Edition 31: The Skull Collector by Jody L. Milner

The Shaman waits, every year, for the body of the community’s best and brightest. The seemingly endless sacrifice in service of a dream that never comes to pass, and bearing the secret becomes too much. – SY


The young man’s corpse washed ashore in the hushed chill of morning. The Shaman had been waiting, watching for the body through the long hours of the night. He dreaded the lies he would be forced to tell the tribe. He carried the youth, who through his aging eye appeared no more than a boy, from the waves and placed him on top of the prepared funeral pyre.

His striking flint and steel felt too worn in his hands. He had lit too many of these fires on this sacred beach with only inquisitive sand crabs for company. This winter ritual, this lie about earning the right to journey to the Golden Island, was wrong. If the gods wished the tribe to sacrifice their youth, they deserved to know their fate. Ages ago, before the Shaman’s birth, many would die trying to reach the island every year. His father convinced the tribe that holding a contest would better please the gods. At least then only one would die.

A brilliant spark caught on the coconut fiber kindling and red tendrils of fire snaked through the bundle in his hands. He coaxed the fire brighter with a soft puff before adding it to the larger slivers of wood. Soon, the pile blazed hot and bright, sending a tower of smoke high into the sky that would be seen for miles. The villagers gathered on the other side of the steep rocky ridge dividing them from this sacred space would see the smoke and know that all was well.

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Edition 31: Reef by Kat Clay

You find obnoxious young men everywhere, but Brayson gets more than he bargained for with his callous disregard for the environment. Doesn’t he know Australia’s out to kill you? Kat Clay’s literal interpretation of the theme made Story Quest’s shortlist of excellent submissions. – SY


I’m an absolute dickhead, I know. I’m that guy you hate on your Ibiza tour. I got a six pack you can crack open and a backpack stuffed with duty free grog and condoms. No excuses. YOLO.

Aussie’s been on my bucket list since forever. Best beaches, hot birds, perfect place to make peeps at home jelly with #travelporn. Better than English beaches anyway, all pebbles and bad weather. Got a great deal on this cruise off an Airlie Beach whiteboard. Fifty quid for three nights on the Great Barrier Reef all food included.

The plan: get drunk. Get tanned. Get laid. All on a yacht parked dead-set in the Whitsundays, surrounded by water so clear you could see someone piss in it. I dive bomb off the side of the boat, huge splash into the sea. Afternoon sun hot on my head. I scoop my arms through the water.

“Ya can’t go swimming when you’re drunk mate,” shouts the guide with a beer in his hand. “Why don’t’ya come back on board. Help him in boys.”

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Edition 31: Book Review: Excalibur by Tim Marquitz

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 Reviewed by Damien Smith


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Tim Marquitz is well known for his wide selection of epic fantasy, horror and urban fantasy including his acclaimed Demon Squad series. My last foray into his work was the absurd mixture of gratuitous violence and medieval slapstick that was War God Rising. When I discovered he’d recently branched into Space Opera, I had to investigate further.

Our setting is a galaxy where the dominant power (at least in this part of it) is The Covenant in their Allied Space, which feels a bit like the Star Trek Federation of Planets, with various humanoid and hybrid species in residence. Manning what is perhaps the only truly alien ship is Captain Marek Albion, disgraced former Covenant officer and general freebooter.

The aliens in question are the Xebedon. An insect-like species that possess the unique technology to “phase” their ships, rendering them effectively undetectable by the Covenant. If not for a fortunate alignment of circumstances which allowed the Covenant to locate and destroy the Xebedon’s home planet, they would have quickly and efficiently wiped the population of Allied Space from the galaxy. Following the destruction of their home planet, the Xebedon fled into phase space and disappeared for years.

While assisting the Covenant with clearing out some scavengers (think space pirates), Albion and his diverse crew of skilled misfits find and pursue hints that the Xebedon may be once again active in Allied Space.

Given his possession of alien technology, Albion finds himself and his crew in a unique position to investigate the mysterious disappearances of ships, crew and entire space stations. From the opening battle, to the hints of plot to the climactic and reasonably horrifying finale on a supposedly abandoned planet, the action is consistently in-your-face without being over the top.

