Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, Volume 2 #12, ed. P. Alexander

Front cover of Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, Volume 2 #12, ed. P. AlexanderAlexander gathers tales that, while they are set in very different worlds and might not always agree on all the nuances of morality, are united by their focus on people of strong character taking action rather than succumbing to circumstance.

This magazine contains six short stories, two novelettes, and three extracts from longer works, each evoking the feel of classic pulp, along with a sizeable review of Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries series.

  • The Impossible Footprint by David Skinner: When Dylal O’Lal, renowed across all planets as a daredevil, hears of a girl who is impervious to flame, the concieves his greatest endeavour ever: to leave his footprint on the sun itself. While Skinner’s story is filled with spaceships and other advanced technologies, his science is based in a more mystical conception that raises challenges not merely of the Sun’s heat, gravity, and radiation but also whether it is alchemically the same principle of Fire as a flame. The prose is effulgent and byzantine, filled with baroque names for people and things; depending on reader preference, this might support both the conceit that it is a chronicle of events written by a poet and the feel of the universe, or be another annoyance to add to the conflation of science with spirituality.

  • Orphan of the Shadowy Moons (Part 3) by Michael Tierney: No sooner has Strazis returned home than he leads an army to conquer the island that imprisoned him; even his childhood rival Eirlik seems convinced the threat must be ended, but can the two put their rivalry aside for long enough to secure victory? Starting with Strazis’ setting forth to battle and ending with the short-term consequences of that battle resolved, this extract does contain a complete arc; however, it is an extract from a novel rather than a sequel to another story so features little to no reprise of broader context and contains a significant minority of ongoing plot; thus, while not ending on a dire cliffhanger, it has the feel of an episode in a serial. Tierney’s style intersperses descriptions of fast-paced action and dialogue with nuggets of exposition; combined with the exceptional prowess of his protagonist, this makes it very much more a tale of physical and verbal combat than an exploration of emotional nuance.

  • Vran, the Chaos-Warped (Book 2) by D.M. Ritzlin: Cast once more into another world moments before slaying the foul wizard Foad Misjak, Vran finds himself fleeing cannibals through the corridors of an immense castle into the arms of yet more threats. Ritzlin’s protagonist is firmly in the mould of Conan,:strong, decisive, moral, but not stupid. The plot is similarly a clear but not simplistic struggle between classic masculine virtue and devious sorceries that evokes without merely copying classic swords-and-sorcery.

  • ‘Fight of the Sandfishers’ by Jim Breyfogle: When a caravan guard commits to avenge a crime that wasn’t committed against him, Mangos struggles to find an explanation but keeps butting upgainst the claim that he wouldn’t understand; and, while his travelling companion Kat seems to know, she won’t share either. Breyfogle’s story is narrated by Mangos, a skilled warrior of unexceptional intellect, in the simplistic prose one might expect of an uneducated person; however, Breyfogle skillfully uses subtle rhythm and word choice to make this an engaging display of character rather than a source of distance or tedium. Beneath the directness of Mangos’ perspective is a complex and nuanced exploration of the nature of honour that is also likely to provide fans of the ongoing adventures of Mongoose and Meerkat with more hints of Kat’s origins.

  • ‘The Wisdom of Man’ by Adam S. Furman: When John Knox finds a woman cruelly left to die in slow motion, he vows vengeance; but how can he defeat an enemy who can freeze time itself? Furman blends quantum physics with Christian mythology, presenting a classic tale of fighting devilish forces wrapped in a modern skin. While every bit the person of action driven by worthy goals, Knox is more than prepared to deviate from the highest of Christian virtues to achieve his goals, making this story in pulp noir rather than a a pure tale of good vs. evil.

