Monday, September 25, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #18 [September stuff]

September brings a heavy strangeness to the pages (screen?) of Uncanny, with three original stories and two poems that all are a bit weird in their own ways. Especially the fiction seems to ooze a certain surreal quality that is unsettling even as it’s compelling, revealing worlds where the rules are just a little off, or else mapping areas of our own world where the rules are much different than we might have assumed. There is magic here, but not always the most obvious kind. And there is certainly a pervasive darkness to many of the pieces, a pain at the heart of many of the stories. But there’s also a reach toward empathy, and understanding, and community. Many of the pieces involve a community trying to build a place for themselves, to carve out something from a hostile world where their rules can hold sway. But before I drift too far afield, to the reviews!

Art by Ashley Mackenzie

Friday, September 22, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #100

It’s time to celebrate because Apex Magazine turns 100 this month! Woo! As a special treat, there’s an extended table of contents to this September issue, but mostly in the form of three reprinted stories. I definitely recommend you check those out, but I’m keeping my eyes on the original works, of which there are a new novelette and short story. The stories are very much about survival, and in particular about girls surviving tragedies that make them orphans and that leave them with lasting scars, either physically or emotionally. And both stories see these characters pushed to confront their pasts in order to prevent new tragedies from unfolding. These are rather uncomfortable stories at times but also carry with them a gripping tension and action and a strong payoff. It’s been 100 issues from Apex and as I get to these reviews I can only hope for at least 100 more!

Art by Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #234

This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies features two stories about hunting and about violence. In each, there are two sides, hungry and in many ways brutal, who move through the world with certainty in their own worth. Caught between them, though, are legions of victims whose only crimes seem to be being in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught between larger forces who want something. Who want war, mostly, and conquest, whether on a more intimate scale or on the scale of empires and cultures. The stories are dark and uncomfortable, offering no easy answers and really no heroes, just those with power and those who must try to survive being without. These are pieces about victims, and about predators, and I should just get to the reviews already!

Art by Jordan Grimmer

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Quick Sips - Shimmer #39 [September stuff]

The editorial in this month’s Shimmer Magazine gives a glimpse into the element linking the stories—ghosts. And both of the original stories for September revolve around hauntings, and around ghosts, and around stories. In each there are people who are misunderstood, people who walk through life but who never really feel a part of the same world as everyone else. That might have to do with their gender and how they are perceived, or it might have to do with their role and their power. But in both stories the characters are confronted with stories underneath stories, with unearthing hurt and violence and trying to bring some closure and healing to a bad situation. And both seem to focus on how the characters reach toward connection through a haze of difficulty, though the disconnect they often feel with other people. These are two strange but touching stories that I should just get to reviewing!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #60

Nightmare Magazine’s September issue features a nicely paired duo of original stories that explore faith and sacrifice, bargains and power. For both characters, they come face to face with a place of power, with a kind of temple, and have to make some decisions. Do they listen to the voice speaking to them, nudging their feet toward a desired outcome? Do they resist in the face of pain and violence and the prospect of losing everything they have? What does faith really mean to them, and what are distant gods in the face of those that are present, immediate, and loud? These are two stories that take a dark look at gods and power, and it’s time to review them!

Art by Foldyart1980 / Fotolia

Monday, September 18, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 09/04/2017 & 09/11/2014

Hey! Strange Horizons is running their fund drive! It’s almost over! GO SUPPORT THEM!!! You get things like mugs and shirts and pins and just do it, okay. Strange Horizons is hugely important to SFF, in my opinion, and does amazing work. Case in point, I’m looking at three stories and two poems today that are rather stunning. They look at loneliness and loss, at compassion and patience, truth and love. These are stories that feature characters looking for connection, hoping to save someone, even if that someone is themself. The poetry is moving and haunting and everything weaves together to create a feel of warmth and chill, comfort and grief. It is some fantastic work and I for one want Strange Horizons to continue for a long time to come. So check out the fund drive, give what you can, and get ready for some reviews!

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Monthly Round - August 2017

The Monthly Round is live right now at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together. Do please go give it a read. It features my favorite short SFF reads from August 2017 and pairs them with tasting notes, drink pairings, and reviews. It's quite fun. Anyway, for those wanting a taste of what this month's list features, here's the run down. Cheers!

Tasting Flight - August 2017

"The Library of Lost Things" by Matthew Bright (Tor)
"Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live" by Sacha Lamb (Book Smugglers)
"The Wanderers" by Ian McHugh (GigaNotoSaurus)
"unfurl/ed" by Jes Rausch (Strange Horizons)
"If a Bird Can Be a Ghost" by Allison Mills (Apex)
"Our Secret, In Keys" by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (Fireside)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #132

September brings an interesting mix of stories to Clarkesworld, exploring love and coupling, as well as space and time and sentience. The stories range from cerebral and strange to fun and witty to achingly hopeful and human. There are people who are birds, bots who are heroes, planets who are people, people who are machines, and just people being people, with all their flaws but also all the grace and power to save the world. It's never really a surprise to note that the stories are all science fiction, with perhaps a little hint at sci-fantasy but mostly these are stories that imagine a future where life can be different, and some futures where, for all life could be different, it hasn't really changed. So yeah, let's get to the reviews!

