Throwback SF Thursday: Skelos vol. 1

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  Skelos also includes a number of poems, a hefty serving of illustrations, a previously unpublished Robert E. Howard draft, and essays on Howard, Lovecraft, and C.L. Moore.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.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Horror and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Throwback SF Thursday: Skelos vol. 1

  1. Bookstooge says:

    “Perhaps most notably, there is a story in the grand occult detective tradition, a sub-genre that has disappeared entirely”

    Are you being sarcastic? Or am I not understanding what an occult detective is? I’m assuming it’s something like Dresden or Garret, PI.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      Dresden isn’t really the same thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge says:

        Ok. Then I’m thinking of something different. Any place I can check this out at? Or do you have a handy definition?

        Liked by 1 person

        • H.P. says:

          I couldn’t easily find one—there is a Wikipedia entry but it lumps REH’s Steve Harrison in with Harry Dresden, but I see them as distinct. The latter is urban fantasy, the former is horror. In the sort of stories I’m thinking of, the detective (or just as often, scholar) is a normal person poking into things that no human should be poking into. There are several good examples in the Del Rey REH horror collection.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Dangit, why did you have to say giant oyster? Now I have to read this.

    I’ve briefly covered single issues of Broadswords & Blasters, StoryHack, Astounding Frontiers, and Cirsova. I’m hoping to review Cirsova issues 2 and 3 in May.

    I’m thinking Heroic Fantasy Quarterly might also fit with this group, but I haven’t read enough of it yet to be sure. I’m planning to read more issues.

    An anthology sounds like a good idea to me, but I don’t know what it takes to succeed in that market. Most seem to load up with the same group of authors, who must have followers who buy stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just remembered Lyonesse, which might also belong in this group.

      Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      I left Heroic Fantasy Quarterly off because it predates the others by a number of years.

      Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      Seems like there has to be a market opportunity, given the literary aspirations of almost all SF anthologies today and given the seeming favoritism shown in the writers whose stories are picked. But you would have to build your fanbase from the ground up. The potential market has largely abandoned short SF altogether.

      It would be good to grab good stories from pro mags to–it would both help the quality and raise the profile. It would be good for the market for exciting short SF overall since it would give authors writing that stuff a chance to get paid twice.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. emerald says:

    Points for honesty and directness in your review.
    Curious as to your take on Skelos #2 and #3, which are both quite different animals.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: April 2018 Month-in-Review | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

  5. Boleslaw says:

    That optimism vs pessimism thing is probably due to the fact that Burroughs started writing much earlier than Lovecraft and Howard. ERB created his Mars stories in times when the United States were developing really fast, with thousands of migrants willing to get there to work hard and better themselves, and probably no one expected yet that banksters and their nefarious deeds will cause the Great Depression. Lovecraft and Howard made their best stories already in the 30s and this is somehow reflected in them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      Yeah, I think the timing has a lot to do with it. Howard and Lovecraft wrote after WWI as well. I understand Burroughs’ work grew more pessimistic after WWI as well.


  6. Pingback: Throwback SF Thursday: Tales from the Magician’s Skull vol. 1 | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

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