Category Archives: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

Another Strong Issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

HFQ22The current issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (number 22) has been out for a little while now.  I’ve been reading it here and there when I have a slow few minutes at work.  (The fact that it’s taken me several weeks to finish should tell you how many slow minutes I have.)

Once again, this one is strong.  There are four pieces of fiction here, two long and two short, as well as two poems.  The longer stories are historical fantasy, while the shorter pieces are set in imaginary worlds.

Here’s a quick run down of what you’ll find. Continue reading

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Has a New Issue

HFQtimthumbWell, actually, by this time, it’s not that new, having been out a few weeks.  This issue contains four pieces of fiction (as opposed to the usual three), one of which has an extra illustration.  There are also two poems. Continue reading

A Look at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 19

HFQ 19It’s been a while since I looked at any online magazine here, and that includes Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. One of my goals for the year was to change that. I’m a bit behind on that one, I’m about to start making progress.

The latest issue of HFQ contains two poems and four stories rather than the usual three. All of them have a desert theme. (I wonder if the harsh winter we’ve been having has anything to do with that. California Dreamin’, sword and sorcery style.) Continue reading

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Sets a High Bar for Quality

The latest issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has been out for a while, and I’ve been meaning to get to it for a few weeks now.  I finally managed to carve out some time, and I’m glad I did.  This is one of the strongest issues I’ve seen from this publication, maybe the strongest.  The stories selected certainly set a high bar for quality.

There are three stories and two poems in this issue.  Here’s what you find:

The first story is “Dusts of War” from Ben Godby.  This is a morally murky tale that is more than what it first appears.  The story opens with a peddler coming to an idyllic town at the foothills of a mountain range on a dusty summer day.  There’s a war on, but for the most part the war hasn’t had a huge effect locally.  Some food shortages, some able-bodied young men marching away to fight, but no combat in the area.

At first it seems that the story is about a traveling peddler stopping in a sleepy, poor, but idyllic little village.  But there’s more to the peddler than appears.  He’s on a mission, a mission that’s related to the war.

Forgive me if I indulge in minor spoilers.  The peddler is there to find a man, a man he’ll know because another man in a red cloak will speak with him.  He’s given this information by a farmer who palms him a note and then isn’t seen again.  The problem arises when the red cloaked man finally arrives speaks with two men at once.  The peddler isn’t sure which man is the one he’s looking for.

There are some powerful scenes in this story and places where the prose borders on the lyrical.  But much of the power of the tale comes from what we aren’t told rather than what we are told.  What is the war about, and who is fighting?  Which side is the peddler on?  Is he operating behind enemy lines or is he working covertly behind his own?  Who is the man the peddler is looking for?  Why is he looking for him?  What is the significance of the man in the red cloak?

None of these questions are ever answered, and some are barely hinted at.  The result is a morally ambiguous scenario where the reader isn’t sure who to root for.  The peddler is initially presented as a sympathetic fellow, but as the story progresses, he does things that are increasingly questionable.

All in all, a fine example of the less is more school of fiction.

Following this one up is “Shadows and Hellfire“.  This is the third story author R. Michael Burns has had in HFQ featuring his samurai Hokage’.  In this particular tale, Hokage’ decides he’s tired of being haunted by the ghosts of those he’s killed with his sword Demon-Fang.  He decides to get rid of it, and the only way to do that is to take it back to Hell.  The problem is that no one has entered the realms of the dead and returned.  At least not alive. 

Hokage’ isn’t worried about that.  He’s at the point where death would be a relief.  The problem is that to get rid of the sword, assuming he actually can in the first place, is that there are others who would like to take it from him.

This was a solid piece of Japanese fantasy, and well worth reading.

The final story is from David Charlton, “Kingdom of Graves“.  A plague is sweeping across the land, and the half-orc Rakhar is making a decent living traveling around burying the dead.  At least it’s a decent living by his standards.  It keeps him in drink.

Rakhar is hire by a dwarf to hunt down a local lord who abandoned his daughter to the plague and fled.  The lord had caught the dwarf diddling his daughter, and the dwarf has a soft spot for her in his heart.  He wants revenge, not so much for himself as for her.  What he and Rakhar find turns out to be something out of their worst nightmares.

This one reminded me of Tolkien in the names of some of the elf-like beings called Lornael.  I’m not a big fan of the type of fantasy that mixes a large number of races together in imitation of Tolkien.  Most authors, even good ones, can’t pull it off the way Tolkien did.  Charlton does a better job of it than most, but it doesn’t seem to me that he’s trying to imitate Tolkien so much as follow his example.  There’s history and backstory throughout the tale that gives the milieu some depth, making it more than a paint by numbers piece of fiction. 