Art by Vladimir Manyukhin

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus September 2017

September brings a very timely story to GigaNotoSaurus, a science fiction piece that looks at the cost of water. And that might, by extension, look at the cost of humanity, of decency, and the role of government in providing for the people rather than exploiting them. Water is a complicated topic because of how much humans need it, and how historically it has been a right, to have access to clean water. With the way things have been going, though, any resource, no matter how fundamental, can be twisted to serve profit and power. So yeah, before I get too off on a rant, let’s get to the review!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online September 2017

The September Flash Fiction Online is taking things in a science fiction direction. Just like the special horror issue of earlier in the year, these stories are devoted to exploring worlds that might yet be. Worlds of the future. For some of them, that means dealing with the end of the world, or the end of human life. Or, perhaps, about the end of most human life. They become about loss but also about what can be preserved. The stories are also about violation and voice, though, about who gets to make decisions and who must live with them. These are stories that explore situations bleak and dire. They are not by and large happy stories, even when they lean toward justice, but they are fun in their own ways and heavy with emotional weight, an asteroid of feels careening toward an unsuspecting planet. To the reviews!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #28

The September issue of The Dark Magazine brings with it two original stories that examine what it means to believe in a system that rules the universe. Whether it’s based on logic and science or magic and religion, these systems guide the way people view the world. And they also give shape to the ways that people are hurt by it. For some, it means living with the knowledge that every reality is a sort of cage, every action just a forking in a path that might lead nowhere. And for others it means being a part of a metaphor that strips them of every comfort, that isolates and sacrifices them. In both stories the characters must decide whether to accept these rules, these beliefs, or to try and stand against them and the weight of their implications. To the reviews!

Art by breakermaximus

Friday, September 8, 2017

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #88

The September issue of Lightspeed issue is very concerned with the future. And with freedom. The four stories, all short stories this issue, weave around characters walking the line between destiny and free will. Between falling into what’s expected and taking a stand to do something else. And these stories shift between relationships—husband and wife, mother and daughter, soldier and demon, and how those relationships shift with time and with distance, with death and with life. These are stories that carry with them very interesting visions of hope amidst difficulty, and I’m just going to get to reviewing them already!

Art by Alan Bao

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Quick Sips - The Sockdolager #9 - Summer 2017

It’s with sadness that I say that this will be the last time I review The Sockdolager, which ends its publication run with this issue. The good news is that wow are there a lot of stories to look at, eleven original stories that are mostly centered, in my opinion, around the theme of resistance. It makes sense for a publication that strived to push for being original and fun, impacting but enjoyable. It’s a difficult line to walk, and a bit of resistance in itself, trying to carve out a unique place within SFF. The stories move, largely looking at societies struggling with corruption and invasion, and people forced to find a way to move forward, to push toward justice even when it’s difficult, even when what they really want is just to rest. But there is no rest for the willing, and the characters prove themselves to be up to the task of moving forward, of resisting, of pushing for revolution and change. Sometimes it doesn’t work out too well, but often it’s still much better than it would have been. These are some fun stories, and a great final bow for a great SFF publication. To the reviews!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #233

This third August issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies delves into two very different worlds that are linked by the way they exploit the vulnerable. The stories explore the ways in which people are used as tools for war and execution, for death and conflict. And they reveal women willing to risk everything in order to work for a better world. In many ways the characters in both stories are working for peace, for justice. But both know that most of the time that's not a goal that can be reached without walking a road paved in its own sort of conflict and violence. That the most direct path is the one that often leaves the most destruction in its wake, but is often the only road that doesn't allow the harm to continue, that strikes at the heart of the problem. These are stories that firmly believe you can't make a peace omelet without breaking a few eggs, and so some eggs get broken. And it's at times disturbing and always tragic, but it's still necessary in the pursuit of a better world. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Jordan Grimmer

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com August 2017

It's a rather big month of releases from Tor dot com this August, not because there's an unusual number of them, but rather because so many of them are...big. There's five stories, four of them novelettes and three of those over 13k, so these are mostly stories that you can really sink you teeth into. Many of them examine what it means to be lost, what it means to be out of place. Whether the reason for that is magical, or because the person has been left behind, or because society itself isn't making room for people to be, the result is that the stories circle around loneliness and hurt, hope and despair. These are characters trying to find how they'll fit into a world that doesn't quite fit them, and finding that things are more complicated than they originally thought. Demonic weapons, stranded aliens, awesome libraries, and missing memories all weave deep narratives that deserve some serious time and attention. So before I take up too much of yours, let's get to the reviews!

Art by Red Nose Studio

Monday, September 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction August 2017

Well September is a busy month at Fireside Fiction. With four flash fiction stories, one short story, and the first three installments of a serial novelette or novella, it manages to pack a lot in there. Given that, it's no surprise that the themes and feels of the stories range quite a bit, from happy in the face of oblivion to heartbroken at the end of a beautiful relationship. The stories look at gods and prophets, loves and robots. These are stories that all explore what it means to be human and what it is that humans create. All the bullshit and abuse but also the beauty and the compassion. It's a difficult batch of stories to fully fit under any thematic umbrella, but the quality is certainly high and the overall feeling rather triumphant. To the reviews!

