Kirkus Withdraws a Review (and that’s a big deal!)

Recently, YA author Laura Moriarty wrote and sent out arcs of a book called American Heart. It’s description:

Imagine a United States in which registries and detainment camps for Muslim-Americans are a reality.

Fifteen-year-old Sarah-Mary Williams of Hannibal, Missouri, lives in this world, and though she has strong opinions on almost everything, she isn’t concerned with the internments because she doesn’t know any Muslims. She assumes that everything she reads and sees in the news is true, and that these plans are better for everyone’s safety.

But when she happens upon Sadaf, a Muslim fugitive determined to reach freedom in Canada, Sarah-Mary at first believes she must turn her in. But Sadaf challenges Sarah-Mary’s perceptions of right and wrong, and instead Sarah-Mary decides, with growing conviction, to do all she can to help Sadaf escape.

The two set off on a desperate journey, hitchhiking through the heart of an America that is at times courageous and kind, but always full of tension and danger for anyone deemed suspicious.

Basically a story about how Muslims are people too and rounding people up in camps is a bad thing, probably handled with all of the nuance and subtlety of Margaret Haddix’s cheesy Among the Hidden series.  Not really my kind of thing, probably written as a genuine and heart-felt progressive kumbaya from a well-intentioned liberal YA writer.

Unfortunately, it was less-than-well received by certain individuals on Goodreads:

Jabba the hudge

It’s easy to laugh about this, because progressives have the tendency to eat their own–you can never be progressive enough to satisfy those more progressive than you. So, “ha-ha, look at the lady who tried to virtue signal and got dog-piled for ‘doing it wrong'”, right? Well, it gets more complicated than that.

Moriarty had submitted her book for a Kirkus review, a site that will write reviews for authors on a for-pay basis. Now, paid reviews are sketchy as it is, but this is gonna take the cake!

Originally, Kirkus gave a positive review for Moriarty’s book. It was apparently even reviewed by a Muslim woman who “is an expert in children’s &YA literature and well-versed in the dangers of white savior narratives”, and “she found that American Heart offers a useful warning about the direction we’re headed in as far as racial enmity is concerned.”

So, ironically, Kirkus has chosen to silence a Muslim woman because people disagreed with her review. They’ve backpedaled and thrown up this new review calling the book problematic.

Here’s the thing about reviews. Reviews are always going to be subjective. They are the opinion of the reviewer giving the review based on their experiences, prejudices and believes as they make contact with the content they’re reviewing. So, yeah, even ‘fuck muh whiteness!’ up there is perfectly entitled to her review and I don’t have any real problem with it. But if you’re a review site whose sole purpose is, well, reviewing stuff, then you need to stand by reviewers’ reviews. You may feel like you need to say, as an editor, “I don’t necessarily agree with what this reviewer said,” but to pull down a review and take it out to the woodshed because people have different opinions from the reviewer means that you should probably get out of the reviewing business because your credibility is shot.

More from Slate.

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Eternal Soulfire Vol 1. Review

One of the free comic book day comics I got last year was the issue Zero of a World of Aspen: Eternal Soulfire whatever. The free comics on that Free Comic Book day were largely meh (nowhere near as bad as this year), but I’ll admit that I liked the use of color on this one. I’d nearly forgotten about it, though, when my GF brought volume one home from library.

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Frankly a story about a weird fairy girl in high school, trying to fit in, like the cover implied, would’ve been more interesting than what I actually read. The first chapter, which hinted at this premise, was probably the best in the book.

I burned out on this short collection with two chapters to go. Whatever comic universe this is set in, Eternal Soulfire is not a good introduction to it. Best I can tell, it is grimdark Winx Club, with fairies and dragons and high-tech swat teams that hunt them.

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Despite the interesting colorwork I mentioned, a lot of the art feels kind of muddy and hazy, particularly in backgrounds . And while the character art isn’t bad, there’s something that just feels off about the sequential nature of much of the art here—it just doesn’t flow particularly well in a lot of places. One of the middle chapters, a flashback backstory of one of the major characters that had been done by a different team, was one of the few exceptions—while the colors were not so over-the top, the visual flow of the artwork was much better, but not enough to really save it for me.

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From Issue 3, where the art probably flowed best.

