I’ve become a bit of a fan of the fine work Bastion Magazine is doing with science fiction short stories. September will be only their 6th issue yet the quality of the stories is nothing short of amazing. While the first issue was good, each issue has gotten progressively better to the point where September’s can go head-to-head with the most established SciFi magazines; the stories are consistently excellent throughout the magazine. And, of course, wicked cool cover art work, once again calling on the talent of the fabulous Milan Jaram.
I most recently touched on some of the Basition’s work in Ode to the Joy of SciFi Short Stories, which highlighted, among other stories, Axel Taiari‘s fabulous Degausser. Bastion’s work is also part of the inspiration for Visual Signs Part 2: How Visual Design Builds Bridges from Content to Consumer and Visual Signs Part 3: SciFi Magazines, Covers, and Pitching The Story. Finally, I had an opportunity to do an interview with R. Leigh Hennig, its editor. Here I am again, with a review of the September issue. Why so much focus on Bastion? There are a number of reasons but primarily it’s because I love short story and, in particular, SciFi short story. Bastion is completely focused on quality SciFi short stories. Another reason is reflected in the first paragraph – to go from no magazine to one that has an entire issue of top notch stories is remarkable and a tribute to Mr. Hennig and all those involved in the magazine. Finally, let’s be real here, I’m not all that altruistic, I love the stories. [Full disclosure: I’m not directly associated with Bastion nor do I receive compensation from them; I did receive a free advanced review copy for an honest review.]
So, enough with all that gushy stuff, let’s get down to the business of storytelling. Before I look at individual stories, I want to highlight a couple of themes I noticed (beyond the theme of death).
1. Endings: These folks know how to end a story. You have a maximum of 5000 words to set the stage, build your world, flesh out characters and build relationships. That is an Herculean task and yet they wrap up their stories and leave us wanting more. Alas, with a much broader “landing sight” quite a few long form writers fail to do so.
2. Bravery and Relationships: A number of the stories are all about making difficult choices, often effecting the ones we love, and living out those choices. The authors seem to share the idea that a life fully lived takes risks – safe lives are grey lives lived in the shadow world of those not fully awake.
3. Imagination: Speaking of leaving us wanting more, I love how most of the stories end with the next step clearly pointed out but left to us to fill in the complete. We’re invited to use our imaginations to see where the next part of the journey goes.
Now for the stories themselves and some brief spoiler-free sketches or thoughts sparked from the stories:
In John Herman’s Pancakes, we our provided a vista of future world with marvelous technology that does no more to reconcile a broken family than it does today. Mr. Herman paints this futuristic context within which a long-standing inner-family feud is played out. The son and father talk past each other and cannot be together in a meaningful way. All the burden of guilt is poured into a moment where loss and loathing, remorse and revulsion are juxtaposed to one another. All of this is splendidly laid out in this brief tale.
Stephanie Herman’s The Long, Slow War portrays true bravery in a context where there are no easy answers, no quick fixes. I am again reminded how much cultural history, relationships and current challenges are conveyed in a brief span of writing. No long expositions, rather Ms. Herman sneeks us glimpses within this beautifully crafted story. I think King’s Mark will need to go on the TBR list (plus – coolest Twitter handle ever – @wildliterati). James Hart’s The Loop plays on similar themes in a very different context – the bravery of stepping out into the unknown rather than playing it (relatively) safe. Mr. Hart seems to invite us to do likewise as we write our own stories for our days and years ahead. Bravery in the face of death isn’t limited to dangers foreseen but also to ends foretold. In J. C. Davis’s Death Wears Yellow, we see a no-nonsense women deal with her eminent (as in less than 12 hours) death. Very quickly we are aware of Lori’s personality, relationships and history in a world where death notices are brought with a happy face.
In Debugging the Ghosts, Damien Krsteski is able to convey both cold logic and coding with heart rending loss and relationship. I love the diary motif for taking us on a journey of a puzzle, albeit a personal one, to be solved. I work in IT and appreciate the depiction of the difficult detective work of getting to the root cause of an issue and, the, sometimes, equally daunting task of creating the fix. Mr. Krsteski splendidly presents this IT world entwined with the world of family.
Paul Hamilton’s The Custody of Memory is based on such a cool premise that you might lose sight of how well the story is told. Mr.Hamilton has this brilliant idea of us running out of room for our memories due to our longevity increase in the future; we periodically have to let some go. Hard choices ensue in the best of times, but when those memories are shared and divorce lawyers are involved, yowsah, yowsah, yowsah. Mr. Hamilton’s story is funny and poignant all in the same sentence.
These stories are about choice points we have before us and how and why we make our decisions. Three of the stories focus on making hard choices in difficult situations and living by those choices. Maggie Clark’s he Last Lawsuit is all about choice and who gets to make those choices in the face of a very difficult circumstance – likely extermination of the human race. Even here, the theme of bravery plays out – are we brave enough to let go of our control when the survival of our species is at stake?
I hope that these glimpses into the stories provide a sense of the incredibly clever, vibrant, and original storytelling that goes on within Bastion magazine. Even more important is the execution; it’s great to have a clever premise to a story, it’s another thing to write a good story based on that premise. These stories are all well done.
I understand that my feeble attempts to whet your appetite cannot fully convey how well written they are, only reading them can do that. If you haven’t delved into short stories in a while or had an opportunity to read those in Bastion, the risk here is quite small, both in terms of time (they are short stories after all) or cost. Be brave, you’ll be glad you were. If you like the work being done at Bastion and you want it to continue, there are a plethora of ways to support them. Subscriptions are a great way to do so; Bastion subscriptions are available at Weightless Books as are individual issues, which are also available at Amazon & Barnes & Noble.