Guest Post: God’s Teeth! A Review of David Quammen’s Monster of God, by J. Comer

Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the  Mind: Quammen, David: 9780393326093: Amazon.com: Books

Larry Niven’s masterpiece Ringworld includes a conversation which alludes to SF world-making in a mildly funny way. Louis Wu’s shipmate Teela Brown objects to the idea that the makers of the Ringworld would bring only “safe” animals to their artificial world; she asks “What if the Ringworld Engineers [who built the huge Ring] liked tigers?”

In Monster of God, the science writer David Quammen, author of Song of the Dodo, travels through five landscapes seeking the last large predators and comes to what he calls a “science fiction ending”. 

Most readers of Cirsova don’t come here for the science, and some will question the review of a zoology book on this site.  Nevertheless, worldbuilding for fantasy, gaming, and SF authors usually includes descriptions of animal life, as well as the role played by predators in myth, art, and the story itself. 

Good world-makers, such as Hal Clement, craft all from top to bottom; some more careless authors simply throw a slew of carnivorous beasts at their heroes without wondering who eats whom. On Earth, the top predators which have survived the end of the Ice Age are central both to ecology (as keystone species) and to myth (as gods, as beings created by God, or as the enemies of gods or heroes).

The four ‘monsters’ of the title are lions in India, crocodiles in Australia, bears in Romania, and Siberian tigers. In each case we look both at the beasts and at the humans who have to deal with them: avoiding them, fighting them, hunting them, worshipping them.

The book reflects on the past as well as the future: like the makers of the Ringworld, we are building a habitat which is more and more artificial.  In our future, will we like tigers? Will we like them enough to give them enough space to live freely in the wild? And will we like them enough to tolerate them occasionally killing us?             

What can we make of this sojourn through lions, and tigers, and bears (and crocodiles!)?  On one level, the travel story is light reading, like a Bill Bryson story with more science asides.  The careful reader will note that the science is a very readable introduction to topics like trophic collapses and keystone predators (this section could make a whole fantasy campaign in a setting such as Nicholas Eames’ or Lois McMaster Bujold’s worlds, where losing one species, even a mightily nasty one, causes all heck to break loose).  On another, the SF writer could see here a reply to Niven’s question.  Well, what if they liked grizzly bears? Heinlein’s dragon-infested forest in Glory Road is an example of a good use of these concepts; there are many others. 

The book is a lesson, an enjoyable one, in how to use animals such as Burroughs’ banths or the “grezzen” in Buettner’s novels.  The thoughtful author or GM will profit from reading it.  Recommended.

A Quick Look at Julian Hawthorne’s Six Cent Sam’s

So, one of the things I’m trying to do since I’m publishing work by Julian Hawthorne is to familiarize myself with some of his other stories. I’ve already reviewed The Golden Fleece

In putting together a selected bibliography to include in the new edition of The Cosmic Courtship that we’re putting out, I came across one book called Six Cent Sam’s–I couldn’t find out much of anything about it, but surprisingly there was a facsimile edition available, so I went ahead and nabbed it. [Yes, I bought it just so I could add a couple words to the bibliography page.]

Six Cent Sam’s is a weird mystery short fiction anthology with a fascinating framing device: the narrator is ushered into a quiet and exclusive dive by a friend. That dive is Six Cent Sam’s–it only costs six cents to get in, but there are a few catches: you have to pay your own way [no treating to get in], Sam has to like you, and you have to be of ‘a certain sort.’ The six cents gets you admission, a booth, a meal, and whatever entertainment is on the tap, but there’s a special rule: anyone can drop by one of the other booths and offer additional food and libation which may only be accepted if repaid by a tale of one’s latest adventures and/or strange happenings.

