“Sister Winter” by John Daker
“Lights” by Lou Normann (nongenre, not reviewed)
“Pick Trick” by Troy Riser
“Wishing Well” by Michael Wiesenberg
“The Nighthawk” by Michael Gallagher
“House Odds” by Ken Lizzi
“Moon Magic and the Art of Fencing Doubtful Jewels” by Tais Teng
“The Gold of Palladias” by John Gradoville
“Take the Sword” by Michael Ray
“Thunder in the North” by Jim Breyfogle
“Vran, the Chaos-Warped” by D.M. Ritzlin (serial, not reviewed)
“Orphan of the Shadowy Moons” by Michael Tierney (serial, not reviewed)
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
In addition to the usual tales of fantasy and science fiction adventures, this issue includes a brief crime story without speculative elements, not reviewed here. Some of the other stories within its pages also have elements of suspense fiction, with touches of the supernatural or futuristic.
The narrator of “Sister Winter” by John Daker encounters spirits representing the four seasons. He becomes involved in their battle against forces of evil who want to control the world’s climate.
The author offers a unique premise, blending the supernatural with a bit of advanced technology. The story is told in a realistic style, making it seem almost like crime fiction, but with a great deal of speculative content. The supernatural content varies from nature myths to Biblical references. These disparate elements do not always fit together smoothly.
The main character in “Pick Trick” by Troy Riser is a hoodlum who is in witness protection for testifying against his former employer. He learns that the crime boss knows his location and is sending killers after him. The real danger comes from something completely different.
The plot begins as straight suspense fiction. The reader expects a confrontation between the witness and the assassins, but it never happens. Instead, an unnatural menace involving the informer’s violent past arrives out of nowhere, turning the story into supernatural horror. The sudden change in tone and genre is disconcerting.
In “Wishing Well” by Michael Wiesenberg, a man loses his money and the love of his life to another fellow. His plan for regaining both nearly works, until the very end.
The only supernatural event in the plot occurs during the conclusion, and is easy to miss. Otherwise, this is another crime story, albeit rural rather than urban. The fantasy of the twist ending arrives suddenly, and seems out of place.
The protagonist of “The Nighthawk” by Michael Gallagher can predict future events. A crime syndicate uses him to profit from gambling, but his health is deteriorating and his power is fading. He needs his latest predictions to win big to ensure that he will receive a neurological implant to keep him alive.
Once again we have crime fiction, this time of the cyberpunk variety. The author creates a convincingly grim portrait of a near future ruled by crime lords. The plot holds no surprises, and the protagonist’s fate is being inevitable. The inclusion of a former criminal turned priest adds an unusual spiritual dimension to an otherwise familiar tale.
“House Odds” by Ken Lizzi is a detective story, in keeping with the mood of previous stories in the issue. The private eye investigates a casino that seems to be cheating its customers. He discovers that a supernatural being is involved in the scheme. A routine case turns into a matter of life and death.
As with other works in the magazine discussed above, this tale starts off as realistic crime fiction, then turns into fantasy with a sudden plot twist. The author paints a very convincing portrait of casino security. The supernatural creature who threatens the hero is less believable, and may even seem cartoonish.
Moving away from contemporary settings, “Moon Magic and the Art of Fencing Doubtful Jewels” by Tais Teng takes place in Zothique, a continent full of magic that exists in the extreme far future, created by noted fantasist Clark Ashton Smith. A dealer in stolen goods receives an ancient object from a woman. It turns out to contain a god taken from the Moon. The deity forces the two humans to aid it in its quest to steal all the water from Earth and transport it to the Moon.
The author manages to capture Smith’s tongue-in-cheek approach to sword-and-sorcery, but without that famous author’s elegance and exotic style. The plot is clever, with a wry conclusion. Readers nostalgic for the heyday of Weird Tales are likely to enjoy it.
“The Gold of Palladias” by John Gradoville is an old-fashioned adventure story of the Lost World variety. In the early Twentieth Century, a two-fisted explorer and his crew of brave companions face the dangers of the jungle and hostile natives in their quest to find a vanished civilization hidden deep in the wilds of South America. What they discover is much more incredible that what was expected, leading to battles with monsters and the winning of a kingdom.
All the clichés of the genre are here, from characters who are defined by their nationality to a beautiful princess to woo. Those fond of yellowing pulp magazines may get a kick out of it, while others may find it a cornball exercise in nostalgia.
In “Take this Sword” by Michael Ray, a squire to a knight killed in a particularly bloody battle is addressed by an entity within a sword. Under the direction of the possessed weapon, he becomes involved with a sorceress who is reanimating slaughtered soldiers. The unlikely pair go on to face a monstrous god who gains power from the spirits of the dead.
The story begins as if it were a work of so-called grimdark fantasy, emphasizing the gore of battle and the huge number of corpses littering the ground. By way of contrast, the sardonic, informal tone of the sword adds a lighter tone. Hordes of rampaging zombies and the gigantic, dragon-like god provide plenty of action in a plot that may strike some readers as rather arbitrary.
“Thunder in the North” by Jim Breyfogle is the latest in a series of sword-and-sorcery yarns featuring a pair of adventurers. In this installment, the female member of the duo is absent, but plays an important part in the backstory. She sends her male partner on a mission to carry a message to a man fighting against the usurper who took control of his city. The fellow turns out to already be a prisoner, soon to die. The hero delivers the message despite the danger to his own life.
The conclusion makes it clear that another story is to follow, making this tale seem like the first chapter of a novel. Fans of the series may be disappointed by the lack of fantasy content.
Victoria Silverwolf thinks this issue has an unusually large percentage of authors with the same first name.