Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Quick Sips - Tor dot com May 2016

Things have calmed down just a bit at Tor dot com for May. The first few months of the year have been packed with stories, but things are finally settling into more of a one-a-week pattern (which for this tired reviewer is probably healthier). As always, though, there's a great range of stories, mostly novelettes—fantasies and subverted fairy tales and contemporary dramas and science fiction journeys. Most of the tales, though, for being richly imagined, are very intimate in scope, about families and about people and about loss. And yes, okay, about giant murderous angels in need of thwarting. So without further dalliance on my part, to the reviews! 
Art by Kevin Hong

Monday, May 30, 2016

Quick Sips - The Book Smugglers May 2016

So the Year of the Superhero is officially upon us with new short fiction from The Book Smugglers. And if this first story is anything to go by then things are going to get…weird. But also pretty great. Tackling superhero-ing on a very micro scale, this first story creates an entire world in the space of a small woodland, the characters mostly insects and the action visceral and intense. It's definitely not what I was expecting—but that's rarely a bad thing and here it means a mostly-delightful tale that I should just review already!
Art by Melanie Cook

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Quick Thoughts - WisCon

So I'm here. Kinda exhausted, tbh, but definitely here. WisCon, or as I like to think of it as, the one convention I can afford to go to. Drove down yesterday and had a rather full day.

First up: my first ever panel as a panelist. The Art of the Book Review. Quit interesting, but weird to be the only non-paid reviewer there. Also the only one very uncomfortable drawing lines of tradition and influence over stories and novels. I mean, I get saying that a story reminded me of something, but plops do I not really like talking about that in my reviews, unless I feel the story wants to bring other stories into its conversation. Still, I hope I wasn't too annoying to everyone.

Next up I sat in on the Hivemind panel, which was cool. Lots of ideas about that. I wish the science had been talked about a bit more. Oh well. Lots of cool things discussed. After that was dinner and a stop at A Room of One's Own bookstore. So much awesome! Want all the books! Have to save some money for the dealer room, though. And food? But books...

Then it was back at 9pm to be on the Baby Writer panel. It was great! Got to be real about writing and trying to survive. So many great people on that panel. Also got to say hi to people I know via the internet. Awkward turtle that I am, I don't think I talked enough, but it was great to say hi and chat a little. Thanks everyone who took the time.

We'll see how today goes. Am awake, and that's something. Hoping to make a full day of the con. And more books! Anyway, thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Quick Sips - Harlot Media May 2016

Today I'm back looking at a new serial fiction from Harlot Media, a new favorite place to go for some edgy but beautiful speculative short fiction that flirts with the erotic and delivers with power and imagination. This story explores early (and much more recent, too) cinema and the institutional erasure and/or censoring of positive queer content, and stands in defiance of the "classic queer tragedy." And if this is what I can expect from Harlot going forward, then I'm certainly tuning back in to whatever they have out next. To the review!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Quick Sips - Nightmare #44

This month's Nightmare Magazine looks at the distance between monsters and men. Between gods and devils and ambition and destruction. In both stories humans find themselves face to face with…well, I don't want to give too much away. But needless to say the stories look at the evils plaguing humanity, and the horrors that are strictly human-made, and then asks what place supernatural horror and horror writing have in such a world. Where starvation and murder and torture aren't exactly rare. What purpose does the scary story hold? Both stories have answers to that, though they take very different tracks to get to their destinations. But I should really get to those reviews! 

Art by Daniel Sherekin

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #199

By the power vested in me as some random reviewer on the internet, I declare the theme of this Beneath Ceaseless Skies issue of be: walking. Which might seem odd but really, both stories focus on walking. On air. Through the desert. But walking forward and not looking back or looking down. They are about bridges and distances, but not necessarily about maintaining those bridges. More like building them from now to the future. Escaping islands of solitude and stagnation with a drive to move forward. To keep walking even when it defies convention and possibility. To step into the clouds, and the future. It's a great issue and I'm going to get to my reviews! 

Art by Geoffrey Icard

Monday, May 23, 2016

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination #234

The May/June Fantastic Stories of the Imagination is out and, as always, provides a pair of punchy stories that provoke and challenge. Both stories this issue represent somewhat new directions for the publication. One is a solidly science fictional story but with a healthy dose of the bizarre and is definitely not for the faint of heart, and the second story is interesting both because it's about the shortest story I've noticed from the publication and because it's solidly fantasy. Both stories manage to do a lot with the space they have, though.

