Category Archives: Magazines

Recent Reads: Summer Magazines and Short Fiction

One of the few New Year’s resolutions I’ve kept this year was to read more short fiction, and I’ve been doing that largely through magazines. It’s a great way of discovering new-to-me authors and catching on early to new trends in genre publishing, and after many years of not reading much short fiction I’ve been having a great time rediscovering  all the things I loved so much about short fiction in the first place. Here’s what I’ve been reading and loving lately:

Apex Magazine #99:
A Celebration of Indigenous American Fantasists

I’m generally not a cover-to-cover reader of Apex Magazine, instead reading whatever sounds good when their content shows up online for free, but I recently subscribed to it,. It turned out to be the perfect time to do so. #99 was the first issue I got, and it’s one that’s definitely worth reading cover-to-cover. Guest-edited by Amy H. Sturgis, it’s got non-fiction by Daniel Heath Justice and Daniel José Older and four wonderful short stories by indigenous women. The highlights, however, are “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse, an absolutely gutting near-ish future sci-fi story about Native identity and the harm caused by cultural appropriation, and “Skinny Charlie’s Orbiting Teepee” by Pamela Rentz, which tackles some similar themes with a lighter, more humorous touch in a very different sci-fi setting.

FIYAH Literary Magazine, Issue 3: Sundown Towns

FIYAH continues to do exactly what it promised when the project was announced, delivering a solid collection of black speculative fiction in a gorgeously packaged quarterly publication. In fact, though it may just be the bright, warm colors on this one, but I think Geneva Benton has delivered the best cover art to date on this issue. I was hoping for a vampire story, which the issue did not deliver, but Sundown Towns nonetheless offers a great selection of takes on its theme. If you only have time for one story from the issue, though, be sure to make it Danny Lore’s “The Last Exorcist.” “Toward the Sun” by Sydnee Thompson and “Cracks” by Xen are also excellent, but “The Last Exorcist” is the story I continue to find myself thinking about weeks later. Also, I don’t know of another publication that’s sharing issue playlists with each issue, and if there is I know it can’t be as good as the ones from FIYAH. Check this out.

Uncanny Magazine, Issue 17: July/Aug 2017

Issue 17 of Uncanny is, for Uncanny, pretty middle-of-the-road, but Uncanny is an unusually and consistently excellent publication. There’s a good interview with Maurice Broaddus, whose fictional contribution to the issue, “The Ache of Home,” is also well worth reading. I loved “A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds” by Kat Howard and “Packing” by T. Kingfisher (I always love a T. Kingfisher story). Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Worshipful Society of Glovers” is an interesting and surprisingly dark fairy tale in the mode of “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” while Seanan McGuire offers a charming origin story for Maine Coon cats in “How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea.” Sarah Gailey’s essay, “Why Millennials Yearn for Magical School,” fell a little flat with me, likely because I’m just old enough to not really identify with it, like, at all, but I saw it floating around Twitter enough to know that it hit its mark with those less crotchety than me. If you like poetry, I thought “Domovoi” by Rose Lemberg and “Questions We Asked for the Girls Turned to Limbs” by Chloe N. Clark were the standouts this issue.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #232

I’m an infrequent reader of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but I always read issues that feature work by authors I like. The major draw for me in #232 was a new story by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. “No Pearls as Blue as These” is a gorgeously clever queer romance with a great setting, a fascinating protagonist and a nicely hopeful message that makes it pretty much exactly the sort of thing I want to read these days. “Red Bark and Ambergris” by Kate Marshall turned out to be a nice bonus, a well-conceived and fresh take on a story of a lady poisoner that works well as a thematic complement to Sriduangkaew’s story. At the website, though it’s not in the ebook version of the issue, BCS recommends the courtly romance/quest story “Y Brenin” by Cae Hawksmoor, which is always worth a reread (or a first read, if you haven’t read it yet, you barbarian).

Fireside Fiction

The most important thing I’ve read recently in Fireside is actually non-fiction. Their second annual #BlackSpecFic Report came out last month, and it’s a must-read for anyone working in publishing or with more than a passing interest in the genre. Don’t miss the extra articles and interviews that go along with it.

