Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, Volume 2 #9, ed. P. Alexander

Front cover of Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, Volume 2 #9, ed. P. AlexanderAlexander gathers science fiction and fantasy that evokes one of the first pulp magazines without feeling stale or derivative.

This magazine contains three novelettes, seven short stories, an extract from an epic poem, each in the vein of classic science-fiction or fantasy, along with a short essay on the birth of popular science fiction.

  • ‘For We Are Many’ by Paul Lucas: Zak has devoted his life to hunting the same evil man in every timeline; however, the religious authorities he fled his own timeline to escape seem closer with every new Earth. This novelette blends the pulp action of chasing and being chased across the multiverse with more philosophical questions regarding the ethics of killing instances of the same person. Thus, while readers might easily guess certain things about Zak’s quest before they are revealed, not being surprised by any twists does not destroy engagement. As befits a shorter narrative set in analogues of North America, the moral perspectives being atheism and various Christianities rather than any invented religions; however, as with any plot that focuses on the truth of a real-world religion, some might find it either too orthodox or not enough.

  • ‘The Wreck of the Cassada’ by Jim Breyfogle: When a ship filled with riches wrecks off the coast of Alomar, Meerkat and the Mongoose are hired to help claim the cargo; however, it has to be done legally which not only means ensuring the ship is abandoned—one way or another—but also obtaining proof of ownership. Breyfogle blends physical and mystical obstacles, turning the classic swords-and-sorcery plot of ‘adventurers kill enemies and take a MacGuffin’ into a plot that turns as much on how something is done as whether it is. While this short story is part of the ongoing adventures of the protagonists, and so might resonate particularly with readers of previous stories, Breyfogle conjures his characters forth more from actions than references to the past and so also stands alone.

  • ‘Wychyrst Tower’ by Matthew Pungitore: Briefly separated from his expedition in the Dominican Republic, Dulf Abbandonato discovers the remnants of a strange shrine, a shrine that—despite its great age and location—contains links to the family of an old friend. Filled with ancient family secrets, looming ancestral homes, and flesh-warping magics, this short story stands at the Lovecraftian edge of gothic horror without lurching into mere parody. Depending on reader preference, this is helped or hindered by the archaic convolution of Punitore’s self-confessed buccaneer narrator.

  • ‘She Saw it Creeping Up the Stairs’ by Mark Pellegrini: When Lisa’s grandmother is confined to a wheelchair, Lisa doesn’t mind moving in to help look after her—until starts to hear what sound like heavy footsteps in grandma’s part of the house. Pellegrini takes the classic horror tropes of mysterious footsteps and children’s tales about a creepy house, and adds in his own mix of possible explanations and probable truth, creating a novelette that will offer ghost-story fans an engagingly familiar experience without seeming stale.

  • ‘Fail Early, Fail Well’ by W.L. Emery: The longer a project continues before failing, the higher the sunk costs; which means an enterprising person like Vinellius can make money ensuring projects that are going to fail, fail as soon as possible—assuming he can avoid the special interests that want to keep the project going. Set in a universe of alien races, farcical mishaps, and very real office politics, Emery’s short story sits in the liminal zone of sci-fi detective noir and loving pastiche. While the story is fast-paced and engaging, the prose is slightly formal in places; depending on reader perspective, this will either feel dry or add the the sense of alien races having different dictions.

  • ‘Thorwynn Stapledon and “The Mellifluous Phoenix”’ by Su-Ra-U: When Gloria tells her friend she’s been asked to complete her father’s contribution to The Mellifluous Phoenix, a 1970’s drug-fueled science-fiction anthology, it seems like a good—if slightly odd—way to make some money; but when disaster strikes, he realises her father’s admonition never to get involved with the anthology or any representatives of its creator might be more than commercial sour grapes. This short story is presented as an internet post about an anthology project allegedly created to portray the entire human brain using fiction and a conspiracy theory about what its intent actually was. Su-Ra-U carefully balances the weirdness of the official story (authors selected by blood test, stories written under the influence of drugs designed to improve resonance with a specific part of the brain) with the weirdness of the conspiracy theory (communist infiltration being a cover for fighting aliens, language as an interstellar gateway). Their use of a narrator who professes not to be sure what the truth is and ostensibly takes no side, but is curating the evidence the reader receives, makes this both a fluid parody of internet conspiracies and an engaging game of glimpsing the story through the spaces.

