Space Elves – Circa 1933

In the pulps, even Mars had its strange and fey races:

He had knelt on the bank, and was just parting the rushes, when a reflection in the water before him made him look up. A huge black bat was pursuing what at first glance appeared to be a large butterfly. Apparently disabled, the smaller creature fluttered groundward, falling into the rushes not ten feet from Thorne.

In a steep spiral, the bat swooped toward its fallen prey. Leaping to his feet, Thorne saw the futile fluttering of a pair of lacy, opalescent wings above the rushes, and knew that in a moment more the bat would claim its victim. He jerked a javelin from his quiver and hurled it at the descending monster. It struck the black, furry neck with such force that the barbed head emerged from the other side.

Now it was the bat which tumbled into the rushes, only a few feet from the creature it had struck down.

Having satisfied himself that the ugly thing was dead, Thorne stepped over for a closer look at its intended prey. But as he did so, the lacy wings suddenly rose above the bushes, and he stifled a cry of amazement when he saw that they were attached to the shoulders of a slender, perfectly formed girl about three feet in height.

Save for a girdle of filmy, pale green material drawn tight at the waist by a belt of exquisitely wrought golden mesh and ending in a short skirt, she was nude. Her silky skin was a perfect flesh tint, and covered with fine down, delicate as peach bloom. Her golden yellow hair was bound by a fillet of woven green jade links, circling her forehead just below two delicate, feathery antennae, which swept upward and backward like a pair of dainty plumes.

As he stood staring down at her, scarcely believing his eyes, she suddenly faded from his view.

The Earthman blinked and looked again. But where she had stood he now saw only the rushes which had been bent downward by the weight of her tiny body.

Faintly he heard the fluttering of wings overhead. He looked up and saw only the empty sky. Suddenly a little pixie voice, musical as a silver bell, broke the silence.

“I know you now, man of the Old Race,” it said. “You are Sheb Takkor, the younger. You have saved the life of Eriné, daughter of the Vil of the Ulfi, and she is not ungrateful. Hold out your hand.”

In obedient wonder, he extended his hand. A glittering something dropped into his palm. He saw that it was a tiny ring fashioned from platinum and set with a sparkling green gem.

“If you should ever need the Ulfi, rub the jewel and if there is an Ulf within scent of the ring he will be yours to command.”

“Very kind of you,” said Thorne, “but…” He suddenly realized that the fluttering had stopped. He was talking to empty air.

Yirl Du had come down the bank and was surveying him quizzically. “Your pardon, my lord. Were you speaking to me?”

“Yes. No. I was speaking to an Ulf – that is, to an Ulf maiden.”

“Has one of the Little People paid us a visit?”

“Not intentionally, I guess. You see, she was struck down by that bat.” Thorne indicated the carcass. “I saw her fall, thinking her only a butterfly, yet I pitied the creature and so slew the bat with a javelin. She became invisible and presented me with this.” He held out the ring.

Yirl Du exclaimed with astonishment. “Why, that is indeed a precious thing, my lord, and such a gift as only the Vil of the Ulfi or a member of his family might present to a man.”

“She named herself Eriné, daughter of the Vil.”

Thorne was brimming over with questions about the Little People, but resolved to curb his curiosity until he could talk to Thaine or Lal Vak. Sheb Takkor, he reasoned, would be supposed to know these things. To question Yirl Du about them would be to make him suspect either that he was not Sheb Takkor, or that he had taken leave of his senses.

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The Tough Sword-Fighting Space Dame

I’ve given Disney a lot of shit for their “Hurr durr, we’re finally getting a woman with a light-saber” marketing, because ass-kicking women with swords and light-sabers are kind of Otis Adelbert Kline’s thing:

maza

From the cover of the 1929 issue of Argosy serializing Maza of the Moon.

A few weeks back, Anthony did a post on how to make good Strong Women characters. He hit in a few good points, even if he didn’t pick a great example. Even “good” Strong Women characters like the one he references are actually figures of fun within their stories; note that he even points out that there are constant references to how unwomanly she is and won’t find a man. I disagree with his take that “They need to suffer some sort of loss related to their femininity” to be a good strong female character, but his point that “They need to be paired up with a male character equally strong or stronger” has merit.

I’ve noted that women in the pulps may suffer from The Worf Effect–if the male hero can’t hold his own against the toughest dame on the planet, he’s not gonna be much help to said dame when they’re really in a pinch. On the other hand, you know a dame is tough when she can give the guy who’s gonna topple a space dictatorship with his sword a run for his money.

It’s a shame that the new kids feel they have to reach for anime for their examples of tough women in sci-fi, when they’ve been hanging out in the pulps all along.

Take for example this great scene from Swordsman of Mars–Thorne has just met Thaine, the childhood friend of the Martian who he’s traded places with. At her camp, the pair are attacked by a band of hostile Martians, and a couple of them pull Thaine into her hut and briefly out of sight of the hero.

