Saturday, December 31, 2016

Quick Thoughts - 2016

Welcome to the last day of the year. The last day of 2016, which has, probably for every person reading this, been a year of highs and lows, hopes and despairs. For me, at least, it has been a very difficult year peppered by moments of beauty, joy, and love.

Now, 2016 isn't quite done here at Quick Sip Reviews. If I had really pushed myself I could have closed out the original fiction, but I'm completely okay with one 2016 review tipping over into 2017. Just as I am sure I'll be back to talk about my favorite 2016 SFF numerous times over the next few months. It happens. But I'm already reading into 2017, so I think it's time to look back.

QSR is almost two years old. I kicked the blog off in very early 2015, and at the close of 2016 I have reviewed close to 1500 short stories and probably more like 1800 individual works of SFF, including fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. And really not all that much has changed since I started, though I will admit my reviews have become longer and more in depth. I have probably developed a pretty obvious style and formula for reviewing, which hopefully people don't mind. My reasons for doing this work, at least, haven't really changed, though I admit that 2016 was challenging on many fronts when it came to maintaining my momentum and not faltering or stopping.

I will give myself this credit: I read and review a lot of works. Not as many as I want to. If I could make a living just reading and reviewing, I would do it in an instant and would expand what I covered. Alas, there are stories I miss. There are venues I don't get to. But, I do get to a lot. In 2016 I have written over 400,000 words of reviews and nonfiction for Quick Sip Reviews. That is a lot. I don't want to seem arrogant saying it. But I do want to say it, because sometimes it doesn't feel that I do much here. There are certainly days where I feel like I'm just pretending. That real reviewers do things differently. They review for publications that pay them, they strive for objectivity, they participate in building a canon of what people should and shouldn't read. And I…don't do any of that. I get paid now, thanks to the wonderful and amazing people backing my Patreon. But I don't pretend at objectivity and I certainly don't want to build a canon. I want people to read as widely as they can. To surprise themselves with what is out there and what they might enjoy. Canon is a bit like cannons to me—useful to some and devastating to others, with the difference being what side of the power divide you're on.

But 2016 has been a rather big year for QSR, still. I actually see people reading my reviews and passing them along. Which is bizarre. I mean, it's also sort of the point of reviewing, that people read the reviews and find them helpful. But it's a bit weird to see people and publications that I admire seem to actually…like…my reviews. o.O And I have been able to participate in some great projects because of my reviewing and I've met (via the internet) some amazing people, too. Also in real life, I guess, because this was the first year that I was actually recognized while at WisCon (another cool but weird/frightening experience). Already it looks like 2017 will have its share of interesting things to do and to see and to participate in.

And 2016 has seen me start my Patreon, which has been a great experience for me, personally as well as in terms of getting paid for doing reviews. I absolutely appreciate everyone who has chipped in and I hope that everyone is satisfied with the content I provide. And if anyone out there hasn't yet found my Patreon and is interesting in helping to support the work I do here at QSR, please do check it out and see if it's something you'd be interested in. Every little bit helps!

As a writer, 2016 has been another improvement. I've sold more and managed to reach SFWA qualifying status. So that's certainly something to be happy about. My story "The Death of Paul Bunyan" was the last original story that Lightspeed released this year, and 2017 will be FULL OF MY FICTION, so it's something to look forward to. Now, admittedly, there have been some setbacks. Many of my queer SFF erotic stories have been coming out through Torquere Press and that has been a bit of a mess, tbh. I really don't want to say much about it, because I don't know how this will pan out, but as of now at the very least I'll have 5 stories without homes and I don't have a great idea what to do with that. We shall see. Still, 2017 won't be without my queer speculative smut, as I have at least a few steamy stories coming out that I'll hopefully be able to give more details on soon.

But yeah, 2016 is almost over. Which is conflicting, because especially at the end it's been heavy with pain and exhaustion. At the same time, the future is in many ways uncertain. It looms like a mountain to be climbed, and after 2016 my metaphoric arms are rather tired. But the work is worth it. The goal is worthy. The hope is…still burning. So yes, goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017. I'm kicking things off with the first category of the Second Annual Sippy Awards tomorrow, so look forward to that. Cheers, my friends!

All the best,

Charles Payseur


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Quick Sips - Terraform December 2016

It's something of a short month of fiction at Motherboard's Terraform, with only two fiction pieces and a new chapter in the Highwayman graphic story. And the future looks…well, bleak as fuck in these visions of what might happen. I suspect that given how 2016 has gone, hope is going to be rather difficult to find, especially in near future SF, and these stories certain capture a certain darkness and a certain pessimism when looking forward. Which makes sense, especially given recent events, but these are not easy stories. These are stories that expose the ugliness that humans are capable of, and probably not for the squeamish. But yeah, to the reviews! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 12/19/2016

