There has been a proliferation of pulp-inspired semipro short SF magazines over the past few years: Broadswords & Blasters, StoryHack, Astounding Frontiers, Tales From the Magician’s Skull, Cirsova, Skelos . . . am I the only one thinking that what we need isn’t another magazine but an adventure SF-focused annual best-of anthology? Anyway, I’m way behind on introducing myself to the burgeoning sub-field. I’m reading the first issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull now, but otherwise I’ve only read Cirsova (you can find my reviews of the first three issues here, here, and here) and Skelos.
Contrasting the two is a good reminder that the pulps were diverse, and two magazines drawing inspiration from the pulps can have very different visions. Where Cirsova reflects the optimism of Edgar Rice Burroughs and, at least in the first few issues, is heavy on planetary romance, Skelos reflects the pessimism of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft and focuses on the darker side of the pulps, going so far as dropping “Dark Fantasy” into the subtitles. The contrast is even reflected in the respective covers of the mags.
As much as I love Robert E. Howard, my bias is frankly towards the former. Which accounts for much of my preference for Cirsova. There is also very much what we in the business school call a “market opportunity” for what Cirsova is doing. It isn’t something you see from traditional publishing or the pro-rate SF magazines. Skelos opens with a story about a unicorn spreading a pestilence and, assuming that your eyes haven’t rolled out of your head and across the floor by the time you get to the part where a puppy keeps the pestilence alive, by the end of it you will know what you’re in for. It’s a fine story, except for, you know, the eye rolling part, and the fact that a modern reader thoroughly saturated with grimdark can be expected to shrug in response, if it draws any physical reaction at all.
Not that there isn’t some diversity to the stories. We get everything from sea demons to asteroid tracking to forest spirits to drauger to a, uh, giant oyster. Perhaps most notably, there is a story in the grand occult detective tradition, a sub-genre that has disappeared entirely. Skelos also includes a number of poems, a hefty serving of illustrations, a previously unpublished Robert E. Howard draft, and essays on Howard, Lovecraft, and C.L. Moore.
I would say more, but it has been some time since I read issue one and, frankly, it was forgettable. Which is about as biting as fiction criticism can get.
3 of 5 Stars.