Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Look at Beneath Ceaseless Skies #109

I’m trying to get caught up on periodical reading before diving back into some novels.  It’s been a while since I looked at Beneath Ceaseless SkiesBCS is one of the best publications for short adventure fantasy out there.  I try to read every issue, even if I don’t review all of them.  I’m a little behind right now, but I hope to get caught up during the Christmas break.

Anyway, the latest issue is live, so let’s look at it.

There are two stories, as usual unless it’s a special issue.

The Telling” is the first, and longest, tale in the issue.  The author is Gregory Norman Bossert, a writer whose work I’ve not previously read.  That’s one thing I really appreciate about BCS.  The opportunity to discover new voices.

The Telling” is about a child named Mel, who lives with the servants in a manor house.  The story opens just after the death of the manor’s lord.  The lord had no wife, and some question exists as to what will become of the manor and estate.  There seems to be some connection between Mel and the deceased lord, but what that connection is isn’t clear, at least not to Mel.  One of the first duties, according to tradition, after the death of a lord is to tell the bees, who will spread the word far and wise.  This task falls to Mel, but things don’t go as planned.  It turns out there may also be a connection between Mel and the bees. 

This is a story of dark secrets, some of which are disturbing.  I’m still processing this story.  I liked the writing and the supporting cast of characters. I think I like the ending, but to be honest, I haven’t made up my mind yet.

The other piece of fiction is “The Scorn of the Peregrinator” from John E. O. Stevens.  This was the author’s first sale to, as he calls it, a “major publication.”  I found it to be inventive and original.  Stevens shows promise as a writer.

The society here is oriented around birds.  Whether the people are part bird or humans who pattern themselves after birds and use avian-based magic isn’t entirely clear to me.  It’s the tale of what happens when an emissary for the government, in this case the Nine Kings, shows up at an isolated village in a harsh landscape to impose conscription and new terms of service on a peace loving people.  Just because they’re peace loving doesn’t mean they won’t defend themselves, and at great cost.  I thought this was one the more original concept between the two stories, and I would love to see more of this world.

So, once again, Beneath Ceaseless Skies has published a pair of quality fantasies.  As usual, the stories are available online for free, but if you like what you read, consider supporting BCS by subscribing.  Being able to read BCS on an ereader is worth the cost of a subscription, at least to me.

A Quick Look at the Second Issue of Nightmare Magazine

I realize that November is almost over, and the new issue of Nightmare will be out in a matter of hours, at least if you have a subscription.  So I’m behind for the month.  Like you aren’t?

Anyway, I wanted to take a look at the second issue since the first was a little different.  It contained four pieces of original fiction.  Starting with the current issue, Nightmare will run two original stories and two reprints. 

So let’s take a quick look, shall we?

The opening story is “Construction Project” by Desirina Boskovich.  This one is the tale of two lovers who live in fear of something that is coming to destroy their love and separate them forever.  Ms. Boskovich employs a literary device where you never know which protagonist is speaking.  They will refer to each other in third person in one of them performs a particular act, but often the pronoun the narrator uses to refer to self is “we”.  This adds to the sense of paranoia that seems to pervade the story.  Of course, this type of literary trick isn’t exactly new.  Alfred Bester did something similar in his classic story “Fondly Fahrenheit”.  I’ve not seen anyone successfully pull it off since then.  Until now that is.

The two reprints are next, with Joe Haldeman’s “Graves” leading off.  It’s hard to go wrong with Haldeman, and this story in particular is one of his strongest.  I still remember lines from it when I read it the first time, nearly 20 years ago.  It’s about a soldier on burial detail in Vietnam who gets called out to the front to recover a particular body.  Only this one isn’t like any other corpse he’s seen…

“The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire” is a bleak tale from Poppy Z. Brite concerning the end of a relationship.  I’ve not read anything by this author before.  I found the writing to be smooth and polished.  The author captured the voice of the narrator quite well.  I have to admit this one wasn’t my cup of tea, although I liked the ending. 

The final new story is “At Lorn Hall“, a haunted house story from Ramsey Campbell as only he can write a haunted house story.  Campbell is one of those writers who hits with me about 2/3 of the time.  The rest of the time I can’t stand either his characters the bleak or hopeless landscape the move through and occasionally both.  But when he hits with me, I can’t put his work down.  This one worked for me.  In fact it was my favorite of all the issue.  If Nightmare only published one story per issue this good, it would be worthy of our support.