He was about to spring through the opening when he saw the girl framed in the doorway, dagger in one hand and sword in the other, both dripping blood. Behind her, barely visible in the dim light of the interior, lay one dead and one dying foeman.

“Why – why, I thought…” stammered Thorne, lowering his point.

The girl smiled amusedly and stepped out of the hut. “So you believed these clumsy Ma Gongi had cut me down. Really, Sheb, I gave you credit for a better memory. Have you forgotten the many times Thaine’s blade has bested yours?”

So her name is Thaine, mused Thorne. Aloud he said: “Your demonstration has been most convincing. Yet I have not lost my ambition to improve my swordsmanship, and I should be grateful for further instruction.”

“No better time than now. Still, I have you at a disadvantage, since you hold an inferior weapon.”

“It is a handicap which a man should accord a girl,” Thorne replied.

“Not one this girl requires.”

She sheathed her dagger and extended her blade. Thorne engaged it with his captured weapon which, though more heavy and clumsy, was somewhat similar to a saber.

He instantly found that he had to deal with the swiftest and most dexterous fencer he had ever encountered, and time after time he barely saved himself from being touched.

“It seems your stay at the military school has improved your swordsmanship,” said the girl, cutting, thrusting, and parrying easily – almost effortlessly. “In the old days I would have touched you long ere this. Yet, you but prolong the inevitable.”

“The inevitable,” replied Thorne, “is sometimes perceptible only by deity. For instance, this” – beating sharply on her blade, then catching it on his with a rotary motion – “has often been known to end a conflict.”

Wrenched from her grasp by his impetuous attack, her sword went spinning into the undergrowth.

Instead of taking her defeat badly, Thaine actually beamed.

“You have developed into a real swordsman, old comrade! I am so glad I could almost kiss you.”

“That,” Thorne answered, recovering her weapon for her, “is a reward which should fire any man to supreme endeavor.”

“It is evident that you have mastered courtly speech as well as fencing. And now I will prepare your favorite dish for you.” She called the brute. “Here, Tezzu,” indicating the bodies. “Take these away.”

There are a number of things in effect here:

Thaine’s able to remain boastful to rib her childhood friend, but the hero wasn’t deprived of his moment in “saving her”; alone, either of them might have been overtaken, but Thaine can hold her own. It’s important to note that this wasn’t a case of the hero showing up and the woman has done all of the work and didn’t need any help at all.

Thorne gets a chance to both size up Thaine’s fighting skills and judge how good he’s supposed to be, since at this point, he’s new to Mars and new to filling in the shoes of the young Martian viscount he’s stepped into. Ultimately, it’s his lack of proper Martian table manners that gives him away to Thaine.

Now that Sheb/Borgen Takkor (actually Harry Thorne) has been shown to have taken a level in badass, the girl can be impressed by his growth. She no longer sees him as an inferior, regards him as someone who she could genuinely rely on when pressed and is prepared to reward him with her affections as a strong woman who’s found a stronger man.

Food. A lot of women like to cook for a man. And being promised that you’ll be cooked your favorite meal is a hell of a thing. An unbelievable amount of human behavior is predicated on doing things that will get you your favorite meal cooked for you by a lady and the endeavors undertaken to earn such a privilege. So, you want a beautiful Martian lady to cook you tasty bug-steaks? You’d better be able to kill AT LEAST as many evil Martian swordsmen as she can when you guys get attacked by them.

From Heroes Fighting Communist Space Dictators to Post-Capitalist Utopias

Well before the Cold War, even many years before World War II, speculative fiction writers saw and forewarned of the dangers of Communism. In Burroughs’ Tarzan series, Tarzan himself goes up against communist agents and assassins sent by Stalin on a number of occasions!

Yet by the 40s, after Europe had been thoroughly wrecked by two conflicting socialist ideologies, you had nudniks writing into Science Fiction magazines talking about post-scarcity society and proclaiming that once we were all socialists, space would be so great and safe that the notion of heroes fighting villains and dictators among the stars would be unthinkably silly.

Like Burroughs, Kline, who was by all reasonable standards a forward thinking writer with all sorts of progressive notions of tough, powerful and independent women, equality of man, suffrage, yadda-yadda-yadda, was unafraid to make the tyrannical evils of a space communist society something for his fighting man to topple.

Swordsman of mars

Originally serialized in Argosy Magazine in January and February of 1933.

Harry Thorne has been sent to Mars to act in the stead of a young Martian noble:

“As Borgen Takkor, you are, of course, son of Sheb, the Rad of Takkor. If he were to die, your name would become Sheb. As it is, you are the Zorad of Takkor. Zorad, in your language, might be translated viscount, and Rad, earl. The titles, of course, no longer have meaning, except that they denote noble blood, as the Swarm has changed all that.”

“The Swarm?”

Lal Vak nodded.

