Two months ago I reviewed the first issue of Cirsova. For those who don’t know about it, Cirsova is a magazine that specializes in fantasy inspired by the golden era of fantasy and science fiction (the distinction was blurry sometimes.) It also looks back to the pulps and tries to regain that spirit of weirdness and wonder that eludes contemporary fiction. The second issue is already here, and I can tell one thing right away: This second issue is even better.
I really liked the first issue, but I thought it still could be improved. It had a great variety of stories, though, so all kinds of readers could find something for them.
On the other hand, while I quickly realized which ones were my favorites stories, I can’t say the same about this second issue. But not because they aren’t any good, but because not only have the best one got better, the “average” has also improved.
However, there is still a Crown Jewel in this second issue, and that would be the novella Images of the Goddess. If you are unsure about buying this magazine, or you are short on time, my recommendation is clear: read that novella first. It’s really worth the price.
There are five short stories, a poem, the novella, and an essay. The first of the short stories is The Sealed City by Adrian Cole.
From what I read on the Editor’s epilog, this story is an all-new one, part of a bigger setting of an already established trilogy. There is obviously a lot of background story that the novice reader may not know, but it’s explained in a short introduction and in the story itself. The gist of it is that a century has passed since the evil empire and the schemes of its satanic leader collapsed, and people are slowly returning to their home planet and rebuilding their ravaged societies. The “satanic” adjective, by the way, isn’t a metaphor, he was literally a Satan-worshipping Evil Emperor.
After the introduction, the story starts on the desolate planet of Ur (Earth, I presume,) the ancient homeland of humanity, where a witch hunter is sent to investigate the claims of demons and ghost lurking in some ancient ruins.
The plot of this story is basic, but it does what it is supposed to do. Do not expect twists or profound revelations. The bad guys are bad (as in REALLY bad,) the good guys are good, and there are monsters to kill.
There are two important things of this story I have to criticize, although the first one is a humorous anecdote: At least to me, “Brotherhood of the Goat” is not an ominous, dread-inspiring (even if symbolically accurate) name for an evil cult, at least not for those of us who are new to the Dream Lords saga.
Second, and that’s the important one, the text needed to be proofread or edited. I know that’s the bane and terror of many authors (especially self-published ones,) but it has to be done. Just as an example, this is the first sentence of the story: “An hundred years after the fall…” There are also some odd grammatical constructions, although I’ll admit that I may be seeing things that aren’t there since English isn’t my first language. Still, I think, the text could have used a bit of polishing.
Brian K. Lowe already wrote for Cirsova #1, and he returns with a short story of supernatural struggles with the American Revolution as its background.
An American rebel (a Captain) and his men witness an ambush against the British convoy they had planned to attack first. Unholy beasts accompanied the Iroquois ambushers, and although defeated, they managed to kidnap one of the ladies for what is presumed to be some a ritual sacrifice. The protagonist and the brother’s sister, a strange British man who knows a lot about the Iroquois and the dark powers they seem to be wielding, depart to rescue her.
There is a subtle but, later, strong element of mystery and magic in this story, and that’s something I enjoyed. The twist at the end makes you want to know more about the magic and supernatural creatures of that Universe but, of course, that’s the whole point, it’s something beyond the keen of mortals.
Squire Errant, by Karl Gallaher
“I wow I will wed no woman unless I can give her as much love as [Sir] Yves has for that horse.”
A failed quest to rid a town a huge cow-eating monster ends up with the knight errant dead. His squire decides to finish the job and trains a few of the local peasants into an improvised militia (only for the purpose of killing the beast, of course, training peasants for war would upset the feudal order.)
The story is quite humorous, and it follows the training process, the first attempts against the beast, and the final, bloody confrontation.
Gallaher writing flows easily, perhaps too much, because there were moments in the story I forget where I was or why something had happened. Still, it’s an interesting, nice short story, and one that brings a bit of humorous common sense in the “knights go after a dreadful beast” genre. How many times have you asked yourself “why do these adventurers use freaking swords against a dragon? Wouldn’t it be better to use a pike or something long?” Well, Gallaher thought about that, too.
The Water Walks, by S. H. Mansouri.
I’ll probably have to reread this one because I really liked it, but it was not easy reading. There’s a lot of names (weird Nordic ones) and stuff going on, so an unwary reader may get lost if he doesn’t pay enough attention. And after reading all the previous stories, my brain was demanding a respite.
Six (or is it five?) men of dubious morality and much to atone for are sent to the Isle of Vola, to rid their town of a curse that is killing all the fishes and, therefore, their means of survival. Fate (and the town shaman, something with a title I won’t dare to transcribe) had chosen them, but none seems too happy about being sent against the Draugr, the undead revenants of Norse mythology.