The rest of the issue included part 2 of an interview with Peter Straub, an interview and selection of art by the cover artist Maxim Verehin, a column on ghost stories by R. J. Sevin, and an editorial by John Joseph Adams.  Plus each a short interview with each author.

In short, I’d have to say this was another fine issue.  While I the stories in this issue weren’t as much to my taste as those in the first, it was still an issue I enjoyed very much.  I’m looking forward to the next one in the next day or so (one of the advantages of having a subscription).

Further Thoughts on Traditional Publishers Getting into the Self-Publishing Business

In my brief post earlier today, I mentioned that Simon and Schuster has started a self-publishing division run by Author Solutions, an entity with a reputation for screwing authors.

I wanted to inflict upon you share a few further thoughts with you on the matter.  Why would a major publisher want to start a self-publishing division?  The obvious answer is money, of course.  Which makes all the noise about traditional publishers ensuring quality, curating culture, and defending literature all the more obvious as the load of horse pucky it is.

David Gaughran did an excellent job on summarizing why this venture is a bad thing for writers.  I’ll not repeat what he said here.  For one thing, this isn’t an echo chamber, and for another, I doubt I could say it as well as he did.

Instead, I want to speculate on how this might come back to bite Simon and Schuster in the ass, and what serious writers can do to make that happen.

In the comments to my post, Paul McNamee speculated that this move may have been calculated “to sabotage the self-publishing industry from the inside out.”  If I’m following Paul’s logic (and Paul, please correct me if I’m not), then what this company is doing is…well, I’m not sure.  Because I can’t see any way that this won’t boomerang on Simon and Schuster.  It might hurt self-publishing by taking some writers out of the game by creating such a hell that they give up writing.  I’ll explain why that isn’t necessarily a bad thing shortly, when I discuss why not all writers are created equal.  It might also give the general reading public the idea that all self-published books are crap.  I think that’s what Paul meant.  Even so, I can’t see Simon and Schuster coming out ahead in this deal.

Here’s why:  Big publisher buys/creates/conjures-up-through-diabolism a division that will help authors self-publish.  Fees for “publishing”, never mind editing, are exorbitant.  Anyone who signs up for this program is either desperate, stupid, incompetent, or some combination of the above.  If that comment offends you, too bad.  People who pay vast sums of money for someone to do what they could learn to do themselves (publish, not edit) or pay a percentage for the life of the copyright instead of a flat fee for a service(editing, cover art, etc.) have to be at least one of those things.

There’s absolutely no reason anyone who wants to have a writing career would agree to those terms.  Period.

What I think could happen is that Simon and Schuster, or rather Author Solutions, will begin to attract manuscripts that are horrendous.  Horrendous in terms of quality, horrendous in terms of story, horrendous in terms of character.  Horrendous, completely and totally.  I don’t know what imprint these books will be published under or how closely they will be associated with Simon and Schuster in the mind of the average reader.  From what I understand, most readers don’t know or care about the publishers of the books they read.  I’m so far outside the distribution on this, it isn’t even funny.  Ever since I was old enough to go to a bookstore and select my own reading material, I’ve been hyperconscious of who the publishers were.  That was how I  selected my next book.  I looked for things by publishers who had published the things I liked. 

What I predict is that the prophesied tsunami of crap won’t come from self-publishing in general but from this new venture of Author Solutions and Simon and Schuster.  What I hope is that it will be so bad, and so many readers will get burned by what they buy, that they’ll start to look at who the publisher is more closely.  And that Simon and Schuster will be prominently associated with this in the public eye.  Resulting, of course, in falling revenue.  A company that does this deserves all the bad that happens to it.

See, not all writers are created equal.. And I’m not talking talent here.  I’m talking about professionalism.  A true professional understands the field in which he/she works.  Understands what is ethical and what isn’t.  Understands that in almost every endeavor, success only comes after toil and hard work.  That most writers have to learn their craft, and while some learn quicker than others, one novel, memoir, or nonfiction book does not a writer make.  Dean Wesley Smith, in more than one post on his blog, distinguishes between writers and authors: writers keep writing no matter how many books they’ve published while authors write one or two books and never get over it, basking in the glory of a small number of publications, never building a career.  I think he has a good point.

