Sunday, January 16, 2022

Quick Sips 01/14/2022

After a slow number of weeks, I do pick things up a bit here, upping my total works covered and putting me within striking distance of closing out my 2021 regular reviews. That said, I’ll still be doing review posts through January. Here I managed to make it through December’s special Palestinian issue of Fiyah, plus December’s Clarkesworld, Tor, Anathema, and Fireside. So plenty of ground covered across many genres, with some real gems. Onward!

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!

Fiyah Special Palestinian Solidarity Issue (6 short stories, 9 poems total)
  • “Muneera and the Moon” by Sonia Sulaiman (short story) - This story finds Muneera, a djinn, come up to the mortal world to talk at the moon, or what she thinks is the moon, complaining about her loneliness, her yearning. Only to find out that the light wasn’t really the moon, and the thing she’s always searched for is a lot closer than she thought. It’s a fun and charming story, romantic and magical and very much worth checking out! A wonderful read! Djinn, Lights, The Moon, Queer MC. CW- Death/Homophobia. [c3 t3]
  • “To New Jerusalem” by Farah Kader (short story) - A climate refugee returns to the Submerged after most of a lifetime away, becoming a tourist to a partly sunken New York in an attempt to find something that was lost. Parts of herself, her family, her history that the waters claimed, and that she wants back. There’s such a quiet power to this as the story is dotted with other kinds of texts, articles and guides and documents that flesh out the world building and give the piece a solid and shattering weight. Beautifully done! Water, Tourism, Cities, Taxis, Family. CW- Climate Change, Floods. [c3 t3]
  • “First Leaf” by Elise Stephens (short story) - This story circles two women--one old, Ikma, and one young, Hafeti--who are out to subvert a violent and misogynist tradition in order to buy for Hafeti a kind of invincibility. A strength that will allow her to ignore the abuse of others. To have a year of safety and security to explore her own potential. And I love the way it unfolds, the plot, the way the women care for one another and support each other. The way that they hope to push for change with patience and with compassion, counting on that much more than strength of arms or violence. It’s a lovely read, rich and defiant! Family, Races, Figs, Trees, Bees, Gifts. CW- Misogyny, Violence. [c3 t3]
  • “The Night Journey” by Samah Fadil (short story/flash) - This piece focuses on words. On language. On reading and stories and understanding, and a family defined at least in part by a refusal to accept that some people, namely women, shouldn’t have acess to reading. To those stories that are a part of their family, their inheritance. And it’s a vibrant piece that really paints a picture of family, of the horizons that open for them because of reading, because of knowledge and stories. It’s bright and alive and a fantastic read! Reading, Family, Stories, Travel. CW- Misogyny. [c3 t3]
  • “an exercise in public displays of vulnerability, or, an epic of silenced mass catastrophic proportion” by feras hilal (short story) - This piece moves in a kind of stream of consciousness, a kind of poetry that speaks from margins, that calls for retinking, reliving, revolution in all things. It moves through the ways that people expect those being oppressed to better themselves with grit and bootstraps but let those with power to do something off the hook, sainted by their ability to care in the abstract but not in the physical and the story is much more about the physicality of love of resistance of change of everything. Strangers become lovers, borders erased. It’s a strange read, but very much worth spending some time with! A great read! Nations, Borders, Lovers, Action. [c2 t3]
  • “rise” by Sarah Risheq (short story/flash) - This story finds the narrator underground. Burried for their protection, though as the piece goes on it seems an indefinite kind of suspension. Not quite an imprisonment because it was done in love, and yet it’s a confinement all the same, the narrator and the other person buried with them waiting for the ground to stop shaking. For the explosions to stop, so that it can be safe to rise. Except that it doesn’t happen. And they are stuck there, waiting and waiting as the roots grow around them, as the years tick away. Buried but not dead. It’s a chilling read what with the implications of the shaking ground, the absent parents, the world constricted to just the narrator and the also-buried. Wonderfully evocative and powerful! Earth, Burials, Family, Safety, Roots, Time. CW- Death, Explosions. [c3 t4]
  • “Single Witness” by Azmi Goushey (poem) - This piece speaks to me of a kind of solitary destruction. A narrator who is left after destruction to try and pick up the pieces left to them while others say they deserve any maltreatment, any loss. While the narrator seems to hold to hope, to magic, to the idea of lights in the dark, of sparks of the divine. And the struggle there with everything, with the dust and the weight of history, the unheeded prophecies, to still get up and go forward. Alone, the narrator seems to invite a moment of doubt and fear, yes, but also the quiet strength it takes to keep going. A wonderful read!
  • “Captain’s Log” by Fargo Tbakhi (poem) - I love the feel of this, imagining a ship taking people away from Earth. A captain who is just on rotation, and a dilemma that is bigger than them. That threatens the tether back to Earth. That kind of threatens everything, even as the ship really doesn’t have a specific destination. In that there’s a sense for me that it harkens back to the early space exploration narratives of Star Trek and the like, where they are going to go. That there is a hope in that, in the idea of this movement and this wonder that they are meeting. Without maps and without much in the way of supplies. With faith, mostly, and with an eager kind of hope. One that comes from the strength of their industriousness and resolve, and their ability to build their own future. A fantastic read!
