Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Red Sun Rising ~ A Review of Red Sun Magazine #2

This is a magazine I've been trying to get to for a while now. Unlike previous reviews of Cirsova and Astounding Frontiers, this one is a bit different. Red Sun Magazine is a unique case where every one of the three available issues have a distinctly different focus. But they all share one aspect that peaked my interest in that they are not obsessed with genre segregation and are interested in exciting stories.

I chose Issue 2 specifically for being focused on Fantasy, which is a genre that needs a real pulp shot in the arm harder than SF and Horror do, in my opinion. I was not disappointed. Well, mostly. There is one story I did not enjoy, but I will get into that when we get there.

One thing Red Sun does differently than Cirsova or Astounding Frontiers is that they have interviews and articles sandwiched between stories. These are all centered on the same genre the issue focuses on as well as authors and creators in the same vein. This issue starts with an interview of the men behind from the Cromcast which is, as you can guess, a podcast focused on the late and great Robert E. Howard, as well as other Weird Fiction tales. It was a delightful read which made it a great piece to start off the magazine.

Next was an article titled "Why Write Fantasy?" by Judith Field which further put the lean on the Fantasy side of the magazine. This is just what the doctor ordered. The piece tackles an aggravating trend from literary types to classify Fantasy as lesser entertainment reserved for the ignorant and lesser folk from their "real" stories. It was pleasant reading a rebuttal of these claims that feel like they could have come from Chesterton himself.

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."

Fantasy is a way of connecting with a higher place than the one you're already in. A wider and bigger world is presented to entertain and thrill the reader. It hopes to pull you in and show you grand visions you might never have believed possible. This should be the aim of fiction--to give the reader a dose of imaginative excitement. After all, what is wrong about wanting to find something more than modern life?

The third piece in the magazine is another article, this one titled "Is Fantasy Hocus Without Pocus?" by Karen M. Smith. This one is about magic in fantastical stories and if it is necessary for the genre. I was a big fan of this article. The discussion of magic leads to a lot of blurring of the lines into what distinguishes Fantasy from Science Fiction or even Horror. Sub-genres and certain quotes are bandied about but no actual definition of Fantasy that sets it apart from other genres can really be found. She comes to the (in my opinion, correct) conclusion that these categories don't ultimately matter.

Of course this leads to all kinds of (really silly) arguments, but the truth remains the same. Genres blend because they are interchangeable.

In this reader's opinion, that is because all genre fiction is the same genre. The only distinguishing aspect is in the tone, trappings, and language used. Yet they all contain fantastical worlds and journeys with imaginative concepts not available to those trapped in "reality" or the plainness of (post)modern fiction. The only ones splitting the difference appear to be those who like one trapping above the others and want to elevate it in response. But this is a pointless task. They are all one and the same, and the sooner we can put that behind us, the sooner we can get back to focusing on ignoring artificial boundaries and getting sales back up again.

But I digress.

It is after this that we finally get to the stories. Thankfully, the issue only kept the quality up.

Up first is The Phonebooth by Michael Reyes. I recognize the author from Cirsova, and his tale did not disappoint. This is about an ex-convict answering phone calls from very mysterious parties as the world undergoes very strange changes. I was reminded of The Mothman Prophecies with how a creature far beyond the world of man attempts to communicate and influence events in our world in ways we couldn't possibly understand. There's a very good reason for that similarity, but I don't want to give the game away. Very nice horror bent in this one and a great first story to start with.

After that is Earth is for Earthers by Alexis Lantgen. Genetically modified humans return to Earth and things change... or do they? As for the positives... it was well written. I do think I would enjoy other stories from this author. That is all I can say.

As you can tell, I did not like this one. I began to predict every plot turn before it came until it lead to an ending that was rather flat and pointless. This is a story where you could remove all fantastical elements and the story would more or less be exactly the same. That's one of the core problems, but it was also too predictable.

You can get a story like this--a real world analogy to racism and immigration only transplanted to aliens--just about anywhere. You can get a story of forbidden love that ends with suicide of both parties just about about anywhere. You can get a story where every "bad" person is treated as stupid and every "good" person is a noble victim just about anywhere. You can get a story about a mopey protagonist that does nothing while a plot happens around them just about anywhere. And that's not a good thing. You can read another story like this just about anywhere.

This was a waste of the author's talent and Red Sun Magazine. I hate to be harsh, but stories like this are my least favorite kind, especially when I can tell where they are going before the author even gets there. Of the four tales, this was the weakest.

The third story is Body of Evidence by Ben Howels. In this one a magistrate is murdered and a trial has been enacted to sentence the perpetrator. But is he really the killer? This one is written in a Fantasy setting, in keeping with the theme of the issue, and it is a banger. The tension increases as the mystery unfolds and the characters are given a lot of personality through their natural discourse. There is a good quick ending that is very satisfying making this a good pulp tale.

Last is Sanguinary by Kevin Weir. Here we have a blood mage mercenary in an urban fantasy setting that is two steps away from being cyberpunk slaughtering gangsters to save a young girl. I don't think I need to add anything else to state that it spoke to me. This story was good fun and ended the issue off right. Personally, I feel this should have been the cover story. It has good atmosphere and an engaging magic system that really sets the imagination off. I definitely hope to read more stories about this character in the future.

Speaking of which, the magazine ends with an interview of the author of the very story in question. It gives quite a bit of context as to where the idea came from.

I was impressed with this issue of Red Sun Magazine. I had not heard much about them before, and I noticed they have relaunched their website, but they do have a lot of promise as a short story fiction magazine and a lot to set them apart from others.

You can find this issue here.

I highly recommend checking them out and keeping an eye on Red Sun in the future. I'm expecting great things.

For those that enjoy action, I have one of my own!


  1. JD, Thank you for the amazing review of Red Sun Magazine #2! Outstanding! You would definitely love issue #1. All the stories are action-packed. Email me at redsunmagazine at gmail dot com, and I'll hook you up with a copy.

    I'm more of an action-story oriented person myself, which is the reason there were 3 out of 4 such stories in issue #2. But sometimes, if my section editors really love a story for whatever reason, I let them have their way. And that was the case with "Earth is for Earthers". Although it's not the kind of story I prefer, I treat my staff fairly (the way I treated the soldiers who served under me during my time in the Army and Iraq), and if one of my section editors makes a case for a story they want published, it gets in. That said, the majority of stories you will read in Red Sun will be of the action and pulp variety.

    At any rate, thanks again for the fantastic review. Much appreciated! And glad you enjoyed ninety percent of issue #2.

    If the reboot is a success you can expect to see a lot more action-packed stories in issue #4 along with articles, interviews, and reviews, especially if I get the kind of military sci-fi submissions I want.

    Ben Richards
    Red Sun Magazine

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I'm definitely looking forward to what you guys have coming next.