Art by Daniel Stolle

Friday, September 1, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/21/2017 & 08/28/2017

Well, we’ve made it to the Strange Horizons annual fund drive! If you haven’t chipped, I strongly encourage you to. Strange Horizons is a non-profit publication and it does some very incredibly work, lifting up voices in SFF while keeping an eye out for awesome poetry and providing a nice assortment of nonfiction. Strange Horizons is one of my very favorite publications, and today I’m looking at a short story and a whole lot of poetry. Because of the nature of the fund drive, bonus content is being released on a rolling basis as they reach funding goals, so I will try to keep up with what’s been released there as well, but please forgive me if I miss a little bit. Anyway, there’s quite a bit of awesome to look at, so I’ll just jump right into those reviews!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, part 8: "Improbable Cause," "The Die is Cast," "In Purgatory's Shadow," & "By Inferno's Light"

The Year of Garak keeps rolling on! For those just tuning in, the Year of Garak is an exploration of whatever Garak texts I can find. Whether episodes from Deep Space 9, tie-in novels, or fanfiction, I'm casting a wide net trying to find more with my favorite plain, simple Cardassian. If you want to catch up, here's links to the previous posts: January | February | March | April | May | June | July.

I'm joined again today by SFF poet, writer, and all around awesome person Nicasio Andres Reed. Today we're looking at four pivotal episodes from Deep Space 9, or really two sets of 2-part episodes. We get to see Garak at his cleverest and most cruel, but also at his lowest and most vulnerable. So let's get down to it, shall we!

Also, in case you forgot...

Nicasio Andres Reed is a Filipino-American writer and poet whose work has appeared in Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Liminality, Inkscrawl, and Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology. Nico currently lives in Madison, WI. Find him on Twitter @NicasioSilang.

And now, to the discussion!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Quick Sips - Terraform August 2017

Terraform makes its return to original fiction this month, with its first story since March. Yes, there was the Highwayman project, and there have been a number of excerpts, but here is an original story that celebrates forty years of the Voyager missions. I must admit, it’s a romantic idea, humans flinging something out into the vastness of space, hoping maybe, against odd, to hit something. A cosmic game of darts. The story is paired with a nonfiction piece going over Voyager and some more recent projects, and also an interview with William Gibson. I certainly recommend checking those out, but for how I’m keeping my review just to the original fiction. And, without further delay, here we go!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quick Sips - Lackington's #14 - Musics

The latest issue of Lackington’s to be released for free is themed around Music. And what results are six original stories that show just what music can and does mean—the rhythm of it, the magic of it, and the power of it to push change. And these stories explore not just the way that music can be enjoyed, but the ways that it can be used both to inspire and to lure, to remember and to heal. The stories are by and large rather dark, showing an appreciation for characters experiencing loss, for people needing direction. Songs can be maps, and these stories show characters following songs off into the unknown. Finding paths by no means safe, and at times very dangerous indeed, but also often paths that they need to take. That offer some way forward after everything has been wiped away. These are some great stories, and I’ll jump right in to the reviews!

Art by Stacy Nguyen

Monday, August 28, 2017

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers August 2017

I’m very sad that the Gods & Monsters short story season is over at The Book Smugglers with these two short stories. It has been an excellent run and the pieces have consistently been among my favorite every month they’ve been out. But even good things must come to an end. At least for this year. To close things out there are two new stories exploring youth and education, love and responsibility. The stories aren’t that similar on the surface, but digging deeper finds narratives that are very concerned with consent and with fostering an environment where young people can explore who they are and how they want to live. They mix humor and magic, emotion and stress and frustration. But they also imagine characters taking control of their situations, negotiating their ways past the forces trying to crush them. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Ira Gladkova

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mapping Smutty SFF - Part 2: Market Forces

Goldilocks: Not Just a Character in My Gender-swapped Slashfic

 So starting out as a new writer and wanting to write SFF and basically finding that my brand of SFF isn’t considered Real SFF(TM)...wasn’t really an easy thing. Fuck, it still isn’t an easy thing, and it’s still something I struggle with all the time. As I talked about last time, the distance between what I call “Pro” SFF and what I call Smutty SFF is...rather large. This is maybe changing, fairly slowly, but market realities are something that crop up a lot when thinking about what to write and how to focus as a writer hoping to make money. Because thus enters the impossible task of balancing not self-rejecting and aiming your stories for venues you think you can sell to. It’s a task complicated by the lingering dread that, as a writer, you’ll always be wrong.

It’s a Goldilocks situation, but one in reverse and one that’s constantly shifting. If your story is too queer and happy or focuses too heavily on romance, it’s unlikely to fit in at SFWA-qualifying markets. If it doesn’t feature a Happily Ever After or Happily For Now ending, or if the brand of queer isn’t popular enough, it’s a harder sell to the larger romance presses. Instead of shooting for a happy medium between the two as being the perfect fit, market forces push writers to choose and embrace a binary system where SFF with queer romantic plots and SFF w/o queer romantic plots must be kept separate.

