To See a Monster by Ed McDonald, Grimdark Magazine #16, 2018

To See a Monster by Ed McDonald takes place in the same world as the author’s debut novel (the first of a trilogy), Blackwing.

16-monster-1-300x400In this short story, a disgraced soldier deemed a cowered and slandered, challenges his slanderer to a duel. The whole piece takes place in this scene. It’s broken up by memories of the battle the narrator fled from, leaving some of his best soldiers (and best friends) to die, while he made an escape with the bulk of his army.

The world is intriguing. From this piece, I’m not sure if it’s like a gunsmoke fantasy (like guns and magic at the same time) or if it’s more traditionally medieval fantasy. What I do know is that this story piqued my interest in Mr. McDonald’s series, called The Raven’s Mark, released in 2017. The second book, Ravencry will be released next month (August 2018), and I’m excited to dive in and check this story out as soon as I’m done reading Seveneves (about 300 pages to go on that one).

Anyway, back to the story at hand. The narrator is likable and vicious. He’s interesting, cocky, and totally flawed. He’s a bad person for the right reasons. He’s worth reading about and I’m curious if he’s the same main character in the first book. (B-)

Crushing Dreams by Michael R. Fletcher, Grimdark Magazine #16, 2018

This isn’t fiction. Rather, it’s a house call from a depressed neighbor you only half-know. They seem nice, but they always leave off the conversation with something a little odd. Like saying, “dreams are a motherfucker.”

And you’re like. . . they are?

16-monster-1-300x400But if asked a little more about what Mr. Fletcher means, it comes clear that his dreams have not been helpful. He had dreams of being a published author. Once he was one, he wanted to be famous, after that he wanted book sales that were higher than a relative flop from a Big Five publisher. And after that, he got really really drunk really really often because he didn’t seem to be getting past that last dream.

He came out of this depression when he realized his dreams weren’t helping him. They were actually a deterrent. They made him want to write “marketable books” rather than write what he wanted to write. His end-game dreams meant he would have to do stuff he didn’t really want to do, and that isn’t a happy thought. Instead, he started writing stuff he liked. He stopped caring about whether it was going to flop. He stopped caring about whether it turned copies at bookstores because he had been embraced by a lot of people on r/fantasy and the grimdark community. It’s a nice story, to be true. I like it because it’s a reminder not to get caught up on where you’re going with your writing. It’s a reminder to enjoy writing, because if you aren’t enjoying it. . . what’s the point?

On The Dragonroad by Timandra Whitecastle, Grimdark Magazine #16, 2018

On The Dragonroad is a fantastical retelling of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic vision The Road.

In Whitecastle’s vision, a single mother and her young daughter are caught in the midst of a horrible plague that makes them fear everyone that meet due to its contagious nature. The Dragonroad itself is a road that leads up a mountain to the hopes of safety, though why is never quite made clear.

16-monster-1-300x400Similar to The Road by McCarthy, neither the woman or the girl have names. They are just referred to as “the woman,” and “the girl.” The few people they interact with are either dying of plague or starving and have resorted to eating other people–again, a similarity with The Road.

The piece is interspersed with musings on why God would have done this, or even if there is a God. The girl constantly wants to help people who are ill, and the woman is constantly protecting her from the dangers of her own goodness.

This piece is a dark look at a world that has taken a severe turn for the worse. It’s well written with simple and concise sentences, similar to McCarthy’s style. I liked the twist and I like how Timandra Whitecastle made the idea her own. (B-)