It’s been a pretty exciting month or so for SQ Mag.
The eZine is a labour of love for me and for Gerry Huntman, Chief of IFWG Publishing Australia. We started humbly with six monthly hard copy editions in 2010. Eventually we moved with the times and brought SQ online.
In the last two months we’ve received some recognition for the hard work we’ve put into bringing you an eZine full of diverse voices and stories from all over the globe.
The atmospheric Inside Ferndale, winner of the 2013 Story Quest competition and published at the beginning of 2014, won the prestigious New Zealand Sir Julius Vogel award for Best Short Fiction. Congratulations to Lee Murray again on her win.
Alan Baxter’s The Darkness in Clara narrowly missed out on the Australian Ditmar Award for Best Novella or Novelette, though he was in good company in that edition with Sean Williams, who took out the category.
Treading the Brittle Shell by Rhoads Brazos, from our Australiana special edition in 2014, was picked up for Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror Volume 7. A bit of a big deal. Congratulations to Rhoads; that story was always going to be a winner, and I knew it the second I read it.
Rosaline, daughter of the indomitable Bluebeard, finds herself thrust into a quest certainly designed with her death in mind. But she’s no fool, she’s taking her own heading, right into the woods. And we all know what they say about those…SY
‘Here,’ she says, ‘have an apple.’
Yeah, right. As if I know nothing about stepmothers. As if I know nothing about apples. But I’m polite and I’m not stupid, so I put the green orb in my bag, and thank her.
‘Now, don’t forget: you’ll need to be careful and cunning. You’ll need your wits about you. It’s hidden deep, the treasure, and there will be all kinds of obstacles.’ Hands on hips, Orienne surveys me critically. ‘It’s a long journey, but you’ve got the most fat on you of all of us. You’ll be fine; the exercise will do you good. Don’t forget that apple, Rosaline; no cakes or pastries.’
As if I’m likely to forget that bloody apple; I know what she’s done to it. Trust her to manage a dig at my weight—I come from a long line of women who eat their grief, but my father’s fifth wife is of thin stock. Busy, busy, busy all the time, bustling and fidgeting, organising and ordering, burning away everything she eats, hating anyone to be idle; she’s got the energy of a hummingbird and a heart that softens for her own child alone. Gods forbid anyone should spend an afternoon sitting on their arse, reading a good book.
(Inspired in part by “The Maiden with the Rose on her Forehead” by Consiglieri Pedroso)
In a locked bedroom, Marcella clutched her parents’ bones between shivering fingers, wishing for the day they would return to save her.
The orphan wept into her tangled raven locks, soaking the filthy bedding and nourishing the countless insects that called her bed home. She wanted to be dead, resting deep and cold beneath the earth alongside her mother and father. But her aunts weren’t ready to let her die just yet.
Hearing the key turn in the lock, Marcella sat up in fear. She secreted her parents’ bones beneath a pillow and put on the bravest face she could as her aunts bled into the room. Both were swathed in muck-soaked gowns of tattered lace. Vorrada wore a pointed cone the tint of a winter storm atop her haggard head, while her twin Eseina’s swollen visage was framed by a crooked Elizabethan collar. The pair drifted like smoke across the floor, their sunken eyes and indigo lips wide and wanton. Vorrada held a silver platter in her gnarled hand.
“Here child!” she said. “Here.”
The ground scraped his nose as he bowed low before his majesties. As he straightened he pulled the rough cloth off the prize with a flourish.
They gasped. The sound shivered and bounced off the grey slate walls.
“What is this, sisters?” The multilayered voice buzzed with harmonics as each mouth spoke in unison.
The man waited. Their husbands—mute fools that they were, white and black and brown with jutting erections—clapped and capered. He averted his eyes from their folly. Instead he observed the offering.
When he’d found it upon the slopes of the windiest mountain, it let itself be taken. The long neck bowed, it kept its wings folded by its sides. It could have flown away.
“Oh sisters, I know! Mercy is white, mercy is wise!”
Reviewed by Damien Smith
Anyone who has paid even passing attention to any of the major speculative fiction awards over the last few years (I’m talking Nebula, Locus, Hugo—before the current controversy) will know of Ken Liu and his prodigious ability to pump out a quality short story. If you’re not an award watcher, Ken’s short story Running Shoes appeared right here in Issue 16, so there’s no excuse for being unfamiliar with his work.
Grace of Kings is Ken’s debut novel and given he’s gone for an archetypal Big Fat Fantasy, and given that it’s the first of a trilogy, there was always going to be a lot of expectation and pressure around this book. I’m happy to say, the story defuses this tension and acquits itself on many levels, with a couple of caveats that I’ll address shortly. Read the rest of this entry
The baby monitor was silent. It wasn’t the soft ambience of a sleeping infant but rather a cold, plastic void. Wishing they’d paid extra for the model with an inbuilt camera, Hespa rolled out of bed. She didn’t bother to wake Martin; a dead battery in the transmitter was the likely culprit and there was no use both of them losing sleep over it.
Halfway down the hall, she paused, breath catching in her throat. As usual, the door to Lisel’s room stood generously ajar but from beyond it there came a faint glow, almost a shimmer in the air, like the play of summer heat on a long bitumen road.
She all but ran the rest of the way.
Bending over the crib was a thin, pale figure who straightened swiftly as Hespa lurched into the room. The slippery, shimmery light seemed to emanate from that strange frosted skin, or perhaps it was the spider-silk hair that glowed, or the robes that fell in spangled waves from shoulders narrow and sharp.
“Get away from her!” Hespa gasped, hastening over to where Lisel lay sleeping with little hands curled loose into fists.
I desperately repeat my mantra as I walk slowly across the muddy field:
I must not run.
I must not fall.
And above all, the jet-black mountain of muscle and sinew that is busy snorting clouds of vapour-laden air and digging a mighty hoof through the soft earth, is not what it appears to be.
I’m further from the safety of the gate than from the beast when it finally breaks its stance and trots a few heavy paces towards me, expecting me to turn and flee. Instead, I take another tentative step and this time when it bows its head and launches forward it’s the real thing: a thundering, full-blooded, earthshaking charge. My legs tremble and I stagger half a pace back before I can stop myself.
“I know what you are,” I say, in as steady a voice as I can manage.
The lowly traveler stood trembling in the shadow cast by the ebony stallion and its helmeted rider who sneered, “Old man, when will the Drokpa learn that even they must pay tribute to Chen Sheng, Lord of the High Mountains?”
The small figure struggled to keep his footing as the sweaty hindquarters of the soldier’s horse nudged him closer to the edge of the narrow mountain trail. Several more steps and there would be nothing between the aged leader of the Drokpa nomads and the valley floor far below.
“My people have but a few yak, some goats, the tattered tent in which we sleep and what scraps of food we carry,” the old man replied. “We trade not in jin as do the gold merchants along the road to the Gobi. When we near this end of our journey, we always pay our respects to your master by offering our best bull. But, this season, misfortune caused us to lose the best ones in the flood waters of the Tsangpo. Still, we will pay tribute. When we return next season we will offer your lord not one, but two young bulls.”
Reviewed by Sophie Yorkston
When I picked up Phantazein it was the exquisite cover by Kathleen Jennings that first drew me in, knowing what an incredible publishing professional Tehani Wessely is upon seeing her name, and the recognition of several of the contributors.
What I didn’t realise was that this wonderful collection, that surprised Ms Wessely in the way it came together, was the antidote to my frustration at the lack of women’s voices and stories promoted in our genre.