Short Reviews – The Witches of Karres, by James H. Schmitz

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Witches of Karres, by James H. Schmitz, appeared in the December 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. An expanded novel-length version was a Hugo Finalist in 1967. The Novelette version can be read here at Archive.org.

What did John Campbell mean by this? 

“This is true science fiction about three real witches who cast curses and perform magic.”

So, depending on how you look at it [and given science fiction fandom’s landscape, it’s a menacing prospect], The Witches of Karres is either like one of those 60s/early 70s Disney family movies, or it’s a loli harem comedy.

Maybe this would be less creepy if Pausert wasn’t drawn with that ‘stache.

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Rawle Nyanzi’s Brand Zero and a Look at Some Cirsova-Published IPs

Our hard work at Cirsova has not gone unnoticed, and Rawle has commented on it here!

Rawle is one of the pioneers of the Brand Zero concept that some of the folks in our circle have been bandying about. He talks about it here, having grown out of some musings by Jon Del Arroz.

The short version of it is a mindset to put fully behind the failing corporate fiction brands that continue to disappoint and instead focusing on new brands, new properties, either by creating them or supporting them. Talk up these new IPs instead of spending time and effort on complaining about how let down you are by the old brands.

Brand Zero has picked up a lot of traction in the last few weeks, but it’ll be interesting to see if it gains real momentum beyond a few writing circles.

If anything, it gives us an opportunity to highlight a few of the brands we’ve helped build up by publishing them in Cirsova:

Michael Reyes’ Clock – The misadventures of an invisible dwarf [as in he has dwarfism; he is not “dwarven”] who is a chaos magician tasked with guarding Coney Island and the world from extra-planar monsters. We’ve run a couple stories [Clock’s Watch and The Iynx] and will have another Clock story in the Spring. I’ve also helped Michael assemble the interiors and write lead-ins for his two anthologies.

First Cirsova Appearance, Fall 2016.

Adrian Cole’s New Dream Lords – This isn’t new, but it is a rebooted franchise. Older followers may have seen some of my posts about the original Dream Lords books, which I picked up on a lark a few years back. I really enjoyed them, despite having originally mocked the bad covers. Doc Morgan at Castalia actually put me in touch with Adrian, though, and we talked some about the covers and he gave me the scoop on what exactly had happened. We got to talking about other stuff, and eventually things worked out where we started publishing a sequel series to his Dream Lords, following the adventures of Arrul Voruum, one of the Witchfinders tasked with rooting out the remaining evil that went into hiding following the events of the original trilogy. We’ve published 3 shorts, a novella, and will be publishing a novelette this spring that is part of a prequel to the first four New Dream Lords stories we’ve run.

First Cirsova Appearance, Summer 2016.

Jim Breyfogle’s Mongoose & Meerkat – We really loved the first story Jim published with us [Blood & Bones, the cover story of issue 3], so when he approached us with a proposed cycle of fantasy adventures, we jumped on the opportunity. Cirsova Publishing has now run 5 Mongoose & Meerkat stories, we have two more queued up to run in 2020, and plans are in the works for an illustrated volume 1 collection sometime next year.

First Cirsova Appearance, Fall 2017.

Harold R. Thompson’s Captain Anchor Brown – We’ve run three of these shorts about the proverb-quoting bookish adventurer who finds himself in some pretty wild and perilous predicaments.

First Cirsova Appearance, Winter 2016.

J.D. Brink’s Leonidas Hawksblood – We’ve only had a couple of the stories featuring this salty space pirate [though one was broken into two parts], but we still love him!

First Cirsova Appearance, Fall 2016.

Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars – The stories we’ve published by Michael in the magazine only tangentially tie into his sprawling Wild Stars epic [they have been collected in the 2nd printing of Time Warmageddon], but as of this summer, we’ve now published an all new edition of ALL of Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars, including the original graphic novel, the comic/novel hybrid, the Time Warmageddon novella, AND the all new Wild Star Rising.

First Cirsova Appearance, Summer 2016.

The Eldritch Earth – This was the brainchild of Cirsova contributor, Misha Burnett–Burroughsian fantasy in a pre-historic Lovecraftian setting. This setting was born with Misha’s novelette “A Hill of Stars”, and was then opened up to a writers circle on Google+ before that platform’s untimely demise. We’ve had several writers who dipped their toes into this world, and we featured them in a special Eldritch Earth issue of Cirsova, but we’ve kept publishing more Eldritch Earth stories when we get them. We’ve published two of Louise Sorensen’s Darla of Deodanth stories, and we have another Eldritch Earth sequel that we can’t quite announce just yet that we plan on having for 2020.

