Category Archives: Seven Days of Online Fiction

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 7: Quantum Muse

For the almost final installment in the Seven Days of Online Fiction series (I’ll do a summary post tomorrow or the next day; here are installments one, two, three, four, five, and six for those who missed them.), we’ll look at another site that was new to me.  This one is called Quantum Muse. It’s a monthly with a featured artist, an editorial, and weekly flash fiction updated on Mondays.  The editorial process here is a little different from most.  Stories are submitted to a peer review group, which contributors have to join.  In order to have their stories critiqued, authors must review the work of others.  Once a story has received five critiques, it’s moved off the list for consideration by the editors.  This is an interesting way to do things, which frankly makes me a little leery.  Peer review of fiction can weaken a story, making it more bland, just as often as it can strengthen one.

The story for consideration is called The Quack by Ross Kitson.  I couldn’t find much about Dr. Kitson from the internet, so all I know of him is what’s in his author bio.  I’m assuming that “The Quack” is his first published story since his bio doesn’t list any other publication credits. 

The story concerns a young man, probably not much more than a boy, named Anase who ends up working for what would be called a snake oil salesman named Deradin.  Only this is a pseudo-medieval world, so the term snake oil salesman probably wouldn’t have been in use.  I’m not sure when the term “quack” entered the English language, but I suspect it was later than medieval times.  But that really doesn’t matter much since this is a fantasy, and unlike some titles, this one tells you something about the story.

Anase is a troubled lad, whose mother died in a tragic fire.  He’s terrified of fire now.  Of course this is going to be significant before the story is over.

Anase intervenes when two ruffians try to take their pound of flesh (literally) from Deradin.  He takes Deradin to his house, where his sister lies dying.  In order to work off the debt for the tonic his father purchases from Deradin, Anase goes with him. 

Things take a turn when, reacting to fire, Anase runs out into the road and is hit by a carriage.  He suffers a compound fracture.  A woman heals him with a potion from a vial she carries into which she adds some of her blood.  Anase’s leg is as good as new.

Of course Deradin has to have the potion.  In obtaining it, he and Anase discover that everything has a price and sometimes the price is high.

I’ll not spoil the ending for you.  Instead allow me, if you will, to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the story.

First, the quality of the writing is a little rough, especially at the beginning of the story.  Initially Anase seems to be older than he is.  He is in a theater, giving advice to a drunken actor when events are set in motion.  I got the impression from the first couple of paragraphs that he had bought the theater.  It’s only during his meeting with Deradin that it was obvious he was a boy or young man without the means to purchase much of anything.  I’m not entirely certain this part of the story is necessary.

His naivete was a little hard to buy in a couple of spots.  The hints about the fire that killed his mother and the continuing consequences took me a little while to piece together.  While I acknowledge the possibility that I was more tired than I realized when I read the story, I felt these tidbits of information could have been made a little more prominent.

Now, as to the strengths of the story.  This is in many ways a coming of age tale or more accurately a rite of passage, since Deradin is changed by events as well as Anase.  The themes of loyalty, integrity, sacrifice, and friendship are central.  The story was most effective when Anase and Deradin have a falling out and part ways.  From that point, I was hooked; up until then I was rather ambivalent about the story.  Deradin proves to have more courage and loyalty than he appears to have initially.  The confrontations near the end deepen his character.  The concluding scene shows how much Anase and Deradin have matured by what they give up.

I debated how to classify this tale in the quality count I’ve been keeping.  On the one hand, the writing was bit rough and there were places, especially in the beginning, where I felt the writing could go more smoothly.  Although I’m not sure I’m astute enough to say just how.  The story is told in first person, and perhaps it took Dr. Kitson a few pages to find the correct voice.

Despite its initial roughness, I felt the story did improve as it went.  The writing became more polished as the prose fell into a rhythm.  The narrative and descriptive passages mixed well with the dialogue, with no type of writing dominating to the detriment of the others.  The characters grew, although I would have liked to have seen more of Anase’s family.  And the woman who healed Anase, when he tries to steal her potion, clearly had paid a price to use the stuff.  That was an effective scene, but it made me I wonder why Deradin didn’t try to get the formula from her or make a deal with her instead of merely resorting to theft.  When you read the scene, pay attention to what she says and see if you don’t wonder the same thing.  In some ways she was the most fascinating character in the whole tale.

With the criteria I’ve used all along in this series, I now have to ask the question:  Assuming I’d never read this particular online publication before (and I haven’t), was this story good enough to make me want to try some of the other stories on this site?  The answer is yes.  “The Quack” probably won’t make the short list for any awards, but it provided me with an entertaining read.  I think the author has potential and will continue to improve.  The other stories in the May edition sound interesting.  There’s another fantasy, a science fiction, and an alternative which the blurb makes to sound like science fiction.