I’ve still been slowly making my way through Infomocracy by Malka Older, but I loved her short story in that same universe, “Narrative Disorder,” and her follow-up essay about it.

“The Witch in the Tower” by Mari Ness is a short, smart reimagining of “Rapunzel.”

Finally, Fireside is publishing a new serial story by Sarah Gailey, The Fisher of Bones, and the first two chapters (“Naming” and “Cycle”) are available now.

I’m about to start never shutting up about J.Y. Yang’s novellas, The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, now that we’re getting closer to the publication date (9/26) but in the meantime you should read Yang’s short story, “Waiting on a Bright Moon.”

Cassandra Khaw recently released the perfectly delightful urban fantasy novella Bearly a Lady at The Book Smugglers, and she’s got another Lovecraftian novella, A Song for Quiet, coming out this coming Tuesday (8/29) from, but if you’re getting antsy for another Cassandra Khaw story, “These Deathless Bones” just came out a couple weeks ago.

A new Kai Ashante Wilson story just came out yesterday. You should go read “The Lamentation of Their Women” as soon as possible, and, while you’re at it, read (or re-read) his 2014 story, “The Devil in America.” It’s only getting more and more timely and important.

Magazine Review – FIYAH Literary Magazine Issue One: REBIRTH

fiyah1In an age of constant reboots and reimaginings of old media, the new FIYAH Literary Magazine stands out as one of the most promising such projects in recent years. Inspired by the work of Jazz Age black writers and motivated by current events and the ongoing dearth of recognition and opportunities for black writers in SFF, executive editors Justina Ireland and Troy L. Wiggins have created a unique and special space that is as much needed now as ever before. From its stunningly beautiful cover art to the very last page of perfectly curated fiction, Issue One: REBIRTH is a gorgeous celebration of black excellence that every serious fan of speculative fiction should be reading this winter.

My personal favorite story of the issue is the final one, “Chesirah” by L.D. Lewis, which combines fantastical and science fictional elements to great effect. My second favorite, V.H. Galloway’s compelling “Sisi Je Kuisha (We Have Ended)”, introduced me to a bit of central African folklore that I knew nothing about before reading it, which then sent me down a marvelously fascinating and informative rabbit hole of internet research about Bantu languages and Congolese history. Meanwhile, “The Shade Caller” by DaVaun Sanders is a thoughtful exploration of otherness and the power of community. An excerpt from Sanders’ novel, The Seed-Bearing Prince is also included, though I skipped it in favor of just buying a copy (just $0.99 for Kindle) and adding it to my to-read list.

The first three stories of the issue didn’t blow me away the same way the final three did, but I suspect it’s a mix of personal preference and the fact that I’m white. All of the stories in FIYAH are by, about and for black people, or at least not for white people. Reading these stories while white, one gets the distinct impression that you are the outsider here, and I found myself throughout feeling grateful for the gift of these deeper glimpses into an experience that I can only ever understand imperfectly. It’s a feeling that I often have while reading the works of people unlike myself, just seldom ever through half a dozen stories in a row.

And this might be the most refreshing thing about FIYAH and the thing that makes this project so important for the SFF community. Here, black stories by black authors are in a unique context, in conversation with each other and not singled out as token stories in other publications where they’re almost forced to be in conversation with whiteness. There’s a unity and cohesiveness to this collection that is too often reserved for more privileged perspectives that are allowed to drown out the voices of minorities. FIYAH gathers the voices of black writers together in a way that both amplifies their collective impact and highlights the diversity within the group.

The only quibble I have about this first issue is actually a technical one. Sadly, the EPUB format (my preferred file type as a Nook user) is not well-formatted, and I was unable to adjust the font size to read it more easily. It also didn’t have the best document navigation, and if I wanted to jump to a story I had to do it from the table of contents page rather than the little menu thingy in the bottom left corner of the device. It’s not a deal breaker, obviously, but it was inconvenient, and I (vainly) hated the reminder that I might need to get my eyes checked as I approach middle age. Fortunately, when you buy the issue, you have access to EPUB, MOBI, and PDF downloads, so it’s easy enough to find one that will work for you, but I’m hoping that this problem is fixed in future issues.

