I interact with a lot of people on Twitter–authors, editors, publishers and so on. It’s one of my very favorite ways to connect with other people in the writing business. Recently, I’ve had the good fortune of getting to chat a bit with R. Leigh Hennig, Editor-in-Chief of Bastion, a new science fiction magazine which launched earlier this year. When Leigh asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing their newest issue–Issue 5 which launches tomorrow!–I was really excited for the opportunity.
So without further ado, I shall launch into my review!
Issue 5 TOC
Cover Art by Milan Jaram
“The Skip” by Clint Spivey
“Zip” by Emma Osborne
“Going Solo on a Goldilocks” by Mary Alexandra Agner
“The Cure” by William Delman
“That Place Between Deja Vu and a Memory” by J. Daniel Batt
“Mirror of Stars” by Frank Smith
“Nestmaker” by Jared W. Cooper
“Sanctuary Farm” by Garrick Fincham
Cover Art by Milan Jaram
I’m a sucker for good cover art. Needless to say, as soon as I saw Issue 5’s cover, I knew I was in for a treat. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous. If I saw this in print, I’d instantly pick it up. If I saw it in a long line of magazine covers online, I’d click on it. I love how smokey it is, how the giant forms whisper a threat and their eyes are the only thing that cuts through the smog clearly. There’s so many great little details in this piece–like the man and his hoverbike in the lower right hand corner–that play with my imagination and make me wonder what story this piece of art tells. Definitely an eye-catching cover and a great way to set my expectations for the stories that lie beneath it.
The Skip by Clint Spivey
This story was probably one of the best examples I’ve seen for starting off with a bang. It has a heck of an opening paragraph, really a heck of an opening scene. It was an instant hook for me–I wanted to know more about what had happened and what was going to happen. The start set me up for a grand sci-fi adventure, but the very next scene slowed the pace down and showed me this wasn’t a boisterous romp amongst the stars, but rather a quieter story, one that dealt with the aftermath of great tragedy. It began to feel more literary, more character-focused. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure at first if this was a strength or a flaw.
Turns out it was a strength.
There’s so much I want to say about this story, but I dare not, for I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t had the chance yet to pick it up. Let’s just say, I really enjoyed how two of the characters’ lives intertwined, how they mirrored and sometimes echoed each other.
“The Skip” was full of delightful lines. The prose of the story moved along at a good pace, yet still managed to slip in those really meaningful lines, those really fantastic descriptions.
If I were forced to find fault with this story, it might be that the slower sections dealing with the story’s present felt a bit too modern-day rather than futuristic. Somewhat regular apartments and doors and quiche and whatnot which sometimes felt a bit jarring compared to the tech-heavy skip-ships.
All in all, a really good read and a great way to start the issue off.
Zip by Emma Osborne
He remembered the taste of that first kiss and the scrape of Albright’s stubble as the both gave into something that had been brewing for months.
This story had to be my very favorite of the issue. It’s hard to find a single thing to dislike about this one. It hit all my favorite buttons: military sci-fi, a gay protagonist, so much glorious tech perfectly woven in, and true heart, true meaning. I absolutely adored this story, but let me explain a bit more as to why I loved it so much.
Right at the very beginning, we’re introduced to two signals about the rest of the story–that it’s tech-heavy (in a good way!) and that it has a lot of heart. The main character, Lieutenant James Kent, has already lost so much. He’s a man bereaved, in a sense, and his struggle is gripping. I ached for him.
I felt this piece had some of the most beautiful, lush writing of the issue, and yet it was balanced by the clean, precise descriptions and information that accompanied its myriad sci-fi tech elements–augmented bodies, droids, the connected minds of soldiers, all of it was quickly and beautifully worked in, in such a way that I was never confused about how things worked or what was happening. It felt like a real world, a real future, vibrant and so well planned.
Again, if I had to stretch for anything negative to say, I’d say that the way Kent’s thoughts were strewn amongst the prose–without italicization–was sometimes disorienting or momentarily confusing. However, this could be just an issue with the reader I was using.
All in all, this story is everything I wanted it to be and more. I can’t sing its praises enough! I’ve never read any of Emma Osborne’s stories before, but you can bet I’ll be on the lookout for her work from now on.
Going Solo on a Goldilocks by Mary Alexandra Agner
This story, sitting at third in the issue’s lineup, was probably the most confusing and hard for me to unlock. Understand, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I think this may have been a case where the author and her writing were just too smart for me. Some of my very favorite authors make me feel this way–and I think, in some ways, it’s a good thing, because it challenges me to think harder and search more intently for meaning within a story. If every story were a floaty, easy joyride, well, I think that would be rather dull.
So in comes “Going Solo on a Goldilocks” to shake me up a bit and make me think. This is the only story I read more than once. I read it at least twice, but probably more as I sought the story’s meaning.
The story had some absolutely gorgeous language–something I honestly prize in fiction–and a lot of great insights woven in. I feel like there was a deeper meaning here, too, but I missed it. I feel like this is the puzzle piece of the issue–the one I desperately want to unlock and I haven’t given up yet.
