Sometimes You Just Need an Excuse to Get to Your Implausible Action

I’m reading The Swordsman of Mars, my 5th planetary romance by Otis Adelbert Kline, and the 4th in his Dr. Morgan series. As with all of the Doc Morgan stories, we are briefly introduced to the concept of telepathic exchange of minds across space and time–a process which he discovered with the help of Lal Vak, a Martian scientist living a million years in Earth’s past, which allows for individuals with similar enough physiques and thought patterns are able to transfer personalities with the help of their devices.

Dr. Morgan finds bored or down on their luck highly capable individuals and sends them off to implausible adventures on alien worlds, with the promise of thrills and romance and assurances that they’ll probably do just fine once they get there and learn the language.

It’s a silly concept, one which Kline even lampshades in the author’s foreword of the second Dr. Morgan book, The Prince of Peril:

Dr. Morgan had worked on telepathy for many years in his spare time, when he was in practice; but on his retirement, he tried a different track. “I had to amend the theory,” he explained. “I decided that it would be necessary to build a device which would pick up and amplify thought waves. And even this would have failed had my machine not caught the waves projected by another machine, which another man had built to amplify and project them.”

Now I had been a devotee of imaginative fiction for many years, and had often thought of turning my hand to writing it. I prided myself on having a better than usual imagination; yet, I did not think of the implications of the theory of telepathy when Dr. Morgan told me that the man who built the thought-projector was on Mars. While I deferred to no one in my fondness for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories of John Carter and others on Barsoom, I was well aware of the fact that what we knew of the planet Mars made his wonderful civilization on that planet quite impossible. I said as much, going into facts and figures.

“Of course, we won’t really know for sure about the exact conditions there unless we land on Mars. But still we know enough to make Burroughs’s Mars probability zero,” I concluded.

Dr. Morgan nodded. “Entirely correct,” he said. “There is no such civilization on Mars.”

He then explained his own incredulity when his machine picked up the thoughts of a man who identified himself as a human being— one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. But Lal Vak was no less incredulous when Dr. Morgan identified himself as a human being and scientist of Earth. For Lal Vak was certain that there could be no human civilization on Earth, and cited facts and figures to prove it.

Interestingly enough, with the exception of the third Venus book, the Dr. Morgan books have all been prequels to the first one–the second Venus book recounts the adventures of a character who hooked up with Grandon for the climactic battle at the end of Planet of Peril (a “you wouldn’t believe what it took for me to get here in time, remind me to tell you someday!”), and this first Mars book I’m reading is actually the account of Harry Thorne, the guy Dr. Morgan tells Grandon about at the start of Planet as his first successful experiment with Lal Vak.

And it is the task of this first successful experiment to stop the first failed experiment. The first guy Doc Morgan sent to Mars, Frank Boyd, turned out to be an asshole and set himself up as a strongman to take over the world.

In barely more time than it took to you to read this post, Thorne gets sent to Mars, where he is attacked by a stirge-like insect, which he quickly dispatches… however his loss of blood has made him weak, so when Lal Vak brings him back into town and he’s bumped into by an arrogant oaf who demands satisfaction–he falls faint before the first sword-blow! The engineer of his disgrace? None other than Frank Boyd, the man Thorne was sent to stop! And because he de facto lost the duel, he may not honorably challenge him again and is bound to accept any and all humiliations that Boyd may subject him to!

That’s as far as I’ve got, but if it’s like any of Kline’s other stories, it’ll be cram-packed with sword-fight, wild monsters, and hot action dames.


I think that thing is supposed to be his pet flying duck-bat mount. DIFFERENT FROM WOOLA, I PROMISE!


Review of Cirsova #5

Steve DuBois posted an excellent review of our Eldritch Earth issue; I suggest you go and read it.

He brings up a few interesting points:

“I have found cause for gripe about a lot of fiction that’s labelled ‘Lovecraftian’—the biggest being that it is not particularly Lovecraftian at all. To a large extent, ‘Lovecraftian’ falls into the same rut as Steampunk, only instead of gluing gears to everything, it’s tentacles.” [editor’s note; this was quoted from my intro to the issue]

This begs the question:  what IS Lovecraftian fiction?  For me, the defining characteristic is a cosmic horror born of the sudden realization that humanity is not, in fact, at the top of the food chain; indeed, that from a universal perspective, we’re not even insects.  Lovecraft posits that entities exist whose motives are not exactly malevolent, but so far beyond our understanding that to even encounter them is a sanity-shattering experience.

Bluntly, I don’t know that this leaves much room for the heroic.  I don’t think Lovecraft’s stories would have been improved if Randolph Carter had been handed an SMG and he’d started mowing down shoggoths.  New Pulp is a celebration of human ability and potential.  Lovecraft’s message is “your abilities are irrelevant in a cosmic context, and you are potentially something’s dinner.”  I don’t think, in short, that heroic fiction can be made Lovecraftian by gluing some tentacles to it.

In many ways, yes, the stories in the issue weren’t Lovecraftian in either the modern or the traditional sense. To an extent, you could accuse some of the stories of “gluing tentacles” to heroic fantasy and calling it “Lovecraftian” and not be too terribly far off from the truth. However, one of the reasons why I was willing to pursue this direction and showcase it in Cirsova is because so much in the current field of “Lovecraftian” fiction is either a deconstruction of Lovecraft and his themes through identitarian lenses on one end and modern pastiches of detectives with guns vs. Cthulhu on the other end. I looked at the project as a reconstruction of Burroughsian (though in practice Howardian) heroic tropes and, in the case of Misha Burnett’s and S.H. Mansouri’s stories, a reconstruction of the identity-based horror.

