Tangent Reviews: Apex Magazine

Issue #76 of Apex Magazine features four pieces of original fiction:

  • “Child, Funeral, Thief, Death” by Tade Thompson
  • “Find Me” by Isabel Yap
  • “Frozen Planet” by Marian Womack
  • “Mountain” by Liu Cixin (translated by Holgar Nahm)

I was most taken by Isabel Yap’s “Find Me,” a story about a girl dealing with her grief via a peculiar, not quite real, not quite imaginary friend. The emotion is thick in the story, giving even its fantastic elements a weight of truth that makes the whole thing easily relatable to the reader.

You can find this issue of Apex here. My review for the above short stories can be found on Tangent.

Tangent Reviews: Uncanny Magazine

The September/October issue of Uncanny Magazine has four very well constructed stories, though the two that stuck out to me are Keffy R. M. Kehrli’s “And Never Mind the Watching Ones,” and Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer’s “The Sisters’ Line.” In particular, “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” struck a cord with me, possibly because of novels from my youth that continue to give me warm, fuzzy feelings when I think of them. The remaining original fiction in the issue is “Find a Way Home” by Paul Cornell and “The Oiran’s Song” by Isabel Yap. They’re all definitely worth the price of the issue, which you can purchase here.

My review on Tangent can be found here.

Eating Busan

This past week, Alex and I took a short trip to Busan. You might remember our Seoul trip from last year, and all the fun we had then. We were naturally excited to see a different part of Korea this year and while there was a disappointing lack of honey toast in Busan, we nonetheless had another incredible experience.

The Busan trip was a bit short notice. We’ve been saving all our money to ship things back to Canada (and to splurge on all the Sailor Moon goodies we can while we’re here) so when it was decided that we should take one last Asia trip while we were still in the area, we did so with not a lot of money and absolutely zero planning. Money was so tight, in fact, that we were almost resolved that this should just be a writing retreat wherein we did nothing but stay in our hotel and maybe window shop if our legs needed a stretch. Fortunately we managed to find enough cash hidden between the couch cushions to avoid this depressing fate and I’m happy to report that we were able to enjoy Busan, even on a tight budget.

When I say we did zero planning, that’s a bit of a lie. We tried to plan. We got the flights and the hotel all worked out, of course, but when it came down to deciding what the hell we were going to do when we got there, we discovered that all the recommended sights (parks, temples, museums, etc) there are in Busan are all literally an hour drive out of the city. Having only one full day to stay there, it put a bit of a damper on our plans to have to choose only one thing to see, if we wanted to see anything. In the end we decided to keep to the local area around our hotel, and sadly abandoned thoughts of going to the modern history museum, the beautiful ocean side temple, or the passport petting zoo (they have a fennic fox and a bearded dragon!)

The first thing that we noticed after getting off the plane is how incredibly friendly the people of Busan are. This isn’t to say that the people of Seoul or Kyoto aren’t friendly, but comparatively, the people we met in Busan went out of their way to help us. Since we didn’t really plan anything beforehand, we didn’t have any conveyance to our hotel after we got off the plane. Alex’s plan was just to take the subway. We found a nifty sightseeing subway map at the airport, but it unfortunately didn’t give much information by way of stops, and the characters on Alex’s subway map didn’t match up with the characters on the metro map. While we stood there, trying to understand the various rainbow of lines and understanding precisely zero Korean, we were approached by a man who asked us where we were trying to go. He obviously had places to get to himself, but he took ten minutes to explain the map to us, help us find our transfer points and then led us to the correct platform. He then transferred twice with us, helped us buy the tickets for the various lines before finally transferring to a different line himself.

Admittedly, I was getting a bit nervous at around the second transfer. Being a woman, there’s always the fear in the back of the brain that a guy being nice is expecting a reward, and in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language or know the customs so well, misunderstandings can be especially problematic (it has happened a few times in Japan already). I hate that I have to give these thoughts consideration because I do want to take people’s kindness at face value. Fortunately in this case it was kindness for kindness’s sake, and to be fair, he also took pains to avoid looking like a creeper. He left the train ahead of us and lingered near the ticket booths for us to arrive, and never looked like he was trying to follow us. In short, he was in every sense a gentleman, and we were very grateful for his help.