The world felt very alien, very well described, and the general feel of the story sometimes a bit desperate. One of my favorite lines offers the sort of insight into humanity that I long to be able to offer in my own writing:
I listened and listened for fly-overs, found myself crying to know that even so many light years from Earth our culture keeps us all incurious about what battles beneath each other’s bravado.
On a random note, I enjoyed the brief description of our main character in this tale–“She looked me up and down: denim skirt to buzz cut to the name on my badge…” I was never quite certain if the main character was male or female, but I’m glad it wasn’t made explicit. Either way, this little detail of the skirt and the buzz cut thrilled me.
Definitely a story which I will be mulling over for some time to come!
The Cure by William Delman
“The Cure” was another great story that started off with a lot of mystery and carefully threaded tension. There are little signs all along the start that something is out of the ordinary–either about the world or the character’s current predicament. I really loved the vibes I got off this story–a sort of ache, an almost desperate feeling, and the pain of coming home to face your family again.
I could definitely relate to Simon, the main character of this story. His love for his siblings is clear, his responsibility for them equally apparent.
As the story continues, there’s a very good balance of past and present, action and backstory. There weren’t any vast boring info dumps, rather I felt I was given all the right information at all the right time. A balance which, I think, can be hard to find in a story.
I noted, as I read, that the story had a well rendered atmosphere and that the tale felt almost literary with its painful past and family ties. This hits home the thing I most love in sci-fi tales–character motivation, character development. The prettiest plot in the world means little to me if I don’t have someone to care about, and the author definitely gave me people to care about.
The Martian vs. Terran conflict which crops up a bit in this tale felt a bit familiar–it’s something I’ve seen a lot in TV shows, movies and read in books. However, I thought it was handled quite well in that this conflict between world and colony wasn’t the center of the story, rather the backdrop.
That Place Between Deja vu and a Memory by J. Daniel Batt
This story was a nice break between slightly longer stories. The premise in this one was rather fantastic–I’d like to see it explored at greater length another time, but the length of this piece was perfect for the story it contained. It’s a short and sweet tale with lovely lines, a break from heavier emotions and darker ends.
It felt like this story meant something. Something about love and a sort of fate that people can choose for themselves when given enough knowledge of the likely future.
Mirror of Stars by Frank Smith
The universe in “Mirror of Stars” felt very bleak, very worn down–in a way I found most pleasing. (What can I say, I love bleak!). It was shown in multiple ways–in the rundown nature of the space-faring vessels depicted, in the hearts and dialogue of the characters, and in lovely, lovely lines like the following:
Mek heard something in the signal that existed nowhere else in the life that he knew. Music. Laughter. Things foreign to his culture. Things they’d left behind.
The prose in this piece was pretty sci-fi oriented, at times utilitarian (not in a bad way), with the meaningful, lovely lines woven in. The world, as I said, felt very broken and desolate, which made the connection in the story feel all the more pleasing. Mek did have some sense of motivation/goal at the start of the story, though I wouldn’t have minded feeling that a bit more strongly.
This story reminded me a bit of the universe in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. A compliment of the highest order, considering the glory of that show!
Nestmaker by Jared W. Cooper
There is such a fascinating world in “Nestmaker.” I definitely felt as if a whole novel could easily have sprawled out in this place.
I loved the mother-daughter link in this story. It’s a connection that sometimes gets overlooked in science fiction and I love it every time I see it. I felt the connection between mother and daughter–though strained at some points–was beautifully rendered and poignant. Once again the prose jumped out at me as being meaningfully beautiful, something I find myself saying again and again about the stories in Bastion.
Sanctuary Farm by Garrick Fincham
The message in this story spoke to me, perhaps the most loudly of all the stories. What I took away from it was the simple joy of being what you want to be, whether or not that’s enough for anyone else. There was a lot of talk of freedom and I feel the story accurately showed that freedom can mean different things to different people.
I really enjoyed the rural setting in this story. I was raised on a farm myself, so it felt a bit like coming home for me–until I discovered the curious tweak author Garrick Fincham put on farming in the new world! I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I will say it was quite amusing and dreadfully entertaining. I also loved how people adapted themselves for their new lives–a trait we all sort of need at one time or another.
You probably already know how much I enjoyed this issue. I think that’s pretty clear in my review. I tried to be as objective as possible, tried to find things to balance my enthusiasm for these stories. Overall, they’re an extremely well written bunch of stories, and well edited too. There wasn’t one story I didn’t like, a surprise, as most magazines tend to be hit or miss at times.
I really enjoyed the great representation with characters–gay, straight, female, male, and a few slightly older protagonists as well. It’s delightfully refreshing to see the world through eyes that are not quite so similar to my own.
On that note, by my tally, the contributing authors were six men and two women. Those aren’t horrible numbers and, having been involved in Plasma Frequency’s submission process, I realize that sometimes it’s just the roll of the dice. Sometimes you just happen to get more amazing stories from one gender or another. I would have liked more female voices, but I can’t say I would have liked to cut any of these stories out!
So that’s it, there’s my review. I hope you all will take a look at this fresh, beautiful new magazine. Issue 5 launches on August 1st and I highly recommend picking up a copy.
Thanks for reading!