On a unrelated topic (not really since time spent on one is time not spent on the other), I’ve almost finished the last of the novelettes that received Hugo nominations. I should manage that before I collapse and go to bed. I won’t be able to read the novellas before the deadline to vote. That’s tomorrow, so I probably won’t vote in that category. I’ll post some thoughts on the nominees when I get a chance in the next day or so.
That’s things with me. What’s up with you?
What the new site won’t have for a couple of weeks, at least, is a store for original fiction. I want to get a new computer before I start to produce files that can be read on an ereader. The machine I’m writing this on is over a decade old. My son will start middle school in the fall, and my wife is pushing for a new computer he can use. It might be a few weeks before that purchase is made. I want to research what would be the best machine for our needs, and I don’t want to rush. I’ve got a jury summons for Monday, so if I get selected that will slow everything down.
I’m in the middle of reading all the short fiction nominees for the Hugos. There’s a week left to vote, so I probably won’t read all the novels by the deadline, not that I would try anyway. I’ve got some other novels I’m needing to get to soon. I’ll post my thoughts on those as I get them done. I’ve finished the short stories, so that post will go up by Saturday at the latest. Then the novellettes. The novellas are a bit longer, but I think I can get them done. We’ll see.
So that’s how things stand at the moment. I’ll let you know when the new site goes live.
Weird Tales #361
Before we get started, I’d like to thank Doug Draa for the review copy. Doug, who blogs at Uncle Doug’s Bunker of Vintage Horror Paperbacks, is a new contributing editor at Weird Tales, and we wish him a successful run in that capacity.
Weird Tales has adopted the policy of giving each issue a theme. The previous issue was Cthulhu Returns, and according to the ad in the present issue, the next issue’s theme is the Undead. There are rumors of a sword and sorcery issue in the works as well. In addition to having stories around a specific theme, each issue will also have unthemed stories. As you can see from the cover, the present issue has the theme of Fairy Tales.
Fairy Tales as a theme is pretty broad. That can encompass retellings or deconstructions of established fairy tales, new stories which read like fairy tales in they way they are structured and/or the themes they address, and stories in which (often contemporary) characters interact with the realm of fairy. All of those and more are included here.
I also need to say a few words about personal taste. One of the things I try to do, although I’m not sure how successful I am, is to distinguish between what I consider flaws in a work I’m reviewing and what simply isn’t to my taste. There’s quite a bit of fiction in this issue, and I’ll try to distinguish between what doesn’t work for me and what I think isn’t very good by more objective standards. I have to admit that I’ve never cared much for the elves/fairies/fae in the modern world type of story (unless the author has the last name of de Lint). I prefer my fairy tale oriented fiction to be either variations on established tales or stories with fairy tale sensibilities, like the Beagle story herein. I especially like them if they are dark, have a strong element of horror, and/or don’t always end happily. Think the Datlow/Windling original anthologies from the 90s, and you’ll have a good idea of where my tastes run.
By far the standout of the issue is the lead tale by Peter S. Beagle, “The Queen Who Could Not Walk”, in which a queen learns the meaning of sacrifice and forgiveness along with a lesson about love. This one clearly falls into the new fairy tale category, like so much of Beagle’s work does. In the last decade, give or take a few years, Beagle has been one of the top practitioners of the short story form in the field. This story is an excellent example of why that is.
Tanith Lee follows Beagle with a twist on an old fairy tale with “Magpied” Close scrutiny of the title should give you a clue as to which tale she’s dealing with. Many of the old fairy tales are fairly short, and this one was no exception. The story she works with is one of my favorites, and Lee does an excellent job with it.
One of the longer stories is “Fae for a Day” by Teel James Glenn. It’s a modern-human-encounters-the-fae-in-a-bar-and-proceeds-to-have-adventures kind of story. This one was well written, and people who like this subgenre will probably like it. I’ve seen the cop wounded in the line of duty, discharged from the force, and crawls into a bottle scenario enough that I had a hard time warming to this one. It didn’t help that much of the attempted humor fell flat for me, such as referring to Titania as Titty. Still, there’s a good audience out there for this type of thing, and I’m sure a number of readers will like it. As for me, while I wasn’t crazy about it, I didn’t think it was the worst story of the lot, either.