“I can think of no other English equivalent for our word Kamud. The Kamud is the new order of government which took control of Xancibar about ten Martian years, or nearly nineteen Earth years ago. At that time, like other Martian vilets, or empires, of the present day, we had a Vil, or emperor. Although his office was hereditary, he could be deposed at any time by the will of the people, and a new Vil elected.

“For the most part, our people were satisfied. But there suddenly rose into power a man named Irintz Tel. He taught that an ideal community could be attained by imitating the communal life of the black bees. Under his system the individuals exist for the benefit of the community, not the community for the befit of the individuals.

“Irintz Tel did not gather many followers, but those who flocked to his banner were vociferous and vindictive. At length, they decided to establish their form of government by force. Hearing this, Miradon, our Vil, abdicated rather than see his people involved in a civil war. He could have crushed the upstart, of course, but many lives would have been lost, and he preferred the more peaceful way.

“As soon as Miradon Vil was gone, Irintz Tel and his henchmen seized the reins of government in Dukor, the capital of Xancibar. After considerable fighting, he established the Kamud, which now owns all land, buildings, waterways, mines and commercial enterprises within our borders. He promised us annual elections, but once he was firmly established as Dixtar of Xancibar, this promise was repudiated. Theoretically, like all other citizens, Irintz Tel owns nothing except his personal belongings. But actually, he owns and controls all of Xancibar in the name of the Kamud, and has the absolute power of life and death over every citizen.”

“What do people think of this arrangement?” asked Thorne. “Do they submit to such tyranny?”

“They have no choice,” replied Lal Vak. “Irintz Tel rules with an iron hand. His spies are everywhere. And those detected speaking against his regime are quickly done away with.

“Some are executed, charged with some trumped-up offense, usually treason to the Kamud. Men in high places are often challenged and slain by Irintz Tel’s hired swordsmen. Others are sent to the mines, which means that they will not live long.”

During his adventures on Mars, Thorne finds himself assigned to be the personal guard of the Dixtar’s beautiful daughter–a virtual death sentence:

“It is a fatal beauty that corrupts our most loyal followers and makes traitors of our stanchest patriots. And today we are constrained to part with two more of our best swordsmen. They were her guardsmen, but they chose to let their hearts rule their heads. For such a malady, where our daughter is concerned, we have a most effective form of surgery.”

“What is that, excellency?”

“In order that the heart may no longer rule the head, we separate them. A bit drastic, we will admit, but it never fails to cure. We sent for you and this prisoner because we must replace the two excellent swordsmen. Our daughter, as you know, must be well guarded.”

Kline even lampshades the hypocritical ostentatious largess communist dictators indulge in:

The size and magnificence of the suite reserved for the daughter of this apostle of simplicity who would make all citizens equal, was astounding.

To the communist nudniks infiltrating fandom, this sort of slander against their perfect system of life and governance is unthinkable and intolerable and therefore must be denigrated as unserious and implausible and unworthy of consideration by Tru connoisseurs of science fiction.

Consider this letter to the editor of Planet Stories written in 1946:

All stories concerned with interplanetary wars, space piracy, pioneering, racketeering, etc., are taking for granted that present economic operations will continue unchanged. But, even today, the advances of science and technology are bringing the day close at hand when the method of buying and selling goods for a price, using money, will have to be abandoned, with a scientific method of distribution taking its place. And what effect would this have on the future! War, with the elimination of buying and selling, would cease to exist. As money would no longer be used, space pirates, interplanetary police and what-have-you would also have to go. Consider the exploration of a new planet. With machines doing most of the work, let us take mining as a specific example. The rough-and-ready drink-hard, die-hard miner would cease to exist. Educational standards of the time would be such that the staff of trained technicians required to man the machines would not be the type to engage in drunken brawls and fist-fights.

At the risk of sounding like Jeffro, SOMETHING HAPPENED!

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!

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-i-like-you-too-by-joe-gibson/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-yesterdays-doors-by-arthur-j-burks/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-square-pegs-by-ray-bradbury/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-miracle-town-by-william-f-temple/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-cosmic-jackpot-by-george-o-smith/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-date-line-by-noel-loomis-as-benj-miller/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-reverse-english-by-john-s-carroll/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-softie-by-noel-loomis/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-no-winter-no-summer-by-damon-knight-and-james-blish-as-donald-laverty/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-referent-by-ray-bradbury-as-brett-sterling/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-metal-chamber-by-duane-w-rimel/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-swine-of-aeaea-by-clifford-ball/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-house-where-time-stood-still-by-seabury-quinn/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-return-of-hastur-by-august-derleth/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-comrades-of-time-by-edmond-hamilton/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-quest-of-iranon-by-h-p-lovecraft/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-stratosphere-menace-by-ralph-milne-farley/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-smoke-fantasy-by-thomas-r-jordan/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-devils-of-po-sung-by-bassett-morgan/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-haunted-level-by-cassiter-wright/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-bull-dog-smith-by-james-mccormick/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-chasing-a-living-in-california-by-anon/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-old-white-face-by-allen-borders/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-ali-babas-cave-by-i-d-b/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-balu-the-bear-by-blanche-e-ward/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-dutchmans-gold-told-by-arthur-greyslen-and-set-down-by-alan-burgess/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-sandhound-strikes-by-ross-rocklynne/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-vanishing-venusians/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-happy-castaway-by-robert-e-mcdowell/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-silver-plague-by-albert-de-pina/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-double-trouble/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-death-star-by-tom-pace/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-vandals-of-the-void-by-robert-wilson/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-joe-carsons-weapon-by-james-r-adams/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-smoking-land-by-frederick-faust-as-george-challis/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-three-lines-of-old-french-by-a-merritt/

