CIRSOVA: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine recently released their seventh issue and in celebration they made issue five free on Amazon. I’d been meaning to pick up an issue anyway, and this acted as the perfect excuse to do so.
What’s interesting about this issue is that it acts as a formal introduction to a new shared world, Eldritch Earth. The concept is that during the Triassic period the Earth was colonized by the Great Ones. They were responsible for engineering various sub-species of humans to serve as slaves, but also imported other entities not native to Earth. There also the amphibious Yrrowaine who raid humans for mates, and the insectoid Slagborn and reptilian Dryth to contend with. The idea is to have a setting where Lovecraft elements can be used in sword-and-planet and heroic fantasy stories. This isn’t exactly a new concept, and when reading through the stories, I was reminded less of Lovecraft and more of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique cycle, though more in the style elements than the actual stories themselves. Indeed, a world where humans and dinosaurs strive in the same world, along with other races would be ripe for adventure in exotic locales and against fearsome foes.
Several of the stories deliver, and strongly on that front, living up to the promise of the premise. “Darla of Deodanth” by Louise Sorensen (the cover story) presents a unique take on a woman hired to hunt down a missing pet and running afoul of an Elder One. The tables are turned on the protagonist early on, but she manages a daring escape and what follows is a game of cat and mouse where the Elder One and Darla hunt each other in the city. Likewise “The Queen of Shadows” by Jay Barnson, where the main character runs into body horror, ghouls, biotech the mi-go would drool over, and enough court intrigue to make a Byzantine blush.
Brian Lowe’s story introduces a new kind of street cleaner in the oolanth, and a heist that goes sideways, but otherwise seems like it could fit into most fantasy settings without much trouble. His “Shapes in the Fog” acts as a nice cap to the rest of the stories, providing some added context tohis previous story in the collection, and explaining some of the plot without dragging it down. Likewise “Through the Star-Thorn Maze,” which, while it added some fantastic elements, didn’t seem to run as far as it could with the unique setting. Indeed, as far as I was concerned, the story was getting interesting just as it was wrapping up.
Misha Burnett, who, as I understand it, was the creative force behind this setting, lures the reader in with “In the Gloaming O My Darling.” I was most impressed with the amount of world building that he managed to cram into the space provided, and this is obviously a setting he has spent a great deal of time envisioning. The twist at the end sent a shiver up my spine, and his Yrrowaine are worthy cousins to Lovecraft’s Deep Ones while providing a personal twist on what has otherwise become a rather staid part of eldritch fiction.
“Beyond the Great Divide” by S.H. Mansouri is a unique story as it is from the point-of-view of the insectoid Slagborn. Rather than trying to humanize the race, Mansouri strives to show exactly how inhuman they are, while still managing to make the viewpoint character sympathetic to the reader. The reader can feel the growing desperation and isolating the character feels as the story progresses and it is a testament to how well Mansouri writes that it is as compelling as it is.
Finally, there is also a novella, “The First American” by Schuyler Hernstrom. The title is somewhat misleading as the American referenced is a time-displaced astronaut stuck in the Eldritch Earth timeline. A young hunter, Tyur, seeking vengeance against the reptilian Dryth, seeks his assistance, but the cost proves drastic. The story starts slow, and could have started without quite the lengthy introduction Hernstrom adds, but the story itself is strong, dealing with themes of what it truly means to be heroic, and the willingness to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others. The addition of the astronaut read, at times, a little heavy-handed in its treatment, but the character functions more as a facilitator for Tyur’s quest than a focal point of the story.
Overall the stories are strong, but I would have preferred a bit more editorial oversight on the stories. In certain places, references are made to terrestrial animals that would not exist until long past the Triassic, and while dinosaurs are mentioned, they act as more backdrop as opposed to a central element in themselves. The editor does note that these stories represent early experiments in the shared universe, so hopefully some correction will happen.
Cirsova #5 also includes two non-Eldritch Earth stories, “The Bears of 1812” by Michael Tierney which reads like alt-historical fantasy featuring bears, curses, and Sacagawea. The story jumps out as the only historic piece, and it is interesting as far as highlighting a character that too often gets relegated to a footnote or sidebar if she is lucky. The overall writing is strong and the plot engaging, but it makes me wonder if it wouldn’t have been better served in an issue not quite so devoted to the weird. That said, there are fantastic elements to the story that would have it excluded from straight historic periodicals, so maybe it is not so far out of place after all.
“A Killing in Karkesh” by Adrian Cole starts off somewhat slow, with a witchfinder investigating a cult of assassins with his companion Kaspel. The story bounces between science-fiction and fantasy, and culminates in a psychic battle for the ages that is the high point of the story. There’s some question of corruption in the city of Karkesh, but it never becomes a prominent part of the story. At times it reads like what would happen if Solomon Kane was trained as a Jedi.
Finally, there is the continuation of a poem “My Name is John Carter” by James Hutchings which acts as a first person recount. Honestly, the poem does nothing for me, and after reading a couple of pages of it I ended up skimming the rest. To be fair, this represents my own taste in poetry, which tends for more modern constructions and less rhyming stanzas.
So do I recommend Cirsova? From what I’ve read, I’d say that if you are interested in what people are writing in heroic fantasy you’d be remiss if you didn’t check this issue out. While I would have liked a steadier editorial hand when it came to content for the shared stories, they do entertain and are quite engaging. If you like fantasy, especially in the flavor of 1930’s and ‘40s pulp, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to check it out.
The full table of contents is below:
*”War of the Ruby” by Brian K. Lowe
*Darla of Deodanth by Louise Sorensen
*In the Gloaming O My Darling by Misha Burnett
*The Queen of Shadows – by Jay Barnson
*Beyond the Great Divide by S.H. Mansouri
*The First American by Schuyler Hernstrom
*Through the Star-Thorn Maze by Lynn Rushlau
“The Bears of 1812” by Michael Tierney
“A Killing in Karkesh” by Adrian Cole the witchfinder hunts a cult
My Name is John Carter (Part IV)
(More) Notes from the Nest
*Shapes in the Fog by Brian K. Lowe
*Notes a story set in the ELDRITCH EARTH setting.
 As an added bonus, stats are included for both a Dryth warrior and a Slagborn for use in the OSR game of your choice.
 Also- I would be remiss to not mention Robert Howard’s inclusion of eldritch and otherworldly elements such as Yag-Kosha in “Tower of the Elephant” and Thog in “Xuthal of the Dusk.”