And I want to mention that FSI is running a Kickstarter right now for the first of a series of planned Take Over issues, this one called Queers Take Over FSI.  It looks like an interesting idea and I can certainly say that since they've relaunched I've quite enjoyed the content that FSI puts out and hope they continue for a good long while. But okay, to those reviews!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "Beta Tester"

So my latest erotic publication is "Beta Tester," out now at Torquere Press both as an individual ebook and as part of the Theory of Love Anthology. Definitely explicit m/m content, so be both warned and intrigued.

There is a part of me that just really doesn't know what to do when the theme for an erotic call is Science Fiction. I think all of my erotica has been SFF and normally some of the fun of the non-SFF calls is to find a way to *make them* SFF. Getting a sci fi call, then, was just a little strange. But hey, it's not exactly something that I could pass up. As a SFF writer it's a chance to just explore something I'd want to explore, and this time that meant immersive video games and video game testing. Which, admittedly, I don't know an awful lot about. But then, part of making it in the future is making it more okay to just sort of make things up.

Still, video games are interesting to me, in some ways because they're fun and they're made to be fun and immersive and in some ways because while they show a great imagination at times they also don't. I've been told that video games are the greatest form of storytelling because they allow the player to tell the story. The idea of "open worlds" is a seductive one but one that, ultimately, is illusory. Games are always limited by their rules, by their programming. Anyone who thinks video games are truly free have never been stuck in a world where queer people don't exist. So…

To get back to the story, the main character, Noah, is a tester who doesn't really get on with people. Part of what I wanted to do with him is set up that what makes him good as a tester, mainly finding people's buttons and pushing them, has left him pretty much alone. Couple that with the fact that he doesn't like games as much as he likes breaking them, and he's not exactly in a good place. His one friend is Malik, who is reserved but who makes up for this by embracing games that are unabashedly queer and sexy. It's something that Noah balks at but is secretly interested in and he finally decides to take the plunge (as it were) only to find out that he's been missing something. That he's let fear get in the way of expressing himself and doing things that bring him joy.

Plus, you know, there's the sex.

But I guess what I wanted to do with this story is show that sort of cynicism that Noah has at the beginning, that he's playing games but not really enjoying himself (like many readers of SFF I've seen who decry the genre for not being interesting or fun enough while they won't even consider picking up smut or a book that might have queer content or won't look at short fiction or…well, you get the point). It's only when Noah sees that he's risking the last of his relationships because he doesn't want to be vulnerable or genuine that he decides to take a chance, and absolutely loves what he finds. I hope people like the story. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Monthly Round is up!!!

You know the drill! My monthly recommendations (and drink pairings) for April 2016 are up over at Nerds of a Feather.

This month my picks are:

Tasting Flight: April 2016

"The Sweetest Skill" by Tony Pi (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) 
"The Cedar Grid" by Sara Saab (Clarkesworld)
"Under Dead Marsh" by Julia August (Lackington's)
"Terminal" by Lavie Tidhar (Tor dot com)
"The Girl Who Escaped From Hell" by Rahul Kanakia (Nightmare)
"All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray" by Gwendolyn Kiste (Shimmer)


"Plantation | Springtime" by Lia Swope Mitchell (Terraform)
"Songbird" by Shveta Thakrar (Flash Fiction Online)
"The Artificial Bees" by Simon Guerrier (Uncanny)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Quick Sips - Mothership Zeta #3

The editorials in this issue of Mothership Zeta swirl around the idea of fun. And the stories of the issue do a fine job of illustrating the many ways that fun can work. A fun that is funny and a fun that is fast and action-packed and a fun that is clever and witty and a fun that is earnest and uplifting. The stories move well, from light to darker to transcendent, each piece well selected and placed in the larger flow of the issue. And all told each story made me smile at something, a clever line or a funny situation or a breath of hope, and if fun was the goal, then I'd say the issue is a success. To the reviews! 

Art by Elizabeth Leggett

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Quick Sips - Mithila Review #3

A brand new Mithila Review is out and the editorial is a call for submissions. Get on it, any writer peoples out there! Because the publication continues to be a great mix of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, with perhaps the most SFF poetry I've seen per issue outside of, you know, solely poetry publications. This month features two flash fiction stories (both reprints but new to me and I wanted to cover them) and eight poems from five different poets! And the idea of between-ness is still at the front of each of the pieces. Between genres or between histories or between worlds. Between apocalypses and between the natural and the manufactured. And there's a nice mix of humor and tragedy, art and longing. And I should just get to those reviews! 

