Cirsova #5 More Than Just a Magazine

Cirsova #5 finally came out this weekend and I devoured this fantastic issue. If you follow me at all you have no doubt read about my enthusiastic discovery of Cirsova which led to me taking up the banner of the Pulp Revolution and rekindling my faltering love for Fantasy. I enjoyed issue #3 of Cirsova so much I bought the back issues and Kickstarted  #5 and #6. Cirsova

Cirsova isn’t just another SFF magazine. It’s a herald of a movement that will change Science Fiction and Fantasy, a romantic revolution that will bring back the magic, wonder, and adventure drained by the cancerous ghouls of litfic-fantasy.

Cirsova is part magazine, part mission statement. It’s an artistic collaboration akin to a digital Montparnasse in the 1920s, where the outcast artists and writers built and borrowed from each other, constantly innovating without a care for the giants of the industry.

The format of Issue #5 collaborates my thesis by being a themed issue. Almost every story is centered on the shared Misha Burnett created Eldritch Earth setting, with a goal of “telling Burroughsian stories in a Lovecraftian setting.”

All six of the collaborations succeed, giving a glimpse of a unique alien world and it’s inhabitants. Misha Burnette’s piece, In the Gloaming O My Darling, is one of the standouts. A grotesquely chilling piece that mixed Lovecraftian pulp horror with a modern grimdark style that really worked for me.

The highlight of the issue and a story I think illustrates the absolute badassery and potential of the Pulp Revolution writers, is Schuyler Hernstrom’s* novella, The Fist American. A piece of dark science-fantasy filled with savage barbarians, time-traveling astronauts, lizardmen, genetic mutations, flying saucers, and dinosaur riding. Schuyler crammed so much fucking awesome into one story that it should require a trigger warning for readers who haven’t been awakened to the Pulp Revolution, their poor litfic-fantasy weakened minds might shatter from exposure to so much action and excitement.

But of course not everything is perfect, and I think the magazine still has a lot of room for growth and improvement. For example, compared to past issues I don’t really dig the cover art. It doesn’t really capture the theme and mood of the pieces within. I much prefer the art found in past issues, which was a unique painterly fantasy style that stood out from the other hyperrealistic covered magazines. I also thought that the issues would have been tighter if it didn’t include the non-themed pieces, for example, The Bears of 1812, was a good historical-fantasy, but it felt out of place compared to everything else.

What Cirsova lacks in polish it makes up for with clear editorial purpose and passion. Reading these stories you can’t help but notice that the authors have an undisputed love for adventurous and heroic fantasy. It’s clear Cirsova isn’t one of those award chasing magazines filled with pseudo-lit stories that hit every current trendy sociopolitical theme yet fail to tell anything that resembles a compelling story. No, Cirsova is rough and raw, but unceasingly real.

Pick up issue #5, join the revolution, you won’t be disappointed.

*Schuyler Hernstrom has a great short story collection called Thune’s Vision.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

coverRobert E. Howard is the master of 1930s pulp action. One of my favorite writers. It was Conan that got me into Fantasy, and it was getting back into reading Conan that brought me back and excited about the Pulp Revolution happening right now.

But, I have to admit that I have not read very much of Howard’s non-Conan stories. So when I came across this beast for 4.99 in the Kindle store I picked it up. Holy shit it was awesome. When I get big ass short story collections I usually read a few in between novels, or I read one or two stories during my lunch breaks. Not this time. I read this collection all the way through.

This collection is massive, with 30 or so stories and a bunch of assorted poems. The stories span Howard’s entire career and are chock full of his usual badass action. You get everything from ghost haunted sailors, voodoo zombies, cursed rings, desert explorers, and weird western.

Howard’s characters are not your usual pansies that populate modern horror. No, these guys are tough motherfuckers that when presented with tentacled horrors from the stygian depths they go a killing with sword and pistol. In one of my favorite stories, The Horror from the Mound, when our cowboy protagonist accidentally digs up a 17th-century Spanish Vampire buried by Conquistadores who begins murdering the local Mexicans, he doesn’t run away. Hell no, he breaks its spine and sets the moldy motherfucker on fire.

One thing I want to mention that some of you readers might find sacrilegious. I think Howard writes Lovecraftian fiction better than Lovecraft. I like the idea of Lovecraftian more than I actually like Lovecraft’s writing. I find all his crap boring as all shit, filled with idiotic purple prose. Lovecraft’s characters are boring, unmemorable, wimps(I think Lovecraft was some loser recluse himself, either way he looked like Pongos owner in 101 Dalmatians,) who are usually professors or tourists. The whole “ohh muh god I saw something that made me go insanee.. soo horrible, much tentacle,” nonsense bores me to tears. Howard’s characters respond to the Lovecraftian shit by going “da fuck is that, ok deep breath, I have to kill it.”