I predict Simon and Schuster will attract a lot of author wanna-bees, people who don’t understand the first rule about writing for a living.  Money flows to the writer.  Period.  No exceptions. 

In a way, Simon and Schuster will be doing the rest of us a big favor.  They’ll be clearing the field of all the people who just want to be published.  These folks will get discouraged and quit.  Dean thinks this is already happening and that the trend will accelerate.  Those serious about their writing will do the best they can on their current project, put it up for sale, and move on to the next project.  These will be the people who will have careers.  These are the people who will write great literature.  These are the people who will define culture.  Not the major publishing houses. 

To paraphrase an old saying:  The best revenge is in writing well.  That’s how serious writers will help this horrendous lapse in judgment come back and bite Simon and Schuster on the ass.  By writing good books, books that people will want to read.  And doing it consistently enough and often enough that the difference in product becomes so obvious a blind man could see it.  If that happens, and I admit it’s a stretch, then Simon and Schuster could very well get a reputation for producing a tsunami of crap.

I don’t know if that will ever happen.  A lot will depend on how closely Simon and Schuster are associated in the minds of the public with what’s going to be coming out of this deal.  There’s been a lot of talk in recent months that publishers need to develop distinctive brands in the minds of the reading public.  That can be, and hopefully will be, a two-edged sword.  We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Oh, and I’m looking forward to Konrath’s reaction to the news.

I wrote last December that I wasn’t going to be buying many books from major publishers but would be focusing on indie works.  That decision was reinforced today.

A High Profile Scam Warning

I know some of you who read this blog are either indie authors or intending to be.  David Gaughran posted a warning on his site earlier this morning that I think bears repeating.  In short, Simon and Schuster has started a self-publishing arm.  But they aren’t running it.  Author Solutions is.  This is an outfit to avoid like the proverbial plague.

Here’s the link to David’s post.  If you are an independent author or plan to be one, check it out.  He summarizes why this is a scam and provides pertinent links for those who want more detail. 

I”ll have more to say about this later.

A Review of Queen of Thorns by Dave Gross

Queen of Thorns
Dave Gross
mmpb, $9.99, 432 p.
epub, $6.99

I’d not read any of the Pathfinder Tales before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one.  Add that this is the third novel featuring these characters, and I could have found my self at a disadvantage.

Fortunately, Dave Gross, whose work I hadn’t read prior to this novel, does a good job of filling in what background details are needed as you go along.

The setup starts out fairly straightforward.  Half-elf Varian Jeggare has never met his Elven father, but at one point in his life his father sent him a gift of a red carriage.  That carriage was smashed in a previous adventure.  Now he and his bodyguard Radovan have journeyed to the Elven kingdom of Kyonin hoping to find the carriage maker and get the thing repaired.  Simple, right?

Uh, no, actually, it’s not.  There are demons in the forests they must travel.  Plus there’s the usual court politics and intrigue.  Before it’s over, it will be a toss-up which is more dangerous. 

I found this to be an enjoyable novel.  Varian and Radovan are very different characters.  Gross alternates their viewpoints from one chapter to the next.  Of the two, I think I prefer Radovan.  He has a more Damon Runyon-esque voice, while Varian, being a count, has a more blueblood tone.  Both make interesting narrators.  Radovan has the slightly cynical tone that appeals to me a little more, though.

The storyline is also interesting and entertaining. When Varian and Radovan set out to find the maker of the carriage, they’re joined by several members of the court.  Each of the members has an agenda.  And those agenda aren’t always compatible with each other.

There are several twists in the plot.  While none of them were particularly surprising, they weren’t exactly broadcast in advance either.  There are references to the previous books, but you don’t need to have read them to enjoy this one.

This was the first Pathfinder book I’ve read.  I enjoyed it enough that I’ll be reading more.  I’ll probably go back and read the first two novels featuring Varian and Radovan  (Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils), although with the backlog I’ve got and the Sooper Seekrit Project, it will be a while before I get to them.  If you like solid, gaming-based adventure fantasy, give this one a try.

I’d like to thank Jaym Gates for providing me with a review copy.

A Look at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Issue 14

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #14

It’s been a while since I looked at an issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (here and here), so we need to rectify that.

The current issue went live last month.  I’m a little behind on my magazine reading, but I’m catching up.  The problem is that there’s so much quality short fiction being published online.

HFQ is no exception. Here’s what the current issue holds.

