Wednesday, January 24, 2018

From Dark Depths to Astounding Frontiers

It's been a while since I reviewed the premiere issue of Astounding Frontiers. My assessment was that if you are looking for a magazine of fun Silver Age era Science Fiction then you will be right at home. If you are looking for either Golden Age pulp or modern fiction, however, you would be out of luck.

That said, it's been some time since that first issue. Let's take a look and see how much later issues have improved from the initial release.

Heck, the covers alone have improved tenfold since the first one.

I will be looking through Issues 2, 3, 4, and 5, in this review in order to properly judge more of the multi-part series. I will, however, still be skipping the full on larger serializations. I simply do not have the interest in them as of now, as stated in the previous review, but if that is to your taste then you should have full confidence in the authors involved that they will cater to your taste just as well as the shorter pieces do.

Please apologize this sloppy review. It was difficult to compile properly. Astounding Frontiers is difficult to review.

Three of the four stories in issue 2 are continued in issue 3 (and one in issue 4), so there's much carryover. Every issue bleeds into the next which makes it hard to recommend a specific issue in general. As an aside, I have skipped Julie Frost's story for this post as it is not completed as of issue 5 and I did not want to jump into issue 6 and have more cliffhangers to work around.

Confused? Yes, so was I. This is one of my main complaints with Astounding Frontiers. It is hard to jump into or keep track of with so many stories starting and ending in different issues.

But let us get into it and begin with issue #2.

Up first is Dead Man Walking by Scot Washam, a zombie survival horror tale about a lone protagonist gathering supplies. It's a fine starter to issue 2, but it's not one of my favorites. That said, it's fun and action packed. It also benefits in being the quickest and most exciting read in issue 2.

The Long Freeze (Parts 1 and 2) by Karl Gallagher ran in issue 2 and 3. A young man named Luke awakens from a cryogenic freeze where he learns that the world is a much different place than the one he left. With a fellow traveler named Marv he finds giant Siamese cats and a village of chicken men in Part 1. In Part 2 the pair rescue two beautiful women from the village. They then reach a village of . . . "men" for lack of a better term. Weird is a great descriptor for this one. This was a great read from start to finish, but the ending petered out. A new character is introduced and the story just stops. This could have used a third part to wrap it up.

Then up next we have The Robber Council (Parts 1, 2 and 3) by Brian Niemeier which carries over three issues. I always struggle to explain his stories because they are always so very thick. This is a story of a prisoner named Merentus being given a second chance by the Philosopher King. In the first part there is a debate regarding letting Merentus leave his dark prison to escape into the light. I don't want to say more than that because I might mention something that will ruin the mystique of this piece. In the second part he is bought as a slave by a woman who uses him as an escort on a perilous journey which is the focus of the last part. Of the three parts, I must admit I liked the first part the best for having such a strong conflict in such a small amount of space.

The Last Lesson (Parts 1 and 2) by Russel May follows.a time traveler attempting to improve his life at the expense of his partner, the world, and time itself. The first part deals with him telling his tale from a prison cell as he attempts to figure out his way back through. The second part deals with the repercussions of his selfishness. I have said I don't care for time travel stories and this story exemplifies why--in a good way. It's confusing in how the rules work and yet the plot progression is easily understandable and straightforward. This made the story enjoyable on a level I wasn't expecting. What it does is solidify my feelings that time travel as a story concept is too troublesome to encumber yourself with. That said, Mr. May made it work for him and the result is an enjoyable tale.

Issue #2 also contains two vintage pieces which are The Stolen Mind by M.L. Stayley and Into Space by Sterner St. Paul. The former is about a man by the mighty name of Owen Quest who applies for a job at a research facility and ends up going through a trippy spiritualist journey. The second is a tale about contact with extraterrestrials and a missing scientist which ends in a very odd predicament for a certain character. These put a good frame on the type of stories that the magazine is hoping to capture.

If I have one complaint it is that there was only one standalone single part story in these issues. If you are trying to get new readers to jump aboard it is difficult when they only see a bunch of serials in mid-progress and two short stories, one on its second part and another on its third. It's not approachable for new readers. A few shorter one part tales would have been nice to break up the longer works.

