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.

File the Serial Numbers Off

I’ve said in the past and on numerous occasions that I don’t want to see stories about elves or stories where Cthulhu shows up. Even in a good story, when these sorts of elements are used and borrowed, they end up detracting from the story in my eyes.

If you’re not filing off the serial numbers of these things, it’s either because you’re lacking creativity and hoping to rely on established tropes or you’re hoping that by connecting your piece to those related tropes that you can elevate your writing on the merits of the reference. Or somewhere in between. There are shout-outs, yes, and these can be great – Shub Niggurath as the final boss of Quake or the hipster cultist shouting “Ia, Cthulhu!” before the fat Italian editor gets murdered in Foucault’s Pendulum were AWESOME. But if Quake had been a parade of named monsters from Lovecraft as opposed to horrors that FEEL Lovecraftian, or if Umberto Eco had peppered his book with lots of “LOL, Cthulhu, amirite?” it would’ve drastically reduced the effectiveness of the references.

But more than that, have some faith in your creativity! If you’re damnably insistent on writing elves, fine, but if you want to go the “our elves are different route”, which face it, everyone does these days, take a pinch of that creativity that makes your elves different and call them something besides elves. If nothing else, calling your elves something else, even calling them Morves or Velse will be an improvement, because people won’t look at it and say “oh, look, another elf story!”

And eldritch horror monsters? Why Cthulhu or one of the other big-name badguy’s from the Mythos canon, unless you’re trying to coast on the popularity of Cthulhu (and there are folks who will read anything Cthulhu, but that’s not the point)? Name your own big bad evil scary monster god. Sure, he can be Cthulhu, but if you call him something like Uhlthuc you can fool folks into thinking you’re some kinda original writer guy, or something!

Don’t use elves or Cthulhu as a crutch! Yeah, I know that Cthulhu is a cottage industry, but I can tell you right now that your stories will improve by at least %15 or your money back if your evil monster beyond the gates is Uhlthuc and your similar-but-different elves are ‘the Velse’.

(Note: If you submit a story using the names Uhlthuc and ‘the Velse’ and I accept them on merits of story, I reserve the right to withhold the per-word bonus on the first 2500 words; file those serial numbers off harder!)

Attempting to Define the Pulp Revolution: What It Is and What It Is Not

The “Pulp Revolution” seems to be met with confusion, misunderstanding and conflation when those unfamiliar with what is going on first catch wind of it. As such, I wanted to try to define and explain some of what the Pulp Revolution is and is not to dispel some of those misunderstandings. I’d like to disclaim that Cirsova Magazine is NOT the Pulp Revolution (it’s much bigger than us), though we are happy to be a part of it, with many friends and writers who are involved to varying degrees. 

The Pulp Revolution is not a genre or a subgenre.

The Pulp Revolution is not about reprints or rehashes. We are writing and creating new things every day.

The Pulp Revolution is apolitical and international. There are writers and readers from all walks of life and all political persuasions – the Pulp Revolution only cares about great storytelling.

Pulp Revolution is not a rebranding of the Sad Puppies. Some of us got drawn into the maelstrom of fandom politics when Sad Puppies 3 blew up and caught our attention, but at this point, we’re doing our own thing independent of Sad PuppiesTM. In fact, I daresay that the Mad Genius Club might be happier without us being associated with them.

We also aren’t just a rebranding of modern pulp (New Pulp/Pulp Revival). Those cats are doing what they do largely apart from us. To my knowledge, there’s been very little if any crossover influence between the New Pulp/Pulp Revival crowd and the Pulp Revolution folks.

We are not using the term “Pulp” as a substitute for “classic SF” pre 1990. Various folks involved with the Pulp Revolution may have slightly different definitions, but I’m talking about the literal pulp format (not the digest mags), and in terms of influence, I’m specifically looking at a handful of titles that published stories that influence MY acquisition guidelines (Planet Stories, Weird Tales, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Argosy, if you need some specifics).

We are not using the pulps to recapture kitsch; we are not using the pulps as a trope-mine. What we are doing is going back to some of the exemplary authors from that period and using them as a starting point. Not to ape them, but because we love them – we love the stories they told, the characters they brought to life, and the vivid colors in which they painted the exciting futures and worlds of the unknown.

We are not hell bent on re-inhabiting the past; we are using it as a launching point to go off in new directions. We do not ignore nor do we deny the influence of writers who are not from the pulp eras.