Art by Abdulrahiman Appabhai Almelkar

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Quick Sips - Apex #84

At first glance the May issue of Apex Magazine could be accused of playing it safe. Time travel? Monsters? The issue is packed with classic SFF tropes, and yet there's nothing about this issue that I would accuse of being cliche or tired. No, these are stories that take those classic elements and twist them until they howl, until their screams become something that rings through the halls of night and off the page and into the brains of the reader. This is one of the shorter issues of the year but it more than makes up for it with stories that grip and don't let go. That, just when you think you have a handle on them, dip down again into someplace deeper, darker, calling you to follow. So follow if you dare, dear readers, it's time to review!
Art by Robert Carter

Monday, May 16, 2016

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #28

I'm adding a new publication to my review pile this month with the twenty-eighth issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. It's a publication that I've admired from afar for a while and provides both fantasy fiction and poetry. This issue is a bit of a difficult one to approach, though, as two of the pieces are continuations of stories that began in the last issue. And one of those is technically the second half of the third story in a series of stories. So, without the context to feel fully comfortable jumping into it, I'm not going to be looking at "." but I certainly encourage to check it out and see what they think. Because I'm skipping that one, though, I will be looking at the entirety of the other 2-parter. Confused yet? I swear next issue will hopefully be hiccup-free. As for this issue, it presents a nice mix of fantasy tales, from fairy tales to fantasy horrors to near-grimdark military pieces. But each piece captures or complicates the idea of the title, the idea of heroic fantasy. To the reivews! 

Art by Jereme Peabody

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "A Million Future Days"

My latest publication, "A Million Future Days," is available now in the Governments issue of Lackington's (issue 10). It will be available for free later on (in a few months) but right now you can check it out along with the rest of the issue in various ebook formats.

I am super happy and super scared about this. First, I love Lackington's, and this is the first of my stories to appear with original art (one of the reasons I love Lackington's is the art) and it is amazing! There's a youtube video where the artist works on the piece and it's all so good! Thanks to Stacy Nguyen for the amazing work! I love how it captures that last moment and all the possibility of it and also the threat of it, the danger, the destruction.

Second, this is one of the first (maybe the first) story that takes place in Eau Claire, where I live and have lived since 2004. Probably not what the city would prefer I write about but...well...whatever. The story revolves a bit around the idea of charity and the social safety net and choice. [SPOILERS FOR THE STORY] The main character is homeless and living at a charity, which is based on the Hope Gospel Mission in town, which I understand from speaking to people who have tried to get assistance there requires a two year "commitment" and requires people receiving aid to attend religious services and...well, that's where some the story came out of. The other is from arguments I've heard from people wishing to abolish the federal and state social safety net and replace it with charity programs. Which...there is no end to how terrible an idea that is.

When I say that the story is about choice, it's perhaps a bit more about the illusion of choice for people who find themselves in bad situations. The main character is plagued by future selves who try and give advice, but increasingly he finds that regardless of what they tell him to do he can't really get out. There is too much pressuring him, too much guiding him down a very limited avenue. Choice requires money, basically, and he doesn't have any and can't exactly get access to it. And yet even so he has more options than many of the other characters he interacts with. And in many ways it's about not wanting to take a chance, not wanting to lose what little he has. He keeps hope maybe that there's a way out but ultimately refuses to take action against the system in the hope that, maybe, he will end up on the benefiting side of it. [END OF SPOILERS]

This story also kicked off a string of short short stories, something that I'm still kind of trying to pull myself out of. It's under 3000 words, which puts it on the light side, and I will admit to really having issues with the ending. Or maybe not the ending itself, but what directly preceded it, which used to be much longer and tried to explain exactly what was happening. I probably have too much an urge to moralize my endings and there was probably a bit more of a call to action or something in the first draft. I'm very glad it's no longer there. Part of why I still like this story is that I feel that it's open enough at the ending to give people different readings. And I like that.

This story also includes a small amount of sex. So be warned. It's not overly erotic, in part because the relationship there is rather messed up. But it's there and I continue to enjoy trying to bring a bit more smut into my stories. Not for everyone, obviously, and sorry to any put off by it, but I think sex and sexual violence and threat go rather hand in hand here, are a part of the character's life. He's in a vulnerable situation and his fears reflect that and also the way he uses sex, as punishment and as trying to take control of his situation. And my apologies as well that this is sort of a tragic queer story (with most readings, at least, I imagine). I've been in a weird place mentally and this story came out of that and I have more hopeful stuff getting ready and out on submission so...yeah.

