Short Reviews – Terror Out of Zanadu, by Robert Moore Williams

Terror Out of Zanadu, by Robert Moore Williams, appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org

Terror Out of Zanadu

The February issue continues with another adventure on Mars.

A small band is on a quest to find the strange Martian city of Zanadu. Hidden near an oasis in the harsh Martian deserts, Zanadu is said to have riches beyond imagination. The small band has reason to believe that the rumors of Zanadu’s wealth are true because one of their number has been there!

One of the party had been in the deserts, near death, when he was found by the Martians of Zanadu and nursed back to health. He has returned for his own reasons, but some of the ruffians he’s brought with him are only out for the wealth beyond imagination.

After an arduous trek, the band reaches Zanadu and is brought in by the Martians, but something is wrong. Zanadu is haunted by a force or presence, something that was not there before on the man’s first visit to the city. Why? And will they manage to escape Zanadu with their lives?

While there wasn’t a lot of story meat to this one, it was brilliantly atmospheric. There were a few places where the characters could’ve been fleshed out a bit better, and a longer story, encompassing the man’s original visit, the son’s disappearance, and the dame’s effort to find him, would’ve been great, but as it was, this was another solid hit for this issue.

Be sure to back the Kickstarter for Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking, out soon from Cirsova Publishing!

Short Reviews – The Man Who Forgot, by Charles Creighton

The Man Who Forgot by Charles Creighton appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read hereat Archive.org.

The Man Who Forgot

This issue offers up yet another thriller with Charles Creighton’s The Man Who Forgot.

A man wakes up amnesiac on Mars; all he remembers is that he was from earth. Right away, he gets sucked into intrigue when he meets Clara, a beautiful martian woman and loyalist, and Karn, her shifty brother who is a secessionist and member of the Martian Secret Police.

The woman introduces the man to her family as Rand Beecher, a chess historian, with the hopes that it will buy him some cover and keep her brother from taking too much an interest in him.

Turns out that the opposite is true: Karn takes “Rand” to meet a fellow secessionist, to reveal the plot that’s afoot. In fact, whomever “Rand” is, he bears a striking resemblance to the real Rand Beecher and is familiar with his works. Karn and his ally Aaron have a proposition for Rand–as a brilliant chessmaster, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to dispassionately plan out an actual war. A war of Martian secession.

Trying to unravel the mystery of his identity, Rand concludes a number of possibilities. The most likely is that he is an earth sleeper agent, either the real Rand, or someone who resembled him, programmed by hypnosis to infiltrate the secession movement. He would either give them bad strategy or good strategy, and either harm the Martian rebel effort by misdirection or the sheer fact that whomever had set him up on earth already knew whatever gambits he had to offer the Martians. In all likelihood, he was set up with Clara’s family because of the easy contact with Karn or because the loyalists in the family were in on the operation… Or are they?

This was a pretty exciting little spy-fi adventure with a lot of twists and turns as the mystery of Rand’s real identity unravels. I don’t want to go into it too much, lest I spoil it too badly. This one’s worth reading, for sure.

Enjoy exciting pulpy adventures? Be sure to check out the new issue of Cirsova out now!

Also, don’t forget to click Notify me on Launch for our upcoming Mongoose & Meerkat Kickstarter launching next week!

Review of Jim Breyfogle’s The Golden Pearl

Nathan Housley over at Castalia House has reviewed the latest Mongoose & Meerkat story from Jim Breyfogle, The Golden Pearl.

With this aquatic adventure, Mangos and Kat cement themselves as Cirsova’s answer to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

You can read the whole review here.

The Golden Pearl, by Jim Breyfogle, appears in Cirsova #3, Out Now.

Catch up on all of Mangos and Kat’s adventures in Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking, coming soon from Cirsova Publishing!

6 x 9 cover

Short Reviews – Vanguard of the Doomed, by ???? as Gerald Vance

Vanguard of the Doomed is credited as by Gerald Vance, an Amazing Stories house name shared by several authors. The actual author of Vanguard of the Doomed is unknown. It appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories and can be read here at Archive.org.

Vanguard of the Doomed

A short-wave radio enthusiast and electronics engineer meets a girl over the air-waves. While she’s short and coy, the guy ends up absolutely head over heels for her, and she seems to like him. So when she cryptically signs off, telling him she’ll get in contact with him later if she can, then doesn’t show up for over a week, he worries begins to worry and decides to investigate.