Soulfire strikes me as people who really enjoy drawing edgy punk fairies (and don’t do a bad job at it) but struggle to find some sort of excuse to do something besides portfolios.

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How are you so much less interesting than you look?!

If you’re more familiar with the Soulfire universe, maybe this Jubilee-story of ‘undisciplined teenage girl character has powers and needs to shape up to fit into the new team’ will be up your alley, but I think I’ll give this one a pass for now.

Review: Frayed Knights, Skull of S’makh-Daon

This review is long overdue. Of course part of it is just that life and business got in the way, but originally one of the biggest stumbling blocks was I was at a loss for what to say about something I enjoyed so much but had so many complex thoughts on. And for the time it’s taken me to get around to actually writing this, I apologize, since the time it’s taken has not actually made it proportionally better.

A few months back, Cirsova contributor Jay Barnson sent me a copy of his FPRGP Frayed Knights: Skull of S’makh-Daon. While I was playing it, I was absolutely addicted and could not stop until I finished it.

On the surface, Frayed Knights is an exploration-focused first person RPG with a fair share of hack-and-slash, but there’s a great deal of nuance to it that really scratches a lot of itches that someone who has played a lot of CRPGs and maybe burned out on them because of that “seen it all before” feeling will end up still getting a kick out of it and find it highly engaging.

First of all, the writing is great; which should come as no surprise, as Barnson’s a great writer. But the party’s dialogue is consistently witty and entertaining, giving the characters all a unique feel and personality and giving life to a world which is less a spoof than a humorous homage to old-school dungeons and dragons. While not so self-aware as KoDT, fans of that franchise would certainly enjoy the tropes played with. Plus, there are plenty of Easter Eggs that a fan of old D&D would enjoy, not the least of which being that it is set in an expy of the Caves of Chaos.

Something you can’t say about very many CRPGs is that combat was always a dynamic and engaging challenge. Except in areas you may have backtracked to for whatever reason, there was almost never any time where you could just hold down the attack button and expect combat to go your way. While you might settle into a few strategies that are more consistently effective than others, the combination of the pseudo-realtime initiative, exhaustion system, and variable equipment abilities, it was often a unique puzzle to figure out just what the best strategies against certain groups of foes might be – battles could often swing back and forth, and a lucky break or skin-of-the-teeth play could bring you from the edge of defeat back toward victory. One kinda funny part that may be unique to Frayed Knights is that in any fight, even a gimme fight, it is more effective for a magic user to cast a low-level spell than swing with their weapon—your level 1 damage spell is likelier to hit than the weapon against many foes and will also probably accrue less exhaustion.

While there were a couple of particularly tough fights, though, there was never much need for grinding – the biggest problem I had was, due to recognizing the homage to the Caves of Chaos and applying certain assumptions to Frayed Knights, was doing certain dungeons out of order and suffering the consequence. For instance, the Ogre caves present far less of a challenge as a smaller mini-dungeon than the Goblin Caves which, as a major plot dungeon, are filled with a much wider range of tough nasties (like those Shamans who will dish out damage and keep you from downing front-line gobos).

There are some obvious negatives; you might be put off by the low-res textures and simple models or, in some cases, the incongruous assets (generally non-animated NPC models). Graphically, it’s somewhere in the middle-ground between Daggerfall and Thief: the Dark Project. I love both of those games, but the look won’t be for everyone. Really, for me, though, the biggest problem I had was with the game’s scope. And it’s a weird complaint, but Frayed Knights is just big enough that once I was truly impressed by how large it was, I ended up being disappointed by how small it felt. It has a very Episode 1 feel to it; it set me up with expectations of a truly huge world with multiple hub towns, with even more areas to visit and explore, because what IS there is off the one hub town we’re given IS impressively vast.  A part of me wishes that instead of a new game with a new system, Frayed Knights would continue with new cities and new content added (nodes and hubs appear listed as you visit them, and newly visited areas can be quick-travelled to). Frayed Knights ends on something of a cliff-hanger, and it made me wish I could actually go and visit some of those other towns and locations mentioned beyond the original hub. But still, there’s an impressive amount of real estate to explore; maybe not to the extent of an Elder Scrolls game, but enough that you might come to expect it, forgetting that the game, as huge as it is, was developed by a small indie team.