The hotel was a short walk from the train station, which was nice because it was raining and we were tired, and just wanted to relax for a little while. Those who remember my rants about the Ibis Hotel will be disappointed to learn that, aside from some suspicious stains on the carpet, Aventree was a delightful hotel with friendly, helpful staff and beautiful, comfortable rooms. The room was spacious with a working, modern touch screen panel controlling the air conditioning and the lights. There was plenty of snazzy counter space with a big desk and a nice lamp to work with. The bathroom was large, clean and came equipped with multiple soaps, shampoos and conditioners, a high pressure shower and motion sensor lighting. The beds (ah, the beds!) were very comfortable, with two feather pillows and a down feather comforter that I seriously considered stuffing into my suitcase before we left. But best of all, our room had an (inaccessible) closed balcony which filtered out the noise of the busy street below. In short, we were very well situated in Busan, as compared to Seoul.

Furthermore, the staff at Aventree were very kind. As soon as we unpacked our things we noticed that we had forgotten to bring our outlet adapter (see, no planning above). We went to the lobby to ask if they knew of an electronic store nearby where we could buy one and the hostess just gave us one to borrow, on the condition that we return it when we checked out. So that saved us some money, and we were only too thankful to take it. On our way out to explore the city, however, we noticed a sign on the interior of the elevator advertising the extra amenities of the hotel. Adapters, it read, were available for a $10 deposit. I don’t know if the hostess forgot to ask for the deposit, or simply decided we looked honest enough to be trusted, but we were pretty happy to be given the adapter deposit-free.

As we arrived in Busan in the late afternoon there wasn’t much that we could do that day except walk around and eat. Having not eaten breakfast or lunch that day, food became our first (and only) concern. Fortunately, the area that we stayed in is nothing but cafes, restaurants, beauty stores, iphone shops and street food. The problem wasn’t finding food, it was deciding what kind of food we wanted, or, in Korea, what kind of meat we wanted. And this is important because in Japan, meat is rare and expensive, and you always feel some bit of buyers remorse when you eat it, but in Korea it’s a dietary staple. I have yet to eat a meal in Korea that didn’t feature meat as its main course.

We settled on a chicken place that looked good, and were greeted by a server who seemed both unsettled and amused to speak English with us, but we got some jokes out between the three of us while he explained the menu. We ordered a basket of five-ways potatoes and some sweet and spicy garlic chicken and a cheese fondue on the side.

There aren’t any proper adjectives in the English language to describe how good that meal was. The potatoes were delicious, first off, but it’s hard to go wrong with fried potatoes. The chicken was absolutely to die for, and we were glad that we only ordered one dish, because it was huge. Even two starving foreign women couldn’t finish it off together. The fondue was out of this world. It was a whole new cheese experience for me, and even after we couldn’t fit anymore chicken or potatoes into our pie holes I considered eating the fondue just as it was, instead of leaving it behind. That’s how freaking good this place was!

Eventually we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and did a bit of window shopping. We didn’t buy much, having not a lot of money, but just exploring the streets of a new place was enough fun for us. We wandered back to our hotel at around eight and settled in for a relaxing night in our comfortable room.

The next day we found ourselves a cafe that served real bagels and cream cheese and a delicious mocha frappe and planned our day. There was so much we wanted to see, and so little time to see it, but since the bookstore alley was in our neighbourhood, it was the first thing on our list. After wandering a while through art alley, we came to this tiny wedge between streets that is a used bookstore lover’s paradise. The shops are tightly packed together, with floor to ceiling books. Even in the rain the books were out on display. Naturally, most of them were in Korean, but we found one store that had a pretty large selection of English books, and it was really, really hard not to spend all of our money there, especially since it was packed with art and history books, which are special favorites of ours.

After that, we went wandering around and found a covered food market which was an absolute treat to our foreign eyes. All sorts of foods were there, from vats of kimchi to halved hogs to live turtles. Most of it smelled absolutely amazing, and we regretted instantly that were were only going to be there for one more day. We spent a long time wandering in and out of the stalls. Alex was especially excited (and disappointed) to find a flower shaping cotton candy stall, but despite visiting it three times at various times of day, and having all its lights on, we never actually found the vendor.

We did find the trick-eye museum though, which was a lot of fun, despite a lot of the exhibits requiring some pretty amazing feats of acrobatics to pull off good pictures. Since it’s a permanent installation, there were a lot fewer people there than at the exhibit at the Aeon mall in Kyoto.

Night found us once again on the search for delicious food. We wandered through pig’s feet alley, which admittedly smelled amazing, but the pig’s feet themselves were too large of a commitment for us to want to attempt trying. We settled on a nice looking barbecue restaurant that had a bunch of happy, laughing young people in it. We managed to snag the last table available. The hostess brought us the small menu and we ordered pork belly, something called Boston butt, and marinated beef ribs, along with some pickled side dishes and romaine lettuce and kimchi. It was supposed to be cook it yourself, but the hostess was nice enough to help us out when we started struggling. Again, the taste was beyond description. Just amazing, all around. It was a bit expensive, but very satisfying. As we left, the hostess gave us a package of exfoliating face wipes as a gift, which was very nice of her.