  • “Blood Suck” by Samah Fadil (poem) - This piece brings to mind vampires, and seems to cast one in this place, by this road, a woman who seems to meet a bad end. There is blood here, and also a shame and a sin that is mentioned, and for me it seems to make blurry what exactly is going on. Is the woman here a predator? She seems to feed on other women, on one of the narrator’s sisters. But is the vampire also one of the narrator’s sisters? I like the uncertainty, the danger, the sense I feel of strangled silences, grief, the narrator a witness of something terrible, something that perhaps is twisted into a monster, a shadow, something out of a story and nightmare. It’s an interesting read, well worth sitting with!
  • “Casting Runes” by Rasha Abdulhadi (poem) - A powerful poem about body and about ink, about tattoos and about the narrator taking ownership of themself. The piece is both something of a rebuke, a correction of people trying to assign some meaning to the markings that for the narrator are intensely personal. Personal but not unable to be understood. They are complicated and needing some context but they are described wonderfully here, as a way of showing who they are and taking the space to declare themself against all the pressures seeking to erase them or co-opt them or anything like that. They remain the captain of their ship, moving the world instead of being moved by it, and it’s just a lively and beautiful and amazing read!
  • “LIBERATION IS ROTTING IN YOUR FIGS” by leena aboutaleb (poem) - A piece for that is alive, moving, nearly shouting at times, energized and ready. It seems to speak to the messy act of living in a time and place split and torn, consumption an act of defiance even as it doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of salvation or even sustenance. But it might be survival and something more than that, a retaining of memory of joy, or art, of family, or something delicious that has turned to rot. The piece twists and seems to almost dance as it moves, as it builds around the truths the narrator knows, those they rediscover, and those that bloom in their heart, hungry and needing. A great read!
  • “Five things found in Shahrazad’s garden” by Aiya Sakr (poem) - On the one hand this piece is what it says--a list of things found in a garden. It might also be a story of loss, though, of recovery. The piece is quiet but there is an absence in its heart, as I’m not sure if the narrator of the piece is supposed to be the titular Shahrazad or someone who comes along afterward and finds the objects. Perhaps pulls them from a wreckage, as for me there’s a layer of disaster here, of fire and destruction. And I like how it all comes together, that the things found become less and less solid, corporeal. It opens up a feeling of possibility in the ending, a taking away of something powerful and important. It’s another wonderful piece that’s well worth spending some time with!
  • “When I find the first letter” by Aiya Sakr (poem) - This piece follows a kind of discovery as the narrator kinds a letter in their garden. One that seems at first out of place but also precious, something that the narrator recognizes and can hold onto. That they can combine with the next letter they find to form a word. Something that links them to a place that is far distant from the American garden they’re tending. And I love the sense of waiting, that there is a patience here and so much hope, to hear where there letters are coming from. Who is reaching out through space, perhaps through time, to get in touch. A lovely read!
  • “Arab American Gothic” by Omar Zahzah (poem) - A very brief piece that plays with the idea of “American Gothic” the painting I assume, but also the kind of energy that it evokes. The distance and the touch of strangeness. The domesticity but also the space, the sublime lurking in the landscape, in the big and small spaces all around. Playing into the Gothic tradition, the ghosts in the castles, the presences that might have mundane explanations, but might not. It packs a lot into the very small space, and makes for a great read!
  • “from UNIVERSAL THEORY IN WHICH EVERY FAILED ATTEMPT AT LOVE IS A SOULMATE FROM AN ALTERNATE TIMELINE” by George Abraham (poem) - This piece seems to me to trace love and the troubles with love. The desiring and the reflecting. The way that we see ourselves in those we love, reflected back through their perceptions, and have to deal with how that reflection might be different from us. How it might be better in some ways, their love making that reflection something to also fall in love with, strangely, and yet I love that idea, the way the piece captures reflections and people and love most of all. All of it twisted around and a bit insecure perhaps but still yearning and wanting and waiting for something to see, for a glimmer, for a love in the dark reflection of the world. It’s just a lovely and moving piece and a fantastic way to close out the issue!
So there’s a lot to read and a lot to like about the special Palestinian issue of Fiyah. It’s extra big, featuring six stories and nine(!) poems. And the themes move from love to destruction to vulnerability to resilience. They range as people are forced to move and move again, but always with ties back to a place that lives in them despite everything. It’s a richly diverse array of genres and styles and a stunning issue!

