I’m in the back of a speeding van, loading a light machine gun. “How’d they find us so fast?”
Cara looks over her shoulder from the driver’s seat. “Yeah, how did they spot four heavily-armed, ethnically-diverse strangers in a small town, driving a van with your logo on the side?”
“Shut up, fool!” I kick open the van’s rear door and fire off an entire belt of 200 rounds at the pursuing military police. None of my bullets hit, but one car swerves and runs a front wheel up a handicapped-access ramp. The speeding car tips on its side, then flops onto its roof, exploding in a fireball. Its occupants climb from the wreckage unharmed and shake their fists at us.
I load another belt into my machine gun, yelling to be heard over the road noise. “Hamilcar, tell me you got a plan.”
Hamilcar chomps on a cigar as he responds. “Same plan as Phuket.”
Cara raises one eyebrow and looks at Hamilcar. “We lost two-thirds of the team in Phuket.”
I fire another 200 rounds out the back of the van. I again miss the pursuing vehicles, and the numerous innocent bystanders. The lead MP car drives up the back ramp of an empty car transport rig, launches into the air, and crashes through the second floor window of a building. Its driver and passengers shake their fists at us from above.
While I’m reloading, the van turns towards the airport. “Hamilcar, I ain’t flyin’ with no Chinese pilot!”
Ming gives me a thumbs up. “Roger Roger, clear for takeoff.”
“Shut up, fool!” I raise the barrel of my machine gun for another burst at the MPs, but stop when I’m stung on the neck. Suddenly very tired, I lie down for a nap.
I wake up on a small tropical island. I’m lying on the ground, and Hamilcar is leaning over me. I grab him by the lapels. “Hamilcar, how’d we get here? I see an airport, but I don’t see no boat.”
“You don’t remember? We took a cruise ship. You partied with those Brazilian lingerie models for three days and three nights straight.”
I don’t remember that at all. It does sound like something that would happen to me, though, so I take Hamilcar’s word for it.
He helps me to my feet. “Let’s move, we’ve got to find Alexander and do an interview before the MPs show up.”
I pull out my pad of paper and scratch off half of my questions. I want to get out of here.
P. Alexander is the founder and editor of a new magazine, Cirsova, which will focus on sword and planet and heroic fantasy stories. A (successful) kickstarter is about to wrap up, but you still have a few days if you want in. If you’re an author, look at the kickstarter support levels that give you an ad in the magazine, or if you’re just curious, get your hands on one of the first PDF or print copies for a smaller donation.
Alex, do you have any previous publishing experience?
I was the editor for my college’s creative writing magazine my senior year, but most of my previous publishing experience has been in music. From ’09-’12, I had an independent record label that carried a mix of Punk and experimental Industrial. I’ve got to admit, working with Sci-Fi authors has been much easier than working with punk rockers.
What pushed you over the edge – what finally made you say “that’s it, I’m starting my own magazine”?
It’s a combination of things, really. With the record label, I got cheesed at the lousy comps the bands I played in got on, so I started putting out my own. Similarly, having finished some of my own fiction, I decided I’d be better off starting my own market that carried the sort of fiction I wanted to see than spend months trying to sell what I write. Admittedly, the Sad Puppies’ picks for short fiction had some to do with it, too. While I loved Wright’s Parliament of Beasts and Birds, the rest left me feeling kind of cold. When I heard the accusations that sci-fi is being taken over by a bunch of racist sexist regressives who wanted to drag the genre kicking and screaming back to the 40s, I really hoped that had meant cigarette smoking spacemen saving classy dames from savage aliens.
What made you choose the sword and planet / heroic fantasy subgenres?
They’re just so much fun! A lot of sci-fi can get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of, well… science. Planetary Romances and Heroic Fantasy can let science take a back seat to imagination and wonder. I feel like we’re in such a dark age that our hopes and dreams for the bright and amazing future the dawn of the rocket age promised us are like a childhood memory of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I think the genre needs a little bit of that magic so that we can dream again and truly desire to reach for the stars.
Are there any other subgenres of science fiction or fantasy that deserve more attention?
It’s hard to say, because I think I may have picked the most neglected subgenres for my magazine. I love Planetary Romance, which Sword & Planet falls under. I finally got around to seeing Jupiter Ascending, and despite all of its faults, I absolutely loved it. It’s just not the sort of project you see people willing to take risks on. I’m hoping that with the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, we might see more of the fun-high octane pulpy SF in the mainstream but without having to be part of a branded money-printing machine. It was the sort of thing we haven’t seen done with that degree of success since The 5th Element. Lastly, there’s the SF potboiler – lots of classic movies we know and love from the 40s were based on detective and thriller pulp stories. The thing is, there were plenty of stories in the same vein and written with the same quality in the sci-fi mags; Maltese Falcon on Mars, if you will.