I understand it's a way to keep readers coming back, but it keeps some at arm's length from picking up a new issue when they are not certain they can get a full experience, or get dropped in the middle of a bunch of stories that they do not know the full length of. It's not newcomer friendly.

Thankfully, Issue #5 is filled with standalone stories which makes it far easier to talk about. As said before I will be skipping Julie Frost's story only because it is not finished as of my review and wouldn't make sense to review it here.

The first tale in this issue is Spacebook by Arlan Andrews Sr. is a short comedic piece about all knowledge of the universe being known. It's a solid piece that does have a funny ending but leaves you wondering if everything really ever can be known. I quite liked it. This was a breath of fresh air.

Redcoats Versus Monsters by Patrick S. Baker follows and is, like the title implies, an alternate history tale. Coming off of Spacebook made this a bit more humorous than intended, but that's no bad thing. This tale contains action, reanimated corpses, honorable soldiers, mysterious snake men, horror, and fantastic sights. This is the best story of the whole lot, the most pulp, and by far worth the price for issue #5 alone. I cannot express how much I enjoyed this one.

Last there is For Science! by Ben Zwycky. This is a poem and is another break from what Astounding Frontiers has offered so far. It is weird, creepy, and out there, with just enough to make it truly fit in with a pulp magazine. This adds much to the magazine's tone.

There's also an article by Jeffro Johnson on Planet Stories that, once again, makes me wish I had a copy of the very magazine he is talking about. The pulps really were something else, and it is good to see so many modern publications attempt to reclaim what was deliberately abandoned. Much like Astounding Frontiers is attempting itself.

As it is, this is the best issue to jump on board with outside of the first one. The original stories as a whole are stronger than those contained in the initial issue, however, and there is much more variety. This is by far my favorite of the 5 issues I have read.

And that is all I have read through.

My main problem with these issues was in length of the tales themselves. Short stories are meant to be brief, sharp, and to the point. They are meant to lift the reader out of their normalcy and doldrums far quicker than a novel does by offering a complete story with as little economy of word space as possible. Few of these stories achieve this due to spreading over multiple issues and some issues not even containing any complete tales at all in their individual pages. It dulls a lot of the satisfaction.

Of course, I am not complaining serializations exist at all, only that a selling point for a magazine should also be that it contains complete content in its pages to contrast with longer pieces. This is something Cirsova offers in every issue. Even if they began running serializations, I can still trust them to have standalone short stories that I can consume in addition to their new approach.

Now this might only be a personal issue, but I didn't see any reason to avoid bringing it up. I am the one reviewing this, after all.

Another problem is that it still has a bit of genre segregation. These are not the fault of the tales themselves, but in the magazine's approach. There were no Fantasy tales included in any of these issues nor any Horror beyond Mr. Washam's in issue 2. All that is except for Mr. Baker's excellent tale in issue 5 which has no fear of genre limitations. Contrasting this with the Cirsova issues I recently reviewed and I cannot help but be disappointed on that aspect. Part of the fun of pulp reads is not knowing what any given story will contain within its pages. It is a feeling of opening a mystery box unsure of what will spring from it and always getting surprised.

All that said, the content itself is worth your time. These stories are well chosen and enjoyable, all for a very affordable price. If you are looking for a good magazine for Science Fiction stories then this is a fantastic buy. You are in for a lot of fun.

You can find all the issues of Astounding Frontiers here.

I'm also creating stories of my own. If you enjoy pulp you are sure to dig this. You can read my new novel today!


  1. Hello!

    I'm one of the authors and even though it wasn't quite your cup of tea, I'm glad you enjoyed the stories as much as you did.

    Unfortunately, my story "The Last Lesson" didn't run the full length in the publication.

    However, I'm going to publish all five parts on my FB page, gratis:

    I was just getting warmed up in the story!

    1. Thanks for posting!

      Your story was a lot of fun. I'm definitely interested in reading more.

    2. I released it in parts and the full story is available as a pdf or epub. Head over to for the link. Hope you enjoy it!