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My favorite stories in the collection are pieces well worth reading: Pigeons From Hell, a scary haunted house story featuring voodoo, slaves, and southern plantations, Black Cannan about a bunch of racists and a black revolt involving some terrifying swamp creatures, The Fire of Asshurbanipal where two treasure hunters end up in a haunted desert city, and one that really did it for me, Out of the Deep, where the washed ashore body of a sailor is really a fucked up sea creature.

Of course, like in all huge collections, some of the stories aren’t my kind of beer. There were a few stories, and this is a theme both Howard and Lovecraft share, focusing on some de-evolved proto-humans living beneath the earth. Not a huge fan of the whole racial memory, obsession with miscegenation these guys had, and the stories were mostly dudes going down into holes where indescribable shit was going on. Worth reading but not my favorite. Give me the voodoo zombie vampires.

So yeah, drop the 5 bucks and pick this collection up. If you like short stories, pulp fiction, and Conan, this one will not disappoint. I think my next Howard read will focus on Solomon Kane.

Addendum to the post: I hope much more knowledgeable pulp readers correct me if I am wrong. It seems that Howard is not only the father of Sword and Sorcery but also the Weird Western. The story I mention above, The Horror from the Mound, about a cowboy digging up a vampire on the Texas frontier, was written in 1932. My google-fu indicates that this is the first story mixing a realistic wild west setting with the supernatural in a modern fashion.

Goodbye Asimovs

 

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The quality and type of fiction is a magazine is largely dependent on the main Editor. If you find a magazine whose editor has tastes that align with your own it’s a guarantee that you will enjoy at least some of the stories included.

Sadly, Sheila Williams and Asimov’s do not align with my tastes at all. Actually I would like to know who her tastes align with because based on the stories in the last few issues I’m beginning to think she doesn’t actually like Science Fiction or Fantasy.

I have a digital subscription. Correction, had because I’m way over waiting for an actual SFF story from this magazine. The latest issue was the last I will ever read. Not one of the stories was an actual SFF piece. The only SF was background window dressing or downright stupid. The crowning achievement of the magazine was an idiotic novella about a gay waiter who traveled to Colonial times pretending to be an angel and getting the locals addicted to meth so he can take back Paul Reveres silver spoons. A premise so stupid and insulting I wanted to toss my Kindle.

A douchey love story about an artist that name drops Art History 101 names and pines about the tough girl that left his ass is still a love story. Just because the setting is the near future doesn’t make it SF. If you take the Great Gatsby and change the setting to the year 2099 and make the cars hover , it’s still the same book and not Sci Fi.

Another blogger commented last month somewhere and said, “Asimov’s is for Science Fiction and Fantasy fans who hate Science Fiction and Fantasy.” After reading the latest issue I fully agree.

Book Reviews: I’m over it.

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After giving it some thought I have decided to quit writing book reviews on here. I’m just not into them. I spend too much time thinking about what to write and how to put it down. Time that I should spend writing. So no more single post book reviews.

First of all, I don’t want to be a critic. I have no desire to review ARC’s or discuss books from an objective standpoint. I only read what I want and usually, quit books that annoy me right away. I also have  unique taste and tend to disagree with popular fandom.

I write fiction. My ultimate goal is to become a published author. I find it in bad taste to publically critique other writers in the same genres I write. I don’t mind saying that I didn’t like this or that, but going into detailed negative reviews rubs me the wrong way. It’s a conflict of interest that I don’t need.

Finally book report style, non-spoiler reviews are everywhere. Awesome blogs all over the damn place filled with every kind of review by people that actually like writing reviews. There is no point in me wasting time.

So instead I’m going to do posts about what I am reading and what I think about it. If I come across a fantastic book I will mention it. The whole thing will be casual.

 

Cirsova: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine #3

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During one of my recent adventures through the blogosphere, I came across Cirsova and Cirsova Magazine. Reading the mission statement and description intrigued me so I picked up the latest issue. I put my current read on pause and read the excellent stories found in issue number 3.

Wow! Finally, some fantasy short stories that capture my imagination. Finally, short stories filled with action and adventure!

Before I give a more thorough review I want to make it clear that I really enjoy the short story. I own numerous collections and compilations of everyone from Hemingway to Gaiman. I even have active digital subscriptions to Analog and Asimov’s.