I’ll not spoil anything, so I’ll just say that this is a powerful story of guilt and punishment, with good writing and an even greater atmosphere. The ending may have been a bit anti-climatic for my tastes, but nothing that would ruin the story.
Shark Fighter, by Michael Terney.
I read this twice because my reaction after finishing it the first time was “Uh, what?” I can say that the second reading greatly improved my impression.
I think this it actually the first time I have read a scuba diving story (the writer is a certified diver, by the way.) I have a little experience with that sport (nothing fancy, I just did one of those diving baptisms) so I recognized a few things in the story, but you don’t need any technical knowledge to enjoy it. Oddly enough, two sensations I would have guessed would be present in the descriptions of an underwater struggle (temperature and pressure) don’t appear.
As the title says, the story is about a stranded and temporally amnesiac diver who finds himself fighting for his life against a tiger shark. There is, however, a whole different story behind that event, and little by little, through oneiric reminiscences and nightmarish recollections that may confuse the reader a little, the diver ends up discovering the cause of his tragedy.
My name is John Carter (Part 2), by James Hutchings
The continuation of the previous John Carter poem that appeared in Cirsova #1, this one retells the despairing feelings of desolation of John Carter after being captured by the Martians (reminder: he doesn’t know what they are or even where he is.) Sooner than later, John Carter realizes the brutal nature of his captors, and that makes him doubt some of his first conclusions. The poem ends with an airship being shot down by his captors, something that gives him a spark of hope because he sees one of the crew, a woman, had survived. At last, even if a prisoner, he is not alone anymore.
As a poem, I think the first one was better and more powerful. Even so, this is a worthy continuation, and the whole things will be quite an epic tale when it’s finished.
Images of the Goddess, by Schuyler Hernstrom
“Drur explained glibly to the skipper that the exact moment of departure was vitally important to his inamorata, a tempestuous woman whose passions were ruled by complex astrological calculations.”
In my review of Cirsova #1 I said that Hernstrom’s short story was my favorite, and a few days later I even reviewed his anthology of shorts stories, Thune’s Vision, which confirmed me he was indeed an excellent writer. And he still is, because the Images of the Goddess is easily one of the best things I’ve read this year.
Our story follows a novice monk with the unlikely name of Plom, who is sent on a quest to find a holy relic (a book) of the Goddess, an unspecified deity that this curiously woman-fearing monastic order worships. To be precise, the book is “a tome of icons,” a work “perfectly preserved through the eons,” and the “product of man’s glorious past, when worship of the Goddess was taken for granted throughout the land.”
Plom, not the best of students but a young man with a strong desire to see the world, cheats his way into the quest and is sent to the outside world, towards the dark jungles of Izkak, where a mighty spaceship from that glorious past of man crashed. Inside, the holy relic awaits.
In his travels, he will meet a talkative and adventurous (and quite Italian) wizard with a magical eye, a nomad huntress who is undoubtedly not a princess, and lots of people who want a little of that Book everybody presumes to be worth a fortune.
Hernstrom’s technique and proficiency with the craft are excellent, and he is also hilarious. The Vancian influences are obvious (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, more people should try to imitate him –and here’s why-) and, for example, this is how the young Plom describes the wizard he’d just met:
“Here before him was a specimen from countless lectures at the monastery. The man was loquacious and handsome-no doubt and egomaniac likely to defile innocent women.”
There are probably dozens of other influences I haven’t picked up, and others I suspect, but I can’t go into more details because I would have to spoil the ending and twists that, perhaps thanks to Divine inspiration from the Goddess Herself, I had already suspected. That, by the way, didn’t spoil the fun at all.
In any event, this is an excellent novella that I’m sure almost anyone will enjoy. Also, for some reason, I think this novella would make a great movie.
Like in Cirsova #1, this one also ends with an essay. Kristine Kathrin Rusch writes Rescuing Women, an erudite essay about women’s forgotten influence in Science Fiction and Fantasy. But not forgotten because evil Men have plotted to hide the Truth, but because they didn’t, and if women have always been an important part of science fiction, what about the contemporary narrative that says women are starting to make their voices heard? If, after all, the past wasn’t that bad or it was, sometimes, even better, what should we do about our current Revolution? Hence the need to ignore those women from the past.
As the short introduction (written in the same pulpish style of the others) says:
“Wether carried off by the Bug Eyed Monsters on the covers or chasing them down with ray guns, whether reading the pulps or writing for them, women have been a part of SF -will the women of yesterday vanish to suit the narrative of today?!”
You can read this essay on Cirsova’s blog, which, coincidentally, I had already reblogged.
That is all, folks. I have greatly enjoyed this new issue of Cirsova, I have discovered new authors I want to follow, and meet again old ones that still keep surprising me.