Total quality count (high, low), Day 7: 8-2

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 6: Abyss & Apex

Today’s online magazine is a quarterly called Abyss & Apex which shouldn’t be confused with the similarly named Apex MagazineThe former is a quarterly, while the latter is a monthly.  Also, Abyss & Apex bills itself as a speculative fiction magazine.  Apex Magazine, which made the transition from print to electronic formats a while back, tends towards dark science fiction and horror.

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

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 5: Fantasy Magazine

Some of you may have been wondering when in this project I would get to Fantasy Magazine, as it’s one of the more high profile online publications.  I’m trying to alternate between venues with which I am familiar and those that are new to me.  The drawback is that what’s new to me might not be new to some of you.  One of the goals of this series is to introduce some new sources of reading material to some of you as well as expand my reading horizons.  For those reasons, I’m not necessarily going to look at the more well-known venues.

Anyway, onto Fantasy Magazine.  This publication started out in print form and made the transition to electronic format a few years ago.  The format of this one is slightly different than the others we’ve looked at so far.  It’s a monthly publication consisting of fiction (2 new and 2 reprints) and various nonfiction features, but they don’t put all the stories up at once, nor do they leave the stories and features up once they’ve been posted.  Instead the contents of the main page rotate on a weekly basis throughout the month, changing on Monday.  Of course, if you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the complete issue in electronic format on the first of the month.  (And if you like this magazine, you should consider doing that to support them.) Once something is rotated off the main page, it is available through the archives..

The story I’m going to look at is “The Devil in Gaylord’s Creek” by Sarah Monette.  This was an enjoyable urban fantasy in a rural setting.  The main character is Morgan, a young lady who happens to be dead.  She travels with her companion Francis.  He’s the replacement companion; the first was eaten in the line of duty. 
So Morgan and Francis are in the small town of Gaylord’s Creek.  Devils can grow in this universe,subsuming people, and there’s one that’s gotten big enough to threaten the entire town.

I’m not sure who Morgan and Francis are working for other than it’s some type of supernatural para-police organization.  Monette tells us Francis works for some sort of organization, but Morgan doesn’t know much about it.  Nor does she wish to.  I, on the other hand, would like to know more.  A lot more.  There’s potential for a series here. 

Monette never gives us more background than is necessary to follow the action or develop the characters.  Morgan’s preferred weapon is a sword named Stella Mortua.  If you don’t know the Latin, you’ll need to read the story to find out what it means.  We don’t know where the sword came from or how it got its name.

The plot was straightforward on this one, so in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll not give you many more details.  The thing I liked best was Morgan’s character and her snarky attitude.  She and Francis aren’t on the best of terms when the tale opens.  By the end their relationship has changed.  And no, it hasn’t turned romantic or sexual.  She’s in her teens, and he’s a middle aged man.  But their relationship does grow as a result of what they experience.

There’s plenty of action.  Morgan and Francis are trying to save the town, after all.  I’d like to know more about Morgan.  We know she’s dead but not a lot about how her previous partner brought her back.  About all we know of her death was that she was beaten to death; by whom and under what circumstances isn’t revealed. 

This was better than average story.  Much better.  The characters acted like real people.  They changed and grew.  Not only did they affect events, but they were affected by them.  There’s enough mystery about the organization Morgan and Francis work for to leave the reader wanting more. 

I’d read Fantasy Magazine before.  Not a great deal, but now that John Joseph Adams had taken over the editorial reigns, I’ll be reading more, especially if the quality is this good.  Applying the same yardstick I’ve applied for Days One, Two, Three, and Four:  if I were not familiar with this publication, would I read more of it based on the story I’ve randomly selected? Definitely.  The editorial page of Fantasy Magazine says they publish all varieties of fantasy.  This story shows they publish the kind of fantasy I would be reading.

Total quality count (high, low), Day 5: 6-2.

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 4: Ideomancer Speculative Fiction

Today, in the fourth installment of this project,we turn our attention to Ideomancer.  Or more correctly Ideomancer Speculative Fiction.  This one has received a bit of critical acclaim if my memory is serving me correctly.  I don’t recall where all I’ve seen the acclaim, so I might be getting two different sites confused.

Anyway, there were three stories in this issue, along with some poetry and features such as reviews.  One of the stories was science fiction and the other two were fantasy.  Since science fiction and poetry isn’t really the focus of Seven Days of Online Fiction, I’ll look at the two of the stories which are fantasy.  Both of them are short.

