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Cirsova #5: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (Volume 5) Paperback – March 17, 2017
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Now to the stories!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t always read short fiction magazines or anthologies in order, or even usually make it all the way through one without skipping a few stories. With Cirsova, I didn’t read in order — as I was extremely excited to read Schuyler Hernstrom’s novella after what I saw in Cirsova #2. His work “The First American” in this volume lived up to the hype I generated about Hernstrom’s work in my own mind (why aren’t more people talking about him?!). I was thoroughly entertained the entire way through. I note that he very much likes the concept of having space tech having crashed on a fantasy world planet and implementing something from there, a fond reminder of his story in issue #2. That said, this work was wholly different and original, and well worth the read.
I was hesitant about this issue because I learned after I kickstarted that this was a themed work (unlike the other issues of Cirsova) revolving around a Lovecraftian world that Misha Burnett developed. My problem isn’t with Misha, who’s a fine writer, but with Lovecraft, as I’ve really never enjoyed much of his work or the Cthulhu mythos. I’m not much one for horror in general, only reading it very sparingly. Monsters in the dark don’t really appeal to me, as I like to read more positive things about humanity progressing to the stars.
Fortunately, my fears proved to be unnecessary. Misha actually created a very nice world and the authors, though using these Lovecraftian monsters as a backdrop, still told stories about heroes being heroes and good triumphing over evil. Misha’s own “In The Gloaming O My Darling” actually was the closest of the set to something of traditional Lovecraft horror, but the way it was presented with the characters was far more enjoyable than most of the other work I’ve read in that genre. He really told a classic short story very well with this one.
My other favorite was “The Queen Of Shadows” by Jay Barnson. This had a great heroic adventure to it that was extremely fun, with a Tarzan-esque main character performing rescue work in a city. I loved how this went. The pace was fantastic, villains challenging and it held my interest as one of the longer pieces in the magazine. I’ll be looking for more of his work later.
After the 6 tales of Eldtrich Earth, there were a couple of non-related stories. Adrian Cole’s “Killing in Karkesh” I believe is part of a serial he’s working on — I remember the star lance from issue #2, though I feel like it would have been better if I’d read all of the other stories leading up to it. At some point when I have time I will track down issues 3-4. What surprised me was “The Bears of 1812” by Michael Tierney. I thought this was a silly title and I wouldn’t enjoy the historical fiction as much as the others — but it was really interesting. I like what he did with Sacagawea, and I haven’t researched how accurate it is historically, but I did buy it as a short story, very satisfying.
Overall, I very much enjoyed. These were my favorites, but everything was solid as I’ve come to expect from Cirsova from reading issues 1-2. This magazine is well deserving of your Hugo consideration.
These are hard stories to review individually because they all blend together in style. It is not an insult to the authors, as this is a theme they are following, but most had the same atmosphere and dour ending that it made it hard for me to distinguish which ones stood out more overall. Brian K. Lowe contributed two stories (War of the Ruby and Shapes in the Fog) which respectively set the tone and wrap up the theme, so I will point to him for the highlights and for catching the general mood.
If I do not come across as enthused, it is only because my interest in Lovecraft is not as strong as it probably should be. This is not a slight against the stories in this style. I enjoyed them all, and found myself on the edge of my seat wondering how they would end. If you are a Lovecraft fan, you will certainly enjoy the lot. Eerie settings, doomed protagonists, and more intangible monstrosities than you can shake a dead albino supergenius at. This is a definite step up from #4 making #5 is a return to form issue.
There's also a novella by Schuyler Hernstrom. If you've ever read anything by him, then you already know what you're in for, but if not, then let me set the stage for you. A warrior has lost his love and must travel a dangerous land and consult a "sorcerer" to help get her back. But will his journey be worth the risk of a price higher than death? Suffice to say, the journey for the reader is definitely worth it.
It goes without saying that Mr. Hernstrom's story was easily my favorite in the issue. It's a good old fashioned adventure tale with excellent action and intriguing world-building. His stories are always my favorite in Cirsova, and this was no different. It's also a long one!
Unlike issue #4 where there were a handful of stories that did nothing for me (including one I outright disliked) there was nothing here that turned me away. As a full issue, this is the strongest since #3, and probably the third best overall.