Exanimate – Paradox Magazine

This is an ongoing series of articles discussing contemporary magazines which have ceased to exist.

Paradox Magazine was a speculative fiction publication edited by Christopher M. Cevasco that had a thirteen issue run. Their first issue was published in March 2003 while their final issue was published in April 2009, receiving a fitting eulogy at Back Gate Magazine.

The word paradox should be well known to most readers of speculative fiction and it is thus no surprise as to the existence, past and present, of other publications bearing this word in their title. The H.G. Wells Science Fiction Society of Romania publishes an inhouse magazine called Paradox, while a one off APA zine of the same name (formerly Just SF) was published in June 1982. Neither of these or any other publications with a similar name are covered within the ambit of this article.

The magazine’s speciality was more geared towards Alternative History, Period Tales, such as Arthurian, and Time Travel. i.e. Earth based as opposed to the otherworldly slant that often comes with traditional Fantasy and Science Fiction. Like many other similar publications, Paradox Magazine featured the occasional scholastic article, review and poem. One interesting differentiator was their substantial use of historic art, both on the cover and internally – an idiosyncrasy I quite liked.

I received my copy of Paradox Magazine issue 7 some years back, amongst an order of assorted back issues I was able to purchase from Neil Clarke, who publishes the successful Clarkesworld Magazine. As an indication of just how long this magazine languished on my Books to Read shelf, consider that Paradox Magazine was still an in print going concern when I received this specific issue!

The magazine has a glossy card cover in colour, depicting A Reading from Homer by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912). There is no artwork or other detail on the back cover. It is a standard sized “A4”, saddle stitched publication containing 56 pages of quality paper. Fiction in order of appearance is:

A Tear Like a Rainbow by Meredith Simmons. A tale of the US Civil War involving aerial reconnaissance through the use of lighter than air balloons and a young protagonist with a penchant for words starting with the letter i. Illustration by Roxell Edward Karr.

The Avowing of Sir Kay by Cherith Baldry . An Arthurian tale about Sir Kay, King Arthurs foster brother, seneschal and a Pentecostal vow. Illustration by Howard Pyle (1853 – 1911). While I recalled Sir Kay from various works of fiction and the movie Excalibur, this view of him was different to what I had expected. I enjoyed this story.

A Monument More Lasting than Brass by Steven Mohan, Jr. An Alt History tale about the first return to the moon, many years after a disastrous Apollo 11 mission failure. Illustration by Jeff Ward. The author of many BattleTech novels delivers a “what if” scenario on a cold war backdrop in the time of US president Reagan.

The Tiger Fortune Princess by the late Eugie Foster. This short work is set in China and involves the Empress Meiying and a curse placed upon her daughter, the princess Wen-Xiu. Illustration by Wu Guxiang (1848 – 1903). The story reads like a folk tale, quickly putting one in the mindset of a Chinese narrator telling the tale to rapt audience.

A Taste of Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick . This story takes the form of a letter written in the first person, detailing a horrific paranormal encounter. Illustration by Arthur Davis Broughton. The author is well published, and while I have not read any of her other works, it is my belief that A Taste of Ashes may fit within the universe of some of her works.

A Hand in the Stream by Darron T. Moore. Illustration by Jim Ordolis. This is a Time Travel piece about the leader of a team of time travellers from the future must return to a critical point in the past to collect certain objects of high value moments before they are destroyed, without of course causing any timeline continuity problems. The story flips between present and the main characters memories of certain events in her past. Enjoyable and quite credible in its context.

The Gods of Green and Gray by Paul Finch. A tale set in Roman occupied Britain, some years after the Romans quelled Boudicca’s revolt, this feature story takes up the final fourteen pages of the magazine. Illustrated by Allen Koszowski. This was my favourite story, although I freely admit my bias towards the subject matter. Well written with believable characters and a good mix of historic and fantasy elements, I could not put it down.

Other works include an essay titled Beyond the Barbarian: History in the Works of Robert E. Howard, by Patrice Louinet. If my experience reading and contributing at Black Gate Magazine has taught me anything, this would have been a perennial draw card.

Poems by Angelo Sphere (Prayer of Atigone) and the prolific Darrell Schweitzer (The Greatness of Scipio Aemilianus) are set amongst the various stories and advertisements, while regular departmental columns (editorial, book and film reviews and contributors’ biographies) round off the magazine.

