This magazine contains four short stories, the second part of two serialised works, and an extract from a novel.
The Aromique Paradigm (Part 2 of 3) by Michael Tierney: Achilles Hister’s body has been stolen by his own father as part of an interstellar conspiracy. Fortunately, memory echoes left by the mind transfer reveal the location of the conspiracy’s secret planet, giving Achilles’ and his new allies a slim chance to strike back. As with the previous part, Tierney weaves multiple vast and complex schemes by various groups with fast-paced brutal combats and ultra-technology. While Achilles—and the other characters—is not emotionless, Tierney presents this in occasional sentences among the descriptions of schemes and action, making this very much a tale about the practical rather than mental experience of suddenly being in a different body. Characters tend to provide context when sharing their thoughts, providing readers with some background; however, the story still draws heavily on both the previous part and previous Wild Stars tales, making this unlikely to be a good entry point for new readers.
‘Lupus One’ by Caroline Furlong: While on a routine scouting mission in his robot wolf, Kyle spots movement and lights where the woman he loved disappeared a year ago; neither of which show up on Lunar Command’s moon-wide scanners. Furlong blends quadripedal exploration vehicles programmed with the instincts of wolves and beings of almost divine power with descriptions of exactly how Kyle moves the controls; depending on reader preference, these threads of mechanical and fantastical will either ground the story in science without preventing soaring possiblity or pull against each other. While this story’s most prominent feature is the setting, Furlong does not skimp on character, crafting a protagonist whose success rests on seizing an opportunity but who is not solely a man in the right place at the right time.
‘His Amber Eyes, His Pointed Smile’ by Tais Teng: When three-year-old Iskander discovers his father abandoned his mother, he pledges to kill him; as he grows older, vengeance is replaced with more normal teenage interest in sex, but his father’s legacy as a lover keeps getting in the way. Keeping many of the classic tropes of Vance and other pulp fantasy writers but setting the story in a world strongly influenced by authentic Indian myth, Teng creates swords-and-sorcery that is both fresh and familiar.
‘Sky Machine’ by J. Comer: Captured by a barbarian tribe and heavily wounded, the remains of a patrol must rely on cunning to survive. Comer’s setting is very similar to the Roman invasion of Northern Europe; indeed some of the changes are so minor (Ruma instead of Roma for example) that some readers might find them a distracting uncanny valley. While very much a tale of action rather than introspection, the story is driven by character, portraying a nuanced image of civilisation vs. barbarism without raising questions of whether the protagonists are really heroes.
‘The King’s Game’ by Jim Breyfogle: The city of Alomar’s obsession with the game of Regum makes the arena the perfect place to make contacts and gather gossip; however, when bravery—or impetuousness—leads to Mongoose entering, he must risk not only his most prized possession but his chance of gaining work. Descriptions of chess gambits or football plays often seem tediously technical to all but the most ardent fans, a quality that goes double for fictional games; however, Breyfogle manages to both create engaging characters, and embed the rules and moves naturally within dialogue and internal narrative, turning the game into a struggle the reader wants the Mongoose (or his partner, Meerkat) to win.
‘Badaxe (2 of 3): Godwalking’ by Paul O’Connor et al.: Intervening on a whim, the God Badaxe shatters the sorcerer’s trap, allowing Tanrea and Chickenhawk to escape; but revealing a secret that sets a much greater threat on their tail. Strongly evoking the style and tone of early pulp action comics, this tale continues to feature cataclysmic sorceries and dramatic reversals. As with the previous part, it ends with Tanrea facing nigh-inescapable threat.
‘Amara (with interludes of Kellen)’ from The Paths of Cormanor: by Jim Breyfogle: When Prince Kellen asks permission to witness the magical fishing ritual of Cormanor, Amara is tasked with showing him; however, what she expected to be a simple display reveals a worrying secret. Breyfogle creates a world and plot that blends the folktales and ambience of Northern Europe with classic fantasy tropes. While unashamedly an advertisement for the publisher’s forthcoming release of the entire novel, this extract forms an engaging and complete tale.
The publisher has gathered a range of genres and styles, united by common threads of fast-paced action and pro-active protagonists. This produces a broad enough range that the reader unlikely to find stories becoming samey if they read it in a sitting while ensuring readers are also unlikely to only find the minority of the magazine to their taste.
While serialisation has always been a part of the pulp tradition and the parts of the ongoing works included do conclude minor arcs, readers who strongly favour complete stories might not find this the best introduction to the magazine.
In addition to ‘Badaxe’, this edition contains several illustrations by UsanekoRin and DarkFilly. These are by no means amateurish, and are cleanly and clearly reproduced by the publisher. However, while each person sees characters differently, some readers might find the choice to depict the Greek Goddess Athena as a large-eyed waif in the modern Japanese style somewhat jarring.
Overall, I enjoyed this magazine. I recommend it to readers seeking modern fantasy and science-fiction that is true to classic pulps.
I received a free copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.