  • ‘Harmonious Unity Burns’ by Jed Del Rosario: After the most popular candidate, and ardent campaigner for species rights, loses the election, a large segment of Ilm descends into lawlessness; to avoid certain interplanetary political issues, someone in the Federated Alliance sends in a team of genetically engineered mercenaries to extract the new leader before the rebels can capture him. Featuring a small team of specialists acting covertly in enemy territory, this short story has echoes of MacLean and other war stories or thrillers. However, set in a universe of genetic upgrades, powered armour, and multiple sentient species, both the challenges and solutions are much more complex and destructive than double agents and dynamite. Del Rosario’s portrayal of the varied cast creates a clear and immediate distinction between voices and behaviours that fits their character; however, while not implausible, some readers might find the dialects of one or more protagonists distractingly strong.

  • ‘My Name is John Carter (Part 10)’ by James Hutchings: Hutchings’ epic verse retelling of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Boroughs, continues with Dejah Thoris facing the choice between her love for John Carter and the chance to save her people by marrying a hated king. As with the previous parts, the poem maintains a strong lyric style that is likely to draw in or push out readers depending on their taste for formal verse in general or this metre and style in particular. However, unlike many of the previous parts, the story is mainly a reaction to past events so is less likely to interest readers unfamiliar with Barsoom as anything other than a demonstration of poetic style.

  • ‘Stealing the Alchemist Stone’ by Richard Rubin: Shot down over unknown territory, Burke Fletcher avoids serious injury but his wife is not so lucky; allying with the ruler of a nearby tower offers him a chance to save her life but at the cost of giving up both her and the Alchemist Stone they have just gained. Rubin’s short story is a straightforward but not simplistic sword-and-raygun science fantasy that firmly puts action ahead of introspection. While entirely fitting the trope of noble Earthman stranded among an alien culture, Burke is sympathetic rather than stereotypical.

  • ‘To the Sound of a Silent Harp’ by William Huggins: Ciaon makes good money as a courier for an illegal drug magnate; however, as his boss’s instructions become more erratic, he is caught between unquestioning compliance and his own chance at a comfortable future. Blending bitter ex-lovers, grimy streets, and casual violence, with flying cars, rejuvination treatments, and hyperaddictive drugs, Huggins creates a sci-fi gangster novelette where the closest thing to virtue is loyalty and dreams can be as destructive an addiction as chemicals. In no way a hero, Ciaon still displays universally recognisable drives and goals, making him a sympathetic protagonist—if one whose suffering will not feel unjust to the reader.

  • ‘Queen of the House’ by J. Manfred Weichsel: When a door-to-door salesman claims their new device can deal with anything, a harried housewife sees an opportunity to get her house cleaned for free; however, with each proof the salesman grudgingly agrees to provide, the device becomes less stable. Set in an alternate world of space-colony level technology and 1950’s US society, Weichsel’s short story suggests comparisons with the Jetsons or Fallout without seeming derivative. While very definitely farcical in places, the character and setting have an underlying humanity that make the tale feel light rather than shallow.

  • ‘The Creation of Science Fiction’ by Michael Tierney: While many credit Hugo Gernsback with the creation of science fiction as a genre, Tierney sets forth the argument that it began earlier with Bob Davis’ move from typesetting to editing. While relatively brief and not addressing the possiblity that the genre might have crystalised anyway (indeed, Tierney acknowledges Gernsback is a large part of why the genre became well-known), the essay makes a convincing and accessible argument that Davis’ move was the seed from which it grew.

Alexander gathers works in a range of styles and genres, each of which shares the sense it would not be out of place in a classic pulp magazine. This range both ensures that even if a reader does not find one engaging there are others that are highly likely to be to their taste, and that the magazine will not start to feel samey if read cover-to-cover in a one or two sittings.

Apart from the serialisation of ‘My Name is John Carter’, each of the works in this edition is complete. Thus, in contrast to other editions in this volume, it both forms a good introduction to the magazine’s taste for readers and will not irritate those who dislike cliffhangers.

Overall, I enjoyed this magazine. I recommend it to readers seeking a variety of fast-paced speculative fiction.

I received a free copy from the publisher with no request for a review.

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