|Art by Joshua Hutchinson|
"The Genie and the Inquisitor" by Johnny Compton (1961 words)
This is a rather interesting start to the issue, a twist on a story of men and genies. The carefully-worded-wish trope is one that’s normally used to comic effect in stories, the bureaucracy of wishes, the trying to word something to work and then not being able to. Or tricking a genie into doing something for the human without having to wish for it. But here is something else entirely, the story of a man with a mission, and a rather effective way to get around the constraints of the wishes-going-poorly tendency that genies come with. There is a sense that this man is tired, that this man has lost. That feeling is what makes the story work, that and, I suppose, that things are not really drawn out for too long. The story clips right along and weighs in on the light side, but here that works. And it’s not that I even really cared for the main character. It’s difficult to, with how he acts, with his cruelty even if it is against creatures who are not exactly humanities greatest allies. Still, the story conveys a feeling of loss and a feeling of hurt, of trying to fill a hole that can’t really be filled, of trying to regain something that cannot be regained. A nice way to kick things off!
"The Hummingbird Air" by Paul Roberge (5205 words)
This is a story for male-driven fantasy fans, a story of the heir of a noble family learning some hard truths and becoming more of a leader and less of a brat. It’s a class sort of story, a spoiled and self-centered child learning to take control of his destiny instead of complaining about it or running from it. The teacher in this case is a Drift, a person who sort of goes with the flow, who doesn’t give in to bouts of emotion. It’s a story in many ways about claiming a birthright and learning the more subtle ways of getting what you want. Not really finding a different or better way, because in the end it sort of boils down to murder and deceit, but it’s a story about birthright and justice. And for that it’s an all right tale, familiar and for those who like this sort of story the world is interesting and the writing is solid. For me personally the change in the heir character, Andwyn, came a bit fast and a bit easy, and I wanted a little bit more to show that Andwyn would, I guess, actually make a good ruler. This is my general frustration with second world stories that rely on lineage, and especially the “traditional” eldest male heir rules when it comes to leadership, because it doesn’t really matter here if Andwyn is a decent person so much as he is the correct person to rule. I think the story does a decent job with the characters, though, and it’s a fun story. Indeed.
"The Empty Faux-Historical Residential Unit" by Rachel Hochberg (3302 words)
Ah, I’m not sure how much I can say about this story past a certain point without spoiling it terribly. Needless to say that this is a long setup to a rather cute payoff, a take on an older story in a much newer environment. For a while it seems like it’s just going to be a story about a doctor come back from space to Earth and having a rather difficult time adjusting. Except that the title is a clear reference and things start clicking into place more and more as the story goes. The future-London setting is well visualized and realized, the status of robots and humans interesting and compelling. The main character’s plight, his directionlessness, is well done, and the writing in general is an effectively serious affair, hiding the nature of the story until later, until everything is set up. Obviously it’s a story that works better knowing going in what’s going on, which shouldn’t be too difficult given the title, but even without a clue until certain names start getting dropped it’s a fun story, more the beginning of something longer but it does sell the idea. Like the pilot to a show, it works to sell the premise and entertain and pay homage to the source material, and it does that with gusto and charm. Elementary!
"Last Age of Kings" by Jeremy Szal (5675 words)
Well the second-world fantasy of this issue is definitely running in the violent and vengeful direction, at least so far. This story tells the tale of Roshar, warrior and sole survivor of an attempt to penetrate a strange fog that has been slowly enveloping the land. It’s a story of death and chaos and power and corruption. And in that it’s another story that follows a lot of classic fantasy traditions, adding in some striking visuals and a sort of relentless push forward that makes it compelling, at least. There is a central mystery of what exactly happening that Roshar is out to solve, and he picks up a crazy friend for the journey. For being fast and filled with death, the story is, at its heart, about desire and corruption, with Roshar eventually finding out what caused the large-scale death, what the fog represents. At the same time, the story is a bit of an odd one, and the ending takes things in a direction that I was very much not expecting. I did quite enjoy the feel of this one, the sort of creeping strangeness, but I’m sure that I was completely sold on the ending. Not that it doesn’t provide a certain amount of satisfaction, the idea that there are powers that can’t be ended at the end of the sword, that Roshar, in striving to die gloriously and savagely, falls victim to the same lust that caused the problems in the first place. Probably one worth checking out for those in favor of strong dose of violence in their second-world fantasies.
"Kara's Ares" by Clint Spivey (4374 words)
This is a rather sad story about loss and about what might have been. For Kara, one of two people to take part on a mission to seed Mars with equipment for subsequent landings, it’s about the abuse she endured because she was chosen for the mission, because she was a civilian and a woman where the commander of the mission, a soldier and an astronaut, wants to keep the glory for himself. Something that he did, in the end, basically accomplish, grounding her from further missions, making sure he was the one to be remembered. Only in the present of the story Kara is older, talking to a journalist who is writing a book about that first mission, the last before Mars was “tamed.” The story features the secrets that history doesn’t remember, the people that it excised in order to showcase it’s “heroes” more prominently. It’s a story about sacrifice, as well, of Kara’s determination. About her loss and also her chance to do something more. Her chance to do something no one suspected. In the end, it’s about her recapturing something, though not at all what she wanted. It’s about what she gave up because she didn’t want it to be about her. And it’s about how the world does this, expects the people it pushes down to be better, that it counts on that, exploits that, benefits from it. That their betterness only, in some ways, entrenches their oppression. It’s a complex story in that, one that doesn’t offer up too many answers but knows how to ask the right questions. A fine tale!
