Monday, January 26, 2015

Bastion Magazine - November 2014

Bastion November 2014 coverBastion is a science fiction magazine. Normally we don't review zines, but I don't see why not. They're similar to anthologies in that they contain multiple authors working around a central theme. In this case, that central theme is simple: science fiction. But as I look deeper, I see memory as a common thread.

Another important point is that this issue was not submitted to us. I saw that Rob Steiner was one of the authors in this issue, so I went out and bought it. I'm reviewing it on GoodReads so I may as well post it here too. Small press zines are like indie authors: Publicity is better than obscurity.

The issue opens with "Good Times" by Alexander Jones. Memories are the latest drug. Someone has created the technology where one can extract memories from one person and inject them into another. The experience is like living through them firsthand. Like all drugs, there's always the risk of overdose. I really liked this story. While the characters initially appeared to be just some random shmoes, Jones developed them as each explored a memory shared by the other.

"The Ticket-Taker" by CJ Menart is told to us from the perspective of a ticket-taker robot at a vaudeville show. But something's wrong with it. People are complaining about its behavior. They think it's malfunctioning, and so does the central factory computer, but there seems to be more going on. The robot is a bit of a smart aleck who rambles about its memories of shows past. But if you pay close attention, you just might be able to figure out what the author is trying to say.

A landing on an alien world has gone terribly wrong in "Us or Them". The protagonist in B. Brooks' story is the last person among her crew, pursued by the others and slowly succumbing to the sickness that claimed so many. She struggles to remember her training. And something wants to commandeer her starship and spread its infection to Earth. A nice edge of your seat story.

"The Vestal" is a story that takes place in Rob Steiner's Codex Antonius series. If you know the series, it's back in Kaeso's Umbra Corps days, long before Muses of Roma. But if you're not familiar with it, the story takes place in an alternate universe where Rome never fell. Kaeso works for the CIA equivalent of a free world trying to keep Roma from taking it down. It's an interstellar cold war. In "The Vestal", Kaeso is charged with helping a woman, one of the Vestal Virgins, defect to his world. Hands down, this was my favorite story in the issue. It had action and a solid protagonist. And Rob Steiner's world building is top notch.

In "Playing in the Skeleton on Riot Day", Jedd Cole tells the story of Sheila, a ten-year old girl recounting the days of the occupation of Earth by aliens. Her brother and his friends enjoy watching people protest the occupation. And sometimes it gets ugly. There's an obvious parallel that can be drawn to human armies from one nation that occupy another, where the cultural differences make the other seem alien. But Cole doesn't preach. He's just offering a different POV. Food for thought as it will. A good story.

The editor thought that Michael Andre-Driussi's "Mayhem at Manville" was going to be controversial. I suppose it was because of the S&M, homosexuality, and violent world portrayed in the story. But I didn't find any of it offensive or gratuitous. Human, androids, and aliens mix together in a piece that's part Philip K. Dick, part William S. Burroughs, and all puzzle. I read it twice to try to make sense of it and a chain of memories to see if I could piece together the clues.

In Spencer Wightman's "Shenzhen Blues", video games have become high stakes affairs, like back room poker games are today. But the video games are far more intense than anything we have today. And biotechnology has advanced to the point where implants and organs can be considered collateral on bets. It's the dark underbelly of cyberpunk. The protagonist, Sam, seems hellbent on blazing through life to burn a memory from her past. But at the rate she's blazing, she just might wind up dead.

All in all, I think that this was a good collection of stories and worthy of further investigation. For more information on their current and past issues, visit Bastion's website.

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