Well, I really thought that there was going to be an issue of Strange Horizons this week, but it makes sense what with the holiday weekends to take the time off. It means, however, that I'm only looking at one story, one poem, and one nonfiction work to close out Strange Horizons' 2016 content. Luckily these are some very provocative and innovative pieces that speak to how stories are told, whether directly (in the case of the nonfiction), by showing the possibilities of storytelling (as the poem does), or by challenging conventional storytelling techniques (like the fiction). All told, these are SFF works that really push the boundaries of storytelling, crafting tales that shift as you move them in the light, each new angle a new layer to be explored, a new world to be discovered. Strange Horizons always does a great job of making me think, and these pieces certainly keep that tradition going strong. To the reviews! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #215

Both the stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies look at loss. At how people approach and react to it. At how people seek to undo it. And how, ultimately, they face the facts that what has been lost cannot be regained. That they must find a way forward or else wither and decay. And I love the roads that these stories pave for their main characters, both of which are hardened, wry people who think that they've finally reached their breaking point. Who think that they're set in their ways, done changing. And who find that they have some growing yet to do. They also mix a nice amount of ass-kicking action in with some heavier, emotional moments, both to good effect. So yeah, I'll stop yammering and get to reviewing!

Art by Jinxu Du

Monday, December 26, 2016

Regular Sip - "Hurricane Heels" by Isabel Yap [Book Smugglers]

So it's officially novella season over at The Book Smugglers and this is the second that I'm looking at from the end of the year. It's still technically the Year of the Superhero, too, so this is very topical and just a really. Damn. Good. Story. About magical girls and friendship and fighting monsters and scars and love and it's just wow… So the novella unfolds over five parts, each one from the perspective of one of the main team. As such, I'm looking at each story quasi-individually, so that (like the story) the review will grow with each section to work toward one massive review. Which means, as well, that there will probably be SPOILERS after the first section. Be warned.
Art by Denise Yap

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "How the Supervillain Stole Christmas"

Okay, so it's time to take a break from my normal rants to bring you something a bit more full of holiday cheer. I figure maybe it would be appropriate today to mention that I have a new novelette out as part of Dreamspinner Press' Bah Humbug! 2016 Advent Calendar. That's right, it's Christmas-themed speculative m/m erotic romance FTW!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Quick Sips - Shimmer #34 (December Stuff)

Winter has come in truth to Shimmer Magazine, as December's releases shows a mix of horror and despair, pain and the lingering traces of loss. The stories both structure themselves around strong premises—the loss of a great war, the tasting of spirits—and complicate them, flesh them out with characters that exist in broad strokes but still impart a subtle complexity. There are some dark flavors at work here, notes of blood and hunger, but there's also a certain tenderness as well. There is despair, yes, but there is also resolve. To live. To survive. The stories approach these ideas from very, very different places, but they're well paired all the same. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Sandro Castelli

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #214

This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies focuses in many ways on movement and transformations. On knowledge and ignorance. And, above all, on respect. Both stories feature women who have to navigate worlds that are not open to them. In one, the sexual aggression of men that is societally upheld becomes net that can only be slipped through by transforming into something safer. In the other, the stalking force is colonialism as well as misogyny. And in both the main conflict, and their ultimate salvation, arises from refusing to sacrifice themselves, refusing to give in to the societal pressures pushing them toward victimization and death. It's a very strong pair of stories that I should get to reviewing! 

Art by Jinxu Du

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Quick Sips - Apex #91

All of the fiction in this issue of Apex Magazine turns back the clock to reveal historical takes on horror. Most of them are fantasy, as well, and look at the magic that might have existed in the past, the magic that always pales in its darkness next to the actual history of the times visited. What is a monster next to the way that people with mental health issues and developmental disorders were treated in the past? What is the grainy pulp of a noir detective next to the loss of millions of lives? These stories build worlds that might have been but that also reveal very real horrors that were and are visited on people. The horrors of societies that don't value certain people, that allow them to become victims, that even push them along that path. It's an uncomfortable month, and a dark one, which means that the publication is doing something right. To the reviews! 

Art by Billy Nuñez

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Quick Sips - Fantasy #60 People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy!

Fantasy Magazine lives in this issue thanks to the support behind Lightspeed Magazine's People of Colo(u)r Destroy SF! It's time to destroy fantasy and this issue does a marvelous job of that, showcasing four original stories that feature themes of resistance and injustice, struggle and hope. These are stories to inspire, that look to the idea that change is possible, that those living under the burdens of injustice can get out, can help each other, and even if they can't destroy the unjust systems on their own, they can work to undermine their power. Chip away at the damage that they do. These stories are full of amazing characters and lots of magic, from a story of plague and dancing to one of bargains and marching. It's an incredible issue and I should just get to those reviews! 

Art by Emily Osborne

Monday, December 19, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 12/05/2016 & 12/12/2016

These two weeks of content from Strange Horizons are a little light on nonfiction, but definitely plenty heavy when it comes to stories and poems with depth, grace, and stunning SFF elements. From self-destructing sentient starships that die across fields of stars to quieter pieces about love, loss, and transformation, these pieces definitely had me on the brink of tears more than once. These are pieces that show the heart of SFF, and the loneliness of it as well, the vast spaces between worlds that mirrors the vast spaces between people, everyone reaching out and only a precious few finding some connection to withstand the forces of creation and destruction. So let's get to the reviews! 

