Read a few Issues – Daily Science Fiction

I’m constantly trying to figure out what kind of science fiction and fantasy stories are published right now, and which magazines would be a good match for my stories. For that purpose, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories. It seems a good idea to know your markets, and a lot of magazines have this sage advice in their guidelines: Read our magazine to find out what we’re publishing.

For this article, I’ve delved into one of my all-time favorite markets, Daily Science Fiction. DSF delivers free short stories to your inbox every weekday – five days a week, all year. Michele and Jonathan have kept the magazine going for many, many years, and I’ve read memorable stories there from old SF names and newcomers to the genre. I’ve even been lucky enough to publish two stories with them, Monsters Big and Small and Spores of Freedom.

In the beginning they published short stories up to 10,000 words, but right now they’ve put in a word cap at 1,500 words. I believe that the choice is at least partly financial. Recently, they sent out a call for more subscribers to keep the magazine going, and if there’s a magazine around that’s worth $15 a year, it’s DSF. Sure, you can get it for free, but then it may not be around for long. And really, fifteen United States Thalers for around 240 stories is a bargain. Go subscribe!

What they say about themselves

Rule number one about what to submit to a magazine is, follow the guidelines. DSF doesn’t say much, though:

Daily Science Fiction (DSF) is a market accepting speculative fiction stories from 100 to 1,500 words in length. By this we mean science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, etc. We will consider flash series–three or more flash tales built around a common theme.

This is the broadest possible invitation to submit, and I suspect the editors like it that way. This interview goes a bit deeper but it’s from 2011, and things have changed. The magazine started out publishing longer stories, but with the current word cap at 1,500 words, looking at what they actually publish seems a good idea.

What I’ve read

I’ve moved in the past month and not had much time for reading or writing, so it’s been nice to grab a piece of flash fiction from time to time.  I’ve looked closely at the DSF stories in September and October, but I recall reading many others over the years. The stories mentioned here were picked by random from days when I could find the time.

I’ve also discovered that it’s hard to accurately sum up very short stories. I’ll aim to keep the description vague rather than spoilerish, but the mission is still to capture the tone and gist of the story in a sentence or three.

The stories

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Navigating Your Transformation Into an Eldritch Horror of the Deep by Caroline Diorio

The story is just that: a guide to women transforming into eldritch horrors. How to sleep better, how to manage eating while you have strange cravings, what to do about sex. Advice column meets Lovecraftian fiction.  

Iron Priest by Marie Vibbert

The priest in question blesses killbots condemned to recycling. However, not all killbots are the carefree, unquestioning selves they used to be. The resulting story is an interesting look at free will and the consequences of choice. This one’s recommended.

Literary Cocktails by Preston Grassmann

In this bar, you get a book with your drink — good for easing newly erased minds. The world hinted at in this story is dystopian, and the hints themselves drive the story forward. The literary quotes add a certain bookish charm if you’re into that sort of thing.

Choices by Mari Ness

Would you rather have a beautiful bride in the light of day and hideous at night or the other way round? A classic fairy tale question. The answer depends on the man faced with the question, and that provides the new angle to an old dilemma.

Ten Secret Things You Don’t Know About Closet Monster by Susan Taitel

This story is what the title says it is. However, the list isn’t just comments on closet monsters, but on the world in general. The list also presents both a situation, a problem, and a resolution of sorts. In short, it’s a progressing story disguised as a list. This approach to list stories is typical of DSF, but I hadn’t quite read one like this one before.

Mothers and Sons by George Nikolopoulos

A future resistance movement sends the mother of a dictator back in time to kill her son. There are special rules for time travel, and those rules set the story a little apart from others of the same subgenre.

Out, Damned Virus by Henry Herz

This story about the current pandemic takes a page out of Macbeth.

Useful Guinevere and the Bio-Mechanical Dragons of Neptunias by Tina Connolly

Guinevere deNeptunias hunts dragons for a living on a planet set up by her ancestors to resemble the fairy tales of forgotten times. Usually things go as planned, but this time, of course, there’s a snag… The story comments on a lot of dragon hunting/princess/dark lord tropes. The story has a lot more worldbuilding than many of the other stories.

