Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cirsova, A Review

Growing up in a stolid middle-class family with a sizable and hence expensive brood of children that pushed our life-style into the ranks of the lower middle-class, our entertainment was chiefly picked up from the free library and the low-rent flea markets that dotted the Midwest countryside of the 1980s.  The library was a great source of fantasy and sci-fi from the 1950s through the 1970s, but devouring those only came after the love of the genre had been instilled through exposure to the second-hand comics and short fiction magazines heaped up on the ten cent tables.  The bright and action packed covers and lurid titles of the stories may have been designed to appeal to kids of a previous generation, but they worked just as well on this child of the 1980s.

Like so many members of my generation, my love of the short fiction magazine faded over the years.  That loss of interest was chalked up to putting away childish things and the rise of digital entertainment against which no mere magazine could possibly hope to compete.  Both of those rationalizations made little sense when Project Gutenberg made authors like Burroughs and Howard available for a nostalgic re-read, and demonstrated that the old stories still held up.  Re-reading Tolkien every few years helped prove that the newer works generally didn’t live up to the high reputation of their predecessors.  An occasional foray into the magazine stacks at the big box bookstores only provided more evidence that the time of quality short fiction had passed for good.

The Cirsova announcement went unremarked on this blog.  Short fiction magazines were dead, why risk yet another disappointment.  The editor did claim that Cirsova was an attempt to recapture the spirit of adventure and exploration of the outside world.  That should have counted for something, but countless scoundrels have hidden their mediocrity behind the popular names of the past.
I'm just going to leave this here.
Despite wanting to believe, I just couldn't bring myself to order a copy.  When P. Alexander offered up free review copies, my last remaining objection fell apart, and I quickly volunteered.  Within minutes, I realized that my skepticism had almost cost me the prize I had been seeking.  While not exactly the Holy Grail of classic sci-fi/fantasy, this magazine manages the impressive feat of perfectly recapturing the feel and spirit of those old flea-market treasures.  The opening story features a sword wielding barbarian cutting his way through the wilds, tangling with evil wizards, and rescuing princesses (of a sort).  The writing doesn’t meet the level of a Howard, but that’s a high enough bar as to be an unfair standard.

The rest of the stories in the magazine consist of an eclectic blend of adventure yarns that run the gamut from  a solar system spanning planetary romance complete with evil queens and betrayals, to an alt-history tale where a lad must save London from a fleet commanded by the wizard priests of the victorious Spanish Armada, to a small set piece featuring a young Asian slave girl attempting to assassinate a demon-slash-prince.  If that seems like a crazy amount of stuff to pack into a single sentence, rest assured that it’s a crazy amount of stuff to pack into a single magazine.  Cirsova does just that, however; and does it with aplomb.

As can be expected, the level of writing quality varies among the stories, but even the worst prose is readable and doesn’t distract from the story itself.  In fact, each of the authors writes with such a strong voice that no two stories feel like any other.  Some are light, some heavy, and one is even a long form epic poem that does what this curmudgeon expects of poetry – it rhymes.  If that marks this reviewer as an unlettered barbarian, so be it.  The epic poem has wonderful rhythm and pacing, leaving this reviewer to speculate that if modern poetry was all this good, it wouldn’t be such a joke among the hoi polloi.

The magazine is not perfect.  The planetary romance story runs longer than it should.   Unlike the rest of the stories that leave the reader wanting more, this one wears out its welcome before wrapping up. 

That’s it.  That is Cirsova’s sole downside.  A hack would claim the magazine being too short as a second complaint, but that sort of modern-day drollery is no more fitting in a review than it would be in this magazine.  It looks like future editions of Cirsova will indeed be longer, for which we can all be grateful

In short, Cirsova is just like the old stuff, but new.  I can think of no higher praise.

If you agree, you can get your copy - digital or real-world - from Amazon.  You can also back the Kickstarter for the second issue.  I hope you will do so, because I've already backed it, and the more people that back it, the more likely we are to get more Cirsovan goodness.  The world needs more Cirsovan goodness.


  1. High praise indeed, sounds like the first run of the old Heavy Metal magazines (and others of that time period) I will defiantly have to look into this, Thanks!

  2. Heavy Metal - that's exactly right. Wish I'd thought to make that connection.