This one didn’t have an entirely happy ending, but neither was it a downer.  The balance of happy and sad, for lack of better terms, made the conclusion more satisfying.  I can see how Charlton might revisit his heroes.  They make an interesting pair and have series potential.

I don’t typically discuss the poetry in HFQ at any length, primarily because the poems tend to be rather short.  Rather than write a review longer than the piece itself (I’ll leave that for the lit-crit folks), I’ll just give my impressions.

First, “Yashub-Geb” by James Hutchings.  I especially liked this one.  The rhyme and meter worked well.  Good poetry doesn’t read like it was written by Dr. Suess.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love Dr. Seuss; I just don’t read him for his poetics.)  This was written in the style I first encountered in high school English class.  I’ve reviewed Hutchings before, and this poem only reaffirmed my opinion of him.

The second poem is Lorna Smithers‘ “The Bull of Conflict“.   Smithers runs a poetry blog, and this poem is even better constructed than the Hutchings poem.  It practically sings.  Not surprising since Smithers is into bardic poetry.

So, all in all, a mighty fine issue.  High quality fiction, high quality poetry.  Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is one of the top sources of sword and sorcery and adventure fiction out there.  Read this issue and see why.

2012 in Retrospect: Short Fiction

This past year was a good year overall for short fiction.  And some of the most exciting short fiction was published online with or without the option of subscribing.  There were also the usual print venues, both periodicals and anthologies.  In this post, I’m going to try to provide an admittedly incomplete overview of the short fiction field in 2012, emphasizing online venues.  I didn’t read thoroughly enough in the print periodicals (Asimov’s, Analog, Hitchcock’s, Ellery Queen, or F&SF) to have a feel for them.  And there were enough original anthologies that flew past my radar that I’m not even going to try to discuss any of them.

And as for the electronic magazines, with one exception, I’m only going to mention the ones I read at least once this year.  I’m not going to discuss individual stories; I don’t have that kind of time.  Rather, I’m going to try to give a general idea of what the magazine was like.  Links and subcription information (where applicable) will be provided.

The year didn’t start off all that well.  The electronic magazine Something Wicked ceased publication.  I’m not sure how well known this title was in the States.  I’m not certain, but I think it was out of South Aftrica.  It started as a print magazine before moving to electronic only.  With a focus on science fiction and horror, it published three short stories and one novella plus some nonfiction each issue.  I had a subscription and got a few issues before it was canceled.  I hated to see it go, because it was different than what was being published here in the States, and I enjoyed what I read.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies was probably the go-to place online for high quality fantasy, with an issue every two weeks.  BCS had a great year, publishing their 100th issue.  They’re still going strong and required reading for anyone wanting to keep up with the field.  Subscription info here.

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is your next best bet for great adventure fiction, especially if your tastes run to sword and sorcery.  It’s also the strongest competition BCS had at the first of the year; with Black Gate publishing fiction once a week, that’s changing.  I found the quality of work at HFQ to be on par with BCS and Black Gate.  If you aren’t reading this one, you should be.  It’s free and updates every three months, just like a quarterly should, not that all publications that call themselves that do.

In October, Black Gate, which had stopped publishing in print format, began posting a new piece of fiction every Sunday.  They’ve published a mix of new stories, reprints from the print incarnation, and excerpts from novels.  So far the quality has been high, which is what I would expect from BG

In my opinion, these were the best markets for sword and sorcery and adventure fiction, and are the top venues in the field.  They weren’t only markets for S&S, nor were they the only markets for great fiction of a fantastic nature.

Lightspeed is probably the main online source for fantastic fiction.  In January, it combined with Fantasy.  This is the publication I had the most trouble fitting into my schedule this year, managing to read only one or two stories.  Edited by John Joseph Adams, it’s going strong, publishing the top names in both science fiction and fantasy.  Subscription info here.  I promise I’ll do a better job of reading this one in 2013.

Clarkesworld published some solid science fiction this year, although most of what I read was more literary than than action orieinted.  I don’t recall seeing any fantasy, but I wasn’t able to read each issue.  Subscription info here.

