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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #36, May 2018

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Special Double Review

by

Mark Suplinskas & Gyanavani

 

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #36, May 2018

More Blood Than Bone” by E. K. Wagner

Lady and the Dwarf” by Rebecca Brinker
Canvas Tears” by Steve Rodgers

Reviewed by Mark Suplinskas

More Blood Than Bone” by E. K. Wagner

Magic carved in blood and bone is the weapon of choice in this story of two islands, Avevern and Nigimbia. I enjoyed the world building and the characters. The first half of the story centers around the hunt for and the killing of the Haulfin; a gigantic deep-sea creature whose teeth, when properly used, are magical.

One thing struck me as far-fetched. A human seaman, Tat, harpoons a Haulfin the size of a whale, and pulls him in by hand. That threw me out of the story for a bit. In my opinion, a human pulling in a whale by hand, would be impossible in any world.

The story revolves around Tierence Silltson, a writer, who is accosted by a High Noble from the other island. The Noble is seeking Tierence’s supply of magic, the tooth she claimed after helping to kill the Haulfin at sea. Magic on Tierence’s island is forbidden.

Unfortunately, this story, while well-written, is obviously an opening to a much larger story, perhaps a novel. The ending left me flat. It did not work for me as a stand-alone short story.

Lady and the Dwarf” by Rebecca Brinker

This is a fairy tale in the old sense of the word. A lady wanders into a dwarf’s hut and falls asleep. The dwarf comes home and throws himself into bed on top of her, without noticing her! But he sleeps comfortably all night, pillowed on her breasts. They end up getting married.

The dwarf has great power and as he loves her, gives her anything she desires, which is a lot, including becoming a queen. Now a queen, accepted into another kingdom, she rejects the dwarf. Through a magic mirror, he is divided into seven pieces, each one in a separate piece of the mirror. She sets out to find the seven pieces. Each piece of the mirror projects a different view of him: the ugly dwarf, the handsome dwarf, the wise dwarf, etc. The story has some nice ideas, but I found it a difficult read.

To begin with, the story is very long, but what I found hardest to swallow was the constant repetition of phrases, almost word-for-word. The first two or three times was interesting, but after seven or eight times, it became exasperating. I went back in the story once or twice to see if there had been some publishing error, a duplication of text, but no, it was as the author wrote it. I believe it would be better at half this length. This story just did not work for me.

Canvas Tears” by Steve Rodgers

Civilization has been laid low by traitors armed with a magic paste that bestows incomprehensible power, but also insanity. There were three traitors but now only one remains, Sparhall or Mephosi. Our hero, Amis, is one of a few survivors of the catastrophe and is sworn to destroy Sparhall. How he and his friends go about it is inimitable. He begins by having a friend sell him as a slave. How he survives as a slave, thrives, and completes his goal, was entertaining and unexpected. And to the author’s credit, no magic is involved.

The characterization of Amis and his world was creative and engaging. There is not much more I can say without revealing the ending and how he did it. Other than to say, this was a fun and worthwhile read.

***

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #36, May 2018

More Blood than Bone” by E.K. Wagner

Lady and the Dwarf” by Rebecca Brinker
Canvas Tears” by Steve Rodgers

Reviewed by Gyanavani

In this issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, readers will find three stories set in imaginary worlds ruled by power hungry despots. Of course magic plays an important part in these worlds. Since these stories belong to the heroic fantasy genre there is also a good bit of knife jabbing, spear throwing and arrow shooting. What I found interesting was that each of these stories, even as it rushed through adventurous paths, touched upon that basic human condition of recognizing and managing relationships whether they were of blood or of the heart.

More Blood than Bone” by E.K. Wagner

E.K. Wagner’s heroine, Tierence Silltson can be described as Ms. Darwin who, on her information gathering voyage, meets Moby Dick.

The frightening beast of immense size and wondrous power on this world is called a haukfin, a savage citizen of uncharted waters. Like we have whalers on our world, here too there are ships that set out to hunt these massive beasts.

The story opens with a bang. The haukfin, who has risen to the surface from the immense depths of its lair to attack the ship and its sailors, is set upon with gusto by the men on board. There is fast paced action, involving much running on the deck. Blood gushes everywhere, not only from the bodies of men but also from the mammoth body of the magical and monstrous haukfin, making the deck a dangerous, slippery place to walk. Then there is that amazing moment of grace when Tierence Silltson frees herself from the tight grip of the manacles of fear and totters forward to help an unfortunate sailor.

This is one part of Tierence’s world. There is another on land where she is the reputed author of the animal kingdom of her world. Her book, The Bestiary of Tierence Silltson, Esq. has earned her, we have to assume, much popularity and some notoriety.

E.K. Wagner is a sophisticated writer. She shows in parallel situations what is happening in immediate temporal vicinity to different people in different places. One reason for this stylistic device is to show how beneath the veneer of civilized living the human world of Tierence Silltson is just as dangerous as the world of sailors who have set out to hunt the mammoth haukfin. One minute you are setting the type sheet to print a book and the next you are sending out your very young assistant on an errand that leads to certain death.