Intergalactic Negotiations by Joshua Fagan

The trouble of negotiating with an aggressive species when you don’t know what they want. Our MC has to find a solution. A classic science fiction setup with a problem and a solution.

By the Power of My Swipe by Laila Amado

When the setting is a stormy castle, my associations to the word ‘swipe’ in the title were those of a swinging blow or an animal claw. Well, in this case, it’s an evil wizard who has been doing the swiping of his own kind. A fantasy comment on… well, let’s not spoil that. But that comment is the charm of the story. (This is not a review, of course, but I recommend this story.)

Familiar Ground by Shannon Fay

Family expectations can be tough to handle. In this case, the main character, Rina, has a magical reaction to the problem.

Crash Test Dummy by M. Thomas Lumby

The main character looks back on mistakes in their relationships, muses about being human, or near enough, or not near enough. It’s the kind of story where the context is only revealed in the last paragraph, shining a light on the rest of the story.

How to be a Hero by Rosanna Griffin

This is a humorous take on the ‘hero’ trope. Rather than being a story with a plot, it’s a kind of how to/pep talk to would-be heroes on how to follow tradition. DSF likes this kind of stories that subvert tropes, so it’s quite typical for them.

The Judas Goat by K.S. O’Neill

This SF story starts out with the information that people used tame goats to locate wild goats on the Galapagos islands. The story itself hinges on the context of this information.

Reduce, Reuse… by Mike Blackwelder

The author says about this story: “I was watching caterpillars eating my basil […] and wondered what my backyard would look like hundreds of years after a comet strike.” It’s a classically constructed story that presents a main character with a problem, how they tackle it, and what the consequences are. It’s also short (less than a page), so brevity does not automatically equate experimentation at DSF. (I recommend reading this story.)

Chronicle of the Mender by Alex Shvartsman

The Mender can repair anything. We follow the routines of his project, both in his work and in his personal life. The magic in this story is of a symbolic kind connected to the people in the story, and it pulls at the reader’s heartstrings.  

Arrows of Conquest by Marcus Vance

A praise of the soldiers we sent into interstellar combat. This story is carried by the worldbuilding and special circumstances of conducting war across vast distances.

The Capes We Wear by Avra Margariti

A superhero story, but the story is really about letting the world know who we really are. The focus is on socio-psychological implications for the main character.

Evacuation: Earth by Andrew Dunn

What to do when Earth is too poisonous to live on? How do we get away? There’s a solution, but this is quite a pessimistic take on the future. (Goes well with Lampshades on Fire by Modest Mouse.)

The Apple by Marlaina Cockcroft

A retelling of Snow White with a focus on the dysfunctional relationship between Snow White and the Queen.

Empy by Melissa Mead

A science fiction tale of Empy, Magic Pot, who cooks for the starship travelers. What happens, though, when a new planet and environment starts influencing Empy? How will Empy continue serving the Travelers? Science fiction with a conscious machine and a very down-to-earth problem – worth the read. 

Narcoleptic Fruit by Paul Jessup

This is, most of all, an idea story: What happens when you eat the narcoleptic fruit? The ideas explored here are interesting; both the opportunities and the risks.

Assisted Suicide by Brian Wells

Keith is phoned up by his credit card app, which infers, based on his recent purchases, that he’s about to murder his wife. The science of financial monitoring provides a premise for this SF tale, but it reads more like a thriller/mystery kind of story to me.

Glitch by Wendy Nikel

The story’s main character teleports people for a living. It’s a mind-numbing, undemanding job until one day there’s a glitch that forces the main character to rethink her life.

Enchanted Objects: Buy-Sell-Trade Group, YOU MUST BE APPROVED TO JOIN by Tina Connolly

Fairy tale heroines/villains try to get rid of enchanted or cursed objects online. The group takes on a life of its own as the posts and discussions influence the posters.

What are their stories like?

DSF has always been a hard magazine for me to pinpoint. It’s hard to say exactly what kind of stories they want, what tone they prefer, and what topics, tropes, and themes the editors go for.  

