlfriend, though, their planet is where she wants to stay, and the stress there is a living thing. Messy and twisted and the story does such a great job of tracing it. Just lovely and complex work, carefully and beautifully done! Family, Planets, Queer MC, Relationships, Relocation. [c1 t3]
- “Summer ‘84” by Mohammad Tolouei, translated by Farzaneh Doosti (short story) - A nicely strange piece that finds a narrator learning something about his father’s time in a summer he was absent his wife and children. It’s a story of lies, of half truths, of impossibilities, as told from a man who seems to have always had a troubled relationship with family and perhaps with responsibility. And the narrator is confronted with a new view of his father, through a story that might also be a lie, but that offers some fleeting truths all the same. It’s quiet and interesting and very much worth spending some time with. A great read! Family, Trains, Travel, Memories, Parents. CW- War. [c2 t3]
- “City’s Texts” by Abboud Aljabiri, translated by Muntather Alsawad and Jeffrey Clapp (poem) - This piece speaks to me of place and belonging, the narrator quick to state that he’s not from the city, but there seems to be a lie to that. That it means something more than where he was born, or where he has lived. It’s a way of drawing a border between the city and the narrator, so that he is distanced from it, deniable. And in that space he seems to wallow, to yearn, to engage at times in self destruction all around the place that won’t quite accept him. A piece for me about that push and pull, and a wonderful read!
Samovar managed to get one more issue out before the end of the year, and it’s a strong one, looking closely at place. At cities and family. At travel and the sense of being detached. Of fractures between people because of distance, because of travel, because of time. It’s a powerful issue!
Diabolical Plots #82 (2 short stories total)
- “There’s an Art To It” by Brian Hugenbruch (short story) - The narrator of this story is a poemfire, a person tasked with ridding the Empire of written art. Of all writing save taxes. And after a twenty year campaign, he’s come to the last stop. A newly conquered city with the largest library. But when he arrives it’s to a much different reception than he thought, and to the revelation that art flourishes in everything. And it leaves him with a weighty choice to make. It’s a fun piece, grim but with a sliver of hope to it, that some fires burn out before they consume everything. A fine read! Art, Libraries, Fire, Languages. CW- War, Violence/Death/Murder, Burning Books. [c4 t4]
- “There Are Angels and They Are Utilitarians” by Jamie Wahls (short story) - This piece takes a look at the relationship between angels and humans. Angels as protectors, as duty-driven to help humans to an ultimate goal, to follow a grand plan, but to be largely devoid of love for humanity. A noble goal, perhaps (though I mean also not really), but one that runs into a problem for the narrator when she hears a human child laugh and finds herself touched by love. And willing to upset the timeline and billions of future human lives in order to save just one. I love how the story complicates love, working to reveal the lie of a math that puts duty above love in the name of some greater good only realized in a far future. A fantastic read! Angels, Time Travel, Love, Math, Duty. CW- Death. [c2 t3]
Diabolical Plots closed 2021 out with two stories that deal with very important decisions. Narrator who are empowered to do a lot. To save or destroy. And who have to make the terrible choice of whether to use their power or...not. To save something, to destroy something, or to let things happen as they might. It’s an interesting one-two punch, and a powerful one, leading to some fascinating insights. A great issue!