While there’s clear demarcation between the tales, Hawthorne is more clever than just having his narrator go from booth to booth. While the first story serves as an introduction to the concept and has a marginally science fiction premise [an inventor is in love with a woman whose father is a doctor; inventor has an ailment that the doctor tries to use hypnosis to cure; doctor can’t hypnotize the guy, but the guy’s susceptible to his daughter; after several sessions, doctor and daughter disappear; guy finds out doctor has stolen his invention and patented it, using the hypnosis sessions to work out the kinks the guy himself had not yet worked out; he’s broken up about it, cuz he still loves the girl; end of his tale, the girl walks in–she’s broken up about it, her father’s dead, and they’ve got some stuff to talk about.] The next story begins on another night, in the middle of drinking and cards among friends [including the narrator, who is now a regular at Sam’s], and there is concern over a missing friend–he was with one of them on the street one moment, and was gone the next! At the heart of the mystery is a beautiful Persian exotic dancer and a progressive modern girl, that the young lad was absolutely torn between.

Anyway, it’s been loads of fun so far, and the facsimile edition is fully illustrated. I recommend you check it out!

Also, we’re right on the cusp of our $8k stretch goal for The Cosmic Courtship!

Plus, test copies of the pocket paperback arrived yesterday!

Mongoose and Meerkat Audiobook Live!

The audiobook for Tales of the Mongoose Vol 1: Pursuit Without Asking is now available on Audible!

Erin Michele Gabbard has done a wonderful job bringing these fun and exciting tales to life in her reading.

Please check it out!

Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat - Vol 1: Pursuit Without Asking Audiobook By Jim Breyfogle cover art

Also, Kat and Mangos’s latest adventure, The Grain Merchant of Alomar, is out now in our spring issue!

Cirsova Publishing to Reprint Nearly-Lost Julian Hawthorne Planetary Romance, “The Cosmic Courtship”

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—Cirsova Publishing is proud to announce that it has partnered with Michael Tierney and Robert Allen Lupton to restore and reprint Julian Hawthorne’s The Cosmic Courtship, a never-before-collected pulp Planetary Romance by the son of famed American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Cosmic Courtship Serialized across four issues.

Mary Faust, a brilliant scientist, has developed a machine that can allow the conscious human soul to explore the cosmos! Her promising young assistant Miriam Mayne has accidentally transferred her consciousness to Saturn, where she falls under the enchantment of an evil sorcerer! Jack Paladin, her love, sets out after her on a thrilling celestial journey to the ringed planet! Swashbuckling adventure and high romance await in Julian Hawthorne’s The Cosmic Courtship!

While most are at least somewhat familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne as one of the great American authors, less well known is that his son Julian was an incredibly prolific writer in his own right. Julian wrote on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from literary analysis of his father’s works to poetry to period romances and adventures. Late in his career, Julian even dabbled in the emerging genre of Science Fiction.

The Cosmic Courtship was serialized in Frank A. Munsey’s All-Story Weekly across four issues, beginning with the November 24, 1917 issue and running through the December 15, 1917 issue. While this story has been in the public domain for some time, it has never been collected or published elsewhere until now.

Cirsova Publishing has taken on this exciting project with the aim of preserving this story for posterity and ensuring that it is not lost to future generations.

Fred A. Small Cover Restored by Michael Tierney

Michael Tierney is a pulp historian and archivist who has written extensively on Edgar Rice Burroughs, having created the massive four volume Edgar Rice Burroughs 100 Year Art Chronology, and is currently working on another Art Chronology about Robert E. Howard. He has been involved in the comic book industry for 40 years, owning two of the oldest comic book stores in Central Arkansas until switching to mail-order only in 2020. He is also an accomplished science fiction writer and artist, having worked on his Wild Stars saga since the 1970s. Michael not only made his pulp library available for this project, he provided the photographic images of these rare magazines so that a manuscript could be produced. He has also lent his years of experience digitally restoring damaged pulp art to restore the original cover by Fred W. Small to create a unique cover for this edition.

Robert Allen Lupton is a prolific author, pulp historian, and commercial hot air balloon pilot. He has published nearly 200 short stories across numerous anthologies, including the New York Times Best Selling Chicken Soup For the Soul series, and has published several anthologies and novels. His most recent novel, “Dejanna of the Double Star” was published in December 2020. Robert has been an active Edgar Rice Burroughs historian, researcher, and writer since the 1970s, including at ERBzine, where several of his articles and stories are published. Robert has painstakingly recreated the text as it was originally published from the digital images provided from Michael’s collection.