Even though we packed ourselves full of pork and beef and butt, we weren’t satisfied, and so we stopped for a sweet cinnamon pancake, the likes of which we tried for the first time at the Korean festival in Kyoto last year. From there we popped on over like a pair of bar hopping drunks to a bubble tea cafe, where we brought our stomachs to the bursting point. I should note that here was when we noticed that this song had been stalking us for the entire trip:

Listen to it, seriously. You won’t be disappointed

The next day we had our breakfast at the hotel, but by that time my poor stomach had been so abused by the amount of food I’d shoveled in it that it really wanted no part in breakfast, or in the cafe we went back to for extra caffeine. In fact, it was mostly interested in walking the calories off, so we went up the outdoor escalator to Busan Tower and the park surrounding it. It’s actually a nice little retreat from the main part of the city. We bought passes to go up to the observation deck, and to the model ship museum below it. There turned out to be lots to do at the tower, but we didn’t have time to see it all. It was off to the shuttle bus, and then to the airport.

We stayed only a few short days in Busan, and didn’t move out of the ten block radius of our hotel, but we still did a ton of stuff, and consider it one of our most memorable trips outside of Japan.

Momiji Viewing In Japan

This week my article on Eiden Rail’s Momiji Tunnel went live. It’s a short piece, part of their autumn series on the best places in Japan to see the autumn foliage, specifically the tiny Japanese maple leaf that turns such a brilliant shade of red in the autumn that several fire festivals are held throughout Japan every year in its honor. The momiji is to autumn what the sakura is to spring, and with the weather cooling down and the crisp scent of burning leaves and scrumptious baked sweet potato in the air, autumn might just be the best time of year to visit Japan.

Check out my article here, as well as the rest of Taiken Japan’s autumn 2015 series if you’re planning a trip over relatively soon. Here’s just a taste of the colors Japan has to offer in October and November.

Liquor Mountain: We Also Sell Liquor


Liquor Mountain is a chain liquor store throughout Japan that sells… well pretty much everything you can think of to put in your mouth. Except that. I can read your thoughts internet pervert. Put them away, we’re here to talk about food. Of course Liquor Mountain sells booze (mountains of it, to be exact) but behind the racks of wine and whiskey and innumerable varieties of flavored liqueurs, Liquor Mountain also offers the hungry shopper an entire grocery store worth of domestic and foreign foodstuffs. This discovery is especially tragic as Alex and I are cutting back on our twenty-something snacking habits, and we’re leaving Japan for good relatively soon. The knowledge that this wealth of interesting, international food has been literally a 10 minute walk from our house all this time is heartbreaking.

What kinds of food does Liquor Mountain sell, exactly? I’m glad you asked because I ran around a local Liquor Mountain, dodging store employees so I could bring you pictures of the offspring of a liquor store and an import grocery store.

If you’re like me and you like touring shops clockwise, then the first thing Liquor Mountain has to offer is an impressive full wall of whiskey, both import and domestic. Seriously, I had no idea this many varieties even existed. It’s like walking into a whiskey history museum. It’s incredible, and I don’t even like whiskey that much.

Their wine and champagne selection is just as impressive, taking up over four full aisles and another wall. Wine has been growing on me recently, though I still sneak some orange juice into a glass of white when no one’s looking.

The first sign you get that Liquor Mountain is more than it seems is when you pass their deli section. The brain tries to rationalize seeing smoked franks, bacon and cream cheese between the wine and craft beer sections; what if someone is putting on a wine and cheese party? And drunks are second only to pot heads when it comes to late night snacking. It’s not all that strange, really, that a liquor store might want to stock up on some party essentials and boost their revenue a little bit.

But then you turn around and run into a wall of imported curry mixes and pickles. “What in the world sort of party is this?” you ask yourself, as this wine and cheese (or whiskey and sausage) event seems to be turning in the direction of early-morning gastrointestinal distress rather quickly.

