Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cirsova Review Delayed and C-SPAN is the greatest thing in the world

A family medical crisis (over and not too serious, which I guess means it was really more a scare than a crisis) resulted in multiple hour-long drives to NJ this past Sunday and Monday. That meant no review at Black Gate this week of Cirsova Magazine and Pulp Literature. Next week, though.
Cirsova is the sword and planet mag Keith West mentioned a few months ago, and while I didn't like all the stories, the good ones are very good. It's another example of a resurgence in interest in sci-fi and fantasy as it existed before the two genres were walled off from each other.

Author Raphael Ordoñez has written extensively about how his own fiction is informed by earlier writers like ERB and REH. Jeffro Johnson's recent Appendix N articles are super studies of many authors from the two genre's nascent days. And, of course, at the late, lamented (by me, anyway) Grognardia, James Maliszewski wrote many articles about pulp writing.

I think the reason stories rooted in that early tradition appeal so much to me is that much contemporary fantasy and sci-fi (especially) don't appeal to me. Either it's too dark for nothing more than darkness' sake, or it exists seemingly only to bear its author's social and political bête noires. 

There's also a dearth of basic storytelling. Whether from lack of desire or lack of skill, too many of the stories in mags like Beneath Ceaseless Skies just drift over the page like puffs of smoke with no narrative force, no energy. Nothing happens. Say what you will about the prose of the pulp writers of the 30s, their goal was to spin ripping yarns, not create a drear, pastel smear of words.

Even more painful, as someone who has been reading sci-fi/fantasy for over four decades, I'm struck by the lack of grounding in these genres by so many modern authors. I don't expect a 25 year old writer to have read the same now ancient Clark Ashton Smith stories or Poul Anderson books I have, but I do think they should be aware of them. Ignorance of the past is not a good thing.

I know I'm painting with a ridiculously too broad brush, but it's as if the roots of much contemporary fantasy/sci-fi are planted in RPGs, TV, and comics. In of themselves, those aren't bad things, but they tend to be more concerned with the surface things of the genre. Real depth is missing.

So, when something like Cirsova comes along, I get excited. I haven't been as keyed up about a new magazine in some time. I wish them well, and am looking forward to their next issue.

Despite its title, Pulp Literature is a more refined creature than Cirsova. While there're several top notch fantasy stories, many of the thick (near 250 pages) magazine's contents are mysteries, and non heroic fantasy. I am astounded that it's been in print for two years now, and I've never heard of it. The current issue is over two-hundred pages long. At $4.99 for the kindle version, you cannot go wrong.

On a completely separate note, I've been diving deep into the waters of the US Civil War this past week. And by deep, I mean deep. Right now I'm listening to a two-hour presentation on the Battle of Stone's River by historian Earl Hess and others.

After hearing US Grant impersonator Dr. E. C. (Curt) Fields, Jr at the Civil War Roundtable of New York last week, I started dipping into my library. A chapter of Catton here, a chapter of Foote there.

Howard Pyle's Battle of Nashville

Then I found that C-SPAN has a trove of lengthy videos like the one with Hess on every Civil War subject imaginable. I've already watched a pieces about Bruce Catton, WT Sherman, Joe Johnston, JB Hood, the Overland Campaign, and Sherman's Carolinas Campaign. It's dynamite stuff, but each one's at least an hour long, and I don't see any end in sight. It just might kill me.

Battle of the Wilderness


  1. I'm sorry to hear about the scare, but I'm glad everything turned out OK. Thanks for the shoutout. I've not had a chance to read Cirsova yet. It's been that kind of semester. And I've never heard of Pulp Literature. I'll have to check it out. Good thing there's an electronic version.

    You definitely raise some good points about modern practictioners of fantasy don't seem to know the classics of the genre. That's not a topic I've time to get into right now, but I agree with you completely.

  2. Thanks. 9am drives to an ER forty miles away bite.

    You're welcome. Cirsova's not perfect, but it's got the potential to be. Fingers crossed.

    1. Sorry to hear about the med scare.

      Looking forward to your review! While no collection can hit the sweet spot on all the stories for all readers, we're at least aiming to maintain a high average in each issue. I think once we get some issues under our belt and raise some awareness of where we're ultimately aiming at going, we'll be able to find a consistent groove. Or at least I won't have to read as many submissions with elves.

      Let us know what we can do to step our game up!

  3. Thanks. A question of getting older and all that.

    Elves, hah! That's almost exactly what I'm planning to say - first issue, finding a groove, letting authors know you exist, etc. But, man, it's exactly the groove I want to read more of.