“I am Moonflower” by Nicole Cushing and “Blind Alley” by Morgan Llewellyn are both short. Of the two, I think I prefer the Cushing, which concerns the life of bees and flowers. That may not sound appealing, but I liked the ending. Llewellyn’s tale describes how the world will end.
The next story was “Suri and Sirin” by Court Merrigan. It’s a story within a story, in which a father tells a tale to his children on a Christmas eve. It’s a variation of a folk tale from Thailand, and as such had a different rhythm to it from the European folk tales I’m more familiar with. Even though the twist at the end was no great surprise, it was a nice, sweet story, and I liked it.
J. R. Restrick’s “The Flowers of Tir-na-nOg” takes us into Dunsany territory. A young man wanders through the lands of the fae hoping to find the girl who jilted him. It’s a bittersweet story reminiscent of an earlier era and provided a good contrast to most of the other stories.
The one story I absolutely hated was Caitlin Campbell’s “The Miracles of La Guardia Airport (Delta Terminal).” In this one a guardian angel seduces a man so that she won’t be promoted to a more important assignment. I found it distasteful on more than one level.
“A Gnomish Gift” by Alex Shvartsman is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin from Rumpelstiltskin’s point of view. While this one was neither dark nor horrifying, I really liked the way Shvartsman’s interpretation of the story placed a positive spin on things.
Jane Yolen gives us “Enough” insight into a sect of Judaism that is both educational and entertaining.
Lauren Liebowitz provides a sequel to Rumpelstiltskin with “Gold” that is completely incompatible with the interpretation in “A Gnomish Gift”. This maintains the tragic air of the original and carries it one step further. Short, sharp, and to the point.
We’re back to longer works with “The Brown Man of Glen Gardens” by Frank Aversa. A biologist revisits his childhood home and discovers something about one of the homeless people he feared as a kid. This one didn’t end up the way I expected it to.
The next group in the Fairy Tale section were pretty short. I liked Mark Bilgrey’s “The King’s Enemies” and found it to be a good example of a new fairy tale, although the ending was a little weak. “The Crimson Cloak” by Zach Shephard had some good ideas, but the twist wasn’t very surprising. Dick Baldwin’s “The Lute Player and the Mask” had a nice punch, although you could see it coming as well. “Payment” by Alfred J. Vickers III was flash fiction, dealing with a fairy tale we’d seen in an earlier story.
“Out of Time” by Manny Fishberg closes out the fairy tale section. It’s a longer story, and offers a chilling twist on what a mother would do for her dying daughter. It was one of the stronger stories in the issue.
There were two nonthemed selections. Both were disappointing. “As Fleas” by John Koons is a preachy little vignette that hits you over the head with the message. Coming in a what would probably be considered short story length is “Black Poppy” by David W. Amendola. Set in the 1920s or thereabouts, it concerns a brilliant professor of history who gets his hands on some dried and ground black poppy and tries to recreate a series of experiments described in one of his grimoires. Of course he comes to a bad end. Although competently written, there was nothing here that we haven’t seen multiple times before and certainly nothing original. The most interesting character to me was the shop keeper who procured the poppy for the professor.
Additional features included some mini-interviews about fairy tales with Ramsey Campbell, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Elizabeth Bear, and Orrin Grey, full interviews with Tessa Farmer and J. David Spurlock (this one concerning Margaret Brundage), and poetry by Carole Bugge`, Jill Bauman, Andrew J. Wilson, and Arinn Dembo. I enjoyed the poetry, but because the poems were all short, I won’t comment on them individually. There was an editorial, a book review column, a look at how the cover design for this issue evolved (a feature that should be kept), and a brief history of the magazine by Darrell Schweitzer that probably won’t appeal to fans of Ann Vandermeer. Many of the stories were illustrated, by a variety of artists. The only complaint I had about the illustrations was I couldn’t resize the font on my ereader without it freezing up when I came to an illustration, forcing me to read on a backlit screen.