Art by Mahendra Singh

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Owning Your Opinion

This post is about reviewing. Then it rambles a bit. Then it gets back to reviewing. So, yeah, be warned.

When I look at my writing, I'd say that I'm a reviewer first. Before a poet and before a fiction writer and before just about everything, I am a reviewer. And by that I mean that it comes first. I write fiction and poetry, yes, but I normally have to find time to squeeze that in. I prioritize reviewing. Which, when people ask how I find the time to review so much, that's largely it (well, okay, I also read fast and I have advantages that others likely don't, but still). Other people write novels. I review. So when I talk or write about being a reviewer, or about reviews, it's something that's rather deeply personal to me. And I want to think a bit about that.

I have a style. Some people would characterize it as overly positive. And some, in so categorizing it, probably reject it out of hand as not useful. Not valuable. Maybe they wouldn't say this to my face. Maybe they would even try to dissuade me from thinking that. Okay, fine. The thing is, my style is full of me. It is my perspective. My opinion. I believe this is the most valuable and honest way to review, and so I attempt to reflect that by using a lot of qualifiers and being very open about what I think, what I feel, and what seems to be to me. Unfortunately, I think that some interpret this style as indecisive or wishy-washy or, interestingly enough, dishonest. Because I think that we have a tendency, as a society, to distrust people framing their opinions as opinions because it's too…feminine, perhaps?

Certainly how we approach opinions and feelings is very loaded, especially at the moment. Because, for some, not pretending at access to objective truth is terrifying. Some people seem to need there to an objective truth behind their opinions or their actions because…I guess because they can't handle the responsibility of being a living human being. They need something or someone to tell them that it's okay, that they aren't bad, that in fact they're right. And not just as a person trying to reassure another person, but as a conduit to the divine and unimpeachably objective. And this is how patently fabricated information gets passed along and is strengthened in the face of vast amounts of evidence to its falseness. And this is how you end up with people (usually men) coming in to "explain" how things are and why people with mere opinions are wrong.

So wait, I had a point there, right? Yes, actually. People mistake opinions for uncertainty. And uncertainty for falseness. People who think or feel a thing can't possibly be as legitimate as people who know it, right? This is how people end up in a "but you have to listen to both sides" argument. Because I admit that I have no access to objective truth, people think that means that all opinions have equal merit and potential veracity. The trouble is, that's pretty fucking awful. It ignores the fact that we do have ways to strive to do good and to own our opinions in a way that is not uncertain at all. For many things, this way is called the scientific method, and it works pretty fucking well but is also open to change and refinement. For other things, things for which there can really be no systematic trial and error, hypothesis and experimentation, it's still completely possible to act and to hold opinions and for those to be completely fucking valid.

So yeah, sorry, this has gotten a little far afield of reviewing. I want to touch on two things, mainly. The first is something I see reviewers doing that…irks me. And the other is something that authors do with regards to reviewing that equally irks me. Both are related. And both stem from this misunderstanding and distrust that I mentioned above.

So what do reviewers do that really grinds my gears? Gatekeep. And by that I mean try to define terms (What is a story? What is science fiction? What is literary?) in an effort to dismiss works that are different or difficult or that a particular reviewer just doesn't like. This kind of review is presented with a work and instead of engaging with it decides to just cut it out of the discussion by claiming that it doesn't fit. That it doesn't belong. That we shouldn't talk about it. Which is the opposite of what a reviewer should be doing, in my opinion. Not that reviewers need to review everything, but if they're going to review a thing, they should at least not seek to use their review as a sort of unreview in order to delegitimize the piece or project. This sort of attack leans on an objective definition of "what something is" and then shoves the work into "something else" so that it can be ignored.

And again, this is a way of running away from owning your own opinion. It's trying to insert some sort of objective reason why the work shouldn't be considered that has nothing to do with the reviewer's own discomfort or bias. To me, this sort of review is not helpful. It is the opposite of helpful.

And what do author's do that I find so equally egregious? Tell reviewers that their opinions and reactions are wrong. Now let me make one thing clear. I am fine with reviewing reviews. I'm even fine with authors reviewing reviews of their own work. But there is a wide difference between reviewing a review and attacking a reviewer, just as there is a wide difference between reviewing a story and attacking an author. Just as reviewers probably shouldn't seek to invalidate or belittle author's lived experiences or perspectives, so should authors probably not seek to invalidate or belittle reviewer's lived experiences or perspectives.

Again, at the heart of this seems to be the misconception that all opinions are equal. They are not. Some opinions are, indeed, quite well thought out, reasoned, and sound. Some opinions are backed by experience, by deduction, by rigorous testing and challenging. When people think that human-driven climate change exists, that is an opinion. But that is an opinion with a fuck ton of weight behind it. Yes, people can have the opinion that it doesn't exist. It is equally an opinion. That does not mean it is equally valid or should be given equal time.

So an author writes something. A reviewer reviews it. They have different opinions on the same text. Who is right?

My answer: Stop looking for fucking objective rules that will somehow make this all simple. Life is more complicated than first grade math class.

Who is right? If it's all opinions then how do you make decisions? How do you know what to do? What the fuck is the point anyway?

