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

Cirsova, Vol. 2, #1, Spring 2019

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Cirsova, Vol. 2, #1, Spring 2019

"Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She" by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Michael Tierney

"Atop the Cleft of Ral-Gri" by Jeff Stoner
"The Idol in the Sewers" by Kenneth R. Gower
"Born to Storm the Citadel of Mettathok" by D. M. Ritzlin
"The Book Hunter's Apprentice" by Barbara Doran
"How Thaddeus Quimby the Third and I Almost Took Over the World" by Gary K. Shepherd
"Deemed Unsuitable" by WL Emery
"Warrior Soul" by J. Manfred Weichsel
"Seeds of the Dreaming Tree" by Harold R. Thompson
"The Valley of Terzol" by Jim Breyfogle
"The Elephant Idol" by Xavier Lastra
"Moonshot" by Michael Wiesenberg

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Ten tales of adventure and a pair of comedies appear in the latest issue of this quarterly publication. Notable among the offerings is the first appearance of a new story about the most famous character created by one of the pioneers of fantastic fiction.

"Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She" by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Michael Tierney completes a fragment by the world-famous author. The story takes place during Tarzan's adolescence, when he is still living with the great apes who raised him from infancy. He learns of a woman with pale skin and blonde hair, living among a local tribe. She is really a native African, wearing a mask and wig as a disguise. Tarzan, thinking himself ugly because of his light skin, searches for her as a possible companion in his loneliness.

Because the reader discovers the identity of the woman long before Tarzan does, there is little suspense generated by his quest. The most interesting aspect of the story is the way it delves into Tarzan's psychology. His visions of a fair-skinned woman, which occur only in his imagination, are more intriguing than his real experiences.

"Atop the Cleft of Ral-Gri" by Jeff Stoner brings a German anthropologist to a remote Tibetan mountaintop in 1939. Accompanied by soldiers and a Nazi officer, his mission is to locate a magical weapon for Heinrich Himmler. The expedition is a long and hazardous one. In addition to harsh weather and a nearly impossible trail, the party encounters supernatural enemies. The revelation of the weapon's true nature leads to a violent climax.

The author narrates in a realistic style, making the fantastic elements seem believable. A brief flashback sequence near the beginning seems awkward. A slight change in structure might make the story more powerful.

The protagonist of "The Idol in the Sewers" by Kenneth R. Gower is a thief. Before the story begins, he stole a vast fortune, but lost it to a wizard and barely escaped with his life. Now he wanders in a vast labyrinth of sewers, trying to find his way out. An army of rat-men takes him prisoner, sparing his life so he can retrieve an idol from their enemies, the toad-men. Fulfilling this dangerous quest involves someone from his past.

The author's fondness for obscure words weakens an otherwise vivid narrative style. Instead of being drawn into the story, the reader spends time running to the dictionary. Some aspects of the hero's backstory are not entirely clear, as if this is a sequel to a previous adventure.

"Born to Storm the Citadel of Mettathok" by D. M. Ritzlin is a grim tale narrated by a newly created demon. Like others of the same kind, the narrator exists only to wage war, for obscure reasons, against the enemy of a sadistic master. The master promises a great reward to those few who survive the bloody battle. After a gruesome fight, the narrator learns what the reward entails.

The mood of the story is unrelievedly gloomy, with a great deal of graphic violence and some disturbing sexual content. Readers of horror fiction are likely to appreciate it more than those seeking fantasy adventures.

"The Book Hunter's Apprentice" by Barbara Doran involves the search for a magic tome. The book hunter works for a man whose slave has the strange ability to teleport when in danger, but only into cabinets. She purchases the slave, and together they set out on a quest to obtain the book from a mansion full of deadly ghosts. The climax reveals something surprising about the two.

Judging by the names of the characters, and certain other elements, this story takes place in a fantastic version of China. This aspect of the setting adds an interesting flavor to the plot. The revelation of the identities of the two protagonists seems arbitrary. The teleporting slave is unaware of the meaning of much that happens. Often the reader is just as confused.

