Storyhack continues to put out an extremely professional looking magazine, and issue 4 is no exception. Each story comes with an internal illustration, and the external artwork leaves no doubt as to what the magazine is about. It is highly recommend for people who want action-adventure in their stories, but are less concerned with stories fitting within a certain genre as editor Bryce Beattie tends to pull from all conventions… so long as there is action to be had.
HawkeMoon by Sidney Blaylock, Jr. A king has been assassinated, so the captain of the royal guard goes in search of the one master assassin who was responsible… only it turns out she wasn’t the one behind it. This story is memorable for its characters, but even more so for the ultimate villain of the piece, The Scarecrow King.” I wished the setting had been a bit more developed than it was, as it felt very much a cardboard backdrop against which the characters acted, as opposed to a fully developed world. I know, that’s a lot to ask for in a short story, but I still think the overall setting was too roughly sketched, and thus seemed fairly generic for my taste. This story is the cover story for the issue, and I can absolutely see why.
Island Rescue by Spencer E. Hart. A group of mercenaries invades the private island of a billionaire. It’s up to the son of a computer engineer, Frank, and the billionaire’s daughter, Denise, to stay safe and get help before their fathers are hurt or killed. Honestly, I had a hard time getting into this story, but the writer does keep the action moving at a steady clip. I did feel the romance aspect forced, especially since Denise is said to have lived an extremely sheltered life. While she ends up getting a bit more freedom at the end of the story than what she started with, the idea that she is somehow beholden to her rescuer didn’t sit quite right with me. I would have preferred it if there was more of her making a definitive choice as opposed to her picking the only real option available.
Beyond the Temple of Baktaar by Jason Restrick. An American soldier in the trenches of World War I is approached by an apparition of a old comrade thought lostin an expedition three years ago. The action moves between the current of the war and the journal entries of his comrade as the main character seeks him out. The story comes across more disjointed than I would like, and the style is archaic, making it a bit harder to get into and enjoy. I did appreciate the character of Sam Walters, as he is a throwback to the heroes of Robert Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but the way the story was told I didn’t ever feel as if I was on the sharp end of danger as much as I would have liked.
Wild Yellow by Brandon Barrows. A dying man in the desert frontier is rescued by a local lawman. Only it turns out there’s trouble in town as someone is stealing from the local silver mine. But can the hero overcome his own cowardice and rise to the occasion? A well told Western, and one that isn’t nearly so gritty or grim as the ones we tend to publish. The dd thing out was the local sheriff’s daughter pledging to marry the man who brought her brother’s killer to justice. Sure, she might have said that because she liked the looks of the main character, but it still seemed more the kind of thing you’d find a fantasy princess saying than in a Western period piece.
My Foe Outstretched by Misha Burnett. Two men in a future setting enter into a controlled arena… where only one can exit. While the action is tense, there is not a great sense of what led to the current action… except that one man felt that he was wronged by the other. The ending was a surprise, but made me think of the saying: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Alpha Equation by Julie Frost. Werewolves in space. The youngest of the pack tries to escape his new over domineering alpha by escaping off world. There’s a good amount of action to this, and the development of the characters is well done, especially with how the main character eventually warms to and befriends his new “pack.” The sci-fi and fantasy tones feel a bit forced at times, especially since there’s no real explanation why moons other than the one around earth has any affect on werewolf cycles. I don’t say this often, but a bit more exposition wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The Bouncer’s Tale by Jon Mollison. Part three of an ongoing crime story, but instead of the parts being sequential, it is a Rashomon style story where each character in it gets to tell the story from their viewpoint. In this case, it is the bouncer who is dragged into the criminal world against his will and the choices he’s forced to make along the way. Well written, and with a good deal of action, but I can’t help but feel if some of the tension is taken out since the basics of the story don’t change much from view to view.
Retirement Plan by John M. Olsen. A military veteran settles on a backwoods planet and plans to enjoy his twilight years in idyllic rest. Unfortunately, a band of outlaws show up which ruins that plan. The science-fiction aspect is well done with detail paid to how the tech works, but more importantly the character of Brad Smith feels well-developed, helped along by the first person narration.
The Spirit of St. George by Damascus Mincemeyer. Flying aces against dragons in the Rocky Mountains. This was easily the best story in the collection and the one I most enjoyed, complete with cultists, intrigue, and high-flying action. The nods to actual historic events and figures was a nice tough and showed the writer put quite a bit of care into the story.