Yet, I often find myself being bored with a lot of modern SFF shorts. The last issue of Asimov if DNF’ed 90% of the stories. There seems to be a recent trend in the short story world away from action, adventure, and heroism. The focus seems to be on the literary, the urban, the fairytale magical, or magical realism in the vein of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

A good example of this is the Hugo Award winner The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere by John Chu. A well-written story that I find excruciatingly boring and barely Fantasy. It seems that so many SFF writers come out of literary circles and workshops that Fantasy has become as monotonous as your stuffy slice of life short story in the New Yorker.

So how do I like my fantasy? Adventurous, mysterious, massive, and wild. I want to read stories that take me back to when I first cracked open my AD&D players guide and ran my friends through skeleton filled dungeons and protected villages from goblin raids. I want to be transported to worlds where Barbarians pit their swords and strength against evil serpent worshiping wizards. I crave stories filled with adventure and mystery. Fabulous ancient ruins filled with unspeakable horrors, vicious creatures, and evil wizards.

Cirsova Magazine is attempting to provide exactly what I am looking for. A pulp revival magazine focused on action and adventure, and issue #3 succeeds while leaving enough room for improvement that will keep me looking forward to the next issue.

 

The issue has several exciting adventures. A heavy focus on the Age of Sail mixed with magic in two stories, space piracy, futuristic space mercs, and sword and sorcery reminiscent of Conan. My favorite of the bunch was Clock’s Watch, an urban fantasy Lovecraftian possession story that begged to be turned into a full novel.

Cirsova is an indie publication so they need all the help and word of mouth. So if you love pulp adventure Fantasy and Sci-Fi hop over to Amazon and pick up the digital copy. It’s easily worth the price of a medium coffee at Starbucks.

P.S.

Because I linked to a Tor.com short story I didn’t like I will link to one that I loved. Give this one a read for The Hell of It.

 

Fallen Dragon by Peter Hamilton

It’s just that nowhere you live can ever be exotic. That’s only ever somewhere else.

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After finishing the fantastic House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds I decided to continue my adventures in Space Opera by returning to my favorite Science Fiction writer, Peter Hamilton. I picked up Fallen Dragon, one of Hamilton’s standalone novels. The other one being Great North Road which I loved. I was not disappointed.

Fallen Dragon takes place in a future where interstellar travel is possible, humans have colonized  and terraformed several new worlds. Unfortunately space travel and colonization is astronomically expensive and unprofitable. The interplanetary corporations who funded colonization now fight and raid colonies in what is deemed “asset realization.” Using private armies equipped with  nearly unstoppable biological combat suits  they overpower the less sophisticated colonists and loot and pillage as much as possible to take back to Earth.

This is the world in which Lawerence Newton lives in. A wealthy son of a colonial corporate magnate who gave up his wealth and heritage for a chance to travel the stars. Instead of becoming the starship pilot he dreamed of he ended up a grunt for Zanitu-Brauns, a vicious raiding corporation, planetary assault army.

The main plot of the novel revolves around Zanitu-Brauns latest raid on a small backwater colony. The operation that should of been a walk in the park for the well trained and equipped Z-B troops becomes a disaster due to a well organized and unexpected counterinsurgency. In the middle of the quagmire Lawrence hatches a scheme. Somewhere on the planet is a treasure that if he recovers would make him and his platoon rich beyond their dreams.

Fallen Dragon delivers on numerous levels and explores several interesting science fiction concepts. Planetary colonization and terraforming is a major part of the novels background, detailing a very interesting colonization of a frozen world. Advanced military technology and the price of interstellar travel is a key element. The price of space tends to be waved away by post scarcity concepts in most scifi. My personal favorite concepts was the exploration of post democratic corporate governments. Where the power of your vote was tied to the amount of stake you held in the corporation. Stake you could earn through working for the corp and investing your pay.

So in closing Fallen Dragon did not disappoint. Another massive piece of space opera mixed with a post cyberpunk aesthetic and a dash of military science fiction, that kept me thinking about its ideas and themes well past the end.

 

Stranger Things

***Potential Spoilers Below***

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As far back as I remember my choice of visual entertainment has been the long form television show. While I enjoy a good movie I  prefer the long arcs and character development found in television. Star Trek:TNG, DS9, Babylon 5, and The XFiles is what I loved. You can imagine how happy I am that we are now in a golden age  television. Even better, we are at the beginning of entire seasons instantly released  so one can binge entire shows in one sitting.

Netflix’s Stranger Things is a must watch example of this new format. A pastiche of 80s horror,  scifi, and pop culture, that pays homage to everything and everyone including Stephen King,  Stephen Spielberg, John Carpenter, The Clash, and classic Dungeons and Dragons.