What ensues is a tense, fairly action-packed post-war sci-fi thriller. Turns out the dame is the secretary of a mad scientist… who is actually an ex-Nazi posing as the mad scientist he’s done away with and using the mad scientist’s mad science to strike a blow for a resurrected Reich. Anyway, she’s stumbled on his secret plan to draw a planetoid referred to by astronomers and the media as “The Celestial Hammer”.

Remember the Max Fleischer Superman cartoon, where the astronomer has a magnet ray that he uses to get a better look at asteroids and meteors by directing them closer to earth and disaster ensues? Basically that, but the guy is doing it on purpose because he’s a Nazi and he’s gonna hold the world for ransom Cobra Commander style.

One interesting tidbit is that the Nazi villain is named Max Borzeny. Now, Borzney isn’t a real German name, but a thinly disguised spin on Skorzeny. Otto Skorzeny’s exploits in the war brought his profile much higher than his rank and responsibilities–he was larger-than-life boogeyman both feared and admired by Allies. The Borzeny in the story bears little resemblance to Skorzeny, but it is indicative of some of the mystique of SS Commando who, only a few years later, would be turned into ‘a real life pulp hero’ in Charles Foley’s hagiography Commando Extraordinary. Also worth noting, that despite being a relatively minor figure in the Reich, Skorzeny would go on after the war to basically become the real life Red Skull.

 

Guest Post: Review of Talk Like A Man by Nisi Shawl, by J. Comer

At the risk of sounding like that other Science Fiction blog, I’ve been VERY sick. Had the flu and been out all week. I’m desperately trying to catch up on both publishing business and work, but falling a week behind feels almost insurmountable! 

Fortunately, my friend J. Comer has a review in the can he’s letting us use!

Disclosure: The author of this review knows Shawl personally and has received a free copy of this book in return for a review; he did not discuss the review with Shawl.

Nisi Shawl is a new voice in science fiction, published since the 1980s with her work becoming visible in the last decade with her anthology Filter House and her first novel, Everfair.  Whatever “Afrofuturism” means to readers and writers, she is certainly positioned there. She’s also the coauthor, with Cynthia Ward, of “Writing the Other”, which is a diversity-positive writer’s guide as well as a workshop taught by the two authors.

The titular story, about a ‘girlgroup’ in a retro high school who get a private concert from a favorite pop star, reads almost like a womens’ response to “Fast Times At Fairmont High”, by Vernor Vinge, rather than an echo to Geoff Ryman’s depressing “Fan”.  Shawl, like David Gregory, struggles with what a high school classroom would be like in a totally wired future, but doesn’t have Gregory’s insistent and nasty agenda.  In “Women of the Doll”, a practitioner of a fantasy version of Ifa, or vodun, seeks a permanent home for herself and a living doll; it says a great deal about SF/fantasy as a genre that a practitioner of African-American folkloric religion can have a doll companion unironically in a story of ‘Ifa In Action’.  Shawl’s Ifa priestess can fulfill any wish for a price- the story’s inclusion of sex work may be too strong for some readers.  Shawl’s keen writing shows up in “Something More,” when she heinleins in the UK setting for a tale of dark, Dunne-esque time-faring. In the flash story “An Awfully Big Adventure,” a woman’s childhood carries her through graphically described cancer to her death.  Finally, the essay “Ifa: Reverence, Science, and Social Technology,” Shawl discusses Ifa, the African religion which forms a central part of her life and writing, and makes a valuable addition to nonfiction about the relationship between religion and SF by authors such as Robert Heinlein,  Isaac Asimov and Gene Wolfe[1].This reviewer found the book a quick read, but one he wanted to keep around.

Talk Like A Man is a useful addition to the literature on SF writing, as well as being a must for Nisi-philes.  Many readers will want to hear more about the Woman of The Doll, who could easily carry a novel, and the Ifa essay is interesting to scholars of religion as well as to Shawl’s numerous readers.  Recommended to lovers of Afro-futurism as well as fans of Le Guin, Geoff Ryman, and Julian May.

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/529431/a-qa-with-gene-wolfe/

Some Quick Anime, Movie, and Book Reviews

Right now, I’m in wait mode on the Spring issue; the proofs ought to be showing up any day now.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching some movies and anime and reading some books:

Freaks (2018)

On one hand, Freaks is definitely an indie art-film take on X-Men. On the other hand, it’s a better X-Men movie than most of the last half-dozen X-Men movies.

