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Broadswords and Blasters Issue 1 (Volume 1) Paperback – April 30, 2017
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The cover art has a distinctly sci-fi vibe but with echoes of sword and sorcery – type fantasy, which reflects the content and indeed the title. I liked the end-of-tale breaker icons which take the form of a skull-shaped goblet containing some sort of heady concoction.
I have a lot of respect for fiction enthusiasts who give their time, energy and money into enterprises like this. As such, they are often operating on a shoe string and only continue producing issues as long as they are supported by a loyal fanbase. So is this pulp offering worth your support?
Let me say right away that the editors have done their due diligence and formatted the publication with professionalism. The layout is easy on the eye and the text pretty with only the occasional typo. I received an e-copy of the magazine, so I can’t describe the quality of that format, but if the editors have paid as much attention to paper quality and other such considerations, as they have to the interior then you won’t be disappointed. OK, so it may not have fantastical artwork on every page, but remember, this is supposed to emulate the age of pulp.
So let’s see what the stories are like.
SKIN DEEP by Nicholas Ozment
Ozment is a long time author and has been published multiple times in offerings such as Black Gate.
Skin Deep is a well scripted and enduring tale about a pair of young apprentice warriors and their search for a mythical race called the Ilsilke, renowned for their beauty and willingness to appear naked when the ice thins. The scene setting is superb and, in the space of a few pages, Ozment crafts a story that immerses the reader, albeit briefly, into a well imagined world.
It’s one of the shorter stories in the collection but sets the pace well for what is to come.
DEAD MEN TELL TALES by Dave D’Alessio
D’Alessio switches the genre to sci-fi and produces a tale with the feel of a noir detective story set in space. It is a fast-paced and ingenious sci-fi setting, quickly depicted with broad brush-strokes. Little phrases allow the reader to appreciate the technology e.g. 'Squeeze bulb of bourbon.' John Arbogast is the lead character and the story that unfolds is one of a PI given a memory stick by a dying man, containing he knows not what. Needless to say there are others out to get the information contained on it.
I loved the dark comedy splashed throughout this story e.g. when it comes to explaining why the Triads (yes, they still exist in the future) use eunuchs, D’Alessio writes: Rumor had it that the Triads understood that certain men would serve more faithfully if they could have no heirs. They were also less vulnerable in barroom brawls.
DMTT feels like a snapshot from a much larger work, one which I'd be very invested in reading.
THE EXECUTIONER’S DAUGHTER by R.A. Goli
A female author, a female mc and a suitably apt career for the character. In this fantasy tale, Ms Goli proves herself to be a craftswoman of note from down under, and one to look out for. A very entertaining read.
PENSION PLAN by Dusty Wallace
Pension plan is noir mixed with sci-fi. It contains snappy dialogue and convincing aliens that allow you to suspend belief through the way they interact with other characters. I’m old enough to remember the original 2000 AD comics of the late seventies, and this story definitely creates a similar ethos.
Here’s a segment I particularly enjoyed:
'Once inside you’d find tables made from old wire spools, wooden casks of ale, tall glass mugs, and a stuffed head mounted over the bar. Except it wasn’t a bull or stag but a Carvlakian sewer wolf. A nasty, three- headed beast with nobs of stone protruding from each of its skulls. Humans tried to domesticating them when they were first discovered. Those humans are no longer domesticating anything.'
SATURDAY NIGHT SCIENCE by Michael M. Jones
A quaint (in a good way) SF story about a wheelchair bound lesbian who becomes the unwilling participant in an experiment with the multiverse with the female equivalent of an unprincipled, female equivalent of Dr Who. How's that for a tag line? I'll leave it at that.
ISLAND OF SKULLS
(Part One of Two) by Matt Spencer
This extended fantasy short story is a real treat. In my experience, good fantasy writing is difficult to achieve, one reason being that I'm always comparing such stories to the sheer inventiveness, masterful descriptions and original world building of Martin, Tolkien and Howard. But Matt Spencer comes close—extremely close. After just a few sentences, you are immersed in this world. People and place names sound like they 'fit', rich prose puts you in the scene with descriptions involving all 5 senses.
The story has a Conan or King Kull vibe to it. Two youngsters happen upon a mystical girl on one of their daily forays in the territory surrounding their home village located in the land of Deschemb. She tempts them with barely concealed lascivious overtures, and the enigmatic phrase “We shall all dance the Dance of the Rising, in the House of Schrias, on the Island of Skulls.”
The two protagonists learn more about the mythological nature of the island and its nearest habitation, Rothollow, from the village wise woman or 'blender'. To say more about the plot will deprive you of your enjoyment reading it; but suffice it to say, when you reach the end-page and read the words 'to be continued' then you can be sure you'll want to buy the next issue on the strength of this story alone.