Flash Fiction Online #99 (3 short stories total)
- “The Tree Hunt” by Marissa James (short story/flash) - A cute bit of Christmas...fun? With a nice dash of horror thrown into the mix, as Grady goes out with his family on the yearly hunt for a good Christmas tree. Armed with baits and jingling bells to try and lull the wild trees into calm. But when the time comes, will Grady be able to truly be a part of the experience? It’s light while managing a bit of a sinister tone, and it’s a rather delightful way to celebrate the season! Family, Trees, Traditions, Christmas. CW- Weapons/Violence. [c2 t3]
- “The Space Between Us” by Emmie Christie (short story/flash) - Another story with a touch of Christmas magic to it as Kodi is a truck driver who can determine the distance between things precisely. Like the distance between himself and pie. Or maybe the distance between himself and his wife. In miles, and in the other ways that matter even more. And the piece finds him at a crossroads (not literally, because he’s on an interstate) and has to decide where to go. What distances to close, and how. It’s a warm piece, and it makes me want pie. A lovely read! Family, Distances, Trucks, Pie, Christmas. [c1 t3]
- “Distant Fire of Winter Stars” by Jonathan Louis Duckworth (short story/flash) - This story finds the narrator in a very dangerous situation. Injured, without a way to call for help. Out hunting and fallen from his stand’s ladder with a winter storm coming in. And I like how the story builds up the way he thinks things through at this point, the past coming pouring out of his father’s flask that he just happened to bring. Providing something of a winter miracle, and an unexpected reunion. And it nicely layers regret, angst, and love, all caught in this moment of disaster, where hope finds a way to shine through regardless. A fine read! Family, Winter/Snow, Hunting, Flasks, Ghosts. CW- Death of a Parent/Cancer, Injury/Accidents. [c3 t3]
This issue is all about winter and Christmas, presenting three stories very much concerned with family, distance, and magic. All of them finding people reconnecting with people important to them. Family during a yearly tradition. A spouse when the relationship has been strained. A father long passed away. And it captures some warmth in winter, and makes for a wonderful issue!
The Deadlands #8 (3 short stories, 4 poems total)
- “L’hiver est assis sur un banc” by Margaret Dunlap (short story/flash) - This piece looks not only at seasonal change as personified in a living Winter, but in the toll that climate change has taken on her. Chipping away at her, melting her down, so that she is trapped it seems on a bench, waiting for a bus that might take her to a place where she can renew herself. Just how fits the chilling nature of the season, and makes for a complex and sinking read that’s well worth checking out! Seasons, Buses, Gods, Winter. CW- Sacrifices/Death. [c3 t4]
- “On the Möbius” by Carlos Hernandez (poem) - A strange piece that finds the narrator seemingly disappearing. Becoming something insubstantial, barely there. And yet, for all that, more there than they want. They attempt to give themself away, to strike themself away from bodies, from space, and yet a part remains. Stubborn, caught in longing for nothingness such that the desire, if nothing else, remains. Without voice but still, perhaps, sensed by those who try. A bit of a haunting read, but lovely as well!
- “Caught by Her Red-Stained Hands” by Claire Smith (poem) - This piece seems to take a twist on the Persephone story, the narrator judged guilty from stained hands akin to Lady Macbeth. Only it’s not blood but seeds of a pomegranate that stain the skin, that mark the sin, that lead to a yearning to be something else than queen, to be quiet and forgotten rather than in the light, harassed, always sought. It’s a compelling piece with a great energy and voice!
- “Roots of Lamentation” by Marissa Lingen (short story) - The afterlife isn’t quite what Cora expected. It’s Greek. After a fashion at least. Full of rivers. And the one that Cora’s come to is the Cocytus, the river of lamentations, and it’s something of a puzzle as Cora is introduced to the landscape. To her hell. And I like how the story is about loss and recognizing it. Not compartmentalizing it, justifying it, lessening its impact, but fully feeling it and recognizing it and experiencing it, because loss does deserve to be recognized, because it’s never anything other than loss. A wonderful read! Activism, Afterlife, Rivers, Guides. CW- Hells, Loss/Death/Grief. [c3 t3]
- “Did God shrink from Adam so, when the dust settled?” by Kristin Fullerton (poem) - This is a strange piece that for me speaks of time and aging, transformation and a loss of something. Innocence perhaps, to touch on the idea of Adam and the sin that he engaged in. The lost Eden, as the piece seems to find some connection to. To loss and to death, to a kind of outrage that things are as they are, fallen and monstrous. The piece is dense and formally challenging, but rewards a close reading and is well worth spending some time with. A great read!