It’s basically “What if we told the story of seven-year-old Jean Grey from her point of view, filmed it like a horror movie, and instead of professor X/magneto, she has a creepy, foul-mouthed grampa who drives an ice-cream truck.

It was worth watching.

March Lion [3 Gatsu no Lion / March Comes In Like a Lion]

My GF started this, but I ended up binging it without her.

The main character is kind of a loser and the least interesting part of the show, but I really want to know how things pan out with middle-sister-chan, ulcer-sensei, and the main’s best friend who thinks he’s the protagonist in a shonen anime.

It’s a little floating world, and it doesn’t end in a super great place [not quite Genji, where the author keels over mid-scene, and you’re left going “AND?!”]; still crossing my fingers for a 3rd season.

Makes me torn between wanting to take up Shogi and staying very far away from it.

Carole & Tuesday

This show was bad and should feel bad.

It’s kind of funny how it plays into the self-importance of musicians; while the hackerman and the investigative journalist beat the villain, the musicians play a “we are the world” song and everyone’s like “a miracle happened…”

It has beautiful animation and is ostensibly set in the Cowboy Bebop universe, but its story is dull and vapid, and the music in it is terrible.

The strawman villain’s position is the entirely reasonable “Mars can’t sustain a large number of illegal refugee migrants BECAUSE IT IS FUCKING MARS, so I’ll convince this presidential candidate to support legislation to deport illegal earth migrants back to earth.”

Rob Kroese’s Rise of the Demon Prince + The Book of the Dead

Catching up on Rob’s Counterfeit Sorcerer series, having just finished Book of the Dead over the weekend.

It’s been a really good, solid series so far. Small spoilers, I was hoping Boland turned out to be a righteous dude, cuz I kind of liked him from afar with what hints were given. One of the fellowship was pretty much given a too-stupid-to-live death from a face-heel turn that, while an explanation was given, still felt a bit out of character.

Overall, I’m still enjoying it and have started on the 4th book.

My main qualms with the series is that Rob is printing them with Matte paper covers, and good lord, those feel gross on the fingers, and the print versions of the cover art are just dark blurry messes. Not much I can complain about for the story itself, other than it may have fallen into a predictable pattern of ::beat villain:: -> “Oh, noes, here’s the real/next villain, time to stop him in the next book!” I actually think Boland turning out to be a solid good-guy would’ve been a more surprising twist than “Now I’m taking over what the bad guy was doing cuz I’m gonna do it better!”

 

Scary Stories to Oof in the Dark

At some point last year, I remember reading somewhere that the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie was actually good. While I didn’t make going to see it a priority, I looked forward to when I could watch it for free from the public library.

Then I had the “oh, wait… from ‘producer’ Guillermo Del Toro…” moment when I finally had it in my hands. For awhile, seeing Del Toro’s name on things was a mark of quality, but I’ve been pretty eh on a lot of his stuff where he’s only had ‘producer’ cred. In fact, I’m struggling to recall the last time I really liked any Del Toro movie, and I think that the one with the teeth fairies might have been the last one [Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, 2010, writer credits].

But anyway…

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was basically a Scary Stories-branded version of the Goosebumps movie with no Jack Black. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that…

A bunch of kids go to a haunted house and find a spookybook of spookytales that come true. The attempts to work the few short scary stories from the book into the narrative of the film were about as seamless as a quilt. For instance, The Big Toe is worked in by having one kid staying home while his parents are out–there’s a pot of stew in the fridge with a toe in it. Why? Were his parents cannibals? Was his mother a mortician? A serial killer? No, the toe in the stew simply exists in the fridge because there was story with a toe in stew and the film needed an excuse for the “where’s my toe?” ghost.

The only genuinely scary part, I think, was the Pale Lady from “The Dream”, even though, other than the iconic look of the character, nothing was used from the original story.

I think that more than any other property, Scary Stories could’ve revived the classic horror showcase format… or they could’ve done a more original horror story that simply borrowed heavily from Gammell’s incidental art and aesthetic. But the whole “here’s a book of spooky stories, people die, and by the way, the big local company was the real villain” just smacked of an unoriginality that many fans of the books might find disappointing.