Obviously, there are some exceptions to the rule. Beneath Ceaseless Skies and The Book Smugglers have both put out a number of stories that feature strong and joyous queer relationships that split the distance between “just” SFF and SFF romance. Lethe Press puts out a lot that’s queer and SFF without necessarily focusing on romance, and even Dreamspinner has an imprint that is about explicitly queer characters but not romance. It’s out there, but it’s not all that talked about and when it is, it’s often from a lens of either a romance reader or a “just” SFF reader.

Market Spotlight: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

There’s aren’t too many SFWA-qualifying short fiction markets that seem especially keen to publish Smutty SFF, but BCS might be a great place to start if your style runs into fantasy. It’s not someplace that you’re going to be able to tune into every issue and find works that celebrate queer characters and relationships, but there are quite a few stories in its extensive backlist that fit the bill, and many that are presented in audio format as well. I am very impressed with the work that BCS does issue after issue to put out nicely paired stories, and quite often there is queer content, and occasionally there is queer romance as well, though as with many more “pro” venues, tragedy has a tendency to win out over HEA/HFN (but hey, I’m guilty of it, too…). It is fantasy-specific, but it’s also published some of my absolute favorite Smutty SFF stories full stop, including an amazing novella from Rose Lemberg recently, “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power.” People, go read it! BCS is also a non-profit, so give some support if you can!

And it’s a self-feeding problem. Because readers looking for or wanting SFF that falls into the area between SFF romance and SFF w/o romance can’t exactly trust either side to provide for them what they want. I know from experience that if you can’t find what you really want, you either make do or leave. Those who make due are essentially used to justify not diversifying content and those who leave are given up on. It’s what capitalism does, and it’s helped by a number of factors. The result is that it can often feel, as a writer, that there is no right decision. Even trying to write what I hope will sell instead of what I most want to write doesn’t mean that I will succeed, but it does mean that the writing itself is less rewarding.

Anecdote Time!

Here’s a real-life example. I decided not too long ego to start writing a novel, a SFF mystery with psychics that is not a romance but that has some queer sex and a lot of weird. And writing it terrifies me. Why? A few reasons, really. First, I have no idea what I’ll do with it when/if I finish it. Do I try to get an agent? Do I send it to a smaller queer press that does open submissions? What do I do? To be clear, I know many writers who have written novels that I would want desperately to read that either haven’t found representation or who did find representation but didn’t sell their works to publishers, or who are finding it very difficult to. Obviously, I want to tell these people “Keep writing!” “I believe in your work!” “I really fucking want to read your novel!” But I’m not a book buyer. I’m not an editor. In the face of a vast and, if not outright hostile, sharply apathetic market, what can you say to someone writing stories that might not fit.

This is all complicated, of course, by the fact that writing often works in reverse of most traditional professions. We do the work first and then try to get paid. How do I justify spending hour and hours, days and weeks and months, on a project that might earn me nothing? Or slightly north of nothing. I’ll let you in on a secret—I don’t make a lot of money. I spend my 40+ hours a week at a union print shop and I make enough to live, but not much more. There’s medical debt and the need for a newer car and trying to not let my home fall apart. I make a little extra doing writing and reviewing, but it’s only “extra” in that it’s not regular. At this point I basically need to be earning something on the side to help ease the financial strain/have any hope of surviving something going wrong. I doubt I’m the only Smutty SFF writer in such a situation, or for whom being able to earn actual substantive money off of writing would be transforming. Perhaps I should just shut up and get a part time job and give up on writing, on reviewing, or anything but making sure I’m financially secure. But writing and reading are some of the few things that I really like in life, and being told to give them up because my passion is not popular or marketable enough is...well, difficult.

Further, and as I said before, even if a book does see the light of day, it has to contend with the gatekeepers of the field, with award committees that don’t think it fits, with reviewers who want a book to conform to what they can recognize as either romance or “just” SFF. Having been reviewed widely for both SFF romance and “pro” SFF, I can tell you that the landscape is pretty fucking bleak. Those who review the most are often the most conservative when it comes to works that straddle genre lines, and often those who are the best suited to reviewing are more likely to be overwhelmed with the need out there for quality reviewing. I’ve seen reviews of my works that take issue with the fact that it’s either not romantic enough or too romantic, depending on where the story appeared at. And while negative reviews might not prevent me from selling future stories, they do impact readers, and by extension sales. It’s simply hard to build buzz for a project that most people have trouble placing, because the distance between SFF romance and “pro” SFF is so large. There are very few places that review both romance and non-romance SFF. There are fewer still that do so with an eye and appreciation for queer content. There are a few, but again, neither SFF romance nor “pro” SFF are super welcoming for a newer writer who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere.

