Category Archives: Swords and Sorcery Magazine

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.


A Brief Look at the May Issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine

A couple of months ago, I looked at the March issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine, a new online magazine  that so far has succeeded in publishing two stories a month every month.  That’s better than some semi-pro zines do.  Hopefully, this will continue.

I thought I would revisit the publication this month.  Both stories are well-done, although the execution of one is superior to the other.

The first story is “Royal Steel” by Leigh Kimmel.  It concerns Ashkhen, the orphaned daughter of a discarded courtesan who is living by her wits on the streets.  The former king is dead, a diabolist rules in his place, and Ashkhen and her grandfather do what they can to survive.  Her grandfather is a former soldier, and he doesn’t think much of the thugs who now make up the army.  When a group of them destroy his shashlik stand, Ashkhen comes to his aid and gets chased by the soldiers.

Running through a broken doorway, she finds a means of not only defending herself, but of avenging the former king.  This part of the story is logical, and Kimmel sets it up so that it makes sense.  The only problem I had was that a door that leads into the palace was hanging shattered and open, completely unguarded.  There is a possible explanation for this, one I’ll not give details about because I don’t want to give away that much of the plot.  I’ll just say that it’s the same explanation for Ashkhen finding the means to avenge the king.  This stretched my suspension of disbelief to near breaking.

Other than this point, I enjoyed the story and would be interested in seeing more from Kimmel.  The setting isn’t your typical European medieval fantasy world.  The backstory is handled well, and Ashkhen is a sympathetic heroine.  The author gives a bit of the story’s history here.

The second and considerably longer story is David Turnbull‘s “There Might be Giants”, a delightful coming of age tale in which a young boy much face his own personal giant.  The boy, Henry, is the son of the abusive jailer, and Jack the Giant Killer has been condemned to death for crimes against the people, naming being in the employ of the deposed Duke and accepting the tax money of the people in payment.  The dialogue crackles, and there’s an undercurrent of socioeconomic commentary that really appealed to me, best summed up in Henry’s father’s salute to the Great Comrade, whose portrait has replaced that of the Duke:   “Here’s to the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Jack may or may not be a liar, and there may or may not be real giants.  I hope Turnbull never writes a sequel in which he lets us know the truth.  The uncertainty was one of the strengths of the story.  On the other hand, a sequel would be appealing.  This one I highly recommend.

I’ve not had a chance to read the April issue (yet), what with a health scare and end of semester crunch hitting.  I intend to read the stories in the near future.  I will say that I thought this issue was a strong one.  If editor Curtis Ellet can maintain this level of quality, this will be a publication with the potential to become a major source of sword and sorcery.

New Online Magazine: Swords and Sorcery

I don’t remember now how I became aware of it, but there’s a new online fantasy magazine entitled Swords and Sorcery.  It’s a monthly, and the March issue is the second issue.  I read the two stories in it last night.  Here’s my overall impression.

The first story is entitled “Redwater” by Noleen Cavanaugh.  It’s about a lowland woman named Sorcha who is a guest in a highland home.  While there, the homeowner’s cattle come down with a disease called redwater, which similar to mad cow disease, except it’s a lot more fast-acting.  The homeowner is an old woman who has the ability to bind the disease.  It turns out Sorcha does, too, which is something that has almost been eradicated from the lowlands by the Red Priests. 

This story, while competently written, didn’t do as much for me as I’d hoped for two reasons.  For starters, it read like a first chapter in a novel, and there were parts of the backstory I would have liked to have known.  The crisis only serves to bring Sorcha into contact with the person who reveals to her the abilities she didn’t know she had, but other than that, we don’t learn much about her.  Based on the ending, there is clearly going to be more to come.  The second reason this one didn’t do a lot for me was that I’ve seen enough variations of the wise woman taking in an apprentice who was totally unaware of her power to get too excited about it again. 

Who the Red Priests are, or why Sorcha is in the highlands is not information we’re given. I’m assuming that information will be imparted in future installments.  I can’t imagine this story not being the inaugural installment in a series given how it ends.  In spite of this one not being entirely to my taste, I see a lot of potential here.  Kavanaugh implies that Sorcha is quite powerful but also lacks control of her abilities.  It would be nice to see a sorcerer/mage/adept who is either unable to control her gift or has some other obstacle to overcome in order to use it.  I’m sure that type of story is out there, but I’ve not seen much of it.  Since Sorcha has only discovered her talent, neither she nor the reader really has a clear idea of the extent of her abilities.  Depending on how Kavanaugh chooses to develop Sorcha’s talents, this could be a breath of fresh air, in spite of my previous comments.  I enjoyed the writing enough to be willing to read one or two more installments.

The other story in the issue was more along the lines of what I look for in a fantasy story.  “Hel Awaits” is a historical adventure by David J. West.  While David and I share a last name, we have never met in person, and we are not related (as far as I know).  Whereas “Redwater” had no physical action, “Hel Awaits” was brimming over with it.  It’s the story of Tyr, a Norse mercenary who has been hired to assassinate a caliph. 

The Robert E. Howard influence can be seen in this one, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  This story moves at a breakneck pace, and I found myself being swept up in the action.  While Tyr is almost more superhuman than I like at times, the tale had a nice twist at the end, where we learn why he accepted a commission to assassinate the caliph.

There were no fantasy elements in this one, or if there were, they were so minor that I missed them.  It was all straight-out action-adventure in a historical setting.  That’s not something you see much of these days, and I for one would like to see a lot more of this kind of thing. While the first story emphasized the sorcery, this one emphasized the sword.

So, overall, what did I think of this issue of Swords and Sorcery?  I liked it.  Will I read the next issue, or go back and read the first issue?  Yes.  In addition to trying to support a new S&S publication, I enjoyed the stories, even if one of them wasn’t entirely the type of thing I generally read.  These aren’t award winners, but with a new publication, that isn’t surprising.  The authors are more than competent storytellers, which is more than I can say for some of the work I’ve seen printed in more prominent publications.  I hope Swords and Sorcery succeeds.  I’ll be adding it to my list.