Broadswords and Blasters, the new magazine from Matthew X. Gomez and Cameron Mount, declares itself as “pulp with modern sensibilities” and, before I started reading, I wasn’t really sure what this was going to be. As an incredibly varied genre, pulp encapsulates popular or sensationalist writing that is stereotypically of poor quality. Thankfully, the magazine does feature genre storytelling, all of which is very well written, without the misogynistic and racist elements of the pulp tradition.
Personally, “pulp” conjures up images of detective fiction so the story I would most identify with the genre is “Kane and Grable” by Michael T. Best. It’s the story of Nick Kane and his technically dead girlfriend who reminds him of forties pin-up Betty Grable. Arable can still communicate with Nick as she is a VCR (Virtual Consciousness Replication) and, when the story begins, we get the sense that she’s jealous of Nick’s new love interest Julia. At first, he dismisses her warnings to stay away from Julia but we soon get the sense that Grable might be telling the truth. The story brilliantly evokes a postmodern retro world, like that of Blade Runner, perfectly blending the past with the future.
Of course, in collections such as this, there are always weaker stories but I found that most were engaging and very well written. Sara Codair’s story, “The Soul Plantation”, is particularly touching, which is surprising with a short sci-fi story. Jahan Falla oversees the plantations of human babies, who are bred to become slaves or are harvested for food for the Fallanian people. The plantations are also home to female human slaves or “tenders” to look after the infants. When one tender steps out of line, Jahan must step in to assert his dominance but it’s what he does with the babies she was looking after that is particularly memorable. This is one of the shorter stories in the collection, but, in my opinion, it’s one of the best as we become emotionally connected to a tentacled alien.
Another great story is “A Western Promise” by Calvin Demmer, which fills the gap until the return of Westworld. This is also a Western populated with robots but there are also other beings present. The story begins as a typical Western: Sheriff Charles “Quick Draw” Payne, along with his love interest Clementine, notice strange occurrences including people having strange fits and their eyes not moving normally in the town of Little Mirage. One day, Roswell McCarthy, a stranger from out-of-town, challenges Payne to a duel and it’s during this showdown that Payne learns more about the town and the people who live there.
Grey Harlowe’s “The Oath Breaker” is perhaps the most dystopian story in the collection and is also the most unsettling. Orphea is overjoyed when she is invited to join the Builder’s Guild in the kingdom of Loria because it’s possible for a woman in this position to become Queen. The life of a Builder is notoriously tough and is also very secretive and Orphea climbs the ranks within the Guild, discovering the secrets and deciphering fact from fiction. What she learns teaches her a lot about the society in which she lives and the people she cares about most.
This issue features several fantasy/adventure stories, all of which are extremely engaging: “Kauahoa vs the Mu” by Patrick S. Baker, “Feathered Death” by Steve Cook, “Island of Skulls-Part Two” by Matt Spencer, “The Deep Well” by C.R. Langille, and “The Eye of the Sun” by DJ Tyrer. Each expertly demonstrates various kinds of adventure stories and work very well when read together, providing a widely varied overview of the subgenre.
Although I haven’t gotten the chance to read the other issues of the magazine yet, I look forward to it as I found that a lot of the themes and characters resonate with contemporary popular culture, whether you enjoy stereotypical pulp writing or not.