In my post announcing my Throwback SF Thursday series, I mentioned that there seems to be a resurgence in interest in old-style speculative fiction. Cirsova was front-and-center in my mind when I thought of Retro SF. But I hadn’t read issue #1. Now I have and I can tell you just how damn good it is. I only sort of vaguely know what to expect from diving into the pulps, but this? THIS is the sort of thing I want to read. (And, frankly, it’s better than GRRM’s Old Venus, stable of SF stallions notwithstanding.)
(On a scheduling note, I have Cirsova issue #2 in hand and can’t wait to dig in. I’m tabling a review of Old Venus until I start Burrough’s Venus series, which is what I’m picking up next. I may write on some stuff I’ve read previously. And Skelos issue #1 is supposed to show up in my mailbox at some point.)
The Gift of the Ob-Men by Schuyler Hernstrom. The Gift of the Ob-Men is my favorite story from issue #1 of Cirsova, and one of my favorite short stories this year, but before I get to the story itself I want to copy P. Alexander’s wonderful intro:
Cast out and exiled by his people, Sounnu braves the wilderness with only his wits and his ancient blade to keep him alive! But is he prepared to pay the price for the strange blessing which will set him forever apart from his fellow humans?
There are mushroom men. Two-headed wolves. Automatons. Mad wizards. It’s weird and wild and wonderful and manages to be more epic than some doorstopper series. It’s at a bizarre unplaceable point in time, where civilization has fallen or yet to rise or both. Somewhere in our far future. Or maybe our far past. Perhaps in a galaxy far, far away.
My Name is John Carter (Part 1) by James Hutchings. My name is John Carter is a retelling of the Barsoom books in poem form. Or so I gather. I’ve seen the recent movie but haven’t read any of the books. Yet. Carter is on Earth for the duration—only being (presumably) transported to Mars at the end—but it’s a much different start than that from the movie.
This Day, At Tilbury by Kat Otis. A boy with the ability to control fire protects London from a river assault by a Spanish Armada led by monks who can control the weather. This story feels like an excerpt from a full novel, in a good way. It’s a single battle but there is a wealth of worldbuilding lurking beneath the surface, and Otis hints at it all. This is fun. Why don’t I ever get to read stuff like this in F&SF?
At the Feet of Neptune’s Queen by Abraham Strongjohn. The almost King of Mars, er Prince, is abducted by the Queen of Neptune. This one reminded me a lot of the John Carter movie. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it didn’t stand out.
Rose by Any Other Name by Brian K. Lowe. This one has the long lost past and far future feel of Ob-Men but is a poor sister. There are Old Machines that can transform and transport, Wolverine-man hybrids and a talking gorilla, and a nice twist at the end.
Late Bloom by Melanie Rees. Late Bloom features airships, time travel, a mustache-twirling villain, and some pretty atrocious dialogue. This was my least favorite of the stories by a fair margin, and the only one I didn’t enjoy.
The Hour of the Rat by Donald Jacob Uitvugt. The Hour of the Rat is sort of a Japanese-inflected ninja yarn. I enjoyed it, but it’s another not particularly memorable story.
A Hill of Stars by Misha Burnett. A Hill of Stars is a novelette, and the longest story in the issue #1. Kuush gains his freedom when the giant, tentacled, near-immortal Great One who owns him decides to die. After leaving a dying city laden with rather advance hiking gear he is (somewhat) promptly set upon by dinosaur-riding primitives. He will have to find his way around one of the Great Ones’ nastier creations if he wants his freedom. This was I think my second favorite story. It’s got that out of time feel and the sense that there is a massive, interesting world out there beyond the shores of the story. (Burnett sent me a review copy of his novel Catskinner’s Book, so this won’t be the last time you see him in these pages.)
Retrospective: Toyman by E.C. Tubb by Jeffro Johnson. Jeffro has picked up a few Hugo nominations for his wonderful Appendix N Retrospective series at Castalia House. This Retrospective explores the literary antecedents of the Traveler RPG with Tubb’s Dumarest stories. The writing is at the usual level, but it was less to my interest given my utter lack of familiarity with Traveler and my general disdain for space opera.
4.5 of 5 Stars.
pcbushi on Cirsova at PCBUSHI.
Disclosure: P. Alexander sent me a review PDF of issue #1 of Cirsova magazine, although I wound up buying the print version before I read it.