I was vaguely aware this magazine existed, but as it is published in the UK I never had a chance to read it. This was remedied recently as I won a giveaway from the publisher, and was sent the January issue.
I prefer to get the dead-tree version of magazines if possible (yes, I'm an unrepentant Luddite dinosaur) and when it arrived, I was surprised by its weight and heft. It's a square booklet with nice thick paper stock that feels good in the hand. The font is readable (if a bit small--curse aging eyes) and there are interesting illustrations for all the stories. There is also an extensive book and film review section (seriously; for the latter Nick Lowe covers 30 recent movies in one fell swoop) and interviews with British SF authors.
The stories seem to be above average quality: there were none I outright hated (although there was one I cast a side-eye to, but that was because of the gimmicky concept). There are four good to very good stories in the issue:
"Murder by Proxy" by Philip Fracassi. A wise-cracking detective with a deep-rooted fear of ventriloquist dummies tries to solve a locked-room mystery where the victims are being murdered in an impossibly brutal fashion.
"The Coming of the Extroverts" by Daniel Bennett. Aliens invade under the guise of East City’s newest band, The Extroverts. Only one person can stop them: Moog, part time holo-synth player, who is looking to replace them on the bill…
"The Building Across the Street" by R.T. Ester. To avoid getting chipped and interred at a facility for the unhoused, Leland agrees to help intercept alien dispatches originating light years from Earth.
"Last Act of the Revolution" by Louise Hughes. Esther was a woman who lived the revolution, fighting with every breath she had to free a world from its corporate overlords. Trouble is, the revolution won.
(Descriptions from the website)
"Murder by Proxy" is a long story (word counts aren't given, but this has got to be a novelette at least)
with a noir/horror edge. The opening lines--
The room is scarlet. A valentine from hell.
As a twenty-year veteran in the most crime-ridden area of the city, I've seen things no man or woman should ever lay eyes on. But even I had to wince at the carnage in apartment 327.
--set the tone immediately, with the protagonist's cynical, world-weary voice. Granted, this is bordering on cliche and nothing we haven't heard countless times before. Still, as the story goes along it gets more interesting and gradually sets itself apart, especially with the introduction of the AI antagonist and the touch of the supernatural in the protagonist's phobia of puppets. The author does a very good job of describing how creepy toys can be.
"The Coming of the Extroverts" is a shorter, cyberpunkish story with a protagonist (amusingly) named Moog. (Somebody remembers the Moog synthesizer, eh?) The editor demonstrates their facility for picking stories with killer opening lines:
"They move amongst us like predators, looking to dominate with their will. The relentless force of their personalities: really, it's a kind of murder. At every step of my life, they've dogged me, beaten me down, beaten us all down, if you think about it. Extroverts! Don't you ever wonder what they are?"
This story has a nice twist to it, and it's all there in the opening sentences. The ending is also a clever little tip to UFO buffs and X-Files fans.
"The Building Across the Street" is an absorbing little onion of a story. It gradually peels the layers back on an interstellar mystery, with the setting serving up a side of dystopia, as shown in the opening lines:
The night Leland met Agent Everly, he had expected her to inject him with a Homeless Tagging Chip.
The chip was for adults--able-bodied and otherwise--without proper living arrangements. You could not sleep on a park bench without the chip passing electric currents through your body in intervals. You could not ride the train past a set number of stops.
As an aside, how sinister is this idea? One gets the impression there are certain people and organizations now who, in their dislike and patronization of the homeless, would be eager to implement this if they could.
"Last Act of the Revolution" is a quiet character study asking an interesting question: what happens to the fiery revolutionary when she can't let go of all the years of fighting, now that she has attained her goal? The opening lines:
Everyone knows the name Esther Wright. We know her face. We know her deeds. But can anyone really know her? This woman who broke us free from the shackles of Try-N-Mite corporate control.
The Esther Wright I met on Memorial Day was a woman trying to stay out of the limelight. Dressed simply, in a long green coat, torn at the pockets and elbows, and a headscarf of rainbows, she seemed to cling to the revolutionary identity she lived with for so many years. I think we can forgive her for not wearing purple.
She is a woman not used to following the rules.
Talk about painting a picture with few words. I think this is my favorite story in the issue.
Altogether, this is an outstanding magazine worthy of support, I think. It's too bad airmail delivery across the pond is so expensive, or I would be tempted to get the print version myself.