Apex publishes stuff on the darker side of the fantastic.  Lynn Thomas took over as editor from Cathrynne Valente near the beginning of the year.  It’s another one I intend to read more of next year.  What little I managed to fit in was good stuff. Subscription info here

Subterranean had another great year.  This is a quarterly publication.  They went from publishing their content over a period of weeks to putting it all online at once.  There is no subscription option like there is for some of the titles listed above, but I wish there were.  I’d rather read on an ereader than a screen. 

Combine these publications with the traditional print ones, and it’s hard not to conclude the short fiction market is healthy.  There were several new publications that started up this year as well. 

First there was Swords and Sorcery Magazine, an online-only publication that premiered in February.  Publishing two stories per issue, it met its publication schedule, something that new publications don’t always do.  It’s not a professional paying market at the moment, although I hope it can achieve that status soon.  As a result, the quality of the fiction wasn’t up to what you find in BCS or HFQ.  In spite of that, the issues I read were quite readable, and I enjoyed the fiction I found there.  It was certainly the most promising debut as far as S&S is concerned.  In spite of the fact that it can’t yet pay professional rates, there’s nothing unprofessional about the editorial tone.  This is one worth supporting.

Another new publication was Nightmare Magazine.  Edited by John Joseph When-Does-the-Man-Sleep? Adams, this magazine was crowdfunded by Kickstarter and has taken off.  It’s one of the best, if not the best, publications devoted solely to horror fiction out there.  I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve found.  Subscription info here.

Another Kickstarter magazine was Fireside.  This quarterly hasn’t taken off like Nightmare, and I hope it does.  It doesn’t limit itself to any particular genre, which is both a strength and a weakness.  A strength because it can publish those cool stories that defy classification, and a weakness because it will probably take a little longer to find its core readership that a genre publication would.  Subscription info here

Another high profile debut, which publishes both fantasy and science fiction, is Eclipse Online.  Edited by Jonathan Strahan, it’s a continuation of the critically acclaimed anthology series of the same title.  It publishes fiction twice a month and is worth checking out.

In many ways the most anticipated debut, and certainly the most controversial, was the relaunch of Weird Tales with Marvin Kaye as the editor.  Kaye wanted to return the magazine to its roots, something that didn’t sit well in certain circles.  The first issue was IMO a success.  Here’s hoping the best days of the publication are ahead of it.  Subscription info here.

In the interest of being balanced, I’m going to mention Shimmer, even though I haven’t read it yet.  As part of the reaction to Marvin Kaye replacing Ann Vandermeer as editor of Weird Tales, Mary Robinette Kowal underwrote the magazine so that it can pay professional rates.  The idea is that this will attract writers who would have submitted to Vandermeer had she continued to edit WT.  In other words, what we have here is a literary smackdown.  Like WT, Shimmer is a quarterly publication.  I’m going to review this one, probably after the next issue is published.   I want to evaluate it on the basis of what it publishes after paying pro rates.  Subscription info here.

These weren’t all of the fiction outlets, but with the exception of Shimmer, these were the ones I at least attempted to read.  Other major venues included, but weren’t limited to, and Strange Horizons.  These two are also on the list to read next year.

So anyway, that’s a (very) lopsided look at the electronic world of fantastic fiction in the year 2012.  There was a great deal of good stuff published.  I’m going to try to do more reading at short lengths in 2013.  For one thing, I like short fiction.  It fits my time contraints better than doorstopper novels.  Also, with my new gig at Amazing Stories (TM), I’m not going to have as much time to read novels for my personal blogs.


Addendum to Review of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

I was reading the review of the current issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly on the Swords and Sorcery blog and realized I hadn’t scrolled down the contents page far enough when I read HFQ this past week.  I missed the final poem altogether.  That poem was “Legend” by Colleen Anderson.  I found the poem to be somewhat depressing.  That’s a good thing in this context.  The poem was a moving look at a legend’s passing, and I Ms. Anderson did a good job of capturing the feeling of loss that would accompany such a thing.

My apologies to Ms. Anderson, the editorial team at HFQ, and my readers for the oversight.

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Scores a Homerun

I thought a baseball metaphor was appropriate since this is the spring 2012 issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  I’ve been so inundated with novels that I haven’t had a chance to check this one out in a while.  It’s well worth a look.

The current issue contains three stories and two poems.  Here’s what I thought of them.

First up is “Crown of Sorrws” by Seamus Bayne.  It’s the tale of the mercenary Ordwin who is chosen by the summoner-king Theisius to retrieve an item of value in a deadly game the sorcerer is playing with King Archese, Ordwin’s former employer.  The item is a crown, which Archese has given to the beast people.  To retrieve it, Ordwin must assume the form of a beast and pass three tests.  Naturally, Ordwin doesn’t have much choice.  There is deception aplenty here.  I found the setup intriguing, the challenges clever, and the characters fascinating.  This one was dark, brutal, and engrossing.  I thoroughly loved it and would like to see more of this world.