THE WATERS SO DARK by Josh Reynolds
My favourite story of the lot. Josh Reynolds is a seasoned writer, widely published in anthologies such as Innsmouth Magazine and the Warhammer franchises.
This story might come with the tag ‘historical fiction with a dark fantasy twist. It introduces us to Bartolomeo Corsi, an emissary from the Pope and former resident of hell. It’s an exotic back story and promises much. I was already thinking Solomon Kane but soon realised I was reading something far better. Corsi is trailing a quarry who has committed many atrocities; once a true believer he has turned to the dark side (as the trope goes.) The Pope’s emissary confronts him and events unfold rapidly as the hunted man releases a thing from the deep to dispatch our hero. This is such a great story. For example, how can a reader not be stirred by dialogue such as “They stir in the depths, and they shall fill his lungs with salt water and bury his bones in the silt of the Lion’s lagoon, at my command.” or fail to suppress a shudder in response to descriptions of dark things: Its face reminded him of things hauled from the deep by fishermen’s nets, with bulging eyes and a gaping mouth. It was fish and frog and all things that crawled through the deep silt.
Reynolds releases his descriptions like ravens to reveal dread as it should be experienced— slowly, one by one: webbed paws seized his face and held him close, and alien eyes stared into his. Black eyes, like large stones or perhaps the spaces between stars.
THICKER THAN WATER by Rob Francis
British author, Rob Francis, winds up this collection with his story about Treil, a so-called ‘Listener.’ But before you say ‘sounds like an honourable profession’, check out his job description. In essence he is an interrogator, but his dedication to the job is tested when he discovers his latest subject is his own brother. It’s a fine story to end with, structured to involve you in the characters rather than produce an unexpected plot twist.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at ‘Broadswords and Blasters’. Gomez and Spencer have curated a quality selection of tales that are really top-drawer, even in comparison to publications produced by TTA press, for example. They can be very proud if this debut and I look forward to the next.
While not every story in it was brilliant, there was a lot of great stuff, more than enough that I'm going to come back for the next issue. I think as more people learn of this magazine's existence, the quality will quickly shoot up. Hopefully, Broadswords and Blasters will catch on with reader and writers alike.
So far, so good. People familiar with me have already heard my rants on period pulp's reader demographics, gender representation, and so on. But, considering I'm unorthodox, I'm quite happy to take this as a starting point, and work from there. So far, that sounds fine. I'm all for mature, sensible representations of these themes in my adventure fiction.
Unfortunately, given these stories, I don't think Gomez and Mount meant there would be maturity; they seem to have meant that, by discarding the stigma on sexuality, they were free to go wild.
Dusty Wallace's "Pension Plan"--a story without a real beginning, middle, or end--is almost exclusively concerned with dick jokes, and centers its entire final third around a particularly gory example thereof. "Skin Deep" rewards the main characters with sex, because they decided to be good guys. Matt Spenser's "Island of Skulls" has more bad-joke commentary on genitals, sex, breasts, and the like than anything else.
This adolescent way of treating sex drags the entire issue down.
Michael M. Jones' "Saturday Night Science" is also particularly sex focused, but Jones wisely makes that focus work for him, coloring in the beginning of the relationship. It's an expression of his characters, and an expression of his characters that works within the tone and the plot. It is also an expression of the characters in "Island of Skulls"; but in that case, the constant stream of bad-joke sex references spoils any sense of mystery or tension the story should have.
There are, however, some gems in this collect:
Josh Reynolds' "The Water So Dark" benefits from his usual smooth, confident flow. It's one of the better depictions of Deep Ones, post Lovecraft, and manages the rare feat of keeping the horror intense in the middle of an action sequence. I'd love to read more stories featuring this character.
Rob Francis' "Thicker Than Water" has an abrupt ending, but features such engaging character work, interesting worldbuilding, and smooth, well-paced flow that I can't be mad at it. It's a great story, and I'd love to read more of Francis' stories.
R.A. Goli's "The Executioner's Daughter" is an interesting premise, well-told, with twists and developments I genuinely didn't expect. She's a talent to watch. I do have one word of advice for future stories: work on your dialogue. Right now, it's a little too precise, a little robotic. But I think, with some focus on that, you can be writing some first-rate, impressive stories. Goli is an author to watch.
Dave D'Alessio's "Dead Men Tell Tales" has some very good worldbuilding, as well as a unique resolution to the plot (if I understood it correctly).It's a pretty good space noir story.
Overall, I think Broadswords and Blasters is a magazine to watch. And that, with the above caveats, Broadswords and Blasters #1 is worth your time to read.
I received a free copy in return for an honest review.
That's how I felt about each story.
To all my friends who enjoy fantasy, detectives, and science fiction, this is a must read.
To my friends who write such things, please be aware of this publication.