The Pulp Revolution today has only a tenuous link to the ‘pulp revolution’ of the 70s. That pulp revolution was part of the climate that inspired things like D&D by bringing a bunch of pulp writers who had fallen into semi-obscurity back into the forefront via paperback reprints, pastiches and homages. But that was 40 years ago. That was a generation ago. Many of us were not even alive in 70s, much less old enough to been a part of that resurgent wave of fiction. Do not assume that because people got interested in the pulps 40 years ago that everything is all good and people don’t need to get interested in the pulps again. There was not an unbroken cultural continuity that kept those works and authors in the public conscious. Do not assume that we are only talking about Burroughs, Howard or Lovecraft. Do not assume that because you have old works sitting on your shelf that people today know about them or worse that new people do not need to be told about them or should not be excited about them.

I am curious what lessons we are relearning that we do not need to relearn. Of course authors are going to write what they want to write – that is why we are supporting those who do who also happen to be writing the stories we love. Many writers involved have been writing for years, yes. The Pulp Revolution itself is more defined by the surge of excitement among these authors’ shared reader-base, who have come together to celebrate and encourage what they are doing.

But we have already been done. We are pointless. We will cease being a thing after a relatively short time. We can safely be ignored.

The Devil is in the (Errors Within Your) Details, or Mike Barr Didn’t Know How Football Scoring Works

I mentioned the other day how at SpaCon I picked up a run of several issues of Batman and the Outsiders.  Let me start by saying that I love this title, and it has better writing than a lot of the comics I’ve read. Katana is one of my favorite DC characters, so you can imagine how annoying it was to see her solo one-shot ruined by a fundamental lack of understanding regarding how scoring in football works.

The conceit of the Katana solo is that the radio broadcast of a game between Gotham and Metropolis is syncing up with the action as Katana foils the heist of a priceless museum artifact.  Sounds cool, right? It would’ve been, but in the first panel, the announcer tells us that Gotham is down 14-18 with only minutes to go in the fourth and Gotham desperately needs a field goal.  Not even Tony Kornheiser would make this call. When the day is saved by Katana making a Hail Mary pass to the museum curator, Gotham scores a touchdown to win the game 19-18.

So what’s my point in this? If you’re going to try to incorporate elements of a game into your story, be sure you can display at least a basic understanding of the rules, otherwise it will pull the reader/viewer out of the story, and they will only be able to focus on the part you got wrong. Or like how I wince every time I hear the line from Punk Rock Girl, “Someone played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox. It was California Dreamin.”*

This is something I’ve noticed that happens a lot when some show or movie tries to portray D&D, and it’s the point where shows get tons of praise for being within the ballpark.

I know, I know, this is kind of like the cultural appropriation argument, you’re thinking, but it’s not. I’m all for including stuff in your stories; you just need to make sure you don’t do it in such a way that people are going to think you’re an idiot or a space alien. If you’re going to include some sort of detail, whether it’s gaming or culture, that’s a key point in your story, you need to do the research to get it right for YOUR benefit so that people who might otherwise be drawn to your work for highlighting something relevant to their interest won’t just write you and your story off off for doing it wrong.

*:And it turns out that Beach Boys did do a weird kinda new wavey cover in the 80s; see? I didn’t do the research!

 

Submissions for Cirsova Issue 4 is still open! (Except if you’re reading this now, they’re not)

Important Update: We are pretty full up – at this point, we are already looking at options to keep too many good stories from bumping one another out of our available slots.  We have decided that it would be better to close submissions a week early rather than be forced to send out more rejection letters to authors competing in an already crowded pool of submissions.

Issues 2 & 3 are full, but we’re still buying for 4!

Important Update:

We’re good on Fantasy stories!  We have more than enough fantasy stories to fill several issues, so even if you send a really good fantasy story, chances are getting slimmer and slimmer that we’ll be able to buy it.

So what should you send?  Raygun Romances!

Spacemen and Spacecops on Mars or Venus or Mercury, investigating unrest among the natives, corruption in the colonial monopolies, intrigues in the native royal courts, planning revolts to reclaim the ancient cities from the Earth Man, freeing enslaved earth from alien monsters or even hunting Nazis on hidden jungle moons.

Examples of the kinds of stories which will be top priority going forward:

The Spider-Men of Gharr by Wilbur Peacock

Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells

Red Witch of Mercury by Emmett McDowell

Lorelei of the Red Mist by Leigh Brackett & Ray Bradbury

The Martian Circe by Raymond F Jones

Moon of Danger by Albert de Pina

 

I’ve created a proper webpage for the magazine, which you can find up there on the top menu.

