Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, Volume 2 #11, ed. P. Alexander

Front cover of Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, Volume 2 #11, ed. P. AlexanderAlexander offers another collection of modern speculative fiction, united it its echoing of the pulp sensibilities of moral clarity and action over introspection.

This magazine contains five short stories, a novelette, and three reasonably sized extracts from longer works, spread across a variety of genres but each firmly echoing the style and substance of classic pulp.

  • Vran, the Chaos-Warped (Book 1 of 3) by D.M. Ritzlin: Sickened by Foad Misjak’s depravity, Vran swears to kill the wizard; however, traces of the sorcerous accident from Vran’s past twist Foad’s magic, hurling Vran through the aether and casting him among barbarian tribes. Ritzlin embraces the tropes of classic swords-and-sorcery: a hero strong of body and soul facing a sorcerer who is unquestionably evil. Remaining short of purple, the slight poetry of Ritzlin’s narrative voice adds a sense of epic saga. While this is only the first part of a novel, it ends with a significant milestone rather than in the middle of a challenge, making it likely readers will not feel cheated of any closure.

  • Orphan of the Shadowy Moons (Part 2 of 4) by Michael Tierney: Fleeing assassination, Strazis is stranded far beyond where his people have ever travelled; or so he thought, for a second attempt on his life leaves him the latest slave of an empire that knows much of his people. Strong of body, sharp of mind, able to swiftly develop new skills, and with bronzed skin one of his most recognisable features, Strazis is almost a pastiche of a golden hero; however, Tierney’s world is firmly wrought from other tropes of pulp fantasy, making Strazis seem a fitting—if once in a lifetime—protagonist for warrior societies living among the remains of an advanced civilisation. Tierney’s narrative voice makes frequent use of exposition between segments of fast-paced action and plotting; depending on preference, these bursts of context might either avoid delaying the next dramatic moment or distract from the emotional engagement of those moments. As one would expect from a segment of a longer work, there is little reprise of past events, which might leave new readers feeling they lack some context; however, the arc of Strazis’ enslavement is complete, meaning this issue only impacts the broader arc.

  • ‘Death and Renewal’ by Jim Breyfogle: When a prized slave of the Bursa is won by the Prince of Alomar, the Mongoose and Meerkat are retained to ensure he does not spill the Bursa’s secrets; however, the one thing they cannot do is kill him. Breyfogle focuses almost entirely on Mongoose, the solid but not exceptional fighter, leaving the more cunning Meerkat to appear occaisionally to request he do things as part of a plan she doesn’t explain; the confusion and frustration this causes are skilfully evoked, both adding a sense of depth and character to the scenes without losing action, and offering the reader the opportunity to see if they can get there before Mongoose does. As with other installments in Breyfogle’s ongoing recounting of their adventures, the narrative is salted with interesting ritual and political manoevering that make it seem part of a larger narrative but does not rely on knowledge of other tales to be understood.

  • What Price the Stars by Jeff Stoner: When Jørgen Pangloss offers a select group the opportunity to witness a stardrive that defies the laws of physics, they each assume it is some sort of trick; however, an apparently successful demonstration prove to be only the first oddity. Stoner’s narration contains large chunks of exposition, that—while not veering into pseudo-scientific theories of how Pangloss’ technology works—creates a sense of engineering and logic. In contrast, the plot is a gloriously convoluted elimination contest for sole rights to the technology. Thus this novelette might be described as a hard-weird Willy Wonka for adults.

  • ‘Dead Planet Drifter’ by J.D. Cowan: Dragged from the wreckage of his spacecraft by a death-worshipping cult and plagued by visions of a woman from a childhood that didn’t happen, Ronan Renfield finds himself caught between two equally unbelievable offers of salvation. Cowan blends science-fiction with dark fantasy, creating a tale that is as much about the strength of the soul as fast-paced action. While some readers might find the opening prose a little stilted, those who continue are likely to feel Cowan’s chosen style echoes the experience of fragmented dream and memory.

  • ‘People of the Stone God’ by Harold R. Thompson: First employee of the War Department’s Exploration Corps, Anchor Brown is ordered to deliver a religious artefact to freedom fighters. Thompson skillfully evokes a steampunk version of C19th gentleman spy stories, blending gas guns and folding swords with native superstitions and proxy wars. While written in the bluff style of a colonial memoir and entirely enjoyable as a fast-paced action tale, the story also offers deeper thoughts on colonisation and history.

  • ‘The Last Khazar’ by Rev. Joe Kelly: Struggling to survive in occupied Poland, Aaron’s nights are filled with dreams of life as a steppe tribesman; however, when the enemy leader appears with the face of the Nazi officer who seems determined to destroy their business, Aaron starts to wonder whether the dreams are just fantasies or echoes of a past life. Lightly salting interwoven historical narratives of World War 2 and khazar warfare with classic tropes of pulp reincarnation tales such as nigh-identical names, Kelly teases the reader with whether the dreams are more than movies playing in Aaron’s head. However, for all that it has depth and emotion, this is not a literary character piece: Aaron is a proactive hero with whom the reader is likely to sympathise, making his victories enjoyable for being his as well as for opposing Nazis.

  • ‘Melkart and the Crocodile God’ by Mark Mellon: Trading deep into Aegyptus, Melkart’s hopes of iron and other riches are dashed, for Sosostris, a crocodile-headed giant has declared himself god-king and enslaves all who enter. Mellon’s choice of a merchant protagonist creates a pleasing variation to the usual thief or warrior heroes of swords-and-sorcery, offering an arc that is driven by Melkart’s stoutness of soul rather than his exceptionalism. Depending on individual preference, readers might find Mellon’s blending of real-world Ancient Egypt with fantasy too great or insufficient.

  • ‘My Name is John Carter (Part 12)’ by James Hutchings: John Carter journeys through the inhospitable wastes and harsh climates of Mars, alone but for the thoat he rides. This continuation of Hutching’s retelling of the Barsoom Chronicles in verse opens with Carter seeking a goal that is not stated and offers no further clues before the end; thus readers unfamiliar with the previous part who need the why of events are likely to feel a disappointment. However, Hutchings’ poetry continues to be an engaging blend of epic form and down-to-earth language, so readers interested in the how of the telling might enjoy the portrayal of human vs environment greatly.

As with previous editions, Alexander includes a selection of styles and genres, ensuring both that a reader who does not love one story or genre will still find plenty to entertain and that readers who attempt to devour the magazine in a single sitting do not feel an appetite-suppressing sameness.

If there is an issue with Alexander’s choices, it is that he opens with two extracts from novels rather than placing them later and apart; however, although this does amplify any irritation a reader might feel at incompleteness, neither finishes with an aching cliff-hanger, making this something that is at best a niggle rather than a true flaw.

Overall, I enjoyed this magazine. I recommend it to readers seeking a variety of pulp fiction.

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


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