Part of this is because they publish flash fiction. Flash is a really good way to experiment with form as well as content, and their stories often do that. There are list stories (Ten Secret Things You Don’t Know About Closet Monster), comments on Shakespeare/the pandemic (Out, damned virus), Advice columns (The Modern Woman’s Guide…). Narcoleptic Fruit and The Judas Goat focus much more on exploring an idea than they do on action, even though things happen in both stories.

In the fantasy department DSF have a penchant for new takes on old tropes (How to be a Hero, Choices and Useful Guinevere and the Bio-Mechanical Dragons of Neptunias) work on tropes, while both Enchanted Objects… and The Apple give us a new take on known stories.

Fantasy takes on modern phenomena are also popular at DSF, not just in this selection but in general. The best example is By the Power of My Swipe, while Familiar Ground shows us magic appearing in a family drama. The Capes We Wear is an identity story for our age.

The short form also lends itself well to stories that only come fully into focus in the last line or paragraph, and which either explains or twists our understanding of the story until that point. Crash Test Dummy, Chronicle of the Mender, Literary Cocktails and Arrows of Conquest all fall under that headline.

Finally, quite a lot of stories run relatively straight with a beginning, middle and end. This goes for some of the stories mentioned above, but also for stories like Glitch, Assisted Suicide, Empy, Evacuation: Earth, Iron Priest, Mothers and Sons and Intergalactic Negotiations. While these stories don’t exactly experiment with form, they are nevertheless very different in theme, tone and content.

The Secret Handshake?

“So how to get a story into Daily Science Fiction?” you ask. I wish I could tell you, but the truth is that after reading a lot of stories, the editors’ selection criteria still elude me.

Your story could easily be a comment on life and society today, or it could be the exploration of new ideas. Found an interesting form for your story? Send it to DSF. Got one with a beginning, middle, and ending? Send that along as well. (Just not right away – they ask for one story at a time only.)

In general, I suspect there’s a fair bit of ‘we know it when we see it’ about Michele and Jonathan’s acceptance policies. But after reading their stories on and off for many years, I’m willing to bet they’re aiming to get as wide a mix of stories as possible. If you read the magazine and send them a kind of story they haven’t published yet, I believe they’ll take that over a type they’re familiar with. But again, certain themes and forms come up time and again, so if you can find a new take on a familiar variation (list stories, for example), you might find your story under serious consideration. Either way, you’ll probably have to read the magazine yourself. It’s by no means a chore, though, as you’ll be sure to find lots of stories to your liking and get to know the magazine along the way.

Read a Few Issues – Deep Magic

A friend of mine is a stage actor and as such a freelancer by nature. He’s been talking to a business coach, whose raison d’etre is to help people make the most of their careers. When the talk fell on how to put together a play for the public, she wasn’t impressed. 

“What I don’t understand about theaters,” she said, “is why they spend an enormous amount of resources putting on a show without finding out what people really want to see.”

She’s got a point. You won’t find a professional business putting thousands of dollars into a product without scrutinizing the market first and asking: is there a market for a new product, or can we create one?

Which is why I’m now committing myself to writing a series about short story magazines. About what kind of fiction each magazine prints, which tone it has, if they have a specific focus on plot, worldbuilding, characters, politics, etc. Every editor has a vision for their magazine, and if your writing fits that vision, you have a better chance of hitting the sweet spot. In theory, at least. You’re still competing against hundreds of stories every month, so there are no guarantees, but margins count.

Deep Magic

For this episode, I’ve been reading Deep Magic. And as it happens, they just reopened for submissions.

The magazine’s About Us page says the Board consists of Brendon Taylor, Charlie N. Holmberg, Dan Hilton, Jeff Wheeler, Kristin J. Dawson and Steve R. Yeager. I’ve been reading the Spring and Summer 2020 issues, which have Brendon Taylor and Jeff Wheeler respectively signing the editorials. I suppose other editors might have picked other stories, but the stories in the two issues share enough similarities for me to pinpoint some tendencies.