A Look at the Opening Chapter of Tarzan Triumphant

I started reading Tarzan Triumphant yesterday, and once again Burroughs has managed to blow me away. The setup is so entirely unexpected, especially given what one always hears about Burroughs and the pulps and the “toxic masculinity” of the era and eeeeeevil colonialism and all of that. But it’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from Burroughs.

Burroughs is always very deliberate in his writing. Nothing is wasted, and there’s meaning and purpose to his prose, so the order in which he establishes things is important. The stories he tells often are comprised of many threads that eventually weave together to tell a tale, and the suspense in a Burroughs story is when those threads threaten to become frayed or unwoven — what must come together seems to come apart until, at last, everything is tightly and neatly tied up where it should be. It is unsurprising he begins this tale with a prologue with the words “Time is the warp of the tapestry which is life,” and aims to pursue this analogy most directly in this work.

It is important when Burroughs chooses to first establish his story’s heroine, second establish his hero, thirdly bring in his villain, and finally Tarzan. Yes, the protagonist of Tarzan Triumphant is a woman, Lady Barbara Collis; her try-hard love interest shall be the young Lafayette Smith, who will clearly need to bootstrap his way up to being awesome enough; the villain shall be Leon Stabutch, the vile cats-paw of Stalin; and at last we know that Tarzan will at some point aid both Barbara and Lafayette while protecting Africa from filthy commies.

AS far as I know the first Earl of Whimsey has nothing to do with this story, and so we are not particularly interested in the fact that it was not so much the fine grade of whiskey that he manufactured that won him his earldom as the generous contribution he made to the Liberal party at the time that it was in power a number of years ago.

Being merely a simple historian and no prophet, I cannot say whether we shall see the Earl of Whimsey again or not. But if we do not find the Earl particularly interesting, I can assure you that the same may not be said of his fair daughter, Lady Barbara Collis.

The African sun, still an hour high, was hidden from the face of the earth by solid cloud banks that enveloped the loftier peaks of the mysterious, impenetrable fastnesses of the forbidding Ghenzi Mountain range that frowned perpetually upon a thousand valleys little known to man.

From far above this seeming solitude, out of the heart of the densely banked clouds, there came to whatever ears there might be to hear a strange and terrifying droning, suggesting the presence of a preposterous Gargantuan bumblebee circling far above the jagged peaks of Ghenzi. At times it grew in volume until it attained terrifying proportions; and then gradually it diminished until it was only a suggestion of a sound, only to grow once again in volume and to again retreat.

For a long time, invisible and mysterious, it had been describing its great circles deep in the concealing vapors that hid it from the earth and hid the earth from it.

Lady Barbara Collis was worried. Her petrol was running low. At the crucial moment her compass had failed her, and she had been flying blind through the clouds looking for an opening for what now seemed an eternity of hours to her.

She had known that she must cross a lofty range of mountains, and she had kept at a considerable altitude above the clouds for this purpose; but presently they had risen to such heights that she could not surmount them; and, foolishly, rather than turn back and give up her projected non-stop flight from Cairo to the Cape, she had risked all in one effort to penetrate them.

For an hour Lady Barbara had been indulging in considerable high powered thinking, intermingled with the regret that she had not started thinking a little more heavily before she had taken off, as she had, against the explicit command of her sire. To say that she was terrified in the sense that fear had impaired any of her faculties would not be true. However, she was a girl of keen intelligence, fully competent to understand the grave danger of her situation; and when there loomed suddenly close to the tip of her left wing a granite escarpment that was lost immediately above and below her in the all enveloping vapor, it is no reflection upon her courage that she involuntarily caught her breath in a quick gasp and simultaneously turned the nose of her ship upwards until her altimeter registered an altitude that she knew must be far higher than the loftiest peak that reared its head above any part of Africa.

Rising in a wide spiral, she was soon miles away from that terrifying menace that had seemingly leaped out of the clouds to seize her. Yet even so, her plight was still as utterly hopeless as it well could be. Her fuel was practically exhausted. To attempt to drop below the cloud banks, now that she knew positively that she was among lofty mountains, would be utter madness; and so she did the only thing that remained to her.

