When you see a new short fiction magazine like Cirsova hit the scene—one that publishes such fresh work—you have to wonder whether the editor can keep it up. Will there be a real pipeline of quality stories, or was there a pent-up supply that will be exhausted? Cirsova’s third issue is the weakest of the first three, but it is only a very small drop-off in quality.
There is a lot of underappreciated talent out there. Issue number three features only one repeat player—the inestimable Schuyler Hernstrom—from the first two issues (though Jeffro Johnson returns with another essay).
The issue features a bit of a nautical theme. Only a bit though. There is a good space pirate story, a few pirate-pirate stories, and a really nice bit of cover art depicting a sorcerer working magic from the deck of a ship, but the rest of the issue branches out. Issue number three is a bit of a departure from the heroic fantasy and sword and planet-heavy first two issues. This issue, much more so than the first two, could almost have been published by, say, The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Which is both a good and a bad thing. Good, because it speaks to the high quality of the stories within. Bad, because it loses some of its distinctiveness.
Jon Del Arroz’s steampunk YA novel, For Steam and Country, shows a lot of promise, but unfortunately it too often typifies what I like least about both steampunk and YA.
In the Shadow of the Gods is well written, remarkably so for a debut novel. It is also extremely ambitious. It sometimes fails in that ambition. But it’s saved from the rather limited action and a somewhat threadbare plot by a quality of the writing and the strength of the characters drawn that leads to an immersive reading experience. It’s gritty and grim without descending into nihilism awash in bodily fluids.
Welcome back to my first read of the Dark Tower series! This week I finish up The Gunslinger, Book 1 in the Dark Tower series, with The Slow Mutants and The Gunslinger and the Man in Black. Roland finally confronts the Man in Black. Or does he?
Roland and Jake follow the Man in Black into the hole in the cliff face. Walking in the dark, they find a railroad handcar (along with railroad tracks). They come to an abandoned station, complete with mummified railroad employees, and survive an attack from “slow mutants.”
More interesting than the passage through the dark tunnel is a flashback to Roland’s youth. He learns that his father’s counselor Marten, who he obviously believes was the Man in Black, cuckolded his father, the lord of Gilead. Roland responds by demanded to complete his apprenticeship, earlier than any other would-be gunslinger. To do so he must defeat his teacher in combat. He does so, choosing his hawk as his weapon, but he is sent away and never gets his chance to confront Marten.
My original concept for Throwback SF Thursday was less #PulpRevolution and more a mix of Vintage SF (including Campbellian science fiction) and modern fiction that is self-consciously retro. Maybe it’s Cirsova Magazine or maybe it’s . . . Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom.
Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis is one of those self-consciously retro works that pokes fun at the source material. But don’t get the wrong idea. This is entirely done from love. Schenck takes the 1939 World’s Fair vision of the future and the pulps and runs with it, having a hell of a lot of fun in the process, if not quite telling a pulp tale.
(Chapter titles are along the lines of The Drunken Tourists of Deception, Battle in the Pneumatic Wind, and Onslaught of the Rampaging Rockets if you’re wondering how much fun.)
I’ve been Tweeting out links to old reviews all month in honor of #SteampunkMonth. Yesterday, Jon Del Arroz posted his all-time top 5 Steampunk novels to the Superversive SF blog (Arroz has a Steampunk novel of his own coming out tomorrow, For Steam and Country). Today, I post my own all-time top 5 Steampunk stories.
This is not intended to be a list of the best Steampunk stories of all time. It’s to my personal taste and, more importantly, limited by just how poorly read I am in the sub-genre. I’ve never read Boneshaker, The Difference Engine, or Leviathan, for example. I am also broadly considering “Steampunk” to include Flintlock Fantasy and Mannerpunk. I think those sub-sub-genres fit well enough inside the broader umbrella of Steampunk along with more traditional and pure Steampunk stories. (Note, too, that I am insistent on saying “stories” instead of “novels,” allowing me to sneak in an entire trilogy.) I frankly prefer Flintlock Fantasy and Mannerpunk to straight Steampunk, and my selections reflect that.
Without further ado, my all-time top 5, in alphabetical order, because I couldn’t possibly rank them:
The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
[T]he humor never gets in the way of action. There is a bit of a slow start, but when they spot an enemy scout on their trial run, things kick into high gear. The last half of the book had me gripping the armrests on my chair. The big battle at the end is as good as anything Brian McClellan wrote. It’s bloody and dirty and visceral in the way any well written early 19th Century-esque battle ought to be.
Read full review.
Now that things have slowed down a bit (including the annoyances of moving), I can start remedying a 2017 that has included far too little reading. But of course I never read as much as I would like to. Like my Holiday Reading List, this is very much an aspirational list. I certainly won’t get to everything.
Popular Social Science
I’ve been slacking off on reading popular social science, one of my favorite genres of nonfiction. I could remedy that by picking up Grit, The Complacent Class, Coming Apart, or How Money Walks. I did finish The Triple-Package by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld a couple weeks ago.