What they say about themselves

“The name Deep Magic pays homage to C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. From June 2002 to June of 2006, Deep Magic was a monthly e-zine operated by a nonprofit organization founded by three friends who had a mutual love of SFF and a desire to promote clean writing within those genres. Deep Magic is now a quarterly publication that pays professional rates for SFF short fiction, relaunched by the same three friends, with help of other industry professionals who join in Deep Magic’s mission to create a safe place for minds to wander. If submitting a story, please see our submission guidelines. We will consider stories within any sub genre (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc). The best way to get our attention with your submissions is to create great tension in your story.”


‘Clean writing’ and ‘a safe place for minds to wander’ stand out, since they differ from the description of other magazines. The homage to C.S. Lewis made me wonder if that means Deep Magic publishes Christian fiction, but the contents of the stories aren’t biblical. And in the words of Brendon Taylor in this interview, clean mean stories that are free of graphic violence, sex and vulgarity.

It’s clear from the stories that the editors adhere to these guidelines. There are stabbings and fights, but no-one’s guts are spilled at agonizing length. There’s no sex or swearing in any of the stories either.

The submission guidelines also link to an article with input from Deep Magic editors and first readers. The topics here are hooks, tension, and endings, and though the comments are short, it’s clear from the two interviews that Deep Magic wants stories where something happens and the tension is high. Both links are worth following if you submit stories anywhere, not just at Deep Magic.

What did I read?

Each issue contains original short stories and novelettes as well as novel excerpts. Since the topic of this series is short stories, I’m going to leave out the novel excerpts, but they generally match the magazine’s style anyway.

Spring issue 2020 contains five original stories:

Before the Journey by AC Cobble

Seb Dreams of Reincarnation by Aimee Ogden

The Space Between by Larry Hinkle

Mama Cascade by Samantha Mills

Sorieul’s Eyes by Jeff Wheeler

Before the Journey by AC Cobble is a prequel to the author’s series about Benjamin Ashwood (which I haven’t read). I use the word ‘traditional fantasy’ elsewhere in this overview, but high fantasy doesn’t get much more traditional than this. The story starts in a tavern with a cast of a magician, a rogue, a swordsman and a princess/future magician’s apprentice. They even get a quest at the inn (slay the demon that’s harassing the nearby village). The story also offers an insight into the politics of the world and the use of magic, so the themes of this story are clashing empires as well as demon fighting and sword & sorcery. The story’s driven both by plot and the world it takes place in.

Seb Dreams of Reincarnation by Aimee Ogden is a science fiction story about a retired starship. That is, Seb used to be plugged into a starship with full control over everything, so when he returns to a life of not being connected to a ship, his world seems empty. So, what does Seb do next? The story has a clear plot – starts at the beginning and ends somewhere I didn’t quite predict. Since the plot is about the way Seb changes, the story was also the most clearly character-driven story of the selection. I’m not doing a review, but I definitely recommend this story, simply because I cared a lot about Seb.

The Space Between by Larry Hinkle is a short science fiction story with horror elements that takes us on an almost Uber ride into the unknown. Along the way it unfolds the rules of a world that isn’t quite ours. There’s a clear plot that goes hand in hand with scientific explanations of this particular world. There’s less focus on the characters, but then again, this is quite a short story that accomplishes a lot on only a few pages.

Mama Cascade by Samantha Mills most definitely doesn’t take us on a river cruise. Rather, it’s the story about a young woman and her relationship with the river goddess, shaped by the appearance of foreign (European?) invaders. The main character, Arwa, must learn from Mama Cascade in order to hold back the invaders and defend her people. I’m not spoiling the story by saying that things do not go as planned, and that’s part of the charm of the story – the world changes, the people change, and there’s no survival in staying the same.

Sorieul’s Eyes by Jeff Wheeler is a novelette set in his Muirwood world. Jeff Wheeler is the founder of Deep Magic, and delivers a plot-driven story in a world that isn’t explained in depth, but is obviously a world of empires, warlords, assassins and magic and as such another example of ‘traditional fantasy’. The main character is a kishion, a slave assassin, who’s forgotten his past after a magical ritual. He’s adept at killing, but when he meets Sorieul, a healer who knew him in his earlier life, new emotions start to wake in him. I have a feeling that there’s more of this awakening to be found in Wheeler’s novel, but in the short story it’s not explored in depth. 

