A Shout-Out for Illustrated Stark

We recently got a shout-out on Cora Buhlert’s blog for our new edition of Leigh Brackett’s Stark:

Interestingly, the most recent editions by Cirsova Publishing of all companies, are the first to actually portray Eric John Stark as Leigh Brackett described him, namely as a black man.

In her post, Cora talks about how the Golden Age of Science Fiction was more diverse than it’s generally given credit for as she takes a look at the 2019 and the 1944 Retro Hugo Awards nominees (the latter of which includes a couple Brackett stories!).

One of the focuses of our own pulp review series at Castalia House (rerunning here through the end of the year) was to illustrate that the pulps were not what people have thought they were by showing what they actually were. And few if any of the nearly 150 stories we reviewed were anything like the strawman of the pulps one often hears about.

Several stories we reviewed, including Spider Men of Gharr, the Stark Stories, and more recently The Dead-Star Rover, featured non-white protagonists and/or explicitly interracial couples. Women not only were reading the pulps, they were writing them too, and we proved that “Leigh Brackett hid her gender behind her ambiguous name” was a myth, with fans referring to her as “Miss” and editors correcting letter writers who used “he.” We’ve looked at the “unexplored colonialism” meme and found that, at least in 1940s Planet Stories, the morality of colonialism and native plight were being explored, often with native Martians or Venusians as stand-in for indigenous peoples, seeking to answer the question of “How could we have done things better and treated these people with dignity?”

As for why Stark is black in our edition of Leigh Brackett’s Stark books: We love Leigh Brackett, we love Stark, and we love these stories, and we wanted to do them justice with art and illustrations from StarTwo that truly depict the stories and bring them to life. It would’ve been ridiculous for us to do it any other way!

Our edition of Enchantress of Venus is out now, and Black Amazon of Mars drops on June 28th with a foreword by Liana Kerzner.

Black Amazon of Mars Front Only

Cirsova Featured on Hollywood in Toto: Plus Bonus Content–The Origins of Cirsova

We did an interview with Paul Hair the other day for Hollywood in Toto. It went up yesterday and can be read here.

https://www.hollywoodintoto.com/young-tarzan-mysterious-she/

(Big shiny link so you don’t miss it ^^^^)

The article mostly features the exciting story of how we came to be publishing a brand-new Tarzan Story in our Spring Issue.

Some of the interview had to be truncated for length, so as a bonus, here’s a bit about the history of Cirsova, where the name comes from and why we started the magazine.

Cirsova started out as a TTRPG (think D&D) setting blog. Cirsova was the name of both an empire and its central province. I lucked out that Cirsova was one of those made-up words like “Kodak” that didn’t really exist in any language and didn’t really mean anything, so I was the only one using it. When I first started, if you tried to search for us, Google would ask “Do you mean Alissa Firsova?” (Look her up, she’s good.)
 
The setting was unused (it’s not a great setting, and while the “Encyclopedia” posts are all still on the blog if anyone really wants to read them, I wouldn’t recommend anyone try gaming in it). I did write a Choose Your Own Adventure book that took place in the distance past of the setting called “City at the Top of the World” which, despite Cirsova Magazine’s success has probably sold maybe a dozen copies.
 
The blog morphed towards more mechanical game-oriented topics as I became involved with the OSR [Old School Renaissance, though there’s disagreement about what the R really stands for]. This in turn led to additional focus on old school science fiction and fantasy writing. Conversations with Jeffro Johnson, who was a Hugo Awards finalist for his writings on 1e AD&D’s Appendix N works (books that had influenced the development of D&D), along with the Sad Puppies debacle got me thinking “I should start my own SFF zine”.
 
At this point, the most important thing to know is that it’s pronounced with a hard Latin “C”.
[…]Jeffro Johnson and the Sad Puppies had a lot to do with [why I started the Magazine].
 
I became aware of the latter because I was friends with the former, and he was on their short-list for best fan-writer.
 
How cool!” I thought “The serious-business science fiction community has taken notice of the OSR!”
 
The history of the Sad Puppies, the name-calling, the record number of No Awards given out is too long and, at this point, too stupid to devote much time to.
 
