Before I start the review, I’d like to thank Doug Draa for the review copy and apologize for taking so long to get the review posted. The review copy is a PDF file, and I’d intended to read it while traveling over the summer. For some reason, my ereader (a first generation device) wouldn’t open the file. Anyway, since I hate reading for fun on a backlit screen (which I do enough of for work), it was a while before I managed to read it. So thanks and apologies, Doug. I promise to do better in the future.
There are a total of seventeen pieces of fiction, five poems, a tribute to Parke Godwin by Marvin Kaye,an interview with Joyce Carol Oates, and a look at how one of the illustrations was developed by Jeff Wong.
Overall, I found this issue to be a strong one, though not without a few stories which weren’t to my taste. The theme for this issue is The Undead. And no, not all of the themed stories are about zombies. Just some of them, which is good because I’m not a big zombie fan. But overall I found this issue to be a great read for Halloween.
While I quite liked most of the issue, the first story didn’t work for me. “#rising” by Cynthia Ward tended to preach too much in the opening pages. The author kept interrupting her story with Christians-bad, gays-good, Christians-bad asides which didn’t do anything to move the action along. While some of this works to establish character, things went a bit overboard. Until the end, it’s just a typical zombie story set is a town in the California desert. Christians, especially Catholics, will find the ending offensive.
Bob Fingerman’s “Ink” is another zombie story. It’s well written and it works, but like I said, I’m not the audience for zombies.
Andrew J. Wilson provides a weird western in “Happy Hunting Ground”. An old man is telling the tale of how he got caught up in the hunt for some Indians who have supposedly massacred a family of settlers, kidnapping the sole surviving child. This one was different from anything I’ve read before. The author leaves plenty of room for a sequel, and I’m hoping for another installment.
Justin Gustainis cleverly mixes two of the Victorian era’s greatest bogeymen, one factual, one not, in “Until I Come Again”. “The Waves From Afar” by Kurt Fawver illustrates why it isn’t safe to go into the water if the water is glowing. “Darkling I Listen” is a delightfully ghoulish fairy tale by Keris MacDonald.
Of the themed stories, Ron Goulart’s “The Bride of the Vampire” takes us back to London for a stage production that’s more than it seems. This story was an installment in Goulart’s Harry Challenger series. It’s hard to go wrong with Goulart, and this story is no exception.
The final themed story is from James Aquilone, “From the Casebook of Dead Jack, Zombie P. I.: ‘The Amorous Ogre’ “. The zombie P. I. has already been introduced by Kevin J. Anderson. I’ve read one of Anderson’s tales and one of Aqulilone’s. This one wasn’t as funny as it tried to be, and I found the ending predictable.
“Coven House” by David C. Smith is a chilling and gory haunted house tale that really delivers. I loved the use of the clock in this one to indicate the presence of ghosts in the house.
Helen Grant completes a story M. R. James left unfinished at his death, “The Game of Bear.” This is a solid spook story, and while it might not be up to the level of James’ best work, it’s still quite effective and strong reminder why he is regarded as a master of the ghost story.
Ramsey Campbell is no stranger to spooky tales. Most of the ones I’ve read leave me with the impression that the protagonist is at the mercy of forces beyond his control, and the more he tries to regain control of the situation, the more things get out of hand. In “The Impression”, a young boy and his grandmother go to an old cemetery to make rubbings, or impressions, of the faces on the grave stones. Unfortunately, the owner of the face doesn’t like having his impression made.
The final story, labeled 90th Anniversary Fiction, is “Slaughter House” by Carole Bugge’ appears to be intended as a tribute to the late Richard Matheson. It’s a grisly cautionary tale about spoiling one’s daughter and what happens when she doesn’t get what she wants. It’s extremely well-written, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more work by Ms. Bugge’.
So. overall, quite a solid issue. The short-shorts were all clever and entertaining. And the ghost stories were creepy and spooky, the way ghost stories should be. The stories that didn’t work for me tended to be the zombie ones. YMMV, of course. I’m sure there are plenty of zombie fans out there who would take issue with me. And that’s quite all right.
The next issue of Weird Tales will have a Sword and Sorcery theme. That’s one I’m really looking forward to.