So how do I rate this issue of Weird Tales overall? It’s certainly worth reading, even if I did find aspects of it disappointing. I expect Peter Beagle’s story to be included in some of next year’s Year’s Best anthologies. The nonfiction and poetry are good and should be kept, but they aren’t why most people read the magazine. With that in mind, please indulge me the liberty to make a few comments in general.
|Weird Tales # 360|
First, I preferred the previous issue to this one. A large part of that is a matter of personal taste. Not all of the fairy tale treatments were my cup of tea, although there was only one I completely disliked. I also thought a couple of them stretched the definition of fairy tale a bit, but that’s a minor quibble. I realize that any fiction publication has to appeal to a broad base of readers, and as a consequence needs to have a diverse selection of fiction. I consider an editor to have done his/her job if that’s the case regardless of how many stories I personally like. For the most part I think that’s the case here.
However, I hope the high number of short-shorts and flash fiction is a function of the fairy tale theme rather than an indication of the direction Weird Tales is going. This many in one place, they start to feel gimicky. I thought most of the stronger stories were the longer ones.
Second, while I like the idea of each issue having a theme as well as containing unthemed stories, it’s a pretty tricky tightrope act to pull off. On the one side, a particular theme may cause someone to buy the magazine who wouldn’t otherwise. On the other, the editor risks alienating some potential readers if the theme isn’t to their tastes, especially if this is the case for more than one issue. This is where a strong selection of unthemed stories comes in, to provide that balance. I don’t think this issue succeeds in the balance. There were only two items in the unthemed section, and really, only one of them was an actual story with things like characters. In my opinion, for what little it’s worth, the number of stories that relate to the theme and those that don’t should be about equal. That way if a particular theme doesn’t appeal to some readers, they will still feel they are getting their money’s worth. The same for those who are drawn to a particular theme but aren’t fond of some of the unthemed tales.
I think the fantasy field needs a publication like Weird Tales. The magazine has always defined itself as the place where fiction that couldn’t find a home anywhere else could be published. Some people have accused it of straying from that to publish the type of fiction it published during its heydey while ignoring some of the more innovative work being done now. I submit that while there is some truth in accusation, there aren’t many major markets carrying on the tradition begun in the classic issues of Weird Tales. There’s room for stories in the vein of Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, and Quinn, and there’s room for new and innovative weird fiction as well. The key, as I said earlier, is balance.
I haven’t agreed with every decision Marvin Kaye has made since taking the editorial reigns, but I still support the magazine. I want it to survive and prosper and thrive. To that end, I will speak up when I think it isn’t up to the level it should be. As I will when I think it is. This issue falls in the middle. By and large, I think the magazine is heading in the right direction with its theme approach. Hopefully the business side of things will improve to the point that we’ll be able to read it more often.
Then I noticed something in my inbox. It was from Google. It had come in overnight, and at first glance I thought it was spam that had slipped through the filter. Instead it was accusing this blog of being spam. The second line read, in part, “As a result of your site having pure spam, Google has applied a manual spam action…”
I’m not sure what is going on here. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines say that if I post a lot of content from other sites with links back to those site but don’t provide original content, then the site is a spam site. Reviews of products with links back to other sites are not considered spam sites by the terms of the Guidelines.
Yes, I include links to a book’s page, publisher’s page, author’s page, and vendors (Amazon, etc.) as well as a copy of the cover. I do this as a courtesy to anyone who might be interested in the book. But there will always be plenty of original content. I also post rants and opinion pieces, news items if I hear about them soon enough, trip reports, and the occasional obituary or tribute. And while I am an Amazon associate, as duly noted at the bottom of the page, I’ve never made enough money ($10, cummulative) from it for Amazon to pay me. In other words, to the best of my knowledge I am not nor ever have been in violation of Google’s Guidelines.
I’m not sure how this blog got flagged as a “pure spam” since there are (at a guess) hundreds, if not thousands, of book related blogs out there that do essentially what I do in pretty much the same way I do it. Futures Past and Present wasn’t included in the spam classification. Just Adventures Fantastic.