I’ve posted updated submission guidelines as well so that people aren’t looking at a six month old blog post.

I’ve added a contributor page which will contain a list of all Cirsova contributors and their contributions linked to where else you can find those individuals on the web.  This will be updated on an ongoing basis as each new issue comes out.

Cirsova’s listing at The Grinder should be updated soon, and Cirsova now has its own Duotrope listing.

Continue reading

Free Preview: The Gift of the Ob-Men by Schuyler Hernstrom

This sneak preview is being made free to all.  If we reach the $1000 stretch goal, the a full preview of issue 1’s cover story will be made available to Kickstarter backers:

Sounnu was permitted one last night in the village. At dawn the shamans pronounced him exile and the young man left without ceremony. His fellow warriors stayed to their huts, unable to bear the spectacle. Even Tenno lay on his woven palette feigning sleep. Sounnu had been his constant companion for their entire lives. They were close as brothers until the day Sounnu’s father died. The sword the old man bore, crafted by the forgotten lore of the ancients, passed into Sounnu’s hands. Tenno’s flint blades, though artfully made, had seemed worthless by comparison and a shadow of envy passed over their friendship. Sounnu was taking the ancient blade with him into exile; none had dared attempt to take it from the young man.

Though his heart was heavy Sounnu resisted the urge to look over his shoulder as he left the green vale which cradled his village. Trees and shrubs diminished until the steppe was underfoot. By sundown he had crossed the grasslands that separated the vale from the ruined city due west, a nameless relic of the golden age.

The next day he followed the western road as it made its long, winding detour around the edges of the city. The remains of its crooked towers slashed at the blue sky like jagged flint blades, a last blow from a long ago age when people could twist nature into grand shapes of their own design. The road had shrunk to a mere footpath by the time it reached the base of the old mountains. Like the city, the lands beyond the mountains were forbidden by old custom. In despair Sounnu scaled in the low peaks, now finally sparing a glance backwards to view the trailing tendrils of smoke in the far distance marking his former home. There was warmth and community, now forever out of reach. The high air stung his broad, naked back with lashings of snow, shining like miniscule diamonds in the bright light of a cloudless sky.

On the other side of the range the grim warrior found himself standing before a forest of dark pine and stunted birch. Sounnu felt a palpable menace emanating from the line of black shadows draped under the gnarled branches. The presence of danger stirred his soul to something of its former buoyancy. Impatient for the thrill of combat he drew the ancient broadsword from its carved scabbard and plunged forward. He screamed his low battle cry into the mute trunks and scrambled over rocks and deadfall, ducking limbs and weaving through brush. No ghask nor ghoul nor ur-wolf answered his hoarse challenges. He grew tired and gave up seeking foes. Sounnu drank from a clear, cold stream and lay to rest on a bed of moss.

He awoke surrounded by tall heavy creatures, bearing the form of a mushroom bent into the shape of men. Their ill-formed, elongated faces were unreadable masks. The warrior sought the handle of his blade but found he could not move.

He spoke to the mushroom men in a voice heavy with despair. “By what art am I frozen?”

“By manipulating our spores we are able to cause specific calamities to fall upon the unwary,” they answered in unison.

Sounnu sighed, “This is an inglorious end. Be quick, spare me this indignity.”

The mushroom men laughed and replied, “Not so hasty! We will avenge ourselves slowly upon you and extract some recompense for the great wrong your people have wrought.”

Sounnu’s brow furrowed. “To what do you refer?”

The mushroom men leaned their heads back and shook slightly, an apparent expression of distress. Their low voices pooled over the soft ground around the young man like a cool mist as they spoke, “The memory pains us. Long ago your species attacked us with fire and steel, pushing us from our beloved vale into this place. Once we stood content underneath clean oaks as laughing fey danced around our thick legs. Now we work our spores into weapons to ward against ur-wolves and ghasks.”

“In my village the shamans told stories of the hulking Ob-men who once ruled the vale. The ancients defeated them with much sacrifice, expelling their evil from the land.”

The mushroom men let out a low, keening wail.

Sounnu winced, continuing, “I spoke hastily. Perhaps the term Ob-men does not refer to your ancestors.”