One of the nice things about this site is a box (I’m not sure what you call it) at the top of the ToC which rotates the first few lines of each item in the ToC.  This allowed me to quickly realize that one of the stories was science fiction, and so I didn’t need to read it for the purpose of this series.  It also showed enough profanity in just a few lines that I knew I wouldn’t be reading it period.  But I digress.  I think is a cool idea.  It allowed me to sample the first paragraph (or the first few lines in the case of the poetry) and get an idea of whether or not I would want to read the rest of the story.

The first story I read was “Just Be” by Sandra M. Odell.  It was a short and melancholy piece, almost a vignette, without a great deal of plot.  Most of the conflict and tension revolved around the two characters discussing the fact that the second of them had to take the other’s place on the job while the first took his turn on vacation.  The fact that the two people involved, the first initially a man and the second initially a boy, are taking turns being Satan was what made this a fantasy. 

The story takes place in the rural South. It was written in a down-home, Southern voice that bordered on stereotype.  Since my family comes from the South originally, I could have chosen to be offended.  What kept me from being offended was that I know that there is a basis in fact for many of the stereotypes of life in the South.  Not all of them but many of them.  (I am NOT talking about racial stereotypes here, but stereotypes of diction, diet, etc..)  The stereotype of Southern dialect does have some basis in fact.  I’ve known people who’ve talked that way.  This story reminded me of them.

The story had a bittersweet almost nostalgic tone somewhat reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, which to me was a point in its favor.  Still, not a lot happened in the story.  If the author had made the conversation between the boy and the man longer and more confrontational, I think it would have made the story stronger.

The second story was “Ascension” by Su-Yee Lin and is more magic realism than straight fantasy.  It concerns a parent and daughter who continue to make trips to the park after things have begun to fall into the sky.  At first it was the birds.  When the story opens, it’s the leaves.  They’re all falling up.  By the end of the story, it’s the little girl.  Not the parent.  As a parent myself, I know I wouldn’t be so calm about such an event and neither would my wife.  Or any of the other parents we know.

I guess I assumed the parent narrating the story, whose gender is  never stated, was the girl’s mother because the two of them spend their days in the park, and even with many mothers working full time these days, they are still the majority of stay-at-home parents.

The author bio at the end of the story says Ms. Lin is a student in fiction in an MFA program.  This story reads like something that might come out of an MFA program.  It’s all mood and imagery.  There’s not a lot of plot, and frankly I didn’t find the character of the parent very well done.  Just not believable enough.  I know a lot of people like this kind of thing, but it’s not what I read fiction for.  At least not fantasy.

From the perspective of the Seven Days, one of the annoying things about this issue of Idoemancer was that there was a link to a very long story published last year which appears, at least at a glance, to be a much more traditional fantasy than either of the stories I’ve looked at from the current issue.  Unfortunately one of the rules of this project is to only consider stories first published in the current issue of an online magazine, not reprints.  Also, length could possibly be a factor if I’m going to stay on schedule.  It’s one I’ll probably come back to.

I’ve always been a little leery about the term “speculative fiction.”  It seems to be used a lot by people who act as those they are ashamed to be reading fantasy or science fiction and seem to think that by calling genre fiction “speculative fiction” they are giving it some sort of literary respectability.  I’ll not get into that here.  It’s off topic and would make this post too long.  “Ascension” certainly had fantastic elements, but I wouldn’t call it core fantasy.  The fantastic elements merely served to provide a mood.

So, in terms of quality:  These stories were well written, but neither of them had much in the way of story, at least as far as characters and plot are concerned, although “Just Be” wasn’t far off.  While some people prefer this kind of thing, I suspect most of the regular readers of this blog do not.  This is the second venue I’ve looked at that I haven’t read before.  Using the same criteria as previously, would I read more of Ideomancer based on what I’ve read here?  Sadly, no.  While I liked “Just Be”,  “Ascension” more than offset its appeal.  However, I will probably come back and take another look, to read the reprint story if for no other reason.  Every publication, whether print or electronic, can have an off issue, so I’ll might check some of the other stories as well.

For the purposes of this project, total quality count (high, low), Day 4:  5-2

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 3: Electric Spec

For the first two days of this project, I looked at two sources of online fiction with which I was already familiar and read regularly, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  For Day 3, I turned my attention to a site I haven’t read before, Electric SpecThis is a quarterly publication which publishes “schockingly good short works of science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre.”  That’s a pretty big statement.  So just how well does the magazine live up to its own billing, at least as far as the fantasy is concerned?

