Friday, January 28, 2022

Quick Sips 01/28/2022

I made it! Kinda by the hair on my chin but I managed to close out my regular reviews for 2021. Not a huge week for it this week, but I manage to pick up the last of the 2021 Escape Artists podcasts, as well as the latest from Omenana. And really, given what a hectic time these last few months have been, this is something of a relief to finally close in on. A bittersweet relief, because it means that this chapter of Quick Sip Reviews is closing, but a relief all the same. This isn’t the end! Just a change. We’ll see what the future brings!

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!

Escape Pod #814 (1 short story total)
  • “Oddments, Pasha’s Autodiary of 07 MAR 2032” by Christopher Noessel (short story) - A story about reuse as an...eccentric performer moves through the world on a schedule and mission all his own, helped by an AI “genius” who tries to make things move smoothly and well. The piece deals with discarded things and discarded people, all of them finding new meaning and life through art and expression and energy. Told in the second person, it’s a delightful read! Drag, AIs, Art, Quests, Social Media, Trash/Recycling, Queer MC. [c1 t2]
A neat episode that deals with performance and quests and the helpful intervention of AI that just seem to want to make things work better, to help people be their best selves. Evocative and fun.

Escape Pod #815 (1 short story total)
  • “Mathematical Revelations” by Helen De Cruz (short story) - A warm story that finds a mathematician in a society where maths are holy discovering that she’s part of a computer simulation, and having to in some ways justify her existance. An interesting piece that really gets at the beauty of maths and the way that can be a religion, seeing the divine and even more than that the “real” in terms of numbers, where AI then are no less holy than humans. Great stuff! Math, Islands, Computer Simulations, Funding, Religion. [c1 t2]
Maths! I do like me some maths at times and I appreciate the spiritual way this story approaches numbers and math. A nice story that’s almost grim but doesn’t really find a problem with the “finding out you’re a program” trope. A great episode!

Escape Pod #816 (1 short story total)
  • “Merely Players” by Eric Grove (short story) - A piece that unfolds in a mysterious post-disaster/apocalypse as Jester moves through the desolate world with his holographic dog and...not much else. His days seem mostly about finding batteries but what he’s more desperate for is a bit of hope, human connection, and maybe a Christmas miracle. It’s an interesting and yearning story, bleak and with some great character work. A fine read! Christmas, Holograms, Dogs, Music, Batteries. CW- Post-Disaster. [c2 t4]
This is a grim episode in many ways despite the action being on the surface rather fun. A man wants to celebrate Christmas and cut through his loneliness. But can he? It’s a bracing episode!

Escape Pod #817 (1 short story total)
  • “A Dragon in Two Parts” by Kiya Nicoll (short story) - A story about the possibility of transformation as Sam, dealing with chronic pain and other issues, is introduced to a place that can change them. Can perhaps bring their body more in line with their inner self. Hope really isn’t Sam’s thing, but slowly they discover what it’s all about, and what it might open for them if they pursue it. It’s a careful, interesting story about the what sounds a bit like magic, but is really about self and pain, and looking for a way out of it. A wonderful read! AIs, Transformations, Queer MC, Virtual Realities. CW- Pain/Chronic Pain, Therapy/Physical Therapy, Medical Procedures. [c3 t3]
An interesting episode about the power of technology to transform bodies, and how that might work ethically and well to give people something in their physical selves that’s free from the pain they’re constantly carrying around. Some great work!

Pseudopod #790 (1 short story total)
  • “The Humbug” by Orrin Grey (short story) - A creeping story about a nanny and a trio of children who come across a mysterious bug and decide to capture it (against the nanny’s better judgment). The piece follows what happens as the bug grows and the horror increases, until Christmas when things come to a rather shattering head. A nice bit of Christmas horror that plays with the warmth and security of the holiday to rather great effect. An unsettling read! Christmas, Family, Employment, Insects, Snow/Winter, Gifts. CW- Insects. [c2 t4]
A very nice twist on Christmas, getting creepy and crawling as a bug does its thing. It’s nicely built, slowly getting to the rather dramatic conclusion. A wonderful episode!

Cast of Wonders #480 (1 short story total)
  • “The Umbra” by Johnny Caputo (short story) - A story where income inequality has turned into energy inequality and, on Christmas, a man named Dave is out to pull a Robin Hood to get his family some juice for the holiday. The piece moves with a conversational feel to it, light despite the grimness of the setting and circumstances. And the piece hinges on a moment of empathy and compassion, a Grinch-esque point where people from different worlds share a cute moment. Nicely done! Christmas, Energy/Electricity, Winter/Snow, Family, Theft. CW- Prison, Climate Change. [c2 t3]
A rather cute piece to close out the year, with another Christmas tale that melds some grim elements with a promise of warmth and a moment of kindness. A fine episode!