- “Like a Surgeon, With Her Teeth” by Erik Amundsen (poem) - This piece has a dream-like quality to me, following a child’s illness, what might be an infected finger wound, and an amputation by fox, by vixen, that seems to save the child and allow her to sleep peacefully. There’s something nicely weird about it all, the imagery like a hallucination, like something spilling out of a fever dream and into reality, into memory, accepted over time as what must have been, and maybe it was. A wonderful read!
- “The Aftertastes” by Daria Lavelle (short story) - In the afterlife of the story, food is the chance people have to return to life, to revisit the world, if only they can eat the right food, the best food they ever ate, whatever it was. But for a long long time no one finds that food. They eat, and the magic of the food strips away their memories until they’re ready to be reborn. Until one chef comes and changes things. It’s a careful story very much interested in life and death, hope and despair, and it provides a wonderful and inspiring narrative about legacy and flavor. A fantastic read! Food, Afterlife, Hope, Flavors, Family. CW- Death. [c3 t3]
This issue of The Deadlands seems to look rather closely at afterlives. Showing beings and people who have ended up in a state of limbo. Needing something in order to be released, or in order to release themselves. Needing energy or resources or just plain wisdom so they can find some peace and meaning in death. A strong issue!
Apex #128 (4 short stories, 2 novelettes total)
- “Soil of Our Home, Storm of Our Lives” by Renan Bernado (short story) - A story about generations, about activism and change, about the power of food, the power of homes, and the way things can get better, even as improvement is viewed by some as a threat. And I like the layering of stories here, the son and granddaughter having this moment while in their past their grandmother takes the first step on a path that will lead her into a much different future. A warm and wonderful read! Family, Food, Homes, Trees, Activism. CW- ACAB, Violence/Gun Violence. [c4 t4]
- “Robin’s Last Song” by Nina Munteanu (short story) - This story bounces around in time in Robin’s life. From a girl losing her parents to becoming a sound scientist tracking the soundscapes of birds to the moment when all the songbirds died and her life kind of ended. She gave up on it, at least. And yet the story looks at how life continues, how life finds a way in the face of despair and devastation. And the piece is a lovely and touching look at the power of science, family, and sound to wake a person up, and get them to hope. Beautifully done! Sound, Birds, Science!, Blind MC, School, Family. CW- Extinction, Death, Illness. [c3 t4]
- “Godmother” by Cheryl S. Ntumy (short story) - Petty Office Attah works for the Department of Authentication, a government branch meant to stamp out disinformation, and yet in doing so they have targeted those who promise things based on belief. Something that now finds an AI named Godmother square in its crosshairs, and Attah is dispatched to investigate. What Godmother does, though, what Godmother is, throws Attah’s worldview into chaos, and prompts him to ask what he’s doing, and what makes him happy. It’s a sharp piece that looks at the ways people trust, and the ways that trying to eradicate lying can have its own unforeseen consequences. A great read! Employment, AIs, Interviews, Truths, Governments. CW- Prisons, ACAB, Bullying/Abuse. [c3 t4]
- “The Synchronism of Touch” by Gabriela Damián Miravete, translated by Sally McCorry (novelette) - A strange piece that finds three friends experiencing altered reality through the use of flowers and mushrooms. Or maybe experiencing a different level of reality, becoming part of something with each other even as the world seems to fall apart, and everything they tried to build crumbles. It’s a piece that looks at perception and the natural world, looking at the contradictions of humanity but the beauty of touch, and the understanding of something huge and profound. A lovely read! Plants, Mushrooms, Cows, Friends, Time. CW- ACAB, Drug Use, Pandemics. [c4 t4]
- “Dreamports” by Tlotlo Tsamaase (novelette) - Eita works with her Dreamport, a device that allows her to essentially rent out her body to Guests, earning high commissions in the process. It’s not something she does lightly, nor foolishly, but it still brings its share of dangers. Of having her body hijacked, her essence perhaps lost in the ether. Still, she’s a pro, an investigator, not the prey that people might think of her as. And the piece is interesting, the start of something, a deep loss but also a catalyst for her to take action, to unravel a few mysteries plaguing her, and start off on a very different path than she had been on. A wonderful read! Virtual Reality, Body Swapping, Queer Characters, Employment, Parties, Bargains. CW- Racism/Microaggressions, Body Theft. [c3 t4]