I know I’m talking mostly about movies, but that’s how the mainstream of our culture gets its window into Sci-Fi these days, through TV and movies. The best way I’ve found to get anyone to add a book to their Amazon Wishlist is by telling them that it’s like this show or that movie.
Why did you create a magazine instead of an anthology?
Well, actually, I wanted to create a hybrid, sort of like the Flashing Swords! series. There were a lot of benefits to doing it this way. I would only need to buy a handful of stories which, when you consider I’m paying semi-pro rates, means I can put it out for less than if I’d sprung for a larger format anthology. By making it a magazine series, I’m keeping the possibility open to work with a small but expanding talent pool to create a community for this type of fiction and help authors establish their brand. I also hope that if readers like what they see in one issue, they’ll pick up the next and maybe find some new authors in that one.
The word “magazine” may be a little misleading; a lot of times when you hear “magazine”, you think a soft floppy bundle of gloss pages at best or some typewrite paper hand saddle-stitched at worst, or -these days- just a pdf. So, Cirsova is going to be printed as a large-sized perfect bound book. Recent print on demand solutions make this a very affordable compromise. It looks and feels nicer than just about any current print SF zine you’ll see out there.
Where did you get the name “Cirsova”?
Cirsova was a gaming setting I’d worked on at one point. I’d tried to flesh it out a bit and even wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book in the setting. The best part of the name, it’s like Kodak: it was wholly original and didn’t mean anything in any language. I was kind of surprised by this, but until recently, searching for Cirsova would attempt to return results for Cordova or the Russian name “Firsova”.
How did you contact authors? How many submissions did you receive? Did you get any that were just too awful to consider? Did you have to leave any good ones behind due to space constraints?
I put out an open call on my blog, and a few trickled in. I need to give a special shout-out to Brian K. Lowe, who submitted Cirsova to a number of submission site. After that, submissions poured in, and I ended up having more than enough material.
I received about a dozen submissions, and I was able to make offers on most of them. I didn’t get any stories that were bad. I did get a couple that didn’t fit or needed some work before they could. I think because I’m trying to start a market in a subgenre that’s a niche within a niche that many contemporary writers are wholly unfamiliar with, I may be facing an uphill battle for a while in saying “This is what we are, this is the type of fiction we’re publishing”. I don’t want to stray too far away from the magazine’s primary focus, especially early on, even if it means having to reject a good story. Once we’re a couple issues in, people will know what Cirsova is and what it’s looking for.
Schuyler Hernstrom actually sent in two pieces for consideration. The Gift of the Ob-Men, ended up being the cover story of the first issue. The other was a novella length piece. It’s amazing. And with any luck you’ll be able to read it in Issue #2.
Do you notice any major differences between the stories you received/accepted, and the older stories which inspired the magazine?
There were a couple that were outside the scope of what I’d originally been looking for, but they were just SO GOOD and I think that they complement the format nicely. Melanie Rees’ Late Bloom and Donald Jacob Uitvlugt’s The Hour of the Rat are great examples of how broad the range is for heroic fantasy SF; the action and excitement embodied in these stories are the key to what makes great short fiction.
What living author’s writing makes you say “I wish he’d write for my magazine”?
Karl Gallagher, for one. Lucky for me, we’ve already talked about the possibility of his submitting some short fiction for the next issue!
I’d ask Matthew D. Ryan, but I don’t want to do anything to distract him from finishing the next Drasmyr book.
And really, I’d love to have the chance to publish more stories from all of the contributors to the first issue.
If you could bring an author back from the dead to write for your magazine, who would it be?
Leigh Brackett is the obvious choice. Andrew J. Offutt would also be solid.
What science fiction or fantasy universe would you like to live in?
That’s a really tough one, because most SFF universes are actually pretty terrible and horrifying places. Most of the ones that aren’t are not substantially better or different from our own. If I had to choose, I think it would be the generic blue-collar SF setting from the 40s in which a guy can make an honest living in space, you can fill up on rocket fuel for a few bucks, and jazz bars on Mars are second to none (even when they’re fronts for Anti-Earth conspiracies).
What planet-wide science fiction catastrophe scares you the most?
If I were a competent interviewer, what question would I ask you? What is your answer?
That’s probably the toughest one. How about “Will you be able to quit your day job?” Buy extra copies for your friends and doctors’ waiting rooms to find out!
Thanks again so much for taking the time to talk with me!