Guest Post, J. Comer – Cora Ives Semmes’ The Princess of the Moon: A Confederate Fairy Tale

The genre of sword-and-planet, best known from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels, is a frequent topic at Cirsova.  This kind of literature, of course, had its inspirations earlier.  One such was the ‘Edisonade’, such as Garrit P. Serviss’ Edison’s Conquest of Mars. These proto-SF tales featured interplanetary war, wild new technologies, and weird critters.  They served to introduce the ideas of adventures with new technology, and established the SF tropes of Earthlike life on other worlds and the inventor as hero.

Another forebear of sword-and-planet was lost-world and otherworld fantasy.  Several writers of this genre, including Rider Haggard, E. Nesbit and Charles Kingsley, wrote for younger readers.  Another was Cora Semmes Ives.*  Her 1869 The Princess of The Moon: A Confederate Fairy StoryThe Princess of The Moon: A Confederate Fairy Story is a proto-sword-and-planet fantasy.  

The pro-Confederate tone of this novel gave me pause.  Unlike Augusta Evans’ Macaria, it was not written during the War.  However, the author’s biases are clear.  Some readers would dislike the story for this reason.  However, I believe that this tale is worth study and will discuss the reason.  

Ives begins by stating that she made the story up to amuse children at Mecca Plantation.  A Southern soldier named Randolph wanders after the end of the War. He sees the Moon and wishes to flee there.  A fairy appears from the moon and gives him a flying horse in return for his devotion.  Randolph flies, sees the wrecked Confederacy from the air, and then heads to the Moon- a pacifistic utopia lacking war and slavery.  The fairy is the mother of the monarch (‘moon-arch’?).  Her granddaughter is the ‘Princess’.  The hero woos her in disguise, is captured, but wins the grandmother’s approval after a hallucination which resembles Muhammad’s Night Journey.

Thereafter the Yankees appear in balloons bearing carpetbags  (somewhat unsubtly). They bear with them a former slave of Randolph’s who is glad to see ‘old massa’.  The Yankees steal the Moon-folk’s silver spoons, but Randolph pleads for mercy, and the thieves are spared.  

What is it possible to say, a hundred and fifty years later, about a story as eccentric as this?  The plot is a stock fairy-tale with a winged horse, swordsmen, and a princess.  The hero is hardly a distinct character.  But there parallels to a later work.  A hero transported by a wish to another world?  A swordsman who flies around on his adventures and wins the love of a beautiful princess?  A Virginian Confederate officer?  The Princess of the Moon is echoed, decades later, by A Princess of Mars! I am unaware of any direct connection, but further investigation may be fruitful.  In closing, read this novel if you want to.  Recommended for connoisseurs of planets, swords, and oddities.

*:Daughter of Captain Raphael Semmes of the Alabama and wife of Joseph
C. Ives, Western explorer and Confederate officer.

Greater than Gods

Given the Google nonsense, I think it would be fun to give a little synopsis of C.L. Moore’s Greater than Gods.

Male babies are dying out, and a scientist is working on a means of using X-Rays to ensure a balance between the genders. More importantly, though, he’s trying to decide between Betty and Veronica (their real names are unimportant). His friend comes in and tells him how crazy it is that the future exists in a quantum state and how our choices can cause entire universes to come into or flash out of existence. Coincidentally, the scientist is psychically contacted by his future descendants at the same time… But they are from completely different timelines!

Short version, if the Doctor marries Betty, he spends more time with his beautiful but vapid wife, he has a kind and sensitive daughter, his work fails, and mankind slouches into a decadent feminist dystopia in which everyone is hippie-dippie and living in peace and harmony in little groves as all knowledge and technology is lost, dooming the race of man to end in a whimper.

If the Doctor marries Veronica, the sexy brilliant scientist gives him a brood of strong and virile young men, his work succeeds but leads to endless war and conquest of earth and someday the stars, with a mankind bred to rule and be ruled.

One of his lines of descendants will be wiped from existence, and he can doom mankind to a future of decadence and death or galactic immortality and perpetual war.

Given the choice between feminist dystopia and war world, he immediately proposes to his secretary instead, wiping out both possible futures and  opting instead for the unknown.

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.

Update on “The Future”TM

Couple things…

I’m almost done going through the submission pile. I’ve got about six stories left to read. If you haven’t heard from me yet, you will hear from me soon. If you’ve already heard from me and your story has been accepted, I’ll be in touch with a terms and an offer in the next couple of weeks. I think we have enough content to keep us tided over for a bit, maybe even into early 2019.

I’m also serious about wrapping up Cirsova’s “Volume 1”. We’ve published some great stories and will continue to publish great stories, as we continue to receive and read great stories. But the scope of the magazine has shifted away from what it was originally intended, and unless I forcibly refocus it, it will continue to do so and become a cyclical problem. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Heroic Fantasy in the title and publishing works of fantasy and sword & sorcery have nudged the window a good bit in that direction, which also means that the spread has gone that direction with it. Honestly, we get far too many mundane fantasy pieces, fairytalesque fantasies, and lone swordsman stories with very little to make them stand out. And if changing our subtitle will get me one less little girl in the woods story, so be it, it’ll be worth it.