But okay, so what? I really don’t want to just make this series about me and my woes. So what do I suggest? For what you can. I hope you can write the stories you truly want to write, and I hope that they sell. If they don’t, and you need money, then I’m so sorry. You will ultimately have to decide how much to try and make your writing fit better so that you can tell as close to the stories you want most to tell as possible while still selling. It still might not work. There are no guarantees. Fuck. I’d say don’t discount the small presses, especially those who seem to be trying to put out what you’re writing. Often it means less money than you’d like, but often it does mean some money, and you’re splitting it with people who believe in your book and want to publish your stories.

If you’re a reader...consider becoming a reviewer as well. And, wherever possible, search out small-press books that sound good. Buy them if you have the money. Or get your library to order them. Advocate for the books you want, signal boost the projects you’re excited about. Be loud. Try not to be an asshole.

Market Spotlight: The Book Smugglers

So this is both a venue for stories and reviews. Starting life as a review blog, The Book Smugglers have since branched out into publishing as well and they are amazing. Their stories often defy genre expectations and get into delightfully smutty territory. “Superior” by Jessica Lack was one of my favorite stories last year, and Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap is OMGlob the best thing ever! If you are not reading the amazing stories they put out, you should be. And The Book Smugglers is also one of the best SFF review sites around, reading widely and not shying away from books that are marketed more as romance. They are a vital and affirming link connecting the more “pro” SFF venues and the SFF romance venues. From short stories to novellas to novels, they put out a lot of amazing stuff and a vast majority of it is joyously queer. Definitely go out and buy the hell out of their books and just pay attention. They are doing amazing work, and I hope they continue for a long, long time.

The market is a strange and often opaque thing. It serves financial interests first, which is to say it’s not often very concerned with justice. Its favorite phrase is “vote with your wallet,” perhaps the single least democratic phrase I have ever heard. But it is the reality of the situation, and it doesn’t mean that everyone making decisions based off of market realities is a terrible person. It does make it very difficult for those writing outside the more traditional lanes of SFF or romance, though. And it makes the question of whether to attempt to conform or to attempt to blaze a new trail all the more difficult and dangerous. For those having to make those decisions, fucking good luck. I hope you find joy and success.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Quick Sips - Glittership Summer 2017 part 1

The Summer 2017 issue of Glittership is out, and it is full of gloriously queer stories and poetry! And wouldn’t you know it, a certain intrepid reviewer might have a poem in this issue as well! I won’t, of course, be reviewing “becoming, ca. 2000,” but I wouldn’t mind if you all checked it out anyway. What remains I’m breaking up into two reviews, today looking at the first half of the issue’s content. Which would mean two original stories, two reprint stories, and a poem...except that my poem is first up, so I’m skipping that. And the first of the reprints, by Bogi Takács, I have already reviewed when it appeared in the inaugural issue of Capricious SF. What remains is a trio of stories that are dense and moody, that revolve around hurt and grief and fear. They are not, as a rule, happy stories, and some of them might have reduced me to a small collection of salty tears, but they are all deep and heavy and incredibly crafted. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #232

It’s another masterfully paired issue of stories at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with two pieces that weaves power and poison, duty and servitude. Both stories find characters who have had no choice about where they are, who are essentially slaves, though that they are treated somewhat well is supposed to make them loyal to their captors, to their owners. And in both stories the characters have to face what they’re doing and their desires—for freedom perhaps, or for worth. In both, the characters seem to know their trajectory, their fate, and it is violent and quick. And though they seem at peace with that, there is a tendril of doubt that works through them, making them question if there might be another way. To live. Let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Jordan Grimmer

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasty Quarterly Q33

There's something of a surprise in this issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly—a pair of linked novelettes! The stories are dark and center on the European invasion and colonization of the Americas, and the death and sins associated with that time. The stories feature characters in some ways divorced from their people, alone and looking for punishment for the direction their lives have taken. Instead they find new purpose in the face of a dark and twisted threats that go far beyond the Europeans knocking at the door. Along with another short story and a nice range of poetry, the issue marks an interesting complication of what's normally considered Heroic Fantasy. But it works, not only to fit into the guiding theme of the publication, but to find new territory to discover. Onward to the reviews!

Art by Jereme Peabody

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #59

August brings a pair of rather short short stories to Nightmare Magazine. In both, characters find a bit of magic lurking at the edges of the mundane. The two stories differ sharply, though, in how the main characters approach that magic. In the first, the magic is familiar, grown out of the land where the character is from, as much a part of him as not. In the second story, though, the magic springs forth from something quite foreign, for something dark and alluring that turns out to be incredibly dangerous. These are both stories about a loss, about a disappearance, but they take very different paths to that final moment when someone realizes they’ve been left behind. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Chorazin / Adobe Stock Art

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #17 [August stuff]

August brings another packed month of content from Uncanny Magazine. And as much as it pains me to do so, I’m going to be stepping away from reviewing the nonfiction, not only here but probably everywhere. I love Uncanny in part because of its nonfiction, but I feel I need a little bit of slack in what is a difficult time for me so my apologies. I will still definitely be reviewing all the original fiction and poetry, though, and there are three stories and two poems to look at. Everything this month seems to hinge a bit on transformations. Seasons shifting. Women being made into trees. A person becoming a city. These transformations reveal a certain corruption at the heart of the worlds the pieces explore—our world. And they show that often there is no good way to avoid unwanted change, that when there are those with power and those without, harm and injustice often follow, and those without are often the ones to suffer regardless of what they do. It’s a brace of difficult and rather dark SFF, but there’s some light as well. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Kirbi Fagan

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Monthly Round - July 2017

The Monthly Round is up over at Nerds of a Feather, Flock together. It gathers up my favorite July 2017 short SFF reads and pairs them with booze, tasting notes, and reviews. It's a lot of fun.

