Short Reviews – Referent, by Ray Bradbury (as Brett Sterling)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Referent, by Ray Bradbury writing under the shared pseud Brett Sterling, appeared in the October 1948 Issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

The October 1948 issue ends on a bizarre note with another Ray Bradbury short (this time under the pseud Brett Sterling).

Referent features a boy in a sort of educational crèche colony; some sort of weird old-fashion boarding school in the distant future of 1997 is the mind-prison of young Roby Morrison until an alien visitor provides him with an opportunity to escape. But ultimately it’s really just a semantics puzzle and some commentary on the imagination of children which ossifies with age disguised as science fiction.

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Realities of Short Fiction Economics

The economic reality of short fiction publishing that authors and editors are both afraid to admit is that supply outstrips demand on an astronomical level.  Even token markets get more subs than they can publish. Only editors who insist on fiction having value try to pay reasonable rates, even if in many cases it’s not economical for them. Even Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld has expressed some frustration with the financial realities of running a pro-paying magazine.

Authors want to be paid, of course, but authors also want to be published. Some (many) authors REALLY want to be published–they care more about having their story out there than making money. And the ratio of authors/stories to editors/publications? It makes it so that stories lack value in an economic sense.

There’s no scarcity.

At all.

Even when there is quality, there is not scarcity, so there’s not a lot of economic incentive to pay “pro” rates [especially given the often decent-to-high quality of fiction/authors willing to accept less].

The scarcity of short fiction comes in name recognition, not the fiction itself. There are a gorillion amazing stories, but for instance, there is only one Sky Hernstrom–with only one Sky Hernstrom creating a limited supply of Sky Hernstrom stories, the value on those stories becomes a premium. If I can pay Sky more for a story than another guy because I want to be the pub carrying Sky Hernstrom stories, then that’s where the value comes into fiction, not through the slush pile of great undiscovered and unpublished fiction we see every year.

The addendum to this is that if we’ve published you once, there’s a much higher chance we will publish you in the future, because a) we like your stories, b) your stories become part of our “brand” so to speak and c) if our readers like your stories, they will buy us to read them.

Some have suggested that the only viable option for authors is a sort of donation/patronage system for their writing. And that, I gather, is what Clarke and other SFF pubs are doing to keep themselves afloat–small donors, subscribers, and whales subsidize the many non-paying readers like the ones Clarke is struggling to monetize. For an unknown author, building that level of patronage may be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be the only option.

Truly devoted fictioneers have the tools available so that they can really scrounge for every publication out there they could possibly submit to–Ralan, Duotrope, and Submission Grinder are a few examples of such tools.

Publishing across many outlets is a great way of increasing visibility to the point where releasing periodic anthologies is feasible.

As much as I’d like to publish everything a few of our authors put out, it would be bad for them because it would restrict the visibility of their works to our audience.

If they published 4 stories with us, they would have 4 stories that were seen by the same set of eyes more or less, but if they published 4 stories in 4 magazines, they’d have reached as many as 4 times as many readers, including those who would be interested in catching up on what they missed in a collected anthology.

If you’re interested in submitting to Cirsova Magazine, we pay semi-pro rates at approximately .0125 per word for short fiction up to 10,000 words. We will be opening in Mid-October for submissions. More details are here.

Our latest issue, the Cirsova Summer Special is available now, and our upcoming Fall issue will be out September 16th. If you’re interested in submitting fiction to us, it will be helpful to read at least one issue to get an idea of the kinds of stories that we are looking for!

Short Reviews – No Winter, No Summer, by Damon Knight and James Blish (as Donald Laverty)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

No Winter, No Summer, by Damon Knight and James Blish (writing as Donald Laverty) appeared in the October 1948 Issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

While there were a couple stories in this issue that I didn’t like, particularly Bradbury’s “crazy people aren’t crazy if you stick them in an environment that nurtures and caters to their crazy”, this was the only one that was not only disagreeable but felt wholly out of place in the magazine. Somehow, I find myself not surprised when I find James Blish and Damon Knight behind pseud.

Time Travel is real and the future is slowly conquering the past. A bland and hyperhomogenized evolved state of man has replaced every inch of earth with a great city; all energy is directed toward expanding man’s habitat and removing any impediments to it.

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Vintage Nudnikery

Recently, the topic of nudniks and their war on fun has come up again in the pulp circles. Daddy Warpig in particular had a pretty good rant on the subject the other day.

So, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share this letter from the Summer 1947 issue of Planet Stories. I touched on it here years ago, but it’s worth seeing in its entirety.

Vintage Nudnikery

New Reviews:Jon Mollison and John DeNardo

We have a couple new reviews go live recently!

The first is from John DeNardo in his round-up of scifi short fiction on Kirkus:

Cirsova bills itself as a “magazine of thrilling adventure and daring suspense,” a sentiment that is embodied in its lead story, “Halcyon” by Caroline Furlong. The backdrop of the story is an interstellar war between humans and the alien race known as the Gorgons, ape-like creatures that appear to be ruled by a scientific ruling class. The setting is the planet Halcyon, where a group of humans have been laboring in the mud pits of an open-air prison. The point-of-view characters are the humans Marin and Siobhan, respectively a soldier and a scientist, who make a daring escape in the opening scene. True to the magazine’s promise, the story whisks along from one adventure to the next as the heroes encounter strange beasts and unlikely allies in a fun, serviceable story reminiscent of the science fantasy planetary adventures of yesteryear.