The upside of Frayed Knights 2 being on a new system is that obviously it will allow the dev team to make improvements to the engine and graphics, and hopefully optimize things a bit (you get some vast and seamless 3D environments in each location, but at the cost of some really long loading times). I also hope that you’ll be able to port characters, but that may not necessarily be in the cards.

Still, I absolutely think that if you dig D&D and/or CRPGs, you should check out Frayed Knights!

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.

Sturgeon’s Law and the Pulps?

I see this over and over and over again. That the pulps only have a bad name because only 90% of them are bad, because Sturgeon’s Law says 90% of everything is bad, so don’t hold that against the pulps!

Euro-style games R something like the SF/F pulps. Most R trash, a minority R good, a small fraction transcend the formulas to become great. – Lewis Pulsipher (@lewpuls) 

Out of the many stories I’ve reviewed, I’ve yet to hit what I’m now calling “Sturgeon’s Pocket”, that rich, thick vein of 90% crap lying just below the surface crust. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, Sturgeon’s Law isn’t the best thing to use to defend (yes, defend) the pulps, because it’s just not true. This line of thinking is generally used to try to defend the “good pulp” from the reputation of the “bad pulp”, except most of the “bad pulp” is pretty good, just not amazing, and the “really bad pulp” has been rather sparse. Hell, I’ll even break it down by the names and numbers:

Exceptionally Good: 14

  • The Moon that Vanished, Leigh Brackett
  • Black Amazon of Mars, Leigh Brackett
  • Stalemate in Space, Charles L Harness
  • Queen of the Martian Catacombs, Leigh Brackett
  • Priestess of the Flame, Sewell Peaslee Wright
  • Raid on the Termites, Paul Ernst
  • Enchantress of Venus, Leigh Brackett
  • Coming of the Gods, Chester Whitehorn
  • Raiders of the Second Moon, Basil Wells
  • Red Witch of Mercury, Emmett McDowell
  • The Bubble Dwellers, Ross Rocklynne
  • Lorelei of the Red Mist, Leigh Brackett & Ray Bradbury
  • The Martian Circe, Raymond F. Jones
  • Moon of Danger, Albert de Pina

 

Very Good: 18

  • Miracle Town, William F. Temple
  • I Like You, Too, Joe Gibson
  • Asteroid of Fear, Raymond Z Gallun
  • Garden of Evil, Margaret St. Clair
  • SOS Aphrodite, Stanley Mullen
  • Hellhounds of the Cosmos, Clifford D. Simak
  • Vulcan’s Workshop, Harl Vincent
  • Captain Midas, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Cosmic Yo-Yo, Ross Rocklynne
  • Mists of Mars, George A. Whittington
  • The Spider Men of Gharr, Wilbur Scott Peacock
  • Grifters’ Asteroid, HL Gold
  • The Sword of Johnny Damokles, Hugh Frazier Parker
  • The Last Monster, Gardner F. Fox
  • Juggernaut of Space, Ray Cummings
  • Quest on Phoebe, James R. Adams
  • Mo-Sanshon!, Bryce Walton
  • And Then There Were None, Eric Frank Russell

Pretty Good/Okay: 17

  • Softie, by Noel Loomis
  • Reverse English, John S. Carroll
  • Date Line, Noel Loomis
  • Cosmic Jackpot, George O. Smith
  • Yesterday’s Doors, Arthur J. Burks
  • Duel on Syrtis, Poul Anderson
  • Peril Orbit, C.J. Wedlake
  • Action on Azura, Robertson Osborne
  • Signal Red, Henry Guth
  • Ordeal in Space, Ralph Sloan
  • The Giants Return, Robert Abernathy
  • Battlefield in Black, George A. Whittington
  • And the Gods Laughed, Fredric Brown
  • Beer Trust Busters, AR Stuart
  • Mutiny, Larry Offenbecker
  • The Venus Evil, Chester S. Geier
  • Vassals of the Lode-Star, Gardner F. Fox

Okay/Not So Good: 10

  • The Referent, Ray Bradbury
  • Galactic Heritage, Frank Belknap Long
  • The Diversifal, Ross Rocklynne
  • The Envoy, Her, H.B. Fyfe
  • The Star Saint, A.E. Van Vogt
  • The Starbusters, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Madcap Metalloids, WV Athanas
  • Prodigal Weapon, Vaseleos Garson
  • Formula for Conquest, James R. Adams
  • The Little Pets of Arkkhan, Vaseleos Garson