Second is Russell Miller’s tongue-in-cheek “Rhindor’s Remission”.  Rhindor is an aging warrior wizard who has a final confrontation with his greatest foe.  They both discover that old age isn’t for sissies.  And one of them discovers that evil artifacts can change as they age.  I found the humor in this story to be good a counterpoint to “Crown of Sorrows”.

The final story, “Blade and Branch and Stone” by Spencer Ellsworth, is the longest of the three.  It’s set in what feels like colonial America, but if that’s the case, it’s an alternate America which has a sentient race that’s part tree.  While the concepts of a race that is part tree and trees that store generational memories aren’t new, and aren’t my favorite tropes if I’m being honest, Ellsworth uses multiple viewpoints to present a moving picture of how two races at enmity with each other can bridge a gap.  This was a multi-layered tale worth the reading.

There were two poems.  The second one, “Sidhe Song” by Phil Emory had a haunting quality to it.  But it was the first poem, Bethany Powell’s “Burying the Plowshare”, that really stood out to me.  It’s about a farmer who goes to war because there’s nothing left to do.  I don’t read a lot of contemporary poetry these days, but then most contemporary poetry doesn’t have this kind of power.  Powell captures the tone of bitterness and loss perfectly. 

I wasn’t familiar with any of the writers whose works is in this issue.  I found all of the stories to be excellent.  Heroic Fantasy Quarterly may not have pay rates that meet SFWA’s criteria for a professional market, but there’s nothing unprofessional about the quality of the work you’ll find there.  All five pieces, whether fiction or poetry, were polished, professional work.  If you aren’t reading this electronic magazine, you’re missing out.

Report on ConDFW XI

Author GOH Cherie Priest

ConDFW XI was held over the weekend, beginning on the afternoon of Friday, February 17 and ending, as these things tend to do, just over 48 hours later, on Sunday February 19.  The author Guest of Honor was Cherie Priest, and the artist Guest of Honor was William Stout.

I wasn’t able to get away as early as I’d hoped Friday morning, so I missed the afternoon panels.  I visited with friends, kibitzed with Mark Finn during his signing, then went and grabbed some food.  The Opening Ceremonies were held after dinner and only lasted five minutes.  Since I was five minutes late, I got there just as everyone was leaving. 

I visited with some more folks, confirmed the time for an interview, and generally hung out.  Mark Finn hosted a panel on talking during the movies, a sort of live Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I only sat through part of one of the movies, but it was baaaddd.  I visited the Fencon party, the only one on Friday, and called it a night.

Self-publishing panel

There were a couple of panels on electronic publishing Saturday morning. The first was really good and consisted of advice from Tom Knowles, Carole Nelson Douglas, Nina Romberg, Kevin Hosey, and Bill Fawcett.  This was followed by a panel on scams aimed at authors looking to self-publish.  It consisted of P. N. Elrod, Lillian Stewart Carl, Melanie Fletcher, Mark Finn, and Bill Fawcett.  I snuck out of this one part way through to stick my head in on a panel about breaking writing rules.  Panelists included Kevin Hosey, Chris Donahue, K. Hutson, A. P. Stephens, and Rhonda Eudaly.

I had lunch with some former students.  When I returned I attended a reading by Martha Wells and Sue Sinor.  Afterwards, Martha was gracious enough to answer a few questions for an interview.  I’ll post it after I’ve transcribed it.  I poked around in the dealer’s room, then ended the afternoon with a couple of panels.

Space Opera Panel

The first one on trends in space opera, a subgenre near and dear to the lump of coal that passes for my heart.  This panel was the most fun.  The panelists were Ethan Hahte, Lee Martindale, and Mark Finn (who always introduced himself differently on each panel).  Poor Bill Ledbetter tried to moderate.  Mark was drinking an energy drink, and the conversation was lively.  Since I’m friends with all the panelists, I tended to throw in my two cents a lot as well.

From there, I went to the opposite extreme, the panel on using Norse mythology in your fiction, another topic near and dear to my heart.  I got there a minute or so after the panel started and stood at the back.  It was in one of the larger rooms and well attended.  What I could hear of the discussion, which wasn’t much, was interesting.   Unfortunately the woman moderating spoke in just above a whisper, and at the risk of sounding sexist, so did all the other women on the panel.  The only panelist who even tried to project his voice to the back of the room (and succeeded) was the sole male.  After about ten minutes, I decided that if I had been sitting down, I would have fallen asleep, so I went and met friends for dinner.