So you turn the corner and take comfort in the bottled beer section, and that familiar malty smell, only to be immediately confronted with Italy’s entire history of pasta on one side, and coffee, tea and breakfast cereals on the other around the next bend. You turn around and test the air behind you for some sign of the wormhole that must connect this liquor store to the grocery across town but no, there’s no dimensional disruption. You’re in the same liquor store. “Ok,” you reason. “Ok, people need coffee and tea to combat a hangover. That’s not so bad. And… and pasta helps cure diarrhea, that’ll be useful after all that whiskey and curry.” But the breakfast cereal throws you for a loop, so you quickly rush to the next aisle.


Condiments! An entire aisle of condiments greets you, followed by three aisles of snack food and juice. All you wanted was a case of beer and now your cart is loaded up with an entire week’s worth of groceries! And the store seems to go on forever, with no end in sight. You might have to bust open a jar of coconut oil, just for the calories to make it through to the end!

Soon Liquor Mountain returns you to the realm of your expectations, and gives you a spirits aisle. On one side Japanese and on the other, imported. I was happy to find Havana Club here, which is far and away my favorite rum out of an admittedly tasty selection. There is also quite the assortment of ume-shuu, which I also have a bit of an attachment for. The amount of flavored liqueurs and novelty alcohols is astounding. One almost wishes one was an alcoholic for the ability to taste and mix with all of them, because no healthy amount of alcohol consumption over a lifetime would ever allow anyone to try that many samples.

From here, Liquor Mountain tapers back off into a regular liquor store, save for packs of dried fish decorating the ends of every aisle. In case you’re wondering, that’s a pack of squid and cheese jerky up there. Yup.

IMG_3033There’s a large selection of soda water for spicing up all those mixed drinks;


All the fixings you need for making your own fruit liquor at home;


A variety of Nihon-shuu (Japanese clear grain liquor);


What the hell, give me an entire four liters;

More beer and canned cocktails;


And on your way out, why not pick up some marshmallows?

Spending half an hour in Liquor Mountain makes me wonder why anyone does their grocery shopping anywhere else. There’s enough alcohol and snack food in there to keep me comfortable throughout a zombie apocalypse, that’s for sure.


The results of a single liquor store run.


Because today is my birthday, and because my wonderful friend Amber likes to send me giant bottles of liquor for every year I take another step closer to the grave, tonight I will be indulging in great quantities of alcohol which I may or may not post pictures of here. Stay tuned.

Tangent Reviews: SQ Mag

This is the last one, I swear. I would have bundled them all together, but I like to separate them by publication when I can. This was my first time reading SQ and it was decent. None of the stories reached out and grabbed me by my soul, but I don’t remember detesting any of them either. I reviewed, “The Florist” by M. B. Vujačić, “Stairwell” by Ron Riekki, “Home Delivery” by Michelle Jager, “Inner Dragon” by James Aquilone, and “Bot Malfunction” by Iulian Ionescu. My review of all five of these stories can be found here.

Tangent Reviews: Strange Horizons

I’m even more behind on posting my Strange Horizons reviews. Poor blog, you have been so neglected, haven’t you? But deadlines, paid work and my personal writing come before blogging time and I’ve been burning the keyboard with other things recently. And now for catch up number two. (My reviews behind the date link, original stories behind the title link.)

Karen Myres’ “The Visitor” was my favorite of these by far. I don’t want to spoil it because I love the story so much but if you don’t read any of the other stories on this list, you should read this one. “Beyond Sapphire Glass” was also nice. The narrative style is odd, but it grows on you as you read it. “20/20” was fairly good too, though I swear I’ve read a story just like it not long ago.

Tangent Reviews: Terraform

I’ve done quite a few Terraform reviews since the last one I posted in March. The ezine releases one new story a week, plus they did a special three story feature not long ago and I’ve gotten a bit behind with posting my reviews here. Let’s do a little catch up, then. (My reviews under the date link, the original story under the title link.)

A mixed bag, as always. My favorite was either “The Prostitute” or “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” In all of the stories I always felt like I was being permitted to sample the flavor of the story, but not consume enough to truly be satisfied. Perhaps that’s what some people like in fiction, but I most enjoy the stories that really fill me up.

Tangent Reviews: Crossed Genres #32

This week I reviewed issue 32 of Crossed Genres for the month of August on Tangent Online Magazine. This issue features three stories on themes such as the emotional evocation of food, the blind strength of parental love, and our deep connections with deceased loved ones. “Where Do You Go to, My Lovely?” by Yusra Amjad, “Infinite Skeins” by Naru Dames Sundar, and “The Copperlin U.S. Post Office Manual” by Lauren Rudin can be read in the August 2015 issue of Crossed Genres. My review can be found at Tangent Online.

