Short and Sweet: All 9 stories in this, the first issue of what is to be a new fun literary action and adventure magazine are at least pretty good, several are quite good, 2 or 3 are still rattling around in my brain – in a good way. This mag is available on Kindle for $0.99! I read it this weekend on a school camping trip while trying to avoid mosquitoes and too much sun. Perfect summer lakeside read.
With one exception, I will keep this review spoiler-free.
A Tiger in the Garden by the wonderfully-named Alexandru Constantin is a slight but entertaining story, perfect for a distracting vacation read. Valens, the sixth Marquess of Lahnsted, has fallen on hard times that have done nothing to curb his expensive tastes. While in Angkasa, a jungle trading port, he’s been indulging in the native ‘delicacies’ on credit – and the locals would like to settle up. Schemes, adventures, dark jungle magic and daring-do ensue.
The Monster Without by Julie Frost is a much darker story of a private eye who happens to be a werewolf. Eldritch creatures live among us – some are good guys, some not so much. The story hinges on a failed case where Ben didn’t get there in time to save a girl from starring in a snuff film – yes, that dark. But the bulk of the drama is internal – can Ben, who has seen horrors and suffers PTSD from his time in the army, control his inner wolf enough to solve the crime without killing everyone involved in a rage?
I like this story for giving Ben a loving domestic life – a strong woman of a wife who supports and comforts him, a mother in law who runs the agency he works for, real sympathetic characters who worry about this guy. This touch of normalcy helps give real zing to the horror aspects of the story.
Hal Turk and the Lost City of the Maya by David Boop is a pure Indiana Jones style romp set in 1890: a bounty hunter and his loyal guide/sidekick track a very bad man deep into the jungle – where they find a lot more trouble than they’d anticipated. Very fun read.
King of Spades by David J. West is something I’d never run across before: Biblical Epic Horror. No, really: King David is living the good life after winning wars and slaughtering his tens of thousands, when the antagonist of his greatest victory comes back – and refuses to stay dead. Pretty good yarn.
Desert Hunt by Jon Mollison takes us back to all too real horror of the real world, where Karl, a vigilante, has dedicated his life to busting up child sex slavery rings. There’s a epic showdown in the desert when Karl decides he must save this one girl… Dark, but good.
The Chronicle of the Dark Nimbus by Keith West is a sword and sorcery story about Rodrik and his liege lord Prince Balthar. A vision predicts some disaster awaits the wizard Gaspar, and it is to befall him this night, unless Bathar and Rodrik can stop it. Magic, betrayal, a witch and battles in a tower keep.
Menagerie by Steve DuBois is set right after the Civil War, and involves a most unlikely set of heroes: a crusty Irish soldier, a London professor, a mulatto ex-slave genius, a Muslim giantess and Lady Basingstoke, a teenage noblewoman to whom all are loyal and who drives the adventure. Seems a Confederate officer who is not accepting the outcome of the war is deep in the Everglades plotting revenge – and enslaving any black he comes across. Lady Basingstoke & Co will have none of it.
[SPOILERS AHEAD!] Daughter of Heaven by Shannon Connor Winward is the one story which, for me, was not pure fun. It falls into the same trap as Clarke’s Childhood’s End, which trap unfortunately has snared the miseducated today as it has for the last century: that those with superior knowledge must sometimes cause or allow the deaths of millions so that Progress can be made. It is the Trolley Car Problem on a global or, in the case of this story, cosmic scale: that the enlightened see the inevitable with utter certainty, and therefore may need to condemn the innocent to death with, perhaps, a mitigating tear in their eyes. Such a view is a lie, and a pernicious one: no one in this world will EVER have anything close to that level of certainty about ANY human action, and thus it is with a bracing humility that we must and – important part! – always do act on principle. The principle might be that it is always wrong to kill an innocent man or allow one to die if by my actions I could save him, or it might be that my take on the universe makes it my high and lonely destiny to decide who lives and who dies – but it is NEVER, as in NEVER, an act from a pure foreknowledge – such certainty is a lie, and in any case is unavailable to human beings.
In this story, Cater, the first-person narrator, a dealer in antiquities, finds an inexplicable object on earth, and takes it to Mars to show to Zahirah, an expert he knows there, and for whom he has the hots. She takes the object, mates it to a similar object she wears in a chain upon her neck, and announces that this union marks the completion of a cosmic cycle of life and death, that this world will now pass away, and a new world will be born. And that she and he are to be the new Adam and Eve as it were. Zahirah is a priestess of the Handmaidens of Heaven destined to mother a new world – and Carter has been chosen as the father.
All hell breaks lose. Earthquakes destroy the martian city Arabia Terra as black demons descend and devour the inhabitants. Carter and Zahirah must flee to Tikhonravov Crater, and she will not pause to help anyone or even speak to them.
Just in case we missed it, and mistook Zahirah’s haste as merely a passive response, she murders an innocent guard at the airlock when he, just doing his job, begins to question them. As Trotsky said, the individual is nothing. She makes Carter hold a gun on the other guard, a woman, until a black demon devours her in utter terror. Then, Zahirah uses her magic juju to drive the demons away, and they make their escape.
And, sure enough, after the slaughter of billions across the galaxy, breathable air is restored to Mars, rains of biblical proportions refill the oceans and lakes, and Carter and Zahirah get down to repopulating the planet. Turns out 47 other people survived back in the city, and they join our new gods in remaking the world. Why, if any were allowed to survive, many were not, is neither explained nor even noted.
So: here is a story that must resonate well with Antifa, whose leaders recently mentioned the tens of millions murdered under Stalin and Mao as the template that must be followed in America – only once the evil, evil Other is destroyed will the magical flying unicorns of Marxism fart out the rainbows of the Worker’s Paradise.
Daughter of Heaven is a well written story, nicely paced, evocative – and, since it lays the emotional groundwork for the slaughter of millions as the unavoidable prelude to a new heaven and earth, I hate it. [SPOILERS OFF]
Dead Last by Jay Barnson is another romp, this time with zombies and way-cool mind powers. Nice set-up for a dramatic ending, so that you don’t see it coming yet it seems inevitable and satisfying when it happens.
Conclusion: for $.99, you’re not going to get much better entertainment value. Buy this magazine, and take it camping or to the beach.