On the plus side, I think that we may have enough solid contributors who can and do write what I’m looking for that we can and will go back to an invite-only status. That will allow me to conserve my time and resources to work with the writers I know can write what I’m looking for, or, for those who are close and just good writers, I can have them write to spec.

We’ve got things planned out for Cirsova Publishing for a couple years now, which is good. I don’t know if we’ll stay the “gold standard” of the “Pulp Revolution”, but I really can’t focus on that right now, because I’ll probably be busy trying to address the massive disconnect between modern, contemporary writing and the sort of pulp stuff I’m actually looking for. Even with our guidelines clearly spelled out, it’s obvious that a lot of folks don’t really get what we’re looking for when they submit – part of that is that folks don’t always look at the markets that they’re submitting to (a problem that will be addressed, to a degree, by going invite only for a bit), but also I feel like I’ve failed to make it understood just what I’m looking for because people are not nearly as aware of the examples I’ve held up as I think they should be. So, I’ll be redoubling my efforts towards raising awareness of the kinds of stories from the pulps I enjoy and specifically what it is I’m looking for and wanting to see more of. Cirsova Publishing may even branch into collections of public domain works by relatively unknown pulp authors who should be better known. Or at least I’m thinking about it. I don’t know yet. I still hate the mercenary nature of most pulp reprints.

Anyway, the strategic direction of the flagship magazine is temporarily locked in for the foreseeable future; volume 2, if there will be one, won’t launch until 2019. The Pulp Revolution’s successes and failures in 2018 may shape how well we do as an influencer in that community, and with so many new publications springing up, it would be unsurprising if an agile newcomer became the new tastemaker for that scene. There are enough writers writing enough content that there’s not going to be any kind of real “drain” on the scene, which is great. Switching back to invite only will also allow us to be more agile; we took submissions this summer in part because so many people have wanted to write something for Cirsova, but anything we buy now won’t be published for at least 9 months, much of it longer, and that’s hardly agile! It’s nuts to think that nothing written in 2018 will be published by us in 2018. That’s an entire year of energy that 2017’s Pulp Rev boom will have fueled that we won’t be tapping into! Ultimately, that may be a huge mistake for us, but by 2019, I think we’ll be jumping right back in with the agile approach.

Lastly, reviews…

Cirsova Issue 5 has been out for 3 months, sold nearly 250 copies, and has only garnered one review on Amazon. I’ll reiterate that Amazon reviews help us A LOT, they’re quick to write and it doesn’t cost you a dime, but I don’t think that saying it again will make that much difference. At this point, I really don’t know what to do.

I will be hitting people hard for reviews on Issue 6; the earlier in an Amazon’s product life reviews are left, the better that product tends to do. Y’all can make it up to me by helping Issue 6 get those critical 25 reviews the first couple weeks it goes live!

Still Reading!

We’re making headway into our submission stack. I got over halfway through our submissions list. Then I checked my email today, and I am now significantly less than halfway through our submission list.

If you want to submit, submit soon. If we get to a point where it’s clear that the cup overfloweth, we may cut off submissions a bit early.

Lastly, now is a great time to support the magazine by buying back issues, merch or taking out an ad with us. Online sales revenue this month will be available next month to be put towards acquisitions. Ads will help right away and will go into our fall issue coming out in a couple months.

So, uh…

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Yondu vs. Obi-Wan (Major Spoilers)

So, saw Guardians 2 last night, and I gotta say. As a franchise, people who like pulp SF should maybe start looking to Guardians of the Galaxy instead of Star Wars. Star Wars has averaged out to be trash, coasting more on the theoretical potential of the property as it has been explored by other creative types rather than the films themselves. But more importantly, Guardians of the Galaxy has a much stronger moral core than Star Wars.

Let’s take a look at Obi Wan vs Yondu for a second. Yondu is superior by far as the older father figure mentor character.

This isn’t something I’m going to put a lot of energy into explaining or even defending, but I just want to toss it out there. Let’s even completely forget my theory that Obi-Wan is the main villain of Star Wars for a sec.

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan has been secretly watching out for Luke, and eventually he takes him under his wing. He tries to explain the situation in a way that will not hurt the young Skywalker, because while he believes in him, he does not believe in him enough to trust him with the truth. And ultimately, that’s his bad. Only when it comes down to it, he doesn’t really accept responsibility for what he has done and tries to justify rather than coming fully clean and apologizing, even when it wouldn’t have cost him anything to do so. And when knowledge that Leia is Luke’s sister would jeopardize the fate of the Rebel strike on Endor, Obi-Wan’s ghost rather casually confirms it.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu pretty much raises Star Lord after his mom dies. He’s a tough father figure, and does a lot wrong by the kid growing up, but he genuinely does care about him. Yondu is also protecting Star Lord from his father with a lie, but when the chips are down, Yondu comes clean and is honest about his reasons “I knew your daddy was bad and killed those kids, and I couldn’t stand to see that happen to you.” After all is laid bare, Yondu makes the ultimate sacrifice so that his “son” will live.

Both franchise are owned by Disney, and both are cogs in multi-billion-dollar merchandising apparatuses, so I’m not going to factor that in when comparing the two. Even with all of its flaws and cringe-points, I’m gonna have to give this one to Guardians.