Cirsova Publishing has been publishing thrilling adventure science fiction and fantasy since 2016. They have published nearly 20 issues of their flagship publication, Cirsova Magazine. Additionally, they have published a number of anthologies, a fully illustrated edition of Leigh Brackett’s Planet Stories-era Stark adventures, Jim Breyfogle’s Mongoose and Meerkat, and the 35th Anniversary Editions of Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars.

This collected edition of The Cosmic Courtship will be released later in 2021.

Review: The Blazing Chief + Changing of the Guards

I’m long overdue on this review of The Blazing Chief, the third and final book in Matt Spencer’s Deschembine trilogy. Awhile back, Matt sent me review copies of some of his stuff, and apparently some of our review was glowing enough to be included in the ‘praise’ section for this volume! You can check out those reviews here and here.

I’ll also note that Matt Spencer has a Deschembine gaiden story that was published in our 2020 Fall Special.

The most important question about any final book in a series is, did it stick the landing? Was it a satisfying conclusion to the story being told and did the loose threads get tied up?

I’d say, for the most part, yes.

One of the things that I noted when reading The Night and the Land was how, despite being an almost complete monster, by the end of the book you felt for Sheldon and even if you didn’t want him to succeed, you were kind of glad he survived his encounter with Rob. As the trilogy unfolds, Spencer leans into this, and while you can’t really call him the protagonist in a book with so many shifting view points, by the end of book 3, he’s something of “the hero, ackshually,” particularly as the focus shifts away from Rob as a person and more a force or nature.

I’ll admit that one of the plot twists part way through this final installment was something of a gut-punch that makes a big chuck of the story something of a shoot-the-shaggy-dog. Spencer is generally pretty liberal with his character deaths, but they’re usually secondary characters. This one was almost as surprising as when Tomino killed off Amuro halfway through the last Gundam novel (though admittedly Spencer handled this one better.)

In a way, it serves to remind that in times of crises, it’s not just one person’s story, and everyone else’s stories still go on without them, but it’s a risky choice to make in a fictional story.

Where The Blazing Chief succeeds best, I think, is its transition from modern fantasy [it’s hard to call it Urban Fantasy, when so much of it takes place in small towns and rural backwaters] to mythic fantasy. Readers who are waiting to finally get a glimpse of Deschemb will not be disappointed.

Overall, I’d say The Blazing Chief delivers a satisfying ending to series. Given the “deep lore” nature of this trilogy, I think it’s even worth it to go back and reread the whole series after finishing this one.

I also received a copy of Changing of the Guards, which is a prequel/sidestory that takes place in Old Deschemb that was written while the rights to trilogy were in limbo with a past publisher. I actually read this before The Blazing Chief, but I hadn’t had a chance to review it.

Changing of the Guards is an action-packed grimdark fantasy with lots of brutality, blood and guts, etc. It’s all right for what it is, but I think it lacks some of the spark and mystery of the main Deschembine books. While Spencer was able to craft an incredibly deep and mythic setting on earth with aeons of a hidden secret war occurring beneath the noses of mankind [until everything blows up] with the Deschembine Trilogy, Deschemb itself in Changing of the Guards feels a bit flat. I think the biggest weakness in Changing of the Guards is the anachronistic dialog–the sort of speech that worked well in the Deschembine Trilogy, which mostly took place on contemporary earth, felt strange in the mouths of fantasyland characters. Most notably, I’d say, “glowstick” as a pejorative for Spirelights makes sense in a contemporary setting, but not in a fantasy world that ostensibly never had a candy-raver scene.

Also, some of the violence and brutality was a bit too callous for my taste. While the Deschembine Trilogy featured a pretty rough cast, and most of the characters had done some really bad thing at some point or another, you still got the feeling that some of them were good people trying to do good in some rough and rotten circumstances. You don’t really get that in Changing of the Guards, where the characters are all almost irredeemably and unapologetically evil, with the only saving grace being that their machinations are aimed at individuals even more corrupt and evil than themselves.