For those who just want the title and links, well...

Tasting Flight - July 2017

“A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power” by Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“Owl vs. The Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger (Strange Horizons)

“Cracks” by Xen (Fiyah)

“Waiting on a Bright Moon” by JY Yang (Tor dot com)

“Elsewhere” by Meera Jhala (Flash Fiction Online)

"A Question of Faith” by Tonya Liburd (The Book Smugglers)



Thursday, August 17, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 08/07/2017 & 08/14/2017

There's a pair of stories and a pair of poems in the first two weeks of Strange Horizons' August content. The stories present brilliant portrayals of minds that are part human and part computer. Minds that have been made into something else—into a ship, into a solar collector. This is not always a consensual act, and the stories look not only of the cost of such a transformation, but how these new beings interact with their world, their civilizations. Through war and extinction, the stories manage two very powerful looks at decay and hope. The poems as well provide a nice array of strange ideas and poignant memories, as they tour a house of birds and the filmography of a dead actor. It's an incredibly two weeks of content, and I will just get to the reviews!

Art by Galen Dara

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Quick Sips - Shimmer #38 [August stuff]

It’s a rather action packed month of stories from Shimmer Magazine. With two original pieces, the settings move from old myths to weird West, from a pair of monsters circling each other unaware to a woman trying to outrun those that would suppress the truth. Both stories feature women who feel the need to act. Mostly, to act against the injustice of their situations. The cultures that pressure them to accept what domestic service they can offer and a death because of the inequities of the system. Instead they decide to risk a much younger death in order to fight back. To push against the pressures wanting them to conform in order to make space. It’s not always a very successful fight they wage, but it’s one that they believe in, and it makes for some interesting reading. So let’s get to those reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #131

It's another full month of stories from Clarkesworld, though only the translation this time is a novelette. The stories are dense, though, and wonderfully strange, revealing the topography of meat, the tapestry of stars, the malleability of human flesh, and the tenacity of scientists working to protect data. There is a theme running through many of the stories of form and perseverance. People stand against the enormity of societal pressures to conform, to accept erasure or corruption or expectation. They follow what they know to be right even as it threatens to tear them apart. It makes for a nicely balance, emotionally impacting issue. To the reviews!

Art by Pascal Blanche

Monday, August 14, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #99

The subtitle for this issue of Apex Magazine is “A Celebration of Indigenous American Fantasicsts,” and I think that’s a great way of framing these four original short stories. Selected by guest editor Amy H. Sturgis, they are a celebration, though not always an overjoyed one. It’s a celebration with an edge of memory, with a weight that comes from constant danger and corruption. These are stories that examine identity and authenticity and family. That look at the way that relationships can fray or be strengthened by being in danger, by being isolated and marginalized. They are a wonderful bunch of stories, and form a nicely coherent and flowing issue that you should go and buy immediately. To the reviews!

Art by Dana Tiger

Friday, August 11, 2017

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies # 231

August at Beneath Ceaseless Skies starts out with blood and war and cruelty. With two stories that look squarely at corruption and the specter of overwhelming power and corruption. The two stories show very different scopes of a similar core conflict between...well, not exactly good and evil, though if you squint it might seem that way at first. More like between cruelty and compassion. Or between freedom and enslavement. The stories show just how similar these sides can be at times, in their methods and their results, and how it can seem incredibly pointless in the face of the limitations of hope. And yet both still leave room for the characters to strive for something they might never reach, that they will probably never reach, because in the striving there is something beautiful and rewarding and valuable. So yeah, let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Jordan Grimmer

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus August 2017

It’s a longer release from GigaNotoSaurus this month, with a long novelette that warms the cold, lonely chambers of my reviewer-heart. There is something to be said about a story that just embraces being an adventure, that features characters striking out into the unknown wilderness for the joy of it. And it reveals a world of striking beauty and harsh reality. Of danger and mistrust and old hurts, but also the possibility of new growth and new hope. Of healing. It’s an absolutely gorgeous story that is well worth the time and effort, and I’ll just get to the review!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #87

It’s a rather subdued batch of stories for August’s Lightspeed Magazine. Most of them focus on conversations and internal motivations. They focus on both great kindnesses, and great abuses. Throughout the stories there is a sense of slowness, of time. These pieces are not in a hurry. Instead they unfold thoughtfully, patiently, holding important truths toward the end when they can be revealed in all their complex beauty and ugliness. These are stories that hold a weight to them that goes beyond explosions or monsters—what they face instead are corrupt institutions that form the bedrock of society. They look at the pain and the hurt being done and they offer no easy answers, no ready solutions, just the assurance that people helping being can be a source of magic and light, just as people hurting people can be a source of a darker sort of magic, and one that’s all around us. To the reviews!

