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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Cirsova #7, Spring 2018

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Cirsova #7, Spring 2018

"Galactic Gamble" by Dominika Lein

"The Iynx" by Michael Reyes
"The Legend of Blade" by Jason Scott Aiken
"The Great Culling Emporium" by Marilyn K. Martin
"The Toads of Machu Hampacchu" by Louise Sorensen
"In the Land of Hungry Shadows" by Adrian Cole
"Criteria for Joining the Galactic Community" by Michael Tierney
"Anna and the Thing" by Abraham Strongjohn

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

The seventh number of Cirsova brings us a novella, five short stories, and two flash pieces of what is intended to be pulpy science fantasy, fantasy, and horror fun. Some may enjoy the energetically delivered colorful subject matter and many may be dissatisfied due to the shortcomings of craft.

"Galactic Gamble" by Dominika Lein

Rasmuel's business partner is taken by a wicked alien lord as a sort of collateral for the debts Ras owes him. So Ras heads back into town to try to get her back through gambling and fighting.

I know this is just supposed to be good old-fashioned pulpy science fantasy fun but almost the entire characterization of Rasmuel is as a "swarthy ginger," a bad guy is announced when a "large, wide boot stomped out, followed by its mate," Ras and the girl hide but are captured when he sneezes, dialog is delivered as, "'You can't,' defended Rasmuel," a bad guy asks, "Should I take chase?" and this is all in the first page or two. The sneeze-capture is superior plotting compared to the actual resolution.

"The Iynx" by Michael Reyes

A Scot[s]-Irish-Creek named Harjo, a dwarf named Clock, a magic bag named Jackdaw, a spider demon, a neanderthal guardian, and probably some other critters I've forgotten, all fight over a magic mask.

The first half of this weird tale is a massive infodump of magical minutiae before the action kicks in but we don't know or care who anyone is or what really motivates them except that Harjo wants the mask to resurrect the black magic woman whose suicide was caused by it. And despite all the fuss and bother, the resolution is actually extremely simple. Despite most of the story, it isn't actually about Harjo and isn’t actually complete, but is apparently an installment in the dwarf's saga.

"The Legend of Blade" by Jason Scott Aiken

An old man tells his grandchildren the violent tale of how his city was sacked and he and a pair of companions made their sword-fighting, swashbuckling way across the continent to save the city he currently lives in and of the amazing being who trained them and accompanied them. Although not told in those terms, we gather this was a journey from LA to NY after a solar flare had caused the apocalypse of technological civilization and somehow unleashed magic on the world.

Everything's way too easy as Blade is invincible and makes the trio about the same and, post-apocalypse or no, this doesn't seem like the thing you'd tell your little granddaughter, but it moves along vigorously.

"The Great Culling Emporium" by Marilyn K. Martin

Jobard, the ex-merc turned bounty hunter, arrives at an interstellar—intergalactic, even—flea market in order to capture two different sorts of bounties: one a murderer on the run, and the other a lovely lady.

This tale was an odd mixture of almost libertarian looseness and rigid law'n'order which perhaps relates to the unnecessarily contrived plot within a freely invented milieu. While the protagonist may not be as invincible as the Blade crew, there's little suspense and the cursory romance element was a weakness. That said, the bizarre bazaar full of a variety of colorful aliens was an interesting setting and it was at least as good as "Blade" which was better than the two prior tales.

"The Toads of Machu Hampacchu" by Louise Sorensen

Darla has slain an undying Elder and needs to get away from it all, so helps guide an expedition to the realm of the toad-folk. When one of her charges is eaten by a toad, she makes a deal to get him back. And then the rat-like things come.

This is very confusingly written, though either Lovecraftian or Cthulhu-like, at least. It establishes a strong mystified melancholy mood and has a sort of surreal dreamlike set of events. Perhaps people who like this sort of thing will like it, but it left me nonplussed.

"In the Land of Hungry Shadows" by Adrian Cole

Ages after Earth has been ruined by a nuclear war or worse, and little technology is left and much mutation and magic has arisen, a witchfinder winds up dead in the dangerous land of Quumarza. The witchfinder Voruum is sent after him, along with his sidekick. The purpose is to find what happened to the first one and call in the troops if merited, though the mission slips with little reason into repeating the first witchfinder's actual evidence-gathering mission. The pair meet a lonely old man and his lovely granddaughter at the last outpost before the badlands and survive an attack. Then they take the fight to the enemy, meeting an unlikely ally on the way. Much violence ensues.

This novella is actually not bad on a line-by-line basis, the names have an almost Vance-like vibe, and some of the isolated scenes (such as the self-described "scene of dreadful conflict") have a certain vigor, but I still don't know exactly what a witchfinder is in this context and this is an extremely arbitrarily and illogically plotted story which, between that and the flat, distant characters, makes it difficult to really care about any of this. At one point a character "gasped. 'Then we must prepare a trap for him.'" to which another asked, "Can you do that?" to which I thought, "Sure, he can do anything!"

"Criteria for Joining the Galactic Community" by Michael Tierney

Thin even for flash, this describes some aliens wanting to invite us into the galactic community but then realizing from a confused President that they have also been confused.

"Anna and the Thing" by Abraham Strongjohn

In the second weak flash piece, a princess is kidnapped by a "pirate scum" for a reward but things don't go as planned for either of them when she forces a crashlanding into a swamp planet with a critter in it.


More of Jason McGregor's reviews can be found at Featured Futures.