Days End at the Three Eels” by Al Onia is a tavern story of a different sort.   A tired mercenary spends a night carousing and ends up at the Three Eels, where he meets a slave girl who’d been left for dead in the desert after having been injured, now working as a serving wench, and an old wizard.  Before he leaves he will have impacted their lives in a way neither expect.  There was a nice twist at the end I should have seen coming.  All the clues were there.

S. Boyd Taylor’s “A Song for the New King” was more of a vignette than a story, but it’s a nice meditation on the creative process.

We see the return of Khraen, the undead general, in Michael R. Fletcher’s “Death and Dignity“.  Khraen first appeared in Issue 10’s “Death at the Pass“, where we saw his resurrection by the hand of the necromancer Leben.  In this story, Khraen is pursued by a wizard and his slave sorcerer across the frozen north.  Khraen is very much cut from the mold of the brooding antihero.  There’s a great deal of meditation on freedom and choices in between the combat in both of these tales.  I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Two poems round out this issue.  First “The Swordswoman” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, a bleak poem in which no good deed, if not unpunished, at least goes unacknowledged.  The second poem is a more hopeful selection, Barry King’s “Shadakar“.  I thought these poems were better than average.

On the whole, a solid issue.  Heroic Fantasy Quarterly continues to publish solid, adventure oriented fiction.  Many of the authors are new comers, and I have a feeling in a few more years, if these authors continue to write and make names for themselves, HFQ will become known as the place to find the new up and comers in the fields of sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy.  If you’ve not read this publication, all of the issues are online for free, so check them out. 

A Review of The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III

The Black God’s War
Moses Siregar III
Paper $14.95
electronic: various prices, depending on where purchased
Kindle Nook Smashwords ibooks

I’d bought this novel a while back after discovering it on Ty Johnston’s 2011 blog tour, but I hadn’t had a chance to read it when I got an email from the author asking if I would be interested in reviewing it.  I’d like to thank Moses Siregar III for sending me a revised edition of the novel, as well as an apology since I told him this review would be done last month.  (Also thanks to Ty Johnston for his blog tour.  I discovered some new writers I’m looking forward to reading.)

Anyway, this was a compelling novel with a strong nonwestern feel to it.  I found that rather refreshing.

Here’s the basic set-up (and all you’re going to get from me is the set-up since there are some plot twists I don’t want to spoil):

The kingdom of Rezzia is in the process of invading Pawelon.  It’s been a decade long process.  The king of Rezzia has two children, Lucia (a daughter) and Caio (a son), who is ten years younger than his sister.  From birth Caio has been recognized as a Haizzem, which means he’s been selected by the gods to be the military and spiritual leader of the kingdom.  Most of the novel takes place when Caio is nearly 20 and has fully taken up the mantle of Haizzem.  He and his protector Ilario have gone to the front to lead the forces of Rezzia  to victory.  Ilario and Lucia are in love, although at this point neither has expressed feelings openly.  When Caio was born, Lucia saw Danato, the god of the dead kill her mother.  For years, he’s been her companion, unseen and unheard by everyone else, promising her there’s a reason for all things.

Meanwhile, Rao is the youngest and only surviving son of the Rajah of Pawelon.  He and his friend Aayu are sages.  Although they’ve been forbidden to come to the front, they leave for it, believing they have discovered new spiritual weapons that will help them win the war and break the deadlock.  Rao is the lover Narayani, Aayu’s cousin and the daughter of his father’s top general.

With all the family relationships, I’m sure you can see the great potential for tragedy.  All I’ll say is that not everyone will survive to the end.  That and there’s a reason for everything happening.

And speaking of Narayani, I couldn’t stand her through most of the book.  She came across to me as spoiled, selfish, and bratty, someone who was concerned with what she wanted.  Someone who caused trouble because she only thought of herself.  I don’t care to be around those types of people, and I didn’t care for her.

While it may not seem like it on the surface, the previous paragraph was high praise for Mr. Siregar.  Mediocre writers create blah characters.  Superior writers create characters who produce strong reactions in readers, whether those reactions are love, hate, or a mixture of both.  That he was able to create such a character, and such a reaction in this reader, speaks highly of his skill.  And by the time the book was over, I very much cared what happened to Narayani.

The other thing I liked was how the gods aided, meddled, or tormented, depending on your point of view.  This novel was  written in part as an homage to The Iliad.  Any time the gods starting showing up, things got interesting. 