Art by Reiko Murakami

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online August 2017

Summer is still going strong at Flash Fiction Online, but with August comes a slow slide toward autumn, the bright colors of spring now distant and the heat of the summer leaning toward oppressive. To push back against that, here are three original stories that focus on relationships and, mostly, the redemptive potential of relationships—friendships and partnerships that allow people to grow in ways that they might not have been able to do alone. The stories can be heavy at times with fear and uncertainty and hurt, but end up shining with the beauty of the connection they highlight. And the issues doesn’t stay completely serious, offering a lighter, funnier tale to ease the heavier impacts. So yeah, to the reviews!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Quick Sips - The Dark #27

August brings a pair of rather strange stories to The Dark Magazine, including one that’s much longer than I’m used to from the publication. Both stories look at different kinds of hunger, different ways that the main characters seek to fill up an emptiness inside them. For both characters, the emptiness has something to do with the loss of their mothers when they were quite young. For one, that loss is a trauma that he can’t seem to heal from. For the other, the loss opens up a void that cannot be filled, that is filled with anger and uncertainty. These are stories that do a good job exploring place and grief, the characters trying to find some map to lead them toward peace and fulfillment. How the characters follow those maps, though, is quite different. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Tomislav Tikulin

Friday, August 4, 2017

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 07/17/2017, 07/24/2017, 07/31/2017

It’s a nicely balanced three weeks of content from Strange Horizons. For my part I’m looking at a story and three poems, though there was also a bit of nonfiction that is certainly worth checking out. All the pieces do a nice job of mixing the strange and the mundane, the exotic and the familiar. The story shows the magic of desperation and family, and also the ache of growing up and growing apart. And the poems look at fairy tales and out space, food and freedom. All the pieces digs a bit at something that seems like it might be ordinary and finds something fantastical to hold on to, even as they reveal very intimate, personal truths. So without further delays, the reviews!

Art by Sebastian Gomez

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Quick Sips - Tor dot com July 2017

The stories from Tor dot com this month offer a bit of everything—shared universe urban fantasy, far future space opera, near future apocalyptic science fiction, and a sort of twisted fairy tale. And the stories are about resistance and standing up to bullies, or at the very least standing up for the vulnerable, for those who society has let slip into danger, pain, and erasure. The stories sing with a power that crosses galaxies and makes bones dance for justice, and they center characters in some ways just trying to get on with their lives who must stop and take stock…and then take action. To the reviews!

Art by Victo Ngai

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction July 2017

The July stories from Fireside Fiction keep things rather short and sharp, with three flash pieces and a short story. The fiction is moving and rather violent, showing characters faced with difficult or even impossible situations—the betrayal of a sibling, the dangers of unknown worlds, the end of human life on Earth. The stories all take a rather measured look at people who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and asking if they really have to. In some of the stories, the answer is a resounding yes, reported with a gun's firing. In some, the answer is no, as people can decide to step back from the brink, to change their role from active to support. And in some, the answer is more nebulous, less certain. But in all of them the characters must look within and ask how far they will go for their cause. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that the new BlackSpecFic report is up for 2016 and the numbers are…less than ideal. In any event, very much go read the report by Cecily Kane and then all the commentary by a slew of contributors. Do it!!!

Art by Galen Dara

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers July 2017

It's another busy month at The Book Smugglers this July with two new Gods & Monsters short stories! And really the stories are very different takes on the central theme, the first looking at faith and how it's constructed, how it's framed, and how it can take on a life of its own. The second visits much more the monsters side of things to present a gothic horror that is full of gasps, fainting, and things lurking in the dark. Both stories take a close look at the characters first, and on family. They examine the ways that family can be a burden, or a great strength. And they both provide moments of action, moments of quiet contemplation, and moments of staggering horror. So yeah, let's get to those reviews!

Art by Jennifter Johnson

Monday, July 31, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, Part 7: The Never Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack

Welcome back! The year of Garak continues in glorious fashion, though this week we might be sidelining our hero to look at a work where he's not really the focus. For those just tuning in, I've been looking at various Garak media, from short stories to novels to the original DS9 episodes. Basically, if it's got Garak, I want to examine it, because I love Garak and something needs to distract me from...other things 2017 has brought with it. If you want to catch up, here's links to the previous posts: January | February | March | April | May | June.

I'm joined again today by SFF poet, writer, and all around awesome person Nicasio Andres Reed. We're looking at another tie-in novel by Una McCormack, The Never Ending Sacrifice so SPOILERS apply. Feel free to jump into the comments (they are moderated so it might take a little while for them to show up but I will try my best to check in regularly). Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the discussion!

Also, in case you forgot...

Nicasio Andres Reed is a Filipino-American writer and poet whose work has appeared in Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Liminality, Inkscrawl, and Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology. Nico currently lives in Madison, WI. Find him on Twitter @NicasioSilang.

And now, to the discussion!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #6: LET'S GET INVISIBLE!