Summer issue 2020 also contains five stories:

Shackles by Michael Wisehart

One Way by Gerri Leen

A Tale of Two Thieves by Sarah C. Roethe

Blackheart by David VonAllmen

Standing with Centaurs by Jennifer L. Hilty

Shackles by Michael Wisehart is a fantasy novella set in a universe already established in one of Wiseharts series of novels. We follow Ferrin, a blacksmith, whose magic abilities are about to get him into trouble with a group called the Black Watch. The story is told as it unfolds, from the smithy via the local society of magic users, and Ferrin’s subsequent dealings with the Black Watch. It’s plot oriented rather than focused on the character’s journey, but we get to know Ferrin quite well along the way. 

The story is pretty traditional, both in the way it’s constructed – we start at A and go on to the ending – and in its themes. Magic is a thing in this world – some people, like Ferrin, use magic in their everyday tasks, and others seek to use people like Ferrin for their own purposes. The technological level in the story is horses and blacksmithing, so the world should be familiar to readers of high fantasy.

One Way by Gerri Leen is a science fiction short story which dares to experiment with form. The main character, Lydia, is on an exploration mission, and her life support is failing. She has a deep understanding with the spaceship’s AI, Vesta, and she seems to be going to her death voluntarily. The rest of the story is played out in reverse, telling us what happened weeks and months prior to the first scene, and how Lydia and Vesta came to be where they are.

A Tale of Two Thieves by Sarah C. Roethe brings to life Anna and Kai. Anna is a thief and sometime mercenary, who rescues Kai at the beginning of the story, and Kai turns out to be 1) a decent chap with a lot of integrity and 2) not quite up to surviving in the wild on his own. Kai’s good heart gets them into trouble when they come across a band of ruffians, who have abducted a bunch of women to sell into slavery.

The worldbuilding, again, is traditional – a rural setting, a roguish character and her moral counterpoint, and a quest. Things go from A to B and the focus in the story is on the action rather than the characters. The author, however, manages to show us quite about her character through their actions, bringing out their different natures in a way that benefits the story. 

Blackheart by David VonAllmen is a swashbuckler, no doubt about it. A lively pirate plot on the high seas to steal the storm magic from Lord Buckworth’s fleet. The writing and dialogue is snappy and the pirates are as piratey as can be expected. A good story embedded firmly within the pirate genre.

Standing with Centaurs by Jennifer L. Hilty takes us to a university in a future, where aliens go to college with human students. It’s a story about prejudice and overcoming it, and as such it’s in the vein of traditional YA stories in high school or university, only with aliens playing the role of the outsiders taking the brunt of prejudice.

What to make of it all?

The stories all live up to the mission statements listed by the editors above. They’re clean; there’s killing and violence in several stories, but none of it is visceral. The single horror story isn’t a blood’n’guts tale either, working through buildup rather than jump scares. The pirates in Blackheart are all short a limb or five, but it’s described with humor and exaggeration instead of pain.

It’s also clear that there’s a focus on plot in every story. Characters change in some stories, in others they pretty much stay the same, but they all have a problem that they solve (or not) by the end of the story. Something happens to the characters.  

As for genres and sub-genres, four of the ten stories are set in what I’d call high fantasy worlds, where swords, rogues, magic, and powerful kingdoms play a role. But while the worlds all have a medieval feel to them, they’re set apart by how magic works in each world.

In ‘Before the Journey’, the magic we see is traditional fire magic (though there may be other kinds in that world). In ‘Shackles’ the main character has the ability to control metal, while other people can do other things. And in Sorieul’s Eyes, magic is used to heal and change emotions. ‘Mama Cascade’ isn’t high fantasy as such, but it has magic too, divine and transformative and part of nature. In ‘Blackheart’, magic’s a power to be hoarded and used by anyone who has access to it. Only ‘A Tale of Two Thieves’ doesn’t have magic.

With the ‘Magic’ in the title, it isn’t a big surprise that magic plays such a big part in the fantasy stories. My takeaway from this is that ‘Deep Magic’ editors love magic, and that they prefer stories about powers that goes beyond what you’ll find in a D&D spellbook.

