“The Devil Went Down to the Daniel Webster Charter School PTA’s Annual Halloween Chili Cook-Off Fundraiser” by Eric James Stone
“Muzik Man” by Wulf Moon
“Ethnoentomology” by James Van Pelt
“The Proper Feudal Spirit” by Paul R. Hardy
Reviewed by C.D. Lewis
Deep Magic’s Fall 2020 issue contains four new short stories. In keeping with its founder’s stated goal of providing clean fantasy, the stories don’t rely on strong language or erotic content for their effect. The editors’ vetting process is to be commended: whereas most collections do well to present some 30% of contents you could recommend with a straight face to a friend, every new piece in this issue of Deep Magic is worth your time. Good clean fun.
Eric James Stone’s “The Devil Went Down to the Daniel Webster Charter School PTA’s Annual Halloween Chili Cook-Off Fundraiser” is an urban fantasy comedy that delivers on its title (maybe the Devil was, instead, summoned up—but c’mon, it’s the spirit of the thing). Autocorrect prevents much communication about the event, providing a solid basis for understanding how, in a UF world, nobody expects Satan or magic. It’s a fun tale and everybody who deserves a win gets one. Even Satan.
Paul R. Hardy’s fantasy “The Proper Feudal Spirit” recounts a young layabout spirit’s experience with his great-aunt’s demanding sense of propriety. Escaping judgment while already damned has never been funnier. Read.
Wulf Moon’s “Muzik Man” presents SF from over the shoulder of a robot who aspires to do more for the Maestro’s expanding galactic task force—to spread music, yes, but to advance his own ambitions. “Muzik Man” demonstrates the knife-edge problem distinguishing in fiction between a trope and an archetype: they’re not so much different in concept as in execution. In this case, Moon cleaves to a well-known outline of Christ planting the seeds of an enormous movement while being criticized, harassed by police, killed by authorities, then resurrected to teach another lesson. (Because this is SF about fighting oppressions, Muzik Man is restored from a trash heap by a teen he’d shown music, who herself was forbidden to enter the engineering guild because she’s a girl.) There can be a lot of emotional energy in this plot arc when properly harnessed: Obiwan returns more powerful than Vader can possibly imagine, once again to guide a believer—and the crowd goes wild. The reader who stays with the protagonist long enough to care about his problems and those of the people he’s trying to reach will find a powerful climax that channels energy from themes that shape the reader’s own life: friendship, ambition, hope, redemption. Even if the open could work faster to attract and keep a reader, Moon shows he can masterfully construct a triumphant feel-good finish. Recommended.
James Van Pelt’s SF tale “Ethnoentomology” follows an entomologist in close-third, luxuriating in his excitement for creepy bugs most would squeal at or stomp while he himself studies the long-term residents of a building so old and large it plausibly supports its own subspecies. Significant word count builds the setting and its creepy vibe, which bothers the insect-loving protagonist not a whit even as Van Pelt sets the stage for really dangerous scary stuff to turn up in the ancient building’s cavernous bowels. The protagonist’s excitement about insects and his nonplussed reaction to the things that creep out those of ordinary sensibilities fuel a hilarious concluding zinger. If you like a horror vibe and humor, this is for you. Note: you don’t need to like horror to like this; it’s not really a horror, it just presents like one in setup.
C.D. Lewis lives and writes in Faerie.