Alone in the cold wet clouds, far above an unknown country, Lady Barbara Collis breathed a little prayer as she bailed out. With the utmost meticulosity she counted ten before she jerked the rip cord of her chute.

We often hear about women being relegated to background roles, being there to prop up the big strong men, etc. etc.  Not so, here!

While one might argue that Burroughs starts with his protagonist’s father, his dismissal of him is very important. The prologue speaks of the far reaching importance of long ago events and individuals well known and obscure; in the opening of his first chapter, Burroughs is simply reminding us that it is Barbara who is important.

No damsel, but a true dame – smart, clever, capable… but in a bit of a scrape, else there’d be little drama to unfold. This budding Amelia Earhart has parachuted into danger and adventure, where the first person she meets and bonds with will not be a man but another clever woman who sees this lady-from-the-skies as an opportunity to get out from under the thumb of the zealous old codgers of her tribe, but I’m getting ahead.

At that same instant Fate was reaching out to gather other threads—far flung threads—for this tiny fragment of her tapestry.

Kabariga, chief of the Bangalo people of Bungalo, knelt before Tarzan of the Apes many weary marches to the south of the Ghenzi Mountain.

In Moscow, Leon Stabutch entered the office of Stalin, the dictator of Red Russia.

Ignorant of the very existence of Kabariga, the black chief, or of Leon Stabutch or Lady Barbara Collis, Lafayette Smith, A.M., Ph.D., Sc.D., professor of geology at the Phil Sheridan Military Academy, boarded a steamship in the harbor of New York.

Mr. Smith was a quiet, modest, scholarly looking young man with horn rimmed spectacles, which he wore not because of any defect of eyesight but in the belief that they added a certain dignity and semblance of age to his appearance. That his spectacles were fitted with plain glass was known only to himself and his optician.

Graduated from college at seventeen the young man had devoted four additional years to acquiring further degrees, during which time he optimistically expected the stamp of dignified maturity to make itself evident in his face and bearing; but, to his intense dismay, his appearance seemed quite as youthful at twenty-one as it had at seventeen.

Lafayette Smith’s great handicap to the immediate fulfillment of his ambition (to occupy the chair of geology in some university of standing) lay in his possession of the unusual combination of brilliant intellect and retentive memory with robust health and a splendid physique. Do what he might he could not look sufficiently mature and scholarly to impress any college board. He tried whiskers, but the result was humiliating; and then he conceived the idea of horn rimmed spectacles and pared his ambition down, temporarily, from a university to a prep school.

For a school year, now, he had been an instructor in an inconspicuous western military academy, and now he was about to achieve another of his cherished ambitions—he was going to Africa to study the great rift valleys of the Dark Continent, concerning the formation of which there are so many theories propounded and acclaimed by acknowledged authorities on the subject as to leave the layman with the impression that a fundamental requisite to success in the science of geology is identical to that required by weather forecasters.

But be that as it may, Lafayette Smith was on his way to Africa with the financial backing of a wealthy father and the wide experience that might be gained from a number of week-end field excursions into the back pastures of accommodating farmers, plus considerable ability as a tennis player and a swimmer.

We may leave him now, with his note books and seasickness, in the hands of Fate, who is leading him inexorably toward sinister situations from which no amount of geological knowledge nor swimming nor tennis ability may extricate him.

Now we are introduced to the man who will inevitably become the love interest. Here we have the “adorkable” male lead, the Milo from Atlantis, the Dr. Jackson from Stargate: a glasses wearing pointdexter whose peers and colleagues don’t give him what he feels is his due. He is smart, perhaps brilliant, and more fit than his fellow nerds, but Burroughs reminds us that smart and fit aren’t going to be enough on a jungle adventure. A veritable leitmotif of Burroughs’ Tarzan stories is “The Jungle Makes You A Badass Or You Die”. So we know Barbara is a cool customer who will become badass. And Smith is strong, smart dude who will eventually have to become badass enough to be worthy of Barbara over the course of his jungle adventure.

Now, on to our villain!

When it is two hours before noon in New York it is an hour before sunset in Moscow and so it was that as Lafayette Smith boarded the liner in the morning, Leon Stabutch, at the same moment, was closeted with Stalin late in the afternoon.

“That is all,” said Stalin; “you understand?”

“Perfectly,” replied Stabutch. “Peter Zveri shall be avenged, and the obstacle that thwarted our plans in Africa shall be removed.”

“The latter is most essential,” emphasized Stalin, “but do not belittle the abilities of your obstacle. He may be, as you have said, naught but an ape-man; but he utterly routed a well organized Red expedition that might have accomplished much in Abyssinia and Egypt but for his interference. And,” he added, “I may tell you, comrade, that we contemplate another attempt; but it will not be made until we have a report from you that—the obstacle has been removed.”

Stabutch swelled his great chest. “Have I ever failed?” he asked.