First Cirsova Appearance, Spring 2016.

Abraham Strongjohn’s Neptune – I wouldn’t have even mentioned this, if someone hadn’t brought it up the other day, saying they wanted more. It’ll be done someday. Maybe.

First Cirsova Appearance, Spring 2016.

There are more, and there will be more, including some that we can’t confirm yet but plan on making offers on soon…

But if you want to support Brand Zero at the grass roots, check some of these titles out and get in on the ground floor of some truly amazing and exciting properties!

Short Reviews – Final Command, by A.E. van Vogt

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Final Command by A.E. van Vogt appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Different brains for different thinks…

Councilman Barr, Director of the Council, has been given a burdensome task: find out what the response would be from robots if the Council decided to shut down and destroy all robots.

::record scratch::

Humans have built and developed robots that have evolved to a point where they’re nearly their own species. Humans have used them for everything from fighting interstellar wars to directing traffic to even replacing actors—people go to the movies to watch robots pantomime human drama and romance.

Robots are like people; they think and reason, even if they don’t necessarily feel. They have some intrinsic desire for self-preservation, but they are able to rationalize their own extermination unless significantly prodded to “think” about it. And Councilman Barr must prod to find what they “think”.

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Submission Status Update -Getting Close to the Home Stretch

Okay, things aren’t going as smoothly as I’d hoped–I was moved to a Window 10 box last week, which wrecked my workflow. Worse, I lost access to my printer briefly; it’s fixed now, but it means I lost a weekend of working on manuscripts.

But, I’ve at least caught up on sending out rejection letters.

I’ve sent an update to everyone who’s still under consideration or whose stories we haven’t read yet.

We’ve more or less got the Spring issue set, but we’re waiting on some confirmation/payments to clear before we officially announce it, and it may expand as we’re able to fit in more content.

Current numbers:

Offers Made: 13

Under Consideration: 39

Rejections: 82

Withdrawn: 3

Unread: 88

I hate to say it, but MOST of the unread stories are gonna have a tough time breaking in, because there have been some heartbreakingly good stories that have ALREADY been knocked off the bubble by something better. But we still intend to give everything as fair a shake as we’re able.

We hope to have everything “done” by early December.

Short Reviews – Gulf (Part 1 of 2), by Robert Heinlein

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The first installment of Gulf, by Robert Heinlein, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding. It can be found here at Archive.org.

Gulf is a slow-burn sci-fi spy thriller. It’s very dark and atmospheric, and while the hook, some of the window dressing, and the MacGuffin are science-fiction, Gulf stands up as a fairly standard, if well-written, example of the spy-pulp genre. If the sci-fi elements weren’t there, it would still hold up as a spy story, as it doesn’t really rely on those tropes to make its narrative work.

An agent has three tubes of micro-film: two decoys, and one with top secret plans for something. He’s got to get them to the post office so they can be transferred with cold mechanical efficiency to the dead drop address. There’s a game of cat and mouse as those who want to get their hands on the film interfere with the agent as he tries to make the drop, and after he gets the tube off, he’s taken to a private jail on trumped up charges of passing a forged note to a waitress [his wallet had been stolen by a porter urchin and swapped with an almost identical fake].

His enemies try to no avail to discover the contents and destination of the tube, and the agent is “rescued” by an interested 3rd party [a fabulously wealthy helicopter salesman] who got himself captured to make contact and plan the break. The agent escapes only to find that he’s been burned by a double, the tube either went missing or never made it to the dead drop, and his agency thinks he’s the one who stole it.

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Short Reviews – Over the Top, by Lester del Rey

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Over the Top, by Lester del Rey, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding. You can’t read it at Archive.org, because John Betancourt had it scrubbed. A little birdie told me it can be found as a .cbr here, though.

After that Asimov stinker, this issue of Astounding makes a fabulous 180 with not one, but two good stories in a row! (The second one, which I’ll talk about next week, was the first half of a Heinlein spy thriller.) Thanks, guy in the comments who said this was a good issue—you may actually be right!

A midget has been launched into space to make a manned landing on Mars; being an adventure SF story, something goes wrong and he gets stranded and unable to contact earth. While he has food for months, he’ll run out of air because of the damage to the filtration system that was going to suck oxygen out of Mars’ atmosphere and pump it into his ship. Why a midget? Because of economy of scale; smaller astronaut, smaller ship, fewer resource considerations.