"Protecting Nessie" by Hank Quense (3625 words)
O……..kay. So…ahem, I strive to review every story in the issues that I look at, and I will do no different now. This story is told in the comedic traditions and centers on a trio of particularly not-traditionally-attractive witches trying to save the Loch Ness Monster from the Laird of the area, a man obsessed with golf. To say that certain aspects of this story are…rather offensive would be to put it mildly. I suspect there are those who will find it funny, as it plays on some traditional comedy tropes, mostly unattractive and stupid women tropes. Everything is over the top, the personalities, the extent to which the jokes are taken. Perhaps there is some form of commentary or satire in that, in the way the story takes things to extremes. It is possible that the story strives to show how ridiculous the sexualization of women is (though I’m not sure how much I got that from the text). Perhaps it just wants to dip into the “witches are ugly” pool that exists in much popular culture and the “witches are stupid” pool that can be seen in certain works. It…well, there are some moments that I found kind of funny. The Laird is properly ridiculous with his golf-fixation. But overall I didn’t really feel the humor was even at all, that it pretty much all comes at the expense of the witches, and that there are some serious problems with that. It reads a bit like a comic strip, though, that one would read in the newspaper. The action moves along smoothly enough, the plotting is fairly tight and the imagery is certainly not the worst I’ve read. And…I’ll just stop myself there.
"Dancing an Elegy, His Own" by Julia Novakova (3208 words)
Well that’s sad. But then, it’s also quite good, the story of a man from a repressive world managing to find some purpose in exile, purpose with his love and husband on stage, performing dances that make the audience part of the show, their emotions becoming part of the dance, everyone connecting, feeling. For Jakob it is a prison that he endures in hopes of freeing the sister he left behind. He lives in hope of escaping the show with his sister and husband, but things…well, the story is quite sad. I loved the way the story tied the dance to the dancers to the cycle of oppression and abuse. Of examining the effects of catharsis on a scale like that, on the addicting qualities that come along with it, for being connected to so many and yet not really empathizing. It’s a fascinating idea and it’s executed quite well here, with the main character torn between his loyalties but using the dance as a means to an end instead of a tool, and everything sort of blurring together. Because the dance does seem to do good, but it’s used almost as a drug instead of being used as a subversive instrument. As a way to create wealth when it could create understanding. It’s a tragic story, full of loss and missed connections. Definitely give this one some time and attention!
"Lost Souls" by E. E. King (940 words)
This is a short but nicely creepy story about a young girl who is made a slave and given a chance of release. Not much of a chance, but still. It’s about being trapped and confined and mummified, really, about being reborn. It’s about moving things, as well, about slavery in general and misery in general and servitude and erasure. It’s a quite nice piece, combing ideas and elements from ancient Egypt to silkworms to butterflies. It keeps things tight and focuses, as benefits a story if its length. The main character is clever but still a child, prone to ideas that older people would find ridiculous, and yet her vision of the world is the truer picture, a place where souls are lost and the dead are buried and the answers aren’t as easy as sorcerers cursing people, though they are no less magical. The ending is unsettling but fitting, tragic but in some ways beautiful, the transformation of death into something else, of slavery into freedom, though not freedom as most would want or expect. It’s a lovely story, striking in its imagery and solid in its prose. A flash piece to pay attention to!
"The Answer" by Lynette Mejía (4180 words)
This story is a bit like the first in the issue, and so a nice way of circling round to close off the original fiction. In it, a man searches for a creature with knowledge of the universe. With answers. The Sphinx. He travels far and gives up much on his journey, and it nearly kills him. He has to decide what is most important to him, and how he most wants to live. The riddles are not really what he’s after. What he wants are answers. And in his quest for knowledge he’s willing to give up just about everything. There’s a nice vein of horror in this story, the descent into the mountain, the trails that have to be overcome. The bones and death and the temptation to alter his path. And yet the story leaves the ultimate fate of the main character a bit up in the air. In my mind, the story examines the nature of truth and makes it something of an electron. You can know the location of it but not the nature of it, or else in knowing the nature of it you lose the ability to know anything else. And for the main character the implications are rather chilling, but also perhaps fitting, and there’s a great moment at the end where everything sort of clicks into place. Another very good story!
"Shamrock Part 5: Monkey Business" by Josh Brown and Alberto Hernandez
Well, he might not have a skull for a head, but we finally get to see King Lorcan in this installment of Shamrock and he does look pretty evil. I mean, he shows up glowering over a cauldron of some sort and really just sells his first appearance. Meanwhile Mullet (damn, I mean Mullen) continues with his douchey self, and all this on just the first page. It's quite nice to catch a glimpse of the bad guy, though, and to get a sense of foreboding about what might soon be waiting for Shamrock. And as the first part of a new chapter, the story is kind of a slow one. At least, there's not a lot of fighting going on. Instead, the world gets a bit better explained and some events are put into context while Lorcan and his evil are explained a bit more. A yeah, that first glance judgement of him was completely accurate. He's killed Shamrock's family as well as hordes of monkey-people in his quest for domination, and he doesn't look to stop there. This chapter specifically sees Shamrock with some of these mentioned monkey-people as she learns more about her quest and discovers what she needs to do next (I'm looking forward to a training montage!). But the series continues to be interesting and to build up the world and the characters. Lorcan was in need of showing up to solidify his villain, and that's exactly what happens. After introducing Shamrock herself over the first four installments, this new chapter looks to establish the world and the other characters (allies and villains both). Even without much action, the world building is strong and the exposition handled well, and there's a feeling of both sides preparing for a rematch. It's a fun and rather nostalgic fantasy comic. The art is fantastic as always and the plot continues to build. It's a classic story of good vs. evil, one that manages an earnest tone and provides a solidly entertaining read. Looking forward to more!