“Kamazotz” by Greg Mele
Reviewed by Jason McGregor
This issue of HFQ runs the gamut in three stories, with a bad one, a mixed-but-adequate one, and a good one. It also covers a broad spectrum of fantasy in those three stories, with weird west spellslingers, weird horror pirates, and pseudo-medieval knights and squires.
“Kamazotz” by Greg Mele
Sarrumos is first mate to Captain Khossos and the viewpoint character of this novelette. The latter is seeking to destroy a rival captain. Sometime after that captain has debarked to a jungle island containing a tower related to old gods, Khossos follows suit. Despite an unpropitious beginning to the adventure and the bad dreams of a shaman-like crewman, they forge ahead. However, once outside the tower where the rival captain and his crew is presumed to be, one of Khossos’ crewman comes screaming about a couple of his companions being decapitated by some incredibly tall, powerful, and strange man. Things get worse for everyone from there.
There are some minor lapses in logic (and many proofreading errors) but the main problem with this story is that, with the brief opening section which serves as a frame for the story’s conclusion and the early premonitions, it immediately becomes obvious how the general lines of the story will unfold and, despite a minor variation or two, it plays out just as expected. On the plus side, the characters of Khossos, Sarrumos, and even the relatively minor Ollad are interesting enough, the milieu and mythology are well-textured and, allowing for the general predictability, the action and Weird Tales-style horror is effective.
“Then, Stars” by Michael Meyerhofer
While defending his knight in a vague war, a squire receives a spear through his torso below the lungs. It’s that type of wound that the spear both causes and seals so the squire stays on the battlefield for hours, even days, until an erstwhile enemy and his companions eventually carry the squire to their home and, because dying words are sacred to them, record his last testament. Thus, our story.
There’s a place or two where the narrative structure gets convoluted; the background is skimpy; the plot is simple. All this is trivial compared to the surprising power of the squire’s thoughts and experiences. Within its self-imposed limits, this short story is quite good.
“A Fistful of Spells” by Zach Chapman
Rick is a “spellslinger” (a guy with a gun which shoots magic bullets) and he’s in town at the behest of a sheriff to deal with a “Striga” infestation, those being monsters formed from the corpses of virgin suicides. Despite it being part of the spellslinger code not to interfere in human affairs beyond killing monsters, Rick looks into the strange excess of Strigas, figures out the situation, and has a moment of moral clarity.
While some may enjoy this sort of thing, I have to say frankly that it struck me as bad. The style conveys a sort of amphetamine-driven looseness. The conjunction of gay spellslingers of color in a spell- and monster-ridden Weird West with Indian and Confederate references, obscure codes and motivations, and pulling things like “Bone Soldiers” out of a hat just seems like a jumbled mess to me though many seem to enjoy it as “genre-bending” because there are so many stories like it. The odd commonality to many of these stories (such as “Six-Gun Vixen and the Dead Coon Trashgang,” Lightspeed #81, Feb. 2017) and the most important flaw, is that, while I don’t think anyone could find anything they’d want to defend in the villain, there is a staggering degree of moral purity and self-righteousness in the protagonist as he literally dehumanizes his opponent so that he may try to righteously kill the “subhuman” with impunity, which is ironic to the point of absurdity. The contrast between the last two stories of this one issue of this one magazine is incomprehensible.
More of Jason McGregor’s reviews can be found at Featured Futures.