fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe opening story of Issue 2 of Grimdark Magazine, “The Line” by T.R. Napper, presents a picture in nobility. You might not think that at first, as the tale concerns George, a wrestler who makes a practice of breaking his opponents’ bones; but, you soon learn, that’s the least harm he can do to end a match. George is so good at his game that his wins come to seem too easy, and that’s where danger seeps in. The thoroughly corrupt regime that runs the “free zones” — places that seem anything but free to the majority of those who live and work there — has plans for George. What will George do in the face of the implacable foe ironically called Hope Corporation? The story is predictable and manipulative, but nonetheless somehow exhilarating and, at the same time, depressing to read. I’m curious to see what Napper will do as his writing experience and skills grow.

Aaron Fox-Lerner’s “Drone Strikes for Fun and Profit” is about a world not far away from our own, in which young teenagers do their patriotic duty by flying drones from the comfort of their own homes. The narrator, a 16-year-old boy, doesn’t seem to differentiate between flying his drone and playing a video game. He’s intrigued by a kid a little younger than he is who leaves messages in white paint on roofs for drone pilots — just kid chatter about how cool drones are. Will this bit of personalization of the “enemy” change the narrator’s approach to his kills, which he calls “bug-splats”? Fox-Lerner seems to get inside his narrator’s head, telling his tale with a believable teenage voice and a believable teenage solution to a problem. The last line of the story is especially chilling.

The final piece of original fiction, “The Knife of Many Hands: A Second Apocalypse Story” should have been exceptional, coming as it does from the pen of R. Scott Bakker, the author of THE PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy and THE WARRIOR ASPECT trilogy. But this time Bakker’s dense prose, usually as delicious as fudge, is more like mud. As the story opens, Thurror Eryelk, the protagonist, has just achieved the title of Inris Hishrit, or “Sacred Hewer,” having become the champion of the Sranc Pits. A drunken man confronts him in an inn; their altercation is described poorly, making it difficult to tell which man has done or said what. And things get much more confusing from there, with the appearance of someone named Ratakila; is he another persona of Eryelk, to go along with his second heart? It is difficult to decipher, and it is not helped by the fact that it is only the first half of a two-part story.

“Grimdark: Onscreen” by Layla Cummins and Kyle Massa discusses how both film and television have turned toward the dark side with a “recent trend towards grimdark fantasy, with its gritty storylines, complex anti-heroes and flashes of gallows humour.” Your Netflix queue is likely to grow longer as you read this article through.

There are book reviews of The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes and The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller.  Both are exhaustive discussions of the books under review that nonetheless manage not to tell too much about plot, character and setting.

An in-depth interview with Kameron Hurley, the author most recently of The Mirror Empire, Book One in the WORLDBREAKER SAGA, takes off from Hurley’s statement that she likes “complex, grey heroes: ordinary people who do things both monstrous and heroic.” She discusses how her academic background plays into her fiction, the roles women play in her books and stories, gender roles in society, and much more in one of the better interviews I’ve read. Another interview, this time with Richard K. Morgan, is similarly weighty and contains detailed answers to such broad, open-ended questions as “What does ‘Grimdark’ mean to you and where do you see your place in the sub-genre?” It is accompanied by an excerpt from The Dark Defiles, Book Three of A LAND FIT FOR HEROES. I dislike book excerpts generally, but this is even worse, coming from the final work in a trilogy. It’s as close to a stand-alone chunk of text as one can get, but the lack of context still makes it a slog to read — not a complaint I’ve ever had about Morgan’s work, even in the middle of a book of more than 600 pages.

This sophomore issue of Grimdark repeats and builds upon both the strengths and the weaknesses of the first issue, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. Stories set in universes developed in a trilogy or two — or even more — are almost incomprehensible to anyone who is not already familiar with the breadth of the author’s work. Nonetheless, the original fiction by new authors and the detailed interviews make the magazine worth reading.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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