Issue twenty-four of Grimdark Magazine contains a nice cross section of science fiction and fantasy tales, with an emphasis on all things grim and gritty. In addition to four short stories, this issue of Grimdark also features two author interviews, one book review and an essay examining aspects of the works of Robert E. Howard. As can be expected, the stories in this issue are full of flawed characters, brutal violence and no win situations. If readers are looking for short stories with some emotional heft, Grimdark Magazine certainly delivers. Here is what’s in store with GdM, issue twenty four:
“A Slow Kill” by Peter Orullian- Farm owner, Murar Narya and his farm hand, Jak Mylen are working side by side, digging out an irrigation ditch. They have had a working relationship for three years and finally, they are revealing parts of themselves that should probably have stayed buried. Peter Orullian does a very slow burn with this tale. Giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of two men who are well acquainted with the arts of violence and killing (albeit each man has different reasons as to why they do it). A grim and twisty read.
“Berzerker” by Matthew X. Gomez- Jazz, her brother Callem and sister, Lil are under indentured servitude to their scumbag contract holder, Vent. This story takes place on an orbital station floating about Xerxes 3. Jazz makes the decision to get her two siblings off the station and onto a proper colony, with a proper atmosphere. Vent agrees to cut Callem and Lil loose, with Jazz adding their indenture upon herself. The other twist of the knife is that Jazz participate in Vent’s sub-rosa gladiatorial pit fights. Gomez’s raw knuckled, bittersweet story has a generous mix of 1981’s Outland stirred together with an equal portion of the Charles Bronson film, Hard Times.
“How Not to Invade a Country” by Anna Stephens- Demoted officer, Lieutenant Crys Tailorson is stationed on the North Rank of the frontier. When haughty Major Bedras orders Crys and a unit of Fifty to patrol the territory around the White Tale river, these two men get more than they bargained for, when they encounter an ambush. This story has a decidedly Western feel, with cavalry officers patrolling expansive territories and skirmishing with what seem like indigenous peoples (The Dead Legion). Things go pear shaped when Bedras and Crys are trapped in hostile territory and have to fight off a gang of young warriors who want to take their heads. This tale reminded me of those old John Ford films, coupled with Robert E. Howard classic, “Beyond the Black River”.
“The Hunt” by Matthew Ward- Ward presents the reader with a bloody coming of age story featuring the young protagonist Natra, on a royal hunting expedition with his uncle, Nasric Breoca. Breoca is a stone killer who uses intimidation and violence like some men use oxygen. The two are tracking a cwenva and during the hunt, Ward illuminates the reader on brutal nature of Breoca. This is a story about codes of conduct and societal expectations and how difficult it can be for a (young) person to break with tradition and forge their own path in life. “The Hunt” ends on a highly satisfying, poetic note.
In addition to these four pieces of fiction, issue twenty four of Grimdark Magazine also contains two informative interviews. One with Richard K. Morgan, author of the Takeshi Kovacs (the Netflix adapted, Altered Carbon) novels and A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy. This interview touches upon a variety of topics, including the state of cyberpunk fiction, the varied reader reactions to his gay protagonist, Ringil, Middle American conservatism (where the term “corny” was derived) and the current state of free speech, as he sees it. Morgan is a full of fascinating insights into our current cultural zeitgeist. The second interview is with Jason Pargin, who writes under the pseudonym of David Wong. Wong/ Pargin discusses his near future Zoey Ashe series that takes place in a hyper-libertarian, hyper-violent version of Utah, absolutely saturated with live streaming cameras. A review of Stina Leicht’s forthcoming Persephone Station is included in this issue as well. This female centric thriller mashes together aspects of adventure and science fiction. Brimming with spaceships, mech-suits and rail gun wielding, flawed ronin mercenaries doing right by their friends. Matthew John rounds out the nonfiction with an essay entitled “Robert E. Howard: Godfather of Grimdark?”John makes the case as to Howard’s role in the (eventual) creation of the grimdark genre. John focuses on two of Howard’s protagonists, Conan and Bran Mak Morn and makes a compelling argument for Howard as an early proto-grimdark author.