But one thing that Sad Puppies had promised was what Brad Torgersen called “Nutty Nuggets”; basically if a spaceship and action was on the cover of a book, you ought to find action and spaceships in the book—just like if a box of cereal says “Nutty Nuggets”, you expect the box to have “Nutty Nuggets” inside.
 
Except a lot of the short fiction that the Sad Puppies nominated was not discernibly different from a lot of the stories that I’d seen some members of Mad Genius Club (a blog behind the Sad Puppies campaign) complaining about.
 
Jeffro Johnson had a joke about needing to “regress harder”, and I’d been reading a bunch of Planet Stories and whatnot around that time and thought “Surely there are people out there actually writing stories like this today; I’ve just got to find them.” So, instead of doing something sensible like trying to find a magazine that published the kind of fiction I enjoy, I started my own and was willing to pay around $75-$100 per story for short fiction.
 
I managed to cobble together a first issue with a handful of stories and some great art from Jabari Weathers. It was a little bit sloppy, especially compared to our current issues, but it was a shot across the bow. By the end of 2016, we’d put out 4 issues and around 250k words of fiction.
 
This got us a Hugo nod in the Best Semi-Pro Zine category in 2017 (apparently it doesn’t take many votes for non-pro magazines to get nominated). And we were No Awarded, as expected, because we were one of Vox Day’s recommendations that year and because I review old pulp stories and old war games on the Castalia House blog.
 
But we closed out 2018 having put out 10 issues in 3 years.
 
[RE: rebranding] (…)even though Tarzan’s technically SFF because he exists in the same setting as Pellucidar, the dinosaur-filled hollow earth, he seemed as good an excuse as any to reposition ourselves as something of an Argosy, rather than a Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Cirsova Stories on Tangent’s Recommended Reading List

Tangent Online has released its big list o’ recommended SFF reading for 2018, and the following Cirsova stories made it to the list!

  • “Party Smashers”, Ken McGrath
  • “Hot Water in Wormtown”, Robert Lang
  • “A Song in Deepest Darkness”, Jason Ray Carney
  • “Amsel the Immortal”, Lauren Goff
  • “Promontory”, Jon Zaremba
  • “Crying in the Salt House” B. Morris Allen

Please keep these and our other stories in mind this awards seasons when filling out those nominating ballots!

The full list of our stories and eligibility by category can be found here.

Happy Frogs, Our Recs, and Outsiders

Jon del Arroz posted the Happy Frog’s Hugo Slate yesterday; Cirsova was his pick for best Semi-Pro Zine. It’s cool to be recognized (thanks, Jon!), and while I’d be honored if the magazine received the nomination in 2018, I’d much rather see some of our stories up for awards. I’m not saying don’t vote to nominate us, but I’d like to point out that people talk about stories that are nominated for awards, not publications.

The three magazine categories, editor, podcast, and (to a lesser extent) artist categories were footnotes to the discussion last year. Stories in all categories, movies, tv, and (to a lesser extent) related work are where all the buzz is.

There are several noms for Cirsova stories for this year’s Planetary Awards, which is cool, cuz folks are talking about our stories.

Anyway, no reason why I shouldn’t put forward some picks of my own, since I still have nominating privileges:

Best Novel: Aye, Robot, by Rob Kroese — This has been one of my favorites from last year.

Best Novella: The First American, by Schuyler Hernstrom — This one is fantastic, has met with some rave reviews, and looks like it could be a favorite for this year’s Planetary Awards. The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, by Cynthia Ward was also a lot of fun; I mean, if you’re going to play the game and don’t want your vote divided, I’d say vote for the story we published, but still go ahead and check this one out.

Best Novelette: We published two novelettes last year — The Magelords of Ruach by Abraham Strongjohn and The Last Job on Harz by Tyler Young, both in our fall issue.

Best Short Story: We published a lot of short stories last year; why not pick one of those?

Best Related Work: The Ideological Conquest of Science Fiction Literature, by QuQu Media

Best Graphic Story: Gotham Resistance — I’ve been loving DC’s metal event, but this 4-part crossover between Teen Titans, Green Arrow, Suicide Squad and Nightwing was really the peak; it had a huge ensemble but didn’t suffer at all from your typical ensemble comic problems.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) — Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) — I’m torn on this one. Either Buddy Thunderstruck’s Haters of the Lost Arcade or the episode of Sab Jholmaal Hai where they throw trash on a wizard and he turns one of the cats into a giant chicken.