Four of the stories are science fiction, in two of which scientific concepts are an inescapable part of the worldbuilding. The other two science fiction stories are a little different, in that one is a horror story examining multiverse theory, and the last one is basically a college story with an alien cast. None of these stories are examinations of scientific principles, so if you have a hard science fiction story, you’d probably have better luck sending it to Analog. But if your SF story has science, plot and character, it might find a home here.

To sum up

If you want to sell a story to Deep Magic, it would be a good idea to be inventive with your magic. Build a good plot, keep up the tension and make sure the story come to a logical end. Don’t make the story contingent on blood and guts, but don’t be afraid of putting in both action and major consequences for the characters either. Finally, a sweepingly grand story is probably better than one with a narrow scope.

I hope this will be of help to someone else out there. If so, you can also find my article on Beneath Ceaseless Skies here.  

Read a few Issues – Beneath Ceaseless Skies

As a short story writer, I constantly send out stories to science fiction and fantasy magazines. I’ve collected over 850 rejections, and sold a story for approximately every twenty-five submissions. Needless to say, I’m working on improving my hit rate, and for that I’ll take any advice I can get.

One gem that can be found in the guidelines of many magazines is this: “Read a few issues of the magazine to get a feel for the kind of stories we print.”

Getting that feel is tougher than it sounds, though, because many editors will buy a great story even if it isn’t a typical match for the magazine. Still, magazines do have distinct styles, so in theory pinpointing what makes each magazine unique should make it easier to send a story the editor wants.

And even if it doesn’t result in increased sales, it’s still a great excuse to read a lot of short stories.

Enter stage left: ‘Read a few Issues’, a series in which I aim to reveal what makes each magazine unique.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I’ll start with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a fantasy magazine that’s been a longtime favorite of mine.

BCS specializes in literary secondary world fantasy. Their ‘About’ page has this to say:

We want stories that combine the best of traditional adventure fantasy and realist literary writing—adventure fantasy plots in vivid secondary worlds, but written with a literary flair. Beneath Ceaseless Skies features exciting stories set in awe-inspiring places that are told with all the skill and impact of modern literary-influenced fantasy.

When you visit their submission guidelines–a must for any writer who wants their stories considered–you’ll find their definition of secondary world setting. The gist is that it’s a world that is different from our own primary world in some way, whether it’s in terms of zoology, climate, physics, or history. But seriously: Read the full guidelines. They say a lot about what BCS looks for in characters, narrative style and originality.

If you want to know more, BCS editor Scott H. Andrews has also given many interviews on the internet. This one, at the Odyssey workshop, has a lot to say about worldbuilding, characters and more.

However, it’s in the stories that the concepts set out in the guidelines truly come to life, so I’m going to look at how the stories deal with ‘Secondary World Settings’, ‘Characters’ and ‘Originality’.

What I’ve read

BCS posts two-story issues every fortnight. Sometimes they include a podcast and sometimes reprint a story from their archives. I decided to read some of the newest issues… and in the meantime work got in the way of actually writing this article, so BCS is now up to issue 220.

  • Jonathan Edelstein: Abere and the Poisoner (#208)
  • Greg Kurzawa: Masks of the Mud God (#213)
  • Daniel Baker: The Marvelous Inventions of Mr. Tock (#213)
  • Claire Humphreys: Wooden Boxes Lined with the Tongues of Doves (#216)
  • Eleanna Castroianni: Think of Winter (#216)
  • Cae Hawksmoor: Requiem for the Unchained (#217)
  • Tony Pi: Proteus Lost (#217)
  • Melissa Lingen: Out of the Woods (#218)
  • Margaret Killjoy: Men of the Ashen Morrow (#218)

Secondary Worlds

Scott H. Andrews, the editor of BCS, is serious about this. Every story I’ve read is different from this world in a crucial way, and the worldbuilding varies a lot.

At one end of the spectrum we have a few stories that take place in otherworldly places.

In Margaret Killjoy’s ‘Men of the Ashen Morrow‘, a sacrifice to a creature-god called Hulokk is necessary to end the summer and usher in the winter that keeps the creatures of the west at bay. Seasons as we know them don’t exist in this world, and the monstrous Hulokk has imposed his own rules and necessities on the inhabitants. Magic can keep the god at bay, sometimes.