But ultimately this story is about my home. About Eau Claire and about governments, especially Wisconsin government which is just utter shit right now. So yeah, check it out if  you like and thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, May 13, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 05/02/2016 & 05/09/2016

I'm actually rather surprised that there isn't a bit more to cover from these two weeks of Strange Horizons, but as what is here is excellent you won't hear me complaining. One story, two poems, and a very revealing nonfiction piece are, in this instance, more than enough to absolutely blow my mind. The story is deep and fun and dark and has an ending like a hammer shattering a walnut. The poetry is a mix of love and scenery and place and destruction, about the way things fall apart and how we are poorer afterward. And the nonfiction looks at SFF reviewing and is just a great resource for people wanting to know a bit about the landscape (and some of its systemic problems). It's a heady mix, and I'm going to get to reviewing it!

Art by Nora Potwora

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #10 (May Stuff)

Just when I think I might have Uncanny Magazine figured out, it throws a curve-ball. Maybe that's a bit dramatic (and this month has certainly been one for publications taking some chance). But where normally I feel Uncanny keeps things rather grounded in the "real world" with a flavoring of the fantastic, the unusual, the uncanny, this month things get a bit more...out there. And certainly more dark. The fiction, at least, is about reaching out and touching something different, dark, and unhuman, and finding a sort of destruction in it. They are shocking pieces, filled with death and life and difference, and it's a bit of a tonal shift for the publication, but an effective one. Add in some thought-provoking nonfiction and a sweet (pun intended) poem, and the month's offerings maintain an interesting balance. So time to review it all!
Art by Galen Dara

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Quick Sips - GigaNotoSaurus May 2016

This month's offering from GigaNotoSaurus is not exactly for the faint of heart. It is not exactly a happy sort of story, nor a short one. It is an experience, though, appropriately weighty and dense with a fully realized world (all contained inside an insulating dome). Drifting through age and love and loss and struggle, the story doesn't offer any easy answers, but it certainly knows what questions to ask. So yeah, time to get to that review!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Quick Sips - Shimmer #31 (May Stuff)

So May over at Shimmer Magazine apparently means a bit of a break from business as usual and the beginning of an issue that takes things in a science fictional direction. Not that Shimmer never does sci fi, but the entire issue is dedicated to it, and the first three stories of the issue show just what kind of stories to expect. Namely, sci fi stories about creation and growing up. About loyalty and abuse and manipulation and brainwashing and all things beautiful and ugly. The editorial eludes to an emphasis on voice, and the voices of the these stories are equal parts wounded and desperate and alone and yearning. So time to review!

Art by Sandro Castelli

Monday, May 9, 2016

Quick Sips - Clarkesworld #116

There might not quite be as many 10K+ word stories in this month's Clarkesworld Magazine as last month, but it doesn't mean it skimps on quantity or quality. Five original stories, all but one over 6K (all but two over 8K), means that this is still a dense brick of an issue, with stories that build expansive worlds and meticulously chip away at the safety of the reader. Once again all five original stories are science fiction (which for this publication isn't exactly a surprise), and showcase some stunning trips through space and time. Visions of humanity reaching out and touching something. In some, the act is constructive. In some, naïve. But in all of them the stories show how space shapes humanity, and how humanity shapes space. How we fit ourselves in to that vast emptiness and find something about ourselves. So time to review! 

Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "Beyond Far Point"

So I was a little surprised to find that my story, "Beyond Far Point," is up now at Plasma Frequency Magazine. I knew that the story was accepted but I didn't know when it was going up and there's been a slight delay with the Q2 issue so some further confusion. But it is up and this was one of the sales that I had been more quiet about because I didn't know when I should be talking about it. But it is definitely safe now so yeah, "Beyond Far Point."

It's hard for me to pin down genres most of the time. I think I'd describe this one as steam Western or science fantasy or second world steampunk. I know, the options! But it doesn't really take place on Earth so I'm not sure if it can be properly classed a Western. The setting isn't too well established, it being a flash and all, but hopefully I get through enough of the world and the feel of the world. Which is a bit grim. Where the law really isn't a huge thing and where people can still form up a posse to deal with shit. And it's a place where there are dragons and trains and guns and automatons. Which is part of why I like the story, because it takes a lot of elements and throws them all together.

And I like the voice. I like the general aesthetic of the voice, that sort of roguish cowboy almost punky vibe dealing with injustice with, well, if not exactly justice then something approaching it. If I have a regret about the story it's that I don't explicitly say that the character is white. Maybe I just would have picked an entirely different name. I have this weird reaction to reading it now probably thanks to that "Save the Pearls" thing that happened. In my head the name made sense largely because of a backstory that doesn't get explored here. This being a flash, it's really just a glimpse of the characters. We know that Twenty-Three is an automaton and that there's some doubt about the sentient-ness. We know that Coal has never exactly been on the good side of the law. There is a part of me that wants to dip back into this world and tell a story that would give them a bit more to do, a bit more to explore their characters and the world. Here it's pretty much all waiting for that moment of draw at the end, that moment before everything goes red.

