July Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1083736EA4SAq7NIt’s that time again, folks. I’m taking a break from my ongoing reread of Glen Cook’s Black Company (6 books down, 4 to go!) to give you an update on the latest heroic fantasy short fiction. First, as usual, there’re the monthly two stories from Curtis Ellett’s Swords and Sorcery Magazine. The other source of stories this July is a collection from Howie Bentley. Most of the stories are reprints I’ve reviewed before, but there are some new things I’ll tell you about.

Issue 77 of Swords and Sorcery Magazine kicks off with “Gina,” the fiery (and bloody) story of a deadly young woman with the ability to control elementals. It’s by Gustavo Bondoni, an author whose work I’ve reviewed in the past. The story kicks off just as Gina is about to be “sacrificed to the fire-demons of Hell’s Gate.” Unfortunately for her captors, just as she steps off the precipice into the volcano’s mouth, they realize she is not the naked and defenseless slave they believe her to be.

Gina looked down again and smiled. She said a few words under her breath. Out loud she said: “Haggan,” and took that final step forward.

She did not fall.

The guard’s footsteps rang out behind her as the man realized that something had gone wrong and rushed towards her to correct it. Not only was he much too late, but he was also running in the wrong direction. Any intelligent person living in a city as infested with magicians as Hell’s Gate would have taken one look at the floating woman and run the other way.

Sadly, dungeon-keepers were not selected for their intelligence. The man kept coming as Gina turned back the way she’d come. A contemptuous flick of her arm brought a tongue of fire from the depths. A gesture sent it towards the rushing defender, who could do nothing but look down at his chest in horror as a searing lance thicker than his arm penetrated his sternum and emerged from his back.

Bondoni packs a lot of back story into this short work, as well as some solid, if not altogether surprising, character development. It successfully walks the line between feeling like something ripped from a longer work and a standalone effort. It manages to feel like an important incident from the larger story of Gina’s life, yet still work as a completely discrete story; something that makes me, as a reader, very happy.

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April Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1671144jJXH7pFkIssue 63 of Swords and Sorcery opens with a story set in the waning days of the twelve Etruscan cities and the waxing of Rome. “For the Light” by Gustavo Bondoni is a fairly original work, using a setting rarely seen in heroic fantasy. The Etruscans trust their fate to the god whose representative wins a consecrated chariot race. If Mania, goddess of death, wins, she has promised to raise an army of walking corpses. To prevent this abomination, Semni Apatru has secretly entered the race with a plan to take out Mania’s contestant. The story jumps back and forth in time, beginning and ending with the chariots speeding along the race route. Where Bondoni succeeds most, making this story memorable, is with his depiction of the Etruscans as an alien culture that’s distinctly different from our own.

In “Witch Hunter” by Dale T. Phillips, Malleus, the titular character, has arrived at a small tavern in search of a mysterious evil power. When he approaches the barmaid, Teeann, for help, we learn that she’s a witch and that he’s one of the “good” witch finders. As he tells her:

“I do not punish innocent villagers who stand unjustly indicted of witchcraft because of the spoiling of their neighbors’ milk. Nor do I pursue midwives and potion-makers who provide relief to the townsfolk. I hunt only the ones who work to the genuine harm of others. Yes, there are places where the ignorant accuse women because of superstition and fear, but that is not my office. You and I both know that there are those of your kind who use their powers in evil ways, and that leaves a trace. When I find evidence of that, then I strike.”

Somebody who seeks to work genuine harm to others has been killing people in the story’s never-named kingdom. Eventually, an accord is reached between Malleus and the greater body of good witches, leading to a showdown with the malignancy savaging the land. While solidly written, there’s little characterization or tension to this short tale.

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November Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Whelp, it’s well into December and I’m only getting to the November roundup now. My apologies, and here goes.

oie_146527XTeMGO0FLast month, I promised I’d let you know about Fantasy Scroll #3. Despite its name and its side-of-a-van-worthy covers, the magazine continues to be mostly science fiction or non-heroic fantasy. When you buy something with a cover like the one to the left of this paragraph (<—), and you don’t get a lot of swordplay, demons, and wizards, you might feel like you bought a pig in a poke. Maybe they’ve got plans to mix things up a little more in the future. There are two S&S out of thirteen stories in Issue #3, but I’m definitely hoping for more per issue in the future.

That said, the magazine managed to get a Piers Anthony story, “Descant.” It’s a love story set to music about an intelligent king and princess. There are some awkward sentences and overall I found it a little boring. But it doesn’t have any puns, so it’s got that going for it.

James Beamon’s very funny “Orc Legal” is about the prison and courtroom travails of an orc named Anglewood. He’s been jailed pretty much for being an ex-evil henchman. He takes on the defense of a centaur charged with lewd behavior in order to finish the community service part of his sentence. No Atticus Finch, he uses any tool, from obfuscation to outright threats, to win his client’s acquittal. Beamon has a lot of fun with all the orc stereotypes, and gets a few well-deserved digs at snooty elves as well. I like a funny story that’s actually funny, and this one definitely is.

The First First Fire” by Alexander Monteagudo is a very short story. Ralo, the first man ever appointed First Fire — essentially the tribal wizard –is normally a peaceful man. But a caravan from his home, the village of Pempansie, has been attacked by slavers. While warriors defeated the slavers, everyone knows they’ll be back. This brief tale describes how the young magic user decides what to do in the face of the threat to his family and friends. There’s not much here, but I enjoyed it and would be happy enough to see more of the character.

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