- “Samsāra in a Teacup” by Lavanya Lakshminarayan (short story) - This story finds Nayana investigating a case of a hate-spewing teapot in an India run by the Kinship, a progressive India that finally defeated fascists and brought about an age of reform. The teapot is a Samsāran, a kind of reincarnated/uploaded consciousness that exists in a machine, and Naraya finds the situation more complicated than just some hate speech. It’s a conspiracy, and luckily one that she’s able to untangle in time to enjoy the country’s Festival of Kinship going on at the same time. A wonderful and fun story! Uploaded Consciousnesses, Investigations, Drones/Machines, Governments, Queer Characters. CW- Racism/Bigotry/Homophobia, Hate Speech. [c3 t3]
It’s a special issue of Apex Magazine, one focused on international fabulists, and there’s quite a bit to celebrate. The works deal with the same grimness that Apex is known for, but there’s also a strong hope running through so many of the pieces. That despite terrible governments, ecological disaster, and personal greed, there is still beauty in the world, and plenty of reason to have faith that not everything is lost. A fantastic issue!
Works read this year to date: 1305 stories, 371 poems (+17 stories, +6 poems)
Well I’m getting closer to the end of 2021 reviews. It’s taking A While, though, as December was a pretty big month for releases with a lot of specials and it will still take time. I’ll be trying to get through the last of the year’s content, though. I still have Fireside, Clarkesworld, Fiyah’s special Palestine issue, some Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor, and Mermaids Monthly to get through. Probably not going to get to it all next week, but maybe most of it. In numbers, this puts my total for 2021 up close to 1700, and I’ll probably pass that next week.
That said, I also need to get working on my second column for Locus. It’s been interesting, getting into the new setup and talking with the other short fiction reviewers at Locus. Being part of a team is weird for me when it comes to short fiction reviewing, because I’ve been doing it on my own for seven years. I think it will be really good, though, as it means being able to read anything I want but being a bit more limited in what I cover. We’ve been talking about who is going to be covering what and I must say, I am thrilled with the publications that I’ll have the honor of reviewing for Locus. The first column, out next week I think, will have some that were open from Rich Horton leaving, so I covered Asimov’s and Analog and F&SF, among others. I’ll be keeping F&SF, but won’t be staying on Asimov’s and Analog. Instead, I’ll be picking up a lot of other publications, like Lightspeed, Fiyah, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Strange Horizons. On the one hand, I’ll miss covering a lot of the publications that I’ve reviewed these last seven years. On the other, I think I need the change, and truly look forward to the new arrangement.
That all said, I’m not sure how the posts here on QSR will be until I get through the rest of 2021 and don’t have that hanging over me. We shall see.
In other news, my husband actually had some time off around New Year’s, so we had our normal Christmas celebrations. That involves getting new pajamas Christmas Eve and eating cookies while watching Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (a gem of a movie, if people aren’t familiar with it). Then opening gifts the next day (aside from adult things like socks and kitchen things I got some Vs System card packs and a book of Goosebumps Art) and just generally hanging out. There’s also the shelving of the books we finished during the last year, which sadly was a bit underwhelming this year as both of us have been profoundly burned out and didn’t manage much for-fun reading. Hoping more of that this year.
In my comics reading, I’m distracted again from my Uncanny X-Men reread by the first Wolverine ongoing. Which…isn’t that great, tbh, largely bc the racism of being set in Madripoor and an equally-fictional South American country make the brawls and intrigues a bit overshadowed by the cringe. Not all bad but I’m hoping that it gets back to Canada or something right quick. Anyway, that’s about it for now. Stay wonderful! Cheers!