That night was the traditional panel on pornography vs. erotica.  The conclusion was that erotica is what I like, and pornography is what all you perverts like.  If you want details, you’ll have to provide proof of age.  I went party hopping after that.  The best one was thrown by Tom Knowles, author and the publisher of Dark Star Books.  In addition to homemade corn bread and venison chilli, I scored a free copy of Morticai’s Luck by Darlene Bolesny.  Look for the review sometime this spring, probably April.

Sunday brought an interview with Brad and Sue Sinor, some readings, and a panel on how to fix terrible prose from Lee Martindale, Mel White, Lou Antonelli, and Adrian Simmons, one of the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  Then I rode off into the sunset.  Literally.

Other than the whispering panel, I only had one frustration.  There was a late addition to the schedule, a tribute panel to Ardath Mayhar.  I had an appointment for an interview at that time, and when I got there (still within the advertised time), the room was empty.  While I applaud the con committee for adding the memorial, I I wish it had been emphasized more.  I hope someone attended.  Hopefully there’ll be one at Fencon.  Ardath was one of the guests one year.

The dealer’s room didn’t have as many books as in the past, mainly because Edge Books is in the process of shutting down and only had two tables.  Still it was good to see them there.  I was under the impression that had closed for good.

The hotel is a great venue.  It’s a triangular atrium style design, with the elevators in the middle of the place, facing each other.  It was fun to watch get off them and then try to figure out which way to go to get where they were headed.  The restaurant gave convention attendees a 10% discount, a nice first.

I’ve attended all but one of the ConDFWs.  I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable.

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 8: Recap

So a week ago today, I acted on this crazy idea I had to look at a different venue for online fiction every day for a week, with as much a focus as possible on fantasy.  I called the project Seven Days of Online Fiction.  It started when I read Karen Burnham’s list of work that had received multiple award nominations this year; most of the short fiction was available online.  (Karen updated the list on Wednesday.) 

I’ve had the opinion for a long time now that what has been appearing online is just as good as what the print magazines have been publishing.  I intentionally left anthologies out of the mix because even the few anthology series that appear regularly have at least a year between volumes and are often trumpeted as Events.  I wanted to look at what was appearing on a consistent basis.

So I managed to read and post for seven days in a row, although the last couple of days were a bit of a strain from a time commitment perspective.  Links to each day are in the sidebar on the right.  The next time I do something like this, I’ll have at least half the posts done before any go live.  Anyway, I thought I would take today, Day 8, if you’ll allow, to look back and see what I’ve learned from this experience.

First, let me review the parameters.  I love science fiction, but I tried to restrict myself to fantasy since that’s the focus of this blog.  There are a number of great sites that specialize in science fiction; needless to say, they weren’t considered.  There are also some sites that publish both science fiction and fantasy.  I had hoped to feature Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons, but the stories in those were science fiction.  At least they appeared to be; I skimmed the first few paragraphs but didn’t have time to read them all the way through if I was to stay on schedule.  I’ll go back and read them at my leisure now that this project is complete.  Because I was looking at the current issues, any stories in the archives were out of bounds. 

Also, I didn’t look at or Subterranean.  These are two of the major hitters.  While accepts unsolicited manuscripts, in their guidelines they discourage submissions from writers who aren’t established pros.  Subterranean, at least last I heard, is by invitation only.  I wanted to see what was showing up by newer writers.

Finally, I restricted myself to venues which had fiction posted for free, which eliminated sites such as Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.  There were a couple of reasons for this.  First, cash flow is incredibly tight at the moment because my wife is recovering from surgery and we’re paying bills on my salary until she goes back to work in a couple of weeks.  Until then, reading material that costs money is a luxury I’m having to do without.  Also,  I wanted anyone who was interested in reading one of the stories I looked at to be able to do so without an outlay of cash.  That’s not to say I think fiction online should be free.  I don’t.  I believe in paying for quality product so the producers of said product can continue to produce.  For the purposes of this project, I wanted it to be as inclusive and convenient as possible to my readers.  If you enjoy the fiction on a site, you should consider contributing or subscribing.

I read a total of10 stories and ranked them on the basis of quality using a binary classification.  Either the quality was high or low.  I classified 8 of them high, although a few were marginal.  I suspect those of you who read the stories took issue with me on some.

