Review: Staffs & Starships, V1 #1, 2007

Staffs & Starships, V1 #1, 2007

This new magazine is brought to us by Sheer Speculation Press. The magazine is a mix of speculative fiction from Sword & Sorcery to Hard Science Fiction. The balance of stories was very good, and overall I was very pleased with this first issue. The lack of a fancy cover startled me at first, but after a short time the simplistic presentation began to grow on me.

Now for some bad news. The print version of the magazine was abysmally late in arriving. The publisher cited problems with the printer, and based on what I have in my hand my guess is that he failed in getting many problems corrected. Nearly every story has a typesetting problem, with the most common issue being that parts of sentences have been left out of the majority of the stories. I think my local small town printer could do better than this first issue. It is no wonder Sheer Speculation has announced that it will only continue to sell electronic subscriptions of the magazine for the time being. I am torn. I realize that they want a professional looking magazine and are likely not happy with their first issue, but I really want a print version. I am one of those people that is tied to a computer at work. A large portion of my free time is also spent at the computer writing stories and blog entries. The main times I get to read are those times I am away from the computer. I hope they return to providing a print version soon. Maybe I can beg them to sell me a print version (ahem) as a reviewer.

Production concerns aside, the content of the first issue is very solid. I enjoyed every story. I have not been able to single out a favorite story; they are all very, very good.

“At War” by Karl El-Koura

As a military history buff, this story struck a strong chord with me. I have read about how soldiers in the current wars the USA is engaged in are struggling with emotions and sanity and concentration because they feel obligated to rush to a computer after every patrol to send an email, or to chat, simply to assure their loved ones that they are still doing fine. It has a demonstrable impact on their effectiveness at war. Karl El-Koura takes this one step further and his story makes a powerful statement about keeping focused and doing the right thing in a dangerous situation.

“The Ken of Man” by Barbara E. Tarbox

This is a stunning story. The descriptions, the characterization and theme are very strong. I could picture the world and see the characters struggling within it. There was one scene near the end that made the entire piece ring true for me. The hero stays true to her character even to the point of being willing to sacrifice herself to save those less virtuous and less deserving.

“Trompe L’Oeil” by Katherine Shaw

I had memory flashes of Isaac Asimov’s “Bicentennial Man” while I read this story. I think that Katherine Shaw’s take on this theme is in some ways more realistic and thus more believable than the Good Doctor’s tale. Our main character does what is right, for her, instead of what is easy, and because the characterization is strong it really makes the entire story work. I normally don’t mention titles, but I will for this one because it is spot on perfect.

“Darkened” by Joanne Anderton

This is a very dark tale that is filled with kindness. The juxtaposition is wonderful. We can really feel empathy for the dark soldier, and can marvel at the openness of the child Jenn. The narration flows well and evokes good imagery. The ending is fitting, yet I would like to revisit the world and stories of this dark soldier.

“The Oracle Unlocked” by Lindsey Duncan

For the second time in this issue I was reminded of a favorite author. This time it is Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories that come to mind. And before anyone balks at this, I am not saying that this tale is a Conan clone or anything like it. For me Howard had a gift with description; of places and things. This story has that wonderful vivid touch. The setting and theme are very much like a Conan tale, but hero is completely different. A lot of people forget that Conan has a brain, and it is this aspect that this hero uses in her quest. This story was simple, elegant and a lot of fun.

“The Carrier” by James Michael Steimle

I must admit that I struggled with this story’s theme, but I recognize that as a personal reaction within me due to…well… my life. To say more would give away too much. I like the setting which seems familiar and very “modern day”, yet has an edge to it like the futuristic utopias in Huxley’s “A Brave New World” or Nolan’s “Logan’s Run”. The ending, while not a surprise to me, was reached without cheating or trickery resorted to by so many stories of this theme. Very enjoyable.

“The Fourth Knight’s Quest” by Steve Goble
{Standard Disclaimer: For the sake of transparency, full disclosure is warranted. Steve is a close friend of mine. A fact that has no impact on my reviews as far as I can tell.}

Have I mentioned that I like journey/quest stories? Well I do. It is especially fun when the journey takes you somewhere you do not expect. This story did exactly that. The descriptions of the journey are fantastic; to the point where this reader absentmindedly got a cold drink because the character he was reading about was tortured by a vividly described hot, dry desert. I don’t get that caught up in stories very often, and it is fun when I do. This is a captivating tale.

“127 Fears” by S.C. Bryce

The opening line caught my attention immediately. The rest of the story held it. Fears are something we all have, and SC Bryce uses that to allow the reader to understand the motivation behind the main character. I have had to reword this review several times because I keep giving away the ending. I guess I will have to conclude by simply stating that this is a fantastic story and should be read without some silly reviewer spoiling it.

“Last Contact” by Peter Andrews

The flow of this story troubled me at first, but in the end its disjointedness works well in setting the tone. There is a strong feeling of the children’s “telephone” game as the events progress and the recollections are repeated through the lens of progressing history. The story left me thinking about truth and perception of truth and how a first contact can be the last.

