Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Quick Sips - Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Q34

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly closes out its 2017 offerings with a new issue full of fiction and poetry that explores magic and mystery, darkness and the light of hope. With three stories and three poems, it’s a nicely balanced issue, closing the mega-narrative it began with the last issue and offering yet more worlds to explore. The pieces range from strange and disturbing to more joyous and tongue-in-cheek, and in general the pieces do a great job of evoking a sort of classic feel while remaining wholly original and fun. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Jereme Peabody


“Crazy Snake and the Demons of Ometepe” by Eric Atkisson (7915 words)

This is the third and final story in a series of historical dark fantasy pieces that find otherworldly, Lovecraftian horrors trying to make inroads into North, Central, and South America during the age of colonization. This takes place the latest, I think, in the chronology, so it makes sense that it’s the last to appear, and it tells the story of Crazy Snake and Inakakinya, two travelers who have had their share of adventure and who stumble into a bit more thanks to a vision that takes them after a man at the heart of a number of conflicts and wars in the area. The story moves quickly, and for me takes on the ideas of colonization and lessons, with Crazy Snake having to confront this world that has been so touched by corruption and suffering and the shadow of his own destiny, a fate that he wants to embrace but has some trouble recognizing. I like how the story builds up Crazy Snake across the present conflict and in the past, as a young man first learning what it is to have a destiny, to be at the center of violence. There is a grim inevitability to a lot of what happens in the story, a weight and momentum of the harm being done by men hoping to take exploit the peoples of South America for their own profit. And I like how this impulse is one of ignorance, how the man at the heart of the damage is a witting accomplice in the destruction not just of this area, but the corruption of the entire world. Because really, it’s not just the area that is touched by these actions, but the larger world system that allows and encourages it. That opening this one door, so far away from his home, the character nearly dooms everyone by pushing the system past the point of no return. Because there are some things that cannot be walked back from. It’s a fun piece and well paced, driving toward an end and weaving nicely into the over-arching narrative the other stories built and bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. A great read!

“Hunger’s End” by Scott Shank (4556 words)

This is a story about hope and the loss of hope. Of faith in the many ways it can express itself. Of power. It features two men, Angkoshi and his captain, Bazitur, as they travel through a forest that seems alive, willful. That has wrecked so much of their kingdom and which seems poised now to kill them both. Not overtly, not with external violence, but by eclipsing them. By making them small. And that’s the part of the story that I enjoy the most, that it’s a story about scale, and who can handle that. The forest, with all its mystery, with all its power, doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of the characters or the kingdom. It moves, but it’s not even a fight, like it can’t be bothered to see something so small as humanity. The only things that survive are already small, have already made peace with their own insignificance or else never had the ability to feel otherwise. Of the humans that remain, those that can live inside the forest seem to have to make that turn, that twist, seeing themselves as small in the face of such overwhelming scale. The forest, which is relentless, is not their enemy, but rather their own desire to be important. To have some larger role. Of course, the trade there is that by being small, by assuming smallness, it’s difficult to try, to do things. It becomes about survival because anything more is meaningless. Survival itself is meaningless, but easy enough. For Ankoshi, that’s not quite enough, but he’s able to find a balance between hope and arrogance, is able to see his own smallness but want to go further, not because it has to mean something huge and important, but because he’s driven by his own curiosity. Without the need to justify his actions by any large right or wrong, but rather concentrating on what he feels is best, he’s able to avoid the shock of having his objective reality shattered by a larger objective reality’s asserting itself. He’s able to adapt, and hope, and it’s a rather interesting way of showing that. A fascinating read!

“Dragon in Amber” by Patrice Sarath (5262 words)

This is a story about promises and betrayals, prisons and freedom. It involves two people, Arauch the dragon and Weith the human, who have both been waiting a long time for a certain moment. For Arauch, that moment is escape. For Weith it is, too, but in a very different way. And really, more than just being a fun story about a dragon gaining his freedom, I like how the story is about both characters gaining a freedom, and in some ways from the same man, albeit one who’s been dead a while by the time the story opens. Because both characters have had dealings with Weith’s father, Arauch knowing him as a scholar and a man who had promised to arrange his release from a centuries-long imprisonment, and Weith knowing him as a tyrant, as a man who was never proud of his son. Weith was brought to be a tool, a tool to work for Arauch’s freedom, and there’s some of that bitterness still in him that shows through. I like how it all works together, how everyone swirls around each other, needing to wait for this moment when they can set each other free, when Arauch can be released from the injustice of his captivity and Weith from the injustice of his father’s demands. It’s a situation where neither character is innocent of hurting the other or using the other. And yet they also help each other, and bring each other to a point where they can move on and away. Touched by what has happened to them, yes, but able to perhaps heal and find a way to make up for the time they have lost. And, well, it’s still a rather fun story about a dragon gaining his freedom. So yeah, a fine read!


