Review of Broadswords and Blasters #1
The power here was restored Monday; the internet and cable was restored yesterday. I’m not complaining; the guys on the Gulf Coast have it infinitely worse. The power outage we experienced is a minor annoyance compared to their new reality.
One afternoon while home from work I got a chance to read through the booklet of short pulp stories I’d gotten through Amazon, Broadswords and Blasters issue #1. This is a brief review.
And that is the key word: brief. All of the stories, with one exception, are very short. They are more like vignettes, and it was hard to sink my teeth into any of them and get into the stories. I guess I’ll need to go back to their submission guidelines and see if that is what they were shooting for. One characteristic of modern pulp as compared to the older is story length. Even the briefest of Howard’s Conan tales would be an epic compared to what is being published under the same banners these days. Maybe, given declining attention spans and the nature of our sound-bite culture, that is what sells best. I do find this brevity disappointing, but I will try to keep that from coloring my opinion of these stories. In addition, sword and sorcery was not the focus of the collection, as it is of this blog, but my fiction background is pretty broad, so while this group of stories strays outside the blog’s general parameters, it is not outside of my tastes.
The first story is Skin Deep by Nicholas Ozment. An interesting background sketched well given the story’s length. I like the characters, and I like the stand the main character decides to make. The main justification for the story is a little iffy – that is, not sure they would make this journey for the reason given. But the action was hard hitting without getting graphic, and there was a neat counter-twist at the end. A decent story, if too brief.
This is followed by Dead Men Tell Tales by Dave D’Alessio. It is a PI in space story, with an array of technology packed in. This technology seems probable and is described pretty well, and the story depends on it. This is one where the length worked pretty well; a longer story might get bogged down in technicalities. The hero was kinda cool, and the villains were sketched well. I liked it.
Next is The Executioner’s Daughter by R. A. Goli. An unmarried woman inherits her father’s profession, but lacks his strength. So she comes up with an intricate invention, and saves the day. There is an emotional distance to the story, in contrasting the family’s cost of maintaining their traditional job, versus the actual human cost of performing it. This is not really examined, though, unless the reader was supposed to do it on his own.
Pension Plan by Dusty Wallace is next. A cowboy robbery in space. Some interesting background and aliens, but the story doesn’t seem that probable, given the Mafia’s efficiency. It turns on a low blow, that maybe should have been anticipated.
Saturday Night Science by Michael M. Jones follows this. It is a comedy, which is hard to do. It is written pretty well, but was too cutesy for my tastes. It is a steam-punk-convention dimension-traveling lust story, and it has more meat on its bones than most of the stories here.
This is followed by Island of Skulls by Matt Spencer. I did not read it, as it is the first of two parts. When I get B&B #2, I’ll read it then all the way through.
The next story is The Waters So Dark by Josh Reynolds. A decent story about a man who does dirty work for the Catholic Church in the days of Frederick Barbarossa, coming to Venice to finally end an evil threat. There are Lovecraftian hints and plenty of scripture quoting as the main character tries to rationalize what he faces. A bit of a false note for me at the end, with the supposed reason for the main character’s life being spared, but still a good read.
And the final story is Thicker Than Water by Ron Francis. This had more narrative drive than any of the other stories here, and had the greatest impact because of it. It features a bleak world with the sole hope of salvation being carried forward by the brother to the main character, who had been timid as a child but is now ruthless with purpose. The end is abrupt, but is as it should be.
So while only a couple of the stories fit the theme of this blog, and while they are in general too damn short, this is still a pretty good collection of stories. I like the mix of styles and genres. I have not yet gotten the next volume (there are a half-dozen at the time of this writing), but I will.
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