Magazine Review: Uncanny Magazine Issue 14 Jan/Feb 2017

I’ve read Uncanny Magazine sporadically since they started publishing, but I finally decided to back their Kickstarter and subscribe for Year Three. I’d definitely rate that among my best decisions of 2016, not least of all because it means that I’ve gotten to start off 2017 with a brand new issue that is jam-packed full of the usual sorts of excellent stories, poetry and essays that have been characteristic of the publication since the beginning.

Sam J. Miller’s “Bodies Stacked Up Like Firewood” centers around a trans man’s suicide, and is the first story to make me cry in 2017. Miller deftly and sensitively explores the grief of his characters, utilizing a slight speculative element for a haunting effect that left me perfectly primed for reading the second story that has made me cry this year, A. Merc Rustad’s “Monster Girls Don’t Cry.” I just recently read Rustad’s lovely “This is Not a Wardrobe Door” in Fireside, so I was excited to find a second of their stories so soon and thrilled to find that this one is even better than the first. I’m a huge fan of stories where outsiders come to own their identities, and I love a literal metaphor, so “Monster Girls Don’t Cry” is right up my alley. I fully expect it to be one of my favorites of the year.

Kassandra Khaw’s “Goddess, Worm” is nice but not terribly memorable. “The Thule Stowaway” by Maria Dahvana Headley is rather long and challenging, especially if you don’t know the works and biography of Edgar Allan Poe very well. I could see it being a great favorite for the right reader, however. From Theodora Goss comes “To Budapest, with Love,” which is a thoughtful meditation on ideas of alienness that I didn’t find that compelling. “Some Cupids Kill With Arrows” by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a charming and funny romance that I will definitely be linking to all my classics-loving friends when it’s free to read on February 7 (and hounding them to just buy the issue in the meantime). The Ann Leckie reprint, “The Unknown God,” is fine, but not as exciting as some of her other work that I’ve read.

I’m no poetry expert, but I loved Nin Harris’s “Jean-Luc, Future Ghost” and even think I understood it. Longer poems by Carlos Hernandez and Nicasio Andres Reed round out the section but are beyond my ability to critique other than to say I liked them.

Mark Oshiro offers an important perspective on and critique of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in his essay “Inferior Beasts.” Natalie Luhrs makes an excellent case for romance in “Why You Should Read Romance” and Angel Cruz’s essay, “Blood of the Revolution: On Filipina Writers and Aswang,” is fascinating. The standout essay of the issue, however, is Delilah S. Dawson’s powerful “I Have Never Not Been an Object.” Finally, Julia Rios, in her second issue as print interviewer, talks with A. Merc Rustad and Maria Dahvana Headley, who each offer some great insight into the stories they had in this issue, their respective processes, and what they’ll be up to next.

Like any collection of fiction and essays, Uncanny Magazine #14 has its highs and lows subject to the reader’s tastes, but it’s overall a solid issue of an above average publication. Even the pieces that didn’t especially speak to me personally were obviously chosen with care for their high quality, and I continue to be extremely happy that I finally decided to become a subscriber.

Magazine Review: Fantasy Magazine, December 2015, Queers Destroy Fantasy!

Perhaps it’s because fantasy is my first and forever true love under the SFF umbrella, but I’m convinced that the Fantasy Magazine entries in the DestroySF project are the best. At the very least, they’ve been consistently my favorite magazines in the series. Queers Destroy Fantasy has, hands down, the best fiction in any of the Destroy issues so far.

A new Catherynne M. Valente story is always a treat, and “The Lily and the Horn” is a near-perfect fairy tale where wars are waged by pitting poisoners against unicorn horns. Like much of Valente’s work, it’s a story concerned with interrogating very old fantasy tropes, and it’s full of her characteristically beautiful language and meticulously structured prose.

Kai Ashante Wilson is a newish author who I only discovered this year when I read his novella, but I quickly fell in love with his work. I was thrilled to see a new story by him in this magazine, and “Kaiju maximus®: ‘So various, So Beautiful, So New’” did not disappoint.

“The Lady’s Maid” is a weird and subversive and deeply unsettling tale by Carlea Holl-Jensen. It deals with a maid who is charged with caring for a strange mistress and the mistress’s many interchangeable heads. I actually enjoy being unsettled by stories, so of course I loved this one.