Omenana #20 (8 short stories total)
  • “Ishimiri” by Marycynthia Chinwe Okafor (short story) - This piece finds a man missing. Chimebuka’s father. Lotanna’s mentor. Together the two, who have plenty of history and a simmering romance between them, set out to try and find him, to bring him back from the underwater and magical place he’s been taken to. And it’s a fun and nicely paced piece, hitting all the right notes in building up a world and a situation that is interesting and compelling. It’s only the first part of something, though, the ending a promise of more rather than a real conclusion, but for all that’s it’s definitely worth checking out and I hope the story continues! Waters, Magic, Family, Bargains. [c1 t2]
  • “Curing” by Kristien Potgieter (short story) - A story about a future where climate change has taken so much, where people are trying to make a world for themselves on Mars, but where back on Earth a couple of farmers in South Africa find that the world might not be quite as blasted, as dead, as they thought, and that there might still be room for hope. A great read! Farms, Corn, Vultures, Leopards, Mars. CW- Climate Change. [c2 t2]
  • “The Dogs Save the Day” by Fagbamiye Wuraola (short story) - This story finds a young girl, Titi, who discovers that she can understand her dog when it barks. Indeed, she can understand all dogs it seems, something she’s proud of but for which she’s punished by parents afraid it’s the mark of something sinister. They learn better, though, when it’s her ability that helps her figure out a medical mystery plaguing her father. It’s a quick and warm piece, with a wonderful ending! Dogs, Communication, Family, Bargains. CW- Illness/Hospitals, Abuse/Beatings. [c3 t2]
  • “The Revolving Mountain” by Tanatswa Makara (short story) - This piece finds a person traveling back to the place that once was their home. A planet they left with their mother. A planet that their grandmother had hoped would be a new place for them, where she could be the first of a new generation of ancestors. Instead she was left, and the narrator’s return is not a peaceful one, not a pleasant one, as they discover the left-behind voices, the anger that might be something more. It’s a nicely built piece, sinking into the feeling of being lost and alone, afraid, and then not alone, and having that be worse. A fine read! Planets, Family, Ancestors, Technology, Maps. CW- Death of a Grandparent. [c2 t3]
  • “The Walls of Benin City” by M. H. Ayinde (short story) - This story unfolds in a blasted world in the wake of an alien invasion only pushed back on the ingenuity and art of Benin City, which remains the only city on the planet still standing. Or so the narrator hopes, having given everything, risked everything, and lost everything in the attempt to get there. Near death, they are saved by an automaton who helps them the last bit of the way, and might just fan the spark of hope in and for humanity into a gentle flame in the process. A fantastic read! Travel, Aliens, Cities, Walls, Automatons/AIs. CW- Death of Family, Post-Disaster. [c3 t3]
  • “The Water Dweller” by Lazarus Panashe Nyagwambo (short story) - A piece that finds a spiritual figure, the manifestation of a ritual, watching a group of boys live and play. And initiating something through their interference that...well, isn’t exactly happy and fun. The piece is subtle in its horror, though, featuring a kind of simmering frustration from the narrator that bubbles up in the nature of their interference, and the chilling and unsettling consequences. A fine read! School, Family/Siblings, Gifts, Ceremonies. CW- Death/Blood/Murder. [c4 t4]
  • “Time Says No” by Praise Osawaru (short story) - This piece takes an interesting look at time travel as a young man mourning the violent death of his sister is given a chance to go back and change things. Of course, that’s not the whole story, but it’s more than enough to get things started, and set him on a path that will put a lot of responsibility on his plate. But might also indeed allow him to unwrite some intense wrongs penciled in the margins of history. Definitely a piece to spend some...time with! Time Travel, Family/Siblings, Bargins, Watches. CW- Death/Murder, Rape. [c4 t3]
  • “Dust” by Kwasi Adi-Dako (short story) - This story unfolds as an interview between a young man who has only known the dry Dust of climate change, where rain is practically non-existent in Ghana, and an old man who lived through the transition from when there were seasons to where there weren’t. The piece looks at change and difference, and the trap of imagining a past that must be better than the present. The way things change but don’t, and the power to be found in helping others, sharing, and trying. A great read! Memories, Reporting, Interviews, Water, Farming. CW- Climate Change. [c2 t3]
My last regular review of 2021 and perhaps ever at Quick Sip Reviews is of the latest Omenana, which has released ten new stories, though the two in French I cannot cover, alas. The works are varied and quite good, and make for a great issue!

Works read this year to date: 1350 stories, 389 poems (+14 stories)

I made it, and I guess I have my final stats for the year. 1217 short stories, 114 novelettes, 19 novellas, 389 poems, give or take ( I know I messed up a few short story/novelettes because I don’t always get word counts and sometimes it’s rather hard to guess). That brings my totals over the 7+ years of reviewing here at QSR to 7110 works covered. A ridiculous number, really, but there we are.

What’s next? Well, I hope to settle in to some general short SFF reporting, but it might take me a little while to find a rhythm there. I’ve been doing this for so long an change is going to have growing pains, but I’m hoping people still like what I do here and come along on my new journey as a Locus reviewer. My first column will be dropping in the physical and ebook versions of the magazine very soon, and will be made available for free online some time after that.

I do have some other general plans. I want to check in on my year of grimness ratings. Not to pick any fights but rather because I did design those a year ago now and I’m curious to see what it might say about my reading over the past year, and how I viewed the stories in terms of their grimness, and if it actually falls in line with what I feel it was.

In other news, my comic reading has me going through the early adjective-less X-Men run, and it’s a glorious 90s mess of a run. This is about when I was first getting into comics (yes I got one of the many variant X-Men #1 comics) and it’s holding up maybe a little better than Uncanny from the same period. Maybe? We’ll see. The crossover with Ghost Rider is pretty amazing, I will say, for how ridiculous things got. Seriously. Wow. Anyway, almost caught up on all the X-Cutioner’s Song books so not sure which I’ll stick with after that crossover.

In game playing, my Blue Lions playthrough is going all right. My goal is to get all the recruits, max out all the supports, and by Byleth through maybe all the classes this playthrough, in part because it’s fun for me and in part to make future playthroughs that much easier, because I won’t have to worry so much about getting all the classes. Anyway, it’s going. I think I have Byleth mastered all the basic classes and into all the intermediate classes, though it will take time to master them all (I probably am through a third of them right now). But it’s early days, still just Chapter 7, so I have lots of game to go.

And that’s about it for now. There’s a misadventure with trying to get a new dishwasher but I’ll spare you that for the moment. Cheers!


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