WHETSTONE: Issue #1 Review
Good Sword and Sorcery, or even Weird Fantasy, is hard to find. At least for me. I admit to being an excruciatingly picky reader, so no doubt some of that is my fault. I read slowly, and word for word. It takes me time. If you've listened to me on a couple episodes of Rogues in the House podcast, you'll have already heard this. I have to be picky because I don't want to waste my time reading things that I won't like. It doesn't make sense to me.
That being said, I recently took up "Gardens of the Moon" by Steve Erickson after some convincing by Rogue Blades Entertainment publisher, Jason Waltz. 35% in and I am not regretting it. Maybe I'll even make it through the second book.
Anyway, I have been on something of a fantasy kick as of late, tapering off on my usual readings of Thriller books. Good timing too, as the first issue of the amateur Sword and Sorcery magazine "Whetstone" has been released.
So before I start, I feel like there's a good chance a lot of you probably haven't heard of "Whetstone". It's new, it's small, it's online only (sort of). To remedy that, the magazine itself is edited by Jason Ray Carney who is the co-editor of "The Dark Man", a pretty well known academic journal on Robert E. Howard. I admit to not having read much from that particular journal, so I can't necessarily comment on the content there. I just don't read a lot of academic stuff. I'll cite the same reasons I did above. The goal of "Whetstone" is to showcase up-and-coming voices in Sword and Sorcery, and it is stated the magazine looks for both Pulp styling and and a literary bent.
I feel like I shouldn't have to say this, but everything I write in here is solely my opinion. It's probably going to be different than yours. None of this is meant as insult, or even as any kind of worthwhile criticism. I'm not an expert, just a reader and fan of the genre.
The "magazine" is free. You can find it here: https://whetstonemag.blogspot.com/
Because it is free, there is no reason you shouldn't give this a go. No matter my opinions, I am sure that you will find something to enjoy here.
I keep putting the word "magazine" in quotes for a couple reasons. Really, the version you are going to get is online. It's a PDF of what could be a magazine, if you wanted it to be, but doesn't necessarily come that way. I know a lot of people who grumble about online only stuff. They hate reading from e-readers and PDFs for whatever reason. I get it. I used to be like that. But then I got over it because I don't have enough space in my house for 5,000 paperbacks and would rather make room for my loved ones. BUT, the wonderful thing about "Whetstone" is that the PDF is formatted expertly to be printed off as a magazine. The page margins are even mirrored so when printed, it can be stapled like a little book. Hate PDFs? Print it. Go to Staples or FedEx and do it if it bothers you so much.
Not only is the formatting of the PDF a plus, the cover is wonderful, featuring some glorious artwork from Bill Cavalier, who also designed their logo. The artwork has a cool "old school" quality that I really dig. The only downside is that I wish there was more!
The Contents section lists 10 individual stories and an Editor's Note, and totals 63 pages of content. That means the stories are short. Like no more than 2,500 words short. Real short. None of the short stories that I've had published are less than 6,000 words, usually pushing 6,500. And if you've never written a short story, let me tell you, it is tough. I've gotten really good at cutting stuff, be it words, sentences, or whole scenes. I can't imagine condensing anything I've written another 4,000 words. Not that I'm not going to try, of course. I will no doubt create something to submit here at some point in the future. I like a good challenge. That being said, the length limits what can be done in the story. "Whetstone" isn't shy about that, though. Their submissions page states that they prefer more action and less dialogue. That's what you should expect. I have my theories on why they chose such a small word count, all of which I feel are completely understandable.
I'm not going to go over all of the stories one by one. That would take forever and I don't want to spoil anything, so I'm going to stick to some standouts for me.
The first story in the lineup is "The Wizard's Demise" by Géza A. G. Reilly. By word 6, I was ready to give up. That is a reflection on me and my bias, because I hate first person. I hate it with a passion. That being said, I'm glad I didn't give up because the story was really friggin' cool. This is one I can't say much about because it relies heavily on a twist, that while I saw coming about 3/4 through, was super well done. This is one of those rare cases where I think the 1st person narrative style actually helped the story. It also serves as a reason for me to put aside my biases from time to time.
That being said, the second story didn't do it for me. Again, my personal tastes at play. I groan at the term "Northman" and I don't like the hook of a dude telling a story at a bar. Also, it uses the word "Fuck". Don't get me wrong. I'm not a prude and I partake in more than my fair share of F-Bombs, but it's a turn off for me in Fantasy. It's such a modern term that it saps all my immersion in a world that is supposed to seem old. The excessive dropping of said bombs is part of what turned me off of Joe Abercrombie's otherwise excellent "First Law" series. "Queslavalka" by J. B. Toner has all these things and just didn't do it for me.
Another standout was "As Repellent as I" by Chase A. Folmar. This story reeked of atmosphere that I think is born from his use of language. As Carney points out in his notes before the story begins, this is very reminiscent Clark Ashton Smith. I like Ashton well enough, but his humor I feel sometimes gets in the way of things. I personally didn't find any of that sort of humor in this story and I felt it was all the better for it. I also took it upon myself to do some searching of each author just to be cheeky and see just how "emerging" these voices really were. Mr. Folmar came up empty handed. I have to say, I look forward to more from this dude.
The rest of the issues has its up's and down's, but nothing particularly stand out for me.
Except one, that is.
"Kauahoa and the Tattooed Bandit" by Patrick S. Baker was easily my favorite of the whole bunch. While I hesitate to call Mr. Baker "emerging", his writings both fiction and non-fiction can be found in a myriad of publications, I have to applaud his use of language and setting, choices I can definitely identify as "emerging". This particular story is set in a Hawaiin/Polynesian milieu, complete with shark-tooth swords and native words as descriptors. I love that. It is very reminiscent to me of Charles Saunder's "Imaro" stories. It takes you to a place that looks and feels very different from what we typically see in a genre over saturated with buff Viking-dudes and pseudo-medieval European landscapes. I would be very interested to hear how much research went into this story, or how he became familiar with these terms. This is the kind of stuff I would like to see more of from the Sword and Sorcery genre. Hat's off to you, good sir. And for Mr. Carney's solid choice.
Overall, despite any reservations you may have about the story length, "Whetstone" is worth the read. It is clear that there is a lot of love for the genre, and exploring it as literature. Mr. Carney has created a great compilation of stories, despite my personal tastes not jiving with some of them. That is a conundrum that anthologies regularly face, and was not unexpected. I don't like to rate things with stars. I acknowledge that just because I don't like something, it doesn't mean it's bad. Just not my taste. That's going to happen. I can tell you, however that if you like Sword and Sorcery, you absolutely should take a look at this little publication. For being free, there is a lot here on offer. I do see that in the next bi-annual issue, they are going to be offering a token payment to authors, but I am not sure if that will change the "free" aspect of this publication. I totally understand if it does, and I still think it would be worth tossing some coins to your Witcher for. (That song is catchy af. Sue me.) Again, you can find "Whetstone" at: https://whetstonemag.blogspot.com/ Submissions are now open for the 2nd issue. I hope to see more of those "emerging voices" in S&S and hope to find more of the variety I know the genre can have in the future.