Corner Dwellers

sumikkogurashi august 01

I love Sumikko Gurashi. These adorable little characters are just one set among San-X’s many popular icons. Chubby and round, these simply drawn cartoon animals scream, “I am cute, buy me!” In the already kawaii saturated Japan, they’re nothing special. Yet the characters of Sumikko Gurashi are a lot more complex than just a couple of cute faces. Underneath their button eyes and hopeful smiles is a surprisingly introspective commentary on the Japanese and their culture.

If everything in Japan has a mascot then the characters of Sumikko Gurashi are the icons of Japanese introversion. The name literally translates to “corner living,” referencing the characters’ love of being in the corner where it is calming. The characters of Sumikko Gurashi are the dictionary definition of kawaisou (pitiful). They’re shy, they’re self-conscious, and sometimes they pretend to be something they’re not because they’re not sure who they really are. But even though they represent character flaws, each one in its own way is so optimistic and so darling that you can’t help but love them. There’s something charming about a person (and by extension a culture) that can be open about the negatives as well as the positives. It makes them more endearing and trustworthy.

The reason for this could be similar to why we finding blushing individuals cute. Some scientists believe that blushing may be a non-verbal social communication to indicate our regret for messing up. The theory goes that when we make a social misstep, our involuntary blushing signals to observers that we understand we made a mistake and are sorry for it. People who blush are seen in a more positive light by their peers after the fact, giving some weight to this theory that blushing is a physical means to show genuine remorse.

If we think better of people who blush to show their contrition for a social mistake, perhaps we are also endeared to those who can admit they are flawed. That openness and honesty creates a trust bond through which further connections can be made. That San-X created Sumikko Gurashi as a commentary on some of the more negative traits in Japanese cultural personalities makes us, the observers (and consumers) look at them and sigh, “Aww, you’re not so bad, Japan,” followed by a lightening of the wallet. At least in my case.


Who are these blushing characters, wearing their hearts on their sleeves? There are many characters in the series but these are the ones I could find information on:

nekoNeko (cat) is very shy. Actually, I’ve found this to be pretty typical of every cat I’ve come across in Japan, from the felines at the Cat Café to my own friends’ pets. I’ve yet to meet a single cat in Japan who wanted to interact with people. Sumikko Gurashi’s Neko loves to face inward into the corner, and shuns contact with other people.

pengin?The green penguin, Pengin? doesn’t know what he is, exactly, and honestly, neither did I when I first saw him. I thought he was a kappa (water goblin), and apparently so did he. He used to wear a plate on his head to make himself look more like a kappa, and I always see him pictured with cucumbers, a kappa’s favorite food. Pengin? is aware of his uncertain identity, and so punctuates his name with a question mark.

tonkatsuTonkatsu is probably my favorite of the Sumikko Gurashi characters. Japanese tonkatsu is a breaded and deep fried pork cutlet, served as the main meat portion of a meal. The character Tonkatsu is a crumb, left over and forgotten after the whole tonkatsu meal has finished. Only his nose is actually meat, forever unwanted and uneaten. I told you the characters were pitiful. At least he has a friend—a little fried shrimp tail, also uneaten. (Who eats the tail of fried shrimp?)

shirokuma2Shirokuma the polar bear is very out of place among his kin. He likes warm things, and so ran away from the North Pole to warmer climates. He packed his things in Furoshiki (travel bag) another sentient character in the Sumikko Gurashi world. Shirokuma however, is still rather cold-hearted, and is afraid of strangers. You can find him sipping warm tea in the corner, alone.

Other minor characters include the tiny grey dust bunny who is just overjoyed to have other people in the corner with him, the left over tapioca balls at the bottom of the bubble tea cup, Nisetsumuri who is a slug wearing a snail shell for appearances, and Zassou, a weed who dreams of being in a beautiful bouquet. And the cast continues to grow: a lizard and a sparrow were also recently added.

Like most people approaching thirty who have a desperate desire to reconnect with childhood, I spend a lot of time in the toy store and there is no shortage of Sumikko Gurashi goods for me to buy. I now have a whole Sumikko Gurashi stationery set, ready to take with me to university when the time comes. (Don’t judge. If you could be in fifth grade again you would.)

In the end, we are all flawed beings. No one is perfect, and having a cute and cuddly character around to remind one of that fact is very comforting. If a shy cat, a socially anxious polar bear, a penguin in the grips of an identity crisis and a tonkatsu crumb can be adorable and sought after, then surely a thirty year-old with a perhaps unhealthy attachment to cute things can be as well.


Corner Living: It’s calming here.

Now that I’ve admitted one of my strange personality quirks, why not share yours?