The show takes place in Hawkins, Indiana over several days during the Fall of 1983. A 12 year old boy mysteriously vanishes one night. His close friends begin searching for him on their own while the town Sheriff begins  His disappearance sets in motion a chain of events involving secret government projects, psychics, and a horrible evil force from beyond.

Stranger Things has an outstanding cast of young actors complimented by a fantastic performance by Winona Ryder. If you enjoy 80’s genre horror/scifi movies like E.T., Poltergeist, Carrie, and Stand by Me, you will love this show.

**Some Potential Spoilers**

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While I enjoyed the 80’s references and old movie homage what I truly enjoyed about the show was the really good somewhat esoteric occult symbolism. Off the top of my head several things stood out.

The failure of fathers. Every father figure character in the show was a failure. From the creepy Dr. Breener the evil scientist abuser to Will Byers self serving waste of a father. Even Sheriff Hooper failed as a father in his own eyes and attempts to redeem himself. This theme coupled with El being a somewhat angelic figure(The gold wig, levitating above water) that is sacrificed alludes to a few occult/biblical themes. Contrasted with the portrayal of mothers it gives you plenty to think about.

Running away with the horrible father theme you could see the whole show  being about child abuse. Specifically abuse by fathers. El is clearly the victim of Dr. Breener who she calls “Pa.” The other main victim is Will Byers, the son of a druggie abuser who abandoned him, his brother, and mother. The Byers family has an alluded element of darkness and child abuse that is not hard to catch.

El’s name is Eleven. When you look at numerology and occult symbolism of the number just by doing a quick google search you realize it was intentional. It represents duality, psychic power, super intellect and danger.

The idea of duality in 11 is the key symbolism. She is two different things, on one hand a innocent child on the other a powerful weapon. The world is shown having more dimensions with the Upside Down, a good and a bad.

What does this mean? I think that the main monster, the Demogorgon is actually the Upside Downs representation of child abuse. The Demogorgon is the other side of El, the other half of Eleven, the representation of all the child abuse alluded or shown in the series. At one point El even states “I am the monster,” in one of the episodes.

What do you guys think, any other theories? I love weird occult stuff believe that symbolism of this sort adds depth to stories allowing for greater connection and enjoyment.

 

 

 

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

“To see something marvelous with your own eyes – that’s wonderful enough. But when two of you see it, two of you together, holding hands, holding each other close, knowing that you’ll both have that memory for the rest of your lives, but that each of you will only ever hold an incomplete half of it, and that it won’t ever really exist as a whole until you’re together, talking or thinking about that moment … that’s worth more than one plus one. It’s worth four, or eight, or some number so large we can’t even imagine it.”

Gollancz-08237b Reynolds House of Suns

House of Suns continues my ongoing obsession with heavy Science Fiction and happens to be my first read by Alastair Reynolds. It was a thoughtful and complex Gothic Space Opera that did not disappoint and kept me thinking about longevity, space, and time for days after I finished.

Millions of years in the future Abigail Gentian “shattered” herself into one thousand clones. Her clones “The House of Flowers” spend millions of years traveling the galaxy at sub-light speed collecting data and experience. Every two hundred thousand years they meet for a reunion in order to share memories, knowledge, and experiences.

Two Shatterlings, Campion and Purslane, secretly in love, arrive at the latest reunion to find devastation. Someone or something is exterminating the Gentian line. They are thrown into a dangerous mystery that spans across the galaxy and over thousands of years, involving sentient machines, post human civilizations, and exotic worlds.

I loved this book. It shares a mournful atmosphere with other Science Fiction novels such as Hyperion and Dune. A sort of new-Gothic Space Opera that touches on the concept of humanity in a post-Earth far future Galaxy. A fantastic novel and a great introduction to Reynolds. If you enjoy high concept Space Opera pick this one up.

 

Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan

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Fighting off a massive hangover  I couldn’t think of a more appropriate activity than to spend a wet rainy weekend in Yokosuka reading a dark and violent cyberpunk novel. Altered Carbon has been on my to read pile for a very long time and after finishing it I am thankful for all the recommendations. Its a violent piece of cyberpunk that can hold its own with the likes of Neuromancer.

Takeshi Kovaks, a Envoy(special forces agent) turned criminal is taken out of storage and downloaded into a temporary sleeve(body) right smack in the middle of 25th century San Francisco. His probation and release hinge on completing a private murder investigation on the apparent suicide of his employer, a centuries old corporate billionaire. Kovaks navigates a bloody path through a dirty Bay City, dealing with prostitutes, drug addicts, corrupt police, psychotic assassins, cyborgs, and an A.I. Hotel in the likeness of Jimmy Hendrix.