We’ll look at two stories and see.

The first story in question is “A Touch of Poison” by Jaelithe Ingold.  It’s fairly short, but powerful.  In fact, while the author could have made it longer, I think that would have only weakened the story.

 This is the story of Arys,  who nine years previously was betrayed and imprisoned because she has a special ability.  After the man she loved, an ambitious creep named Callum, had her take the test to see if she had the ability, all those who did were killed or imprisoned by the Queen.  Callum went on to marry the Queen.  Arys found herself locked in a cell.

Callum and Arys grew up together in the same village.  He is the one who convinced her to come with him to the Queen’s court.  He is the one who convinced Arys to take the test.  Arys thinks the Queen was the one who outlawed the Catevari, the women who share Arys’s gift.  I suspect Callum may have been behind it.  Up until this point Arys had acted from love of Callum.  And while she still has feelings for him, she knows now not to trust him.

Now Callum needs her ability and comes to her promising she’ll be given her freedom if she’ll just do one little favor for him.  And the Queen.

Spoiler Alert – Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know part of the ending.  The ability the Catevari have is to take the sickness from one person and give it to another.  The Queen, who is pregnant with Callum’s child, is near death.  Arys’s task is to take the sickness and transfer it to a criminal volunteer whose family will have all their needs taken care of.  The criminal, of course, will die.  Arys reluctanlty does as she is asked.  But she does a little more than she’s asked and transfers her ability to the unborn child.  What we are never told is whether Callum honors his promise to Arys or not.  I may be reading more into the story than was there, but I don’t think he will.  None of his actions are honorable up until this point.  To me this lack of resolution made the story more powerful by ending on a note of uncertainty, leaving the reader with a sense of dread that Arys will simply be killed now that her usefulness appears to be over.  Whether Callum honors his word or not, Arys will have the last laugh.  That, and the fact that Callum is totally oblivious to what is to come, I found very satisfying.

The second fantasy story was “Birth of a New Day” by Fredrick Obermeyer.  There’s also three science fiction stories, but since I’m focusing on fantasy, I’ll not be discussing them here.  This was an odd little story about a world in which men give birth to day and women to night through slits in their sides.  The background is sketchy, but the story was well told about a man, an outcast in his village, who is having some trouble birthing the new day.  There was more action in this one than I expected, and while I had mixed feelings about the premise, the author did a good enough job in the telling that I would read more of his work.

Electric Spec has a page with information about and links to the blogs and websites of its editors and contributors.  There’s no information given for Jaelithe Ingold.  That’s unfortunate because I would be interested in reading more of her work.  (I’m assuming Jaelithe is a feminine name; it’s not one I’ve encountered before.)  An email address was provided for Fredrick Obermeyer along with a brief bio, although I’m not sure of the correct spelling.  His name was also spelled “Frederick.”  Most of the contributors I didn’t recognize, but one stood out.  Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

At this point in previous posts, I’ve said whether or not I would read more of the particular online venue I was reviewing if I were not already familiar with it.  In this case there’s no “if”; I hadn’t read Electric Spec before.  But I will again.  And soon, since it’s a quarterly publication, and the next issue is due in a couple of weeks.  The two fantasies I read were well written, and I while I enjoyed one more than the other, both were worth reading.  Electric Spec lives up to its own billing.  I’d say these two stories were shockingly good, especially since the authors seem to be pretty early in their careers.  

Total quality count (high, low), Day 3:  4-1.

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.

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 1: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The first story we’ll be looking at in our Seven Day of Online Fiction is”Buzzard’s Final Bow” by Jason S. Ridler in the May 5 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  This is issue number 68 for those of you who are counting. The other story in the issue is “The Finest Spectacle Anywhere” by Genevieve Valentine.  It’s the second in a series.  Since one of the rules of The Seven Days is to only look at standalone stories, it won’t be considered here.  It looks intriguing, though, so I may post about it after The Seven Days.

“Buzzard’s Final Bow” concerns an aging former gladiator, Buzzard, an old wrong for which he’s been trying to atone for years, and an evil task he’s been given.  The story is well told, and while it doesn’t hold any great surprises or unusual twists, it’s compelling. 

Buzzard is a flawed hero.  He carries a tiger around in a cage, to which he’s chained.  And this is the only problem I had with the story.  We’re not given a lot of detail about the cage, but he’s chained to it.  The chains seem to be quite long, because he is able to go into another room without taking off the chains or taking the cage with him.  Having drag this cage and tiger around with him everywhere went pushed the limits of my suspension of disbelief.  If that’s what he actually does.  I may be misinterpreting things a bit.