That said, it was still an intriguing read and worth checking out if you can’t get enough of Deschemb.

Audiobook of Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer Coming Soon!

Very soon, we’ll have an audiobook edition of Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer available. Read by Brandon Casinelli, this is a work that Misha Burnett considers his masterpiece. You will not want to miss it.

Also, as of right now, the hardcover editions of Endless Summer are going for marginally less than the paperbacks on Amazon. Be sure to grab a copy!

Short Reviews – The Golden Fleece: A Romance, by Julian Hawthorne

The Golden Fleece: A Romance, by Julian Hawthorne, was originally published in the May 1892 issue of Lippincott’s Magazine. It can be read here.

When you go into a book with a title like “The Golden Fleece,” you don’t expect a modern adventure in the American Southwest [California, particularly], but here we are!

The titular Golden Fleece, in this case, is a mysterious wool garment with strange symbols woven into it. Is it under an enchantment? Is it a map to lost Mesoamerica treasure? Who knows! It has been passed down matrilineally and ended up in the hands of the mixed-race daughter of a general who fought in the Mexican American war.

The setting and much of the background are revealed through an airy and whimsical dialog between an old professor and his friend, an old general who fought in the war with Mexico. After the war, the general settled down with a beautiful Mesoamerind woman and now has an alluring daughter who is her spitting image. The daughter has an old Indian servant who had been something of a oathman to her mother, but more on that in a minute… The general and the professor discuss the possibility of treasure in the California desert–the greatest treasure would be fresh water that would make the land arable and instantly much much more valuable to investors who had purchased it cheaply. On his way to possibly assist in the endeavor is a young civil engineer who was once a student of the professor.

The old Indian manservant is actually a witch priest in service to the last princess of an Aztec city; he’s been kept immortal by the gods so the treasures of the city could be restored to the rightful owner. He’s able to bring the spirit of the dead princess into the host body of the general’s daughter. Both the princess and the girl she’s possessing fall in love with the young civil engineer, creating an awkward love triangle. The princess is determined to get the treasure back so she can shower the young man with wealth. The old Indian becomes reluctant to assist because he feels bad for the girl and it would be a disaster if the spirit of the princess killed her.

The Golden Fleece turns out to be some sort of protective garb [whether magical or mechanical is never explicitly stated] that allows the wearer to enter the lost pyramid [revealed by seismic activity] and retrieve the chest with the hidden treasure without being harmed by the poison gasses in the treasure room. Removal of the treasure chest also unstops the spring which will flood the valley with fresh water.

There’s a hackneyed sub-plot where the engineer initially meets and falls for a shop-girl who’s coming out west from New York. The engineer instantly falls for the beautiful Mestiza girl, and cultivates a rivalry with a local Mexican aristocrat in an attempt to distract the shop-girl and fix their attentions on one another. The protagonist is kind of a dick, and you feel for the poor Mexican sod who he corners into potentially dueling to the death [as the professor says, it would have been an execution had he gone through with it], but the Mexican guy does end up with the shop-girl and they live happily ever after–even after he finds out she was a lowly shop-girl, his fascination with modern American capitalism leads him to placing her in even higher esteem when he finds out.

Now, I say that it’s hackneyed, and it kind of is, but Hawthorne’s breezy writing style brings enough wit and humor to it that it’s still enjoyable. In fact, that can be said for the whole book in some regards. While it’s not particularly innovative [it’s a very typical lost city/lost treasure story] and the characters are VERY flat, there’s something about the flow of Hawthorne’s prose that still makes it a delight to read. There’s a bit of musicality to it, and some clever humor, though, unlike many authors who write clever, he never seems too enamored with his own cleverness. There is also a stab at making a statement on mixing of ethnicities, royal and common blood, and how America has made such a thing uniquely possible, with the unions of the A & B couples of the story symbolizing the triumph of the time and ideas, but it doesn’t really beat you in the face with it and may be easily overlooked.

It’s worth checking out, to say the least. I managed to read the whole thing in one sitting Saturday night.

Will definitely be looking at more of Julian Hawthorne’s writing in the near future. The man was apparently incredibly prolific, and he even wrote some early science fiction, though virtually none of it is presently available.