Terrible: 4

  • No Winter, No Summer, Damon Knight & James Blish
  • Square Pegs, by Ray Bradbury
  • That Mess Last Year, John D McDonald
  • The Wheel is Death, Roger Dee

 

Note that this ONLY includes pulp stories I’ve read and reviewed from the 50s and earlier. If I included stuff from the 70s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I’d read and reviewed, the numbers would skew significantly towards terrible. For post pulp-era stories I’ve reviewed (*: or read to review but wound up not actually reviewing it), here’s the breakdown, which includes some F&SF, Flashing Swords, and one Vance story from an old Universe. (parenthesis is F&SF-only)

Exceptionally Good: 4(3)

  • The Bagful of Dreams, Jack Vance
  • Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal, Gary K Wolf
  • The Horse Lord, Lisa Tuttle
  • The Mars Ship, Robert Thurston

Very Good: 4 (2)

  • The Tupilak, Poul Anderson
  • Storm in a Bottle, John Jakes
  • Not With a Bang But A Bleep, Gary Jennings
  • Nina, Robert Bloch

Pretty Good/Okay: 9 (7)

  • The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn, Vonda McIntyre
  • Time is Money, Haskell Barkin
  • The Lands Beyond the World, Michael Moorcock
  • Assault on a City, Jack Vance
  • The Exiled, The Hunted, George Guthridge
  • The Final Close, J.P. Dixon
  • The Holdouts, Kit Reed
  • The Star Eel, Robert F. Young
  • A Star is Born, Joseph Green*

Okay/Not so good: 4 (3)

  • Shoes, Raylyn Moore
  • In Rubble, Pleading, Michael Bishop
  • Swords Against the Marluk, Katherine Kurtz
  • Horror Movie, Stuart Dybek

Terrible: 7 (7)

  • A Delightful Comic Premise, Barry Malzberg
  • Mouthpiece, Edward Wellen*
  • The Attack of the Giant Baby, Kit Reed
  • Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel, Michael G Coney
  • Friday the Thirteenth, Isaac Asimov
  • My Boat, Joanna Russ
  • Graveyard Blues, Dennis Etchison*
  • A Game of Vlet, Joanna Russ*

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.”

Reviews of Stuff (Which Probably Aren’t Gonna Happen) – Ethics in Pulp Journalism

I’ve added a lot of contemporary stuff to my reading pile lately, but for a handful of reasons, I probably won’t be actually reviewing a lot of it.

I’ve reached a point where conflicts of interest are going to put a damper on a lot of the content I could write about the newer stuff on my reading list. If I feel particularly strongly about a work that i want to share, I may end up singing it from the rooftops with the appropriate disclaimer, but…

Pulp Revolution Folks

I really can’t review stuff coming out of the Pulp Revolution crowd honestly and dispassionately. I’m too close with many of the writers and in some cases have even offered services to see stuff get to market.  If there’s something I like, my review will doubtlessly be colored by my personal relationship with folks involved. If there’s something I don’t like, I’ll be tempted to restrain criticism on account of those personal relationships. A lot of these people have written reviews for Cirsova, and I don’t want to get into review swapping. Not just that, they’ve spent money on us, buying copies and sometimes advertisements, and no negative review can be trusted, because no matter what, I’ll be writing in ways that don’t chase fans away.

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I will likely avoid reviewing works by writers or editors who have advertised with us or done ad-swaps. At least within a recent time-frame. I’ll be sure to try to highlight those works and creators who have tried to support us, but I won’t be reviewing, because a positive review will look like I’m sucking up to capital and a negative review would be self-consciously written to not drive away future capital.

I’ve ad-swapped with Red Sun and with Storyhack, and I’m happy to talk those guys up; I’ve referred authors to the former when I haven’t had money or space, and I’ll likely do the same with the latter in the future. But I probably won’t review specific stories or issues of those publications.

Other Stuff

Some folks have sent me stuff for review. If I have it in print, I’ll try to get to it in a reasonable amount of time, I really can’t add anything else to my queue for a bit. Open submissions are coming up, and that’s going to be taking up A LOT of my time.

I already feel like the quality of my content is slipping because I have too many things going on.  I’d like to be able to maintain my daily M-F schedule, but if I need to dial it back in June and July, I might have to.