So either something at Google flagged as spam or else someone reported this site as spam. Frankly, I can’t imagine who would do that or why. I have intentionally stayed out of most of the controversies in the field at the moment. I don’t usually write totally negative reviews. My intention isn’t to trash someone’s work. If I absolutely hate something, I usually don’t review it, assuming I even finish reading it in the first place. In my post at Amazing Stories this week, I did write a pretty negative review. (Okay, yeah, I pretty much trashed the book, but it was a biography, not fiction, and the standards of quality are different.)
I submitted a reconsideration request. The response I got was that it would take a few weeks before they changed anything, if they did.
I’m not going to wait that long. I bought a domain name earlier this year with the intention of self publishing some of my own work. Being a creature of inertia, I’ve not made the time to get up the learning curve on that yet, I’m about to. I’ll still review the items I listed a few posts ago, but August may be pretty sparse. I’m going to be switching blogging platforms and transferring everything from here and Futures over there as well as getting some things up for sale. If anyone has some suggestions about the best way to go about that, I’d appreciate hearing them. I want to move all 500+ blog posts over. I’m familiar with WordPress, but I don’t know if it will let me do that.
Once the site is up, I’ll post a notice here. At that point everything will move over to the new site.
I wrote a few weeks ago in my review of In Thunder Forged that the Iron Kingdoms (TM) is a place I was looking forward to visiting again. Simon Berman was kind enough to send me a review copy of the latest novella in Privateer Press’ Skull Island eXpeditions line. (Thank you very much, Simon.) The Warcaster Chronicles consists of two novellas so far, but if the quality of this one is consistent with the rest of the line, there will be more once word gets out about them.
Personally, I prefer the novella length because it allows an author to develop character and world while still maintaining a good pace. There’s no time to get bogged down in unnecessary details in a novella. Plus, I can read one in one or two sittings without investing a major portion of my life.
The Butcher of Khardov is Orsus Zhoktavir. He’s seven and a half feet tall and more than a match for any man. He watched his parents butchered by raiders when he was ten. He’s working as a lumberjack and engaged to a girl named Lola. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…
Wells doesn’t tell this story in chronological order. Instead he skips around, showing us various parts of Orsus’s life. He shows us the conflicted, damaged man Orsus is, one who wants to do right and leave the killing and violence behind him but can’t for a number of reasons, including madness and regret and the consequences of his own choices. Wells displays a wide range. The battle scenes are exciting and well executed. Orsus’s courtship of Lola is filled with warmth, humor, and love. Contrasted with the courtship is Orsus’s regret and madness as he struggles with his failures and all the things he’s done. There’s an overarcing story, concerning the new young queen. I have to admit, while I wasn’t surprised at the queen’s response to Orsus, it was the perfect ending. It’s also an ending that raises the question who the greater butcher will ultimately turn out to be.
Orsus isn’t always a likeable character, particularly in the novella’s opening scene. But he’s a very human one, a man the reader can relate to on some level because he’s a man wanting to belong, to protect, to serve, and one who sometimes fails. By showing us the human side of Orsus, especially his feeling towards his parents and Lola, Wells makes us care for him. Which makes his failures all the more powerful. This is someone you will want to succeed, and you’ll root for him even when you know he’s going to fail.
A few days ago, Tom Doolan wrote a post on his blog in which he brought up the perception of gaming fiction in the minds of the general fantasy reading public. I have to say that while I’ve not read a great deal of gaming related fiction, I’m going to keep reading in the Iron Kingdoms setting. I’ve only read two works so far, The Butcher of Khardov and In Thunder Forged, but they’ve been as good or better than much of the independent novels I’ve read over the last few years. It’s this type of book that’s helped me overcome my literary snobbery. It’s books like these that will change people’s perceptions about gaming related fiction.
The Butcher of Khardov is only available in ebook format. The formatting is top notch. There are no jumps, weird line breaks, or other problems. The illustrations add to the story rather than detract from it. My only complaint is that the map doesn’t show up well in greyscale on a first generation ereader like the one I have. But that’s a minor point.