Can I just say that I love that these titles feel the need to use exclamation points. Like LET'S GET INVISIBLE would have been too weak and dull. No, fuck that! the book seems to say. If we're doing this then WE'RE FUCKING DOING THIS!!! I mean, it makes a certain amount of sense when you've got death in the mix. SAY CHEESE AND DIE! seems like less an overstatement, same with TICK TOCK, YOU'RE DEAD! But...getting invisible just doesn't have the same weight to it. The same need for that exclamation point. Maybe if it was LET'S GET INVISIBLE...TO DEATH! I could more fully behind it. As it is, and especially with how this book turns out, that exclamation is a promise that the book does not follow through on.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Queer Smut Reviews - Nasty: Fetish Fights Back, eds. Anna Yeatts & Chris Phillips

Welcome to the second installment of Queer Smut Reviews. So make sure you’re wearing your protective poncho and buckle in, because it’s a rather wild ride. I’m looking at a collection of short stories today, Nasty: Fetish Fights Back, edited by Anna Yeatts and Chris Phillips of Flash Fiction Online. It’s smut for a good cause, too, as a portion of proceeds go to Planned Parenthood (which is even more important now, given all the health things going down right now). There are 27 stories in all, And full disclosure, I wrote one of them. So really I’ll only be mentioning 26 stories in this review.

Now, I tried to look more closely at the stories that were specifically SFF. That doesn’t mean I just skipped the rest, but you’ll probably notice that my reviews are more robust for the SFF stories. This is both because smutty SFF is exactly what I want to be looking at and because if I wrote long thoughts on them all my hands would fall off. It’s a rather great collection, though, and I definitely recommend that people pay attention all of the stories. Part of the reason I want to look at smutty SFF with a critical lens is much the same reason that this collection exists—to try and bring people together to resist the idea that sexuality and bodies are topics that don’t belong in polite conversation. Where the stories shine the most, I feel, is where they look at consent and transparency, people talking to people and negotiating to make sure everyone is safe and getting what they want. Where I think the stories falter a bit is when they neglect that.

But enough stalling—let’s get to the reviews!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Regular Sip - In Search of Lost Time by Karen Heuler

I’m back for a new Regular Sip review of a recent novella out from Aqueduct Press. My main familiarity with the press has actually been through WisCon, as the press until recently had produced small collections that would collect work from the Guests of Honor of the convention. And their table is always well worth checking out in the dealer room. This novella is part of a line of theirs called Conversation Pieces, which are typically small paperbacks meant to promote, well, conversation. And in that this novella is incredibly fitting, providing a dense and fascinating experience focusing on moral dilemmas and personal tragedies. But before I give too much away, I’ll just jump right into the review!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Quick Sips - Uncanny #17 [July stuff]

July finds Uncanny Magazine full once again, this time with three original stories, two poems, and two nonfiction pieces. And may of the pieces examine the idea of home. Of community. Of something encroaching, and how people react to that. In some of the pieces, how is a physical building, a place of healing and haunting. In some it is a neighborhood, or a country, or a place among the stars. Many of these works show people reaching for a home that is different, that is better, where change is possible, where injustice and corruption can be put aside at last. These are stories, poems, and nonfiction pieces that reveal stunning compassion and blistering resistance. They are sometimes tender, sometimes shocking, sometimes funny, and all in all an incredibly collection of SFF. So let’s get to the reviews!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Quick Sips - Apex #98

July’s Apex Magazine features a nice little editorial that celebrates the USA’s birthday in a rather nice way. And the stories it brings to the table are an interesting pair, keeping things firmly in the realm of science fiction, probability and time travel, rabbits and desperation. In both we find characters on missions. In the first, it’s a mission to make sense out of a random universe. In the other, it’s a mission to undo what is being perceived as a great wrong. The stories differ greatly and offer up some very different interpretations of dark SFF, but they offer up some interesting and rather philosophical points to ponder. And before I get to distracted, it’s time to review!

Art by Quentin-Vladimir Castel

Monday, July 24, 2017

Quick Sips - Shimmer #38 [July stuff]

It’s a bit of a strange month at Shimmer Magazine, with two original stories that full embrace the weird. Whether that means imagining a world where mutant zombie-lizard-people face some Western-tinged gunslinging or a world something like 1920’s France where people are deconstructing themselves in the face of war, these are pieces that embrace SFF’s ability to be different. And they are stories of characters in turmoil, in pain, trying to make sense out of a world that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. These are story with action and with something distinct and rather undefinable about them and lacking the language to describe them in broad strokes, I’ll try to get to specifics in the reviews!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Friday, July 21, 2017

Regular Sip - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #230

Okay, so...this is something of a special review for me. Firstly (and most importantly), it's NEW BIRDVERSE OMG YAAAASSSS!!! Ahem. Aside from that, it's the longest title that I've read from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a stunning novella that is available for free both to read and to listen to (as a 5 hr podcast!). The second part of the novella is also appearing alongside a short story of mine, "Rivers Run Free," which of course I am not reviewing but hey, if you all want to read and review it, feel free! :D Anyway, this novella is one of my favorite reads, proving once and for all that one of the sexiest things in the universe is consent. So without further ado, the review!

Art by Jeff Brown