The stories work least well when they try to transplant Robert E. Howard to the Triassic, with brawny iron-age heroes mowing down scads of enemy henchmen and advancing towards boss fights.  Additionally, the whole Eldritch Earth concept is still in an early stage developmentally, and as with other such experiments (notably Baen’s Grantville) there are times when the authors involved seem to be proceeding from fundamentally incompatible concepts of how the story’s world works.  I can just about buy that humanity was designed as a slave race by Mind Flayers, but what’s up with all these other late-Pleistocene mammals popping up all over the place?  The horses?  The dogs?  The tapirs?  Or even Cretaceous critters such as birds, for that matter?  These aren’t story-killers, but they’re anti-atmospheric and destructive of reader immersion, and the Eldritch Earth stories will become more fun for readers once the authorial community leaves the tropes of iron-age Earth behind.

This is an interesting critique, in part because he goes on to praise Sky Hernstrom as “unmistakably right as an author of New Pulp”, but also because he is right that in the early phases of this shared universe, there is some conflict of what everyone’s vision is. I did not impose an editorial hand to maintain a consistent sense of world-building, as I didn’t feel that was my job. In those cases, such as The First American and Beyond the Great Divide where there was conflicting information about the nature of the Slagborn or the stories that included but gave very different impressions of Deodanth, I decided to let the stories stand on their own rather than try to pick which story was canon and demand the other authors try to shape theirs to better fit that canon.

I do hope that the Eldritch Earth project has some life left in it, because I think it has produced some spectacular early tales. We have a new Darla tale in our current issue and will have a brand-new tale of the Plateau of Leng from Cirsova regular Donald J. Uitvlugt later this year.

This is absolutely the sort of feedback that we’re looking for when we say “Hey leave us a review!” I mean, yeah, a couple lines and some stars on Amazon helps us a ton, too, but this is excellent, actionable stuff that lets us know what we’re doing right, where we can improve, and what direction we should take the magazine in the future.

New Story From Michael Reyes + Clock’s Watch On Sale

Michael Reyes has a new horror short in the Silver Empire anthology Secret Stairs.

Also, his anthology of Clock Stories, Clock’s Watch is discounted this week to coincide with the release of Cirsova #7. The action picks up where Clock’s Watch ends with The Iynx, out now in our Spring issue. Be sure to check them all out!

I did some work on Clock’s Watch, writing up story intros and doing some layout work for both interior and exterior. Pick up a copy and let us know how we did on this!

(Reviewed here in SciFi & Scary)

“Beyond the Great Divide” by S.H. Mansouri an Ursa Major Award Finalist

“Beyond the Great Divide”, S.H. Mansouri’s Slagborn tale from our Eldritch Earth issue, is a finalist for the 2017 Ursa Major Awards in the Best Short Fiction category!

The Ursa Major Award is given out in numerous categories for (often SFF) works pertaining to Anthropomorphic non-human characters. In the case of Beyond the Great Divide, that would be our human-hating insectoid/land-crab-men, the Slagborn, who populate some of the more inhospitable regions of the Eldritch Earth.

Anyone can vote!

All you need to do is register to be sent a voter token in your email.


Ursa Major Nominations Are Open

Nominations for the Ursa Major Awards are open through February 15th.

The Ursas aim to be Anthro-fandom’s equivalent to Hugo Awards. It’s awarded in multiple categories for excellence in the arts where the subject pertains to anthropomorphic animals. Does this mean furry? Yes, it means furry, but it also means other things.

The Ursa Awards are nominated and voted for by fans. There is no membership to buy or dues to pay. You simply need to sign up on their website and submit your nominations.

“But Cirsova, you’re not a furry publication!”


No, we’re not a “Furry” publication, so don’t nominate us in the magazine category. However, because we understand that anthropomorphic animals and beastmen are an important staple of action adventure and science fiction, we have become seen as (and are) a “furry-friendly” publication. We’ve published anthro stories in the past and have some slated for the future.

We do have two stories that are eligible in the Short Fiction category:

  1. The First American, by Schuyler Hernstrom (Issue 5) – [Features lizardmen and human-to-lizard transformation]
  2. Beyond the Great Divide, by S.H. Mansouri (Issue 5) – [About and from the perspective of a race of insectiod hive-mind warriors]

Note that there are other works in the PulpRev sphere that are also eligible. Off the top of my head, Julie Frost’s werewolf detective stories, Dominika Lein’s Reptilian Wanderer novella, and Yakov Merkin’s Galaxy Ascendant books would all be eligible. Also, as Brian K Lowe reminded me below, his book The Cosmic City is also eligible.


Cirsova-Published Works Make Tangent Online’s 2017 Recommended Reading List

Each year, Tangent Online publishes a list of the stories they felt were the best among the pieces that they reviewed over the course of that year.

We are thrilled that this year’s recommended reading list includes Brian K. Lowe’s diptych of stories, “War of the Ruby”/”Shapes in the Fog”, in the Short Stories category and Schuyler Hernstrom’s Novella “The First American”.

All three of these stories can be found in Cirsova #5, which is available in ebook, paperback, and hardcover.

Tangent Online’s full 2017 list can be read here.

Cirsova’s 2017 stories, by category, can be found here.

End of the Year Round-up of Short Reviews

I realized it’s been ages since I’ve posted a round-up of my Castalia House reviews. I used to do them seasonally, but kept thinking “surely I must have already done a round-up” and never bothered to actually check. It turns out, the last one I did was back in March.

So, here’s a list of all the reviews I’ve done since then!