The Mars of Over the Top is the Mars that still supports life but has expectations scaled back drastically. The vegetation appears homogeneous, is scant, and isn’t very good to eat. The one Martian animal lifeform the astronaut comes into contact with is a weird anemone-like thing that behaves a bit like a cat.

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Round 1 Notices Plus an Some Pulp Economics

Still making my way through the submissions pile. I’m nowhere near done, but I’m making progress.

I didn’t expect this many submissions to read, but we need to actually get the ball rolling on filling our Spring issue.

So, the first few offers have been going out, as have several of the first round rejections.

Even with just fewer than 100 stories left, at the high-end we’re looking at 250k words of fiction, which will cost us a little over $3k.

We’ve made offers on 10 stories, there are just under 50 that are still competing for slots. There are ~40 rejection letters we still need to write, but haven’t gotten to [the ~40 we’ve already written have taken up most my time devoted to it this week so far]. We need to read 95 stories still.

I meant it when I said that all stories will get a fair shake, but be aware that every new story we consider is something that will have to knock something else off the bubble.

Also, recently Something is Going to Happen posted an article that quoted a few of folks in the contemporary pulp scene about the economics of indie zines. You guys know me, I’m pretty cynical and know what I’ve gotten myself into, but Cirsova Publishing came close to turning a profit for the year. Before we started making offers, we were around $1800 in the black for the year. Now, all of that and then some will probably go towards making next year happen, but we came close to showing that IT IS POSSIBLE to make a little money at this. [you don’t want to know what the overall numbers across all 4 years are, though]

Short Reviews – …And Now You Don’t (Part 1 of 3), by Isaac Asimov

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

…And Now You Don’t, by Isaac Asimov, was serialized in three parts beginning with the November 1949 issue of Astounding. It was later anthologized as the second half of the book “Second Foundation”. It can be read here at Archive.org.

It is exactly as exciting as it looks.

This is it, guys! One of the touchstone sagas of Campbell’s Astounding and the Golden Age of Science Fiction. A hallmark series of one of the Big Three of Science Fiction: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation!

And, oh my god, this is boring as crap!

40-odd pages of the first installment of “…And Now You Don’t”, and nothing happens!

Chapter 1: A girl writes a term paper on the Seldon Plan.

Chapter 2: Two telepathic egg-heads from the Second Foundation have a conversation about the Seldon Plan.

Chapter 3: Five non-telepathic egg-heads have a conversation about the Seldon Plan and the possible existence of and interference by a Second Foundation.

Chapter 4: Having done some math during chapter 3 when the First Foundation egg-heads were talking, the Second Foundation egg-heads have a conversation about the results of the aforementioned equations and their bearing on the Seldon Plan.

Chapter 5: After further discussion, it is determined that the stuttering Stanley of First Foundation egg-heads will go off to the Mule’s world and look into possible Second Foundation interference with the First Foundation under false pretenses. The girl from chapter one, however, had been spying in on daddy’s plans to save the once-and-future galactic empire and stowed away on the dork’s space-ship.

To be continued!

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Short Reviews – Defense Mechanism, by Katherine MacLean

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Defense Mechanism by Katherine MacLean appeared in the October 1949 issue of Astounding. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Defense Mechanism was tucked behind the book reviews and letters to the editor, so I almost missed it! Considering how influential its writer would go on to be, it’s ironic that her debut could go so easily unnoticed. And as far as stories in Astounding go, this certainly wasn’t the worst.

A writer has an infant/toddler son with empathic telepathy. The father is able to hear his own thoughts and the thoughts of others reflected back from his son. Mother is a bit concerned, particularly since the child is developing slowly, but dad, a bit of an empath himself, went through a similar phase as a late bloomer.

There are quite a lot of literal thinks being thought both at and around characters in this thinky-story. There is, however, an action-packed climax to this thinky-story of many thinks, so it has one-up on at least a couple stories from Astounding I’ve reviewed recently.

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2020 Submissions Update

Hey, everyone! The going has been slow for a number of reasons, but we’re making progress.

We’re starting to send out the first round of rejection letters this week. And it’s tough, let me tell you, because we’ll be saying no to some excellent stories from authors we love.

There are

  • 30 stories we desperately want
  • another 30 that it’s gonna absolutely kill us to say no to but we probably have to
  • 20 rejections we’ve written
  • about 40 we haven’t
  • just over 100 stories we haven’t even read yet…

And I’m still wringing my hands over that duct work that needs replacing

The only immediate panacea for this would be to take out an advertisement in our spring issue! That would infuse us with the immediate capital we need to start making offers.