We’ll take “fun” and “serviceable”!

Next is from Jon Mollison, who received an ARC of Wild Star Rising:

With “Wild Star Rising”, the reader gets drawn into the action one small step at a time.  The seamless merger of sci-fi and fantasy results in an epic conflict that kicks off around the time of the final destruction of Atlantis.  The points where spacefaring nations interact with the denizens confined to the bottom of earth’s gravity-well make sense in a way that most efforts to marry the two genres don’t.  The writing crackles, and the adventure leaps from ship to prison to outer space to back in time with a relentless pace that’s a joy to follow along.  New characters step on scene fully formed, and fully described for newcomers to the series, and Tierney doesn’t shy away from jerking the rug out from the reader’s expectations in a way that is both fun and inspiring.

There’s more, but you should read the review for yourself.

One thing that Jon notes is that Wild Star Rising is where Wild Stars really finally clicked for him–it’s interesting he brings that up, because what I told Michael after first reading his manuscript was that “this one makes the older books better”. Wild Stars is a pretty dense universe, and Book of Circles has a LOT going on for a comic. The novels are solid, but the media res and sequel aspects can be a bit tricky. But I really think that someone coming into Wild Stars cold has a good entry point with Wild Star Rising. Better if you have all of the books, because you can read the first half of Wild Star Rising, go back and read the first three books that take place in between, then finish Wild Star Rising.

You’ll be pretty blown away by it all.

The 35th Anniversary Editions of Wild Stars will be shipping out to backers around the end of September to early October and will be available on Amazon in late October.

Short Reviews – Softie, by Noel Loomis

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Softie by Noel Loomis appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Thrilling Wonder Stories dips its toes into some space adventure with Softie, and despite being a comic short rather than a srs biz space opera, it delivered some worthwhile stealables. You could maybe try to run Softie as a one-off, but because of its twist that players likely would not foresee, it would almost certainly end in a “you shot the barrel!” TPK.

The galactic patrol cruiser Parsec is an immense space warship (“so immense that a man could die in one end and be buried in space, and those on the other end wouldn’t know it until they read it in their Daily Space Traveler”) that is on a ten year mission to patrol “the Pass”—three years there, four years patrolling, three years back.

The unfortunate Lt. Braniff left behind a wife and a daughter that he’s never met. It’s only three years into the mission, and he’s already deeply homesick. He desperately hopes that he’ll merit a Captain’s promotion that could land him a desk job and let him stay with his family. Of course, they don’t just hand out promotions like candy, especially not when your heart’s obviously not in it, and he’s gotta compete with the likes of Lt. Stevens; plus Admiral Gorthy, a known hardass, already doesn’t think he’s cut out for it.

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Short Reviews – Reverse English, by John S. Carroll

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Reverse English by John S. Carroll appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Reverse English is the first (or closest thing to a) Big Men with Screw Drivers story that I’ve come across in this issue of Thrilling.

A guy who builds radios and other electronic devices for a living has a friend who regularly hires him to build stuff based on the schematics he draws up. The friend has just sent him a new schema that, given the specs, seems like it won’t do anything – the frequency amplifications are all wrong; you’re picking up and putting out sounds that no one can actually hear! The friend insists that everything is right and just build the device he’s paying for.

Turns out, the guy is using the device to talk with animals, who conveniently speak and understand English (‘it’s the language that they hear all of the time, so why shouldn’t they know it’ logic), just at frequencies beyond the range of normal human hearing.

Being ambitious sorts, they take this new gadget down to the race track, use it to talk to race horses and fix bets.

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Short Reviews – Date Line by Noel Loomis (as Benj. Miller)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Date Line by Noel Loomis appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories and is the first in the Orig Prem series.

I’ve read stories that have made me think “Wow, this seems like it probably inspired an episode of the Twilight Zone” and stories that have made me think “Wow, this seems like it probably inspired an episode of the Outer Limits.” Now I can say that I’ve read a pulp story that has made me think “Wow, this seems like it probably inspired a bit on Firesign Theatre.”

In “The FutureTM” (2230), people have mastered time travel and in a desperate game to fend off ennui in a time when nothing interesting happens anymore, the primary news organization in the solar system publishes nothing but “This day in history” type puff pieces, featuring live, on the ground coverage of things going on 100, 200, 500, 1000, etc. years ago. There’s a spectre of Pluto cancelling their subscription and that severance leading to political upheaval in the solar system, but we’ll get back to that.

Stieve Andro has been stuck doing “This day 300 years ago” for so long he’s that bored and sick of it. Sure, there was the big collapse, but he’d rather be doing something, anything, else. It also doesn’t help that his robot companion Orig Prem got drunk and made passes at the Mayor’s wife at his inauguration (and Stieve himself was guilty of getting caught with the Mayor’s wife’s maid), which has brought some significant heat onto the both of them in the 20th century. Stieve begs the director of the Solar News Time Travel division to let him do something more interesting, like cover the period of the Last War in 2091, when “the world got in such a turmoil they even threw away all the calendars until somebody made out another one in Twenty-One-O-Five, after it was all over.” Eventually, Stieve manages to beg a cakewalk special feature assignment covering Columbus’s discovery of America. When he gets there, his robot assistant Orig Prem has already been hard at work, turning the event into a circus.

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