Short Reviews – The Cosmic Jackpot by George O. Smith

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Cosmic Jackpot by George O. Smith appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

The Cosmic Jackpot opens with a confused and angry Martian scientist receiving a red lipstick and a couple of worthless silver slugs in his change from a vending machine.

Meanwhile, on Earth, a scientist/entrepreneur has just announced the official roll-out of his commercial service: a point-of-sale matter transportation device. Simply put in your money, tell the machine what it is you want, and the good folks down at the warehouse will atomize your order and send it to you ASAP. So, like a cross between the replicators on Star Trek and Amazon Same Day Deliver. Except something goes wrong. When the scientist punches in an order for a lipstick for his dame during a demonstration for investors, rather than a lipstick, he gets an odd canister and some coinage of unknown origin!

Yep, the newly developed technology on earth is interfering with the commercial matter transfer vending machines on Mars. It only happens when the earthman and the Martian use the machine at the exact same moment; of course, they’re both determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on, so they doggedly use their machines over and over again until they are able to use the machine simultaneously at regular intervals.

The two men learn about each other’s worlds via the cheap and strange trinkets they send one another, from toys to postcards to starlet magazines. Each has to build their impression of the other on what they’re able to send and receive. Just as the earthman had been certain there was no possible intelligent life on Mars (too dry!), the Martian was certain that there was no possible intelligent life on Earth (too wet!); one of the best moments was the Martian’s fear and revulsion at a postcard of humans splashing about in the water on the Atlantic City beaches (that one went in the fireplace).

Eventually, both men send over bottles of air and are set to send themselves to the other’s world via the machine’s product return/refund mechanism. The earthman gets there first, just in time, too, since the Martian is about to be arrested for having fed slugs (the US dimes) into the machine.

Again, we have an idea piece, where the story revolves tightly around the concept, which is not so much the matter transmitter but the limitations of trying to learn about another culture through its commonplace artifacts. If you had to convey the entirety of what it is to be a human living on earth via stuff you could send them out of a Sear Catalog, what would you send?

What Stories are We Looking For for 2020?

Cirsova Publishing will be opening Submissions for our flagship magazine in October. Details can be found here. Everything in the descriptions there hold true in terms of what it is we’re looking for, but I’d like to highlight a few things in this post:

Raygun noir – Dark detective stories that had exotic space locals as their setting were a staple in the pulps, particularly Planet Stories. We’d love to see more of these.

Monster Girl – We got a couple of these last go-round, but none were quite what we were looking for. Seriously, go read C.L. Moore’s The Bright Illusion and get back with us. You got something along those lines? We’d definitely be interested.

South Seas Adventure and Chinoiserie – There’s a lot of interesting territory to be explored here, and we’ve dipped our toes in a bit [see The Last Fortune of Ali al’Ahmar and The Bookhunter’s Apprentice as more fantastical examples]. That’s not to say we’re looking for Yellow Peril; we’re looking for exotic settings outside the normal fare of a lot of contemporary fantasy and adventure.

Afrofuturism – We’re genuinely interested to see what can be done in this field. We haven’t gotten any in our submissions before [though we’ve received and published fantasy stories with both northern and sub-Saharan African settings].

Mystery – If we get some genuinely good mystery stories, we don’t even necessarily need there to be fantastical elements, though strange and exotic settings would certainly be a plus.

Men’s/Boy’s Adventure – While we aren’t looking for Weasels Ripped My Flesh, classic early-to-mid 20th century Men’s adventure or, even further back, RL Stevenson Boy’s adventure would be of interest. See also Frank G. Slaughter and C.S. Forester.

Antiquity Romance and Medieval Mythology – You guys know how I rave about Swann. Also, remember that Medieval fantasy isn’t just dragons, elves and fairies; it’s also Blemyae, Skiapods, and Prester John.

Gothic Horror/Romance – We’ve actually received and published some of this sort of stuff in the past two years. Our Lords, The Swine and Pale Moon’s Bride are two solid examples. Remember that Gothic doesn’t just mean Vampires and Werewolves. In fact, we’re really not looking for either of those unless you can put a really damn good spin on it. Gothic means ghosts, crumbling dungeons, disused manses, courtly love, mysterious knights, and heretics and clergymen too damn zealous for their own good.

Short Reviews – Miracle Town, by William F. Temple

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Miracle Town by William F. Temple appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Miracle Town gives off the sort of vibe you get from those more whimsical episodes of the Twilight Zone. It uses some scientific jargon and philosophy to fuel its magical and miraculous narrative; the implausible science (which is actually hard science with a REALLY BIG and implausible “What If?”) allows the story to dig into the science egg-head skeptic character’s reactions to everything in a way which simply would not work if it were pure magic which the story revolved around.

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So, the Wild Stars Proofs are In…! What Now?

We’re very excited that we got the proofs in so that we had physical product to show people, but the work doesn’t end here!

The proofs are practical, in that they’ve let us see a few adjustments that we have to make before going to print.

There are a few minor adjustments here and there in some of the books, a couple of tweaks and corrections; we’ll be making those in the next few days prior to putting in the order for a run to fulfill to backers.

The good news is, we are on-track for meeting our delivery goal–maybe even ahead of schedule!

Thank you for your support for Wild Stars, and we’re looking forward to getting these magnificent books in your hands!

There are only 4 days left on the Wild Stars kickstarter, so if you can, tell your friends and spread the word! The Kickstarter is about 2/3 of the way towards its goal, but will surely make it with one big push here at the end!

proofs 4

Short Reviews – The Square Pegs, by Ray Bradbury

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Square Pegs by Ray Bradbury appeared in the October 1948 Issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

The Square Pegs is an idea piece that taunts us with what it could have been but was not. It may be one of the scariest Bradbury stories I’ve read, though it’s not a horror story. It left me feeling creepy-crawly and dirty, so much so that I’m talking about it today instead of next week (I should be talking about Miracle Town, which was a cute and happy story! Next week, I promise.)