Clarkesworld #183 (5 short stories, 2 novelettes total)
  • “The Cold Calculations” by Aimee Ogden (short story) - A story about the tragedies that get chalked up to logistics. To calculations about cost and savings that end up meaning lives. Human lives stretched out from historical cases to the joining narrative of a man and a stowaway on a space ship with margins so thin that there isn’t fuel to properly slow them down with the mass on the ship. It’s difficult but it’s also hopeful, placing the power to do something about this in the hands of...well, kinda everyone. Not accepting that tragedies are inevitable, or necessary, or that calculations should be cold. A wonderful read! Space, Ships, Family, History, Maths. CW- Death, Accidents, Illness, Aggressive Capitalism. [c4 t4]
  • “Beneath the Earth Where the Nymphs Sleep” by Meghan Feldman (short story) - Rana has escaped the cold cruelty of EdiTech, where she was part of a deadly machine that has already claimed her sister. Outside, under the protection of the Enclave, she thinks she might be safe. but safety isn’t something that comes easily, and for Rana it’s twisted around sacrifice, around her own options, none of them being particularly what she wants. The piece mixes action and world building well, putting in Rana’s lap a decision she doesn’t want to make, but can’t run from. A great read! Family, Modifications, Bees, Robots, Extended Life. CW- Violence, Death of a Sister, Confinement. [c4 t4]
  • “Vegvísir” by David Goodman (short story) - Gunnar is a technician on Mars who finds himself in the middle of a kind of storm with no way of getting back to safety. His only chance lies in risking the storm and walking to a decommissioned landing pad that might have a way for him to call for help. It’s a dire situation and the story does a great time drawing it out while it builds up the future setting, the Mars touched by human superstition and myth. And the ending contains a touch of mystery and a sense of wonder wrapped in what might be a little creepy but is warmer than that, a bit of old world magic looking out for lost souls. A fantastic read! Mars, Terraforming, Storms, Dust, Rescue. CW- Accidents, Oxygen Deprivation. [c4 t4]
  • “You Are Born Exploding” by Rich Larson (novelette) - This story finds a world where a kind of virus from space has the potential to transform people into Shamblers who then seek out the ocean to descend and become something else. The wealthy can afford inoculations against it. And can afford to make sure that those who can’t are killed rather than be allowed to enter the water. But it’s a strange and grimly beautiful tragedy that the piece centers as a mother deals with her son’s illness and a world that doesn’t make sense any more. Emotionally powerful read! Family, Home, Seas, Transformation, Art. CW- Illness, Viruses/Pandemics, Death/Violence/Murder. [c5 t5]
  • “Other Stories” by Wang Yuan, translated by Andy Dudak (novelette) - This piece centers a mother and son. A son who is a scientist researching and experimenting with time travel. A mother who is a science fiction author who writes into her works a kind of autobiography for her son to find. The piece does some interesting work with time, with connections, with memory, all swirling around this central relationship that is mundane but also richly delivers in emotional stakes. It’s careful and well worth checking out. A great read! Family, Time Travel, Writing/Stories, Marriage. CW- Death of a Parent, Illness/Cancer. [c3 t3]
  • “Just One Step, and Then the Next” by E. N. Díaz (short story) - A grim and very difficult story about Doña Chuy and the state of Mexico as it shifts around her, the president assassinated, a military coup, the disappearing of so many people, including her son. The piece shows the sort of quick and violent change that can happen, that can grip a place, that can make even small joys impossible, small resistances life and death. The piece doesn’t shy away from showing violence and the aftermath of it, but it also centers resilience and strength in a movement that is bigger than one person, but that takes a little bit from everyone involved to keep going. A wonderful read! Family, Audiobooks, Governments, Embroidery. CW- Violence, Assassinations, Disappearances, Loss of Vision/Trauma. [c4 t4]
  • “A Series of Endings” by Amal Singh (short story) - This story finds a man named Roopchand in a kind of immortality, able to live his life in different ways, finding ends in death only to go back and essentially start again. A little different. And it’s a bit of a strange tale, moving from a childhood home with a boat racing champion father and an old age as an astronaut and space explorer perhaps making first contact with aliens. The piece deals with the idea of immortality and the importance of living a life in the moment, not always looking ahead and wanting more but able to appreciate what’s happening in the here and now. It’s a moving, intricate story, and a fantastic read! Family, Time Travel(?), Space, Aliens, Boats, Races. CW- Death, Violence. [c3 t3]
On January 5, 2015 I ran my first review here on Quick Sip Reviews, of Clarkesworld #100. Over seven years later and I’ve read and reviewed I think just about every story put out from the publication. That will be changing going forward but December’s issue is a nice way to go out, with a slew of stories, including one translated novelette, that lean heavily science fiction but that still reveal a wide range of worlds and styles, including one that’s kinda sorta a zombie story, so yeah, a solid issue!

