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.
War in a Way that Suits You by Michael A. Michaels. If you had handed me this story and told me it was written by Linda Nagata and published by a top-rate magazine, I would have believed you. A very well written military SF story about a mercenary outfit with a strict policy to leave men behind.
The Lion’s Share. This is the aforementioned space pirate story. It really leans heavily on the pirate aspect. It’s not my favorite story here, but I was amused at the captain’s indignation at his quarry ignoring his fake distress calls.
Blood and Bones: Caribbean 1645 by Jim Breyfogle. A sorcerer cuts a deal with a pirate captain to seize a Spanish treasure ship. The twist at the end isn’t hard to see coming, but it emphatically works nonetheless, and we get a great battle on the high seas before, complete with a little high seas sorcery.
The Mad God’s Scepter by Edward McDermott. A mercenary is hired to escort a woman across the sea. They survive a pirate attack and worse in a strange cove. This one really hearkened back to the pulp tales of adventure and exploration.
The End of the Golden Age by Tyler Young. Pirates and magic parrots? It works better than you might expect.
Othan, Liberator by Kurt Magnus. This sword and sorcery story steps away from the theme of the issue. Evidently Magnus has written and published a bunch of Othan stories. A nice story, and something I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in Cirsova, but ultimately not very memorable.
The Space Witch by Schuyler Hernstrom. A Hernstrom, yes! But it’s the short story in the issue, no! A sword and planet story with space witches and crystal armor. The space witch reminds me of the red enchantress from Lin Carter’s Gondwane Epic.
Clock’s Watch by Michael Reyes. Is this the first legit horror story in Cirsova? This is the sort of story you would expect to see in Skelos, not Cirsova. But a little variety is a feature, not a bug. Clock’s Watch has a very Lovecraftian feel to it (or at least what I imagine Lovecraftian to be).
The Wooing of Etroklos by J. Comer. Comer’s sword and planet novelette may be my favorite story from this issue. It’s less effective in the beginning, throwing out stuff like “breadnut” and “dog-bears” and “manhorses” than later in the story when it actually describes the manhorses, or makes clear that the “wizard” Sirat serves is really a scientist or engineer.
Retrospective: The Best of C.L. Moore by Jeffro Johnson. Cirsova continues to do yeoman’s work promoting great female writers who have been forgotten, this time with an essay on C.L. Moore. Moore wrote my favorite story from Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s anthology Women of Futures Past (Rusch published an essay in Cirsova no. 2), and I just picked up a couple collections of her work I’m looking forward to.
4 of 5 Stars.