Old Moon Quarterly is a magazine of dark fantasy and weird sword-and-sorcery. In the tradition of Clark Ashton Smith, Tanith Lee and Karl Edward Wagner, it contains stories of strange vistas, eldritch beings, and the bloody dispute thereof by both swordsmen and swordswomen. Old Moon Quarterly emerged in 2022 led by Editor-in-Chief Julian Barona, flanked by Assistant Editors Caitlyn Emily Wilcox and Graham Thomas Wilcox. This May 2023, Black Gate reviewed Issue #3 (with an overview of #1 and #2). True to what the editors promise, the magazine consistently delivers strong doses of weird Sword & Sorcery.
This post reviews Old Moon Quarterly Issue V; shared below is the table of contents with summaries of each story and excerpts (these were selected to avoid spoilers while conveying the feel of each). As with previous issues, expect stories that push the boundaries of uniqueness, blending poetic writing with horror and adventure. If you read tropes they’ll lean toward the twisted or bizarre.
But first a quick call out to the ongoing Kickstarter for Issues VII & VIII; This campaign runs now through Nov 31st, 2023 and, if successful, would fund two more issues paying contributors professional rates!
Here is a key blurb from and about the Old Moon Quarterly crew.
Old Moon Quarterly is an award-winning print and digital magazine of sword-and-sorcery and dark fantasy fiction, featuring over 20,000 words of original fiction as well as poetry and original nonfiction. We’ve a love for the classics of the genre and a desire to push for some new, strange takes on our old favorites. And of course, the magazine is made with a particular love and affinity for the eldritch aesthetics and weird storytelling of Berserk, Bloodborne and Dark Souls.
We’ve published five issues so far, with a sixth issue on the way. Since our inception in June 2022, we’ve increased our pay for authors from 5c a word to 8c a word, making us the only sword-and-sorcery focused fantasy magazine that pays what the SFWA considers a “professional” rate. We firmly believe that dark fantasy and sword-and-sorcery authors deserve a venue where they can receive fair pay for stories that are often very difficult to place in other venues. We started Old Moon Quarterly to give authors that venue.
With the funding from this Kickstarter, we’ll be able to maintain that payrate for issues 7 and 8, which will release in 2024. And not only will we be able to maintain that payrate, we’ll be able to increase the amount of fiction in each issue from 20,000 to 30,000+; we’ll be able to include (for the first time) interior artwork in a classic black-and-white style!
Old Moon Quarterly Issue V: Stories and Poems
1) “Together Under the Wing” by Jonathan Olfert
The perspective and scale of this story are simply huge: the protagonists are mammoths, and they pale in size versus their giant antagonist! Epic duels drive this revenge tale. Walks-like-a-Rockslide seeks revenge for the death of his mother (Grass-Wisper) by the hands of the ancient Giant King.
The matriarch Grass-Whisper had lived in a grove in the hills, now stomped flat by vast human-like footprints. Her carved tusks lay in cracked-off chunks; they and the blood were all that remained—that, and the huge flint used to skin her before eating. A flint five times the size of the quartz blades bound to his tusks… (p11)
2) Champions Against the Maggot King by K.H. Vaughn
Get ready for some Warhammer/Grimdark-Tolkien fare. The soldier Grath narrates this tale. He details an epic battle against the Maggot King. The titular, heroic champions lead an army of >60 thousand that ride in landships made from living stone, armed with canons, and fueled by elemental sorcery. The champions include the Dwarf Ko Mon who has a lengthy morning-star-like prosthetic, the sword-wielding elf-who-never-smiles lIhar, and their demoness leader Sergeant, the female Sorrow Mai.
A wave of wild men break against the ship. They are pathetic. Pale and soft, but secure in their sense of power, waving their genitals at us as they come. They howl in impotent rage as they die, mowed down by arrows and lances. The ship rolls over them and churns their corpses into dirt. No one will find their bones or mourn their deaths. Where does the Maggot King find them? There must be thousands of them in the dim light of subterranean caves, thinking nothing but their eventual victory. (p49)
3) “The King’s Two Bodies” poem by Joe Koch
I enjoyed this so much, I read it three times to soak in the words. It is beautiful, but too cryptic to understand on its initial pass. Two souls with liquid properties are contained within one body. One may exit the vessel via a ritual of exiting the body and filling a cup.