Lastly, pretty soon I hope to be able to do a thorough piece on Outsiders Vol. 1. I’m a few issues from the end, but just found out that one of the last arcs feeds into and gets resolved by the Millennium crossover event. Once I finish that, I’ll have to decide whether I should try to fill out my collection with Volume 2 or go straight up to Batman and the Outsiders Volume 2. I’m leaning a bit towards the latter, since it’s a Chuck Dixon book and it ties into the Grant Morrison “Bat Epic” run I recently sort of finished (still haven’t read the Crises or Batman Inc. Vol 2.) and starts with a “Getting the Band Back Together” mini-arc that I have three issues of.

Reviews on Issue 5, CL Moore & Hugos

Issue 5 is finally starting to get some more reviews on Amazon! A huge thank you to everyone who has taken a moment to review this or any of our other issues!

Five issues on, and Cirsova is keeping up with its high standard. Even tho the large chunk of this issue is based around this same shared fictional background, stories are as varied in theme, tone and style as ever, with now usual mixture of new authors and zine veterans. Burnett’s short piece stole the show for me. In this age of “subversive” takes on Lovecraft, it is surprising to see one such story in a magazine like this one, one that is actually good at what it does unlike many a thematically similar yet preachy and cringe-inducing piece whose fame lies on its fashionable themes alone. – Paul Blagojevic

The hype is real. A themed issue based on the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft upon which is backdropped some of the most rousing adventure fiction I’ve read in some time. No need to fear the dreck of such pastiches often rolled out by inferior immitators, Cthulhu is not namedropped even once. Like Adventure Stories and Weird Tales before it Cirsova continues to dominate short fiction and has my life long support.

Immensely pleased. – Anon

The Misha Burnett piece is the best story I’ve read yet this year. Since writing Appendix N, I’ve been on the lookout for a magazine that could put out short science fiction and fantasy along the lines of what people were reading back when fantasy role-playing games were a brand new thing. Cirsova is it! – Jeffro Johnson*

*:Jeffro’s been a past contributor of non-fiction for us.

One of Jeffro’s pieces for us, in our third issue, was his Retrospective on The Best of C.L. MooreRetrospective piece on The Best of C.L. Moore. I’d read some Moore, but I’m just now getting around this classic anthology edited by Lester Del Ray.  I was left a bit unimpressed by her collab with Kuttner on The Last Citadel, but I gave the grande dame another chance when I found a Jirel anthology, which I enjoyed thoroughly, yet now, reading a bit broader range of her stories, I’m blown away. I’m only a little ways into this anthology, but The Black Thirst and The Bright Illusion… Wow. C.L. Moore may be better at writing Lovecraftian Science Fiction than Lovecraft!

I’d strongly recommend that anyone considering trying their hand at writing “Lovecraftian” or Weird Fiction in general would be doing themselves a huge favor in reading Moore and looking to her for inspiration rather than those who were trying to directly ape Lovecraft’s writing.

Lastly, I’ll note that the voting for the Hugo Awards closes on Friday. It’s been interesting to see just how little discussion there is on categories that do not focus on a single work; there’s been next to no talk about our category, the pro-zine category,  or the fanzine category. It’s understandable, though. It would be a struggle for most folks to get through all of the fiction categories in time to make a somewhat informed decision on them, much less slog through portfolios of two and a half dozen zines and editors. Much more so than the fiction, which is heavily reviewed and discussed on merit**, it’s a popularity contest and PR game, and as the guy from Amazing Stories pointed out, one we’re not the best at playing. Between being a last-second Rabid Puppy addition and of our support for a pro-ethics movement that was relentlessly smeared by the media it was trying to hold accountable, I hold no illusions as to our chances of winning. I’ll be happy so long as the magazine of the guy who was tweeting out pro-Antifa memes doesn’t win.

**:Even if you disagree with the standards or lenses the stories are measured against, you can’t deny that they are being discussed on those merits.