The sites I visited were the following (in order):  Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Electric Spec, Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, Abyss & Apex, and Quantum Muse.  Obviously, I read more than one story from a couple of the venues.  Those were Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Ideomancer, and Electric Spec. For each magazine, I asked one simple question:  If I had never read this magazine before (and in some cases I hadn’t), did I enjoy this story enough to make me want to read more from this particular venue?  The only one where I said “No” was Ideomancer.  Not that the pieces weren’t well written, but there wasn’t much action in them.  One was a Bradbury-esque mood piece.  The other read like something out of an MFA class.  Neither had much in the way of plot, and I found the character development minimal in both.  Probably because characters grow through experiences, especially challenging experiences. 

The others, though, are all sources I’ll go back to.  I’m not sure all of them will become things I’ll read regularly, but they’re worth checking out.  For what it’s worth, I’ll check back in with Ideomancer.  Hopefully you looked at some of these and found a new source of fiction. 

So what’s the significance of Seven Days of Online Fiction?  Not much in the big scheme of things. There was nothing scientific in my methods.  One of the flaws with my approach is that I’m taking a random sample, and it’s quite possible that what I found in any of these magazines was better than average or worse than average.  For the ones I was familiar with, I know that’s not the case, but that’s only three of them.  Second, this was entirely subjective.  What I like, you might not.  A story I think stinks could sweep all the awards it’s eligible for next year.  Then there’s the physical aspect.  Fatigue can make a difference in how a person views a story, as well as what type of day they had at work, etc.

So to summarize, I decided to randomly look at seven different online publications, some familiar, some new, and see what type of quality I could find.  What I found was some good, solid fantasy.  Some better than others.  I also discovered some new writers, writers I’ll keep an eye out for in the future.  And I had a number of enjoyable evenings reading.  And that may be one of the most important things I got from this little exercise.

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 2: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

For the second day of Seven Days of Online Fiction, we’re looking at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  You might remember that one of the editors, William Ledbetter, sat down with us a few months ago in the first Adventures Fantastic Interview.

There are three stories in this issue.  One of them, “The Dome of Florence” by Richard Marsden, is a novella.  I really like the novella length.  This would have been the story I would have preferred to look at here, but because of its length, it’s broken up into two parts.  This is the first part.  For that reason, I’ll have to examine it another time. 

That leaves the two short stories.

The longer of the two, “Demon Song” by A. R. Williams, is the tale of Nobuyashi, a samurai seeking vengeance.  It’s also a tale of loss and forgetting, how sometimes the things we strive for cause us to lose sight of the reasons we’re striving.  There’s plenty of supernatural action and swordplay in this one, as well as some philosophy about the differences between honor and justice.  There’s more depth to this story than initially appears.  It’s obvious early on that some of the characters are ghosts, but the question is which ones?

This story develops the characters in a slightly different way.  Instead of backstory or infodumps about what came before the opening line, Williams develops much Nobuyashi’s character through the conversations he has with the people he encounters on his quest for vengeance.  These conversations often take the form of a series of questions asked to him. 

One thing I did find a little annoying was that we aren’t told any of the details that led to Nobuyashi’s desire for vengeance, nor are we given many details about Uyeda, the man he seeks vengeance against.  For this reason, pay close attention to what the woman in the opening scene tells Nobuyashi about Uyeda.  Once I thought over that exchange, the role Uyeda played in events made much more sense.

This is a story with hidden depths, but it will reward the patient reader who is willing to think about what’s going on rather than just follow the action.  This story, to use the rule of thumb I invoked on Day One, would make me read more from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly if it were the first story I ever read there.

The second story is much shorter, and frankly was a bit of a disappointment.  I was expecting something longer and more involved.  The story is “The Baroness Drefelin” by David Pilling.   It’s quite short and concerns a knight in love with the Queen of England.  Which one, we’re not told, but we are given enough information to know this is fairly soon after the Norman Conquest.  When accused of less than a pure desire for the Queen, he kills his accuser and flees.  While in Wales, he is told of a baroness who is too beautiful to look upon.  Of course, he has to go look.  Things, needless to say, aren’t what he is expecting.  They weren’t what I was expecting either.

The ending, while different and original, was a bit of a letdown at least to me.  I don’t know that this particular tale alone would make me want to read more from this site.

That being said, the two stories when considered together are more than strong enough to make me return to this site.  Not that I need them to do that.  I already read Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  I’m just saying a random look at the quality is overall high.

So, total quality count (high, low), end of Day 2:  2-1.