Based on a perusal of the contents (I don’t have time to read all the stories if I’m going to stay on schedule with the Seven Days), the current issue of Abyss & Apex seems to have a good mix of core science fiction and fantasy. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. An additional good thing is the story I’ve chosen to take a closer look at is sword and sorcery.
This one is titled “Demonfire Ash” by Helen E. Davis. It’s something of a mystery, so I’ll only give you the setup. Much of the satisfaction comes from the unfolding of what happened over the previous years.
The protagonist, Geoff Bowman, is a journeyman sorcerer, and not a very good one. In fact, he’s at the bottom of his class. As the story opens, he wakes up in a bed not his own with a strange woman going through a trunk. He recognizes the chamber as that of the Hall Master. The woman makes a cryptic remark about Geoff being alive and her not undressing him, takes the Hall Master’s demon killing knife from the trunk, tells him he can rot, and leaves the room.
Geoff is puzzled, but when he looks in a mirror, he sees he’s now an old man. Things get worse from there.
I’m not giving much away when I say that things have gone very wrong and Geoff, even though he has no memory, has been very much at the center of them. An astute reader will pick that up pretty quickly.
There’s some action in this story, but it’s more a meditation on bearing guilt that isn’t necessarily your own, when others will gladly heap blame upon you. It’s about doing the right thing when the right thing may not be clear at first, nor is it obvious when all is revealed. Or easy for that matter. It’s about making atonement when you don’t know what you’re making atonement for and when you learn, about trying anyway when there’s no way to atone.
There’s a lot to like about this story. It moves well, and the characters are well drawn, especially Geoff and the boy, Gavin, who aids him. Gavin’s motivations are deeper and more noble, more loyal than those of anyone else.
The name Helen E. Davis was not familiar to me when I read this story. Her bio states that’s she’s had stories published in Sword and Sorceress 24 and 25 as well as in Adventures in Sword and Sorcery. While I generally prefer more sword in my sword and sorcery than I found in this story, I enjoyed it enough to be interested in reading more of this author’s work. Her pacing is solid and the mystery unfolds nicely.
In the previous installments (Announcement, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5) I rated the stories on the basis of whether I enjoyed them enough to read more of the magazine if that were the first story I had read from it. While I’ve been aware of Abyss & Apex, I can’t recall if I’ve read anything here or not. I know I’ve visited the site before but doubt if I did more than skim the ToC. I intend to read more on both the basis of this story and the rest of the current ToC. Abyss & Apex appears to be a solid publication with a good variety of science fiction and fantasy. The archives are no longer free. But for a measly $5 per year, you can get a subscription which will allow you access to the archives in addition to some other benefits. Not a bad buy.
Total quality count (high, low) Day 6: 7-2