As its title suggests, "How Thaddeus Quimby the Third and I Almost Took Over the World" by Gary K. Shepherd is a farce. Two disreputable characters find a device that can create a perfect illusory duplicate of anything. The illusion, which fools all the senses, lasts only a few minutes. The two try to figure out a way to profit from their discovery, without much success.

Because the pair of antiheroes wind up where they started, the whole thing is a shaggy dog story. Some readers may be amused by the contrast between the narrator's elevated language and Quimby's mangling of English.

"Deemed Unsuitable" by WL Emery takes place in the far future, on a distant planet. Genetically engineered human beings are divided into elite Elevated and oppressed Constructs. The narrator is a heavily armed Construct. He witnesses the attempted kidnapping of a woman. He comes to her aid, but has mixed feelings about his heroism when he finds out she is an Elevated. After numerous battles, captures, and escapes, he discovers why the villains are after her.

This violent, action-packed science fiction story moves at a breakneck pace. It begins with a brief prologue explaining the background. The expository material would have worked better integrated into the narration. Some readers may find it hard to empathize with a protagonist who mows down a large number of enemies without mercy.

"Warrior Soul" by J. Manfred Weichsel begins with a prostitute visiting a client. A long flashback reveals their past encounter. A photographer picked up the woman and her friend, offering to photograph their souls. This led to a bizarre imprisonment for the two women in another reality. Their struggle to escape leads to a final confrontation between the woman and the photographer.

The author mixes fantasy, science fiction, horror, and crime fiction in a way that is not always graceful. The contrast between the realistic sections of the story and the weird nature of the other reality is jarring.

"Seeds of the Dreaming Tree" by Harold R. Thompson deals with the search for a legendary tree with seeds that are poisonous, but which ease pain when used in small amounts. The two protagonists face giant wasps and other dangers before reaching the tree. It turns out to be much stranger than they thought.

The story's setting suggests something like India during the late colonial period, although it clearly takes place in a world that never existed. The combination of modern items, such as pistols and cigarettes, with a fantasy setting is not always convincing.

"The Valley of Terzol" by Jim Breyfogle is one of a series of sword-and-sorcery tales about a pair of adventurers who call themselves the Mongoose and the Meerkat. In this story, a bureaucrat hires them to lead him to a treasure hidden in the middle of ancient ruins. After many dangerous encounters, they find what they are looking for.

The two main characters are interesting, and the author has a very readable style. Although it lacks the elegance of a tale by Fritz Leiber, this story will appeal to fans of the genre.

"The Elephant Idol" by Xavier Lastra is the issue's longest story. The main character is a blind thief. He uses his other senses to sneak into the dressing room of an opera singer. His goal is to steal a gift from a spurned suitor, now deceased. He already has the key to the locked box that holds it secure, obtained from the dead man in a particularly grisly fashion. He does not know that the fellow placed a curse on the object. Opening the box leads to a bizarre change in the world and its inhabitants. Disoriented by this strange transformation, he struggles to save himself and the weirdly altered opera singer from the dead man's wrath.

The main appeal of the story is the way in which the author conveys the blind man's perception. His limited ability to understand what is happening fits the story's plot aptly. The setting, which suggests a fantasy version of late Nineteenth Century Europe, adds color to the tale.

The magazine ends in a lighthearted fashion with "Moonshot" by Michael Wiesenberg. When a NASA official claims a new rocket is capable of putting a barn on the Moon, a politician calls his bluff. If they can successfully transport a barn to the satellite, the government will continue to finance the project. This absurd premise is seen through the eyes of the farmer whose barn is selected to leave Earth.

The story's silly humor is interrupted several times by long technical discussions. Although these are convincing, they slow down the tale without adding to its comic appeal.

Victoria Silverwolf thinks the cover art for this issue is beautiful.