Thursday, May 24, 2018

Worlds of Adventure! ~ A Review of StoryHack #1

It's taken a bit of time to get to this, but here we are. The Action & Adventure magazine, StoryHack, began last year with a successful kickstarter and issue #0, and has quickly risen to the top of the short fiction heap for many people. After falling behind for so long, I have finally caught up and read Issue #1. This review is to let you know if all the praise is deserved.

It should be mentioned that I have interacted with several of the individuals involved in this magazine, and even submitted a story to it. That said, none of it has anything to do with my final opinion. I'm reviewing this because it's worth talking about and sharing, and I would never submit to a magazine I wouldn't read myself. This review is my honest opinion of issue #1.

StoryHack has a smaller physical size than something like Cirsova, but makes up for it in the content inside. Not only does it contain 10 tales, but each story has its own illustration, and there are many clever advertisements within its pages to give it the feel of a classic pulp magazine. I'm a big fan of getting physical versions of these pulp magazines and I'm glad that so many have felt compulsion to make readers want them. This format is entirely worth it.

As said before, this review will specifically cover the issue I read. You can find issue #1 on amazon here. Now to dive right in to the stories.

We start with an excellent cover to the first story in the magazine, New Rules for Rocket Nauts by Michael DeCarolis. This, in my opinion, was the perfect tale to begin with. This is essentially a space ranger story where times are changing and the old ways are being forgotten, but then a disaster occurs that proves that maybe charging blindly ahead is not always the best way to operate. There's plenty of action and derring-do with a small dab of romance along with creepy aliens to settle the reader in. I was a big fan of this story, and it was a perfect way to start off.

The Price of Hunger by Kevyn Winkless is the second story and it is nonstop action from the first sentence. The main character is being chased by his former friend who has something wrong with him and is determined to murder his fleeing victim. This is mostly one long set piece that ends with confrontation, but it was quite fast-paced.

The action continues in Retrieving Abe by Jay Barnson where a Mormon woman goes on a quest to save her husband from a dragon. But this isn't any old dragon. This short tale breezes by with good character development and descriptive action scenes. I'm starting to understand what sort of feel StoryHack is going for.

Protector of Newington by John M. Olson is a sort of steampunk superhero tale where the man behind the hero has to become one himself. This is a quick tale of a man trying his best to save a city from crime while getting over what he has lost along the way. The ending is a bit too convenient for me (the protagonist's decision is not that well thought out for one who works with heroes) but it does work thematically.

Hoping for werewolves? The next story, Brave Day Sunk in Hideous Night by Julie Frost, is what you're looking for. This has a time travel twist with an ending that is kind of vague. Yes, it's a time travel werewolf story. Despite that, I felt it held itself back. There wasn't that much action in this and I wasn't a fan of the vague ending.

Taking Control by Jon Del Arroz is a Weird Western with magic. It's short. I do enjoy the writing in this one, but I didn't feel like there was much in the way of stakes, and it just sort of ends. Of all the stories, this one feels like a small piece of a bigger one.

The mystery SF story (Planet & Mystery?) Some Things Missing From Her Profile by David Skinner is, once again, different from everything else in the magazine. A man's blind date is taken and he gets taken down a winding road that leads  to very strange places. Expect aliens and some violence. The opening is in media-res, which is not my favorite way to begin a written story, but beyond that I really enjoyed the journey.

Next we get Dream Master by Gene Moyers. This is a story where men begin dropping dead that soon becomes a cavalcade of fights and chases. Someone is infecting dreams and the main character is off finding out who. This reminded me most of an old Doc Savage story only without feeling like Lester Dent. Very much appreciated this.

Under the Gun by David J. West is another Weird Western but with a different tone from the last one. A young man discovers a body and finds a gun on his person. It begins to talk to him inside of his brain. This might have been my favorite story in this issue, as it was very fast paced but with enough character and plot movement to always keep me strapped in. This is what I read pulp for.

Finally we come to Circus to Boulogne by Mike Adamson to end the issue off. This is a historical adventure which takes place in World War II. A pilot is shot down behind enemy lines and must fight his way against incredible odds, or die. Every step of this journey is presented with a twist that leaves one wondering just what the protagonist did to anger fate so. But the ending finishes off the magazine right and leaves you wanting more.

What you might have gotten from this is that StoryHack takes no breaths and has no time to linger on the unexciting parts. This is pure Action Adventure and white knuckle action of the sort no one in traditional publishing is putting out anymore. What you get here is a tight set of stories that are pure joy to pick up and read and put away when needed. Short of Cirsova, I have yet to read a magazine with this much of a defined identity so quick out of the gate.

It is also proof that the Genre Wars currently taking place (and have been since Campbell made up his own rules) are total bunk. In this collection you will find Fantasy, Horror, Steampunk, Science Fiction, Weird Western, Mystery, and Historical Fiction stories. And yet they all bind together under a single theme. That theme is Action and Adventure. They all contain protagonists with defined goals that must overcome them through action and end up going through adventures. Despite how different the aesthetics are, every tale follows this one rule. This is the glue that binds every "genre" together and what used to be standard so long ago.

But enough about that, what's important is that StoryHack exists. This is the sort of magazine that needs to become the standard in short fiction again to bring it back to its roots. If you've been looking for something to read that lacks the spark you require then wonder no longer. Action Adventure is here to stay.

StoryHack comes highly recommended.

Issue #2 also just released, so you can look forward to more exciting tales here.


  1. Thanks for the kind words. I've kind of lucked out when it comes to great authors submitting. And as to the size, 7x10 was the size of the majority of classic pulps, so I went with that.

    1. It's definitely a good size. Fits easier on the shelf than Cirsova does.