I’m going to keep a log of what I’m reading and my opinions of it. This is firstly to get me thinking about what I’m reading, find out what I like and what works, and then let that inspire my own writing. Secondly, this is a chance for me to pay my due – point out what I think is worth people checking out and what they need to avoid. I’ll do one of these mid-month and end of month. They’ll be predominantly about short fiction, which I’m trying to write and thus am reading, though I’ll probably throw in the odd novel or two.
I loved Cirsova #1, though it definitely had some weaknesses as a first issue. Its major strengths lied in unabashedly giving its readers pulp science-fantasy adventures. The second issue continues this strength, but with even stronger writers and evidence that the editor, P. Alexander, has a good eye for adventure. All of them can be found online for free, though if you like the fiction they’re producing, make sure to buy up this and other issues.
While all the stories were solid, a few require special mention:
Brian K. Lowe’s “Hoskin’s War” gives us some Historical Fiction with a eldritch hidden-history twist. Iroquois natives are sacrificing to eldritch powers to kick out the white man and it’s up to a Revolutionary soldier to save the girl. It’s full of action and adventure and Lovecraft-style horror. Well written with some good historical touches (shout out to Revolutionary Loyalists!). Most of us doing fantasy and sci-fi live in a “world-building necessary” frame of mind, something hard for short fiction. Lowe does it well, though – painting what’s needed for the story while leaving hints at the greater scope of the world and conflict. Unsure if he retreads this ground, but I’d love to see it expanded. Highly recommended.
Karl K. Gallagher’s “Squire Errant” sees a nice change of pace. While heroic, the real hero here isn’t the main character, but the village he turns into a monster hunting militia. Gallagher is primarily a “hard” sci-fi writer, and so he veers away from the bombastic purple prose I usually life. Still, in his under-emphasized manner, you get a real joy in simple things making fantastic tales. The beast is the least interesting things here. It’s seeing men train to protect their homes and the tactics used when the big hero gets himself killed.
And Schuyler Hernstrom’s “Image of the Goddess”… This is worth the price alone. I wasn’t a fan of Hernstrom’s first story in Cirsova 1. He packed in too much and it seemed there just to be there. This one though proves the man is a genius. It’s packed with even more, but he succeeds in making sure the various events are either aids or challenges to the overriding quest of the tale. It’sthe tale of a monk sent on a quest for a supposed holy book. Along the way he picks up the aid of a wisecracking sorcerer and a nomadic warrioress. It’s got awesome fight scenes, a heist, subversion (but never cynical), zombies, giant apes, Artificial Intelligence… Oh, the list goes on and IT’S SO GOOD! Hernstrom is clearly one to watch.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s essay, “Rescuing Women”, is a fantastic summary of the place of women in Science Fiction, going through the forgotten history and taking a gentle stab at the current rhetoric of “breaking barriers”. It’s good stuff all around, especially for the old names it can send you searching for (check out Gutenberg and Archive.org – you’d be amazed the gems you can find).
Adrian Cole’s “Sealed City” gives us eldritch, sword-and-planet – fun and dark and apparently a look into his wider world of the Dream Lords. James Hutchings “My Name is John Carter” continues a verse retelling of Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. It’s fun, especially if you’ve read Burrows. Some of the poetry can be a little hammy, but you always forgive it with a chuckle.
S.H. Mansouri’s “The Water Walks Tonight” is a Viking adventure. It’s got great potential, but doesn’t have much of a payoff. Michael Tierney’s “Shark Fighter” is a fantastic concept, but I was left feeling it could have been executed better. I’d skip these two.
Sci-Phi Journal, April Stories
I remember checking out the first few issues of Sci-Phi about a year or so back when it started. I was impressed, but not enough to keep going. I figured I’d pony up and give them another try. I like the idea of it, but in the end, I’m still unsure if it’s what I want from fiction – less adventure and more thinking. Most of these are behind the paywall, though may become free as the month continues. I’ll update accordingly.
The two essays, “Artificial Intelligence and the Soul in Westworld” and “Spectrums of Violence in the Monster Hunter International Universe” are both really good thinkpieces, but seem a little unfinished. I want some more conclusions drawn and even some opinion-style commentary and less “watching/reading this makes me think of this.”
Gisele Peterson’s “Cottage in the Woods” has the witch of Hansel and Gretel fame recast as an old woman defending herself in a courtroom. It’s interesting, but underwhelming. It’s final “Food for Thought” (the hallmark of Sci-Phi), just asks generic questions about beauty and fame influencing justice. Little is actually said on the matter though.
“There” by Boomer Trujillo, is an attempt at theodicy by making a fallible anthropomorphic God be the creator of the universe. There’s some attempt at metaphysical like language (“There”, “Void”), but it never actually offers a satisfying answer. A swipe at Christian orthodoxy, saying Christ married the Magdalene, did not help to endear me to his efforts.
“Killa Watts: The First A.I. Rapper” by Bobby Riahi uses robots as an allegory for civil rights concerns. Switch out descriptions of metal bodies for minority bodies and the story wouldn’t change (why are robots drinking beer?). It’s good writing, but a lazy use of the concept.
“The Body as a Ship” by Mark Andrew Edwards is a short history of man’s life as he modifies and upgrades his body. In the end, the question is posed of how he is the same person, explicitly referencing the dilemma of Theseus’ ship. It’s actually quite fascinating and a good exploration of the small-scale social changes of biological human enhancement.
“The Granddaughter Paradox” by Seamus Sweeny and “Recurrence” by Peter Sean Bradley are lackluster. Nothing special or horrible. They both reveal some of the problems with Sci-Phi, at least for me. They veer dangerously close to simply being the kind of “stories” told by philosophers only as an excuse to explore the philosophic problem – Socrates and the Ring of Gyges, Descartes and his demon, Ibn Tufail’s Philosophus Autodidactus.
I’m going to give Sci-Phi another month, but I’m not sure I’m there real audience here.
Odds and Ends
Karl K. Gallagher’s “Samaritan” in Compelling Science Fiction is amazing. The story of an amish boy on the moon who has to save a super advanced “modern” with his low-tech skills. It offers a lot of good questions about the importance of self-reliance and tradition, but also reveals the importance of scientific advancements. Gallagher can be a little subdued in his writing, but it works for this type of story (though he doesn’t do emotional connections very well). Check it out before it disappears behind the paywall.
Jon del Arroz has an article in the Federalist about the decline of the comics industry – “Forcing Political Correctness On Employees And Characters Is Killing Marvel Comics”. It’s a good read to recognize how certain ideologies are taking over certain industries. Others, though, help to point out that this is less a matter of removing certain bad ideologies and more about fixing a system (or watching it die).
For your eschatological frettering, there’s “De Mattei: Shedding light on today’s crisis”. Yes, I’m kind of a “The End is Nigh” guy. Then again, a goodly number of the Saints were as well. Work and live as though you were going to be around for a few more centuries, but always be at peace with it all ending tomorrow.
Hearing Nick Cole on The Catholic Geek was pretty awesome. He’s crossed my radar a lot, but I’ve only recently decided to check him out and put one of his novels on the docket. Here he gives some good insights on where fiction might be heading (smaller presses, more self-publishing) and some good advice on making Amazon work for you. Really great guy with good advice for up and coming (and maybe future?) authors.