I like this story and I admire Tierence’s gritty resolve. In the midst of great shock and bone sapping fear, she picks up a knife and hacks out a palm sized tooth of the dead haukfin. In the thick of battle, petrified with fear or shaking with the knowledge of her reduced choices, she still manages to get up and throw the weapon.

So, Tierence is a trustworthy comrade. But is she also a tough and demanding intellectual?

Sadly, the author fails here. The physical manifestation of the haukfin, a realization of Tierence’s research, does not excite her. She sees the haukfin only in relation to human beings – its size and the Ngimbian ships, its teeth and human palms, and so on.

For the true intellectual, the thought, the poem, the monstrous beast exist outside the parameters of social wrangling and market place haggling.

Greater problems arise with the events on land. The printer, his apprentice, the blind seeress, all these don’t feel grounded. The reason is very simple. The economic connections, the social regulations, the control and flow of power, none of these is made clear to us.

This is a society where magic is controlled wrongfully, or so one guesses. But there is no trustworthy authority on which to rely. The printer and his apprentice are trying to make a fast buck. What drives the blind woman is unclear. Most importantly Tierence, our window into this world, does not have a well-defined position in that society. Is she a rebel, an outlaw, or a privileged aristocrat?

Hence the shocking revelation ends up surprising but does not satisfy.

The Lady and the Dwarf” by Rebecca Brinker

In The Lady and the Dwarf,” Rebecca Brinker revisits the timeless fairy tale, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to understand the creation of the seven dwarfs and the motivation of the stepmother.

Rebecca Brinker has a poetic style which is an absolute requirement for this type of story. She has also built a very complex plot trying to understand the inner workings of the self-absorbed queen and the lonely heart of the dwarf lover.

This story feels inordinately long. Fairy tales use the stylistic device of repetition. Rebecca Brinker makes the mistake of using the same device repeatedly. The fact is, though she uses a fairy tale as a starting point for her investigation into the creation of a powerful and unsympathetic personality, she is herself not writing a fairy tale. She does not need to repeat herself seven times to show us the creation of the seven dwarfs.

When I finished reading this story I asked myself one question. Does “The Lady and the Dwarf” read like a necessary prelude to the childhood favorite? The answer, sadly, is no; future generations are not going to read Rebecca Brinker’s story in conjunction with the fairy tale.

To them as to us, in a castle far away, in a land whose name is lost in the mists of time, the cruel stepmother reigns impudently, the source of her power still unknown, the heart of her motivations even now unfathomed. In the dark woods that surround this country seven dwarfs continue to live contentedly, merrily ignorant of their origins, not bothered by questions of their life’s purpose.

Canvas Tears” by Steve Rodgers

Canvas Tears” by Steve Rodgers is an unadulterated adventure narrative. It touches on all the elements: vengeance, monstrous tools of torture, love, friendship, death, courage under fire, cold blooded villains, beautiful women, and builds a rollicking fast-paced tale. Such stories are in themselves far fetched. In the hands of master story tellers like, for instance, Roger Zelazny, these pulp fiction elements gather unto themselves an improbable beauty that leaves the reader breathless and asking for more.

Steve Rodgers aims for something similar. Unfortunately, he is no poet. Which is in itself not a problem: most of humanity is not. But he chooses to recite the songs that his hero sings. And that’s a problem.

Steve Rodgers plots well. I do not see major holes in the story. My only problem was with the instrument of torture, a burn platform. The name explains it all. The instrument seemed crude.

The magic of this land is also similarly crude. The arch villain gains his powers by accident. And what is he? Only a weather-invoking madman. I do not quake with fear when I think of him seated on his throne of power. I do not see his arbitrary decisions leading to life or death conditions for regular people.

The character of the hero is problematic as well. Amis, as he is called, gives up his personal freedom, lets himself be sold as a slave and in return emancipates an entire people. That is a very powerful concept.

But Amis has no understanding of slave mentality. To a slave every relationship is one of bondage. He is always invisible, always guilty. Amis, on the other hand, puts himself forward which is a plot necessity. But though he suffers indignities such as branding, frequent beating, and constant suspicion, it does not impair his sense of self. More importantly, he still manages to attract the attention of two powerful women—one the daughter of his owner, and two the queen of the land. This is now beyond improbable.

Amis is full of misgivings about the action he and his friend Terraud have undertaken. A swashbuckling hero is allowed to have doubts but cannot reveal them, definitely not more than once.

Finally, I would add that “More Blood than Bone” is promising, and “Canvas Tears” provides crude entertainment. Of “Lady and the Dwarf” I will remain silent.


Gyanavani returned to her home in Chennai, India twelve years ago after living many years in the United States. She is a mother who wishes that Amazon kindles (purchased in India) would offer her the same SF selections as did her recently deceased kindle (purchased in the United States), and wonders why it doesn’t.