Hey. It's okay. These are difficult questions. Uncomfortable questions. They are, however, vital questions. Questions that we answer by living, by trying to act consciously and compassionately. The question isn't really "who is right?" The question is what opinion prompts us to think harder? What pushes us to question the opinions we hold blindly, to strive to be decent human beings sharing a brief window of time and space together? Because, like the scientific method helps us to shape scientific knowledge and policy, so a more social method of hypothesis and experimentation, of creation and discussion and revision, can help us to shape our social knowledge and policy. It can build our empathy and strengthen the parts of us that can make the world better.

So reviewers, before you dismiss a work as not worthy of a seat at the table, try to think about why you feel that way. And try not to conceal and obfuscate your own opinions by presenting them as truths people would have to be stupid to disagree with. If engaging with a work makes you uncomfortable, examine that. Talk about that. That seems like it would be an incredibly useful review to read, and you might find it's an incredible useful review to write.

And authors, before you decide to tell someone reacting to your work that they are wrong, try to think about why you feel that way. And try not to conceal and obfuscate your own opinions by presenting them as authorial truths that cannot be questioned. Yes, your own intentions and interpretations of your work can be valuable and interesting to know, so maybe take the time to write those down. Instead of telling a reviewer they're wrong, consider writing your own reaction and reflection on their review without harassing them or encouraging others to harass them.

I believe in the power of words. In the power of stories. But also in the power of reviews. If I didn't then I'd be spending way, way too much time doing this. I believe that thinking about stories, how they're told and what they might mean, gives us great insight into our world and into ourselves. It prompts reflection and growth, compassion and empathy. That's my opinion. I own it. I'm not saying that it's some sort of objective truth that I could never stop believing in. It's something I question all the time. But so far that questioning has only strengthened my belief. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Monthly Round is up!!!

The Monthly Round is up at Nerds for a Feather, Flock Together! For those who aren't aware, it's my monthly column where I review and recommend my favorite SFF short stories and pair them with theme-appropriate booze. This month's selections are below, but for the full experience, head over to Nerds of a Feather now!

Tasting Flight - November 2016

"The House That Jessica Built" by Nadia Bulkin (The Dark)
"Standing on the Floodbanks" by Bogi Takács (GigaNotoSaurus)
"Screamers" by Tochi Onyebuchi (Omenana)
"A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover from the Bottom of the Sea" by Ada Hoffman (Strange Horizons)
"The Indigo Ace and the High-Low Split" by Annalee Flower Horne (Mothership Zeta)
"The Marvelous Inventions of Mr. Tock" by Daniel Baker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies" by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny)
"Ndakusuwa" by Blaize M. Kaye (Fantastic Stories)
"Afrofuturist 419" Nnedi Okorafor (Clarkesworld)


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #13 (December Stuff)

This issue of Uncanny Magazine features a lot of pieces that examine the idea of knights. Of men and their blades and their games. People who are sworn to serve and protect, even if they call themself a plumber instead of a knight errant. Even if they wear a cape. It's a full month, too, with three stories, a poem, and two pieces of nonfiction that I'm looking at. These are pieces that complicate what it means to be a knight, what it means to fight and what it means to have control of the story. And they also look at what happens when the knight might lose control of the story, and something unexpected might break the cycle of chivalry and misogyny that permeates many a knightly tale. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Julie Dillon

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus December 2016

The story that makes up December's GigaNotoSaurus is one of the shorter offerings of the year but packs one of the biggest emotional punches. Circling around themes of humanity, personhood, and loss, it managed to slowly and expertly build a relationship that became its own world. And when that relationship is ended, when one person suddenly finds themself without that core presence to ground them, the world seems to end with it. It's a story that looks at what it means to lose a person and, more importantly, what happens after the story is over. It's an amazing piece and I'm going to jump right in to the review! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #123

In many ways I feel like this issue of Clarkesworld is about the constructs that we find around us that are little more than fictions we tell to make sense of the world. And sometimes the fictions that we tell, the ways that structure our lives and our realities, don't quite work. We see separation when we could see union. We see estrangement when we could see growth. We see lies when we could see dreams of something better. These are stories that beg us to reconsider the comfort of our held beliefs, to examine how we might be closing ourselves off to the boundless possibilities around us. How we might be missing out on opportunities to grow and heal and know ourselves better. So let's get to the reviews! 

Art by Maciej Rebisz

Monday, December 12, 2016

Quick Sips - Nightmare #51

The two stories in the December Nightmare Magazine certainly show what makes speculative horror so captivating—revealing the uncomfortable truths and darkness that exists all around us, giving it physical form, and then making us face it. These are both stories that lean more fantasy than science fiction, pulling on some older traditions, of werewolves and Lovecraftian horror. While both are in some ways monster stories, though, they are also both stories that deal with youth, that feature main characters on the verge of adulthood, and reveal how quickly roles can be reversed when adults try to control the next generation. These are viscerally dark and violent stories but also deep insights into people and fears. And it's time to get to the reviews! 

Art by James T. Robb

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Quick Thoughts - My 2016 Eligibility Post

Hi all. So it's December and I've never really done one of these for real, but I guess I might as well. It's weird, because I'm much more used to talking up other people's works, but I will try this once to try and capture what I've done this year that might be worth something.