The combat scenes were well choreographed.  They were also unpredictable.  The interactions between the characters were complex, just like the characters themselves.    This was a compelling novel that was hard to put down.  It kept me up late more than one night.

This is one you’ll want to check out.  I have to say I’m not sure what the price is on the electronic edition.  I found three different prices when I was putting in the links for the different electronic editions.  Even at the highest price, $4.99, this is a good buy.

Also, I thought it was a nice touch that the author included excerpts from four fantasy novels by authors I’d not heard of.  The excerpts were intriguing enough that I’ll be buying those books as well.  This approach is a good was to discover new writers as well as a great way for writers to help each other promote their books.

This is the first volume of Splendor and Ruin.  I’m not sure where Siregar is going to go with the next volume since this was pretty much a stand-alone novel.  Not that it matters.  I intend to follow.

In Which I Encounter Rogue Angel

Rogue Angel:  Magic Lantern
Alex Archer
Gold Eagle
mass market paper back $6.99
ebook $4.61 Kindle $5.39 Nook

I’d seen the Rogue Angel series around for about a year or two but until the other day, I’d never read one.  A couple of months ago, the author of this one sent me a review copy.  It was on the list to review before the end of the year, but when I ended up flying to Houston for a couple of days earlier this week, I decided to move it up.  This required me to rearrange the order in which a few books would be reviewed, but I was okay with that.  This way I could ignore shrill flight attendants who demand that “anything with an ‘off’ switch must be turned off, not put in airplane mode, turned off” and simply read.  If I’d had only my ereader, we’d gotten stuck on the tarmac, and I wouldn’t have had anything to read at all.

But I digress. 

Except for one thing, which I’ll discuss below, I enjoyed the book. 

The set up for the series is fairly simple.  It concerns one Annja Creed, who’s part Indiana Jones, part Lara Croft, part Kolchak the Night Stalker, and part Duncan MacCleod (of the Clan MacCleod).  She’s an archaeologist who is cohost of a tabloid TV show called Chasing History’s Monsters

She also has the sword of Joan of Arc.  This is a magical sword which she can literally pull out of thin air whenever she needs it.  I want one of these!  (That’s not a hint for those of you wondering what to get me for Christmas, but if  you’re so inclined….  I’m just sayin’.)

In this particular story, Annja gets caught up in a hunt for a Chinese lantern (that looks nothing like the one shown on the cover) which is believed to be the key to a great treasure, cursed, or both.  There are two (count ’em, two) crime lords willing to kill to possess the lantern.

The lantern was brought to France from Shanghai in the early 1790s a stage magician.  During a show in the catacombs below Paris, the magician was using the lantern to project an image of the afterlife on the wall when a Chinese man walked out of the image and fatally stabbed the magician.  This led to the lantern gaining a reputation for being haunted or cursed.

Before it’s over, Annja and her friends and companions will travel the globe searching for clues, be involved in a number of shootouts, take part in a car chase involving rocket launchers on a major Paris highway, and fight for their lives in the Paris catacombs.

There was some character development that I considered fairly deep for this type of series book.  I found Annja an engaging character, even if she has an aversion to lopping off people’s heads with her sword.  Now where’s the fun in that, I ask.

The book was fast-paced fun, and I loved almost every minute of it.  The only time I was thrown out of the story were a couple of bits involving a photograph of the magician taken while he worked as a banker in Shanghai.  This photo was taken about 1790.  The problem was that photography wasn’t invented for well over a quarter century later.

Overall, I enjoyed this one enough that I would read others in the series.  In fact, I picked up another volume when I was in Houston while at the hafway point in this book.

Alex Archer is, of course, a house name.  From what I’ve been able to determine, there are at least four different authors who write these books.  (The one I picked up was by the same author.)  I know the identity of the author of Magic Lantern.  While I don’t think it’s any great secret, I’ve not been given explicit permission to reveal it, so I won’t.  If I get permission from the author, I’ll post that information in the comments.  I do want to thank the gentleman for sending me the review copy.

As I said, I enjoyed this one.  It was good pulpy fun, and I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

Magic Lantern is a Featured Book at Adventures Fantastic Books.

