Hi Everyone – another Whetstone is available and for free!!!
So, what did I think? Honestly, Whetstone is always good, especially for a free amateur webzine. But this latest issue just knocked it out of the park. Every story was good, and honestly, no aspersions meant to be cast at any small press out there, but this latest issue was better than almost all of the new S&S anthologies on the market. And you don’t even have to pay for it!
My thoughts on everybody’s stories below. Very mild spoilers…
We get a forward from Jason Ray Carney that is succinct as ever. I would support the assertion that the genre is more a vibe(emotion) than a definition you can put boundaries on.
We get some awesome art from David Houston to set the tone.
Lord of Slaughter by Wilcox is first up to bat. I had the fortune of being a beta reader on this. Glad it made the cut! The atmosphere is very Moorcock as the little blurb from the editors suggests. I also love the the full circle with the dog. It’s a good opener and starts us off with a dark tone.
More Shadow Than Substance by Burke is next. His story in 4 was probably my favorite. He comes back to us swinging hard with a ultra-macho volley of darkly atmospheric S&S. Is it just me or should every story start out in a jail cell?
Just Desserts by Markitan is next. I really loved this one. I liked the banter between the protagonist and his ghost companion. This story is really clever and comes together brilliantly at the end. Nice (classical not hipster) sense of irony and loved the cheeky humor.
The Godlight by George Jacobs is next. Full disclosure, I got to beta read this as well. George is someone I trade stories with on the regular. His stuff in previous Whetstones (and other venues) is always great. This story has big “Schuyler Hernstrom” energy! If you haven’t read Sky’s stuff you should, but I’ll elucidate for the uninitiated. It’s basically this blurry line between S&S and Science Fantasy with the distilled essence of what was good about golden/silver age authors. The little blurb from the editors mentions the Dark Crystal when describing this story and I want to see somebody make this with muppets! It’s dreamlike, deeply imaginative, strangely philosophical, and just all around amazing.
The Dragon’s Graveyard by Quiogue is next. I haven’t read his self-published Swords of the Four Winds yet but it’s on my tbr list. It needs to move up that list. This story is so cleanly written and crisp. It reminds me of Howard Andrew Jones. It just feels very professional. I don’t know how else to put it other than it feels like it’s written by a master of the craft, not an up-and-comer.
Hungry Ghost by O’Leary follows and it provides some great atmosphere and use of language to create said atmosphere. The story has an Irish/Celtic vibe (several stories this issue do) and I dig it.
A Song of the Sea by Dooley follows with the same Irish/Celtic vibe. I gotta commend Dooley on this story. Whetstone has a hard cap at 2500 words, and I think most of us struggle to keep our scope in that limit. This story is a little shorter. It clocks in at 1750ish. I checked. I really have to commend him on telling such a full story in such a short breath.
Pain Brings Purity of Being from Waltz gives us a break from the Celtic vibe with a very dark tale. This one really has some heavily oppressive atmosphere. Very heavy metal album cover!
We get a pause with some awesome art from Gilead.
Salt Tears by Mele is next and this changes the cultural focus again, this time to the pre-columbian Americas. There’s been some discussion of a “New Edge” to Sword and Sorcery fusing the genre with more diverse cultural inspirations and perspectives. This is a good example of that. And it’s not just good because it’s different, the story is essentially told as a deathbed confession and you really feel like you’re there listening to the old warrior regale you his secrets. This one is also deeply philosophical and the ending lingers with you.
Grey Hunter, Golden Quarry by Lawrence comes next. This one has a really awesome dreamlike world and non-stop action. I love carnivorous plants. I also love this story’s tempo. Keeps the heart pumping.
Black Hearts Beneath Red Skies is a poem by Perconti. Admittedly, poetry is not my thing, but anything that feels like metal lyrics I’m down for.
Doors by Chuck Clark is up next. Turkael returns for his 5th adventure. What in the hell is Chuck doing with this series? Someone in the small press give him an anthology deal stat! His stuff is always some of the best and now he has teased us with some ‘world building.’ I need to know more!