First and mostly, I'm eligible as a Fan Writer. I kind of write a lot as a fan in 2016. Mostly reviews, but I also do more general fan-ish nonfiction every Saturday for my Quick Thoughts. I run this site, yes, which in 2016 includes my very first Sippy Awards, which ran back in January. There's all the reviews here and at Nerds of a Feather, where I also contribute. I've done recommendations at Cabbages & Kings podcast. I've been here and there around the internets as well, participating in roundups or discussions or whatnot. So when I look at the field, my largest contribution is probably as a fan.

I hope that contribution is a positive one. My goal at QSR was always mostly selfish, to really think about and engage with short SFF on a personal level. I know it's not the most…popular of styles when it comes to reviews. I gush probably more than people find acceptable. I ramble on. I try my best to be respectful while also examining what I read in a way that is meaningful and useful for me. I don't try to be objective. I don't really want to apologize for that. QSR started because I wanted a home for my thoughts, and that's still very much what it is. If readers and writers find what I say valuable at all, it's more than I expected, but I am glad (and honored) that they do.

My second aim in running QSR is to celebrate short SFF. I love this genre and I love so much of what it produces. Having the opportunity to fan out about stories and poetry and nonfiction is amazing, and for me doing it loudly and enthusiastically is important. I want writers to know that people are reading and thinking about their stories. I want other readers to know that they're not alone when they read WAY TOO MUCH into a work. Sometimes it can feel like short SFF is a blink-and-you-miss-it field, where nothing lasts. But there are stories that I will carry for the rest of my life that I've looked at for QSR. Short SFF has been and continues to be very important to me.

Next, I'm in my last year of eligibility for the Campbell Award. My debut pro publication was last year's "Spring Thaw" at Nightmare Magazine. If you want to see everything I've done since then, please check out my list of publications. It's a fair amount of stories, I think. A nice mix of SFF and SFF smut, too, for those interested in that.

And on the topic of that list, I just want to mention a few stories from 2016 that I rather like and think might be worth checking out even if you don't want to track down everything. All of these are Short Stories.

"A Million Future Days" (from Lackington's #9)
This is a near-future sci fi story set in a small city following the collapse of the social safety net and the main character, rather stuck at a shelter, is plagued by voices from his possible futures. Not super happy, but I rather like this one.

"Medium" (from The Book Smugglers Quarterly Almanac #1, but also available for free)
A superhero story about a young man dealing with fitting into a team he's not really being honest with and dealing with the guilt of what his powers mean. Ghosts, Star Trek Jokes, and supervillains all sort of collide in this story and the voice is very…what I do I guess. My style? Anyway…

"The Death of Paul Bunyan" (from Lightspeed #79, and available for free soon) 
A story of Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan, lovers and tall tales. The story is about what happens for these larger-than-life figures once the battle is won, and what that victory means not just for them, but for everyone else as well.

I've done more than that, and if I thought smut stood a chance (and if the situation with the publisher were more stable), I'd point you to "The Colors of Magic," which is a m/m/f erotic fantasy story about fate and saving the world and I really rather like that one but it's pay-walled and such so probably not really something that's going to get a lot of attention.

But yeah, that's pretty much been my year. If you want to check out a few of my favorite fan posts I've written here at QSR, here's a little list:

Romance, SFF, and Toxic Masculinity
Sex, Sexuality, and Erotic SFF
The Puppies Are Not Exceptional (in any sense...)
Some Opinions on the State of Short Fiction
The WFC and the Road of Canon
The "Trouble" with SFF
New Kids on the Block
My SFF Playlist for the Resistance (#SFFfortheResistance)

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, December 9, 2016

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online December 2016

It's the last 2016 issue of Flash Fiction Online and the publication is definitely sending the year off with an interesting mix of SFF short fiction. There's Robert Redford and physical grief and a generation ship with some seriously sketchy policies. These are tales that bring to mind endings and new beginnings. Whether the ending is a death or a destination, the stories all look to how people react to their world being changed in some important way, even if that only means being visited by the phantom of a celebrity. It's a bit of a strange issue, but 2016 was a strange year. So yeah, let's get to the reviews! 

Art by Dario Bijelac

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Quick Sips - The Dark #19

This issue of The Dark Magazine seems to me to focus on quiet desperation. Loneliness. Loss. Of two men who find themselves haunted by the dead. By those they have outlived. And who find their lives lacking something. Hope, perhaps. Or purpose. Both are looking for ways to escape the places they find themselves. Are seeking in some ways to exorcise their ghosts and find a way to move on. With…mixed results. There's a lot to like about these stories and a nice creeping dread that permeates both. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Susanafh

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #79

Hey, it's one of my favorite moments this month at Lightspeed—I have made less work for myself by actually selling a story, so instead of the full slate of four pieces I'm only looking at those not written by me. It's not exactly a happy issue. The pieces all deal with a stifling darkness. With an oppressive violence and threat. With a situation that is bad and might just get worse, except for the power of people choosing to change. Or, at least, to change their actions. To change the story. To shift it away from being about war, about corruption, and about victimization. These stories all offer uncomfortable and striking looks into love and hate and the sea in between the two. So yeah, time to review! 

