YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK OUT THE JANUARY ISSUE OF STUPEFYING STORIES. A few of the stories are so-so; they suffer mainly from a tendency to cram in way too much exposition right at the beginning, though they generally have interesting premises and/or situations. A couple of the other stories are gems, though. “Morality for Alchemists and Thieves” by L. Joseph Shosty is a nifty little fantasy, well written and whimsical, its setting the town of Al-Hekban, seemingly somewhere in the ancient East, its protagonist one Elihu The Poisoner. It’s a clever tale with well drawn characters and setting and a sly denouement. But a still more enjoyable story, in my opinion, and one itself worth the very reasonable price of the issue ($1.99, if I remember correctly, and I do), is “Seeking Kailash.”
Stupefying Stories prints predominately fantasy and science-fiction, but they are open to mystery, humor, and mainstream fiction as well. “Seeking Kailash” is historical fiction; I think that’d it’d be stretching things a little to even try to view it as slipstream. Its set in the Himlayas during the British colonial period in India and involves a quest of sorts, shared by a duo that at first seem unlikely: a British physician named Balfour and one of his retainers, Ghandruk a, native of the Himalayas, who left them years earlier as a boy to enter the monastery of Lama Prakash, under whom he studied over a decade. The physician, Balfour, is looking for miraculous native remedies of which he’s heard, and Ghandruk is looking for answers, for illumination. Balfour has heard of a Himalayan woman named Radha whose healing ability is legendary. Since traditional Indians view physical, emotional, phychological, and spiritual issues as inseparable, Ghandruk believes that perhaps Radha can help him as well.
Ghandruk is very much the viewpoint character, and the story the story ultimately concerns his inner struggles, but there’s plenty more going on. His and Balfour’s struggle against the harsh environment, their search for the mysterious Radha, and a rich depiction of Indian culture and that period of India’s history. Ah, and love rears her alluring head as well. Cockburn tells all this in flowing, textured prose that carried me right along. And yes, there were revelations, but not exactly of the kind either man thought he was looking for. I think it’s an excellent story, and I’m not sure just what other magazine would have found a place for it.
For science-fiction and fantasy fans, this issue contains a further bonus, “An Appreciation of Brad W. Foster” by Avery L. Maxwell. I think most people who’re active in SF fandom know Brad Foster, or at least know of him, but the biographical data in Maxwell’s piece filled me in with some more details. I knew that Brad was a popular fan artist, but I didn’t know that he’d won the fan artist Hugo eight freakin’ times. I was also unaware that Brad’s illustrations have appeared in professional science-fiction magazines and countless comics over the years. So the new info was nice, but even better was the four and a half pages of Brad’s artwork that followed it. Fans of Brad’s stuff will enjoy it for sure, and I’d think just about anybody ought to get a charge out of it.
So, I’m just gonna go ahead and say, yeah, you ought to go ahead and drop $1.99 for this issue. (Splurge, why don’t you?). Again, “Searching for Kailash” alone is worth the price of the issue, far as I’m concerned. The tribute to Brad Foster alone would also probably be worth the cost of the issue to trufans. Besides, I think that Stupefying Stories is a zine worth supporting. Edited by Bruce Bethke, the guy responsible for coining the word, “cyberpunk,” Stupefying has gone in a new direction in SF publishing as far as I know. Neither an ezine, nor blog, nor traditional print SF magazine, Stupefying is published exclusively for e-readers and tablet computers. It’s formatted for Kindle, Nook, and iPad , and available at their respective venues. Stupefying calls itself a serial anthology so every issue remains listed on the e-book sellers’ sites, instead of just the most recent one, which I think’s a wise move. And since Stupefying asks people to pay for an issue, unlike most ezines and blogs, it may have a better chance at eventual financial viability. Perhaps it’s mapping out the future of the SF short story market. In another five years, if magazines of short science-fiction and fantasy are still being published, I believe that it’ll be in a format much like that of Stupefying Stories.
OK, let me get off this soapbox. Whew…