I’d have known Old Man Brady was on his deathbed even if his nurse hadn’t told me. He raises a skeletal hand and motions me closer, then removes his oxygen mask to speak. “Thank you for coming. I’m sorry my wife couldn’t be here.”
I don’t have the heart to tell him the word on the street: his sons found their step-mom in bed with another man, and did something about it. What they did is different in each story, but none of the stories end with her returning home. I pat the old man on the shoulder. “It’s no problem, sir.”
“You’ve done so much for the family over the years. Is there anything I can do for you, while I’m still able?”
“I’d like to borrow a copy of Red Sun Magazine from your library.”
“Take whatever you like. Neither my sons nor my step-daughters have shown any interest in reading.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’m not a fool. I know we never meshed as a family. Things will turn ugly when I die. Whatever happens, don’t get in the middle. You might delay the conflict, but you can’t prevent it. Promise me you won’t interfere.”
“OK, if you say so.”
Downstairs, I scan the shelves of the library … a complete set of the Encyclopedia Pailleana … leather-bound copies of the classics: Rossis, Boyack, Francis, Peach — all that garbage they make you read in high school to ensure you’ll never pick up a book again. A collection of low-brow Nebus comic strips seems out of place here, but I find Red Sun magazine next to them.
Six Bradys look down on me from a second-floor balcony as I leave. I smile at the kids I’ve watched grow up over the years: Greg and Marcia, the middle two whose names I can never remember, and little Bobby and Cindy. Bobby sticks his head through the balcony railing. “Do you wanna meet my girlfriend?”
Marcia kicks him in the butt. “Shut up, Bobby. You don’t have a girlfriend.”
Bobby runs into his bedroom and slams the door behind him.
Greg folds his arms and stares at me. “So, what did Pop tell you?”
“He told me to stay out of your business.”
The second those words leave my mouth, the kids turn from me as if I’ve ceased to exist. Marcia unbuttons her blouse as she opens a door. “Greg, could you help me with something in my room?” Greg closes the door behind them.
The other two girls nod to each other. The older uses her scarf to strangle her brother from behind, while the little one grabs his legs. He spins, slamming the older girl into the wall, and kicks the little one down the stairs. She doesn’t take the fall well, and ends up motionless with her neck bent at an awkward angle.
The older girl held her choke hold, and the boy drops to his knees. Just before he loses consciousness, he turns the doorknob to Marcia’s bedroom. Marcia lifts her bloody knife and smiles. Fortunately, from my angle, I can’t see what they do to finish off the boy.
The two girls knock on Bobby’s door. Marcia calls out in her sweetest voice, “Bobby, come out here, we need to talk to you.”
“My girlfriend says I should stay in here.”
“Shut up, Bobby. You don’t have a girlfriend.”
A muscular, armor-clad woman kicks the door off its hinges and points a sword at the girls. Bobby peeks from behind her. “This is my girlfriend, Xena. She says we can get married, and I’ll in-herit-it the Brady fortune.”
Xena cuts the girls down from behind as they try to run.
I wave as I head for the front door. “Nice to meet you Xena. I’ll see you around, Bobby.”
The Orion Incident by David Amendola. A missing, derelict warship re-appears from deep space, heading straight for earth. A former super-commando who’d served aboard the ship is released from prison to join a boarding team.
While this is an above-average adventure tale, there were several things that made me lose focus and think about the writing rather than the story:
The super-commando is female, has PTSD, and was imprisoned for attacking a superior officer who sexually harassed her. This felt like hot-button topics being thrown at the reader rather than an integral part of the story.
The story begins with a combat scene, then jumps back in time to explain how the characters got there. This lessens the impact of the middle portion of the story, as the reader knows what’s coming: those characters have to make it to the combat scene. I know, authors have to hook the reader in the first page or paragraph or sentence or whatever, but I didn’t think the chronologically-early part of the story was boring. Super-commando is dragged from her prison cell and mouths off to the officers who offer her the mission. Will they throw her back in prison? Is this a suicide mission? Will they kill her after the mission because she can’t keep her mouth shut? To me, these questions provide as much tension as a murder-bot with a chainsaw.
This paragraph contains spoilers: the threat turns out to be an alien virus, which not only kills humans, but also turns into a computer virus and takes over the ship. It’s already a stretch to think that an alien virus could replicate within Earth-life cells, or that an alien computer virus could corrupt human software, but something that can do both? The story would have worked better if the alien computer virus had released a biological weapon from the warship’s arsenal, or if a biological virus had caused a delirious officer to activate the ship’s murder-bots.
Taste the New Drug by Rhoads Brazos. The story begins as a team of people with police training raid a criminal’s apartment, making no attempt to use non-lethal methods. At first, I thought they were corrupt ex-cops, but ultimately, it’s more complicated than that. Things really heat up when someone/something turns the tables on them.
At this point, I’m thinking “this is a great story, but where’s the SF/F?” Then, SFF kicks in with a vengeance, starting out sci-fi, but then throwing in a couple of elements (including something sexual) which amp up the horror, but drag the story kicking and screaming away from science.
I loved the story’s ending. After you read it, you will probably wonder about me.
Star Jelly by Brenda Kezar. A very short (but scary) story, which also straddles the line between sci-fi and horror. Although it works well stand-alone, I could see it as the first chapter of a novel — an interesting twist on a certain sci-fi sub-genre.
Paper Cut by Aeryn Rudel. A man who got on the wrong side of the Yakuza tries to stay alive. I think this story is as good as the urban fantasy of Larry Correia, Jim Butcher, or [insert your favorite bestselling author], and I’d like to see it turned into the opening chapter of a novel.
There’s no doubt that Red Sun will make it to round 2 of my magazine quest. It beats the pants off SFF magazines that have been around for years, or decades. Story quality is high, but you’ll probably like or dislike the magazine based on its tone, which is consistent across the stories. This tone is dark, but not the kind of darkness that would make you depressed about life or the human race. It reminds me of sci-fi movies like Blade Runner or Alien.
The stories don’t have happy endings. Here are the fates of the main characters from the four stories (not in the same order as above, to avoid spoilers):
- Alive, but almost certainly about to die
- Alive, but facing a deadly, apocalyptic future
- Alive, but with an ominous warning of possible future danger
Leave me a comment below with your thoughts on Red Sun Magazine, or to let me know if I went too far with my grimdark version of The Brady Bunch.