“Problem in Logic” by Barton Paul Levenson

This story purposefully invokes Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and places a today’s world situation on them. What results is a gritty realism that points out the one flaw with Dr. Asimov’s laws. Implementation. Some day we may be able to devise an expert system or baby artificial intelligence that can handle the enormous scope of decisions that must be made to reconcile acting upon the simple intent of Asimov’s three laws, but not with today’s computers. It is not so much a problem in logic, as it is a problem with robust specifications. As a computer programmer I must congratulate Mr. Levenson on his depiction of computers as real world machines, and not as magic boxes that perform miracles. Well done.

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17 Responses

  1. Again, thanks.

    I’m still working my way through the issue, as I’ve been working on writing new stuff and reading Infinity Swords subs and reading a buddy’s novel and holidays and on and on and on … but I did read “127 Fears” and thought it was outstanding. Probably my favorite SC Bryce story to date … but I’m sure there will be more to come!

  2. […] Rising Staffs & Starships issue the first, wherein you’ll find something from me and something from SC Bryce and […]

  3. I have been very busy as well. I actually finished reading this issue a week before Christmas, and have another magazine and two movies to review.
    And today I am heading over to Pittsburgh to return the youngest to college…

  4. Excellent reviews, Deven – thanks for all the praise. I enjoyed helping gather the contents of this issue, and each of the fantasy pieces will forever be remembered as my first 5 selections as an editor. I’m glad you enjoyed them. Have fun driving to Pittsburgh.

  5. Thanks very much for the kind review! And thanks to Steve for alerting me to it.

    Now if only I can buckle down to write some more

  6. HVD: Recently I have entertained the idea of finding out if I could be a part time slush pile reader somewhere–just for the experience. I would hope to make choices as good as yours were. As for the reviews, the main reason I am doing them is to force myself to examine why I like or don’t like a particular story. It has been very educational and I think it is helping me with my fiction writing.

    SC: Thanks for the kind comment! This post has gotten double the normal click-through numbers from Steve’s blog that I normally get from my comments there. I also noticed that at least one person clicked through to your site from within the review; which is exactly why I included as many author links as I could. Share the love I say…

    That buckling down part is difficult some days…

  7. Deven: At least two stories from that issue of Staffs & Starships are nominated in the Preditors and editors 2007 poll — S.C. Bryce’s and mine. I also note S.C. got someone’s nod for favorite author.

    Not shabby for the debut issue of a magazine!

  8. Not shabby at all. Hopefully issue #2 will be just as strong!

  9. woo hoo! go team!

  10. Go Team is right! I am looking at the voting page and Joanne Anderton, Lindsey Duncan and Barb Tarbox are also nominated for their Staffs & Starships stories. (I am surprised that Kate Shaw is not there as well.) That is a total of five… out of one issue. I am wondering. If I couldn’t pick a favorite out of this issue to praise in my review, how in the hell am I going to be able to pick a favorite one to vote for?? This is the kind of predicament I like!

  11. Your review made my day. Thanks!

    -BPL

  12. Welcome, BPL!
    and
    You are welcome. I am a little embarrassed that your story’s theme never occurred to me. I am a computer programmer and an huge Asimov fan. You have started me thinking in a new direction for story ideas. So… thanks back at ya.

  13. Deven,

    I just wanted to thank you for your review. Your words were kind, something every soft-hearted writer appreciates, of course.

    To have any of my work even remotely categorized as kin to Huxley’s and William F. Nolan’s tales fills me with more joy than you can possibly realize. I hope you might read some of my stories published elsewhere.

    At any rate, best wishes and thanks a bundle!

    JMS

  14. Welcome, James!

    I can tell you it was nice to be reminded of Huxley and Nolan. I have a ten year old story draft that has a similar theme as “The Carrier”, but I gave up on it because I couldn’t make the ending strong enough and it all seemed like a gimmick or trick. I do plan on revisiting it again one day. Maybe those ten years have given me some perspective.
    I’ll keep an eye out for your stories.

    Feel free to stick around and participate on other posts. Not many people comment here, but we are a friendly bunch.

  15. I love the classic tales of frightening futures, to see mankind struggling for survival in a world where everything has been “improved” and “made better”, as if for a new enlightened age.

    So I hope you polish and publish that story of yours! It would be great to see.

    Best wishes!

  16. Thank you, Deven!

    I started The Ken of Man as an alt-history piece, but found the characters soon took center stage. I’m glad they, and their world, came alive for you as well!

    Thanks again. :)

  17. Barb: You are welcome, and Welcome to Blogtide! Glad to see you stop by. If you have a web page of other link you would like to have associated with “Ken of Man” let me know. I have been trying to link to author web pages and/or blogs as much as possible.
    Care to share what the alt-history divergence would have been?? Inquiring Alt-History fans want to know!!

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