Fireside Magazine #98 (3 short stories, 1 poem total)
  • “Habeas Codex” by Curtis C. Chen (short story) - A comedy crime drama as cops Alex and his computer illiterate partner Jake try to get to the bottom of a strange situation taking place on the biggest social media/virtual reality platform around. It’s a fun romp, full of laughs but still with a bit of a heart as Alex has to contend with his father’s online proclivities and a high profile troll who is certain of his own invulnerability. A great read! Family, Mysteries, Virtual Reality, Programming. CW- Abuse/Harassment/Bullying, Police. [c2 t2]
  • “Ten Lessons for a Curse-Breaker” by Ellen Meny (short story/flash) - A quick piece that finds a person, a second person You, seeking to use magic to overcome the generational trauma of abuse and terrible relationships, maybe kinda accidentally summoning a demon in the process. The piece is set up as advice, or lessons learned in retrospect, but in any event it’s a rather fun piece despite the serious issues at its core, reaching for kindness instead of condemnation and just sort of rolling with bad decisions because that’s all part of dealing with trauma. A wonderful read! Family, Magic, Summoning, Demons. CW - Abuse, Trauma. [c3 t3]
  • “Never a Gentle Master” by Brittany N. Williams (short story) - This story finds Kae the daughter in a magical family. On a day when everything seems ready to fall apart. The piece is visceral and grim, violent and full of loss and grief. It does not offer much in the way of hope or healing. Rather, it offers something bloody and vengeful. Through that, it’s an action-packed and well built story with a great cast and a heartbreaking trajectory. It’s not an easy read but it’s a captivating one, wth the promise of something started, an origin story dripping with fire and tears. A great read! Family, Magic, Summoning, Elementals, Fire, Bargains. CW- Death, Death of Family, Murder/Revenge. [c4 t5]
  • “Good People” by Mari Ness (poem) - This piece takes a look at the fairy tale The Six Swans, looking at the way the main character of that is targeted for her silence, accused and condemned and (almost) burned to death, though the piece does a great job of injecting doubt that in that situation, where the woman was to be burned, that a happy ending could be pulled off in the end. It’s a sharp piece that really looks at how anything could be a happy ending after what almost happened. Oh everyone was okay with killing an innocent but they’re all good. Victims, even, of a trick, when the real victim is the woman to be burned. Just a fantastic read!
The latest from Fireside Magazine has some nicely chewy stories (and a poem!) to close out 2021, with some difficult settings and plots that don’t always resolve in a happy ending. Some are grim indeed, and others a mix, a mess, and a delight. A great issue all around!