“The Barghest Revenge” by Adam Vine

This is an interesting and longer (though certainly not as long as some the publication has put out) poem about loss and about anger, about revenge and justice. It finds a narrator who has slipped a bit, who seems to have been a monster-hunter but the business dried up when the monsters were largely driven out. Now the narrator is a bit of a mess following the loss of their love, Rose, a fact that a Barghest, a monster, is able to use in order to get the narrator to agree to unlock a certain kind of door. The piece rhymes, sometimes a bit slant, and it makes for a rather odd effect, chilling in the almost sing-song nature of it but also stilted at times, creating an atmosphere where things aren’t quite right, not only in the sense of monsters intruding into the narrator’s world but also in the way that they have frayed since the death of Rose. And I like how the poem brings the narrator to further decline, revealing more and more of what has happened in the world before showing what exactly the game has been all along, and where the harm originated. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable read, using as it does the deaths of these women to show the narrator and Barghest now shades of their former selves, haunting each other and destroying themselves in the process, fueled only by grief and the desire to make someone else feel what they have felt. And in some ways it’s about how doors can be mirrors sometimes, and being allowed to open one can be a devastating and traumatic moment. It’s a dark and rather creepy experience and a poem I certainly recommend checking out to make up your own mind about.

“Ghost Poet Emperor” by Meg Moseman

This is a strange and kinda unsettling poem about art and about, as I read it, popularity and privilege. The situation that it describes, a poet emperor flinging out work into the void, lavished with attention and praise but never really engaged with, is a striking image, and one that I feel gets at something about how certain people are looked at. It’s a tricky line to walk, after all, judging what is popular and what isn’t, judging who is popular and who isn’t. Claiming that a person is admired for simply being a celebrity, though, paid attention not because of what they’re really saying but because they are popular, is something that I at least find it hard to avoid sometimes. And certainly for those who feel like they are toiling in obscurity, trying so hard to get any recognition, this specter of the ghost poet emperor can bite the harder, even as a fictional construct, even as just this ghost by which we feel our own accomplishments are ignored. Because at times there do seem to be people who have no issue being seen or heard, who yet don’t seem to actually do anything to really merit the attention and, more, the success. But it’s not really a bitter poem, for all that I might have something of a bitter reading of it. Instead, it’s rather loud and fun, quasi-rhyming and moving with speed and seeming ridiculousness. There’s something almost charming about the ghost poet emperor, something almost clownish, but I like how the poem also carries with it a darkness, an edge. That people are drowning for these works that no one ever reads, that the whole exercise seems pagaentry, illusion—the great poet emperor just an actor on a stage clad in the invisible clothes of brilliance. It’s weird and it’s catchy and it’s certainly worth a read!

“Gæscligcrymblingas” by Ariel Bolton

This poem reveals its own alphabet and I rather want to see the picture book that follows the entries. And really, a lot of the poem is just the fun of it, the references of it, all building up this feeling based on the language, based on the alphabet, of a place and a time and a literary tradition. And a bit deeper than that the poem seems to be about the act of evoking that, of condensing it, of creating an alphabet that’s more than just the letters but seeks in some way to give a feeling for the people who use it, who speak and spoke it. Language is, after all, just lines on paper. Discovering the meaning might tell you something, but an alphabet really doesn’t do more than get at how things sound. The phonetics of a people don’t really get and the culture and history that went into how that language was formed or what inspired, framed, or shaped it. The poem steps into that role, and I feel like it tries to give context to the sounds, give weight to the letters. Through this poem we are shown not just the letters in use but how it creates motiffs and tropes, roles and ideas. In the stories and lore that the poem eludes to are contained so much of the culture of the language, and I like how the poem then builds that with references both common and obscure. And it is fun and if you are a language nerd (or a history nerd, or a literature nerd) then you will probably have loads of fun with this poem. It’s neat and the last lines are a great way to close out the issue. For the poem, it’s to say that the feeling of the language has been built, and for the issue it means another affirmation of heroic fantasy and all that entails!



1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the review, glad that you liked the issue! I was quite happy with Atkisson's ending to our triple-crossover, and the other two stories were able to hold their own compared to it.

    I like your take on the poems. "Poet Emperor" was a pretty light-hearted poem, but it did have a kind of an edge to it that was hard to explain-- which is why we wanted it.