Outcasts by Nick Wisseman

Nick Wisseman
145 p. $7.99 paper
Amazon  B&N
$4.99 electronic
Kindle Nook Smashwords

Before I read Outcasts, I wasn’t familiar with the name Nick Wisseman.  Nor was I familiar with venues where these stories first appeared, places such as Bewildering Stories.  It’s a name I’m going to remember, though.  And I’m going to check Bewildeirng Stories out.  If everything they publish is this good, I’m going put that venue on my regular reading list.

When Mr. Wisseman emailed me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his book, I said yes.  I’ve written before that taking a chance on an unknown author is a gamble.  Sometimes it’s not a gamble that pays off (and you usually won’t see the results of those gambles written about here).  Other times, you hit the jackpot.  Books like this one are why I review self-published authors I’ve never heard of before.

Here’s what you get in this collection:

“Ghost Writer” is a story of betrayal.  It’s a plea by a murdered author to help avenge his murder.

“Branded Faith” tells of a messiah who rejects being a savior yet can’t escape the power he’s been given to do both good and evil.

In “Smile”, a teenaged girl discovers that she’s not as invisible as she thought she was when a hidden observer develops the photo he took of her and she begins to vanish.

“Permanence” ventures into Lord of the Flies territory a bit when a group of young soldiers find themselves stranded on a desert island during wartime.

A man discovers he can go back in time and change the history of his love life, but only during sex in “Time Trick”.

“Love and World Eaters” is about a young woman working in the Chicago Field Museum who develops the ability to see past events associated with the artifacts she touches.  This was one of my favorites

“Splintered” is what happens when different realities begin to overlap.

“Charted Waters” deals with what happens when the real world takes on the characteristics of maps.

A girl’s diorama comes to life, showing her the family secrets, in “Low-Limb Climb”, another favorite.

“Revisions” involves a group of time travelers who keep the timeline stable by making sure massacres and bloodbaths happen.

The thing I found most refreshing about these stories is the Wisseman avoids many obvious cliches.  I rarely knew where he was going.  Even when the idea at the core of the story wasn’t earth-shaking, the execution more than made up for it.  This was one of the most original collections I’ve read in quite a while.  Wisseman is one of those writers who make it look easy, showing a mastery of word, phrase, and pacing I would expect from a mature author rather than someone in the beginning stages of his career.

I highly recommend this one. 

Thanks are due to Nick Wisseman for providing a copy of Outcasts.

In Defense of Marvin Kaye: A Review of Weird Tales # 360

Weird Tales # 360
print $7.95, various ebook formats $2.99 available here
edited by Marvin Kaye

There was a great deal of bitchin’ and moanin’ wailing and gnashing of teeth last year when it was announced that Marvin Kaye was buying Weird Tales and replacing editor Ann Vandermeer with himself.  The way some people carried on, you would have thought Sauron had managed to get his claws on the One Ring. 

When Kaye announced, and later retracted, his plans to publish an excerpt of the science fiction novel Save the Pearls, a book many considered to be racist, I expected to see reports of mobs marching on Kaye’s location with torches and pitchforks.  Haivng read a number of Kaye’s anthologies for the SFBC, and portions of others, I have great respect for him as an editor, but I have to say this was not one of his better choices.  Nor was his essay defending that choice well conceived.  I didn’t bother to give this particular novel much attention; the descriptions of it, even if they were only half accurate, made it clear to me the novel was not a good thing to serialize in the magazine.

Outrage was so great that Mary Robinette Kowal subsidized Shimmer magazine so that publication would be able to pay pro rates.  Editor-in-Chief Beth Wodzinski stated on the magazine’s blog that she wanted to continue in the vein Ann Vandermeer.

Why am I going into this bit of recent history?  Because the situation as I see it is this:  Expectations on Kaye to succeed are extremely high, so high that it can be argued he’ll never be able to meet those expectations.  Furthermore, there are those who are waiting with sharpened knives for him to stumble, or if you prefer, stumble again after the Save the Pearls debacle. 

Well, now the first issue edited by Kaye is out, and it has the theme of The Elder Gods.  Kaye is taking the magazine back to its roots.  This was part of what caused the controversy when he replaced Vandermeer as edtior.  Many saw this as a step backwards.  It’s become fashionable in some circles to bash Lovecraft for a variety of reasons, and a number of those reasons showed up in the vitriol that followed the announcement.

So, let’s look at the stories, and then I’ll attempt to answer the question of whether or not Kaye succeeding in getting his incarnation of The Unique Magazine off the ground. 