Tor 12/2021 (1short story total)
  • “The Tinder Box” by Kate Elliott (short story) - This story looks at fairy tales and revolutions, casting a cycle of corruption and justice. The narrator is a witch, killed and reborn, working her careful way to try and bring about the end of a brutal regime. To usher in a new and brighter system, all the while knowing that it might all turn again, the great millwheel grinding progress back to cruelty. That doesn’t stop her from trying, though, and making plans, and inspiring others. A wonderful read! Witches, Magic, Inspiration, Royalty, Queer MC. CW- Death, Violence, War, Corruption/State Terror. [c4 t4]
Only a single story out from Tor in December, but it’s a powerful twist on fairy tales, looking at their politics and complicating what might otherwise be an over-simple take on royalty and justice. It’s a complex and careful work, and is well worth checking out!

Anathema #14 (5 short stories, 2 poems total)
  • “The Taurus Pilot” by Megan Navarro Conley (short story) - This piece circles a mech pilot and the series of events that separates them not only from their mech, but from the human they were most connected to. And these two loves, to a mech and to a woman, anchored them to the point that, without them, the narrator is left a bit lost, untethered. Alone in a very profound way that the story explores and reveals in moving and wrenching ways. It’s a beautifully written piece, and a wonderful read! Mechs, Connections, Relationships, Press Conferences. CW- War, Trauma. [c3 t4]
  • “Dearest” by Ada Nnadi (short story) - This story follows Kasie, a queer young woman trying to really figure out what that means. Isolated from community and bullied by people who should be supportive of her. Trapped in a yearning so intense it calls forth a supernatural being into a mannequin to maybe help her, maybe feed on her. The piece is careful and feels so real, that yearning and that loneliness not making for a great combination in a place where everything is a threat, where there is no safety, and where covid has made finding others basically impossible. Even so, it’s not an entirely grim read, and I love the energy of the ending. An amazing read! School, Queer MC, Social Media, Mannequins. CW- Bullying/Homophobia. [c3 t4]
  • “Newborn” by Seph Ugochukwu Nweke (short story) - This story looks at survival as a group of people wake in an unfamiliar place, with only each other and, for Amadi at least, a voice in his head helping him to get by. The piece is strange and grim, the situation with the group of people dire as poisoned fruit, lack of resources, and predators all take their toll. It’s a mysterious read as the people all move and try to live, as Amadi has to struggle under the weight of that survival, and deal with the revelations that surviving brings. It’s a fine read, and well worth spending some time with! Hunting, Food, Queer MC, Cooperation, Survival. CW- Death/Violence/Blood. [c4 t4]
  • “Voyaging” by Jeané D. Ridges (short story/flash) - This is a short and deeply strange piece that focuses on a person climbing the stairs, making for bed. For me the piece has the feeling of shock--the lack of appetite, the sense of being left behind--and I like how the work conveys a sense of distance and reality itself seeming shattered. Where going up the stairs is a journey, where everything seems to have been rocked out of place. And there’s a poetry here too in the images and the language, worth reading into. A fine read! Stairs, Non-binary MC, Space, Food. [c1 t3]
  • “i was gifted this grief only to empty out of” by Kawthar Adéyẹmọ Thea (poem) - This piece is striking, evoking images of conflict and loss while the narrator remembers terrible things. Deaths. Images of violence. But perhaps feels more keens things that they didn’t necessarily see. Things that happened, people gone, who are still wounds in them, regardless of the time or distance. And at its center there’s the narrator and their mother, questions about god, about perhaps how bad things can be allowed to happen, while people have to go about the messy business of living, of surviving. Of remembering. A wonderful read!
  • “& you say i should write about flowers instead” by Kawthar Adéyẹmọ Thea (poem) - This piece against turns to family and loss, for me evoking the way that grief can strike and fester. The way that it can turn everything into reminders. Metaphors of grief. For me the title seems to be someone telling the narrator to write about happier things, about flowers, but even flowers can be grim, can be harrowing. And sometimes there is no way to make something better by seeking out its bright side. Sometimes there is only the thing itself, real and terrible, that must be faced. And the poem does a beautiful job of capturing that. A great read!
  • “Semsema of the Zabbaleen” by Ramez Yoakeim (short story) - This piece finds a child cut off from her family when they are declared climate refugees and taken from their homes. The child remains, avoiding the cops who round people up, living as she can, eventually getting a little food from an organization funded by foreign investors. And through it all she finds a small plant and decides to nurture it, to help it grow, and the plant turns out to be a young sycamore tree. A piece of her history and family. It’s a grim read and yet hope finds a way to poke through, despite the harsh conditions, despite everything. Hope remains, and it’s beautifully rendered here. A fantastic read! Family, Trash, Trees, Cities, Charity. CW- Climate Change, Police/Military/ACAB, Family Separation. [c4 t3]
It might not have been the latest release of 2021, but Ananthema did drop a brand new issue on the last day of the year. And it’s a wonderful mix of genres and feels centering distance, family, loneliness, and loss. Not the cheeriest themes, but there’s still something resilient and enduring despite, and it makes for a great issue!

