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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Cirsova #8, Summer 2018

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Cirsova #8, Summer 2018

Slavers of Venus” by Nathan Dabney

Littermates (Part 1 of 2)” by J. D. Brink
Brandy and Dye” by Jim Breyfogle
Breaking the Accords” by Amy Power Jansen
The Dream Lords” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
Only a Coward” by Jennifer Povey
Party Smashers” by Ken McGrath
Promontory” by Jon Zaremba
Going Native” by J. Manfred Weichsel

Reviewed by Tara Grímravn

The 8th issue of Cirsova, a quarterly magazine that specializes in heroic fantasy and science fiction, includes two novelettes and seven short stories. The editor, P. Alexander, has genuinely put together a wonderful selection of tales in this issue, each with its own unique charm.

Slavers of Venus” by Nathan Dabney

After being marooned on the jungle-covered surface of Venus, astronaut Dirk Cooper finds himself leading a human tribe against a race of reptilian slavers. Dabney has woven a particularly interesting tale here. For the most part, “Slavers of Venus” is an imaginative and well-written story, reminiscent of a cross between Land of the Lost and Lost in Space.

There were a few quirks, however, that I found somewhat odd. For example, we’re told that the Federated Space Legionnaires, Dirk’s employer, knows nothing of Venus due to its thick cloud cover, not even whether there’s land beneath it. Shortly thereafter, Dirk realizes he’s crashed into a tree canopy and a “native” is rushing towards his incapacitated vessel. Dirk’s reaction is pretty subdued for such a revelation. He just calmly grabs some weaponry and doesn’t question what he’s seen until he’s face-to-face with one of the Reptoids. In fact, he seems to take every situation he encounters in the same casual stride.

That’s not to say that this made the story fall short in any way, really. Quirks like this really didn’t detract from the narrative. They simply made me ponder what an appropriate reaction would be in these cases. And perhaps in instances like the one above, a hardened space-travelling Legionnaire would react more calmly than your everyday civilian encountering the same thing.

The one quirk that did detract from the story (if only slightly) was the shifting point of view. From the beginning, it’s firmly established that we’re being told the story in the third-person from Dirk’s perspective. There are a few places where the perspective changes for just a paragraph or two before switching back to Dirk. Switching perspectives in a tale is not an issue as long as there’s something to denote that the reader is now seeing the story through someone else’s eyes. This indication didn’t take place at a few points and that made reading the narrative a little clumsy for me. Between this and the dialogue, I felt as though I was being “told” details that would have been more effectively “shown” through a character’s actions.

Littermates (Part 1 of 2)” by J. D. Brink

Space pirates face off against gene-spliced clones while on holiday aboard a space station. “Littermates (Part I)” has to be one of the most entertaining and beguiling stories I’ve read in some time. Brink’s character development is absolutely phenomenal. The entire story is told in first-person from the point of view of pirate Captain Leonidas Hawksblood, which provides an instant connection to this incredibly likable character. Hawksblood’s narration is both endearing and amusing, clearly establishing his personality through the rambling nature of his narrative and turns of phrase. This, of course, does mean that the story jumps around a bit but that’s part of its charm. The descriptions of the crew, the station, and the events of the tale serve to bring the entire account to vivid life. Brinks has truly crafted an incredible story that has me looking forward to its completion in Part 2.

Brandy and Dye” by Jim Breyfogle

A pair of mercenaries are hired by a dye maker to “take care” of his rival. I thoroughly enjoyed Breyfogle’s story. It’s not what you typically think of when it comes to short fantasy stories because it’s not some grandiose adventure. It is, however, exactly the kind side-job an adventurer might find themself doing and this made it unique. The ending was clever and while the situation the pair faced was not extraordinary, it was engaging and authentic.

Breaking the Accords” by Amy Power Jansen

A shaman is tasked with saving her people from an invading empire. Jansen’s story, characters, and setting are incredibly well-crafted. It’s clear she has gone to great lengths to make her world, her characters and their culture believable and real. The setting was a nice break from the usual European-inspired style of fantasy.

The Dream Lords” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

A man searches for his outlaw brother but finds a false god instead. This story presents an interesting take on what would appear to be an alien invasion on a fantasy world. Uitvlugt has taken some familiar tropes and turned them into something new yet very enjoyable. For example, the alien “gods” who are harvesting human minds and dreams as food seems like something straight out of a Lovecraftian horror. I really appreciated the ending, which concluded on a “happy for now” note that makes me wish the story hadn’t ended so soon. It does, however, leave an opening for a second installment, one that I hope the author will pursue.

Only a Coward” by Jennifer Povey

A woman is outcast from her clan after refusing to follow her husband on his funeral pyre. Hunted, she chooses to pursue her husband’s murderer. Povey did a fine job setting the stage for her story. The cultural details, including the consequences of refusing to go through with a “widow burning,” really brought the story and her strong female protagonist to life. There were a few details I would have liked explained a bit better, such as the demon she encounters, but overall it was a good tale.

Party Smashers” by Ken McGrath

Set in the future, two mercenaries are hired to hunt down a politician’s rogue son. The story that McGrath presents is certainly a fast-paced and enjoyable read, almost putting me in mind of the British crime comedy Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The protagonists are humorous and genuinely likable, even if they are hired killers. As for dialogue, it’s believable and witty while at the same time adding greatly to character development. McGrath’s story was truly a joy to read.

Promontory” by Jon Zaremba

Two men, one an immortal and the other human, fight a foe threatening to drown the world in undeath. Zaremba’s novelette is an entirely unique take on the concept of the zombie epidemic without being a regurgitation of the same. He’s made wonderful use of the “individuality vs. collectivism” and “life vs. death” themes throughout the tale. The language that Zaremba uses is of a high-brow literary style which lends the narrative a rather poetic feel which was absolutely lovely.

Going Native” by J. Manfred Weichsel

A young man on a trip through the galaxy finds out just how dangerous ignoring native customs on alien worlds can be. Weichsel has taken the “vacation from hell” trope and created a truly unsettling story in this science fiction piece. There’s also some social commentary hidden in this piece that give the narrative some depth beyond just being a good story.