Art by Lovely Creatures Studio

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Quick Sips - Terraform November 2016

It's interesting in many ways to see where Terraform will go now that Trump is the president-elect. For quite some time a good number of the stories have dealt with possible outcomes from the election and now…well, and now that it's happened I wonder what line the publication will take. Certainly there aren't any quite so scathing as some of the stories that came out when Trump was only one Republican candidate of many. The stories this month offer much more…subtle critiques about what might be coming. Stories about the loss of the environment. About corruption. About hopelessness. They're quite appropriate stories, really, and certainly not the cheeriest bunch of SF tales. They're definitely stories worth spending time with though, and I plan on doing just that with some reviews! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Quick Sips - Tor dot com November 2016

It's another full month from Tor dot com (partly because I missed one from the last day of October, but still), and if last year is a guide then things will probably slow down considerably going into the holidays. But for now there's lots to look at with four short stories, one tie-in short story, and one graphic story. The pieces range pretty far, from standard sci fi adventure to more surreal contemporary fantasy to much more raucous historical fantasy. And there are some real gems this month, even if a few of the pieces left me a bit conflicted as well. It's an interesting group of stories that I'm going to get to reviewing. 

Art by Kevin Hong

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Okay, we've got our primary winners and are onto the main event! If you have time, please head over to Twitter and like (heart) your favorite. The winner will be my 2017 Liver Beware! graphic. Links are below! Thanks so much and cheers!

The finalists are:

Scaredy-Liver at the Hip Bar

Scaredy-Liver at Octoberfest

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Looking Back, Looking Forward

Stare at the screen. Glance at tea (which is too hot to drink). Stare at the screen.

 It's been hard for me to create recently. My fiction, after having been fairly productive (and successful), is going through something of a slump. Surprise surprise, this has something to do with the election, and fear, and wondering what good what I do is in the face of what might happen. Wondering if it's worth it to keep pushing. To keep trying. It's weird that it comes at this time because it's a time when I'm asked fairly regularly to look back at 2016 and try to pull some good out of a very difficult year.

I stay busy. I have Quick Sip Reviews, of course, and contributing to Nerds of a Feather. And doing audio recommendations for Cabbages and Kings. And being asked to help kick off an interesting and hopefully-exciting short fiction discussion site, SFF Squee and Snark, with a fiction recommendation. And contributing to this year's Smugglivus over at The Book Smugglers (forthcoming). And putting out new content for my Patreon. I have two stories out this month, at Lightspeed Magazine and Dreamspinner Press, and am participating in a promo for the Dreamspinner story (forthcoming). And I'm contributing to a Best of 2016 short fiction thing at a rather well-known SFF publication, which involves lots and lots of voting. I've gathered up my #SFFfortheResistance. I'm getting ready to gather up my picks for the 2016 SIPPY AWARDS.

I feel pulled in all directions at once and like I can't keep up with much. Going onto social media has become hard. I'm trying to be supportive to all the various awesome projects and people out there but can't help but feel I'm letting people down. It's not burning out. I don't think it's burning out. I'm reviewing as much as I have been. More, even. And I enjoy it. It's just that I haven't been able to do much else.

Sometimes I wonder if I do so much to distract myself from medical bills and the fear of losing insurance because a huge number of people have decided that Millennials are the worst and need to be punished for…destroying America, I guess? I get to see fun articles like how "kids these days" are all claiming to be bisexual because celebrities and how stupid that is. I get to hear how "PC culture" is killing the nation, SFF, and science itself. This is all an attack. An attack by those with the most power against those with less because they feel threatened and can't be fucking decent people about it. Ever since the election I've been told that the problem is that people aren't "understanding" enough of white, straight, cis people and their problems. Like the problem has ever been that we're not listening to that group enough.

The tea is cool enough to drink now. It's some sort of sugar cookie herbal tea. It's very good. You know what I've been craving lately. Food. Sweaters. Time. A decent fucking television show I haven't seen before. At least the food I can afford and enjoy making. Now's the time to cook more vegetarian, I guess, because beans and vegetables are still rather cheap per pound. And a little spice can go a long way. I'm sure some relative will be all ready to say that I'm not really struggling because I can cook a fucking amazing meal. I can blister hardboiled eggs in oil with some turmeric and set them aside, drain most of the oil. Sauté an onion, add some jalapenos, add some tomatoes and chili powder. Add fish sauce. Halve the eggs and put them cut side down in the pan. Cover. Simmer. Serve over rice or couscous.