Works read this year to date: 1325 stories, 385 poems (+20 stories, +14 poems)

So I did manage to get some good reading in for this week, though I’m not sure I’m back up to full speed. Fortunately or not, I won’t really get to build on this momentum, because I need to switch over to cover some stuff for my Locus column before I finish up the 2021 content at a few places. I haven’t quite crunched the numbers yet on how much I have yet, but it looks like I still have the December Zooscape, Omenana, Mermaids Monthly, and then the Escape Artists content (4 Escape Pod episodes, 1 Cast of Wonders, and 1 Pseudopod). It’s probably about 30 works yet, so I’ll need to stretch that out over two weeks I think. So it goes.

Numbers-wise, I’ve passed 1700 works reviewed from 2021 and I’ll probably cross the 7100 line for lifetime QSR reviews before everything is said and done. I’m transitioning over to not doing individual reviews here, I’ll be figuring out what my posts will look like, but probably that will debut in February. Alas, I’m also behind in my editorial reading for this year’s We’re Here, so I might be on the struggle bus for a while longer. Still, I am very much looking forward to not having quite so much to do.

In media, I’m very close to ending my first playthrough of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Verdant Wind route). Not sure what I’ll do next, but maybe ally with the prince? Kind of up in the air there, but I’ve been quite enjoying the game and want to know what it will be like with a New Game+. Watching things, hubs and I are bouncing all around. I think we’re on Rosemary & Thyme, a cozy mystery featuring two older gardeners, which is rather fun. Still falls into some of the standard issues with BBC mysteries, but it’s not the worst.

In reading outside of short SFF, I’m still in my Wolverine reading as I get through some more of his original ongoing. A nice parallel here to the stuff with Pierce that was going on in Uncanny, which I will get back to soon. I also read the “origin” of Wolverine from the Marvel Comics Presents: Weapon X run, which is an interesting look at the program not to “create” Wolverine, but at least to give him his adamantium. A neat look at that, and I think the first time I really have read it. Not sure if it’s controversial at all, as it does involve a good deal of torture and lots of naked Wolverine, but I do think it fits into his story rather well. Mostly just getting more context for my drunken dive into Wolverine Origins, which patrons will know I began recently.

Anyway that’s about it for now. Still a busy bee, and I’ll be zubbing back around next week. Cheers!


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