“The Eyrie” is the first item past the ToC.  In his introductory essay Kaye assures readers he is open to all types of genre fiction, from the type that made the magazine’s reputation to new and innovative types of storytelling.  He lists a number of established authors who have expressed interest in appearing in the magazine, and if he gets stories from all of them, he will succeed in taking the publication to new heights.

There follows some reviews of Lovecraft themed anthologies and a poem by Jill Bauman.

After that, comes Brian Lumley‘s novella “The Long Last Night”.  This was a slow building, disturbing story.  While the general ending was pretty obvious to me, the details were original and disturbing.  Next, another poem, “In Shadowy Innsmouth” by Darrell Schweitzer.  We return to fiction with “Momma Durt” from Michael Shea, about the goings-on at an allegedly abandoned mine shaft that is being used to illegally dump toxic waste.  Michael Reyes introduces us to the drug induced “Darkness at Table Rock Road”, and Darrell Schwietzer returns with a fiction piece, “The Runners Beyond the Wall”, in which a young man finds himself with a very deadly guardian after being orphaned.  “The Country of Fear” by Russell Brickey is another poem.  Matthew Jackson’s “Drain” is an effective lesson in why you should clean your drain frequently, teaching us that no good deed goes unpunished.  “The Thing in the Cellar” by William Blake-Smith is a tongue-in-cheek tale about a teenager who’s read a little too much Lovecraft.  It’s a delightful change from the dark and grim tales preceding it and easily my favorite in the issue.

The Weird Tales website lists “Found in a Bus Shelter at 3:00 a.m., Under a Mostly Empty Sky” by Stephen Garcia.  I’m not sure if this is an error or not.  This piece isn’t included in the electronic version of the magazine, at least not the epub format.

After this are four unthemed stories:  “To be a Star” by Parke Godwin, “The Empty City” by Jessica Amanda Salmanson, “The Abbey at the Edge of the Earth” by Collin B. Greenwood, and “Alien Abduction” by M. E. Brine.  Except for the Greenwood piece, I found all of these to be slight, hackneyed even, and not very interesting.  Certainly not up to the quality of the Lovecraft inspired selections.

After this was another Lovecraft piece, an essay by Kenneth Hite entitled “Lost in Lovecraft”.

Finally, there is a Ray Bradbury tribute with its own cover.  To an extent, I wish this had been saved for the next issue, simply because I wanted more and the tribute was added just before the magazine went to press.  While not one of the authors who first comes to mind when one thinks of WT, Bradbury had some important work appear here over the years.  The tribute is fitting, and the second cover is a nice touch.  I just wish it had been included in the electronic edition.

The Bradbury pieces are the original version of “The Exiles” (there’s a Lovecraft connection), Bradbury’s ending of the film version of Rosemary’s Baby, a poem, a remembrance by Marvin Kaye, and a review of Shadow Show:  Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury edited by James Aquilone.

So how does the first issue of WT Kaye has edited hold up?  While the unthemed stories are mostly disappointing, overall this is a good issue.  The Elder Gods section has some strong work, including what will probably come to be regarded as a major novella by Brian Lumley.  There’s quite a bit of variety and diversity in these stories.  And like I said, it was good to have a Bradbury tribute.

I think Kaye has a good format for success.  Each issue will contain themed and unthemed stories.  Next issue’s theme will be fairy tales.  If he can find some stronger stories for the unthemed section, and I have no doubt he can, then this incarnation of Weird Tales will be a success.  It won’t please some, even most, of its detractors, but that’s to be expected.  The direction Kaye is taking is too different from Ann Vandermeer’s. 

I only read one or two issues of Vandermeer’s WT, and what I read didn’t really knock my socks off.  In fact, none of the stories have stuck with me.  I recall not caring much for what I did read, so I for one welcome the changes Marvin Kaye has brought to the magazine.   While I’m sorry her departure from the magazine was painful to her, as well has her many fans and friends, I’m glad Kaye is keeping a strong focus on the magazine’s past while being open to new voices. 

I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will disagree with my assessment of this issue, and Kaye’s editorship in general, who will lament that he isn’t pursuing the same direction Vandermeer did.  That’s fine.  As I mentioned at the top of this post, Shimmer is going to attempt to fill that niche.  I think that’s a good thing, and I wish Beth Wodzinski all success.  I intend to take a look at that publication at some point.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next issue of Weird Tales