New Review, Hugo Packets, and Tarzan Stuff

Jon Mollison of Seagull Rising has a new review up of Cirsova #5. You can read it here.

I’ve made a lot of people writing reviews, in part because it’s one of the easiest ways to promote and support us, but that’s not the only reason. Reviews let us know what works and what doesn’t. One advantage of our double issue was it let us throw a lot against the wall to see what would stick and what didn’t. In some cases, it was seen as one of our weaker issues because it was much less focused that our others, but some folks seemed to enjoy it ‘with the exception of a few stinkers’.

While I enjoyed all of the stories (else I wouldn’t have bought them), that sort of feedback lets us know what you, the readers, are enjoying and what you’re not. So, to help us maintain and improve the quality of the magazine, be sure to leave your feedback!

Hugo Voting Packets are finally available. With only two months to go before voting is final, I don’t have a lot of expectation that readers will make it that far into their packets if they’ve waited this long to start, but it will be what it will be.

Also, I have not forgotten about my need to write a review of Frayed Knights! I really loved it, so I really ought to hunker down and get the write up on that done. I’ve just been so ADD and OCD these last two months, I’ve been a complete mess (can autism have flare-ups?)

I finished Tarzan at the Earth’s Core last night, and I’d stand by my previous question:

If Edgar Rice Burroughs can tell a bad story but still make it balls-out awesome, is it still a bad story?!

TatEC spends so much time on its journey towards the otherwise unimportant reason for throwing Tarzan into Pellucidar that when it finally gets there, there’s very little book left and the story kind of peters out. Except the reason that it peters out is perfectly believable and doesn’t detract much from the story: once Tarzan, Jason, and Tarzan’s rifle squadron of African tribesmen are finally reunited with the airship and its crew, there’s not a lot that primitive pirate port is going to do except answer the ultimatum that they’ll bomb the city into oblivion by turning Emperor David I over to his friends. Plus, Jana snaps out of her Tsundere fugue and declares her love for Jason, so we get the important ending we’re all waiting for.

With our G3 game taking a short hiatus, I may take an opportunity to flesh out my WW-2 rules-lite and run a Pellucidar mini campaign.

As I wrap, I’ll leave you with this one great exchange that perfectly illustrates the sort of tough pulp dames Burroughs wrote as well as his sense of humor:

“We will accompany you, then,” said Thoar [Jana’s brother], and then his brow clouded as some thought seemed suddenly to seize upon his mind. He looked for a moment at Jason, and then he turned to Jana. “I had almost forgotten,” he said. “Before we can go with these people as friends, I must know if this man offered you any injury or harm while you were with him. If he did, I must kill him.”

Jana did not look at Jason as she replied. “You need not kill him,” she said. “Had that been necessary The Red Flower of Zoram would have done it herself.”

“Very well,” said Thoar, “I am glad because he is my friend. Now we may all go together.”

Hugo Award Voter Packet

Today, I sent the Hugo Voter Packet to Worldcon officials.

For those who are curious, we selected the following representative works:

  • The Lion’s Share, by JD Brink
  • The Hour of the Rat, by Donald J. Uitvlugt
  • The Space Witch, by Schuyler Hernstrom
  • Rose by Any Other Name, by Brian K. Lowe
  • The Last Dues Owed, by Christine Lucas
  • The Phantom Sands of Calavass, by S.H. Mansouri
  • Lost Men, by Eugene Morgulis
  • The Priests of Shalaz, by Jay Barnson
  • Squire Errant, by Karl K. Gallagher
  • A Hill of Stars, by Misha Burnett
  • My Name is John Carter (Pt 1), by James Hutchings
  • The Feminine Force Reawakens, by Liana Kerzner

All total, it adds up to about 63K words, slightly longer than our latest issue.

While a part of me wanted to be able to just send all of the stories, I understand that Hugo voters will have millions of words to go through in their packets, so I wanted to send them an amount that showcases the types of pieces we publish while not presenting them with a daunting amount of content to read.

The other day, JD Brink joked about degrees of separation from a Hugo nomination. In a sense, he was wrong; Cirsova’s nomination is HIS nomination, just as it is a nomination for ALL of our writers and artists. We would not be here without you.

To all of our contributors, congratulations on your Hugo Award Finalist Selection!