4) “The Origin of Boghounds” by Amelia Gorman
Samphire is a female bounty hunter searching out a snake-oil salesman at the edges of Sichel, the stained city that radiates a New Orleans swamp vibe. She’s not the only bounty hunter seeking a payout. Several other hunters stumble into her and boghounds as they track down their prey while unearthing mysteries and monsters.
Samphire blows out her candle and sips into the dark corner between the headboard and wall. She disappears into the dark sod and crouches down in a knot in the tiny crawlspace, barely fitting with her giant pack of unguents and vinegars. [A boghound] hops silently off the straw, pads over to her and crawls under the bed, looking up at her with those affectionate golden eyes like two stars in the dirty dark. As the dark obscured their faces, Samphire catches voices she’s butted against time and again. (p56)
5) “Well Met at the Gates of Hell” by David K. Henrickson
An amoral warrior arrives in Hell and is met at the entrance by three antagonists (two humanoids, one not) seeking to duel. Lots of banter makes this more of a light-hearted read.
In that moment, the newcomer skims the plate he has finally freed from his armor toward the giant’s eyes and throws himself in a roll.
Automatically, the giant flinches away from the spinning metal. ‘Faithless!” he cries out, aiming a blow at the tumbling figure as it dives past.
The newcomer is already inside and below the other’s guard. His blade flashes out in a backhand swing, shearing through the giant’s thigh just above the greave. (p73)
6) “A Warning Agaynste Woldes” poem by Zachary Bos
As the title suggests, this poem has an Old Shakespeare tone. It is cryptic like the previous poem. It conveys that nature, and its forests, are a type of temple or church. Be wary of entering the forest, since it is full of fear, faith, and spirits.
7) “The Skull of Ghosts” by Charles Gramlich
Confession: I’m a huge Gramlich fan and frequently seek out his Krieg stories (I interviewed him for Black Gate in 2019, and we discussed his Krieg character). Here the sorcerer-warrior receives a haunting call from “Amma”, so he seeks out his old acquaintance (of the same name) in a plagued city. An evil sorcerer is seeking bodies to possess, and as Krieg starts to put an end to the madness, he learns he’s jumped into a trap.
Krieg slipped to one side, caught the swordman’s hand and twisted. A raw shriek burst from the man’s lips; bones ground audibly together as his blade turned inevitably upward to point at his face.
The assailant’s hood fell back, revealing swarthy skin marked by plague skulls. A topknot of greasy reddish hair invited a hold. Krieg grabbed it, slammed the man’s face forward onto the sword. Once, twice, thrice. Wiping his hand on the man’s cloak, the black-eyed warrior let the body fall like a burden he’d grown tired of… (p87)
8) “The Headsman’s Melancholy” by Joseph Andre Thomas
This could easily be a Twilight Zone episode written by Edgar Allen Poe. Executioner Jack meets a robber multiple times on the chopping block. Written as a series of journal entries. The ending is emotive, and a bit abstract, as Jack seeks peace by stopping his profession, leaving town, or pursuing other options. Loved this.
The man screeched laughter as he eviscerated himself, His blood poured down my face, into my mouth. It seeped between my teeth and beneath my tongue.
His smile was no longer cocky, but overjoyed. He reached into his chest cavity and grabbed hold of something, pulled it out. His heart, I realized, still attached to whatever tubes and capillaries govern the viscera. He hung it out above me with one hand… (p129)
S.E. Lindberg is a Managing Editor at Black Gate, regularly reviewing books and interviewing authors on the topic of “Beauty & Art in Weird-Fantasy Fiction.” He is also the lead moderator of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group and an intern for Tales from the Magician’s Skull magazine. As for crafting stories, he has contributed six entries across Perseid Press’s Heroes in Hell and Heroika series, has an entry in Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies He independently publishes novels under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction; short stories of Dyscrasia Fiction have appeared in Whetstone, Swords & Sorcery online magazine, Rogues In the House Podcast’s A Book of Blades Vol I and Vol II, DMR’s Terra Incognita, and the 9th issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.