The Smoke Ship by Nathaniel Webb totally flips the tone. It’s pure swash-buckle. It continues in the world of his story from #4. If you ever wished Horatio Hornblower and Conan had a baby, you’re in luck! Keep them coming, I love S&S on the high seas.
Village of the Unavenged Dead by (thrice Hugo Award nominated writer) Cora Buhlert comes up next. Cora’s story in this issue and #3 both give me this vibe that makes me think of Tibet. This story is kinda different than the others in the way that it’s written. It’s very good. It’s one of those stories that you read it and you like it and then you get to that last line/paragraph and it all comes together and you realize you love it. It’s definitely a story the more you think about it the more highly you think of it, much like I found her story in #3. Her writing has a way of growing and bubbling inside you after you let it sit. Anyway, the last line/paragraph here is sublime. Loved it.
The Riddle of Spice by Groleau is next. Man this one is just different. It’s almost got this ‘punk’ vibe to it. Idk what to call it sorcerypunk, spellpunk??? Anyway, it’s very humorous and reminds me of Vance but but more fun(and without some of the uglier aspects of Vance’s humor that doesn’t resonate with me). I think this might be my favorite story(but I could say that about so many of these). It’s a charmer.
I’m up next with Gladiators of Ill Satal in my sword and planet/sword and sorcery milieu. For those who have been following Whetstone this is the same universe as the Lies of Mars in Whetstone #3. If you dig this story, don’t forget to pick up the Fall 22 issue of Cirsova because the events alluded to in the opening of this story are that forthcoming story. Unlike the Cirsova and previous Whetstone story this one has a more capital-A adventure vibe. I actually started this story (and another tale – which should hopefully be coming out soon – details to come) in the fall of last year in third person with my usual smoky 3rd person. But I fell so in love with Howard Andrew Jones’ Dabir and Asim books I decided to try this story anew in first person told to you by Lith Luc. Lith Luc’s personality shows itself in the forthcoming Cirsova story, but HAJ’s Asim really inspired me to try to write my own likable narrator. Hopefully, I succeeded without imitating him too much and having my own style to it. I should note on this milieu that I have another story that Lith Luc briefly appears in I’ve been sending places. I also want to do another first person Lith Luc story retelling how he meets the dread pirate captain Ell Mara. Probably my next project. And next year I will try to tackle a full novella in my milieu, but I wanna finish all my short story projects first(this setting and Ptero Knight), and I don’t think I’m quite up to the task of what I have in mind yet – but if you enjoy these seek out the other sold works and stay tuned!!!!
Arena of the Death Cult by Crawford is next. This story creates a really dark atmosphere juxtaposed against rude wit. It’s a really cool setting for a story and the last line of the story is something that’ll make you smirk.
Eyes and Teeth by Reverend Kelly is up next. It’s got a classic folk tale vibe and a deep sense of classical tragedy to it. It’s a story you should memorize and tell around a fire on the equinox.
The Seven – Sealed Flask by Rett Weissenfels is next. This one reminds me of the Witcher short stories(which I really liked, unlike the main series) or a dramatized retelling of a cool sequence from someone’s TTrpg campaign. It’s pretty fun.
At the Gate of Bone by Scott Oden closes us out. This one blurs boundaries by using high fantasy tropes in a more sword and sorcery story. It’s got a tall tale vibe to the way it’s told. So pull up a chair, sit round the fire, and listen to this old soldier’s yarn. I still need to read Scott’s novels – but I do have his Lost Empire of Sol anthology and it is at the very top of my tbr stack in the bedroom.
Whetstone gets some ads from a variety of small press venues you should check out including Frolic on the Amaranthyn by Chase Folmar which for my money is about the best new sword and sorcery book you can buy. But anyway these ads honestly round off the little ‘zine with a nice touch that makes it feel professional.
This is the best issue of Whetstone to date. The editors and contributors really outdid themselves this time round, and honestly this collection is better than almost any S&S money can buy right now. I expected to like it, but this really was stellar. Hope that these stories get reprinted someday – and that these authors move on to brighter(more professional) pastures. JRC and crew have really developed a knack for discovering and promoting new talent. And for the love of Crom someone talk DMR(or somebody else in our scene) into publishing a Turkael anthology. We need to know what madness Chuck is up to!!!