When first looking into this book, I saw lots of parallels being drawn with Star Trek, Battle Star Galactica and Starship Troopers (although, oddly enough, no Star Wars, despite the blatant mention of a Star Destroyer at one point and the use of a laser scalpel) but to me, this felt a lot closer to Firefly, what with the snark and sexual tension between various crew members, and the feeling that they keep getting pulled in over their heads.

Unfortunately, there seemed to be a larger-than-usual number of typos and missing/odd words in the ebook version of this book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a rare book where there are no errors whatsoever, and occasionally some excellent ones (I have enduring memories of flowers in a purple bowel in an otherwise very solemn funeral scene a while back) and I wouldn’t normally call it out, but there seemed to be a disproportional number in here. Enough to distract me from the action at various points, which is a great shame.

Having said that, story-wise this is excellent. I enjoyed the characters, and there was no laborious world-building. Rather the rules were clearly in place somewhere, and we found out about them as we needed to, which really prevented the story bogging down. It really was a page-turner, and a very quick read to the point where the story occasionally felt it was being pushed along a little quickly. Most notably for me was when we first learn of Albion’s ex-wife and how he gets very melancholy thinking about her and oh look here she is in this particular spot of this huge galaxy.

Despite my various, mostly minor criticisms, I really enjoyed the characters and setting. It felt like a prelude to a larger series, which I would be more than happy to explore should it come to pass. This is an entertaining and action-packed space jaunt without any mind-bending hard science to get your head around. Well worth the price of admission.

 

Excalibur (Tim Marquitz)
Amazon Digital Services, 2017
Science Fiction
ASIN: B06XB79MDS


Being a writer requires dedication, commitment, devotion, diligence, a skin like an armadillo and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. By this definition, Damien is most definitely not a writer, although he does occasionally put pen to paper. More accurately, Damien is a lover of the written word in nearly all its forms (you can keep vampire romances) and always feels a little down if he can see over his To Read pile.

Edition 31: Death Clothes by Natalie Satakovski

Soulless and Mixie run a little business selling dead people’s clothes. A little more scary than scavenged… – SY


Hello and welcome to the personal blog of Soulless, the founder of deathclothes.com. Here, I’ll keep you posted with new releases, behind the scenes update and more! Hope you’ve had a great time on the official website so far. Stay tuned, kids…

The Beginnings

Posted on March 15 by Soulless

Back when I was a dowdy teenager I used to cop a lot of flak for the way I dressed. Nobody understood my attempts at self-expression. Somehow I managed to befriend two other outcasts, Mixie and Katie, and the three of us became great friends. That was until disaster struck.

The bullying was hard for all of us to deal with, but in particular, for Katie. She was a sensitive little soul, and she was the one with the most outrageous and creative flair. Eventually, it all just got too much for poor Katie, and she took her own life.

After she died, Mixie and I inherited her wardrobe of weird and wonderful clothing. We found that her clothes not only looked great on us, but imbued us with an all-new sense of confidence. We both went on to art school and after graduating, realised we could put our creativity to good use. We also learned that fashion doesn’t have to be about being snobby and putting others down. It should be about expressing your individuality and having fun!

We started the Death Clothes fashion line in memory of Katie. We love you, Katie. I bet you’re looking delectably dark in the afterlife!

Have you ever been bullied or laughed at? Have you ever felt like you didn’t quite fit in? The Death Clothes e-store is dedicated to you. Become a member and you’ll get exclusive sales offers and discount codes, sneak-peeks at upcoming items and more. Click Become a Member below to get the goods.

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Edition 31: Book Review: Defying Doomsday (eds. Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench)

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 Reviewed by Sophie Yorkston


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Whenever there’s an end of the world scenario, it’s only the able-bodied (and usually horrendously emotionally flawed) that survive. It ignores the on-going survival of anyone differently-abled, and how they might adapt and sculpt a changing world. Defying Doomsday, edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, takes these oft-excluded voices and brings them to the fore in a vibrant exploration of other survival stories. All manner of challenges, both in physical and mental health, are mentioned here, and as Robert Hoge’s thoughtful introduction states, “They’re active participants negotiating their way through a world that is degrees harder than it was before.”

