Dave Higgins recently posted a review of our spring issue. It’s been awhile since we got a really in-depth review of an issue, so I thought I’d post the whole thing. Since it’s a Goodreads review, and not a blog post, I’m not concerned with poaching traffic, but the original post can be found here.
Alexander draws together several modern works of science-fiction and fantasy that are likely to appeal to fans of action over contemplation.
This magazine contains three complete stories, the opening parts of two ongoing works, and a section of epic poetry, each evoking the feel of classic pulp fiction.
The Artomique Paradigm (Part 1 of 3) by Michael Tierney: In a universe where Earth is one planet in a system-spanning human civilisation, the Artomique faction have achieved dominance through technology stolen from a human civilisation that disappeared in the mists of time but is now returning. Filled with warring dynastic corporations, generation-spanning schemes, alternate realities, and multiple names for the same character, the first part of Tierney’s novel reads like Dune with the introspection on tyranny and freedom replaced with punchy comic book action. As the first of three parts, the story does not resolve itself; however, it does reach a significant minor shift in the starting situation so is unlikely to leave readers who were enjoying it in utter agony until they can read the next part. This story is set in Tierney’s Wild Stars universe and contains frequent exposition on events from this wider arc; depending on individual preference, these character narrations will either draw the reader deeper into the world or distance them.
‘The Grain Merchant of Alomar’ by Jim Breyfogle: Mongoose and Meerkat, two career adventurers, are hired to deal with a threat to a wealthy merchant; ironically, the same wealthy merchant in a closed-off area of whose house they are currently squatting. Breyfogle crafts a fantasy city, two engaging characters, and a host of supporting characters that sit firmly in the centre of classic swords-and-sorcery without seeming derivative or simplistic.
‘Devil’s Deal’ by Michael Wiesenberg: A gambling addict makes a deal with the devil to see the outcome of events before they happen. There are only two stories about deals with the Devil and readers likely to predict from the start which this is. However, Wiesenberg builds his story from details rather than the overarching progression; thus, the protagonist’s reasons for making the deal and struggle to outwit the Devil are likely to still feel interesting.
The Book of Dark Sighs by Robert Zoltan: When Blue’s lover is kidnapped by a sorcerer, he and his adventuring companion Dareon reluctantly agree to recover a powerful book from a hellish realm in exchange for her life. This novelette is firmly in the weirder reaches of swords-and-sorcery: imprisonment in giant hourglasss, floating vampiric spheres, people with body parts rearranged by an evil sorcerer, sentient lava. However, Zoltan underpins this with a solid plot arc and consistent characterisation, making this definitely a fantasy adventure rather than an unmoored exercise in strangeness. While this story is part of Zoltan’s Rogues of Merth series, the small amount of knowledge of prior events that are needed are seamlessly integrated into dialogue, allowing it to stand alone.
‘My Name is John Carter (Part 9)’ by James Hutchings: In this section of Hutchings’ retelling of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Boroughs as an epic poem, John Carter’s prisoner relates the history of the warmongering of Zodanga. This forms a story within a story that does not require having read the previous parts; however, without the emotional resonance knowing the current situation provides, it might feel more like a history lesson than a tale of dire threats. While the metre and use of language are skilled, this sense of academia rather than action is likely to be amplified by the form in readers who do not love long verse.
‘Badaxe (1 of 3): The Call’ by Paul O’Connor et al.: The legions of the God Badaxe expand across Pangaea, both expanding his dominions and slaughtering young boys for fear they might be the one prophecied to defeat the god. Meanwhile, Tanrea, a girl raised by wolves, realises her human side; only to be captured by a sorcerer who has lost his. This comic blends a classic tale of perverted villains, violent heroes, and immense magics with stylish black-and-white art, each enhancing the other. Matching the usual comic approach, this edition ends on a significant cliff-hanger.
While each of these works has a distinct voice and plot, they are united by a philosophical embrace of classic pulp. As such, they are driven by action, risk, and heroism rather than moral introspection or the overcoming of personal imperfections. This makes them fast-paced and thrilling but also means readers who see classic fantasy as marred by sexist and racist stereotypes might see the same issues with some of these tales.
The edition slants heavily toward swords-and-sorcery but is not exclusively so. Although this might make it of less interest to those readers who prefer to remain within the fantasy genre, many readers are likely to find the variation a palate cleanser that further avoids the sense of sameness that collections sharing a closer theme can suffer from.
Overall, I enjoyed this magazine. I recommend it to readers seeking classic pulp action featuring heroic protagonists, villainous opponents, and dramatic situations.
I received a free copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.