Stalin rose and laid a hand upon the other’s shoulder. “Red Russia does not look to the OGPU for failures,” he said. Only his lips smiled as he spoke.

Leon Stabutch needs little introduction. He is a commie. He is working for Stalin, the super evil commie grampa who plans on carrying out all sorts of evil commie plans in Africa to the detriment of the African people.

Tarzan is going to have to fight commies and you just know it’s going to be awesome. But he’s going to have a lot of other things to deal with first. You know he’s going to be tangled up with Barbara and Lafayette somehow. So, let’s see how!

That same night Leon Stabutch left Moscow. He thought that he left secretly and alone, but Fate was at his side in the compartment of the railway carriage.

As Lady Barbara Collis bailed out in the clouds above the Ghenzi range, and Lafayette Smith trod the gangplank leading aboard the liner, and Stabutch stood before Stalin, Tarzan, with knitted brows, looked down upon the black kneeling at his feet.

“Rise!” he commanded, and then; “Who are you and why have you sought Tarzan of the Apes?”

“I am Kabariga, O Great Bwana,” replied the black. “I am chief of the Bangalo people of Bungalo. I come to the Great Bwana because my people suffer much sorrow and great fear and our neighbors, who are related to the Gallas, have told us that you are the friend of those who suffer wrongs at the hands of bad men.”

“And what wrongs have your people suffered?” demanded Tarzan, “and at whose hands?”

“For long we lived at peace with all men,” explained Kabariga; “we did not make war upon our neighbors. We wished only to plant and harvest in security. But one day there came into our country from Abyssinia a band of shiftas who had been driven from their own country. They raided some of our villages, stealing our grain, our goats and our people, and these they sold into slavery in far countries.

“They do not take everything, they destroy nothing; but they do not go away out of our country. They remain in a village they have built in inaccessible mountains, and when they need more provisions or slaves they come again to other villages of my people.

“And so they permit us to live and plant and harvest that they may continue to take toll of us.”

“But why do you come to me?” demanded the ape-man. “I do not interfere among tribes beyond the boundaries of my own country, unless they commit some depredation against my own people.”

“I come to you, Great Bwana,” replied the black chief, “because you are a white man and these shiftas are led by a white man. It is known among all men that you are the enemy of bad white men.”

“That,” said Tarzan, “is different. I will return with you to your country.”

And thus Fate, enlisting the services of the black chief, Kabariga, led Tarzan of the Apes out of his own country, toward the north. Nor did many of his own people know whither he had gone nor why—not even little Nkima, the close friend and confidant of the ape-man.

After his early years, Tarzan has normally followed the prime directive when it comes to getting involved with native conflicts. There are tribes he works with, who are under his protection, and those tribes will often go to bat for him. Heck, the deus ex machina of Tarzan at the Earth’s Core was the crack-team of African riflemen showing up to save the day, because dinosaur-riding snakemen and stuck-in-the-16th-century-pirates are no match for 20-odd blacks with modern long-barrel rifles.

But Tarzan hates the colonial exploitation of the indigenous African peoples, so when he hears that it’s white folks who are causing problems for the Bangalo, he is ready to strip down to his loin-cloth and spring into action!

So, right in the first chapter, we have a lot of stuff we constantly hear about old works flipped on its head; the story starts with female lead, and after these introductions, continues with her; the “adorkable” male hero, often thought to be a much more recent modern trope, is described in his dorkiness and we are shown how he will grow through the listing of what he lacks; Tarzan is going to fight communists – this is 1931, and Papa Joe is shown to be a cold, calculating and evil man who needs to be stopped – this isn’t Cold War spooks, Burroughs knows Stalin’s a rotten dude; Tarzan is anti-colonial – we always hear about the colonialist attitudes of the pulps, or that the pulps failed to examine and address colonialism, but we’re straight up told that Tarzan doesn’t want white dudes exploiting and messing with the tribes in Africa.

Anyway, Tarzan Triumphant is available from Gutenberg Australia. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I can already tell this is gonna be at least as awesome as the other three Tarzan novels I’ve read.

What better way to celebrate Tarzan’s birthday week than with a story about Tarzan fighting to stop a Commie plot?

You Can’t Judge a Pulp by its Pitch

With our own open submission period fast approach, and in light of Corey McCleery’s post on the short story he’s writing for a Superversive anthology, I feel that I need to issue some clarifications on just what it is we’re looking for as a magazine that has had the attention of the Pulp Revolution.

First, I feel it’s important to point out that Cirsova was doing what Cirsova was doing prior to folks talking about a Pulp Revolution, and we intent do continue doing what we’ve been doing regardless of what directions either the folks involved in the Pulp Revolution movement do or what the Superversive movement does in response.

A lot of folks have said “I’ve got this great idea for X where Y happens in Z; there will be plenty of Q and T!” and I’ve absolutely encouraged people to write them.

