Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Cirsova Issue #2 Review


If you recall, I was a big fan of Cirsova's first issue. I am not old enough to have been around during the heyday of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines, and it would take a lot to get me interested in modern ones. That has nothing to do with the quality of the stories being any worse, but because of the modernist tendency to write stories where the main character might as well killed himself before word one. I don't like to feel hopeless after reading stories.

But Cirsova doesn't do that, and that's one of its main appeals. The first issue was full of stories of adventurers facing impossible odds and taking them on regardless. It was not only a pleasant read, but refreshing.

So you might be wondering if issue two continues on this path, or misses the boat. That's a fair question to ask.

Fear not, fellow adventurers, I am here to report that Cirsova remains intact! Issue two not only contains another excellent cover by Jabari Weathers, but has stories that easily stack up to the first issue.

So let's give them a look.

"The Sealed City" by Adrian Cole is the perfect story to start the issue off, being one about a satanic cult and a man called a "witchfinder" who is hunting them down in a far future setting. This story sets the tone for the rest of the issue to follow.

It's not my favorite story in the issue, but it is the one that got me hooked into reading the rest of the stories right away. I'm just a big fan of heroes hunting down evil cults and exterminating them. What can I say? It's a problem I'm going to have to learn to live with.

"Hoskin's War" by Brian K. Lowe is the second story. It's an alternate history take on the American Revolution, and is quite a bit more interesting than I first thought it would be. The fantastical elements are weaved in quite skillfully.

I was quite taken with how the author weaved in the English, the American rebels, and the Iroquois, presence here without a hint of PC interference. I know I shouldn't have to bring that up, but it is such a rarity nowadays that I can't help having to mention it. Political correctness sands a lot of good ideas down to grey goo, and would have only hurt this story tremendously.

This was a thrill ride from start to finish with probably my favorite ending in the issue. Hunting mystical beasts, unsettling shadowy monsters, hints of a greater danger? Yep, it has those. If you want to read one story to see if Cirsova is for you, I recommend this one.

"Squire Errant" by Karl Gallagher is the story of, well, a squire, who must finish the quest of his knight. What is that quest, you might ask? Well, slaying a dragon, of course!

This is the most straightforward story of the bunch, and I'm glad it was in the issue. It's hard to add much here without wrecking the whole thing. Simply put, it's a great story. It adds a bit of levity to the issue, too. Things can get a bit heavy.

"The Water Walks Tonight" by S.H. Mansouri is probably the closest Cirsova has gotten to horror yet. Some shady men go out to defend a town that is under attack by a strange creature that might be sent by the gods. The town is losing its fishing industry, and these men with Nordic names are going to stop them. Or are they?

This was a bit difficult to read. Not because of the language, or anything that happens, but because the reader is thrown into the deep end of the world off the bat. By the time you catch up, the plot kicks into high gear, so it's not a problem. It's just something that should be pointed out.

To go too in depth into what happens in this tale would be to spoil it, but the ending is probably worth reading the whole story.

"Shark Fighter" by Michael Tierney obviously has the best title in the whole magazine. I shouldn't have to explain why. Conceptually, it's the most straightforward story here. A diver faces off against a tiger shark while he slowly regains his memory. The background elements add a flavor to the tale that made it quite unique from its initial premise.

I have no experience with diving, but I was able to follow the story just fine. It might knock you off-kilter for the first few pages, but stick with it. It's the most surprising tale here.

"My Name is John Carter (Part 2)" by James Hutchings continues the fabulous poem from issue one. If you have not read the original Barsoom novels, you might not get as much out of this, but that should just give more motivation to read them.

Poems are not my expertise, but I have two rules for them. A) It must rhyme, and B) It must have a rhythm. This poem had both in part one, and it has them here. It's a success on that alone.

It also has a clear love of the original John Carter stories that fits in perfectly with the rest of the magazine contents. The poem melds the past with the present in a way that makes one appreciate Cirsova all the more.

It really reminds you that the spirit of the old Burroughs novels still sparks today.

"Images of the Goddess" by Schuyler Hernstrom is both the final story in the magazine and the lone novella. A monk named Plom goes on a quest to find a Holy Book of his goddess, and meets some strange characters on the way.

This is the hardest story to talk about without getting into spoiler territory. The plot winds out really well. Lets just say that this is probably the best story of the bunch with some memorable world-building and characters, as well as some surprising humor and ripping action. This tale has it all.

There is one encounter with a bounty hunter later on that was particularly effective. These are the types of action scenes you can't get outside of fantasy and science fiction.

Of all the stories to end the magazine with, this was the best choice.

But it is not the end of the issue.

"Rescuing Women" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the lone essay and final piece in the book. Well, besides the editor's comments (which I quite enjoy) that is. This is a piece about the female presence in science fiction since the pulp days and how politics are used in order to shadow the truth.

The truth is that women have been writing science fiction since the pulp days. Some of the greatest science fiction authors are women (C.L. Moore, Andre Norton, Leigh Brackett), and were treated no differently from the men. So why is it that there is a narrative about how women were never allowed into the field and were held back for so long? Why does it still continue to this day? This essay dives into the truth of the matter.

It was an excellent essay to end the issue on. It leaves you thinking after just experiencing some great tales.

That's a great way to describe the issue as a whole. When I closed issue #2 of Cirsova, I had a smile on my face. That makes it a rousing success, in my book.

The final verdict is simple. Do you like Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction? If the answer is yes, then why aren't you already reading Cirsova? If the answer is no, then I can't even imagine why you read the review to this point.

A bigger question is whether a magazine like this is necessary at all. I'd say it is. High School and College teachers scare so many off from reading at all, and the Big Five Publishers are wired in to producing the same garbage that chases so many away. Most never even pick up another book after High School.

But it doesn't have to be that way. There is more to reading than stories of nihilistic sleazebags who spend three hundred plot-less page books whining about how the world robbed their precious selves of everything. Unless you're a Liberal Arts teacher, or one of their captive student, you're probably not going to choose to read crap like that.

Cirsova is a reminder of what stories can truly be. For that alone, I wish them much success. However, the excellent stories (and essays!) make it a no-brainer of a purchase.

Highly recommended.

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