Despite being a bit older of a story, it's one that hasn't seen as many rejections as others I've written, probably because it was held a few places for some extra time. This was it's sixth time being sent out. And it had received a few promising rejections before it was ultimately accepted at Plasma Frequency. Which, I'm quite glad that it placed. I've been a fan of Plasma Frequency for quite some time and was rather bummed last year when they suffered the misfortune of falling victim to theft which made them close for a while. And (full disclosure) I did contribute to the Kickstarter they ran to come back (I bought a print subscription for the year which has been quite nice). And ever since they've opened submissions I've been sending stuff in and hoping. That this story was the first to hit isn't exactly surprising. It's certainly a bit more straight-forward than a lot of my stuff. And it's just a but more...fun? I don't know. Probably a bit similar to "Nothing" but with a different setting and larger cast and very simple plot.

But yeah, I'm super happy that the story is out in the world. Also terrified because I'm always afraid of my stories once they're out there. It's another flash fiction sale, though, and just sort of a fun little moment in the sand. I do think that I could dive back into this world, these characters, and find more to say, but I doubt I'll be doing that any time soon. There is a different Western story that I've been playing around with that includes trains and ghosts and robots, but so far I haven't figured it out yet. Ah well. Anyway, the story it up and if you like you can certainly check it out, as long as the rest of the Q2 issue, over at Plasma Frequency (or you will be able to soon). I still actually don't know all of what's in the issue but the Q1 content was quite good and I have high hopes for this issue! Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, May 6, 2016

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online May 2016

The May issue of Flash Fiction Online is all about family, with perhaps an additional emphasis on mothers. And as such it's...well, it's a little conflicting for me personally. But the quality of the stories is strong as ever and there's a lot here to like, stories that revolve around loss, around grief, around absence. These are stories with holes, not in the plots but in the fabric of the characters. They are missing something. Someone. And the stories set very different courses in navigating their absences. So let's get to it!

Art by Dario Bijelac

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Quick Sips - Lightspeed #72

So the May issue of Lightspeed Magazine is out and, well, rather dense. Four stories, as usual, but all of them over 5k this month means you get a little more bang for your buck than normal, perhaps to get people ready for the looming special issues that will start coming out soon. For now, though, the fiction shows a nice mix of stories that move, that bring moments of action and moments of tenderness and moments of violence that shock and sink. There is a meeting in most of these stories. Between ideologies and between people, where people get the chance to learn from each other, to reach out across a divide of distance and loss and make connections they weren't expecting to. And I should really get to those reviews!

Art by Goñi Montes

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Quick Sips - The Dark #12

So things are a bit different in this issue of The Dark, as the publication moves from bi-monthly to monthly content. With the change comes a decrease in original stories per issue but also the addition of reprint content. So really there’s more magazine overall to enjoy and a bit less for me to review per issue, so win-win! And especially so with stories like this, glimpses as darkness and trauma, monstrosity and victimization. These stories grab on and don’t let go, unsettle and disturb in the way only great dark fiction can. From the distant past to present, they look at how sometimes it’s impossible to run from what’s stalking you, especially when it might be in your own mind. To the reviews! 

Art by Vincent Chong

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #198

Anchored by a rather hefty nearly-14,000-word story this issue, Beneath Ceaseless Skies offers up a dense and rather complex look back at the growth of America and the exploitation that has gone hand in hand with the colony-turned-nation. Both stories look back at different times (and take place on opposite coasts), giving magically-infused visions of American history from the first colonies to discovery of crude oil. And whether it’s the witch hunts or the whale hunts, the stories dwell on the ways that people exploit. That they harm each other. That they destroy. These are not the happiest of tales, but then they probably shouldn’t be, given the subject matter. These are careful and deep stories about magic and cost and place. So to the reviews! 

Art by Geoffrey Icard

Monday, May 2, 2016

Quick Sips - Lackington's #9 - Architecture

When I saw the theme of Lackington’s ninth issue, architecture, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Stories about buildings? About construction? About utility? What I ended up finding in these stories were, yes, those things, but so much more. Experiments with the architecture of fiction, for example, as each of these tales manages to innovate structure and storytelling. And also looks at the architecture of biology, of history, of physics, of relationships. There are structures all around us, as mysterious and wonderful and foreboding and complex as the most awe-inspiring cathedral or castle. These stories explore what architecture can be, and what it is, and how it matters to us. They are at turns startling and unsettling and inspiring stories, and I’m going to get to reviewing them! 

Art by Carrion House