Anyway, the plot is fairly simple.  Lady Astra is the regent for the young Lord Konrad, a weak and sickly lad.  She wants him out of the way so she can assume the throne, as regents are wont to do.  She knows Buzzard was once Bazzar Kiln, a slave who won his freedom in the arena, where she once watched him perform.  Buzzard’s freedom is in some way tied to his tiger companion, Lady Razor, and it’s her life Lasy Astra uses as leverage.

For a short story, this one is deep and surprisingly moving.  As we learn more about the circumstances under which Buzzard gained his freedom, he becomes more and more sympathetic.  There’s also more to the young Lord Konrad than we’re first led to believe.  He has unplumbed depths of courage. 

I’ll not say more because I don’t want to spoil the ending.  Ridler doesn’t take the easy way out.  He’s set up a situation involving guilt and atonement, and he doesn’t flinch from the harsh reality of either of those things.  This is one that will stick with me.

I’ve not read any of Mr. Ridler’s work before, but he’s published in a variety of smaller venues.  If this story is typical of his work, then I expect his name will be appearing on the tables of contents in the venues with wider circulation soon.  I’m certainly interested in reading more of his work.

This series, Seven Days of Online Fiction, was started to see just how high the quality of short fiction online is.  Over half of the short fiction with multiple award nominations this year were published online.  While I won’t even attempt to pick award nominees, much less award winners, I will say that this story is of high enough quality that if I weren’t familiar with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and this were the first story published there that I’d read, I would read more.

Quality count (high, low), end of Day One: 1-0.

Announcing Seven Days of Online Fiction

I’ve held for a while that the online sources for short fiction are providing quality fantasy and science fiction, and in many of a quality at least as high as, if not higher than, the traditional print sources.  Apparently I’m not alone in this view.  Karen Burnham, at the Locus Roundtable posted a list of the works which have received more two or more award nominations this year.  While (not surprisingly) none of the novels on the list were published online, the short fiction of all lengths is a different matter.  Two of the four novellas, all three novelettes, and two of the three short stories on the list were published online.

There are multiple sources of online fiction.  In fact the online landscape can change suddenly.  New websites arrive and disappear quickly.  If you’re not paying attention, you could miss something.  I thought this would be a good time to survey some of the sources of short fiction on the web.

There are several reasons behind the timing on this.  One, I’m not going to start any novels for a couple of weeks.  I’ve got some anthologies I need to read (not to mention the new issue of Black Gate, which arrived yesterday), and since I’ll be reading short fiction, it won’t be a huge deal to mix up the sources of my reading.  I haven’t kept up with the online fiction markets the way I should over the last year.  Since it will be to my benefit to broaden my online reading, I thought I’d share with you what I found in the hopes that you might find it useful as well.

So, what exactly are the ground rules going to be?

First, I’m going to look at one source of online fiction a day for the next seven days.  Or rather I’m going to post one look a day.  I’ll probably need to get a little ahead since I may be on the road before the end of the seven days.  The first post will go up later today, and if all goes according to plan,  the next will go up tomorrow, the third on Monday, and so on.  We’ll see if I can pull this off. 

Second, since this blog emphasizes fantasy and historical adventure more than science fiction, there won’t be much science fiction, if any.

Third, I’ll choose which sites I visit by a complex system of analysis involving mood, time available, fatigue level, and the phase of the Moon.  In other words, it will be pretty random.  While I’ve got some in mind, and have already looked at the first one, which I’ll post later today, I’m not aware of all the sites out there.  If there’s a site you want me to look at, please feel free to let me know.

Fourth, because my time is somewhat limited, I’ll restrict myself to the current “issue” of the sites I visit, and not consider anything in the archives.  This will remove the temptation to go read the award nominees I’ve haven’t gotten to yet.  Furthermore, I don’t promise to blog about more than a single story per site.  Time is a factor here, after all.  While I might, if time allows or the stories are short enough, examine more than one per site, I only promise to look at one.  I may go back later and blog about the other stories.  Also, I will try to avoid discussing any stories that are parts of series simply for the reason I don’t have time to go back and read the preceding stories. 

Fifth, I will restrict myself to sites that are free.  That way everyone who reads these posts can access the stories if they wish.

This should be a lot of fun.  Of course I thought that a few months ago when I got on my son’s ripstick and ended up pulling a groin muscle.  But I really don’t think this will be that bad.  If it’s not a total disaster, I’ll try the same thing with the print magazines in a month or two (assuming I can find seven print magazines that publish fantasy).