Charles R. Saunders was born today, July 12 in 1946. Saunders is the author of the Imaro series, the Dossouye series, and various works of nonfiction. Saunders is the foremost practitioner of what is known as the Sword and Soul subgenre of Sword and Sorcery, in which the settings and characters are based on African history and mythology rather than European. I am ashamed to admit that I’ve not read either the Imaro or the Dossouye series, although I’m familiar with the basic premise of each. I’ve got the first two Imaro books on the shelf and plan to get to them by the end of the year.
Happy birthday, Mr. Saunders, and many happy returns.
I don’t normally do two posts in one day, but I just learned that Weird Tales has posted the table of contents for the next (as yet unpublished) issue, # 361. The cover has also been posted, as seen at left.
Authors include Peter S. Beagle, Jane Yolen, and Tanith Lee along with a number of lesser known names. The theme is fairy tales, and the three headliners are among the top authors in this subgenre. If the other stories are of comparable quality, it will probably be a great issue. Even if the other stories don’t come close to Beagle, Yolen, and Lee, it could still be a better-than-most-stuff-out-there issue. Those three are some of the best writers working today, and it’s really not fair to newer writers to compare them to B, Y, & L.
There’s no release date yet, only that individual copies will be available soon. I truly hope so, but given some of the recent developments at the magazine, I’m not going to hold my breath. I’ll refrain from further comment at this time since I said my piece in the previous post on WT. Look for a review when I get a copy of the issue.
Although he may not have a household name, Tom Dupree is a publishing insider with a lot of experience. He doesn’t blog often, but when he does, what he has to say is usually worth paying attention to. He posted today about the merger of Penguin and Random House into Penguin Random House, (AKA Random Penguin on this blog).
I think he’s spot on in what he has to say. Go read his post if you haven’t yet. I’ll still be here when you get back, with some thoughts of my own.
OK, now that you’re back, the last few sentences of Tom’s post should be fresh on your mind. Here they are again for easy reference:
If you, the customer, get more stuff to read that you like, then this will have been a good thing. But if the Big Five turn into what they’re increasingly coming to resemble, the movie “majors” – nothing but blockbusters, and indie artists can go fend for themselves – then mutually assured destruction is just around the corner. And the real creativity – the kind that builds those glorious books that throw lightning bolts – will again reside where it once did: in small, independent publishing houses.
I’m afraid what we’re going to see is the latter possibility rather than the former. Let’s look at the movies for a moment, shall we? What do we usually get, especially this time of year? Blockbusters, or rather blockbuster wanna-be’s. And how many of those are either sequels of previous years’ blockbusters (Despicable Me 2) or reboots and new interpretations of old established franchises, often from TV or radio shows from prior generations (The Lone Ranger)? There aren’t very many original movies, although there are a few (Now You See Me), and many of those feature an actor or actress with established star power (Oblivion).
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently criticized the film industry for depending on blockbusters and offering moviegoers less choice for higher prices. (Does anyone else see the irony in this?) I tend to agree with them.
We’ve been seeing the same thing in publishing for quite a while. It’s getting harder to find original work amidst all the derivative crap, whether it’s yet another necro-erotic urban fantasy or the latest imitation of
The Lord of the Rings A Game of Thrones. In science fiction, it’s even worse. Publishers want blockbusters or endless series of doorstoppers. And the editing and quality of the physical product isn’t improving. But prices are going up.
I think small presses and independent publishers (including self-pubbers with a quality product) are where all the action is. There’s very little from the Big 5 that holds my interest any more. While “mutually assured destruction” may be a bit over the top, it’s not far from the truth. When the publishers began merging and were swallowed up by a few multinational conglomerates, the readers and authors lost out. Eventually readers will get tired of the same thing all the time and look elsewhere.
I don’t hold out much hope for Random Penguin to improve the selection on the shelves of my local bookstores (yes, there are 3 where I live if you stretch the definition of bookstore considerably). There are reasons why I read primarily books from indie and mid-size publishers such as Pyr and Angry Robot. I do my best to point out some of the jewels I find here, at Futures Past and Present, and in my posts at Amazing Stories (TM). There’s not much I review from the big boys anymore. I have a feeling that that isn’t going to change anytime soon.