This post is a bit all over the place. I understand that and I apologize. My tea is gone and now I'm hungry. I…I've been looking back at 2016 a lot recently. Which is a heavy task, emotionally. No less so than looking ahead, though. We're at a difficult time. And we're just past Thanksgiving, which is a weird holiday but represents another call to take stock. To think what we're thankful for. As always, I am thankful for SFF. For those writing it, for those reading it. For those who think that I can belong in it. I think you belong, too. I hope to see you around for a long time, because I'm not going anywhere. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, December 2, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/21/2016 & 11/28/2016

I'm looking at two weeks of Strange Horizons content today, which means two stories and two poems. I also recommend checking out the nonfiction, but because of time and inclination I'm not going to be discussing those here. The fiction in these two issues both imagine catastrophic journeys and different worlds. Now, one is a science fiction piece and one a fantasy, so those mean very different things, but both stories show characters falling into situations they can't control and having to adapt. Having to dance with their circumstances and their fears and their emotions. And the poetry is about lust and distance and darkness. And together it makes for a fascinating issue that I should just review already. Let's go! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #213

People looking for a happy, uplifting read, turn back now. This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies might be the darkest and most horror-laced of all the issues I have read of the publication. These stories are well paired but fuck are they not entirely appropriate if what you want is to curl up in a warm sweater and enjoy life. These stories are pits of darkness taunting you to look inside. And if you do, if you answer to the voice calling out from the black, there is no real light at the end of the tunnel. Just a growing and gathering darkness that consumes and destroys, that twists and turns. That asks: in a place where justice is dead, what will grow from the rotting remains of its corpse. So yeah, with that warning in place, let us descend to the reviews! 

Art by Raphael Lacoste

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction #38

November's issue marks the last of 2016 for Fireside Fiction and it closes the year with equal measures joy and sorrow. Rather a fitting end to a very conflicting year, certainly. The stories all evoke the past in different ways, whether by spinning a tale laced with an older-style adventure or settling into grief and loss looking back on life or fitting characters into a tradition that has been going on since there have been roads crossing. These are incredibly different stories, but they share certain links beyond that they appear in the same space. They all create complex characters concerned with family and with place. With tradition and complicating tradition, putting their own twist on what has come before. And, of course, they are all quite good. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Galen Dara

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Quick Sips - Omenana #8

There's a new issue of Omenana out and you should read it. The publication is going through some changes, moving to a more robust website, adding some new ventures (like reviews), and the fiction remains strong and brilliant. These are stories that look at magic and at tragedy, that show loss but also people gaining things. New abilities. New hopes. New understandings of the world they live in. These are not always easy stories—they are dense and they are occasionally uncomfortable—but they are resonating stories. Stories that inspire and complicate. And I should get to reviewing them! 

Art by Danial Inneil, Color by Sunny Efemena

Monday, November 28, 2016

Regular Sip - "The Convergence of Fairy Tales" by Octavia Cade [Book Smugglers]

Today I'm looking at the latest novella from The Book Smugglers. This is part of a new initiative that they are running and if this work is anything to go by, it is going to be awesome. The piece overall unfolds across five chapters. Five sections. Five fairy tales. And as that is the case, I decided that my review would look at each section in turn. Be warned, because of the linked nature of the story, SPOILERS ABOUND after the first section. So yeah, to the review! 

Art by Kristina Tsenova

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Liver Beware Graphic Election! Primary Round 2

Hi all. As many of you know, I have a Patreon. Aside from helping me run Quick Sip Reviews, my amazing patrons also fund some bonus projects, including my personal favorite, LIVER BEWARE! You're in for Drunk Reviews of Goosebumps!

As the name implies, I'm reading the original Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine and then getting kinda sloshed and reviewing the books. So far I've done a bonus, which is available for free, and Goosebumps #1: Welcome to Dead House, which is exclusive to patrons because I appreciate the hell out of them and want to give them something extra for being awesome. I'm shooting for doing #2: Stay Out of the Basement, in December, and then reviewing #s 3-14 in 2017. But I want to change things up a bit. For each review I post a graphic. The current graphic is:

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Quick Thoughts - This is Not an Eligibility Post

At least, it's not an eligibility post yet. But I do have some announcements and things I want to talk about and I figure now is as good a time as any. I might indeed be motivated to write up an eligibility post at some point, because it seems the thing to do, but at the moment I just want to share some good news and maybe get some people excited for what I still have coming out in 2016.

Because, alas for all things awards-considerable, my biggest sale of the year is coming out in December. My historical/contemporary/near-future fantasy "The Death of Paul Bunyan" is due out from Lightspeed Magazine next month. I have a date on when it will be available to read for free yet, but sadly it might be the latest of the original stories released in December. Still, I'm hoping people will still read it and like it, as it's one that I quite enjoy. The story takes figures from colonial American folklore, namely Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan, and creates a bit of apocrypha about what happens to them after they've outlived the campaign they were used for, the "taming of America." It's not really a happy story, so be warned.

That's not all for my December releases, either. My m/m romance "How the Supervillain Stole Christmas" will be coming out as well as part of Dreamspinner Press' 2016 Advent Calendar, this year centered on the theme of Bah Humbug! The story is 1000% cute. Rex (a.k.a. Dr. Devious) hates Christmas. Not really because of the holiday but because he's awful at picking out an appropriate gift for his significant other. Guns that create sentient plants, stolen Canadian provinces, and special visits from giant, talking gorillas only seem to scare off his boyfriends and girlfriends. And ever since he met Sanjay he's been terrified of screwing things up. With the threat of Christmas looming, Rex decides maybe he's been going about this all wrong. Instead of agonizing over a gift, perhaps he needs to head this off at the source, by destroying Christmas once and for all. If only those pesky superheroes would stop getting in the way…

But okay, I'm also looking ahead to 2017. I have zero idea when most things will be coming out yet, but I do have quite a bit that will be forthcoming. So yeah, hold onto something, because it's a lot to get through.