  • A Long Way to Fall, by David Eyk: When a member of the occupying forces is found dead on a colony cylinder and the local authorities close the investigation without result, his commander asks Ransley Banden to investigate; as half the locals hate him anyway, Banden decides he might as well take the money. Eyk transports the classic trope of cynical private eye into space, adding just enough effects of low gravity and other features of artificial environments to spice the mean streets with new dangers without losing the focus on the murkiness of the human soul that defines crime noir.

  • ‘Fall of a Storm King’ by Misha Burnett: Luther’s accelarated nervous system makes him one of the few who could pilot the rings of Saturn; until a minor injury takes away his career leaving him living faster than those around him in a body that isn’t quite fast enough. Burnett blends space craft and biological enhancement with workplace injury, creating a tale that shows loss of function can be just as impactful when denies one the exceptional as when it puts one below the norm. However, while the plot is strongly centred in authentic human experience rather than dramatic effects, both Luther and the plot sit firmly in the category of action rather than angst.

  • ‘Tripping to Aldous’ by J. Manfred Weichsel: Chasing a murderer, the trail leads Officer Donovan to the planet Aldous; but when his helmet cracks, exposing him to the psychodelic gases in the atmosphere, how can he know which is the right direction? Weichsel skillfully balances accessibility with weirdness, sending Donovan deeper into hallucination without losing any sense of an underlying story. While the story ends with confirmation of what is real, it is left to the reader to decide whether or not Donovan’s hallucinations include metaphors about his personality or are just a strange trip.

  • ‘Cerulean’ by J. Thomas Howard: Fleeing across the sands of a desert world, Roger Campbell-Thorn tumbles into the world’s distant past and into the clutches of the pirates who navigate its then-existing waters. While the story opens with Campbell-Thorn cast into the past and his name has the ring of a modern—or even future—British explorer, he possesses no modern technology and displays no particular mechanical or scientific knowledge, making this a tale of overcoming dire circumstance by strength of character and body rather than cunning or advanced civilisation. Indeed, while there are aspects that could actually be high technology, the world appears more classic fantasy than science-fiction.

  • ‘The Strickland Line’ by Alec Cizak: When journalist Harv Wallender is bitten by an insect, he takes it as just one more sign the Strickland Line has no care for reputation or passengers; but when it happens again, he starts to realise the problem is bigger than a lack of proper cleaning. Blending a characterful portrayal of the mundane irritations of public transport with threat straight out of a B-Movie, Cizak creates a short but engaging creature feature that does not veer into the absurd. Wallender, while not a paragon, is sketched as a decent enough fellow, and so readers are likely to quickly empathise with his situation.

  • ‘My Name is John Carter (Part 13)’ by James Hutchings: Having collapsed in the sands of Mars, John Carter awakens to find someone has both seen to his injuries and imprisoned him. Apart from a couple of passing names, this thirteenth extract from Hutching’s poem provides no indication that it is a part of a retelling of Burrough’s Barsoom Chronicles, let alone what has led here; thus, readers who have neither read the previous parts nor have in interest in epic verse for itself might find it of little interest. Ironically, readers who are unfamiliar with previous events will find this severance from context echoes Carter’s own lack of knowledge about his current situation, creating a sense of empathy that adds power to his turmoil.

Alexander features a range of different styles and genres from within the broad church of speculative pulp fiction, meaning that readers who incline toward science fiction or toward fantasy, prefer their heroes morally pure or with feet of clay, or have other preferences are likely to find things to their taste.

This diversity equally means that readers looking to devour in one or two sittings rather than take in smaller bites are unlikely to suffer the heavy fog that can come from too much of the same thing.

Taking a piece from a longer work always risks dangling threads or missing pieces, and so readers who expect a story to be utterly complete in itself might not be satisfied with all the contents; however, Alexander’s choice of extracts each display a complete arc and tidy enough ending that they feel like a justifiable serialisation rather than a blatant scheme to sell the next edition.

Overall, I enjoyed this magazine. I recommend it to readers seeking speculative fiction that captures classic pulp without feeling like a pastiche.

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