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

Cirsova #2, Fall 2019

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Cirsova: Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense #2, Fall 2019

"A Little Human Ingenuity" by William Huggins

"The Burning Fish" by Jim Breyfogle
"For I Have Felt a Fire in the Head" by Adrian Simmons
"La Molejera" by Marie Brennan
"Pale Moon's Bride" by Ville Meriläinen
"Pawn to the Queen" by Christine Lucas
"People of Fire" by Jennifer R. Povey
"Blue-Like-The-Sky" by Spencer E. Hart
"Doomsday Shard" by Ken McGrath
"Titan" by Rebecca DeVendra
"The Handover of the Scepter of Greatest Regret" by Hal Y. Zhang

[Editor’s note: For historians and others interested in chronicling facts and figures pertaining to the SF and Fantasy magazines, including issue numbers, Cirsova changed both its subtitle and issue numbering in 2019. Issues 1-10 were subtitled Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, issue #10 sporting a cover date of Winter 2018. Beginning with its Spring 2019 issue, Cirsova’s new subtitle became the Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, and the title change was further emphasized by renumbering it as issue #1. As you can see from the Table of Contents above, this is the magazine’s 2nd issue under its new subtitle.]

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

The latest issue of this quarterly magazine, never known for excessive modesty, claims to offer "a chilling novelette of strange horror" and ten "stunning short stories of thrilling suspense." Let's see if it can live up to that boast.

"A Little Human Ingenuity" by William Huggins deals with gladiatorial battles of the future, in which opponents fight to the death while riding flying vehicles. The great champion of this deadly sport is a veteran of a war with aliens. Now at peace with Earth, the aliens challenge the master of the game to a final contest, with six of their kind opposing him on the peak of Mount Everest. He accepts this dangerous offer, because victory will allow him to escape a dystopic, overcrowded Earth and live a life of freedom with the woman he loves on Mars.

The scenes of combat are vivid, and the author creates a great deal of tension. There is little to the story other than its action sequences, however. In particular, the aliens are hardly described at all, making them bland antagonists.

"The Burning Fish" by Jim Breyfogle is a tale of sword and sorcery, with two adventurers after the magical beast of the title. They find an isolated village of cultists who hold the fish to be sacred to the goddess of the lake. The pair face many dangers before fulfilling their quest.

The main characters are likeable, and the story has a light, pleasant tone. One major implausibility made the plot difficult to accept. As soon as the heroes talk to the leader of the cult, he admits that it's phony. This seems very unlikely, to say the least.

"For I Have Felt a Fire in the Head" by Adrian Simmons begins with a quote about enlightenment taken from an ancient Japanese source. At first, this appears to have nothing to do with the story, which relates a battle between Irishmen and Danes in the early Christian era. Not until the end of this brief tale does the reader understand the connection.

The author has a feeling for the time and place, if a romanticized one. The protagonist's mental state during battle suggests a subtle touch of fantasy, but the story will appeal best to those who enjoy straight historical fiction.

"La Molejera" by Marie Brennan is the issue's longest story. An anthropologist goes to a remote Mexican village to study the local religion. The most intriguing thing she discovers is an old woman who constantly grinds what look like stones in a traditional mortar and pestle. Only after careful investigation does she discover the frightening truth about the woman.

The author's portrait of the setting is convincing in every detail. The great verisimilitude of the story makes the final, extraordinary revelation seem very real. The climax creates a sense of cosmic awe.

"Pale Moon's Bride" by Ville Meriläinen takes place in Europe at the start of the Great War. The narrator is a young woman, the daughter of strange parents. Her mother takes a large number of much younger lovers, and her father spends every night screaming. To add to the gloomy atmosphere, all of her siblings have killed themselves. When her mother tells her the secret behind the family's sorrow, she faces a strange future, involving the weird spirits outside her home.

The author creates a fine sense of impending doom, and the story has a great deal of moodiness. Perhaps inevitably, the supernatural aspect of the plot is vague, and may be confusing.

We turn to ancient Egypt in "Pawn to the Queen" by Christine Lucas. A priest who has the ability to perceive the gods and other supernatural beings learns of a theft from the tomb of a queen. His effort to undo this blasphemous crime leads him to a number of bizarre encounters with the spirits of the dead and many weird entities.

The plot is very generous with its fantastic content, so it is never boring. At times, there seems to be too much going on at once. The setting is convincing, for the most part, but a reference to limericks is a distracting anachronism.

In "People of Fire" by Jennifer R. Povey, a scientist falls deep into a sinkhole in Siberia during a tremor. In her search for a way back to the surface, she discovers a group of people with red skin, impervious to fire, living underground. She leads a woman of this kind above ground, leading to tragedy and a resolution on her part to save those who live below.

The plot is imaginative, if not very plausible. Those nostalgic for tales of lost civilizations will best enjoy this old-fashioned story.

"Blue-Like-The-Sky" by Spencer E. Hart is a science fiction story set in the remote past. A prehistoric hunter sees two glowing objects fall out of the sky. He tracks one to the place where it landed. There he finds a woman with blue skin. Without being able to speak each other's language, they learn to work together as they seek out the other object and its passenger.

Although told entirely through the eyes of the hunter, it is obvious to the reader that the objects are spaceships carrying humanoid aliens. For the most part, the story is enjoyable. The plot becomes repetitious at times. Wild animals attack the hunter twice, leading to very similar scenes where he loses consciousness and wakes to discover the alien healing his wounds.

"Doomsday Shard" by Ken McGrath is a fast-paced space opera about a pair of mercenaries hired by a government agent to recover a valuable object. The action never stops, as the heroes face killer cyborgs, heavily armed aircraft, guards carrying weapons, and a traitor in their midst.

This two-fisted yarn will please those looking for comic book adventure. Although there is a touch of emotional depth at the end, it's hard to take the story seriously when the main character is named Serenity Deadline. A frustrating aspect of the plot is the fact that the Doomsday Shard, said to have incredible destructive power, is never described in any detail.

"Titan" by Rebecca DeVendra takes place on the moon of Saturn named in the title. Convicts assigned to slave labor colonized the satellite a couple of generations before the story begins. One of the prisoners destroyed the space station orbiting the colony in order to protect Earth from the giant, aggressive, wasp-like creatures inhabiting Titan. Cut off from the home planet, the colony manages to survive below the surface of the moon. Complicating matters are giant, cicada-like creatures, enemies of the wasps but also dangerous. Into this complex situation come representatives from Earth, hoping to establish friendly relations. Their arrival leads to attempted murder and a fight for survival against threats both human and alien.

As this lengthy synopsis makes clear, the story has enough plot to satisfy anyone. The background is interesting, even if the inhabitants of Titan seem too much like the big insects of 1950's monster movies.

"The Handover of the Scepter of Greatest Regret" by Hal Y. Zhang ends the issue in an offbeat way. A queen, apparently the ruler of Earth, is about to give the object mentioned in the title to an alien ambassador, as a symbolic gesture of the end of hostilities. Unfortunately, the alien dies just before the ceremony. The technicians handling the broadcast of the ritual use all their technical skills to make it seem as if the ambassador accepts the scepter.

The tone of the story suggests that it is a comedy, although there is nothing particularly funny about it. The way in which sound, lighting, and holography create a facsimile of the ambassador is of some interest.

Victoria Silverwolf is working a lot of extra days this month.