The main science fiction element of Altered Carbon is the idea of sleeves and stacks. In the 25th century ones consciousness is digitized and stored in stacks mounted to the cerebral cortex. Human flesh bodies are now called sleeves because one can be uploaded into any empty available one. The novel hits some fantastic points about identity, human connection, and self-perception in a world where one can switch bodies. It also touches on the concept of near immortal longevity for those who can afford it.

Altered Carbon managed to touch all of my favorite elements. Dark, brutal, action taking place in a fantastic setting dealing with themes that touch on the philosophical. A fantastic read for anybody who loves cyberpunk and detective noir. I’m going to read more Richard K Morgan for sure.

 

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

Son of the Black Sword (Saga of the Forgotten Warrior book #1)

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I don’t write reviews for all the books I read mostly due to my lack of time and the fact that most of the books I read have been written about and reviewed by people that consider themselves pro reviewers.

But I really liked this one. It surprised me by going beyond every expectation I had and by being a downright badass, action packed, thoughtful, and fun novel. I picked it up expecting a quick forgetful read and it became my favorite new fantasy of the year.

I became a fan of Larry Correia through his blog. I enjoy reading his advice to writers that strips away the mysticism of art and the artist and focuses on facts and business. I enjoy a lot of his ideas that sometimes science fiction and fantasy can be about guns, swords, and rocketships and focus on fun and action over deep socio-political introspection.

Due to reading the Monster Hunter Nation blog I picked up his first book, Monster Hunter International. While I enjoyed it, check out my review, it didn’t blow me away. I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan, I enjoy it but wont go out of my way to read more. I even lost interest in Harry Dresden after the third book.

When I read that Larry was writing a new book, the first in what will be a fantasy trilogy, I didn’t really pay much attention. I have so many books that need to be read that I rarely ever read newly written stuff, especially unfinished series.

But, while sailing the internet I noticed that Larry was on a book tour and that he will be stopping by the coolest bookstore in San Diego, Mysterious Galaxy.

I decided to go because I wanted to get the chance to meet Larry and hear him speak. I wanted to see for myself if he is really the evilest, vilest, sort of conservative racist his detractors accuse him of. Reading some comments on him and his fans you would not be wrong to expect walking into some mix of a NO MA’AM and gun fetish anonymous meeting. I had to go and get the real truth.

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Seems like a nice guy.

 

Well the truth is Larry seems like a super nice guy and his fans seem like really dedicated, fun, geeks that love reading fantasy and science fiction. Everybody was awesome. Standing in line waiting to get my book signed I listened to all of the enthusiastic conversations between strangers about their favorite books and favorite characters. It was a great experience.

So I picked up the book, met Larry, had it signed, and went home to read. I expected a fun action packed fantasy novel similar to Monster Hunter International. While it was fun and action packed, it went well beyond that with a original and intriguing setting, interesting magic and monsters, and a surprising plot with a lot of tragedy and pathos.

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Quinn liked it a lot.

 

Son of the Black Sword follows Ashok, a ferocious warrior part of a guild of warriors called Protectors. Ashok lives in a land that takes inspiration from South Eastern Asian culture, specifically India’s strict cast system. The people of Ashok’s world are divided into casts, with 1st people on top, followed by warriors, workers, and finally the untouchables worth less than livestock.

The land is a troubled one. Powerful demons rule the seas and often come ashore to raid and slaughter. The society is tethering on the brink of collapse and revolt. Religion is banned, history is erased and strictly controlled, and corrupt inquisitors and politicians scheme and maneuver in the capitol.

In this setting Ashok, a feared warrior wielding a black magical sword imbued with the memories of its past wielders travels the land doing the bidding of his guild and the nations rulers by upholding the Law.

Yet his world unravels as conspiracies, betrayals, long suppressed secrets, come to the surface and the land is thrown into chaos and revolt.

Son of the Black Sword is Larry’s best book. Comparing it his first book his writing has improved and his pacing is fantastic. He writes detailed, action packed battles so well that I couldn’t stop reading. Hands down out of all the fantasy writers out there Larry is the best when it comes to action. If you want to write a good battle, read his stuff.

My favorite element of the book was the plot and subject focusing on the nature of man and humanity. I was surprised that a book I expected to be sword and sorcery light fantasy tackled such thoughtful heavy subject matter yet managed to avoid being preachy.

I can’t wait for the next one in the series to come out. Take my word for it, go and pick this one up. If you like action packed fantasy in a new and unique world and culture you will enjoy this one.