Friday, May 12, 2017

Broadswords & Blasters: Story Reviews Part 2

Check out an alternate cover that was considered for this one!

To get some background on the whole magazine see my post here. For an explanation of my thinking for these reviews, and for the first 2 stories see Part 1.

Enough blather! Reviews!

The Executioner’s Daughter
by R. A. Goli

           Pulp: 1/7   Slick: 4/7   Purple: 3/7   Tech: 7/10

R. A. Goli is an Australian author of speculative fiction, who can be found online at her authorial homepage here, or if you prefer to stalk authors more personally she can also be discovered on Facebook. Her profile (and other sources) informs me that she mainly writes horror and horror erotica[1] and the tomes listed on her Amazon profile certainly backs that up. However, her profile also informs me that she writes fantasy and science fiction – and I’d say that The Executioner’s Daughter suggests I’d be interested to see more from her on that front.

To be frank, there is nothing pulpy about the story, and nothing particularly compelling about the characters - we ultimately learn next to nothing about them other than their various involvement in execution. But simply saying that obscures what is actually a well-written and interesting tale.

I found the premise quite interesting: what does happen when a hereditary profession falters because of the combination of cultural change and the facts of progeny? For that matter, the actual challenges raised in Ms. Goli’s narrative are well developed and while the solution is relatively obvious to the historically inclined it is cleverly engaged.[2]

One curious element of Ms. Goli’s story is that although there is some exposition - necessary to provide us with the background we need to understand Felian’s situation and provide the crisis with sufficient weight - we actually learn very little about the world in which events take place. Indeed, Ms. Goli leaves certain details such as the consequences of failure until quite late in the story, which changes the tone considerable and reduced my sense of risk by making it feel like a late addition simply to head off “no big deal” shrugs.

As a slick piece it works quite well, and is actually an amusing twist on the “girl in a boy’s world” conceit. Unfortunately Ms. Godi’ isn’t really literary-rich enough to make it atmospheric, and the length precludes much depth to the examination of the questions posed – though the consequences she does explore are interesting enough to keep attention. I confess I would have liked to see a bit more “crisis” rather than the smooth flow of problem-solution Ms. Goli gives us, but in fairness this story isn’t really long enough to support that.

The quick hint of romance at the end is a nice touch, though, and makes the package remind me a bit of Margaret St. Claire – but I really would have liked to see more “exploration” of the ideas and the world.

Likewise, the narrative style in such a short piece made it hard to get a good view of the characters or sense their urgency as the crisis is met and dealt with.

Given the constraints of space, this might have been better achieved via a more active narrative style or more dialogue.

But for all my complaining this is a.solid story, despite being quite different from what is apparently Ms. Goli’s usual fare – and that is actually quite impressive. This story does work well as slick, albeit one too short to really get a grip on the “big thinks” or the characters. I suspect Ms. Goli is a name to watch in the future.

Grade: C+


Pension Plan
by Dusty Wallace

           Pulp: 3/7  Slick: 2/7  Purple: 1/7  Tech: 6/10

Dusty Wallace is findable online at his blog, or stalkable on Twitter if you’re not satisfied with his rate of updates on the blog. Mr. Wallace has published in a fairly impressive variety of anthologies viewable on his Amazon author page, and also in such publications as ARES Magazine, Flapperhouse, and Bete Noir Magazine. For more on Mr. Wallace himself and his thoughts on fiction, you can also check out this interview with him by Martin Ingham.

This piece is a fairly straightforward heist story, with the twist that it takes place on an abandoned mining colony and involves Mr. Wallace’s own alien race, the Cransh.

It starts strong, in the middle of the action - or at least the situation. Immediately it’s clear that it will be hard to call the situation or the characters “pulp” in the heroic aesthetic sense: the protagonists are there taking advantage of the mob’s MO to score big, and they’ve started the deal with a massacre. It’s obvious nobody is innocent, and there’s really no moral direction here as we are firmly in noir territory.[3]

The story is presented in a first person narrative - again a signal that noir sensibilities will be required - and Mr. Wallace makes a good effort to embed key facts about his world and his characters early on in both the narrative and the characters’ banter that will play a part later on. Indeed, there’s a piece of foreshadowing that bears fruit at the end.

The banter is perhaps a bit too strong for my liking, however – it’s clear in the first page or so that Mr. Wallace’s intended take here is going to have a bit of humour to it.

I had the feeling through the whole piece that it was heavy with irony and sly jokes, and Mr. Wallace seems to have taken “pulp with modern sensibilities” to mean taking a fairly standard formula story and branding it with unnecessarily puerile conceits and obvious parody. The universe in which he places the action is painted in comical extremes, from the bizarre alien-human melding to the economics to the frankly silly twist[4] that decides the crisis.

This isn’t entirely unreasonable, I suppose: if he was taking his model from the mid to late 40s, especially the second tier (and lower) pulps of the era, a kind of devil-may-care attitude

Technically, Mr. Wallace has a good hand with the pacing of action and I found the way he built the world up in the first third of the story quite deft. This could have been a nice, tight, noir-flavoured heist but for the choice to poke fun with what are ultimately not particularly clever jibes – though I’m pleased to say that the way he set up the final twist was actually quite clever, even if it fell on deaf ears with me.

I’m left thinking that the author has promise but that perhaps his effort here is marred by over-focus on the shallow end of the pulp pool. Not an uncommon ailment, but disappointing to see in an ostensibly pulp-oriented magazine. The technical skill he shows in pacing and the action scenes, not to mention the deft way he builds the world around his characters without resorting to too much exposition make me want to give the story a better score, but sadly I just didn’t like it as much as I could have.

I would love to see what would happen if Mr. Wallace took the assignment over and wrote something more serious though - I imagine he might produce a tightly-written noir planetary romance: and that would be awesome!

Grade: D (reluctantly)

[1] No, I’m not quite sure what that is either.

[2] I’d say this puts the lie to her “claim” that although she’d like to say she writes science fiction “simply putting a robot in it doesn’t make it so” – taking the solution that’s obvious to people in the know and engaging it in an interesting way is pretty much the formula for good scifi of some varieties.

[3] I hasten to say that’s not a complaint, simply an observation that the range of what the editors (and authors) were thinking of as “pulp” includes some other aesthetics that I would have excluded. But chacun son gout I suppose – and anyway, I like a good noir story so let’s see where this goes.

[4] There’s that chacun son goût thing again – I’m sure there are plenty of readers who would find it clever, I’m just not one of them, unfortunately, and the joke left me flat.

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