First, I sold a fantasy short story, "Where Rivers Run Free," to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It's a story about sentient rivers who can take human form and I feel it's got something of a Western flare. There's a whole lot of world building in that story as well as some (hopefully) deep emotional beats. Plus some sexy times. But to me it's a story of persecution and oppression, and the way that people can turn on each other when they're both being kept down by a larger system.

My science fiction story about people encased in crow-spaceship-suits, "Feathers and Void," has also sold, to Shimmer Magazine. This is a piece that's much more about resistance and finding ways to fight back against corruption and war that don't involve actively killing people. It's about harm and about loneliness and distance and identity and I am thrilled that Shimmer picked it up because it's not really what they normally publish, being typically a bit more on the fantasy side of things.

I also sold a historical fantasy flash fiction, "A Lumberjack's Guide to Dryad Spotting," to Flash Fiction Online. Apparently I didn't get my fill of gay lumberjacks with "The Death of Paul Bunyan" because there are more in this story which is part guide and part confrontation with fear and erasure. This is about having to hide yourself to blend in, to be safe. And it's about hoping for something better, and maybe finding the strength to work for it.

I also have a few things coming out from Less Than Three Press, the first of which will be a fantasy/fairy tale novelette titled "Riding Red." Yes, it is erotic. Yes, it features cross-dressing, shape shifters, witches, beheadings, polyamory, and all the tricksters imaginable. So, you know, a typical fairy tale. The second piece is "Perilous Knights," my mech-suit Arthurian fantasy. It's a second-world reimagining of the Arthurian myths where Guinevere is in charge, Arthur is First Consort with ambitions, and Merlin is a pervy schemer trying to get Arthur onto the throne. This story focuses on two of my favorite knights, Lamorak and Safere. In the story, Lamorak is a reckless young man with debts to pay and only one hope of earning it—winning a tournament. Safere is an enby looking for eir brother, who has suddenly gone missing, and Lamorak is the only lead ey has. Together they stumble into something much deeper and more dangerous than they had expected, and end up having to fight for their lives against the machination of a certain sketch-as-fuck wizard.

And way away in November my science fiction story "Shoots and Ladders" will be appearing at Diabolical Plots. This is a rather weird story that involves a gun that might or might not destroy realities and one man stuck in a situation he can't seem to get himself out of. It's a story about hope but about the toxicity of what people can mistake as hope. It's about escape and rules and I hope people like it.

So that's all I have as far as on-the-horizon fiction. But it's more than I really ever could have hoped for and I'm excited to see what else 2017 has in store. Thanks for stopping in and cheers!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, November 25, 2016

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination #237

Dear readers, prepare your comfiest of sweaters and get ready for a good cry, because this issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination really knows how to play with emotions. It's an effective one-two punch of heart breaking and heart warming and you should just know that going in because fuck, yeah, emotionally raw would be a good way to describe things at the moment. These are stories about loving someone and then losing them. In two very, very different ways. They are harrowing and they are inspiring and they have left me a bit wrung out. So yeah, without further warnings, to the reviews! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #212

The two stories in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies touch on the idea of oppression and resistance, ignorance and the beginning of understanding. Both feature characters in a dominant position. People who have others bound to them in some way, enslaved against their wills. But these characters don't full understand the situation, the true depth of it, until they take the time to listen, to explore, to question the status quo that they were comfortable with. Only once that happens, only once that step is taken, can healing begin. These are two very different stories, but they are nicely paired thematically, and I will just get to reviewing them! 

Art by Raphael Lacoste

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Quick Sips - Mothership Zeta #5

Another issue of Mothership Zeta has landed and it features an actual, literal Mother Ship along with a full roster of excellent stories ranging from zany time travel science fiction to sincere and heartfelt contemporary fantasy. And more than anything else I'm struck by the framing techniques of the issue. There is a series of one sided emails and a detailed bill, a conversation of people remembering an event and a man preparing for a press conference. This alongside more traditional stories that nevertheless manage to present wry and witty narrators, earnest and yearning voices. It's an issue that flows nicely, kicking things off with a smile and a nudge and then slowly drawing to more serious topics and leaving me at least, with a quiet longing for more. For now, though, it's time to review! 

Art by Elizabeth Leggett

Monday, November 21, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 11/07/2016 & 11/14/2016

After a fund drive and special issue it's back to business as usual for Strange Horizons. Luckily that means providing moving, deep, and insightful fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. I'm looking at two weeks of content today which translates into two stories, two poems, and a single nonfiction work. The stories are full of salt water and loss, hope and recovery. The poems evoke folklore and transformations, discoveries and darkness. And the nonfiction takes a look at SFF publishing that is…well, a bracing read. It's a solid lineup of work that takes an unflinching look at some difficult truths. So let's get to the reviews! 

Art by Susie Oh