But the thing is, a Pulp is much more than its pitch. A lot of pulp stories, when you try to distill their plots down to a sentence or two, come across as the wildest, most off-the-wall gonzo nonsense you can dream up. Except when you actually read the stories, they’re not only internally consistent, they often take themselves and the wild situations therein fairly seriously. While there might be some humor, the elements in the stories are usually not played for laughs. And I think that’s part of where we differ from some of the “Retro-Pulp”/”New Pulp” stuff, in that we’re not using the aesthetic for kitsch or playing it for laughs. It’s a very difficult concept to get across. It’s also why I think it’s worthwhile to show by example, which is why I strongly recommend folks read the pulps (particularly those that I’ve reviewed, because they are literally the context I’ve been using and measuring other stories against) and read previous issues of Cirsova to get an idea of just what I’m looking for.

Now, why did I bring up McCleery’s post?

Well, in addition to trying to define Superversive in his post, and trying to show that they are not mutually exclusive, he gives a pitch for his story that he is advertising as being a Superversive Pulp story:

It’s about a man, a man confronted with the injustices of a tyrannical usurper trying to slay the woman he loves, and to defend her, he becomes something greater than he is, using self-discipline and training to go from a plain warrior to someone of unmatched prowess. He’s morally straight and kind, but has courage in the face of incredible adversity, won’t shirk from trouble because it’s, well, trouble, and also refuses to do the wrong thing when that would make life easier, but compromise his conscience. Right there, that checks off two boxes listed above (Aspiring/Inspiring and Heroic).

He travels the world I have made, sees wonders, sees beauties unearthly. He goes into the most dangerous of places, and grows stronger for it.

He is guided by virtue, and eventually meets up with some other characters, many of whom are morally questionable. Through their interaction with him, these characters become more selfless, virtuous, and heroic themselves, and go from morally grey to heroes (there’s the Aspiring/Inspiring). In this world, there’s a clear line denoting what is good and bad, and that the evil usurper is bad, a cutthroat despot who isn’t scared to shed innocent blood (and she does this out of envy and desire for power, not because she was abused as a child or was a psychopath). Good is good, bad is bad, and while the hero isn’t %100 good, he aspires to be good (thus, the Virtuous box is checked).

And ultimately, the hero fights to restore the throne to the rightful ruler, and does so. He is not a pawn of chance, incapable of making his own decisions. He decides, and those choices have consequences. His actions have an effect, and he doesn’t react to the world, but proactively acts (thus fulfilling the Decisive category). And lastly, I’m not deconstructing ideals of heroism or other healthy cultural paradigms (thus fulfilling the Non-Subversive category).

So, I’m writing a Superversive story, one that will be published in a magazine.

Here’s the catch. It’s being published in Astounding Frontiers, Superversive SF’s pulp revival magazine. The description above is accurate, but focuses on the Superversive themes, not the pulp.

My story is about a soldier, charged with guarding the elegant and demure Space Princess, scion of a star (She kind of glows). He teams up with a stoic yet wise Void-wielding pseudo-Buddhist attack monk lizard alien man, a rough-and-tumble yet oddly maternal cyborg techno-necromancer (who’s art is drawn from Daoist philosophy), a giant crustaceanoid barbarian who’s bulletproof and very violent, and the crustaceanoid barbarian’s love, a sorceress insectoid-alien who is refined and demure (as refined and demure as an insectoid lady of high breeding level can be).

He flies in a ship that sails through the ether, and goes from a soldier to a sorcerer-knight who wields the ether and the Void, among other powers. He breaks into the vault of the imperial sorcerers to plunder its knowledge, and fights the horrendous beast that lurks in the heart of a sun. There’s travelling through the myriad avenues of death, Way Cool armor forged from the substanceless Void, action and heroism aplenty.

My story has battles on space ships, duels to the death, a classic romance, and a Space Princess, ethereal and beautiful. It has sorcery used alongside laser cannons and futuristic technology, where a battle can take place with scrambler beams or ether blades. Settings include the deadly library of sorcery, an ancient temple, and ruins of an M.C. Escher palace that is suspended in the heart of a hollow sun. It looks at genre distinctions and laughs in their face.

Now, a couple of things about this. This is a pitch. It gives you an idea of what the story will be about, but there’s no way to know whether this story is going to be any good or not. Also, that’s a LOT to try to cram into a short story*. Awhile back, I made a one sentence pitch for Schuyler Hernstrom’s The First American as an example of how it could be done (“Lizardmen stole a barb caveman’s dame, so he goes to a wizard who is an astronaut who gene-splices him and gives him a shotgun so he can rescue his dame from the lizardmen”), and that was a novella length work into which all of they X, Y, and Z were crammed. Another thing, I don’t know what deal McCleery has with the Superversives for their publication, so this is in regards to our publication, not theirs or anyone else’s, but as a general rule, unless you’ve finished writing your story, submitted it to me, and I’ve paid you for it, don’t say “here is the story I’m writing that will be published in Cirsova”, regardless of whether I’ve told you that your elevator pitch sounds awesome. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s something I felt worth pointing out.