Richard Bowes’ “The Duchess and the Ghost” takes a turn towards more magical realism than simple fantasy, and it’s a haunting story about identity and the tradeoffs and compromises we make in order to survive in a world that is often hostile and unsafe.

The first of the reprints, Shweta Narayan’s “The Padishah Begum’s Reflections,” somewhat mirrors Valente’s “The Lily and the Horn” in tone. It’s similarly in the fairy tale vein, though “The Padishah Begum’s Reflections” is more like a steampunk Arabian Nights story than anything else, being told from the point of view of a clockwork princess. This is probably my favorite story in this magazine.

“Down the Path of the Sun” by Nicola Griffith is a fantasy with an almost post-apocalyptic feel to it, although the setting is never quite explained. It’s the only story in this issue that I didn’t care for, but that is largely a personal preference as I found the brutal rape described in the story to be highly unpleasant to read and not nearly as effective as the author seemed to think it would be.

Austin Bunn’s “Ledge” starts off slow, even boring, but it rewards the patient reader by delivering a great and very memorable ending.

Finally, “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” by Caitlin R. Kiernan is a nice piece of sword and sorcery with a woman character in the sort of gruff, tough adventurer role that is too often reserved for men. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking story, but it’s fun.

The non-fiction in Queers Destroy Fantasy was somewhat disappointing, with only Ekaterina Sedia’s piece on fashion standing out, but the author profiles are, as always, wonderful and well worth reading.

Magazine Review: Nightmare Magazine, October 2015, Queers Destroy Horror! Special Issue

While I’m not a regular reader of magazines, I have become absolutely hooked on the various Destroy SF projects of the last couple of years. October’s Nightmare Magazine special issue, Queers Destroy Horror was another great entry into the series.

The surprise for me in reading this issue, though, was that I found myself less enchanted with the fiction this time around and much more interested in non-fiction pieces, most of which were excellent.  Sigrid Ellis’s powerful piece about her complicated relationship with the works of Stephen King, “The Language of Hate” is worth the $2.99 I paid for the issue all by itself. The same could be said for Lucy A. Snyder’s “The H Word: A Good Story” and Michael Matheson’s “Effecting Change and Subversion Through Slush Pile Politics.”

The roundtable discussion and the author spotlights as well were particularly excellent in this issue, although I do find it a little disingenuous how often some version of the phrase ‘I don’t think of myself as a [identity] author” appeared. I know that identity issues are complicated (I’ve got my own, thanks), but still. I just find it a little cliché, this coyness about how one’s identity informs one’s work, and I sometimes think that it gets in the way of more useful insights. That said, there are still plenty of interesting things being said here.

While the non-fiction sections of this issue were superb, that’s not to say there was no good fiction, either. Matthew Bright’s Dorian Gray tale, “Golden Hair, Red Lips,” was a great way to kick off the issue, and I loved Alyssa Wong’s story, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.” My favorite of the short stories, though, was “Dispatches from a Hole in the World” by Sunny Moraine. It’s a wonderfully dark and atmospheric story, as well as a delightfully inventive and timely piece whose specific subject matter works perfectly to place it in a particular time and space and address a particular community. I loved it, although I expect that those less interested in or connected to the goings on of the internet may not quite “get it.”

While most other entries in the Destroy SF catalog include flash fiction, Queers Destroy Horror opted for poetry instead. Unfortunately, I’m not terribly into poetry as a general rule, but I did enjoy Lisa M. Bradley’s “The Skin Walker’s Wife” and Amal El-Mohtar’s Snow White-inspired poem, “No Poisoned Comb.” When I do like poetry, I usually prefer these sort of narrative pieces, and these two really hit the spot.

As always, I highly recommend checking out all of the Destroy SF material. I don’t know that I’d say there’s something for everyone, but it’s a great project that consistently turns out high quality collections of work that puts a spotlight on ordinarily marginalized voices in genre literature. It’s great stuff, and it’s not too late to buy this issue.