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2016 Story Quest Short Story Contest Results

It is with great pleasure that we can now announce the short listed stories from our 2016 Story Quest Short Story Contest, and the winners:

  • First Prize (US$100): ‘Old Growth’ by J. Ashley Smith
  • Second Prize (US$50): ‘Of Dreaming and Destiny’ by Jamie Lackey
  • Third Prize (US$25): ‘Pevel Was Here’ by Michael Stroh
  • Three other short listed stories which will also be published in SQ Mag:
    • ‘Reef’ by Kat Clay
    • ‘The Skull Collector’ by Jodi L. Milner
    • ‘My Son, the Afterbirth’ by Tony Conaway

The field was particularly strong this year, with a very sizeable percentage of stories scoring above ‘good’ by the judges. Nevertheless, these six stories were clear standouts and well deserve their prizes and/or publication in SQ Mag.

This year’s contest had the theme of ‘Growth’: What is it that denotes life? What do we yearn for in our favourite narratives, when we see how our favourite character could achieve their dreams if only they might extended themselves, shift and change. We believe this intriguing theme helped draw out some fascinating and moving stories.

Special thanks to Lee Murray for being our guest judge, and apologies to contestants and other interested parties for such a late judging process. Also thanks to IFWG Publishing Australia for their ongoing support and sponsorship of the contest.

Edition 30

SQ Mag 30 Cover

Edition 30: Notes from the Editor

We’d like to welcome you back in 2017, to our new quarterly format, a step-up in the world of short story publishing. We’re now publishing 8 stories in an edition, and offering more incentive for writers with a higher payment per word.

With our new format, we won’t be losing any of what made and makes this magazine great. We’re still committed to varied genres and publishing authors from diverse voices and places. The announcement of our special edition will come very soon. So we can focus on that, we will be closing general submissions for a short period of time to open the themed edition. However, we will still be looking for long fiction, and for the time being returning authors and resubmissions will remain open.

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Edition 30: Seeds of the Strangling Vine by Michelle E Goldsmith

Escaping the grief of miscarriage, Helena and Jonathan head into the tropical rainforest of North Queensland. Lena starts to accept their drifting away, while finding a renewed vigour amongst the green and leafy forest. A walk down the path of grief, of rediscovering herself, leads Helena to startling changes she could not have expected. – SY


Helena stares out the passenger side window as the four-wheel drive winds up the narrow trail, her reflection transposed over lush Daintree rainforest. Ancient trunks shrouded in moss and vines, dense carpets of ferns, conifers and prehistoric cycads; a world displaced in time, a sea of green deep enough to drown in.

In the driver’s seat, Jonathan glares straight ahead, hands gripped firmly to the wheel. Every line of his body radiates tension. It seems he still hasn’t forgiven her for her morning breakdown.

‘God, Lena. I’m doing this for you,’ he’d said, standing in the doorway of their bedroom. ‘You need a change of scenery. It’s been months now. You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding away inside the house!’

Lately everyone seems to be telling her what she needs, and what she can or can’t do. It doesn’t stop the tears though, doesn’t still her shaking hands. She never used to cry. Now she can’t seem to stop.

‘Come on, Lena. Please.’

But she hadn’t responded, just sat on the end of the bed, staring at her half-packed suitcase.

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Edition 30: Book Review: Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

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 Reviewed by Damien Smith


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If you’ve managed to snag yourself a copy of Wall of Storms, the second book in the Dandelion Dynasty trilogy, I’m am reasonably certain you will have already experienced the wonder that is Grace of Kings. If not, what on Earth are you doing starting the second book of a trilogy? Luckily, I’ve previously reviewed Grace of Kings right here at SQ Mag. Nip over and have a quick read of that review, then settle down for however long it takes you to plough through an 800+ page Big Fat Fantasy. I’ll wait.

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