But back to pitches. What sounds great in a pitch needs to work out on the page. We’re not specifically looking for gonzo or how crazy and wild you can write a story. There may be a mistaken notion about the Pulp Revolution that to them Pulp is like some kind of Mountain Dew commercial, skiing down a mountain, chased by laser wolves, and screaming “PULP!” A lot of us make joke about that sort of thing, but that’s more about the bants than it is the serious business of writing and critiquing stoires. As for Cirsova, we are not the silly magazine that publishes silly and extreme stories for the sake of silliness and extremity. We’re looking for GOOD stories that are well written and have the potential to be entertaining to readers who enjoy action and romance. Ultimately, that is a far stronger consideration for whether we will acquire a story than whether it falls into a Superversive rubric or a Pulp rubric or a Pulp Revolution rubric, straw or otherwise.

*:Note – Corey’s pointed out that his pitch is for a serial; this is stuff that you CAN work into something longer, like a serial format. For our own submission purposes, since we only take serial works on special basis and by request only (please do not ask), we recommend only cramming in as much as you can reasonably work into 5000-7500 words without spreading your story too thin.

2018 Submissions, Updating Guidelines, New Pulp Rev Anthologies, and Hugo Stuff

I’ve noticed that with minor rants on twitter, I tend to have less blog fodder, because the thinks come out as shallow thinks in a couple tweets, which get it out of my system, rather than deep thinks which end up as blog posts.

Anyway, Issue 5 is out the door, and barring any of customer support issues I have to deal with, we’ve put it behind us and ready to move onto what needs to be done for issue 6. I’ll have a physical proof today or tomorrow to do my markups on, so we’re well on track, which brings us to the next thing.

2018 Submissions!

I’ve updated our submissions page with some additional criteria and guidelines.

Our submissions will be open from June 1st to July 15th.

Please do not send us anything before June 1st! We might lose it, and you don’t want that to happen. If you’ve got something you’ve been holding onto, polish it. Polish it good, and try to make sure that it meets those standard manuscript formatting requirements (it helps more than someone who’s never tried to edit a magazine might realize).

Our rates have not changed; we still pay 0.01 per word with an additional 0.01 bonus on the first 2.5k words ($50 for 2.5k, $75 for 5k, $100 for 7.5K, etc).

We’ll be buying roughly 120K words of content for 2018.

New Anthologies

We don’t have anything to do with these directly, but they’re pretty exciting and feature some Cirsova contributors and our friends.

Misha Burnett is putting together a 21st Century Thrilling Adventure anthology (yes, I know the blog post has a different title; I’m going by the G+ group’s name). Previously, Misha Burnett pulled together the Eldritch Earth Geophysical Society and collaborated with Cirsova to release those stories in our most recent issue, so you can be sure that the awesome-potential for this new anthology is really high.

Also, in response to something of a challenge regarding some bluster over the Five Fates anthology, Jesse Abraham Lucas has decided to put together an answer to it from the less well established voices in Pulp Revolution. This will be an underground anthology featuring voices from the underground of a movement which itself is underground. Chew on that, hipsters! This one is still in the brainstorming stages, but it could be really great!

Hugo Awards Stuff
We just got our instructions on what we need to do to put together our Hugo Voter Packet, so we’re in the process of getting that assembled.

A few things I’ve noticed:

  • A Hugo nod only got us a negligible day-one spike in traffic; it pales in comparison to the time someone linked to us in Larry Correia’s blog comments.
  • Media really doesn’t seem that interested in the Hugos; other than sharing the standard press release, coverage has been “LOL, Stix Hiscock!” and “Hey, these Marvel comics that are supposedly not selling well got nominations, so they’re actually doing great, right?” The relatively low vote bar for a nomination isn’t the greatest indicator of sales numbers or profitability, lemme tell ya!
  • The biggest media outlets in the state we’re based in didn’t even pick up the press release.

Still, the Voter packet is a huge deal for us. I’d estimate our readership at somewhere between 150-200. Even if only a tiny fraction of the Worldcon membership gives us a look, that’s a chance to hugely expand our readership.

I don’t have any illusions about our chances and would not be surprised if we get nuked for no other reason than being on Vox Day’s list. We weren’t on the original Rabid Puppies list, which should be no surprise, since we really don’t publish the sort of stuff that’s in his wheelhouse, but Jeffro and some other folks put in a good word for us. However we ended up with a nomination, I’m just happy to be here.

If you want to support us in the Hugo Awards contest, you can do so by becoming a Worldcon member. I won’t make any appeal to try to convince folks who just aren’t interested in or don’t want to support Worldcon to do so just to vote for us, but we’re participating, because to change things, one has to participate.

If you want to support the magazine itself, the best ways to do so are buying copies (Amazon, Lulu) or advertising with us. If you’ve read the magazine, please leave reviews!