Cirsova 5th Anniversary Highlight: The Artomique Paradigm

One of the showcase items of 2021 will be Michael Tierney’s newest Wild Stars novel, The Artomique Paradigm.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cirsova/cirsova-5th-anniversary-issue

What are the Wild Stars?

Aeons ago, Earth was nearly destroyed by an alien invasion. Refugees were led to the stars by a powerful immortal being from another universe, known only as the Ancient Warrior. These refugees became the Wild Stars. From time to time, they have revisited Earth, checking on humanity’s progress.

Now, after two centuries of modern man exploring and colonizing the stars, humanity’s Wild Stars cousins have re-established relations with Earth and her colonies.

Who are the Artomique?

The Artomique are refugees from a now-destroyed timeline where fascist Germany had nearly conquered the world.

They are led by Achilles Hister, the son that timeline’s equivalent of Adolf Hitler, and have worked in the shadows to attempt to restore their timeline. Failing that, they have worked to establish a new Artomique supremacy using stolen Wild Star technology and become one of the dominant political factions on Earth.

A Very Brief Outline of the Wild Stars

  • Exodus from Earth following the Marzaanti invasion. (Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising)
  • Erlik, son of the Ancient Warrior, wins the Icarus stone (and with it custodianship of Earth) from Carthage. Carthage allies with the wolf-like Brothan and Artomique to wage war against earth. (Wild Stars: Book of Circles)
  • While the Brothan have lost the war, Carthage exacts revenge on Erlik’s family, leading them on a wild goose chase through time. The Artomique begin a secret arms race using stolen Wild Stars technology. Hyper-intelligent dinosaurs get their hands on a Marzaanti space probe which accelerates their evolution. (Wild Stars II: Force Majeure)
  • Terraformers begin discovering evidence of Wild Stars presence on worlds thought to have been uninhabited. Space pirates have orchestrated a large-scale mind-control coup against humanity. Extra-dimensional monsters are unleashed in a tear in the fabric of the universe. (Wild Stars III: Time Warmageddon)
  • The Ancient Warrior returns, having laid the foundations of an aeons-long plan to rescue Phaedra from the prison of the God-Father and his knights in the heart of a super-massive black hole. (Wild Stars IV: Wild Star Rising)
  • The Wild Stars have revealed themselves and are prepared to reunite humanity among the stars, except the Artomique have been developing new weapons in secret while their leaders have achieved a sort of immortality using stolen Wild Stars cloning technology. (Wild Stars V: The Artomique Paradigm)

Two New Reviews! Tangent on Cirsova #5 [Out Today!] and Castalia House on Endless Summer [Out Now!]

The Winter Issue is out today!

Tara Grimravn has an absolutely glowing review of the latest issue posted on Tangent Online.

Cirsova is back in time for the holidays with Issue #5, bringing with it a collection of ten great stories. If war criminals, espionage, and alien threats with a little bit of sword and sorcery thrown in sound like something up your alley, I recommend taking a look!

Also, Nathan Housley digs deep into Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer at Castalia House.

Ten years ago, it was popular for a certain segment of Science Fiction and Fantasy Fandom to wax eloquently about Kipling’s “Sons of Martha”, in whose care “that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.” And while some came close to the idea Kipling expressed, they approached it from the point of view of supervisors and managers. The actual fabricators and maintenance personnel remained invisible.

Until now. Until Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer, a collection of 12 science fiction tales and nightmares dealing with the efforts, often thankless, needed for humanity to live and thrive, whether in the current day or some far-flung future. Sprinkled throughout are nightmare where those efforts are no longer to hold back that other peril, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”. And behind it all is love, in all of its twisted yet still hopeful forms.

If there is one word that sums up Misha’s writing, it might just be Selah. Meditate on these things. Extremely contemplative, extremely blue collar in a way the Expanse guys wish they were. Never just a popcorn story. Misha is a rarity in the current time, a science fiction writer who lustily embraces the New Wave instead of avoiding it. And he brings that dream-like fascination with humanity in all its varied and occasionally malignant forms to his stories.