I enjoyed the magazine, finding all the content to be well written and pertinent to the magazines by-line – “The magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction”.  If an opportunity to purchase other issues presents itself, I will definitely take it.

Dragontales Magazine

Dragontales was an apparently one off anthology of short stories published under the auspices of Dragon Magazine back in 1980. The stories therein, at the time were original and had not appeared in previous editions of Dragon Magazine.

I picked this magazine up for USD1.00 some years back, along with a job lot of Dragon Magazine back issues. One of various reasons I bought Dragon Magazine was to read the short stories therein.

Little did I realise that the magazine, in excellent condition I may add, is apparently highly collectible, according to what people are asking for it on eBay anyway. That aside, is it worthwhile reading, or has its genre based fiction aged beyond readability?

Dragontales magazine cover

First and foremost the magazine has a striking wrap around cover depicting a priestess standing in front of a party of adventurers (one would assume) in an avenue of Mayan / Incan / Aztec / (Insert Alternate Mesoamerican Culture here) snake headed pylons leading up to a stepped pyramid type temple. Already impressive stuff, that set my GM’s mind scheming about plot ideas for our ongoing RuneQuest campaign.

In the sky/background of the picture one can see ghostly images of snakes – vipers by appearance – fighting warriors, distant landscapes and skeleton covered treasure troves. The artists signature is M Carroll.

Contents wise I felt it was a mixed bag. I did not enjoy the first story, The Wizards are Dying by John L Jenkin, at all. In fact it was so old school genre (1st edition D&D) based that I almost put the magazine away never to look at it again. But I persevered and took days to read a story that should have taken me a short train ride to work. It was the typical party gets together and makes their way (along with the obligatory stow away) off to stop a lich whose sealed tomb had been disrupted. Yawn. The story had a number of holes in it and was just not my cup of tea. That said the action did get better towards the end and well, I suppose it was a product of its time. It does explain why many a fantasy magazines writers guidelines vociferously state their disinterest in genre fiction.

Fortunately the rest of the stories vary from a bit, to remarkable better. Dragons Fosterling by Ruby S W Jung was light hearted and clever. Likely more so when it was published as I suspect there have been many takes on the same subject since.

Out of the Eons by Gardner F Fox was one of the stories I enjoyed the most. The story was a clever take on the standard hero with his goddess’ avatar wife. There were one or two small inconsistencies, or rather glossed over facts that had me paging back in case I missed a paragraph. Just a thought, but isn’t spelled Aeons?

Sir George by Carl Parlagreco was a decent attempt at fantasy humour writing. Bearing in mind this was written before the Colour of Magic saw light, or the likes of Craig Shaw Gardner, Tom Holt et al made names for themselves in this field. The story gave me a few chuckles, well worth a look.

Black Lotus Moon by Tom Moldvay was also a favourite. A tale of a protagonist thief, and betrayal at various levels. It was clever and well written. It may have been little risqué for its time, in its art and content, which I am sure helped push whatever boundaries existed at that time.

Some short work such as Honor (sic) Among Thieves by Roger Moore (Dragon Magazine Staff Member, not the actor), Ice Dreams by David F Nalle and Birth of a Wizard by Marie Desjardin were reasonable enjoyable but all too soon forgotten in my opinion. Call Me Albert by Martin Mundt was also an attempt at humour which alas failed as far as I was concerned. It was okay I suppose but also fell into the easily forgotten category. Writing humour is harder than one would think and I would point anyone keen to read fiction to a cowardly, reluctant protagonist to rather look up the excellent tales of Dao Shi by Iain Rowan, which are far superior.

Lastly, and defiantly the best story in the collection is The Darkness Hunting by Janrae Frank. It is a tale of an amazon warrior who has per necessity had to make her life amongst the strictly patriarchal society of planes nomads. Once again there have been plety of stories of woman living secret lives as men over the years, but this one, for its age, is still fresh and memorable. In my opinion that’s the mark of good writing.

In conclusion I would say Dragontales is a not just product of its time and the genre that spawned it. For sure there are aspects of D&D in more than one story, but at least three of the thankfully longer stories stand out on their own merits and satisfactorily span the decades since their writing to still be enjoyable today.

This article was first published XXIV December MMXII