Short & Sweet: Well worth 3 of your entertainment dollars. Fun, well-written stories and three old-school-style serials, a quick read. Grab a beer or an ice tea, your copy of Astounding Frontiers, and hit the hammock or the beach for a few enjoyable hours. Wear sunscreen.
Astounding Frontiers is a new magazine devoted to stories that astound and push frontiers. It hits the mark, although, by their nature, serials may do their astounding and pushing of frontiers over a larger time-frame than one issue. Onward:
First, we have the short stories. The Death Ride of SUNS Joyeuse by Patrick Baker is military SciFi covering a space fleet and space marines dedicated to protecting an outpost from some nasty customers intent on enslaving them. Epic and heroic battles ensue, complete with way-cool space weapons and strategy . Fun read, and it’s obvious Baker knows what he’s talking about – he’s a veteran working at the Dept of Defense, so the command structure and tactics ring true. Good story.
Next, is Lou Antonelli’s Riders of the Red Shift, a very cool sort of Western/Mystery in space story, about a space station and worm hole out in the Oort cloud near Sedna. Seems a group of Texans, after a failed rebellion, headed out with a load of decommissioned nukes – which nukes were later found useful as fuel for propulsion into the wormhole the Texans accidentally discovered. Exploration of the galaxy takes place through this wormhole. At the time of the story, crews retrieve these nukes from the Texan’s long abandoned ship to use as fuel. There are some mysteries that need solving…
According to Culture by Declan Finn is a space riff off the wisdom contained in a famous (legendary?) exchange between a British commander in India and a Hindu leader (whether Finn knows it or not, although I suspect he does). The Hindu explains to the Brit that it is their custom to throw live widows on the pyres of their dead husbands; the Brit explains it is his custom to hang people who murder women. If the Hindu insists on following his culture, he can hardly object when the British follow theirs. A father who turns out to be a sort of tech/mech/ninja, has to make this point to a ruler who has purchased his kidnapped daughter.
This story has a very good opening sentence:
Neti Gwai looked over his latest batch of slaves, going from one holographic image to another, when the wall exploded.
And it hardly lets up from there. Epic battles ensue. Fun read, especially as a father of daughters.
Stopover on Monta Colony by Erin Lale is a story of empathy and mistaken identity that harkens back to a famous Star Trek episode which it would completely spoil things to name, and also a William Gibson story (and another mid-80s story in SF&F that’s sitting on the edge of memory) involving a singer who, with the aide of technology, is able to echo back the emotions of her audience. A captain giving passage to just such a singer stops by an outpost for some repairs, and finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Can’t say much more without giving too much away – fun story.
Watson’s Demon by Sarah Salviander, is an elaborate gag, of sorts, a bit of an inside joke for physicists – and a good story. What if a superior interdimensional being decided to mess with the experimental results of what it thinks of as a hopelessly simple-minded human? What if you could really make all the energetic molecules move *here* and all the less energetic molecules move *there* just as the experimental measurements were being taken? You could drive a physicist crazy! But never underestimate a crazy physicist. Fun read.
Next up: the first installments of 3 serials – an evil marketing genius trick to hook us on future issues.
I think it’ll work.
First up is Nowither, the follow up to John C. Wright’s Dragon award winning Somewhither, the first book in the Tales of the Unwithering Realm series. Wright gives us a brief recap of Somewhither (reviewed here) to open the episode, so the reader isn’t completely lost, but I think it really helped that I’d already read it.
When we last left Our Heroes, Illya, a teenage ‘boy’ who cannot be killed, has just rescued Penny Dreadful (yep, that’s her name) an insanely beautiful and buxom young woman who is the object of Illya’s desires and happens to be a mermaid and nymph/goddess from another parallel timeline, along with 150 or so beautiful and scantily-clad slavegirls. He’s aided by Abby, an heroic young girl with The Most Tragic Backstory Ever ™, who, by virtue of her ‘two natures’ is able to circumvent the astrology of the Ur people; Ossifrage, an Air Bender/Old Testament Prophet/Gandalf hybrid (he’s really cool); and Nakasu, a Blemmyae, or headless giant who is super strong, brave and knowledgeable about the ways of the Ur. Also along is Illya’s childhood friend Foster Hidden, a gypsy/spy/warlock whose skill with the bow makes Hawkeye look like an amateur. They find themselves in some sort of switching station used by the Ur to zip around between parallel universes via golden Mobius gates. All hell breaks loose.
If you’re tired of stories without much action, you’ll get all the action – gruesome, blood-soaked yet somehow hopeful action – you can stand. For example, Illya gets decapitated – but it’s only a flesh wound! Slap that head back on, summon all the blood back into your veins, and you’re good to go! Excellent fun.
Ben Wheeler’s In the Seraglio of the Sheik of Mars is something completely different, based on the first chapter. In this installment, boy sorta meets girl, boy chased off from girl, boy gets his grandfather to arrange a marriage with girl. On Mars, in a transplanted 1,001 Nights style universe. Not exactly what you’d expect, but it did leave me wondering where it’s going – and that’s the point of a serial, right? This first installment is more scene setting, I suppose, than actual story, but it works.
Galactic Outlaws, from Dragon Award winner Nick Cole and Jason Anaspach, is the first installment of what promises to be an epic yarn, a True Grit (maybe) in space. The story opens with a hard-bitten captain landing his tramp hauler of a spaceship, which was falling apart when he stole it 6 years ago, on a planet that is suddenly under attack by the Republic that is supposed to be its government. As civilians flee onto the docks, he tries desperately to unload his cargo so as to gouge any passengers who want passage off the planet and away from the Republic.
Things do not go well for him.
He has one passenger: Prisma Maydoon, a girl whose family has been murdered, who only wanted a ride someplace where she might hire an assassin to get revenge. She is accompanied by KRS-88 an obedient robot she has named Crash, that spends its time pointing out how risky and insane everything she’s doing is (as is its duty). She ignores it, flees the ship and heads to a bar where the most notorious (and hunted!) hit man might be found.
Conclusion: great fun. Go buy this. Read it. Way more entertainment for the dollar than your typical hollywood movie or Big 5 novel.