Reading Queers Destroy Science Fiction is a great way to celebrate the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling

Last year, Lightspeed invited women to destroy SF; this year the LGBTQ+ community gets their turn. It’s glorious, and it kicked off this month with a massive special issue of Lightspeed.

lightspeed_61_june_2015At over 500 pages (according to my epub of it), Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is a weighty piece of work, and it’s clear that it’s been conceived and crafted with deep caring and exquisite attention to its purpose. Most importantly, a real (and successful!) effort was made to be inclusive of the entire QUILTBAG acronym, and the more than two dozen personal essays included in the issue are must-read content for this reason. If you’re not queer, they offer a great variety of different perspectives to learn from; if you are queer, there’s a multitude of stories to identify with. Either way, if you have a soul something here will speak to you.

The fiction included is well chosen, which is characteristic of the publication in general, and there is a good mix of work included. My favorites, in no particular order except the one I read them in:

  • “Trickier With Each Translation” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam – a bit of a time traveling super hero love story
  • “The Tip of the Tongue” by Felicia Davin – a story about reading and government control that has given me a new nightmare
  • “Plant Children” by Jessica Yang – a sensitively written romance about plants and family
  • “Nothing is Pixels Here” by K.M. Szpara – a story about hard choices
  • “Two by Two” by Tim Susman – a story about the end of the world and how we might face it and who we will face it with
  • “Melioration” by E. Saxey – about the power of words
  • “Helping Hand” by Claudine Griggs – an astronaut survival story
  • “Bucket LIst Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks  Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind” by Erica L. Satifka – exactly what the title says, but sad and beautiful (I love the conceit of telling a story through a found piece of ephemera.)
  • “A Brief History of Whaling with Remarks Upon Ancient Practices” by Gabby Reed – exactly what the title says, but also sad and beautiful
  • “In the Dawns Between Hours” by Sarah Pinsker – about why or why not and when to use a time machine if you can
  • “Letter From an Artist to a Thousand Future Versions of Her Wife” by JY Yang – another story that is exactly what the title says, but also sad and beautiful (If you can’t tell, sad and beautiful are two of my favorite attributes in short fiction, and I’m also a sucker for clinically descriptive titles.)
  • “CyberFruit Swamp” by Raven Kaldera – definitely the most graphically sexual story in the collection (and be sure to read the author spotlight on Raven Kaldera)
  • “The Sound of His Wings” by Rand B. Lee
  • and “O Happy Day!” by Geoff Ryman – Both of these stories deal with obvious Nazi metaphors and totalitarian futures, but with vastly different approaches and two very different ways of integrating queerness into the narrative.

In nonfiction, aside from the truly wonderful personal essays, there’s also a nice piece on Robert A. Heinlein’s influence and an excellent interview with David Gerrold. This, however, leads to my only real complaint about the issue, which is that the David Gerrold interview is extremely poorly formatted. I thought it might just be the epub version of the magazine,  but it appears that the online version of the interview is similarly difficult to read because with no quotation marks, italics, or block quoting it’s hard to tell what parts of it are David Gerrold’s statements and what parts are Mark Oshiro’s commentary.

At just $3.99, Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is a great value, and I highly recommend purchasing it. Queers Destroy Horror!, a special issue of Nightmare will be out in October, followed by a Queers Destroy Fantasy! issue of Fantasy Magazine in December. And in 2016, Lightspeed will be doing POC Destroy Science Fiction! with guest editor Nalo Hopkinson.

Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is here

lightspeed_61_june_2015I have been loving Lightspeed Magazine’s special issues (Women Destroy Science Fiction!, Women Destroy Fantasy!, and Women Destroy Horror!) over the last year, so I’m very much looking forward to digging in to Queers Destroy Science Fiction!  In addition to their importance from a representational standpoint, they’re helping me to relearn my early love of magazines and short fiction (Little Professor Books used to be the only place around when I was a kid that carried a good selection of SFF magazines, and they went out of business here about twenty years ago). Mostly, though, Lightspeed just puts together damn good work, and with Seanan McGuire guest editing, I have high hopes for this issue.

We’ll also be getting Queers Destroy Horror! and Queers Destroy Fantasy! by the end of this year. For more on the Queers Destroy Kickstarter and projects, click here.

In the meantime, Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is available now for just $3.99.