The mushroom men spoke in harsh tones, “No! That is the name they bestowed upon us. We were there! And now to learn you creatures have lionized our expulsion! Oh, the injustice is compounded! What variations should we apply presently upon this body to expend our rage?”

For the first time, one of the mushroom men spoke singularly. “Perhaps a spore to turn him inside out?”

Another suggested a spore to splinter the mind into dozens of warring identities. Sounnu felt cold sweat erupt along his muscular frame. He interrupted their conference.

“Would it, perhaps, lessen your anger to know that I am an outcast from the village of men? The great cities are no more. The temples lie in jumbled ruins. The punishment of exile now is a death sentence. And by killing me, you stoop to perform their errands and perfect their will.”

The mushroom men ceased their planning.

“You are an enemy of the humans?”

Sounnu spoke earnestly, “I am indeed. In a fit of pique I smashed an idol and offended the priestesses. The incident arose from an excess of energy on my part. The clans have faded away, consolidated now into one village. The tribes of ghask that once raided the vale are slain, and no ur-wolves dare come close to the village. There is no one for me to fight. To assuage my boredom I explored the vale. Inside a ruin I came across the idol, a strange thing with a strange face. Neither shaman nor priestess could explain its meaning. I became enraged and smashed it. At that time Yulik was thatching his roof and fell painfully. The shamans believed the events were linked and I was charged with bringing a god’s wrath down upon the village. They are clever men, though stunted and cruel, and look for any excuse to castigate a warrior.”

The Ob-Men replied, “Your story bores us. We would prefer you elaborate upon an earlier comment. The great cities are no more?”

“This is true. The elders tell us the city people died away, ignoring nature’s demands to work their great art.”

“So mankind now consists of only one village?”

“That is true also, to the extent of my people’s knowledge. Some dream that across the mountains and through endless ruins lay communities of men that live as in the golden age. They are admonished for their frivolity.”

The mushroom men stepped away from Sounnu and conversed amongst themselves. The warrior allowed himself to relax. He would be tortured to death. Such was fate. The mushroom men returned, now animated and anxious.

“We have decided to spare your life under one condition.”

There was a smell in the air, earthy and floral. Sounnu found he could move. He stood, shaking slightly from the spores’ effects.

“What is this condition?”

The mushroom men spoke in unison again. “You will return home and empty the village of people.”

Sounnu laughed. “That is impossible. Upon sighting an exile the shamans will fill my guts with worms and my ears with shrieking demons. The priestesses will publicly rebuke me with stinging words and the warriors will be compelled to kill me. Why not use your dire spores and perform the deed yourselves?”

“To answer your first concern, know that we will bestow upon you advantages. Insofar as completing the task ourselves, know that we also are a dying race. Our numbers have dwindled to that which you see before you. Should our spores be exhausted then we risk total annihilation. Do as we say and restore us to the vale where we may become contented again and the race of man trouble us no more.”

The mushroom men made Sounnu swear an oath on the souls of his ancestors and another on his prized blade. Satisfied, they then looked to one of their number. A squat specimen with black spots stepped toward Sounnu. The smell of bitter acorns filled his nose. Sounnu lost consciousness.

Dunhams Destroys, Cirsova Builds

I will pay triple what Dunhams Manor is offering for the opposite of what they’re asking for.

Take the kind of story that Lovecraft, Merritt, Dunsany, Chambers or your other favorite pre-Derlethian weird writer would’ve told and tell it without any irony, any deconstruction, any tongue-in-cheek, any post-modern moralizing or mockery.

Tell a good classic pulpy science fiction story with a twinge of existentialist horror via alien and isolating elements.  Or take a heroic fantasy approach to the Mythos; tell a story of the naked apes struggling to survive in the world ruled by Elder Gods and Old Ones.

Ironic hipster parodies and Cthululz have been the norm for decades.  Those need to be destroyed, not Lovecraft, and I’m willing to pay good money to authors who’ll do it.

More of this:

202348139_9f0afd64a9_o

Less of this:

4e2b378740ef0-the-re-animator-the-musical-review-1

Please no dropping nukes on Cthulhu.  Note that modern and contemporary ::fingerquote:: “Lovecraftian” fiction or detective noir pastiches will be rejected unless you really bring something great to the table.

It will be a few months (probably April) before Cirsova officially opens submissions for issue #2, but consider this a heads up.  We pay .01 per word with a bonus .01 for the first 2500 words.

Yes, there will be a 2nd Issue.  More on that soon…