In this short story, a woman who is violently insane and believes that she is Catherine the Great is on a spaceship with her brother and two sisters. Rather than take her to an asylum, they are taking her to an asteroid. It has been discovered that the asteroids are inhabited, self-contained worlds with unique populations and cultures, each of which perfectly complements the manifestations of individuals’ unique or not-so-unique insanities. She is being taken to a world where she CAN be Catherine the Great and the inhabitants will accept her as such.

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More AD&D Gaming Thoughts from Daniel J. Davis

The episode of Geek Gab that Jeffro Johnson and I were on talking about the implied setting of AD&D has sparked some incredibly thought-provoking posts from author Daniel J. Davis on his Brain Leakage blog.

This is seriously good stuff, and you ought to start paying attention to this guy.

Also, don’t forget, there’s only 5 days left to back Wild Stars, which is also being adapted into a setting for Amazing Adventures 5e!

Short Reviews – Yesterday’s Doors, by Arthur J. Burks

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Yesterday’s Doors by Arthur J. Burks appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

After reading Yesterday’s Doors, I think I finally begin to ‘get’ Thrilling Wonder Stories’ angle on science fiction. It’s Sense of Wonder, but not in the way that it’s typically meant when referring to Sci-Fi. In the case of Thrilling, the stories seem to revolve around one weird and fantastical concept to make you think. That’s not to say “everything is realistic except for one thing”; it’s “What if a Moon gave you the powers of a god?”, “What if a guy who wanted a girl got turned into a giant?”, “What if a pair of circus freaks turned out to be shipwrecked aliens?”, “What if a man could explore all of his past lives?” or “What if atoms were sentient and had intelligence?”

Yesterday’s Doors is very much what I’d call a ‘thinky’ story; it’s much more cerebral than it is action driven, but it plays on a wide variety of ideas and presents them in a way reminiscent of a lucid dream. It’s a story about ideas that are explored in strange ways in bizarre settings rather than about characters doing exciting things in bizarre settings. In this regard, it’s something like a Gibson story; you’re on a train to nowhere where gentle music plays in the background, but damn if the countryside out the window isn’t beautiful.

The story starts with amnesiac “Dean Hale”, who lives in a city where, much like in Big O, people walk around dreamlike, often amnesiac like himself. Sometimes people wake up, sometimes they don’t, and are content to aimlessly drift through the rest of their lives not knowing who or why they are. “Dean Hale” does not even know if he is “Dean Hale”, but he has been accused of and interrogated for the murder of a Marion Slade.

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From Pulp to the Gaming Table: Running Short Fiction as RPG

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

“The Third Reich has fallen, but one of its chief scientists, a Dr. Karl von Mark, has been on the run. He was tracked down to somewhere in Africa where he left Earth on a rocket ship. A crack team (you guys) has been sent to pursue him in its own craft. The team followed him to the far side of the moon, where another body, a second moon hidden in a synchronous orbit behind the moon we can see, appears to be his destination. As you close in on the Dr’s ship, he fires a weapon at your ship, causing critical damage; you’re forced to make a crash landing in the jungle of the hidden moon.”

In the past, I’ve made the dangerous claim that good short fiction, like the kind you read in the pulps or in Appendix N, poses a threat to a product-driven OSR whose focus has moved away from systems and into settings materials and modules. My reasoning is that a short story is far easier to digest and build a game around than your typical Gazetteer-style setting product with its oodles of townships, kingdoms, persons of personage, blah blah blah. There are many reasons behind this—a big one is that a good short story only contains details that drive the action. A party may never meet or care about Sir Guy of Thistledown Barrow in the Valley of Dalemorrow, Pop: 1513, Econ: 2, Env: Temperate, but if you read a story about Sir Guy wrecking some three-armed monster in the nearby swamp, all you have to do is swap out Sir Guy with your players’ characters, give the monster a stat bloc and you’re good to go!

As I said, though, this was a dangerous claim, and one I needed to see if I could test. My DM wanted to take a break to work on his game; he offered me a chance to fill in with a one-shot, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. When I reviewed Basil Wells’ Raiders of the Second Moon, I included sample stats for the cultists of Uzdon and the attributes of their magic garb. I even showed how the Temple of the Skull could be used as a gateway to the Holmes Skull Mountain megadungeon. I already had the groundwork in place to run Raiders of the Second Moon.

The whole thing only took a few hours prep spread over three days. I showed a lot of my work here, but I didn’t realize until after I’d run it that I had accidentally created a fully functional rules-lite World War II RPG.

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One Week Left to Back Wild Stars!

There’s only one week left to back the Kickstarter for the 35th Anniversary Editions of Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars!

The proofs arrived last week, and they look fantastic!

Here’s a sneak peek at the interiors for the new edition of Book of Circles!
The artwork is ~20% larger than originally published in individual comic form and substantially larger than when it was resized to fit the trade format of the previous collected editions. There are a lot of little details in the artwork that could’ve been missed in the smaller formats that are now more apparent, including several easter eggs and Chekov’s Guns hiding in the backgrounds.


This project is very important to the future of Cirsova Publishing. While any retail sales we get of our magazines won’t pay out for 90 days following the close of period, the money we make off Wild Stars WILL be available in time for our October acquisition period. So, the better Wild Stars does for us, the more money Cirsova Publishing will have to acquire fiction for 2020 and pay our art and editorial teams!