Jonathan Edelstein’s ‘Abere and the Poisoner‘ takes place on a world where gods have fallen to the ground, or landed, forming islands in the sea. Each god/island has specific properties that infuse the plants and indeed the inhabitants of each island.

Cae Hawksmoor’s ‘Requiem for the Unchained‘ follows the captain of an airship capable of navigating geiststorms, which consist of millions of lost souls, who attack the living. This concept is very different from Earth, certainly, but the story also contains shipyards, entrepreneurs and work gangs recognizable from our world.

Daniel Baker tells a detective story in ‘The Marvelous Inventions of Mr. Tock‘, which features enough mechanics and metalworking to qualify it as ‘gearpunk’ (or perhaps some other kind of punk). Either way, the world and plot operate on different principles than our known Earth, but with very recognizable social issues.

With other stories it’s not clear whether we’re on Earth or in similar world, and in fact it’s not really that important. It’s the rules and circumstances that shape the characters’ lives that are central to the story.

Greg Kurzawa’s ‘Masks of the Mud God‘ shows us the life of Miriam, who is one of the Raah, a different race that lives beside humans in a world where legends and gods may come alive. The imagery of the world is familiar: We hear of houses, bridges, bathrooms, languages, civilizations. But there are also legends of gods who walk the earth, and the Raah themselves who seem to have the upper hand in controlling it.

Think of Winter‘ by Eleanna Castroianni features earthly elements like a knight, a cathedral, and an invading foe, but also a set of Tarots and visions of the future. Very little of the world is explored in this story, since it’s limited to a single location. The real story and worldbuilding is in the main character’s relationship with and reading of his cards.

Out of the Woods‘ by Melissa Lingen must have been inspired by Robin Hood. The main character is part of the resistance against the king’s brother while the real king is away. The main character can use magic, though, which turns the story away from the familiar Robin Hood story. Magic also ends up making a very big difference in the end.

Finally, BCS presents stories that clearly take place on Earth, although some rules have changed.

Tony Pi’s ‘Proteus Lost‘ unfolds in Italy at a time when the Spanish Armada is preparing to set sail for England. The ‘secondary’ element comes from the magic of the world, more specifically the magic of shapeshifting, which the characters explore with scientific precision. The magic in this story is a natural force to be understood and controlled.

In ‘Wooden Boxes Lined with the Tongues of Doves‘, Claire Humphreys presents a world that gave me a lot of associations to England during World War One. The magic is at once very specific, in the form of the collection of dove tongues, and vague in that the magician’s tricks aren’t truly revealed. (Though this isn’t a review, I also have to say that I found ‘Wooden Boxes Lined with the Tongues of Doves’ a touching, disturbing story with an unexpected ending.)


About characters, BCS’s guidelines say:

We strongly prefer characters who yearn for something, external or internal, and feel driven to attain it.

You get exactly that from all the stories. It’s also clear that the yearning and drive is always intertwined with the rules specific to the world.

Tony Pi’s main character faces a problem that he must solve by understanding shapeshifting magic. The nameless poet in Jonathan Edelstein’s comes to an island for a flower with magical abilities that’s critical to his goals. Sal, the main character of Men of the Ashen Morrow, has a very clear goal related to dealing with the sacrifices demanded by Hulokk. Melissa Lingen’s main character resists the false king to fight for the righteous one, but during the story her goals change, and as a result she ends up changing some of the rules in her world. And in ‘Masks of the Mud God’, Miriam the Raah faces a problem specific to her race: that the Raah eat their children.


In conclusion, the stories in BCS are very much the product of the worlds, and the characters and their goals are in large part defined by those worlds.

This is also what makes the stories original. The characters work and live and have their home in their own worlds. The world is part of them as much as they are part of it. Moreover, in their battles the characters are often pitted against their world. Robin Hood themes, tarots, gods and magic may be well-known tropes in fantasy stories, but the characters and the distinct rules and hardships of each world gives these stories an edge that qualifies as originality.

I plan to run ‘Read a few Issues’ on the blog about three times this year, so check back again in June to hear more about another magazine.